Russian Foreign Ministry briefing: Venezuela; Syria; Silicon Valley is hacking the Foreign Ministry website

Briefing by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova
April 12, 2017

Excerpts:

The situation in Venezuela

We’re receiving a lot of requests to explain Moscow’s position on this issue.

We’re watching with concern the situation in Venezuela, a country with which we maintain friendly relations, where opposition activists continue to clash with law-enforcers, even with the Easter holidays approaching. We feel sorry for the people who were killed or injured in street violence that is spiralling out of control. We cannot help mentioning a growing risk that the destructive scenarios which we have spoken about time and again and have warned against and which call to mind the grievous events in Chile in the 1970s might be implemented.

We believe that non-violence offers a way to end political confrontation – this is exactly our vision of how to resolve the political crisis and resume nationwide dialogue for the sake of searching jointly for answers and solutions to the socioeconomic challenges facing the country.

In this context, we’re concerned about the statements by the US Southern Command to the effect that further aggravation of the crisis in Venezuela might require a prompt response at a regional level. It should be understood that statements like these are adding to the instability, escalating the situation in that country. They cannot be treated otherwise than words to encourage Venezuelan radicals to create an atmosphere of uncertainty and instability and incite violent confrontation. We consider the fact that tensions are running high in Venezuela to be a very dangerous trend. Honestly, in our view, this would hardly be in the interests of the United States and the entire international community, including the countries in the region.

We would like to say again that all political processes unfolding in Venezuela should be strictly in line with the constitution, keep to both its letter and spirit in full, and comply with the governing laws. There is no alternative to a peaceful settlement of Venezuela’s internal problems reached at the negotiating table and in compliance with the constitution – and there cannot be any.

The situation in Syria

The military-political situation in Syria sharply deteriorated following the massive US strike on April 7 against the al-Shayrat airfield where Syrian Air Force planes are based. In this room, as well as for many other audiences, we have given an extended evaluation of that, issuing corresponding statements and explanations and making comments. As is known, Russia responded to that outright act of aggression against a sovereign UN member state by suspending the Russian-US memorandum on the prevention of air incidents in the course of operations in Syria. A corresponding explanation was provided via both the Defence Ministry and the Foreign Ministry. Washington’s use of force is a serious challenge not only to regional but also to international security.

Unfortunately, there is no stopping anti-Russian forces in the West, which are bent on wiping out the positive achievements on the path toward a peace settlement. They were put in place mainly through the efforts of Russia and its partners in the Astana process, as well as the efforts of UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and his team in Geneva.

Some western media outlets are not above peddling these fake news stories and outright slander. Consider, for example, the AP report of April 11 citing a high-ranking US official as saying that Russia knew about Syria’s coming chemical weapons attack in advance!

How can we comment on this? These news stories can only be commented on in the same spirit. Let’s try to do the same today. Maybe those across the ocean knew about the terrorists’ coming provocation and so targeted their cruise missiles at Syria’s al-Shayrat airport in advance. Are these the kinds of polemics we will engage in or will we talk in a constructive manner? Will we destroy the media with these fake reports or will we come to understand the need for a responsible approach toward dealing with long-running international problems? Would it not be better first to understand what really happened at Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 and ensure, as Russia immediately proposed, an impartial, objective and professional international investigation on the ground with the participation of OPCW experts? Unfortunately, our colleagues chose to act differently.

Our partners’ actions consists of constantly repeating the “vial of white powder” show at the UN Security Council that the US used to justify the need to destroy Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq in the early 2000s. The comparisons are not simply appropriate, they are self-evident. There is only one “but” here: the situation today is far more dangerous, because a new bloody and insidious player has emerged – international terrorism, as represented by ISIS, al-Nusra and other Al Qaeda affiliates. How they evolved, as a result of what countries’ mistakes and in what region – I believe we have talked enough about that to repeat it today.

Independent experts from the Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR), a Swedish NGO, have questioned the videos of the “victims of the chemical attack” that were accompanied by comments in Arabic as to how best to position a child in front of a camera.

As before, we urge our partners for equal cooperation based on mutual respect in the interest of achieving the most important goals on the international agenda today: eliminating the seat of international terrorism in Syria and reaching a political settlement in that country.

Hacking activity on the Foreign Ministry’s website

We would like to revisit the issue of hacking. However, today we will add a new twist to this traditional topic and tell you about hacker activity on the Foreign Ministry’s website.

I would like to remind you that for months Russia has been accused of using hackers to interfere in the internal affairs of the US and other western countries, but not a scrap of conclusive evidence has been presented either to us or to anybody else. All of these allegations follow the form of UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s remark that they have no evidence but are sure the Russians have the capability to meddle. Unlike our western colleagues, we do have something to show.

I would like to say that this is quite a sensational story. Today I will tell you about what our agency and just one website regularly run up against, although there are a lot of sites that regularly come under attack. I believe we will be regularly updating you on these statistics. This example will give you an idea of the scale of resources directed against Russian government agencies.

Specialists say the ministry’s website regularly comes under attack from IP addresses registered in the US. In February 2017 alone, three attacks were registered. In March 2017, we recorded a significantly heightened level of activity by so-called bots, automatic programmes that can adversely affect the Foreign Ministry’s website from the US. Their share of the total number of visitors to the pages was 88 percent (1.51 million bot users of 1.77 million came from US territory). This refers to visits not by ordinary users who are interested in specific materials but those who use the entire array of actions that are usually called hacking attacks, computer systems, everything that does not qualify as legal or legitimate use of cyber technology. Bot visits to our website account for 50 percent of the total (1.47 million page viewings of 2.97 million). Analysis showed that all of them have similar characteristics (they are used by the same programme or organisation). According to our technical services, they come mainly from the US, from California (64 percent of all queries from Mountain View (47 percent) and San Jose (17 percent)), as well as from Ohio (8 percent) and the District of Columbia (8 percent).

I would like to remind you once again that cyber security is traditionally a priority on Russia’s agenda not only at home: it is a focus of our international efforts. Russia has put forward an initiative that is known at the UN as International Information Security. We have posted a lot of materials on this issue on the Foreign Ministry’s website and the social media and Russian representatives have given interviews on it. We have repeatedly urged our western partners to engage in genuine multilateral cooperation to put an end to hacker attacks, which have become a serious destabilising factor today. We would advise our US partners, instead of trying to bring down the website of Russia’s foreign policy agency, to steer their efforts to a peaceful channel and do their best to fight cyber threats together.

To reiterate, we will keep monitoring these statistics. I would like to repeat that these are specific figures for representatives of the relevant US services to work on. If they are so responsive to everything related to cyber attacks, at this briefing we are giving them an opportunity to look into the modus operandi of hackers and people registered in the US who unscrupulously use internet technology based in the US or operate from its territory.

Question: What would Russia do if the United States repeated its missile strike on Syria?

Maria Zakharova: I did not expect this question. Do you have some information and that’s why you are asking? Are you planning something?

Question: I am not planning anything. It is unclear what Washington would do next.

Maria Zakharova: That’s funny. I was trying to imagine what would happen if a RT journalist asked a question like this at a US State Department briefing. I bet American news agencies would have published reports with headlines like, “RT has information about planned strikes.”

Our position is that the strike was an act of aggression from the standpoint of international law and documents on a Syrian settlement. We have stated our point of view publicly and at talks with the foreign ministers of the leading actors in the Syrian settlement. As you know, Sergey Lavrov has had numerous telephone conversations with his western and other colleagues. We will carry this on at the talks with Rex Tillerson.

You probably know that a conference will be held between Russia, Syria and Iraq in Moscow on Friday. The main issue on its agenda is how to return the situation back to the path of collective struggle against international terrorism in Syria and stimulate both the Geneva peace process and the Astana one.

I have a question to your question. Based on what you have asked, it can be assumed that strikes can be delivered spontaneously, without any cause, as I see it. I refuse to believe that a great nation like the United States can do what it did decades ago. After all, this is 2017 and not the 1970s, 1980s or even 1990s, when strikes were delivered against countries simply because someone in Washington decided to do this. There are such things as international law and the international community. These strikes on Syria are a blow to the collective foundations of global decision-making. This is what matters. At some stage, we looked back at US history, the history of the US foreign policy, and saw that this behaviour is characteristic of all US administrations. If I’m wrong, say so, name the administration that didn’t do this, that renounced the use of force in favour of peaceful and diplomatic  means. The public aspects of these actions varied from open bombing raids to material assistance to the opposition and militants, from mistakes with tragic consequences to violations of international law. A case in point is Libya and the way the resolution concerning it was distorted.

The world has approached a dangerous line, and the new challenges and threats have grown to a scale where such actions [as the US air strike on Syria] can catalyse not just dangerous but absolutely tragic events. I wish the world’s largest country – largest on all counts – would see this as the main argument.

Well, if you have any information, don’t feel shy to share it with us.

QuestionHow would Russia assess the possibility of a US military strike against North Korea? Is Moscow taking any steps to attempt to settle this conflict through peaceful means?

Maria Zakharova: Yesterday, we published a document just before Rex Tillerson’s visit. The document is available on the Foreign Ministry website and it outlines our position and concerns regarding statements on the possible use of force that have come indirectly from US officials and directly from sources and political analysts. I suggest that you to read this document. From our point of view, this is an important part of regional stability and security, and, as I said, this document lays out our position in detail.[1]

Question: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that the only countries that do not support the US position on Syria are Syria itself, North Korea, Iran and Russia. He also said that all of these countries, with the exception of Russia, are failed states. Can you please clarify if this is the complete list he mentioned?

Maria Zakharova: Iran is a “failed state”? Just look at Iran’s history. Are you in a position to buy a history book or any book on Iran? Can your media outlet do this?

Question: Yes.

Maria Zakharova: Then I strongly advise you to buy one and send it to the American official you quoted. So in future he knows what he is talking about.

[1] http://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/2724848

http://www.mid.ru/en/press_service/spokesman/briefings/-/asset_publisher/D2wHaWMCU6Od/content/id/2725573

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