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