Excerpts from Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova
New US sanctions against Russia
Unfortunately, now, I have to talk about Russian-US relations. I say "unfortunately" since there is nothing constructive that I could share with you, although I would like to and the need for a constructive agenda has long been overdue. The information on the new US sanctions did not come as a surprise to us. I am referring to the "guide" on restrictions against our defence companies and special services, which was made public in Washington on October 26 and the "clarification" of the conditions for international oil and gas projects involving Russian companies, released on October 31.
These steps do not change much for Russia. Our economy has long since adjusted to working in the existing circumstances. In fact, we have been able to reap significant benefits fr om this situation, as numerous industries have received a powerful growth impetus and our trade is diversifying. All of this has opened up quite a few opportunities.
Unfortunately, the US authorities, on the contrary, continue to prevent their business people fr om partaking in profitable deals and long-term contracts. Ironically, the United States, which has long presented itself as a model market economy, is increasingly slipping to state interference methods and, for political reasons, is sacrificing business interests, which undermines new job creation plus economic growth in the United States.
Regretfully, Washington continues the policy aimed at further deteriorating Russian-US relations. This is an extremely short-sighted policy, fraught with negative consequences, including for the US itself. In particular, the ban on cooperation with our special services is especially strange as it deals a blow on the potential of the joint fight against terrorism.
Such obstruction of cooperation between special services looks particularly reckless in the context of the bloody terrorist act in New York, committed by an ISIS follower on October 31. As you know, it was carried out near the memorial to the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack. We extend our sincere sympathies to the victims’ relatives and those injured. We can only support and empathise with them.
We also believe that the US public would be well served to raise questions as to why Congress, which passed the anti-Russian Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act during the summer is looking for enemies in the wrong places.
Hopefully, this episode of Russophobia in Washington will fade away over time, and they will realise the fallacy of confrontation with Russia, as well as the complete futility of any attempts to put pressure on us. The sooner this happens, the better for us all.
Twitter’s ban on ads fr om RT and Sputnik
As you know, the Federation Council held one more hearing on the efforts to force the Russia Today (RT) television network and the Sputnik news agency out of the United States, or more precisely, the decision by Twitter to block RT and Sputnik ads. I would like to say a few words on this subject. As you know, the decision to off-board advertising from all accounts owned by RT and Sputnik was adopted by the microblogging social networking service Twitter on October 26.
As members of the Twitter community, we are closely monitoring public response to this decision. We see that the number of those who are dissatisfied or who do not understand Twitter’s absurd actions is growing. It has been pointed out quite reasonably that the censors of this social network close their eyes to the hundreds of openly extremist or fascist accounts and are putting pressure exclusively on Russian media outlets.
We have also taken note of statements made by US and European experts and politicians, who have denounced this Twitter decision, which they have described as yet another infringement on the freedom of expression and enterprise.
I would like to draw your attention to a crucial fact. In 2016, Twitter representatives forwarded a business proposal on cooperation in advertising to RT worth between $1.5 and $3.3 million. This happened before and during the US presidential campaign. Despite RT’s unwillingness to accept this proposal, Twitter continued to press on and prepared a presentation for the RT staff. However, RT rejected that proposal for purely commercial reasons. You can find out what happened after that from a statement made by Margarita Simonyan, the network’s editor-in-chief.
In our opinion, Twitter’s ban is evidence of its failure as a business and its absolute dependence on the US security establishment, which directly controls decision-making on Twitter, as we can conclude from its subsequent decisions. We urge all users of this social networking service to draw conclusions from this situation. Today Twitter has banned ads by Russian media outlets, namely RT and Sputnik, and tomorrow it may decide, seeking to suit the changing political situation, to label media outlets or businesses from any other country the “enemies of America.” These media outlets and businesses, which are investing in Twitter advertising or joint projects just as RT did, could be paying for potential reputational losses.
One more thing: according to Twitter, RT posted $274,100 worth of [US-based] advertising on Twitter in 2016. I have reviewed the data and can tell you – correct me if I’m wrong – that presidential candidates received tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars in donations. This brings me to my question: Could RT hope to interfere in the presidential race in the United States so as to influence its outcome with a modest sum of $300,000, to round off the figure?
We view Twitter’s decision in the context of the continued efforts by the US administration to shut down this alternative source of information [RT], which does not suit certain US political forces. We hold the same view on the US decision to place these Russian media outlets on the foreign agents list. An analysis of this list has shown that it includes companies that do not produce fully individual media products but mostly reprint information, lobby others’ interests or provide other publicity services.
The freedom of expression has always been among the fundamental values in the United States. We hope to see evidence of this, although the latest developments point in the opposite direction.
Question: Does Moscow plan to respond to Washington’s new anti-Russia sanctions against Russia’s leading defence companies, which are aimed primarily at impeding cooperation in the defence and technology sector between Russia and Turkey, in particular disrupting S-400 surface-to-air missile supplies to Turkey?
Maria Zakharova: We regard our cooperation with Turkey as self-sufficient and independent of third countries. This cooperation is not devoid of difficulties but has good prospects. We understand very well the interests – both in the good and bad sense of the word – of various other players, but it is important for us to maintain relations with Turkey and this is precisely what we are doing. If there are issues, we address them on a bilateral basis and if there are prospects for cooperation, we take advantage of them. The same will apply in this case.
We certainly keep the international community informed about our plans; we make no secret of them and take into account regional plus global issues, including regional security matters, and this is why we are in dialogue with Ankara, making no secret of it with regard to other participants in the international process. To reiterate, this direction is valuable in and of itself and must not be subjected to the influence of any outside players.
Unfortunately, we have already witnessed a situation wh ere bilateral relations were exposed to an external impact. That has only led to negative results. I believe a serious lesson should be drawn from this: Relations should be developed comprehensively as a value in their own right, doing all we can to prevent negative outside influence. A positive impact is welcome.
Question: Yesterday, you spoke in the Federation Council at a meeting of the working group for the protection of Russia’s information sovereignty. Your colleagues talked about possible steps in response to the measures that our US partners are taking against us in the media space. Can you say specifically what countermeasures are under consideration?
Maria Zakharova: Remember [comedian] Vladimir Vinokur’s gag: “Okay, you may not answer now but there will be a surprise for you later.” There will be a surprise!
You see, we are not thirsty for “bloody” countermeasures against US media outlets. We have stoically endured the intensity of information attacks over the past several years, and simply improved the quality of our work. To us, these countermeasures to restrict journalistic activity are not an end in itself. I can only confirm that we feel no pleasure in doing so. This takes time and energy and involves a lot of things that divert us from our main work.
However, when all possible lines are crossed, when this is about fighting without any rules as if at some fight club, when our media outlets are subjected to direct pressure, sometimes intimidation and blackmail, measures in response to that will be taken of course. Nobody will talk now about what they will be, if only because nobody takes any pleasure in this. Have these measures been developed? Of course they have. Will they be used if the activity, for example, of Russia Today in the United States is blocked (it can be blocked in different ways)? Yes, they will. Top Russian officials and representatives of relevant agencies have talked about that. This is Russia’s consolidated position. We have never used such steps but this time the situation is unprecedented. You may remember that there were cases when Russian journalists were expelled from certain countries (this happens sometimes). Measures in response to that were taken. Those were regarded as extreme, one-off cases. What we have today is blocking the work of the Russian media as a whole, not withdrawing accreditation or denying access to a particular event. Such things have also happened in the past but we have never responded to them. In particular, when our media outlets were not permitted to attend a European event to which they had sought accreditation and got it but were physically barred from attending, we took no countermeasures. That has never been an end in itself or a source of pleasure for us. However, in this case in it is necessary to take action.
Question: The recent terrorist attacks in New York (and elsewhere) bring to mind the terror attacks in Europe, in particular in Paris and St Petersburg. Could the fight against terrorism bring Russia and the United States together again?
Maria Zakharova: I would like to say the following regarding this. You must remember that carnage, the terrorist attack in which people were killed and maimed, the case of the Tsarnaev brothers. I would like to remind you that long before that terrorist attack, our American colleagues received information from Russian security services regarding the suspicious activities of the Tsarnaev family in the United States. This information was not provided or hidden in a large package of documents, and neither was it shaped as a single line in a document regarding some other issue. It was targeted information that was provided in connection with a specific case. Moreover, Russian intelligence services delivered this information to a particular person and drew that person’s attention to its importance. Although we provided hard facts and did our best to draw our American colleagues’ attention to them, the answer was that we shouldn’t worry, that they had control of the situation and did not need any assistance from us because the issue concerns their people [American citizens]. You certainly know that we were not going to interfere in another country’s affairs. We offered cooperation, but since our American colleagues had no need for it, pressing on was not the right thing to do at the time. We said what we wanted to say, the materials were delivered, and the answer was that the Americans were not interested in developing partnership or cooperation on this issue. Awhile later, the Tsarnaev brothers blew up the bombs. You surely remember that high-profile case.
I said this to show that Russia always tries to develop productive cooperation, or any kind of anti- and counter-terrorism cooperation with its Western partners in any situation. We raise the issue within international platforms, including the UN. Related documents are adopted at conferences and resolutions are drafted. We express a very practical and concrete desire and propose a constructive dialogue, promote an exchange of information and a consolidation of efforts. This must be done so as to go over from very important and needed resolutions to practical actions.
International terrorism changes like a chameleon, and terrorists no longer need planes or even explosive devices now. They don’t need any special equipment to implement their plans. They only need what many of us have, like a car, which any upright citizen who doesn’t plan to break the law can have. This has complicated the search for terrorists and, more importantly, pre-emptive measures, the work to prevent attacks. As I have said, in the past – and also now – some extremists and terrorists used special equipment such as bombs and explosive substances, but today those who committed the terrorist attacks in Nice, London, New York and other cities were indistinguishable from millions of other law-abiding people. This brings us back to the need for practical, detailed and specific country-to-country exchanges, which London has fully curtailed and suspended. And such cooperation with the United States and NATO is unsatisfactory as well.
Our counter-terrorism cooperation should be a full-scale affair, just as it was originally conceived, but it is not developing; it has been suspended and blocked. We speak about this at each briefing or at every other briefing. The Russian leadership – President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and representatives of the relevant Russian services – say as much. We are sending these signals in the public space, we speak about this during talks… You must remember the situation – I think, this was during the terrorist attacks in Paris – wh ere we said that those events should serve not only as a motive for grief, commiseration and expressions of support but also as a lesson that must prompt us to pool efforts. As a result, certain Western and Russian media were mad enough to say that the Russian representative was gloating and that we were calling for cooperation and for drawing lessons from this particular case as an alternative to changing social media avatars, painting buildings in national colours, or staging processions to express solidarity. Yes, social media avatars should certainly be changed. This is a sign of support, a call urging people not to be disheartened, not to lose courage or presence of mind. Yes, the public should organise support rallies and paint buildings in national colours. Yes, people should take to the streets and march against terror. But international terrorism is a disease and it must be treated with the right drugs. One of the most effective medicines is cooperation between secret services. We constantly say this. We are longing to be heard. We want the situation to turn around. We want people to stop looking for enemies wh ere there are none and to pay attention to the real enemies, who are no longer hiding.