Excerpts from the Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova

March 23, 2017

Answers to media questions:

Question: According to CNN, officials working for Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump had colluded to coordinate actions damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. How could you comment on these reports?

Maria Zakharova: We keep talking about CNN. Unfortunately, this is becoming commonplace for this television channel. They are approaching the moment of truth. All of us know about the political leanings of the CNN TV channel and the civic position of its employees. It is necessary to distinguish between the civic position, electoral activity and propaganda and involvement in the domestic political competition, which, in principle, undermines the democratic foundations of a state that has openly told the whole world that it will spread democracy to the most remote corners of the globe. Current developments obviously highlight the subjective bias of media outlets and their involvement in political games and blackmail. In fact, this has gone beyond games: it is blackmail plain and simple. All of this certainly deals a huge blow to the pillars of democracy.

For many years, the United States remained an exemplary democratic system. Current developments in the United States are a tremendous blow to democratic values. Why are CNN and other media outlets becoming involved in the political tug-of-war? This question should be addressed to them, rather than to us. It defies all reason. People, organisations and, of course, the media work a lot to earn a certain reputation and status. Gaining confidence is the most important thing; but confidence can be undermined in no time at all. Confidence in CNN was undermined long ago, but the problem is that confidence in all media outlets is also being undermined. This trend is very dangerous.

Question: The US Department of State estimates that the United States and the US-led coalition has liberated 60 percent of Iraqi territory and 30 percent of Syrian territory that was previously controlled by ISIS militants. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says that the coalition’s operations have reduced the influx of foreign militants by 90 percent. What can you say about the US-led coalition’s success? And what do you think about their future plans to create security zones?

Maria Zakharova: It’s up to military experts to evaluate progress on the ground. Regarding political assessments, we should say (and we are saying this all the time) that it is important to think about the price of these successes, the fight against terrorism and civilian casualties. The United States has been urging us to think about this. What we can see in Mosul amounts to unprecedented brutality and a tragedy affecting civilians, women and children. We have absolutely no doubts concerning the need to combat terrorism, but the civilian population should not be forgotten either. It is people and their destinies that should top the agenda. As I see it, US representatives should reread their own theses and statements dating to September-October 2016 and be guided by the advice they have offered to the world.

Question: How do you see the future of Russian-US diplomatic relations in the context of the current atmosphere in Washington? Can you confirm that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will come to Moscow in April?

Maria Zakharova: Apparently, many volumes have been written about the development of Russian-US relations. I announced the release of the Foreign Ministry’s yearend Diplomatic Bulletin and even showed it at the previous briefing. I believe that about 20 per cent of that bulletin was devoted to Russian-US relations, the way we see them, how we want them to develop, what we expect from Washington, what we are willing to do with the United States, the priority areas of cooperation, areas where our cooperation should be revived without delay and the areas where this can wait, at least for a limited time. This issue has been covered in interviews by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, comments by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and in numerous statements made at all levels by representatives from various Russian agencies, political analysts and politicians, as well as officials from the legislative and executive authorities. We can talk about bilateral relations with a different degree of mastery, but we would like to start implementing our relationship at long last.

We provided our views on bilateral relations and the reasons for blocking them under President Obama. We said that we were willing to work with the new US administration, under President Trump. I don’t think we need to invent anything in this respect, because so much has been said before. Simply, we should start concrete practical work. We are ready for this.

You know that we always invite our American colleagues and diplomats to join bilateral or multilateral dialogues on issues in which the United States has traditionally played a big and active role, such as Syria, the consultations in Astana and many others. We expect Washington to formulate its foreign policy approaches in the form of a concept. We are ready for pragmatic and specific work on the principles that we have described many times.

As for the visit by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the information about it, this is what I can say. It’s not a secret that preparations for any visit include the coordination of the time when it can be announced. Visits by foreign ministers are public events that are never kept secret. At least, I don’t know about any secret visits by foreign ministers in Russia or the United States. Preparations for such a visit also include the coordination of the format, agenda and the date it can be announced to the public. It is a matter of propriety and respect for each other’s interests. One side proposes a date, and the other side is expected to accept it. This date should be acceptable to both sides, because the foreign ministers have packed schedules. The issue also concerns the coordination of the agenda by experts. One side informs the other side of the issues it plans to discuss, and the other side needs to respond that the agenda is acceptable. In other words, the sides need to reach agreements on many issues, after which they can announce an upcoming visit. This is how we work with our colleagues.

To tell the truth, over the past few years we’ve seen many strange things happen in Washington in connection with preparations for visits or talks by our foreign ministers. The US Department of State has more than once asked us not to announce planned visits until the last minute. This is not our tradition. We have been operating openly for years, but we have respected the requests we have received from our colleagues in Washington in the past few years. But what happened after that? First, the US Department of State asked us to keep the planned visit quiet and not to announce it until the last possible minute, until we coordinated the date. We did as they asked. But a day or two later the information was leaked by the US State Department and sometimes by the US administration. Frankly, this put Russia and the media in a strange situation, because they didn’t know who to believe – the official agencies or the many leaks.

It is difficult to say if this diplomatic communication is a US tradition or the latest technique. But it definitely doesn’t correspond to our traditions. We believe that everything we coordinate should be made available to the media in accordance with diplomatic procedure. When we coordinate a visit and the date for announcing it, the information should be made public calmly and as agreed. This is what we do in relations with our colleagues from other countries.

As I said, such cases in our relations with the US Department of State have become a bad tradition over the past few years. So, I can say in response to your question that we will make the date and format of contacts between the Russian and US foreign ministers public after we coordinate them. We won’t keep them quiet. At this point, I don’t have any information I can share with you. I can say that this visit and such contacts are possible in principle, but it would be premature to talk about timeframes.

Also, I would like to say that if the practice of leaking information that concerns not just the United States but also Russia, which has become a tradition in Washington in the past few years, continues, there will come a day when the media will publish leaks about the things that Washington asked us to keep secret, for example, things that happened during President Obama’s terms in office. Believe me, this could be very interesting information.

Our American colleagues must decide if they respect the diplomatic procedure, if they keep their word on the arrangements made between us, primarily arrangements made at their own request, or we create a few very nice surprises for each other.


Question: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has already visited Japan and South Korea, where he commented on North Korea’s missile tests. He said there will be no talks because of North Korea’s aggressive nuclear missile test policy. He also said he could not rule out US military intervention in the event of a threat to its allies, Japan and South Korea. Could you comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: I’ve already commented on the situation in the region and offered our clear-cut vision of how the situation should develop. We have given our assessment of North Korea’s actions and the way the situation in the region should evolve, including in terms of security and stability. We have also described the negotiating format that we believe should receive priority as the most effective format. We have offered our assessment and recipes that, from our perspective, should lead to the appropriate result.