Excerpts from the Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova

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.

Answers to media questions:

Question: What is your view on settling and resolving a conflict regarding Turkey and Russia’s agreement on US participation? Who will be making a decision on US participation – the present administration or the next one?

Maria Zakharova: The present administration is through. Today will be the last day of the present administration. Unfortunately, its legacy is not so easy to put behind us.

Regarding who is going to take the decision, it is certainly up to the new administration. The main thing I have read in the news is that Donald Trump’s team has responded to possible participation. They said the issue would be considered. As to settling any contradiction, this can be done through diplomacy.

Question: The Republic of Iran will not welcome US participation. Are there any grounds for resolving the issue?

Maria Zakharova: I think you overdramatise the situation. All the talks and contacts are proceeding constructively. The parties can find common ground. The process should not be overdramitised.

Question: On January 13, the Spanish authorities arrested Sergey Lisov, a programmer from Taganrog, in Barcelona following an FBI request. Did the Spanish file any official charges? Is it known what our programmer is accused of? What did Russia do or what is it planning to do in this respect?

Maria Zakharova: The situation has already been commented on today by Russian officials. Dmitry Peskov shared his views, Konstantin Dolgov also talked about it. I can say that indeed, on January 14, the Russian Consulate General in Barcelona received an official notification from the Spanish authorities that on January 13, Spanish law enforcement agencies arrested Russian citizen Sergey Lisov in Barcelona who was there as a tourist, and who had been placed on the international arrest warrant list by US authorities “for complicity in a criminal group organised to carry out fraudulent acts through electronic media and computer abuse.” At present the Russian citizen is in custody in a pre-trail detention facility in Barcelona. He has been appointed a free government lawyer. On January 17, the arrested Russian national was visited by a Russian consular official.

The Russian Embassy in Madrid and the Consulate General in Barcelona take all the steps needed to protect the legal rights of this Russian citizen. We will inform you of any updates.

Question: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has confirmed that [our] US partners were sent an invitation to attend the Astana meeting. Did the invitation come from Russia, or was it a joint invitation from all participants? Has the US confirmed its participation?

Maria Zakharova: We have not only confirmed that the invitation was sent but that the United States has already received it and confirmed that fact. The United States has not notified us about its participation yet. I have no information that official confirmation has been made. I believe this is a question primarily for the US. Don’t forget that preparations are in full swing now, and work is underway on the meeting’s format and a list of participants. I believe the same goes for US participation from the US perspective. It is not as if everyone is holding their breath to see whether the US will participate and in what capacity. We have work to do. It is going along. A corresponding invitation to the US has been sent. The process is going in the right direction and at this point constructively so. Who did the invitation come from? Of course, it was subject to the co-sponsors’ approval. It is a collective invitation. There is no need to dramatise the rumours circulating in the media. Preparations for the meeting are proceeding constructively. We act on the assumption that the meeting will take place in Astana on January 23.

Question: Tomorrow, a US president will be inaugurated. How do you assess the prospects for cooperation with the new US administration on Afghanistan and the fight against international terrorism in the region?

Maria Zakharova: On the whole, regarding the whole range of bilateral relations with the United States and our cooperation on major regional issues, there is hope that the corresponding level of contact and cooperation with Washington will be restored. This is a comprehensive issue. However, our expectations are not related to just one particular region. We should be talking about an array of bilateral relations. The fight against terrorism and Afghanistan are some of the most serious issues, as this involves global challenges and threats facing not only our countries but also the rest of the world.

To reiterate and to stress what I said earlier, until the very last day and even until the last hours, we believed that we were ready to work with the outgoing administration on all tracks. It is very important that you understand this. This is why we did not make public many facts and did not dump the dirt that was piling up in the media. We prioritised the development of bilateral relations, including cooperation to address global issues, putting it above our own perception of the way our partners acted. Although we saw that they acted improperly. Understanding that Russian-US cooperation is crucial for the resolution of global international issues, we put that first. Even in November, December and January, we did not get a feeling that we were out of touch with that administration. We are in contact with it until the very last day. We did not give up on contacts, talks or telephone conversations despite the fact that, unfortunately, what our partners often did was this: First they would request a meeting, talk about plans and make constructive proposals and then the moment those contacts were over, literally the same day, they would introduce new sanctions. That is to say, despite the way they were acting recently, we remained committed to constructive engagement regardless of personalities. We did not predicate our relations and our cooperation in the international arena on who is at the helm in the United States. We have to deal with the people of that country. Our responsibility in the international arena as two powers influencing many global processes is great. It is very important to understand this.

Question: You said Russia is counting on the comprehensive improvement of relations with the United States when the new US administration comes in. How do you see the prospects of unblocking Russia-NATO relations?

At his news conference, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia prioritises the resumption of strategic dialogue with the United States, including not only nuclear disarmament, but also missile defence. He said it is important to see what can be done to ensure that the deployment of a missile-defense system in Europe would not upset the strategic balance of forces. What could become a subject of negotiations here? Does Russia have any proposals for the future administration?

Maria Zakharova: You are already dividing this history of bilateral relations, or rather Moscow’s position, in two parts: before and after the inauguration of the US president. The point is that our position remains the same before and after the inauguration. We have been ready for normalisation, unblocking and normal cooperation with the United States regardless of who is at the helm. This is a key point. I spoke about that earlier.

Regarding NATO, we have repeatedly stressed what needs to be done to start the unblocking process. The United States should not block it, and it was not blocked by us. So far, we have not abandoned anything. We did not scale down the Russia-NATO Council (RNC) mechanism. We did not avoid participation in meetings of RNC permanent representatives within the framework of the RNC, when some movement began in that direction. So, just as we were willing and able to work before, we are willing and able to work on January 19, 20 or 21. Russia-NATO engagement is being blocked through no fault of Russia’s. It was blocked by the alliance on the insistence of the US. There was outside work and work within the organisation.

As for missile defence, of course, it is a subject on our bilateral agenda that cannot be avoided. To us, it is one of the fundamental issues, as we have repeatedly stated. There are certain principles in our foreign policy course that are not violated no matter what we might be talking about: NATO, missile defence or bilateral relations between countries, built on certain principles. Here, we also rely on certain principles. This is a very important, sensitive issue. We have been open to dialogue on this issue for many years, both in the diplomatic and especially in the military sphere. I would like to mention unilateral actions by the US, which were strongly reminiscent of what the US later did with NATO, on other matters. It unilaterally withdrew from the ABM Treaty and started blocking [our] work and [our] dialogue. Nevertheless, we were ready to address the issue. You may recall a very impressive, high-level, well-prepared conference on missile defence, that was held not far from the Foreign Ministry building, at a very large facility, with the participation of military and diplomatic officials, political analysts, experts and security specialists, where Russia, with facts in hand, proved that US concerns and motives, at least in the public domain, were out of sync with reality. Plans were laid out and diagrammes were presented at that event. We said that we were ready to prove that the US-declared goals and countermeasures in fact were not what they claimed to be, and that we were ready to work together to strengthen international stability and security as long as that was NATO’s principal goal. Our proposal was also turned down. That dialogue continued to degrade more and more.

We are willing and ready to work with the United States on all fronts, be it missile defence or other challenging issues. However, this work presupposes mutually respectful dialogue on a certain basis: compliance with international law, existing bilateral agreements, and so on.