Extracts from the briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, April 12, 2017
Trilateral meeting between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Syrian Arab Republic Walid Muallem and Foreign Minister of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif
On April 14, Moscow will host a trilateral meeting between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Syrian Arab Republic Walid Muallem and Foreign Minister of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Talks will mainly focus on the military and political situation in Syria. The participants will discuss measures for trilateral coordination in order to prevent the degradation of the situation and undermining of efforts for a political settlement in Syria amid Washington’s military aggression against Damascus.
The situation in Syria
The military-political situation in Syria sharply deteriorated following the massive US strike on April 7 against the al-Shayrat airfield where Syrian Air Force planes are based. In this room, as well as for many other audiences, we have given an extended evaluation of that, issuing corresponding statements and explanations and making comments. As is known, Russia responded to that outright act of aggression against a sovereign UN member state by suspending the Russian-US memorandum on the prevention of air incidents in the course of operations in Syria. A corresponding explanation was provided via both the Defence Ministry and the Foreign Ministry. Washington’s use of force is a serious challenge not only to regional but also to international security.
Unfortunately, there is no stopping anti-Russian forces in the West, which are bent on wiping out the positive achievements on the path toward a peace settlement. They were put in place mainly through the efforts of Russia and its partners in the Astana process, as well as the efforts of UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and his team in Geneva.
Some western media outlets are not above peddling these fake news stories and outright slander. Consider, for example, the AP report of April 11 citing a high-ranking US official as saying that Russia knew about Syria’s coming chemical weapons attack in advance!
How can we comment on this? These news stories can only be commented on in the same spirit. Let’s try to do the same today. Maybe those across the ocean knew about the terrorists’ coming provocation and so targeted their cruise missiles at Syria’s al-Shayrat airport in advance. Are these the kinds of polemics we will engage in or will we talk in a constructive manner? Will we destroy the media with these fake reports or will we come to understand the need for a responsible approach toward dealing with long-running international problems? Would it not be better first to understand what really happened at Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 and ensure, as Russia immediately proposed, an impartial, objective and professional international investigation on the ground with the participation of OPCW experts? Unfortunately, our colleagues chose to act differently.
Our partners’ actions consists of constantly repeating the “vial of white powder” show at the UN Security Council that the US used to justify the need to destroy Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq in the early 2000s. The comparisons are not simply appropriate, they are self-evident. There is only one “but” here: the situation today is far more dangerous, because a new bloody and insidious player has emerged – international terrorism, as represented by ISIS, al-Nusra and other Al Qaeda affiliates. How they evolved, as a result of what countries’ mistakes and in what region – I believe we have talked enough about that to repeat it today.
Independent experts from the Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR), a Swedish NGO, have questioned the videos of the “victims of the chemical attack” that were accompanied by comments in Arabic as to how best to position a child in front of a camera.
As before, we urge our partners for equal cooperation based on mutual respect in the interest of achieving the most important goals on the international agenda today: eliminating the seat of international terrorism in Syria and reaching a political settlement in that country.
Hacking activity on the Foreign Ministry’s website
We would like to revisit the issue of hacking. However, today we will add a new twist to this traditional topic and tell you about hacker activity on the Foreign Ministry’s website.
I would like to remind you that for months Russia has been accused of using hackers to interfere in the internal affairs of the US and other western countries, but not a scrap of conclusive evidence has been presented either to us or to anybody else. All of these allegations follow the form of UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s remark that they have no evidence but are sure the Russians have the capability to meddle. Unlike our western colleagues, we do have something to show.
I would like to say that this is quite a sensational story. Today I will tell you about what our agency and just one website regularly run up against, although there are a lot of sites that regularly come under attack. I believe we will be regularly updating you on these statistics. This example will give you an idea of the scale of resources directed against Russian government agencies.
Specialists say the ministry’s website regularly comes under attack from IP addresses registered in the US. In February 2017 alone, three attacks were registered. In March 2017, we recorded a significantly heightened level of activity by so-called bots, automatic programmes that can adversely affect the Foreign Ministry’s website from the US. Their share of the total number of visitors to the pages was 88 percent (1.51 million bot users of 1.77 million came from US territory). This refers to visits not by ordinary users who are interested in specific materials but those who use the entire array of actions that are usually called hacking attacks, computer systems, everything that does not qualify as legal or legitimate use of cyber technology. Bot visits to our website account for 50 percent of the total (1.47 million page viewings of 2.97 million). Analysis showed that all of them have similar characteristics (they are used by the same programme or organisation). According to our technical services, they come mainly from the US, from California (64 percent of all queries from Mountain View (47 percent) and San Jose (17 percent)), as well as from Ohio (8 percent) and the District of Columbia (8 percent).
I would like to remind you once again that cyber security is traditionally a priority on Russia’s agenda not only at home: it is a focus of our international efforts. Russia has put forward an initiative that is known at the UN as International Information Security. We have posted a lot of materials on this issue on the Foreign Ministry’s website and the social media and Russian representatives have given interviews on it. We have repeatedly urged our western partners to engage in genuine multilateral cooperation to put an end to hacker attacks, which have become a serious destabilising factor today. We would advise our US partners, instead of trying to bring down the website of Russia’s foreign policy agency, to steer their efforts to a peaceful channel and do their best to fight cyber threats together.
To reiterate, we will keep monitoring these statistics. I would like to repeat that these are specific figures for representatives of the relevant US services to work on. If they are so responsive to everything related to cyber attacks, at this briefing we are giving them an opportunity to look into the modus operandi of hackers and people registered in the US who unscrupulously use internet technology based in the US or operate from its territory.
Answers to media questions:
Question: Can you comment on a statement by the Turkish Ministry of Health, based on a medical inspection, about the use of sarin in Idlib, in Syria?
Maria Zakharova: I believe that the Turkish Ministry of Health should collect seawater samples for tourist season and check them for bacteria. The Ministry should also check food quality, including at resorts. That’s what they should do today.
The issue of chemical weapons is the responsibility of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which was created many years ago, and specifically the OPCW’s special division established for investigating incidents that involve the use of chemical weapons in Syria. They employ skilled experts focusing solely on the investigation of such incidents. It is them, rather than the Turkish Ministry of Health or some sort of cultural ministry, who should take part in resolving these issues. This is why Russia came up with the idea to send inspectors there as soon as possible.
Question: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has urged Russia to stop supporting President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. How will these statements influence relations between Russia and Turkey and the role of Turkey in the coalition?
Maria Zakharova: We have repeatedly said that the Russian position remains unchanged. From our standpoint the issue of a regime in Turkey or, for that matter, in any other country is their own domestic affair. We did not invent this provision which is stated in the UN Charter.
Second, we have always focused global public attention on the fact that members of the International Syria Support Group, which includes Turkey, approved documents which were eventually legitimised in the UN Security Council and which note that there is no alternative to resolving the Syrian issue through diplomatic means, and that the people of Syria themselves should decide their country’s future. The participating countries assumed certain obligations after signing this document and agreeing with its provisions. I believe we should proceed from this assumption.
Question: How can we reconcile Turkey’s support for the US action in Syria and its call to settle the crisis through the Astana format?
Maria Zakharova: The question on how Ankara can reconcile these two approaches is one for the Turkish authorities. I think Turkey’s official representatives should explain to journalists and political analysts how Turkey conceptually resolves this. Turkey is facilitating the peace process on the one hand, but on the other, it has welcomed these airstrikes that effectively bury all attempts to bring the opposition and the official government authorities together, and any attempts at specific efforts to transform fighters and terrorists into an opposition organisation and encourage them to renounce armed action. The whole world has just received a bloody lesson in how to “sort things out.” For several years now, we have been calling on everyone to come to the negotiating table, and have persuaded the opposition fighters, terrorists and extremists to lay down their arms, including by offering them specific guarantees. These opposition fighters, terrorists and extremists are now asking a logical question: why is one person allowed to act through force, attacking a sovereign state’s territory without any approval or clear justification, and they are not allowed, and are constantly pushed to sit down at the negotiating table. No one denies that this is a very complicated process. We have always said that motivating extremists and opposition fighters who have spent years fighting for their “truth” and vision with gun in hand (albeit by taking a mistaken path, perhaps) to sit down at the negotiating table is an extremely complicated process. Let me say again that the opposition fighters, seeing this action, are only encouraged to continue using force.
Many of these people never went to university or even to school. Many of them are young people and the only view they know is the one the terrorist organisations have given them. How can we explain to unsophisticated people how this US action is justified? How can we convince them that force is not the way to resolve the Syrian conflict? Why do prosperous and educated people from a prosperous country use force as the main means to resolve the Syrian conflict? You should put this question to the Turkish officials and get an answer as to how they reconcile these two concepts within a single foreign policy.