1. I would like to ask you about the recent developments in Turkey. What are the reasons behind them? What do you think about the Turkish authorities’ claims regarding the alleged US involvement in the attempted coup? Do you think it's possible that NATO or the United States fully control or can influence developments in Turkey?
We are now concerned more about the safety of Russian citizens, considering the cancelled flights, blocked airports and armed clashes in cities, which resulted in a large number of Russians being trapped in Turkey. Some of them were there on business and others on vacation.
Our current priority is to keep in touch with those Russians who have not been able to leave Turkey and are stranded there. Another priority is to cooperate with our Turkish partners to ensure the safety of Russian citizens in Turkey. These are our key priorities now.
We are receiving requests, letters and telephone calls from Russian citizens, their families and friends, who are asking us to help those who have been stranded in Turkey, including those who landed in Turkey for a connecting flight and those who were staying there for some time. We are working on this around the clock. Our embassy, consulate and the central staff are working on this jointly with the ministry’s offices outside Russia.
As for NATO, I would like you to bear in mind that these events in Turkey took place a week after the alliance’s summit.
Turkey is a NATO member, and a very large and active one. So where was NATO a week before the tragic events, while it was holding the summit?
This major military and political organization, which has all the means at its disposal to ensure security, did not say a word about the potential security threat to Turkey or the region.
Had the attempted coup to overthrow the legitimate Turkish government succeeded, this would have been a tragedy for Turkey and would have further destabilized the region.
Where was NATO looking? It was looking at the mythical Russian threat. The alliance refused to look anywhere else, focusing instead on the alleged Russian threat, which they invented in the first place and are now busy rallying themselves to resist.
This is a classic example of NATO’s misguided policy regarding threats.
I would like to add that a terrorist attack was carried out in Nice, France, between the NATO summit in Warsaw and the attempted coup in Turkey. This happened after the leaders of the NATO member states met in Poland to discuss the alleged “hybrid threat” coming from Russia. This is the total extent of NATO’s role in the Turkish tragedy.
2. What impact can the deterioration of the situation in Turkey, combined with the threat of terrorism, have on international and regional stability? How will the recent events affect Turkey’s standing as one of the most influential countries in the region?
We believe that the situation in Turkey should not be allowed to further destabilize the explosive situation in the region. This situation is fraught with major problems, not only for the region but also for the rest of the world. We see that events in the Middle East and North Africa, the Greater Middle East with all the adjacent countries, affect lives in other parts of the world, for example Europe. I am referring to the issue of migrants and refugees, and terrorism, as well as their direct and indirect influence on the internal political situation in many European countries.
Had the events in Turkey taken a more negative turn, this would have further destabilized the region, something that must be prevented.
3. How will recent events in Turkey affect efforts to resume tourist flows and charter flights to Turkish resorts?
Even before these events occurred in Turkey, we said that Russia’s decision to remove political barriers, including with regard to travel, is based on two fundamental requirements. First, Turkey is expected to ensure the safety of Russian citizens. There is also an understanding that it is a personal responsibility of every individual to assess the situation before deciding to visit a country where the threat of terrorist acts and attacks by extremists is present.
The latest developments in Turkey have confirmed that our analysis of the situation is correct. We must be more persistent in raising awareness regarding this issue among Russians.
Turkey is facing instability. We can see that the situation there is still far from calm. Russians who decide to travel to Turkey must be aware of the risks they face.
For the past few days, we have been constantly monitoring the situation with Russian citizens who are in Turkey.
Airlines that cancelled flights had to do so because airports were closed. Even after airports reopened, it took some time to restore security, flight schedules, etc. Given the busy schedule of arrivals and departures at international airports, even an hour-long suspension can have catastrophic consequences for the whole transportation network.
4. Have there been any reports so far on Russian victims of the attempted government coup?
As of July 19, there are no Russians among the victims of the attempted government coup in Turkey. However, we are maintaining close contact with Turkey on this issue.
5. Following his talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia and the United States have agreed that there shall be no leniency for terrorist groups. Does the Foreign Ministry now expect broader coordination on Syria and counterterrorism with the United States, which the Americans had earlier rejected, following these latest talks?
These are not so much expectations as simply the proposals that we have been making for some time now. Our view is that the actions and steps the US Secretary of State is taking show us that healthy forces in Washington have indeed realized the need for collective action. However, we see too that there is another camp in Washington that has not yet fully realized this need or thinks that cooperation with Russia is not a priority.
We are sure that the proposals we continue to make and the level of cooperation we have demonstrated in the recent past, with respect to the demilitarization of Syria’s chemical weapons, for example, as well as instances of counterterrorist cooperation in Syria, give reason to think that we and the Americans can work together effectively.
All of our proposals remain in force and we continue to work on them. We think that this would be a promising and productive contribution towards stabilizing the situation in Syria.
6. Could you shed light on the details of talks with John Kerry? The statements made following the conference suggested that conditions for a political transition in Syria had been discussed, but it was decided not to make them public yet. We were told that Moscow and Washington still have much homework to do on agreements on Syria. Have there been any changes in the United States’ principles and positions on a settlement, or new approaches on their part?
Our position is that the approaches taken must be based on the international legal framework set out in the Geneva communique, the UN Security Council’s resolutions, and the International Syria Support Group’s decisions. Naturally, we need to integrate these approaches in such a way as to make for more dynamic and effective work.
We need to make sure the process does not stall but keeps moving forward smoothly.
- What is the ‘homework’ required?
We are working on making our bilateral cooperation in all aspects concerning the Syrian conflict’s resolution more effective.
7. When will the next round of intra-Syrian talks take place? When will the International Syria Support Group hold its next meeting?
At this point, I can say only that the experts in both areas, military and political, will intensify their contacts over these coming days.
It is still too early to say when the ISSG meeting will take place.
8. A NATO summit was held in Warsaw less than two weeks ago, followed by a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council at the ambassadorial level. Ms. Zakharova, you said at a weekly briefing that Moscow did not hear any new proposals from NATO at that meeting and added that Russia is open to further equitable dialogue with the alliance. Is Moscow ready to initiate more frequent consultations with the alliance, including at a higher level?
We have been working on our relations with NATO and developing the necessary mechanisms without slackening the pace of rapprochement. However, NATO adopted a unilateral decision to suspend our contacts. Later, it decided to resume these contacts. As soon as the decision was taken and a consensus was reached within NATO on the resumption of dialogue with Russia, we announced that we see no obstacles to our cooperation with NATO because we have not hindered it in any way. The only condition on which we insist is that our dialogue be equitable and based on mutual respect. We see no other obstacles.
Despite the biased and inappropriate – as we see it – position of the NATO leadership and the leaders, military and diplomats of the NATO member states, we expressed the opinion that all our differences should be settled through dialogue.
For the past two years, we have been saying that the suspension of our contacts is a mistake. We said the same after the 2008 [Georgia-Russia war – ed.], when our cooperation at the Russia-NATO Council was suspended for the first time.
The alliance again put our contacts on ice after the regime change in Ukraine. We consider that decision unwise, because the mechanisms of our interaction were designed to be effective not so much for peacetime when everything is fine, but rather for crisis situations when everything looks grim.
What did we create these mechanisms for? Why did we establish direct contacts between our militaries and set up hotlines? We have created all of this for times of crisis, when one of the parties does not understand the other party’s actions and is alarmed. But they did not hear our arguments and froze our relations.
Had they not talked about the Russian threat all the while, we could have understood the logic of their decisions, but that is not what happened. On the one hand, they suspended all forms of interaction with Russia. On the other hand, hundreds of accusations were made publicly against Russia every day.
What could we do in this situation to more effectively develop cooperation with the alliance? Ask them, not us.
9. Regarding "signals," do you feel that relations with the alliance have warmed, and that the other party is ready for more active contacts?
These are not signals. The alliance has asked us to resume interaction and dialogue on this issue. We have heeded their request and have reacted accordingly.
As I said, the key or priority condition for the resumption of our contacts is that they be equitable. The alliance has no authority to scold Russia, reprimand it or advance conditions for dialogue.
We believe that a dialogue, which is the initial form of these mechanisms, can only be [established if it is] equitable. Only in this case will we be able to exchange opinions as equal partners, talk about our concerns and hope that our partners will hear us. This is how we think we should work. As we see it, the principles of equality and mutual respect are set out in all international documents.
10. During the Warsaw summit, Moldovan Defense Minister Anatol Salaru requested NATO’s help in forcing Russia to withdraw its military units from Transnistria. He also proposed holding NATO war games in Moldova in 2019. What do you think about this? What is Russia’s position on the alliance’s show of rapprochement with such countries as Georgia, for example, which was on the agenda of the summit’s second day along with Afghanistan? And what do you think about the nearly full-scale participation of the partner countries, Sweden and Finland, in the summit?
We believe that NATO’s expansion towards the Russian border is very dangerous for European stability. We don’t need to look for nice-sounding phrases that would camouflage or smooth out the bumps or present concrete NATO actions in a more favorable way.
We believe it’s time to call it as we see it. And what we see is that NATO is advancing its infrastructure towards the Russian border. In my opinion, this is what NATO has been openly doing for the past year. They have invented a Russian threat and claim that they are expanding to contain it. However, we have not heard about any examples of the alleged Russian threat or about concrete and realistic NATO goals in resisting this threat. In fact, nobody has heard about them. What we see are the very real threats of international terrorism, organized crime, and natural disasters, on which we should and really can work together on the international stage.
We used to cooperate with NATO very closely, constructively and in a promising manner when we were fighting the threat coming from Afghanistan. This was very important for us. I mean, not only for Russia but for the entire region. Everyone knows about the destabilizing role the events in Afghanistan are having on its neighboring countries. We considered it extremely important to coordinate our actions with NATO, and we were working towards this. But our efforts in this area were unilaterally blocked by the alliance, the same as in all other areas.
Unfortunately, we see that NATO is not acting constructively on issues that call for an immediate response, and at the same time we see that NATO is expanding its infrastructure and trying to surround Russia under contrived pretexts.
The alliance has taken the wrong path. We don’t like it, but this path is above all dangerous for the NATO member countries. While taking their cue from those who are talking about the alleged Russian threat and the danger of Russian aggression, they do not see the real threat facing the region.