Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova

August 25, 2016

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry

Today, a delegation headed by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov leaves for Geneva, where he will hold talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry on August 26. They agreed to hold this meeting during a telephone conversation yesterday.

The sides are expected to focus on reaching a settlement in Syria, including the prospects for establishing close coordination between Russia and the United States in their efforts to combat terrorist groups operating in Syria. Other international issues, including Ukraine and Russia-US bilateral relations, may also be considered. We will keep you updated about all the events that will take place there.

The situation on the Korean Peninsula

We regretfully note that the prospects for normalising the situation on the Korean Peninsula are meagre. However, it is unlikely that only one side is to blame for that. We believe that the reasons for this state of affairs actually lie in the lack of confidence and in the opponents’ tendency to use force as arguments. Demonstrations of military might instead of trying to find the key to the solution of the existing problems through peaceful negotiations hardly add stability to the situation. Our assessment is nothing new, and you know it.

In our view, the US and South Korea’s decision to deploy the American THAAD missile defence system in the south of Korea serves as an additional complicating factor. We believe that the use of these systems in South Korea clearly goes beyond the deterrence of the so-called North Korean threat. We have no doubt about the fact that the US, with the support of its allies, continues to build up the capacity of its global missile defence system’s Asia-Pacific segment, which will inevitably lead to undermining the existing strategic balance and will further complicate the situation on the Korean Peninsula and in the region as a whole.

As you know, Russia has repeatedly called on all the parties involved in the inter-Korean conflict to show military restraint in the first place. On the one hand, this means cancelling nuclear tests and ballistic missiles launches, and on the other, halting the excess supply of arms and military equipment to the peninsula and scaling down military exercises conducted on the peninsula.

In this regard, we are seriously concerned over the major US-South Korean military exercises started a few days ago, which immediately caused an extremely negative reaction from North Korea. We fear that, given the worsening of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, such military exercises can act as a spark that could ignite the situation in the region.

What is happening confirms the validity of our approach, according to which the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula should be carried out amid an overall military and political detente in Northeast Asia, the reduction of military confrontation and the building of the foundations for mutual trust between the countries in the region.

Russia is always ready for close cooperation with all interested countries for the sake of peace and stability in Northeast Asia, a comprehensive settlement of the Korean Peninsula’s nuclear problem on the basis of equal and non-discriminatory negotiations involving all parties.

Our position of principle on North Korea's missile launches is well known. It is based on the need to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions.

I would like to emphasise that, given the difficult situation on the Korean Peninsula now, all parties concerned should exercise restraint and avoid actions that could lead to heightened tensions.

Decision to designate some US NGOs as undesirable in Russia

On August 22, the Justice Ministry of Russia, acting upon the decision of a Deputy Prosecutor General of Russia, added two non-governmental organisations to the list of foreign and international NGOs that have been designated as undesirable in Russia in keeping with Federal Law No. 129-FZ dated March 23, 2015 On Amending Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation. These NGOs are the US-headquartered Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF) and the International Republican Institute (IRI).

Frankly, we were surprised by the US Department of State statement on being “deeply troubled” by the Russian government’s decision to designate the International Republican Institute and the Media Development Investment Fund as “undesirable” organisations. Everyone knows about the real activities of these organisations, which are officially independent of US government agencies.

While claiming to promote research, public relations and the media through grants, these organisations in fact operate at Washington’s prompting, using considerable federal budget funds. While claiming to work towards democracy and democratic values, they interfere in the internal affairs of foreign states in a bid to destabilise the internal political situation wherever it does not meet Washington’s criteria.

The IRI is financed by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which has been declared undesirable in Russia, and also directly from the Agency for International Development (USAID), a US government agency.

The situation with the MDIF is similar

We would like to note that measures taken in Russia, including declaring an organisation as undesirable in the country, are nothing unusual. This is routine work, as foreign interference in a country’s internal political process is cause for close attention from state agencies in any country.

We welcome the activities of NGOs that work constructively and keep their declared objectives. The key words here are keeping the declared objectives. We will not accept foreign recipes on developing and strengthening democracy when they are pushed on us.

Violation of Swedish airspace by a NATO plane

I want to say a few words on an issue that is not connected to Russia – it concerns Sweden and NATO – because journalists ask very many questions every time that information is published or planted about the alleged violations of Swedish airspace by Russian planes. We have taken note of the Swedish army report on US reconnaissance plane RC-135U violating its airspace in early August. This has not caused a stir in the Swedish media or among local experts, even though it was at least the sixth time that the public was informed about the violation of Swedish airspace by a NATO aircraft this year. Swedish media was not so sedate and impassive in the past years, when isolated violations of Swedish airspace by Russian planes flying over the Baltic Sea were reported.

The NATO and US military build-up in the Baltic region, once a zone of peace and stability, has created a situation where violations of the airspace of Sweden, which is not a member of any military alliance, have become a routine and deplorable practice that does not help maintain the atmosphere of cooperation and security in Northern Europe.

Answers to media questions:

Question: There is information that during his latest visit to Moscow US Secretary of State John Kerry offered to hand over to Russia full leadership in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement in exchange for concessions on Syria. How true are these assertions?

Maria Zakharova: The United States letting us have full leadership in anything? I wouldn’t believe it. It’d be a breakthrough.

Question: Some experts say that the US can try to create no-fly zones without the Syrian government’s consent under the pretext that it needs to defend its special forces and certain Kurdish units in some Syrian regions.

Maria Zakharova: You know, the modern world has already seen examples of creating no-fly zones, particularly in Libya. We all remember what it resulted in. We remember who initiated them. Moreover, these zones were tested and approved by the UN Security Council. But I believe it became very difficult to speak about no-fly zones and unilateral efforts to create them after this initiative had been put into practice. As for any actions on the territory of Syria, they should certainly be performed in compliance with international law, coordinated with Damascus, based on the decisions that were made within the framework of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and approved by the UN Security Council. Only based on these grounds will the efforts aimed at countering terrorism and reaching a peace settlement in Syria be efficient and help us achieve our common goal, a comprehensive settlement of the Syrian crisis.

Question: Regarding the Turkish operation in Syria, yesterday’s statement on the website reads that “Moscow is seriously concerned.” This is quite a mild response. Why? Could you also provide information on the time of tomorrow’s talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry?

Maria Zakharova: I can say that the start of the talks is scheduled for the morning, the first part of the day. Probably later, in working order, we will inform those who wish to take part in covering this event.

As for our response being mild or not, I believe that when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is concerned about something, many others can also become concerned. Therefore, I wouldn’t say that these statements are as “mild” as you said. Concern means a well-considered and analysed response.