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Briefing by Alexei Sazonov, Deputy Director of the Press and Information Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, April 28, 2011

Visit to Russian by Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General

Among the notable recent foreign-policy developments involving President Dmitry Medvedev I would like to highlight the visit to Moscow by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, held on April 21-23. He had a meeting with the President of the Russian Federation on April 22 to discuss the current state of affairs in the UN, as well as issues of interaction on a wide range of international topics.

The Russian President stressed our consistent non-conjunctural position in support of the United Nations, in particular, support for the ongoing strengthening of the legal foundations of its activities on the basis of strict compliance with the Charter of the Organization.

In the context of the events occurring in the Middle East and North and West Africa region they discussed such issues as the need for strict observance of the mandates that are adopted by the UN, particularly with regard to use of force situations, alongside a more clear articulation of these mandates themselves.

The Secretary General and the President of Russia thoroughly exchanged views on the situation in the hot spots: in Libya, Yemen, Cфte d'Ivoire and other states of the Middle East and North Africa. They also discussed topics that are traditionally found in the UN’s field of vision and which are very important for our country, in particular the need to resume six-party talks on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue.

Much attention was devoted to lessons learned from the accident which occurred at Japan’s Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant. President Medvedev and Secretary General Ban were unanimous in the view that, in addition to overcoming the consequences of the disaster, it is necessary with reliance on the professional capacity of the IAEA to develop new, higher standards of safety and universally applicable rules for responding to such incidents.

The President and Secretary General expressed a common position on the necessity to intensify efforts of the Middle East Quartet. To this end, the Secretary General reaffirmed UN support for a Moscow Middle East Conference, where the Quartet along with other key stakeholders could help the parties begin to formulate a final agreement as soon as possible.

Also, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, on April 22. A news release about the meeting is posted on the Ministry’s website.

President Medvedev’s visit to Ukraine

President Dmitry Medvedev on April 26 took part in the commemorative events for the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident.

During a meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, he discussed issues of overcoming the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster and providing social and medical assistance to the liquidators, as well as various aspects of Russian-Ukrainian cooperation. More detailed information is available on the Russian President’s website.

Working visits to South Ossetia and Abkhazia by Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov made working visits to the Republic of South Ossetia and to the Republic of Abkhazia from April 25-26. The Minister was received by the leaders of the Republics.

Following his visit to South Ossetia an intergovernmental agreement on the establishment and conditions of activity of information and cultural centers was signed. There was an exchange of notes containing the notification of completion of the internal procedures required for the entry into force of the intergovernmental visa-free travel agreement. The visit also saw the signing of intergovernmental agreements on cooperation principles and conditions of interrelations in the field of transport and on cooperation in the field of air search and rescue.

Lavrov's visit to Abkhazia ended in the signing of an intergovernmental agreement on the establishment and conditions of activity of information and cultural centers, alongside an exchange of notes containing the notification of completion of the internal procedures required for the entry into force of the intergovernmental visa-free travel agreement.

During his visit, Sergey Lavrov met with the commanders of the FSB border guard troops in Abkhazia and with members of the Russian-speaking diaspora.

Three-way meeting of foreign ministers of Russia, Germany and Poland in Kaliningrad

On May 5, Kaliningrad will host a meeting between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and German Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski.

During the three-way talks, for the first time at the ministerial level, they are to discuss further guidance in the developing interaction between the three countries in European affairs, specifically on the current agenda of Russia-EU relations, the Russia-NATO Council, and in international and regional organizations. Based on the experience and the specificity of relations between Russia, Germany and Poland, the ministers will examine the feasibility of trilateral projects and the launching of joint initiatives in various practical areas, aimed at reinvigorating cooperation between the foreign policy agencies, inter-parliamentary and inter-regional exchanges, and cultural, humanitarian, educational and scientific contacts. They will give particular attention to the priority tasks for Russia in the social and economic development of the Kaliningrad Region.

In addition to the Ministers’ talks, the visit program provides for their joint meetings with the Kaliningrad Region Governor, as well as students and faculty of Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University.

Forthcoming visit to Moscow by Yang Jiechi, Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China

Talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi are scheduled for May 6 in Moscow.

The two parties plan to discuss the state of and prospects for bilateral relations of partnership and strategic cooperation, the preparation of this year’s upcoming Russian-Chinese contacts at the Summit level, as well as to hold a thorough exchange of views on a wide range of key international and regional issues of mutual interest.

Orthodox Easter reception at the Russian Foreign Ministry

An Orthodox Easter reception was hosted today, April 28, in the Ministry’s mansion on behalf of Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov. It was attended by Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill, hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church, representatives of various faiths, Russian government and public figures and the diplomatic corps. A press release about the event is posted on the Russian MFA's website.

Current situation in Syria

Following the recent clashes of protesters with police in several cities with casualties among civilians and law enforcement officials a tense situation remains in Syria. The authorities of the country on April 25 launched a special operation to restore law and order in the city of Deraa and some other populated areas. We hope that Damascus will carry out a transparent and effective investigation into all the excesses that resulted in deaths, and the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

We presume that violence in the course of peaceful marches and demonstrations should be avoided. The processes taking place in Syria, as in other countries of the Middle East region, must receive their resolution in the domestic political field and within the legal framework, without outside interference. Of particular fundamental importance is the early implementation of all the moves announced in Damascus to carry out political reforms and socioeconomic change.

With regard to the priority issue for us about the safety of the citizens of the Russian Federation, the Russian Embassy in Damascus is closely monitoring the related situation, maintaining direct contact with the major groups of seconded experts, persons employed under contract, students and other categories of our compatriots currently in Syria.

Current situation in Libya

The situation on the theater of military operations in Libya has not undergone major changes in the last few days. As before, fighting between troops loyal to Tripoli and opposition forces rages mainly in the Ajdabiya area and in the city of Misurata, where they clash with heavy artillery most fiercely now. Simultaneously, NATO coalition aviation, having recently included US drones and Italian warplanes, continues to inflict air and missile strikes on army units and various targets, among them infrastructural and civilian facilities, in a number of Libyan cities, including the capital. As a result of the unceasing violence, civilians suffer and are killed every day.

Moscow is concerned by this development, primarily having in mind both the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas in Misurata by troops loyal to the Libyan regime and the fact that coalition actions increasingly exceed the scope of UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973. Information on arms supplies to Benghazi and the dispatch by some NATO countries of military instructors and advisers there, suggests the danger of the coalition being pulled into a confrontation on the ground in support of one of the parties in the intra-Libyan conflict. We believe such steps are incompatible with the resolutions’ objectives and are fraught with an escalation of violence.

In this regard, we once again urge all parties involved to strictly follow the letter and spirit of UNSCR 1973. We are convinced that the only way to ensure the safety of civilians and stabilize the situation in Libya is an immediate ceasefire and the start of a dialogue between the intra-Libyan parties to the conflict, with support, not interference from outside.

Detention in Libya’s territorial waters of Anwar Libya oil tanker

I was asked the following question: Coalition naval forces under NATO command a few days ago detained an oil tanker in Libya’s territorial waters that was heading to Tunisia for gasoline for the needs of the Libyan population. How does Moscow regard this incident in terms of coalition actions complying with the letter and spirit of UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973?

The Russian Foreign Ministry took note of the recent media reports about NATO’s arrest of the tanker on April 21.

Under UNSCR 1973, member states, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, in order to ensure strict implementation of the Libyan arms embargo, may inspect, in particular, on the high seas, vessels bound to or from Libya, if the state concerned has information that provides reasonable grounds to believe that the cargo contains items the supply of which to Libya is prohibited by the relevant Security Council resolutions, including the provision of arms and related materials or armed mercenary personnel.

To our formal question on this issue NATO Secretariat officials said the coalition had suspicion that the Anwar Libya was carrying embargoed goods, but with no prohibited items found onboard, the tanker was released.

But we find it bewildering that NATO has failed to notify either the UN Secretariat or the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee of the detention and inspection of the Anwar Libya vessel and possibly also of other such incidents as explicitly prescribed by UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973.

In our contacts with NATO, as well as in the relevant UN structures we emphasized that we consider such a selective approach to the provisions laid down in the resolutions as their violation. The sanctions measures, including inspections of ships at sea, were adopted by the Security Council, and it should be fully informed about their implementation and, if necessary, control the legitimacy of the actions of states in implementing the measures imposed.

We hope that coalition member states will strictly adhere to the provisions of Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973, doing everything possible to improve, not aggravate the humanitarian situation in Libya.

Developments in Yemen

Against the background of the continuing internal political tensions and ongoing popular uprisings in the Republic of Yemen, there are discussions around a plan to secure an end to the crisis, prepared by Yemen’s neighbors, the member countries of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC). Under this initiative, President Ali Abdullah Saleh would announce the formation of a government of national unity composed of the ruling General People’s Congress and the opposition Common Forum bloc and within 30 days transfer his powers to the country's vice-president. After that a presidential election would be organized within 60 days. The current leadership of Yemen and the opposition camp basically support the GCC proposals.

In connection with the events in Yemen we would like to reiterate our support of the mediation efforts the GCC members are undertaking to provide options for a peaceful settlement of the civil confrontation that has engulfed the Republic of Yemen in recent months. We hope that the current additional negotiations and consultations will be completed successfully and the question of power in Yemen will find a solution acceptable to all the local parties.

Current situation in Cфte d'Ivoire

The situation in Cфte d'Ivoire and, in particular, in Abidjan is gradually returning to normal, although sporadic gunfire is still being heard in some areas of the city. Shops are being opened; public transport is beginning to operate. The authorities of the country, UN peacekeepers and the French Licorne auxiliary force are taking steps to ensure law and order. Prospects have appeared for restoring the air links of Abidjan with the outside world.

At the same time the humanitarian situation continues to be a concern, especially in western areas of the country and in Abidjan. The aid coming from overseas is obviously insufficient.

None of the Russian citizens in Cфte d'Ivoire was hurt during the recent fighting. The Russian Embassy in Abidjan is in constant contact with them, and within the scope of its resources provides them the necessary assistance and support.

In the future the situation in the country will largely depend on the consistency of the new Ivorian authorities in carrying out their stated line on achieving national reconciliation, ensuring a socioeconomic revival of the country and implementing democratic reforms. We presume that in addressing these and other issues it is necessary to help the Ivorians. For its part, Russia is ready to participate in international steps for comprehensive assistance to Cфte d'Ivoire.

Current situation in Sudan

According to incoming reports, clashes between government army units and irregular rebel military forces have been occurring in a number of states in Southern Sudan recently, as a result of which there are casualties.

We are expressing our concern about these incidents, which pose a threat to local civilian populations and undermine the stability and unity in Southern Sudan, so vital in the run-up to the proclamation of its independence.

We hope that the Juba authorities will take concrete steps to de-escalate the confrontation with the opposition and will lift restrictions on access to the clashes zone for employees of the UN peacekeeping mission, whose task is meet the challenges of protecting civilians.

At the same time we expect the parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to intensify their efforts to resolve the remaining contentious issues in relations between them, including such aspects as border demarcation, resolving the status of the Abyei Area, the issues of citizenship, and so on.

Current situation in Nigeria

The situation in Nigeria, where after the April 16 presidential election riots took place, accompanied by acts of ethnic and sectarian violence, has largely returned to normal by now. Nevertheless, in some cities in the north, where the clashes on April 17-18 were particularly ferocious, the curfew and increased security measures are still in force.

The inauguration of the newly elected head of state, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, is scheduled for May 29.

On April 26 many states of Nigeria held elections of governors and local legislative assemblies, as well as senators and members of the House of Representatives of the Federal Parliament in the constituencies where they had previously been postponed for technical reasons. In the opinion of international observers, voting as in the previous phases of the general elections was generally well organized and in accordance with the national electoral legislation.

The election campaign in the northern states of Kaduna and Bauchi is to be completed on April 28.

Cambodian-Thai border conflict

We are closely following the developments in the situation on the Cambodian-Thai border. A matter of serious concern is the unceasing outbursts of armed confrontation between the two neighboring countries as the work of the existing mechanisms for settling the border issue has stalled. Their activity is now in demand as never before.

We presume that both parties must behave responsibly, demonstrate strong political will for a peaceful resolution of the dispute, exercise restraint, avoid any further escalation of the military confrontation and accept mediation assistance from ASEAN in the person of the current chairman of the Association – Indonesia. Bangkok and Phnom Penh need to heed the relevant recommendations of the UN Security Council following its February meeting on the issue.

We believe that the two ASEAN member states’ use of armed force against each other is fundamentally contrary to the principles of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, of which Russia is a participant, as well as to the objectives of the Association to ensure peace and stability in the region and to create a highly integrated ASEAN Community.

In line with the above approach we are conducting work through diplomatic channels with the Cambodian and Thai partners.

Current situation in the PNA

The leading Palestinian organizations Hamas and Fatah on April 27 agreed in principle on the creation of an interim national unity government, as well as the conduct of parliamentary and presidential elections in Palestine. It is specified that the appropriate document may be signed in the near future in Cairo by Mahmoud Abbas, Head of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and Chairman of the Fatah Central Committee, and Khaled Mashaal, Hamas Politburo Chief.

Moscow is pleased with these reports and the statements confirming them by representatives of the major Palestinian organizations. Intentions to take these significant steps towards restoring Palestinian unity can only be welcomed.

In its contacts with representatives of all Palestinian organizations and regional powers as well as with the members of the international Quartet of Middle East mediators, Russia has actively and persistently advocated a restoration of Palestinian unity. We believe that in case of implementation of these inter-Palestinian accords, they will be of benefit to the realization of the national aspirations of the Palestinian people, will give the necessary impetus to the Middle East peace process and to ensuring its reliable results. In our view, a unified Palestinian position on the basis of a clear commitment to the PLO principles and the Arab peace initiative will serve to promote lasting peace and security for all countries and peoples of the region.

FM comment regarding the recently published report by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

We were asked: "How would the Russian Foreign Ministry comment on the recently published report by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on the events in Tallinn on the night of April 26-27, 2007, during which the Russian citizen Dmitry Ganin was killed?"

The findings contained in that document confirm the validity of the concern repeatedly expressed by the Russian side about the grave violations of human rights in the dispersal and detention by the Estonian authorities of opponents of the dismantling of the monument to the Liberator Soldier in Tallinn in April 2007.

It is fundamentally important that a reputable specialized structure of the Council of Europe has given an objective assessment of the actions of Estonian law enforcement agencies against those who wanted to prevent an outrage upon the memory of the fallen in the struggle against fascism.

As well, we have to note with regret the absence of any progress in establishing all circumstances of the murder of the Russian citizen Dmitry Ganin during the aforesaid protests, despite repeated promises from Estonian officials. We will vigorously work to ensure that the Estonian side carries through the investigation into the death of our compatriot, and the perpetrators of this crime suffer a deserved punishment.

Appointment of Ambassador at Large Konstantin Dolgov as Ombudsman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law

The observance of human rights, respect for democratic norms and the rule of law are among the foreign policy priorities of the Russian leadership. In the Russian Federation a whole array of institutions dealing with various aspects of this issue works effectively. Much attention is given to further improving the human rights mechanisms.

In this context, we inform you that pursuant to the instruction of the President of the Russian Federation the Foreign Ministry has established the post of Ombudsman for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law. By an order of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, dated April 6, 2011, Ambassador at Large Konstantin Dolgov has been appointed to this post. The office of the Ombudsman has been formed.

The principal task of the Ombudsman is to promote information and analysis support of the foreign policy interests of the Russian Federation in the sphere of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

His functions include, inter alia, preparation of annual overviews of and analytical reports on the situation in foreign countries in the field of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, the collection and analysis of information about the facts and instances of violation by foreign states of their international legal obligations regarding human rights, democracy and the rule of law. An important task is to publicly respond, including with the use of the information resources of the Foreign Ministry, to the facts and instances of such violations, including violations of the rights and lawful interests of Russian citizens and legal entities.

The Ombudsman will participate in the organization and implementation of measures to educate and raise the level of awareness of foreign partners and the public at home and abroad about matters within the scope of his authority, including through regular contact and work with the media. It is planned to hold quarterly press conferences, to voice Russia's assessments of the most serious human rights violations in the world.

To perform the tasks set the Ombudsman, within the scope of his authority, will maintain regular contacts with statesmen, politicians and public figures of foreign countries, with representatives of international and Russian nongovernmental organizations and with members of the media.

From the answers to media questions

Question: How could you comment on the Budapest authorities’ decision to rename Moscow Square?

Answer: The Municipal Assembly of Budapest's decision to rename one of the central squares of the Hungarian capital, which for nearly six decades bore the name of Moscow, is unlikely to be received with understanding in Russian society. The name of Moscow, so meaningful for the citizens of Russia, is not ideologically charged and personifies the long-standing active ties between the peoples of our countries. In conditions of the overall positive development of Russian-Hungarian relations this decision is, at least, puzzling. As is known, the Moscow City Government has already reacted to it.

Question: How can the Foreign Ministry comment on reports of Russia's readiness to begin to pay pensions to Israeli repatriates from the former Soviet Union?

Answer: The theme of paying pensions to Israeli citizens who are immigrants from the former Soviet Union is really on the agenda of Russian-Israeli relations. This is a rather complex issue that needs careful consideration, especially in terms of Russia's national legislation. Experts, primarily from the Russian Health Ministry, are working closely on this matter.

It is understood that mutually acceptable solutions can be fixed in an intergovernmental agreement between Russia and Israel on cooperation in the field of social security (insurance). As part of the work on its draft, the Russian side has repeatedly, most recently this April, asked the Israeli partners to provide the necessary data, particularly data on the number of citizens of the former USSR living in Israel, their places of residence in the USSR, and the length and place of service. This information necessary to estimate the amount of financial obligations which the Russian Federation will undertake in the event of signing this agreement, we have not yet received it.

Upon receipt of the requested information the next round of expert consultations on the draft agreement will be held.

This is the real picture of the state of affairs.

Question: Russia has spoken out against the convocation of an extraordinary UN Security Council meeting on Libya. Will it take place, and in which case will Russia agree to its conduct?

Answer: Consultations on this matter are continuing. The meeting will take place when consensus is reached.

Question: A number of Western countries have called for the imposition of sanctions against Syria. What is Russia’s position on this issue?

Answer: Our attitude to the imposition of sanctions is well known. We have repeatedly explained that we prefer political and diplomatic methods. Sanctions have only a limited impact and usefulness.

I want to draw your attention to the statement made by the Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN, Alexander Pankin, in which he commented on Russia's position in connection with the discussion on the situation in Syria on April 27, 2011 in New York. It contains a full explanation; I am not going to repeat it.

Question: How can the Russian Foreign Ministry comment on the situation around the Russian female citizen Z. Rodionova, who was beaten up at Tbilisi airport?

Answer: Indeed, on April 19 upon entry into Georgia a Russian citizen, Z. R. Bitsadze-Rodionova was attacked by unknown officials while passing customs control at the airport in Tbilisi. We see this as yet another provocative stunt by the Georgian authorities against Russian citizens. This is one more case of gross flouting by the Saakashvili regime of the universally accepted human rights and humanitarian norms, in violation of the obligations of Georgia. Unfortunately, these antics are becoming increasingly cynical and outrageous each time. The totally innocent woman was detained for more than four hours; injuries of varying severity were inflicted upon her. The generally accepted norms in respect of the rules of personal examination of women were breached, and her mobile phone and credit card illegally taken away. I’ll note that Z. R. Rodionova is a close relative of Nino Burjanadze, who is now firmly in opposition to the authorities. Perhaps this explains the bias against her.

We do not intend to leave such episodes without attention. A resolute protest has been expressed to the Georgian side through the mediation of Swiss diplomats.

Here’s one more aspect. As is known, official Tbilisi is constantly inviting our citizens to visit Georgia. I must point out that Russians in Georgia today systematically become victims of arbitrariness, even regardless of whether they have ever been to Abkhazia or South Ossetia. I have already had occasion to say that just everyone who comes to Georgia from Russia on private business or to visit relatives is a potential object of provocations by the Georgian special services and at real risk of finding themselves behind bars. They plant guns, counterfeit money or drugs on our citizens and fabricate criminal cases, after which the people are thrown in jail.

We are forced to re-focus the attention of Russian citizens on the fact that when they visit Georgia, their safety may be jeopardized.

Question: Returning to the subject of sanctions against Syria, could you please clarify the Russian position?

Answer: I can cite the position of Russia voiced by Alexander Pankin and already published in the media. “The current situation in Syria, despite the aggravation and tension, does not present a threat to international peace and security. One cannot disregard the fact that the violence in Syria does not all originate from one side. A real threat to regional security in our view could arise from outside interference in Syria’s domestic situation, including attempts to impose ready-made recipes or take somebody’s side. It is known that some protesters in Syria and elsewhere openly pin their hopes on the fact that the aggravation of the situation may force the international community to help them and take their side. This is sort of an invitation to civil war. It is necessary to prevent such a dangerous course of events in Syria, which is the cornerstone of the security architecture in the Middle East.

“The search for equitable solutions to pressing problems must be continued by the Syrian government, together with all the socio-political forces in the legal field, and the sooner the better, while violence from whatever quarter should be excluded. It is only through constructive dialogue and the implementation of announced political reforms and socioeconomic change that stability and democratic development in Syria for the good of all its citizens will occur.”

Question: Entry into Russia was denied a few days ago for Ukrainian journalist N. Hrienko. How could you comment on this situation?

Answer: At present, we have sent a question to the competent organizations. On receipt of an official response, we will inform you about the development of the situation.