Excerpts from Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova

June 2, 2016

The situation in Syriaem

We point out that tensions remain high in Syria. However, the ceasefire regime is generally holding. Active Russia-US contacts are underway to strengthen the ceasefire regime in Syria. The current priority is to create distance between terrorist groups and those armed groups that observe the ceasefire, something that should have been done long ago but has not. Those who monitor Russia - US contacts, including telephone conversations between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry, probably remember that Russia has regularly raised this issue. This must be done to make progress possible. It is no less important to close the Turkey-Syria border to illegal arms supplies and the fighters who cross it to join terrorists.

We are closely monitoring developments north of Aleppo, where an ISIS offensive has split an enclave controlled by several anti-government groups in two. The Kurdish militia, which has come to the assistance of the town of Marea under siege by terrorists, helped evacuate the wounded and those civilians who wanted to leave. The media have published shocking photographs taken at the site of fighting between ISIS and “moderate” opposition forces, primarily Ahrar ash-Sham. Those who saw them can make their own conclusions regarding the “moderate-ness” of these opposition groups. For example, they could see photos of smiling Ahrar ash-Sham fighters holding the severed heads of ISIS terrorists. They are both chips of the same block, the ISIS terrorists and the “moderate” fighters who are not at all moderate but real cutthroats.

In the past few days, Kurdish fighters suspended their frontal attack against Raqqa, which is known as the unofficial ISIS capital, and undertook a surprise flank manoeuvre, moving simultaneously south along the eastern bank of the Euphrates River and north along the western bank towards the city of Manbij. If successful, the Kurds will block the main routes connecting Raqqa to the Turkish border.

Unfortunately, it should be said that partisan media still refuse to cover the situation objectively, and instead are fanning hysteria over humanitarian deliveries to the region. As we see it, they want to blame the Syrian and Russian air forces for the strikes that destroyed hospitals and killed civilians in Idlib and Aleppo. Ultimately, the goal of these media outlets is to prevent the defeat of Jabhat al-Nusra, which continues to influence some anti-government forces and is hiding behind them and using them, and even peaceful civilians, as human shields. In the western regions of Aleppo, Jabhat al-Nusra has been acting under the cover of Jaysh al-Mujahedeen, or Army of Mujahedeen, which al-Nusra controls. Jabhat al-Nusra has resumed their intensive shelling of the Kurdish Sheikh Maqsoud district in Aleppo. This is sufficient to decide that this criminal union must be broken up as soon as possible. We again call for more active international cooperation against terrorism in Syria, including against Jabhat al-Nusra. There is no time to lose and no justification left for presenting terrorists as “moderate opposition.”

Regarding the Syrian political process, we have taken note of the ado raised over the alleged May 29 desertion of the chief negotiator from the opposition High Negotiations Committee, which has done its utmost to disrupt the fragile intra-Syrian peace talks sponsored by the UN in Geneva. Mohammed Alloush from the radical group Jaysh al-Islam said that he was resigning because of the international community’s unwillingness to see the importance of ending the bloodshed in Syria. Where do these people find the impudence to make such statements? Plainly put, this extremist has laid claim to representing “humanitarian” ideas.

I’d like to remind you that Jaysh al-Islam is responsible for the bulk of those indiscriminate missile and mortar raids against Damascus that claim civilian lives, including women and children. But “humanitarian” eyes are averted from these scenes. Jaysh al-Islam, acting jointly with other jihadists, has staged demonstrative executions of Christians and Alawites and even mortar attacks against the Russian Embassy in Syria.

Anyway, it turned out later that Mohammed Alloush has not resigned from the High Negotiations Committee and will remain on the HNC delegation in Geneva, though not as chief negotiator.

We firmly believe that political talks are the only way to settle the internal conflict in Syria. This is our principled stance, to which we have always adhered. This calls for a serious and constructive approach from all parties to the negotiations. Attempts to use the Geneva platform as a venue for self-promotion show disrespect towards the international community. Much hard work and great effort, including materially, have been put into launching the peace process. But the most important consideration is human lives, as people continue to die because some opposition members hold their personal ambitions above not just the political process but also common sense. These actions are unacceptable, and they must and will be prevented.

Answers to media questions:

Question: On May 31, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov confirmed that a meeting on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement was scheduled for June. Yesterday US co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group James Warlick said that the co-chairs were looking forward to a meeting of the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents in June. Today, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian will be meeting with the co-chairs in Paris. Does the Russian Foreign Ministry believe that the June meeting of the two countries’ presidents stand a chance? When approximately can the meeting take place and what objectives will it focus on? Recently, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said that the negotiations would aim to work out new guidelines and principles for a peaceful settlement. Have any relevant documents been approved yet?

Answer: Regrettably, my answer won’t be as elaborate as your question. I can only say that the agreement to hold this meeting was reached in Vienna on May 16. As for whether there’s a possibility that it will take place and the exact date of the meeting, it’s up to the two parties to decide. As soon as the meeting details, timeframe and parameters are agreed on, the parties will make an appropriate statement. That is all for now.

Question: Do you feel that regular talks between the Russian and US foreign ministers make the prospect of a joint military operation in Syria real?

Answer: This was not just Russia’s initiative. We believed it was extremely important to start coordinating our actions with the United States, the country that leads a coalition, and start a dialogue between the military [of the two countries]. Our position on this issue was absolutely straightforward and clear. We said that coordination between the military could produce the necessary results and improve the situation. As you know, first, the US showed no enthusiasm for the idea. Then gradually it woke up to the need of this type of coordination, prompted, among other things, by the situation on the ground and the ongoing negotiations. As you know, currently, we have a joint coordination centre operating at a UN site in Geneva and contacts are being maintained by the military, although now and then our American colleagues show signs of “disavowal”, that is, they disavow the work they are doing. We understand why this is happening; it looks inconsistent when they cooperate with Russia while trying to persuade others not to get involved in any such cooperation. To all appearances, the need to secure a settlement in Syria and find a solution to the Syrian crisis has weighed down the US ambitions, which are to impose sanctions against Russia and to isolate it – that is why coordination is underway. Of course, it could be more dynamic and effective. We’re ready for this. We’ve never refused to coordinate our actions or provide our American colleagues with information they asked for. I’ll say it again, we believe that this work could be much more comprehensive and, accordingly, much more effective not for our two countries but for the process of peaceful settlement in Syria.

I repeat, we’ve initiated this work, we’re involved in it and we’re committed to carrying it out in the future.

Question: Has Russia submitted a report to the UN Security Council on fulfilling the March 2016 resolution on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea?

Maria Zakharova: Our non-public reports for the UN and its various agencies are communicated through existing channels. Now that this question has been asked, I can say that the appropriate documentation was, indeed, submitted. We are talking about a document submitted by Russia’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York. The document notes that, in the context of the agenda of the UN Sanctions Committee that was established by the appropriate UN Security Council resolution and also in compliance with clause 40 of UN Security Council Resolution 2270, the Russian side reported that it was fulfilling its provisions in full. The document also notes that a draft presidential executive order on fulfilling this resolution, submitted by the Russian Foreign Ministry, is being coordinated by the concerned ministries and departments. The resolution was approved on March 2, 2016, and the Russian Foreign Ministry informed the executive agencies the same day that the resolution’s provisions would be applied on Russian territory pending the issue of the appropriate presidential executive order. That same document also notes that the Central Bank of the Russian Federation has issued an information circular instructing Russian banks to honour clauses 33-36 of the above resolution as regards the appropriate restrictions on interbank cooperation with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The Permanent Mission to the UN also submitted this document to the appropriate agency. We have also reported this to you.