Foreign Ministry briefing: Syria, Deir ez-Zor, the White Helmets, and what democratization means to the West

If our Western colleagues continue to talk about the democratisation of the Middle East and North Africa, knowing that they cannot retrace their steps, maybe we should choose a simpler solution, that is, change the definition of democratisation?

Maybe we should write an article for Wikipedia saying that democratisation as understood in the West amounts to total destruction of states, and provide the numerous examples? 

From the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation
April 27, 2017
Spokesperson Maria Zakharova

Excerpts:

The situation in Syria

The situation in Syria is still a focus of our attention. We anxiously monitor reports about the situation in Syria. Unfortunately, there is still plenty of cause for concern.

On April 25, it was reported that Turkish jets carried out a series of strikes on the positions of Kurdish self-defence detachments near Mount Karachok in northeastern Syria and near Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq. I would like to remind you that Kurdish detachments are the most effective fighting force in the war against ISIS terrorists in northeastern Syria. We were greatly disturbed by reports of Ankara’s operations. There is reason to believe that if it was not for the hasty US attack on Syria’s Shayrat Airbase, which was outside the bounds of international law, Turkey would not have carried out the recent strikes. It is necessary to put an end to arbitrariness on Syrian soil. We urge all international and regional partners to respect the sovereignty and independence of Syria and Iraq, as well as of other countries.

I would like to draw your attention to another issue. The targets that the Turkish Air Force hit in Syria included media facilities: a local TV and radio broadcasting station. Reports say some of your colleagues from the media centre of Kurdish self-defence forces were killed, among others. I would like to see the reaction of the relevant organisations and the journalistic community.

Syria’s government forces are successfully advancing on the positions of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists. The offensive in the north of Hama Province is moving forward. Despite the fierce resistance put up by Nusra and its allies, the large towns of Halfaya and Taybat al-Imam have been liberated. At present, the army is exploiting its strategic success, advancing toward the border of Hama and Idlib Provinces.

On April 19 and 21, Russian Aerospace Forces aircraft destroyed Jabhat al-Nusra’s large training camps in Idlib Province. The strikes were carried out with coordinates received from the so-called competing group, Jaysh al-Izzah.

The dynamic of events in Syria underscores the pressing need for an international meeting on Syria in Astana. The next meeting is scheduled for May 3-4. We hope that the Astana process will help record positive trends in the development of the situation in Syria, prevent the deterioration of the military-political situation and help the Syrian parties in search of compromise solutions, which would put an end to the protracted intra-Syrian confrontation and prevent terrorists from gaining full control of Syria and the entire Middle East region.

 

The humanitarian situation in Deir ez-Zor

Improving the humanitarian situation in Syria and providing aid to those in need is one of Russia’s priorities in Syria.

We have often talked about the Russian military’s contribution to achieving this goal. They deliver food, water and basic necessities to the Syrian people, often at the risk of their lives.

The situation in Deir ez-Zor, where about 200,000 people have been under ISIS siege for over three years now, is also the focus of our attention. Russian airplanes regularly deliver humanitarian aid to the besieged people by using parachute platforms, including aid that the Syrian authorities receive from the UN. The most recent aid delivery – 21tonnes of food – was made on April 24-25.

According to the UN, more than a half of Syria’s population – 13.5 million people, including 6.5 million children – need humanitarian aid; 11.5 million people need medical care and 12.1 million have no access to drinking water.

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Negligence and indifference in Netherlands in MH-17 investigation

From Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation
Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, February 3, 2017:

The Netherlands claim Russia’s primary radar data fail to meet international standards

Over the past several months we received a large number of questions, to which we were unable to respond at the time, as we were awaiting an appropriate reaction from the Netherlands, in particular, with regard to its statement that the format of the primary radar data provided by Russia was not up to international standards. As we informed you, such data were transferred to the Netherlands. We expected a corresponding reaction and so did not comment on it. That was followed by statements from The Hague claiming that the format of the primary radar data provided by Russia did not meet international standards. Again, we waited for a while, believing that this would be followed by some official correspondence or response. After all, the data that we provided were transferred through official channels. However, considering the large number of questions on the issue, I am ready to comment on it now.

I would like to start by saying that our Dutch colleagues chose a rather strange method of relating their problem. All of this is being done through the media. Presumably, this is a new Dutch fashion: communicating with Russian official agencies through the media. After all, there is the concept of “legal interaction,” within the framework of which the confidentiality of certain aspects of communication is still relevant due to an ongoing investigation. This legal interaction is part of an investigation that is in progress. There is also diplomacy, and there are diplomatic communication channels. Strangely, the Netherlands forgets this.

There is another aspect that we find surprising and cannot possibly ignore. How can one explain the time that the Netherlands required to see the so-called failure to meet international standards? For instance, it took them three months to understand that the disc could not be read. Somehow, this is hard to believe.

We believe that the explanation of what is going on is very simple. It is simply that the official investigation is in no hurry. In the summer, the victims’ relatives will mark the third anniversary of this terrible tragedy. However, to date, there is no coherent answer to the question about its causes or who is to blame.

Instead of prompt and transparent action, we are still seeing attempts to make groundless and unsubstantiated accusations against Russia. This time, to all appearances, they are aimed at diverting the attention of the victims’ families, who are demanding the resumption of the search mission and are accusing the Dutch authorities of negligence and indifference. None of that is in the interest of our Western colleagues, who do not bother to look for an answer to the question about what actually happened there.

I would also like to say a few words about these international standards that, according to the Netherlands, the format of our primary radar data failed to meet. As Russian Aviation Agency Deputy Chief Oleg Storchevoi explained recently, international civil aviation standards do not set any requirements on the list of parameters or radar data recording or storage format. In investigating air accidents, the ICAO recommends ensuring close interaction with companies that have specialists, equipment and software to decode such information.

Russia will be pleased to help, provide specialist assistance and equipment. The only problem is that no one is in a hurry to send this kind of request to Russia.
http://www.mid.ru/en/press_service/spokesman/briefings/-/asset_publisher/D2wHaWMCU6Od/content/id/2623713

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, February 3, 2017 – Donbass, Syria, Libya, Yemen,

From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russian Federation

February 3, 2017

Excerpts:

The situation in Donbass

 

In the early hours of February 3, Donetsk came under massive rocket attacks from the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Dozens of strikes from heavy large-caliber weapon systems, including Uragan and Grad multiple rocket launchers, were delivered against residential areas. Several civilians were killed or injured. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that there are children among the injured. Of course, destruction was caused. Nothing can justify this barbarous raid. By these actions, Kiev has grossly violated not only the Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of August 12, 1949 but also all moral norms. Only vandals could bomb a sleeping city and kill innocent people. We have no other definition for the people who carried out this nighttime raid.

It is enough to watch morning news bulletins to understand the extent of the horror that the residents of this region experienced last night. But not the Ukrainian media. There is a clear connection with official Kiev there, involving the use of propaganda as a weapon and a method of warfare against civilians. Kiev attempts to demonstrate the unity of its country and its people by using heavy artillery against sleeping residential areas, against civilians.

Today, Kiev not only has failed to express concern over this new round of the crisis and its humanitarian consequences, or to accept any responsibility for what is going on, but is boasting about the actions by its Armed Forces in Donbass without any qualms, even using the rostrum of the UN Security Council, where Ukraine assumed chairmanship on February 1. I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that Ukraine’s permanent representative to the UN Vladimir Yelchenko stated that the events around Avdeyevka have demonstrated the power and capabilities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The capability to bomb civilians and children in their sleep? There is no need to demonstrate these capabilities any further. Everyone already knows about them. You’d do better to show your ability to establish at least some contact with the people who you describe as your citizens. All of this is taking place amid Kiev’s constant accusations against the DPR and the LPR. Based on Mr Yelchenko’s statement, Kiev openly talks about the successes of its Armed Forces. This is in effect an admission that shows who is behind this new round of tension in Donbass and who is violating the Minsk agreements. These are no longer violations, this is mockery of the Minsk agreements and the Package of Measures, among others. I would like to reiterate that the weapon systems used by Kiev are completely prohibited under the aforementioned documents and agreements.

Earlier this week we already expressed our concern over the serious worsening of the situation in Donbass. In this connection, on January 31, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement and the Russian leadership made a comment.

I would like to remind that the conflict has escalated along the contact line north of Donetsk, as well as in the Mariupol area. The Ukrainian Armed Forces have made new attempts to breach the line of contact and seize so-called gray zones and other territories in Donbass. These attempts were repulsed by militia forces.

That the escalation of the situation was initiated by the Ukrainian Armed Forces – in addition to the fact that this was reported in the media and was all but openly admitted by Mr Yelchenko – was recorded by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. Its video cameras registered the first mass strikes originating from the northwest and west, that is, the positions of Ukrainian security forces. What’s more, tank guns, artillery systems and multiple rocket launchers were used. To reiterate, all of these weapon systems are prohibited by the Minsk Package of Measures. According to the mission’s February 1 report, the total number of explosions registered the day before was an all-time high. There were over 10,000 explosions, including more than 9,000 near Avdeyevka and Yasinovataya, north of Donetsk.

The OSCE mission reported civilian casualties in Donetsk suburbs. OSCE monitors themselves were also at risk during these events.

We urge the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to conduct objective and impartial monitoring of the situation in Donbass and other parts of Ukraine, in keeping with its mandate. The mission’s monitoring is not art for art’s sake, not work for the sake of work. These materials should have concrete results. The international community as a whole should act on the basis of the information that is provided. How much more does the obvious need to be demonstrated? How much longer must it be explained what we have been trying to explain for so many years? Stop killing your own citizens. We appeal to Kiev and the world community as a whole: you are so concerned about the fate of civilians everywhere, in regions that are not connected to Europe, that are separated by seas, by long distances, that you fail to see what is taking place in Europe itself. For two years now Europeans have been killing Europeans, and all of this is happening with the approval of the Europeans themselves. This is a disgrace to modern-day Europe. How can you possibly fail to understand this? You have protected Ukraine for so many years, [so] you are directly responsible for it. Where are you? Where are you hiding? Thanks to BBC footage (it should be given credit for this) we can see the mind-boggling images of tanks and heavy weapon systems being positioned near civilian facilities. Look at how this footage ends: representatives of the Ukrainian Armed Forces stand around laughing, discussing something; presumably they are preparing for nighttime bombing attacks. The last episode in this video is totally beyond good and evil. Their representative stands, bending over an OSCE representative and telling him something. What is there to tell? Everything is out there to see: tanks using civilians as a human shield. And then you will say that Ukrainian civilians “on the other side” are being killed. What are you doing? Are you blind? It seems as if nobody sees this and they keep saying that Russia violates the Minsk agreements. Do you have any conscience? Do the children of Donbass not exist for Europeans? We have heard so often Europeans talk about the situation in Syria and Aleppo. Donbass is closer to you. Are you not seeing them at all? Or are they not the children to be concerned about? Are you usually concerned about other children? The whole world watched the account of the Aleppo girl. No, the Donbass children do not have accounts, because they do not engage in propaganda. They simply live and suffer, while Europe could not care less about what is happening on its territory. You have stated so often that Ukraine is part of Europe and that Ukraine is close to the European community. Do not abandon those you took so long to befriend.

 

Reporters under artillery fire in Donetsk

 

We are deeply concerned about reporters’ safety in this region.

On January 31, the NTV channel crew, RT video agency stringer Miroshnikov, Lifenews cameraperson Chuprina, and a correspondent from the Donetsk News Agency came under fire from Ukrainian armed forces artillery in the Kiev District of Donetsk. We believe the list is incomplete. Two reporters were wounded. Russia’s Investigative Committee is looking into the circumstances of this incident as part of a criminal investigation into illegal warfare tactics.

We consider this incident a gross violation of international humanitarian laws and standards. Notably, it is our Western colleagues who always refer to reporters as a category in need of more rights and legal tools to ensure their safety. No one noticed that the reporters were fired at? Again? The most cynical part is that Kiev is currently hosting a themed conference attended by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. I’m just wondering, will no one notice this time, too, that both Russian and other media representatives were fired at? I repeat, we consider this incident a gross violation of international humanitarian laws and standards, under which media workers in an armed conflict zone are considered civilians and have the highest degree of legal protection.

Once again, we have to state with regret the absence of a response to non-compliance with the commitments to ensure the safety of reporters on behalf of specialised intergovernmental organisations. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic didn’t consider it necessary to publicly condemn the incident. We are not talking about other representatives of various international organisations, who are invariably up in the arms when it comes to other conflicts. The shelling of the reporters was not posted on the website of the Council of Europe for the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists. Apparently, they are still busy looking for Russian hackers.

We are convinced that such flagrant violations of the rights of media workers, especially in conflict areas, should not be ignored by the relevant international organisations. Once again, we are waiting for an objective assessment of what happened by the participants of a conference, which is taking place, by a dreadful confluence of circumstances, in Kiev under the auspices of the OSCE.

 

The situation in Syria

 

The cessation of hostilities established in Syria with the mediation of Russia and Turkey on December 30, 2016 continues to hold, with rare violations which are the exception rather than the rule.

We repeat that the cessation of hostilities does not apply to ISIS, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) or other terrorist groups, and fighting against them continues.

On January 28, Syrian government forces regained control of the only source of drinking water at Ain Al-Fiji outside of Damascus. On January 29, the army command announced the completion of the operation in Wadi Barada, including Ain Al-Fiji. According to available information, a pacification agreement was reached with the militants fighting there following negotiations. Those willing to lay down their arms will take advantage of an amnesty, and the so-called “die-hards” and their families will be evacuated to Idlib. Military engineers began de-mining the aqueduct and the surrounding areas. Repair crews witnessed the destruction of about 85 per cent of the infrastructure at the Ain Al-Fiji water pumping station and related equipment and power units. Fresh water supply to Damascus is expected to be resumed in full within a few days.

The Syrian armed forces and militias continue to drive ISIS out of towns and villages. Recently, eight towns were liberated: Bijan, Tell Bijaniya, Sarda, al-Qlea, Hirbet al-Tuba and Qsir in the Province of Aleppo and Murhatan and Tudmoriya in the Homs Province. According to the Russian Defence Ministry, Syrian government troops have liberated 29 towns and villages since January 1. According to the Centre for Reconciliation, a total of 913.1 square kilometres of Syrian land has been liberated since January 1.

Following the International Meeting on Syria in Astana, a rift developed in the ranks of the anti-government illegal armed formations. Terrorists from Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) launched a massive attack against the armed opposition groups which sent their representatives to the forum in Astana. In this situation, some of the so-called “moderate opposition” groups requested protection from Ahrar al-Sham, as the most powerful group that claims neutrality in the conflict between Nusra and Astana meeting participants.

Meanwhile, the gangs whose ringleaders wanted to continue the armed fight against the government began to actively swear allegiance to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. To unite their supporters, Nusra created a new entity called the Levant Liberation Association, whose militants entered the fight against Ahrar Al-Sham in an attempt to drive the latter from the areas in the vicinity of the Syrian-Turkish border. Those who until recently considered and declared themselves comrades-in-arms, have now become rivals, and are desperately fighting for supply channels for arms and other resources.

The situation outside the town of Deir ez-Zor, which is surrounded by ISIS, remains tense. The terrorists are launching defiant attacks on a military airfield that is cut off from the town. The Syrian armed forces are sending in more troops by air to Deir ez-Zor. Russian Aerospace Force and Syria’s Air Force are delivering massive missile and bomb strikes on ISIS positions.

We took note of the statements by representatives of the political and armed Syrian opposition, in which they are trying to anticipate the outcome of the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva held under the auspices of the UN, which are planned to be resumed on February 20. Again, we are hearing ultimatums as preconditions for the opposition to come to the Geneva talks. The part where they demand for UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura to apologise for his words, in which he expressed his willingness to form an opposition delegation in the event the opposition doesn’t do so before February 8, deserves a special mention. On our part, we fully support Staffan de Mistura’s resolute commitment to an early resumption of intra-Syrian contacts in Geneva. We consider any attempts to protract or delay them to be unacceptable.

 

The humanitarian situation in Yemen

 

The humanitarian situation in Yemen remains grave, if not catastrophic, which would better reflect the ongoing events under the current conditions. Since March 2015, the military clashes between the sides in Yemen, with the direct involvement of the Saudi-led coalition, have resulted in at least 7,500 deaths and over 40,000 wounded. Over 80 per cent of the country’s population – or about 19 million people – are in need of humanitarian aid. Two million Yemeni citizens have become internally displaced people, not counting tens of thousands of refugees.

There is a massive famine, with 97 per cent of children suffering acute malnutrition. According to reports from members of UN humanitarian missions, there are increasing instances of cases when parents with many children, unable to feed all of them, have to choose one to feed, while the others starve to death. And this is happening at the beginning of the 21st century!

Air strikes have inflicted immense damage to Yemen’s civilian infrastructure, destroying schools, hospitals and transport facilities. Due to the ongoing illegal air blockade and unlawful hindering of sea transport, neither food nor medications can be delivered to the country. The operations at the port of Al Hudaydah, Yemen’s main sea gate, have been brought to a standstill. The work of the country’s main airport in Sana’a has been halted as well. There is an acute shortage of medications, with many Yemeni citizens dying of curable diseases.

In this context, we are particularly alarmed and indignant about the lack of an adequate response and attention to the unprecedented tragedy in Yemen from the international humanitarian and human rights community, especially given the hysterical statements as regards the situation in Syria. Sadly, this has become a typical reaction from the Western mainstream. They choose to see what is advantageous and where it is necessary to hush up their own efforts, which for many years have been taken to derail security and stability, and fail to see the suffering of other people – in this case, much more suffering people – if there is no interest in doing so. This is their ‘humanitarian law.’ We are convinced that in this situation it is inappropriate to be guided by political considerations and that double standards are unacceptable. These are not even double standards. It is impossible to ignore such figures when millions of people are involved.

For our part, we will continue to closely follow the situation in Yemen and give all-out assistance to the work of international, above all UN humanitarian agencies in that country. We cannot allow the tragedy in Yemen to get lost amid other conflicts that are shattering the Middle East and North Africa.

 

The situation in Libya                  

 

A couple of days ago, the Russian Foreign Ministry received questions from the publication Politico regarding Russia’s foreign policy on Libya. Let me specify what kinds of questions were posed. Considering Russia’s global lead in resolving the crisis in Syria, does Russia plan to play a leading role in Libya? Does Russia back the power ambitions of General Khalifa Haftar? Does it view his role in the Libyan settlement as political or military in nature? What is Russia’s vision of a plan to stabilise the situation in Libya? Does Russia continue to support the internationally recognised government in Tripoli? We promptly gave Politico detailed answers to all those questions. We did not cherish hope that our position would be reflected fully. But we certainly did not count on what we got in the end. Naturally, the article that followed could be called thematic, in tune with the mainstream. Of the “Russians did it” variety, as I would call it. Given the media harm that the above publication did to us, in spite of the fact that we strove to observe professional and ethical norms while communicating with them, I would like to spell out our answers to its questions, so that mass media and the public could hear Russia’s position on Libya directly from us, rather than from a media outlet which has completely distorted all that is happening on the Libyan track of Russia’s foreign policy.

We have been closely watching the developments in Libya, something you probably already know. Here is an interesting fact. We spoke out on the Libyan issue so many times, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke about this so many times, we published detailed commentaries on all our resources, and yet Politico does not see this. Why? I repeat, they did not even see the answers that were prepared specially for them.

We cannot but be concerned over the ongoing confrontation between Tripoli and Tobruk that has led to the virtual paralysis of the entire system of government. As a result of this, socioeconomic problems are becoming worse. Amid the power vacuum, the presence of the ISIS and Al Qaeda continues in some districts, and associated local extremist groups also remain active.

We are not indifferent to the fate of Libya. Our absolute priority is to preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of that country. We want Libya to overcome the protracted crisis as soon as possible, to become again a prosperous state, relying on strong government institutions, efficient army and law-enforcement agencies, and to regain the status of an important regional player.

That is why we welcomed the signing of the Libyan Political Agreement on national reconciliation on December 17, 2015, in Skhirat, Morocco. We also supported the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution No. 2259, which enshrined the Skhirat agreements as the key element in settling the Libyan crisis. That said, I would like to recall that we initiated the provisions providing for an inclusive political process.

Over one year has passed since then, but the situation has not changed for the better. The Presidential Council and the Government of National Accord established based on the Skhirat Agreement failed to operate efficiently. The priority goals of the transitional period, stipulated by the Skhirat roadmap, have not been reached: the work on the draft constitution has not been completed, and general elections, following which permanent bodies of state authority should have been formed, have not been held.

We believe that Libyans themselves should decide the fate of their country. We consider counter-productive all attempts to impose any ready-made solutions on them. This is our position of principle, not only because it is good in theory, but because nothing else works in practice. We always talk about this to our Western partners and to Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya Martin Kobler.

At the same time we are convinced that new national power structures should represent the interests of all public and political forces and tribal groups. Without it we will not be able to start moving the process out of its current stalemate. This being said, no matter how the situation evolves, the political process in Libya should be based on all involved parties renouncing power methods of resolving the crisis. We should look for ways to break the deadlock through joint efforts at the negotiating table. We cannot see any alternative to a political settlement.

In line with this approach, we are carrying out methodical work with both centres of power in Libya: Tripoli and their opponents in Tobruk. We are trying to encourage them to overcome internal disagreements and look for middle ground on all points of dispute. We stressed the importance of building a constructive dialogue in our conversations with Chairman of the House of Representatives (Parliament in Tobruk) Aguila Saleh and Libyan National Army Commander Marshal Khalifa Haftar during their visits to Moscow in November and December 2016. We address the Government of National Accord in the same vein. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in New York in September of last year. We are planning to receive him in Moscow in the near future, in February.

Russia’s contacts with Marshal Haftar arouse keen interest in the foreign media and among diplomatic analysts. I have repeatedly come across situations when Russia’s efforts and contacts are quoted out of the context of what we are doing concerning Libya, and are considered as something standing separately, detached from the rest of our steps and actions aimed at the settlement of the situation in that country. Of course, this distorts the objective picture in many ways. Moscow proceeds from the premise that Marshal Haftar is a political heavyweight who exercises a dominant influence on the alignment of political forces in modern-day Libya. In addition, he has made a significant contribution to the struggle against ISIS terrorists and he continues do so. As a result of his effort, the country has resumed oil exports and has started to obtain the resources necessary for addressing urgent social and economic problems.

I would like to emphasise once again that we cooperate with various forces and we are informing you about this with an understanding of the principles that, in our opinion, underlie the potential Libyan settlement. We believe that the Libyan National Army could be the backbone of the united Libyan armed forces. On the whole, it consists of well-equipped and organised paramilitary units that have proven their capability to engage in large-scale warfare. This is evidenced by their rather successful clearing operation, eliminating extremists in Benghazi, Derna and some other communities in East Libya. The army’s chief function should boil down to fighting against the terrorist underworld and maintaining law and order.

These are our answers to the questions that you posed. I sincerely recommend that you read the article in Politico, so that you may compare our position with what is written in that publication. Everything else concerning this publication’s coverage of Russia’s approaches looks roughly the same, which is, certainly, unfortunate.

 

Question: What is Russia doing to ease tensions or improve the rapidly deteriorating situation in Donbass? Do you maintain contact with anyone?

Maria Zakharova: The UN Security Council recently held a meeting at the foreign minister level, and we also maintain contact with our foreign colleagues, including at international organisations. I would like you to take note of Vitaly Churkin’s statement, which has been published. We are working closely with our OSCE colleagues, the OSCE countries and the organisation itself, on the issue of objective presentation and timely provision of materials by OSCE observers, so that these materials can break out of virtual reality and be used for planning practical actions.

In the meantime, we continued to provide humanitarian aid to Donbass civilians. You know about the volume, size and forms of this aid. Government agencies and public organisations have not stopped sending this aid even for a day. It includes everything that is in short supply, including foodstuffs, medicines and other basic necessities, which are collected, packed and dispatched. Do you remember how this all started? We were almost accused of invading Ukraine when we sent the first convoys. Unfortunately, the international community has not given as much attention to subsequent convoys, although we need it to give large and objective coverage to our humanitarian efforts.

Of course, contact will be maintained at the bilateral level and within the framework of international organisations.

http://www.mid.ru/en/press_service/spokesman/briefings/-/asset_publisher/D2wHaWMCU6Od/content/id/2623713

Briefing by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, January 19, 2017; on Obama’s impact on Russian-American relations and UN statement by Samantha Power

From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation
January 19, 2017

Excerpts:

Obama presidency impact on Russian-American relations

 

As you may know, the new US President, Donald Trump, is to be inaugurated on January 20. This offers hope that the tensions in Russian-US relations that were engineered by the former Obama team will be supplanted. In recent days, we have heard a lot about Russia, particularly on the foreign policy track, from the US administration and its representatives. Apart from the inauguration, today is the last day for the outgoing administration. It seems that the statements made by foreign policy officials – our colleagues, or our partners, as we call them – over the past few days present an occasion to sum up the relations between our two countries during Barack Obama’s eight years in power. There is a lot to talk about, and so I’ll take the time to talk about it.

The results, regrettably, are lamentable. The outgoing Democratic team has consciously ruined bilateral relations, allowing them to fall to Cold War levels. Moreover, this approach has continued to its final day and even continues in its last hours in an attempt to batter their foundation.

In retrospect, it will be recalled that it was Barack Obama who declared a reset in and an all-out development of relations with Russia at the start of his first term of office in 2009. At a certain stage, we managed to sign a number of important bilateral agreements, including the START Treaty (2010).

But our partnership didn’t last long. While in word promising to cooperate respectfully, Washington really envisioned a style of cooperation that looked more like the leader and the led. This is the approach that the White House is accustomed to using with the Western European countries. When it became clear that it would not work with Russia, the US began to fear that we would strengthen our position in the world and began steering towards a confrontation, which, among other things, included using various forms of pressure.

I would like to stress in particular that this began well before the events in Ukraine. Everything that was later covered up and explained by Crimea, Donbass and so on, had nothing to do with reality. We expressed this on many occasions. I can cite several examples: the anti-Russian Magnitsky Act of December 2012; we also recall that, even before the events in Ukraine, US secret services launched a real hunt for Russians in third countries. The most notorious case in point is the abduction of Viktor Bout, but there were another 27 Russian nationals who fell victim to this vile game thereafter. US secret services and the administration were acting on the sly: they did not advise Russian law enforcement about the grievances against our fellow citizens (although the laws needed for this were in place) but they abducted them during their travels abroad.

Washington even avoided consultations on a joint effort against cybercrime, although 60 per cent of the said arrests in third countries were related to accusations of stealing credit card data or account fraud. Russia regularly and repeatedly offered proposals to cooperate in this area. Similarly, they were reluctant to go along with us on other issues on the bilateral agenda.

Still fresh in our memory were attempts to discredit the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi (incidentally, this was also before Crimea), which were made both shortly before and directly during the Olympics. Later this took the form of an unprecedented public harassment campaign directed against Russia’s entire sports organisation. Symptomatically, the US Anti-Doping Agency played first string in attempts to cut Russian athletes from international competitions. Let me remind you that the USADA is financed by the US.

The coup in Kiev three years ago, in which the Obama administration was involved, put everything in the right perspective in our relations with it. Since the Obama administration openly proclaimed a policy for the systematic containment of Russia, our American partners have suspended many communication channels, including the Bilateral Presidential Commission and its 21 working groups.

Using sanctions to pressure Russia, Washington has imposed or expanded various restrictions against Russia 35 times under a variety of pretexts since 2014. The United States has blacklisted 172 Russian citizens and 350 legal entities, including Russia’s leading companies in energy, the defence industry and the financial sector.

To justify this policy, they have invented a completely unsubstantiated thesis about Russia’s “aggressive behaviour” and unleashed a powerful propaganda campaign to support it. The United States used this pretext to build up the Pentagon’s and NATO capabilities on the Russian border, continued with BMD deployment and carried out other military preparations. We have talked about this in detail and have provided our views on it. Acting within this policy, which has been undermining European and global security, the White House referred to the Baltic countries and Poland as “frontline states,” as if they seriously believed that a military confrontation with Russia was possible.

Initially, Washington’s policy of isolating Russia caused only misunderstanding. It was difficult to take the stated objectives seriously, and we were right, because this policy suffered a crushing defeat. But they provided a philosophical and politological basis for their defeat. US Secretary of State John Kerry said while on a visit in Moscow that the United States cannot do without Russia in tackling international issues. It took them only a few years – not decades – to invent an isolation concept, attempts to implement it and then explain why it failed.

I would like to provide proof of the absurdity of this concept: over 14 months from May 2015 to July 2016, US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Russia four times at his initiative. Also, 66 of the 70 telephone conversations with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were held at his request last year alone, at the height of Russia’s alleged isolation. I wonder how many telephone conversations we could have had if the situation in bilateral relations were close to normal.

However, our attempts to work with the United States on some international issues were complicated by the Obama Administration’s inconsistency. For example, Washington kept advancing new demands regarding Syria but failed to implement its commitment to separate the so-called moderate opposition from the terrorist groups. They had more than enough time to do this. The United States made this commitment a year ago, but as you know, it has not implemented it. On the contrary, instead of following through on White House pledges to proceed towards a peaceful settlement, they did their best to protect the terrorists from strikes and even supplied weapons to them, including Jabhat al-Nusra. They planned to use the terrorists to overthrow the government in Damascus. Mind you, we are not talking about imaginary moderates but a combat division of al-Qaeda, an organisation that killed 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001. Under American law, support for terrorists is a serious crime. Americans have all heard about the alleged Russian hackers, but nobody knows that the US administration supported an organisation that killed Americans.

The state of affairs in the economy was no better. Washington’s targeted efforts provided all the opportunities for this purpose, using all available leverage on the international scene to make life more difficult for Russian economic operators and the entire Russian economy. You may recall that Barack Obama noted with satisfaction some time later that the Russian economy was “in tatters.” Of course, this could have been true, but I would like to say that leading US companies did not want to leave the Russian market despite the White House’s insistence. It proved impossible to engineer Russia’s complete isolation even within the United States, although bilateral economic relations were damaged. As you understand, we had to do something. So, we took advantage of the emerging situation to promote our own economic development agenda and diversified our global trade ties.

It should be specially noted that, several years ago, the Obama administration started exerting routine pressure on Russian diplomatic missions in the United States. Unfortunately, attempts by the secret service to recruit Russian officials became an extremely unpleasant part of the daily routine. Last year, out of the blue, came a ban on Russian diplomatic missions using some of  their vehicles, including large-capacity buses, which lasted for several months. This was followed by toughening the regulations for the stay of official Russian delegations in the United States: now they had to notify the US Department of State about any trips outside the 25-mile (41-kilometre) zone around Russia’s diplomatic missions. Just think how much this limited their opportunities.

We are now discussing this openly. All this time, we tried to cooperate constructively with the US Department of State on all these issues. This was our day-to-day work which involved the Russian Embassy and the Foreign Ministry, and continued during talks between the Russian Foreign Minister and the US Secretary of State. We raised and discussed all these issues. On the other hand, we do perceive a desire of State Department representatives to sort things out; many of their efforts proved sincere but were blocked  at the administration level. Our work became increasingly difficult.

In 2013, US authorities began to persecute American citizens planning to take part in introductory tours organised by the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo). As you may remember, we have discussed this issue in the past. The FBI began to summon them for interrogations and openly intimidate them. In January 2016, US authorities went as far as to strip five of the six Russian honourary consuls of their accreditation in various states. These honourary consuls also helped expand bilateral ties, conducted practical work and maintained cooperation involving ordinary people. That is the environment in which we had to work.

It is also hard to assess from positions of common sense the russophobic hysteria that began to be incited in the US in the run-up to the presidential election. The US presidential election is a special factor and a special stage in bilateral Russian-US relations. In the summer of 2016, the White House leaked groundless accusations of Russia interfering in the election campaign and information about “Russian hackers” allegedly tampering with servers, websites, etc. to the media. The media and US secret services incited this all the time through “leaks” and through reports published by their “pocket” media. They forced the public to consume this media concoction involving pseudo-facts.

After the November 8 vote, as I see it, the Obama administration just went over the edge. One had the impression that they had decided to vent their entire wrath on us. It was not simply a conceptual story, where we were a factor in their political infighting. No sir, it was base household vengeance that admitted of all expedients. And the whole reason was that the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, lost the election. This was done in order to maximally complicate things for the President-elect, Donald Trump, and call into question his victory. All of that, in our view, assumed morbid forms. Lies and not just concoctions about “hacking” and “Moscow’s stolen election” were pouring in torrents.

We have yet another version. Among other things, all of this might have been done and continues in the same vein today because the Democrats want to vindicate themselves before the numerous sponsors of their campaign. That campaign was not simply expensive: it was one of the costliest or even the costliest in history. A huge amount of money was circulating in the race. The mainstream media were trying to leave people in no doubt that Clinton and no other was to win. This was being done to attract even more money. Now they have to give an account to their donors. Some unseemly things are coming to the surface, like improper use of the media, plants and suppression of information. They have to bear not only moral but also financial responsibility before these people. But they always have an answer at the ready as to who is to blame. That’s right, Russia is to blame. Many millions of dollars were invested in the hope of future political and commercial dividends. Of course, they have to acquit themselves. But regardless of their motives, additional serious damage was done on purpose to our relations, primarily to the trust between our countries and peoples.

The expulsion from the United States of 35 Russian diplomats on New Year’s Eve and the barring of access to the Russian Embassy’s and the Russia UN Mission’s recreational facilities enjoying diplomatic immunity (for they have no other status under the law) is a story apart. This is a case of actual confiscation of property that is owned by the Russian government and enjoys diplomatic immunity, which is a gross violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

As you may know, we have decided to refrain from a mirror-like response to these totally inadequate escapades. But the principle of reciprocity in diplomacy is still in effect. The Obama administration’s behaviour is so absurd and shameful for such a great country as the United States that one is hard put to associate these convulsive actions with what the American people stand for.

We sincerely regret that the Obama presidency, particularly its second term, was a period of lost opportunities for bilateral relations. It did little good for the rest of the world as well, with instability increasing over the past eight years, including because of Washington’s reckless moves.

We would like to hope that following the changes in the White House it will become possible to reverse the dangerous trend towards decay in Russian-American ties and lead our relations out of the nosedive where they were sent by Barack Obama. We expect the new administration to display wisdom and willingness for a normal pragmatic dialogue, for which Russia has always been ready.

 

The situation with Russian recreation facility in Oyster Bay

 

I would like to note that according to our data and press reports, unidentified persons, accompanied by the police, broke the locks on the fence and entered the property. All this is clearly a violation of diplomatic immunity and ownership rights, and it is also a very dangerous trend that generally violates all the existing norms and ideas regarding the legality of the authorities’ actions.

Let me reiterate, we will monitor the situation, and we will definitely comment on it as soon as we get updates.

 

Statement by US Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power

 

And the last remark to wrap up the topic. I cannot leave this without comment because to a large extent the actions taken by our American colleagues regarding Russia were based on unreasonably high ambitions, and at times it simply looked like ignorance. This is confirmed by a recent statement by US Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power. She claims that the United States “defeated the forces of fascism and communism” and “now confront the forces of authoritarianism and nihilism.”  

Let us get this straight. She referred to four phenomena. Who defeated fascism? This claim is made by a person who works at the United Nations, which was established by the international community following the outcome of World War II. Isn’t it embarrassing to make such a claim? What about the anti-Hitler coalition and its members’ contribution? Is it the US alone that defeated Nazism? She should have said that they defeated fascism on their territory to testify to her total ignorance.

The United States “defeated the forces of communism.” The UNSC has 15 chairs around its table with five of them occupied by permanent members.  Every day Samantha Power faces the Permanent Representative of China. She might at least have wondered how big the membership of the Communist Party in that country is, so as not to feel embarrassed to enter the UNSC.

Now they “confront the forces of authoritarianism.” So much has been voiced during the election race! The administration was totally engaged in the US presidential election. We watched all that, there is nothing to hide. All the administrative backup was aimed at one thing – Hillary Clinton’s victory. I wonder if Samantha Power knows which countries made contributions to the Clinton Foundation? This is regarding confronting the forces of authoritarianism. Or maybe she believes they are fighting authoritarianism by getting money from it? The list of countries should be made public, and then it will become absolutely clear with whom the US cooperates and from whom the Democratic presidential candidate gets the funding.

I don’t even want to comment on confronting the forces of nihilism. It is nothing but historical and philosophical obscurantism to claim that the world’s largest country is fighting nihilism; this is beyond comment.

Those claims have cleared up a lot of things.

 

Persisting violations of migrant rights in EU countries

 

We have noticed the information coming from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, that recorded 503,700 attempts to illegally cross European Union borders in 2016. Most of these people, 364,000 of 503,700, arrived in EU countries via the Mediterranean Sea.

We would like to note that, despite the reduced migrant traffic via the Aegean Sea, the situation in the central Mediterranean region remains tense. In 2016, 181,000 people arrived via Libya in Italy alone last year from Nigeria, Eritrea, Guinea and other African countries; this is 20 per cent more than 2015 levels. And this figure includes 24,000 unattended minors. Of course, this is the most vulnerable category in need of special attention and protection, so that it will not be victimised by organised crime. They arrive in another country absolutely illegally and completely unattended. Doubtless, a tragic fate awaits most of these children.

Obviously, illegal migration via the Mediterranean will continue through 2017, and could lead to new violations and fatalities. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 219 people died since early January 2017.

We would also like to voice our regret in connection with the absolute sluggishness of the concerned agencies of the EU member-states, including Germany, that have failed to review about 943,000 requests by asylum-seekers in a timely manner. As a result, people have to live in uncomfortable and degrading conditions while waiting for a decision. We urge our European partners to honour their obligations under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

We would like to once again recall that the migration situation has been aggravated by an irresponsible and ill-conceived policy aiming to destabilise states and replace undesirable governments in the Middle East and North Africa. Only a revision of this policy and the attainment of peace and stability in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen and other countries can significantly change the situation for the better.

 

Anti-Russia insinuations in the context of talks on a Cyprus political settlement

 

We have reacted with dismay to comments by some Cypriot media outlets in the context of the recent conference on a Cyprus political settlement in Geneva. For example, some stories claim that Russia is allegedly trying to prevent the island’s reunification. According to the logic of these media outlets, EU-Turkey rapprochement, as well as EU-NATO cooperation that has been blocked by the unresolved situation at the talks between the two Cypriot communities, allegedly don’t meet Russian interests.

We clearly see the discontent of certain pro-US and pro-UK political circles with the principled Russian stand implying that ready-made prescriptions and artificial haste should not be imposed on the parties to the Cypriot conflict to quickly achieve a final resolution to the Cypriot issue at any cost.

In this connection, we would like to once again emphasise our conviction that a long-term and lasting resolution to the Cypriot issue is only possible if it reflects the political will of Greek and Turkish Cypriots, and if it is accepted by the entire population of the island. To the best of our knowledge, the leaders of both Cypriot communities agree with this precept. This is simply common sense.

Claims about any Russian attempts to block, obstruct or hamper the negotiating process are not backed by fact and are unreasonable.

We would like to note that anti-Russia insinuations are like a “smokescreen” for obscuring the real problems that need to be resolved in a Cypriot political settlement. For example, Russia only maintains a cultural-humanitarian and economic presence in Cyprus. At the same time, sovereign UK bases are still maintained on the island under the 1960 Zurich-London agreements. This is an obvious anachronism in the current situation. However, the Western press does not consider this situation in any way, and we are not seeing any mood of protest in the Western media.

Russia successfully develops its relations with the Republic of Cyprus in various areas, and we are confident that these relations will continue to be strengthened in the event of the island’s reunification. We know that Cypriot leaders advocate the sustained development of bilateral cooperation. We believe that anti-Russia comments by a number of media outlets do not benefit this process and do not meet the interests of the Cypriots themselves. We hope that the Cypriot authorities will respond accordingly.

 

Alleged Russian involvement in cyberattacks against the OSCE

 

Unfortunately, a new page has been added to the unprecedented campaign to discredit Russia in the eyes of the global public.

Washington tried to explain its losses by blaming the alleged Russian high-tech intervention in the US election system. It also did this to shift the image of the top global cyber aggressor from itself to Russia, although we know, from materials which have sent many people in the United States to prison, who staged cyberattacks and who were the targets. Instead of remorse and ceasing cyber interference in the global information space, some Western countries continue to work to present Russia as a cyber-aggressor country that is a threat to global cyberspace.

We regret that Germany has taken this path too, choosing to follow in the footsteps of its senior partners. In particular, German security services have accused Russia of attacking OSCE servers, an international organisation responsible for security and stability in Europe. How should we respond to this?

I don’t have to tell you that we have not received any response to the official requests we sent to the related organisations in charge of investigating any such incidents. You only find information in the information space, which prompts the conclusion that our partners never had and still have no proof or facts to implicate our alleged crimes.

These accusations sound especially absurd considering that a month ago Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov proposed at the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Hamburg, Germany, an action plan aimed at strengthening confidence in the information space. The first measure was to identify ways to improve the OSCE role in resolving cyber incidents and for the OSCE to provide a platform for direct dialogue on this issue.

Russia has proposed many initiatives on international information security over the past years. These include a concept for a UN Convention on International Information Security, the International Code of Conduct for Information Security drafted by the SCO member states, the above action plan for the OSCE and many other documents.

Russia has long urged its partners to adopt a special legal instrument for fighting mercenary cybercrime and cyber bullying.

This could be the universal UN convention on cooperation in fighting information crime, which Russia drafted. The drafted convention includes several provisions on fighting the deliberate abuse of online information, which is, in plain English, hacking.

Russia is ready for any form of cooperation in fighting cyberattacks and has formulated certain proposals in this sphere, whereas the unconstructive Western position is hindering the development of international cooperation in this area. We hope our partners will stop shifting the blame onto us and will instead look at the situation soberly and without bias.

 

For the full press conference:

http://www.mid.ru/en/press_service/spokesman/briefings/-/asset_publisher/D2wHaWMCU6Od/content/id/2605982