Excerpts from the Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova

June 23, 2016

US intentions to restrict the movement of Russian diplomats in the US

I would rather speak about achievements, not problems, but times are what they are.

We took notice of media reports on the US Congress debating a bill to step up the monitoring of Russian diplomats and to restrict their movement on US soil. We would like to note in this regard that we have been seeing increased pressure on our Embassy and general consulates in the US. Our employees abroad are regular targets of provocations by US secret services, and face obstacles in their official contacts and other restrictions. There are many such cases, but we do not raise them in public, although we always communicate our concern to the American side.

Among other moves, the US has taken steps towards toughening and expanding the current notification regime that has been in place for decades for trips of junior and mid-level Russian diplomatic staff 25 miles from the centre of the city, in which the relevant mission is located. Russian-US agreements establish this regime on a parity basis and cannot be changed unilaterally, yet this is what is happening.

If Washington proceeds to terminate existing agreements, we will, of course, take reciprocal measures towards US diplomats in Russia. I would like to stress that this is not our choice, and we are not the ones taking yet another step down the road of worsening bilateral relations. Blame for making life more difficult for Russian diplomatic missions rests squarely with the US. I thought that witch hunts were a thing of the past, and that all the lessons were learned many years ago. I would not want to see this once again become a reality in US domestic and foreign policy.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary Frank A. Rose’s remarks on missile defence issues

US Deputy Assistant Secretary Frank A. Rose has alleged that Russia has never put forward to the United States compromise proposals on missile defence, and has only demanded legally binding guarantees [that US missile defence system will not target Russia]. As I promised last time, we will follow everything related to insinuations on the missile defence issue, not only because this is unfair, dishonest and wrong, but also because [we] do have something to say on the issue. This is not so much about political evaluations as it is about the factual data that we will make available.

The US side essentially continues to promote an interpretation of circumstances related to the development of missile defence dialogue during Mr Obama’s presidency that is not quite true, to put it mildly. As you remember, we raised this issue at the June 10 briefing, talking about the actual state of affairs in this sphere, citing the relevant facts and showing who has closed the discussion of missile defence issues, and why. The text is available on the Foreign Ministry’s official website.

Regarding this particular aspect – legally binding guarantees – it seems to me that US representatives should have explained to the Berlin audience, which witnessed these remarks, what this is all about. As US diplomats did not do this, we will fill in the gap.

The idea of guarantees boils down to this. Russia and the United States could jointly develop a set of military-technical criteria that would make it possible to determine the threshold, beyond which the buildup of the US missile defence system would pose a threat to the effectiveness of Russia’s strategic deterrence capability. At the same time, Washington should officially record its lack of intention to disrupt the existing strategic balance.

In other words, we proposed that the [US] administration spell out its statements to the effect that its missile defence activities are not aimed against Russia, doing this in the generally accepted form of international law.

We believe that there is nothing extraordinary or unrealistic about this approach, while this is, in fact, the way US officials try to distort and misrepresent the issue at hand. Guarantees that [the US missile defence system] will not be aimed [at Russia] are the only possible method for resolving the missile defence problem. If US actions are indeed dictated by a wish to minimise the missile threats that Washington talks about, then obviously this agreement with the Russian side will in no way undermine the US side’s capability to defend itself, as well as its allies and partners, against them.

We are confident that mutually acceptable solutions to missile defence issues can be found, taking into account the security interests of both Russia and the United States. Otherwise we will have to take retaliatory measures as will be required. President Vladimir Putin reiterated this at a meeting with representatives of international media outlets on June 17. Over the past several years, we have repeatedly warned our Western partners about the possibility of this negative scenario unfolding. Every time we stated that this was not our choice. We were prepared for a substantive, in-depth conversation, and provided all the necessary conditions for that.

I’d like to remind you about a wide-ranging conference on missile defence issues in Moscow, which was attended by politicians, military officials, experts, political commentators and public representatives, with facts, figures, maps and the relevant indices. Unfortunately, none of our warnings, attempts or proposals has been heeded.

To reiterate, we would like our US colleagues to proceed from facts in dealing with the missile defence issue. However, if this is their choice and if they make assessments that they make, then, as you know, we are always here.

Konstantin Yaroshenko’s case

Moving on to the issue of Russian citizens abroad. In connection with the continuing abuses of Russian air pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko in the United States, we would like to reiterate that his fate is a constant focus of ours. We know that he has ended up in a critical condition in a US prison due to inadequate medical care and the local authorities’ obstruction of all attempts to appeal the unjust verdict.

I would like to remind you of the background to this case. Mr Yaroshenko was abducted six years ago by US Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Liberia, beaten and tortured. He was then sentenced in the United States, without any real evidence of guilt, to an enormous term: 20 years.

From the very outset of this tragic story, we demanded that an end be put to this arbitrariness and that measures be taken to ensure the fundamental rights of the Russian citizen who was severely punished, not for a specific crime but for a so-called conspiracy fabricated by US special service agents.

Our missions in the United States are in constant contact with Konstantin, his lawyers and his family. We are urging Washington to provide him with the necessary medical care due to the serious condition of his health, which was exacerbated in prison as a result of harsh treatment.

In our contacts with US President Barack Obama’s administration on all levels, we have been raising the issue of returning Mr Yaroshenko to Russia, for example, based on the Council of Europe’s 1983 Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. However, we are encountering the strong reluctance of US officials to approach this case in an objective manner. US State Department functionaries tell us bluntly that he must remain in prison as a lesson to other Russians who have ended up in the hands of US law enforcement agencies so as to intimidate them into admitting their guilt – something that Mr Yaroshenko has courageously refused to do.

This situation can hardly be described as anything other than a disgrace. It shows that the US authorities, who always pretend to champion civil rights, ignore the rights and freedoms not only of convicted US citizens but also of foreign nationals who have nothing to do with the US. In this case, they are completely ignoring the rules of international law and principles of humanity. This is an element of their prejudiced attitude toward Russians.