Excerpts from the Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova

December 7, 2016

Statements by US General John Nicholson

We paid attention to the statements by the head of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, at his recent briefing in the Pentagon. He said “Russia has overtly lent legitimacy to the Taliban.” In his words, Moscow allegedly supports the Taliban, thereby undermining US, NATO and Kabul’s efforts to fight terrorism. We have heard many statements of our colleagues from Washington but this one is really obtuse.

We have reaffirmed many times that Russia does not conduct any behind-the-scene talks with the Taliban, nor supports it in any way. That said we believe there is no military solution to the internal Afghan conflict. Peace can only be achieved through negotiations that are impossible without contacts with the Taliban, which is one of the participants of the political process in Afghanistan, just in case Gen. Nicholson is unaware of this.

This is not the only quote by Gen. Nicholson that I would like to mention. He also mentioned Moscow’s alleged reluctance to help Kabul maintain Russian helicopters that are past their lifespan, as if Afghanistan asked Russia for help but it was not provided.

This statement is simply not serious. Just two weeks ago Moscow and Kabul reached an agreement on Russian military-technical assistance to Afghanistan, which covers the maintenance and repairs of Russian or Soviet military hardware.

Incidentally, Gen. Nicholson admitted that US sanctions for Crimea and Ukraine are an obstacle to Russia providing military-technical assistance to Afghanistan but for some reason he did not mention that Washington banned Kabul from using foreign donor aid that it receives to develop its national armed forces for the purchase of Russian aircraft, their repairs and maintenance in Russia. As a result, US advisers are chaotically trying to find other opportunities for technical support of Russian- or Soviet-made helicopters in Afghanistan, ignoring the fact that quality maintenance and repairs of this sophisticated hardware can only be done by its producer, Russia, which is still ready to cooperate both with Kabul and Washington on this issue.

The commander of the foreign troop contingent in Afghanistan is bound to know this by virtue of his position. So we can make another conclusion – this is deliberate distortion of facts to mislead the Afghan, US and world public.

I would also like to comment on his assumption that Moscow is undermining the counterterrorism effort of the US, NATO and Afghan Government. Gen. Nicholson, are you completely divorced from reality like many of your colleagues? Dialogue on Afghanistan, in part in the Russia-NATO Council, was also blocked by the United States, in case you do not know this. We can see that you do not.

The latest anti-Russian initiative of the US Congress

Regrettably, at the initiative of the outgoing Obama administration, which recently scared Americans with Russian hackers, Washington continues its anti-Russian hysteria, which has been going on for a few years now, and which is becoming increasingly reminiscent of something that seems straight out of an already forgotten age, the witch hunts.

The current US Congress, which, as you may be aware, is also on its way out, is pushing ahead with a bill to form a special interdepartmental commission to develop a strategy to counter "covert Russian influence". The lower house has already voted for it. As follows from the text of the draft law, they accuse us not only of financing lobby groups, media manipulation and fomenting, but even contract killings and terrorist acts.

Clearly, we are dealing with yet another case of clinical Russophobia, which originated in and was subsequently cultivated by the White House. This is not something new. It seems like something from a forgotten age. However, it turns out that Washington hasn’t forgotten. I would like to remind you that during the Cold War, in 1981, they created a similar interdepartmental working group for active measures against the Soviet Union. They haven’t come up with anything new this time. There wasn’t even an attempt to introduce innovations into these processes. All they do is copy the Cold War. The group, which was created in 1981, focused on ideological confrontation with the Soviet Union. Its work culminated in publishing a brochure on Soviet military power, which addressed a wide global audience. Now, the same is being done in modern circumstances.

This is not all there is to it. Our colleagues plan to go even further. In addition to anti-Russian propaganda, the draft provides for measures aimed at thwarting the activities of Russian diplomats in the United States. As you may be aware, most of them are not allowed to go beyond 40 km from their respective diplomatic missions. In order to leave the designated area, they are asked to notify the State Department first. I just wanted to clarify this, as I was in the same situation. Given a very busy work schedule (as you are aware, international developments in recent years have made the work Russian diplomats an almost round-the-clock activity), it is very difficult to make even medium-term travel plans. Therefore, the inability to travel beyond 40 km without notice, which requires a certain amount of time to file, as it should be filed several days before the planned trip, significantly complicates their work. Now, they plan to deprive Russian diplomats of even that possibility.

If the current US authorities are likewise willing to restrict the movement of their own representatives in Russia, they should keep in mind that everything is based on the principle of reciprocity in diplomacy. Simply put, US diplomats in Russia will be treated similarly. Once again, we are forced to respond. But each and every time we point out that it is not our choice. We stand for cooperation on bilateral issues and international affairs. Why Washington is doing this is anyone's guess.

Answers to questions:

Question: Today, President Obama said that extremism does not represent a threat for the United States. However, earlier, the United States mentioned that terrorism is threat number one for it. What is behind such a change of heart?

Maria Zakharova: The last thing I want to do now is discuss the motivation of what President Obama has to say. There are more interesting and more important things to do.