Excerpts from the Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova

August 31, 2016

Answers to media questions:

Question: Which issues the parties have agreed and which are still a source of disagreement following the Russian-American talks on Syria in Geneva?

Maria Zakharova: Of course, there are concrete results. Heads of the Russian and US foreign policy departments mentioned them during a news conference. Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on Syria Staffan de Mistura provided a detailed account of his involvement in the negotiation process. There are specific results. For obvious reasons, I cannot discuss the details, since the talks are still underway, but I can share a couple of points with you.

Speaking of positive developments, our respective experts have stepped up their activities. Prior to this, contacts between them slowed down not because of Russia, but, unfortunately, at the initiative of the United States (although in this particular case we would like to see an initiative aimed at speeding up and intensifying the negotiation process). We stated that contacts between our experts had become few and far between. Of course, the Geneva talks gave a new impetus to this process. The contacts resumed to the extent that is truly useful and can make the process more dynamic. That’s the upside.

The most important task that needs to be resolved right now, but is unfortunately not being addressed at all, is drawing a line between terrorists and the opposition. There must be no terrorists hiding behind the opposition and vice versa. There must be a clear understanding (and this represents our global position) that playing around with terrorists is impossible and unacceptable. This runs contrary to international law. In this situation, it is important to remember that all the documents adopted by the International Syrian Support Group (ISSG) not only were reviewed by experts, but were also approved by the UN Security Council. It is important to remember that the international community urgently called for developing a settlement plan for the intra-Syrian conflict. These documents are based on a call to the parties concerned to do their best to draw a line between terrorists and opposition as soon as possible and as effectively as possible. The call to give up any and all military action and join the talks was intended for the opposition in the first place. You may remember the enthusiasm with which the ISSG members took up the implementation of these documents.

Unfortunately, until now, despite all the assurances by the United States to the effect that it will take their experts two weeks to draw a line between terrorists and opposition, the things haven’t budged an inch. This means that an essential component for the implementation of the entire package of measures adopted by the ISSG and the UN Security Council is lacking. It is impossible to start an all-out war on terrorists until certain states, claiming that the ranks of terrorists include moderate opposition, cannot or will not use their influence to take these opposition members away from the terrorist groups. This is the key problem that we still have to deal with. You are already familiar with Russia’s take on this situation. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, other Russian senior officials and experts have provided their opinions on this account. Unfortunately, this is a problem which we still have to deal with, and most importantly, spend large amounts of time and negotiating efforts. We're wasting valuable time. Once again, we keep working on all tracks, and we are willing to cooperate. As you are aware, we are open about existing issues and provide clarifications as to why it is crucial to overcome them.

Question: Today, Russian national Sergey Mironov, who was detained in Armenia at the US request, was supposed to return to Russia with his family. Was the Foreign Ministry involved, through diplomatic channels, in securing his release? How does the ministry assess the fact of Mr Mironov’s detention, at the US request?

Maria Zakharova: Considering that the matter concerned a Russian citizen abroad, the Foreign Ministry, through its diplomatic missions, has been actively involved in our compatriot’s fate.

Regarding the overall assessment of what is going on, we have repeatedly stated that the US is “hunting” Russian citizens. We have already warned Russian people that Washington and the relevant law enforcement agencies in the US are truly hunting our compatriots. We believe that this is an element of an anti-Russian campaign. Such actions on the part of the US violate all conceivable norms of international law. To reiterate, this not only impedes the normalisation of bilateral relations, the need for which is stated by a number of US representatives, but also runs counter to the basic principles of cooperation and coexistence of states. There are clear-cut mechanisms and procedures in international law. Everything that we are now seeing, hearing and observing from Washington is part of a global anti-Russian campaign of revenge and the realisation of some unrealised ambitions. We regard this “open season” on Russian nationals as part of this campaign.

Question: I’d like to draw your attention to a comment made by US Permanent Representative to the UN Samantha Power, who said on Tuesday that Washington expects UN Security Council members to adopt a Syria resolution in the near future. This resolution should be based on an OPCW report. According to US media reports, Ms Power was referring in particular to the provisions of the 2013 resolution, some of which envisioned measures in accordance with Chapter VII of the UN Charter. It concerns the possibility of taking tough measures against offenders, including the use of force. As we recall, in 2013, the resolution did not provide for any tough measures. Many were satisfied with the outcome regarding the withdrawal of chemical weapons, Damascus’s recognition of the existence of chemical weapons and its readiness to completely eliminate them. Why are observers, who should have been focusing on the problem of chemical weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, again talking about the presence of [chemical] weapons in Damascus? Why is a solution to this problem based on the use of force again under consideration?

Maria Zakharova
: Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vitaly Churkin always responds to Samantha Power, and he does this so professionally that I don’t even have anything to add. In particular, he said everything that has to be said regarding chemical weapons. I’d like to draw your attention to Mr Churkin’s remarks, which are well argued and substantiated.

Scenarios involving the use of force in diplomacy – and diplomacy is precisely what the UN Security Council is engaging in – are a very dangerous indication of powerlessness, as this degrades the situation even more. This has been evidenced by numerous international conflicts. It is clearly unwise and uncreative to constantly scare everyone with such a measure as the use of the UN Security Council’s enforcement mechanisms and capabilities. To reiterate, the outcome of such operations based on the use of force and pressure is very sad.

I believe that we should pose this question differenly: Is there at least some consistency in US diplomacy today in what it is doing? Hours-long, grueling talks between the heads of the Russian and US foreign services have just ended, in the course of which the settlement of the Syria crisis was discussed along two tracks: the fight against terrorism and the political process. What forcible scenario could be considered in a few days, when for several hours and in the course of numerous telephone conversations, which are definitely not going to end any time soon, the issue of a peaceful resolution of the Syria conflict has been constantly discussed? There should be some consistency.

There is the sense that sometimes our US colleagues use the UN Security Council to their own PR ends. This is another dangerous trend, because the UN Security Council is the supreme executive body of the entire present system of international law. It is unacceptable to use it as a platform for one’s own PR campaign, including possibly for some domestic political purposes.

The International Syria Support Group is taking certain steps toward the peaceful resolution of the crisis. The Russian initiative, which was supported by a number of UN Security Council members (unfortunately, not all), aims to resolve the issue of chemical weapons, in particular their falling into the hands of terrorists. This initiative is nothing new. We put it forward two years ago. What is hindering the use of international legal instruments, not allowing the situation to deteriorate to the point where the use of force becomes inevitable? Something is preventing the US from sitting down together and working out a document to prevent chemical weapons from falling into terrorists' hands.

The main question is what the US, our American colleagues, are after, because unfortunately, at least on the Syrian track, we have lately been seeing a kind of “shooting with both hands,” so to speak, in an unknown direction. [Their] aims are incomprehensible. [Their] actions are chaotic. There is no consistency.