Excerpts from the briefing by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova

6 апреля 2016 г.

Statement by US State Department spokesperson Mark Toner

We have taken note of the statement by the US State Department during a press briefing by my colleague Mark Toner. Answering a question on the position of Russia and the United States regarding the fate of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, he said, among other things, that both countries agree in a sense that the future of the country’s leadership and government should be determined in a political process that would reflect the aspirations and will of the Syrian people.

The Foreign Ministry welcomes this statement and believes that its actual purpose is to ensure the constructive advancement of the political process towards an inclusive peaceful settlement in Syria.

Russia’s draft statement to the press by the UN Security Council

Unfortunately, the overall situation doesn’t inspire as much optimism as this statement.

You are all probably aware of what happened with the draft statement to the press by the UN Security Council, which was circulated by Russia, emphasising the need to ensure that the Syria talks are inclusive. Russia submitted this draft to the UN Security Council on March 31.

The main purpose of this document was to invite all opposition forces to join the talks, including representatives of the Kurds, who are among the key constituencies of Syrian society. Despite Russia’s willingness to compromise on this issue, the Western members of the UN Security Council, France, Great Britain and the United States, with Ukraine in their bandwagon, literally blocked this draft by proposing amendments that diluted the very gist of the statement and erroneously labelled the last round of talks inclusive, which was not the case. Taking this position cannot but cause regret, especially as it runs counter to the decision of the International Syria Support Group and UN Security Council Resolution 2254. This push-back is even harder to understand, especially since it came from our Western colleagues (France, Great Britain and the United States). It is obvious that the reason for doing so was probably, among other things, in order to please or under the pressure exerted by regional players, who still prioritise their ambitions instead of striving to ensure real progress in the Syrian settlement.

The Foreign Ministry continues to insist on enabling Kurds to take part in the talks, above all the Democratic Union Party. The next round of intra-Syrian talks will be very important, taking into account the gist of the issues that should be discussed by Syrians.

Russian idea of a convention on countering chemical terrorism

On March 1, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov presented a new Russian initiative at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva on countering terrorism and the use of weapons of mass destruction by terrorists. Participants in the forum were requested to start talks on drafting an international convention on combating acts of chemical terrorism. The idea is to supplement the available counterterrorist instruments of the world community with a new document that would be at the juncture of disarmament, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and anti-terrorist efforts. We suggest drafting it at the Conference on Disarmament, where the convention on a chemical weapons ban was agreed upon in the past.

During the past month, we have carried out large-scale diplomatic work on explaining the Russian initiative, both to the delegations of the countries represented at the Conference on Disarmament and in their capitals. The initial response reflected their interest.

The responses received at the initial stage allowed us to prepare a draft of the elements of the future convention and an explanatory note to it that contains remarks and proposals by representatives of different states. These documents were officially submitted to the CD on March 29.

The main point, which I would like to draw your attention to, is the proposal made by a number of countries, including China and Italy, which we supported, to expand the convention to include the acts of biological terrorism. So now we are talking about the international convention on countering acts of chemical and biological terrorism. The expansion of this initiative has increased its “added value” and made even more justified its link to the CD, where this issue was first discussed more than 40 years ago.

Today Russia has focused on promoting this initiative. We are using our bilateral and multilateral contacts for this purpose. We will continue consultations with all interested countries. Importantly, we are addressing our appeal to start talks on this convention not only to the 65 participants of the Conference on Disarmament, but in fact to all countries that are ready to closely cooperate in elaborating a truly effective document on combating terrorism and the use of weapons of mass destruction by terrorists. The conference’s procedures allow this via the mechanism of observers. In addition, in working on the provisions of the convention, we are planning to rely on the expert experience of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the member-states of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and UN anti-terrorist agencies.

As for potential evolution in the response of states, it is too early to make any specific assessments. We can get a more or less accurate picture only when the Conference on Disarmament resumes its session on May 16, that it, after its participants analyse the documents presented by Russia. In turn, we’ll use this time to work on the elements of the convention, factoring in its expansion.

As for the US response, notably, the reaction of Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman, I’d like to note that we have been discussing our initiative in the bilateral format since the start of the preparations for presenting it to the CD. For the time being the US side is voicing some difficult-to-understand doubts about the advisability of elaborating the convention at the CD, and the opinion that it is better to address issues of countering chemical and biological terrorism through adopting a new UN Security Council resolution to this effect. To be honest, neither suggestion is very convincing.

We’d like to hope that after further analysing our proposals, the United States will deem it possible to support them. Among other things, this will open the way to unblocking negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament, which would be in the interests of all its participants, including Washington.

Strengthening NATO’s eastern flank

Last week, during his visit to Minsk, Pentagon representative Michael Carpenter stated that the deployment of a Russian military base in Belarus will be regarded by the United States and NATO as a threat to regional stability. At the same time, in his opinion, there are no threats to Belarus either from the East or from the West, including from NATO, while the strengthening of the alliance in countries neighbouring the republic is of an exclusively defensive nature. This logic is stunning: When NATO is strengthened, this is for defensive purposes, but when somebody else does the same, this is outright aggression. This is not a child’s essay. It was stated by an official representative of a major governmental body. This logic is simply striking. On the one hand, Mr Carpenter admits that the creation of new military bases leads to tension and even destabilisation in the region, but on the other hand, [he alleges] that NATO’s enhanced activity and new bases emerging in Eastern Europe are something totally different and only necessary for defence.

I always ask everyone to be objective. To be objective in this case it is necessary simply to use any search engine and find a map with the location of NATO bases, and everything becomes clear. The alliance is present in practically all regions and corners of the world, while the employment of its forces has led, and continues to lead, to deplorable consequences, and this is evidenced by a large number of examples.

One NATO general also recently dwelled on the value of the alliance’s additional military presence in Europe in the form of rotating motorised brigades, stating that its strong side is its ability to generate and deploy military assets to stabilise the situation in any region. Naturally, we would be interested to know exactly where “stabilisation” was achieved through the efforts of NATO forces. If they speak officially about this, we would like to see at least a couple of concrete examples. Maybe this concerns some covert operations? Don’t be shy, tell us.

We keep being told all the time that the strengthening of the “eastern flank” is a purely defensive measure that does not provoke anyone. I have cited statements by representatives of the alliance, the United States and the UK. How can such statements be taken seriously? Who can react to such statements? I will tell you. As in the case of the UK, where reports on the Russian “threat” are compiled, there are “clients” for such statements: the public, which is gradually conditioned and spooked by the prospect of Russian aggression and sometimes even Russian occupation. The scheme the alliance uses is prosaic and its methods have remained the same. First, there is intimidation and then NATO structures appear as “saviors” who declare goals of “noble democratisation". What happens in fact is that one country or another is occupied. When new military contingents are deployed in a peaceful country without any real threat whatsoever there is no other way to describe this. Somehow it so happens that the government, the authorities and the political establishment begin to take decisions that are at odds with the interests of these countries, but for some reason coincide with the interests of NATO’s leading member states. This is precisely quiet, creeping occupation. Many European states have already become hostage to this policy.

All of these games are very dangerous. The question is that they are dangerous both in and of themselves and in terms of the time that has been lost for the fight against real threats, such as international terrorism. Instead of consolidating efforts in the fight against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, there is the constant ratcheting up of rhetoric and attempts to legitimise the need to counter a “demonic” Russia (it is clear who demonises it and for what purpose). All of this is irresponsible. The keyword here is responsibility. All of these actions are clearly irresponsible. The most dangerous part of this is that we can really lose time.

History will put everything in its place. In a couple of years, these generals and NATO representatives, among others, will be copycatting the statements of Russian representatives, talking about threats and the time that has been lost. This is exactly what will happen, no doubt. The question is the extent to which the threats that have to be countered now will become irreversible.