Excerpts from the Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova

September 28, 2017

US concerns about Russia’s implementation of the Open Skies Treaty

We have taken note of numerous media reports about the United States’ intention to take steps to limit Russian observation flights over American territory in response to Russia’s alleged violations of the Open Skies Treaty (OST). I will tell you about the alleged violations and our response to these allegations.

As far as we can see, Washington blames Russia for three alleged violations.

First, Russia has imposed restrictions, allegedly unlawfully, on observation flights over the Kaliningrad Region. According to the United States, this precludes effective observation of Russia’s territory during the approved number of flights. Moreover, NATO countries have accused Russia of a desire to “conceal” military facilities near Kaliningrad from Open Skies cameras.

It is much simpler than this, though. Some of our partners, who have the right to make observation flights at a maximum distance of 5,500 kilometres, used this right over the Kaliningrad Region, flying over it far and wide, which created problems in the limited airspace of the region and hindered the operation of Khrabrovo International Airport. We did not manage to convince our partners to show a reasonable degree of restraint. This is why we had to minimise spending by restricting the maximum flight distance over the Kaliningrad Region to 500 kilometres. This is not contrary to the OST or the signatories’ subsequent decisions. I would like to point out that this has not changed the total flight distance of 5,500 km and hence coverage of Russia’s territory. The flight range of 500 km over the Kaliningrad Region is sufficient for observing any part of the region, even the most distant areas, during observation flights. In other words, this restriction has not affected observation effectiveness.

By the way, the United States did likewise when it restricted the distance of observation flights over the US pene-exclave, Alaska, which start on the continental part of American territory.

It gives me pleasure to listen to our American colleagues’ complaints, considering that they have assumed their positions only recently and are not aware of many details. We are willing to help them clarify the situation. They only need to ask.

Second, Russia has been accused of the unlawful denial to permit observation flights in the 10 kilometre border area of the so-called Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

This problem is rooted in political differences. The Treaty says that “the flight path of an observation aircraft shall not be closer than ten kilometres from the border with an adjacent State that is not a State Party.” To Russia and several other states, Abkhazia and South Ossetia ceased to be “Georgian regions” back in 2008 (I am saying this for those of our US colleagues who assumed office only recently). They are sovereign states and hence the OST provision I have cited is fully applicable to them. The reasons for this are common knowledge. If some of our partners cannot accept the new political realities in the Caucasus, it is their problem, but definitely cannot be interpreted as an OST violation.

By the way, Georgia has closed its skies to Russian observation flights for political reasons, which is a clear and gross violation of the key OST provision. However, our Western partners have closed their eyes to this and have not criticised Georgia for this.

Third, Russia has been accused of overusing the force majeure provision to change the coordinated plans of observation flights due to flights made by the country’s leaders in close proximity to the planned paths of observation flights.

This is the most absurd allegation of all, because we have used the above provision only once since the OST was adopted in 2002, several years ago. We subsequently discussed this matter with our partners and it was agreed that the priority for state leaders’ flights, which other states party also observe, can be coordinated without invoking the force majeure provision. The matter seemed to have been settled and laid to rest. However, they are still tempted to present as many complaints against Russia as possible even if the substantiation is completely nonsensical.

Why are they doing this? On the one hand, they probably want to distract public attention from the really serious OST violations by the United States, its allies and wards. There have been very many such violations, enough for a whole page. The most flagrant of them concern direct or indirect restrictions on observation flights over the entire territory or whole regions of some member states. However, Washington prefers not to notice these violations.

Another reason could be the negative attitude of some Congressmen and the US military and political establishment to the Open Skies Treaty itself.

Anyway, Washington’s attitude bodes ill for the OST, as we have told our partners.

Regarding media reports about the potential countermeasures, which the United States is considering to complicate Russian observation flights over US territory, we will analyse them, including for compliance with the OST. We will analyse them and then we will take a decision on appropriate response measures, because nobody has cancelled the principle of reciprocity in international affairs. It is far from clear what the United States stands to gain. Anyway, Washington will definitely not see any unilateral advantages.

I would like to say in conclusion that confrontation is not our choice. We suggest that our American partners stop before taking the plunge into yet another chasm of measures and countermeasures, stop before the measures they have announced come into effect and instead launch a politically impartial search for mutually acceptable solutions to OST issues. This, of course, should be based on respect for the concerns and interests of all parties rather than only the United States.

US State Department statement regarding Nikolai Semena

As you know, Washington has once again stated and shown that it has absolutely no regard for the free democratic expression of people’s will if it runs contrary to the US beliefs. The US State Department once again discussed in a public statement the “occupation” of Crimea, whose residents had decided their future by an overwhelming majority of votes in a nationwide referendum three years ago. The referendum took place following an unconstitutional coup in Ukraine.

This time, the US State Department used a Simferopol court verdict in the case of Nikolai Semena as a pretext for this rebuke. This person, who cooperated with the American propaganda machine, received a 36-month suspended sentence for advocating the peninsula’s blockade with the use of force. We are talking about calls for a blockade. You know what a blockade means, and Crimea has already experienced an energy blockade with all the ensuing consequences. All of us recall its results, and the amount of resources it took to return the peninsula back to normal. Such calls are absolutely illegal from the standpoint of international law. Many documents that have been signed by leading countries equate calls for a blockade, as well as energy, food or any other blockade, with terrorist attacks. I repeat, the US State Department has failed to take note of his call to blockade his compatriots, as if it never happened. It appears that our partners are upset over this verdict because it deprived them of an opportunity to make additional statements about the severity of punishment. In fact, many experts considered the verdict to be lenient. I would like to point out that if similar calls for blockading any state in the United States, any US territory or population group were made in the United States, the perpetrator would not get away with a suspended sentence. He or she would receive a real and long prison term.

Once again we are witnessing another persistent US attempt to interfere in our domestic affairs, to tell the courts what they should do, and how this country should implement its domestic policies. To be honest, it is hard to understand why the United States believes it possible to meddle in the life of other states.

US demands for Russia Today America to register as a foreign agent

We have repeatedly commented on the attitude towards the Russian media and journalists among politicians, other officials and security agencies in the United States.

The United States demands that the company which provides services to RT America in the US register as a foreign agent. On the one hand, this is clearly a policy of double standards. It could be categorised as one, if the situation wasn’t in fact far more serious, multilayered and complex.

The point is that all the demands placed on RT and Sputnik contradict the principles of freedom of speech, which are promoted by the US.

First, the selective and clearly politically motivated application of law to Russian media would imply a restriction of the freedom of speech – the freedom guaranteed by the US Constitution.

Second, the application of FARA to RT may lead to serious legal consequences and pose risks to employees’ security. The obligation to disclose the channel’s corporate data, including – I want to stress this – the staff list and employees’ personal information, may constitute an actual threat in the current witch-hunt climate in the United States.

Third, the accusations that Russia Today in spreading Russian propaganda began after the publication of a report by the US intelligence community on interference in the election, a report that was not supported by evidence. In this report, Russia Today is mentioned over 100 times but there is not a single siting of proof of interference in the elections. That is, there is not a single item of the so-called fake news distributed by the Russian television channel in the US. They couldn’t find one. It just doesn’t exist. It’s another matter if there was something they didn’t like. Still, they could not provide any evidence to support the accusations.

Fourth, regular attacks on the network by western leaders and organisations loyal to them have particularly intensified in the past years. Thus, the Atlantic Council, which has close ties with NATO, published a report in which it recommended Poland to include Russia Today in the list of potential targets for cyberattacks. The same organisation is lobbying to include Russia Today in the list of foreign agents.

Fifth, a huge number of Russian-language information sources, including those in the US that have an audience in Russia, receive funding from the US. However, so far they have not been qualified as foreign agents; they withhold their sources of funding and do not register as foreign agents.

In summary, I would like to say that Russia complies with all international regulations and laws regarding the freedom of speech, which it has proven many times. When fights without rules begin, the law is distorted and used as a tool for ruining a television company, every step against Russian media will have a proportionate response. Washington should figure out carefully who the target of this response might be. The clock is ticking.

Answers to media questions:

Question: My question also concerns the planned visit by the Director of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry Department of North American Affairs to Russia. Radio Free Asia has reported today that representatives from the North Korean Foreign Ministry will meet with US experts in October, and that Choe Son Hui is expected to attend this meeting. What would Russia like to convey to the North Korean partners at the talks tomorrow ahead of the upcoming North Korean-US meeting?

Maria Zakharova: I have told you everything I could about tomorrow’s meeting. We will post information on its results later on. You know about our attitude to a settlement on the Korean Peninsula: it has not changed either.

It has been written that tomorrow’s meeting will be secret or clandestine. As you know, it is nothing like this. I have spoken about this meeting right now, and besides, in the past few days we confirmed this meeting in answers to media questions. However, media are not invited to take photographs at such talks. Such meetings, that is, the ones held at the level of experts, usually do not include official photo opportunities.