Excerpts from the Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova
Again, we raise the question of the unprecedented pressure on the Russian media exerted by US special services, not only with our US colleagues but the international community as well. Just recently, and for a fairly long time before that, we have been talking about the rights of the reporters being violated, including in the wake of Washington's request to Russia Today television channel to register as a foreign agent and to disclose internal information. However, US officials have set their minds to finding more ways to create an uncomfortable environment for our journalists. In addition to legislative pressure, the authorities of that country are practicing less formal, but, as they see it, more effective methods. Recently, representatives of Russian media, including in the United States, have been subjected to strong pressure by US special services in the form of recruitment attempts.
These attempts are numerous and come in multiple phases. These are the so-called “approaches” made to representatives of Russian state and private media, including Russian journalists and representatives of Russian media outlets’ editorial boards. For obvious reasons, I cannot give out the names of the Russian journalists. I can share a specific case with you, though. First, the special services suggested that a Russian journalist begin cooperating with them, and did so more or less by the book, without revealing the true nature of such cooperation. Faced with an outright refusal, they changed tactics and offered money. Then, they moved on to psychological pressure, eventually stooping to banal threats. They went as far as invasion of privacy, including when the reporters were off duty, and made such approaches to family members who have no involvement in journalism.
We consider all this part of a large-scale attack on freedom of speech, an information attack not only against Russia, but also an encroachment on freedom of speech worldwide.
As we see it, Washington and the US special services are becoming increasingly aware of it, and the media are just a tool they are using to attain their immediate goals. While, after such pressure, outright threats, and occasionally blackmail attempts, Russian reporters can promptly seek help at the Russian Embassy, a consulate or a representative office in any country and obtain the necessary protection and assistance, it is scary to even think about the situation the US media have found themselves in now, since they are amenable to all kinds of pressure. Apparently, this is how the US special services go about it.
Recently, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Desir, was in Russia. We would like him to take note of this unacceptable situation and draw the appropriate conclusions.
It would be nice to have the United States comment on this, but I know perfectly well what will happen if you put this question to the US State Department. They will simply make a helpless gesture and say that they are not aware of such cases and have no such information. If you ask the FBI (whose employees made the above approaches and performed other illegal actions with regard to Russian diplomats), they will say that they do not provide comments on the situation. For this situation not to recur, the corresponding information will be presented to the United States during talks in Vienna between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. They will not be able to claim then that they have no information, or do not comment on it.
After our persistent demands, Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was kidnapped by the American intelligence services in Liberia and sentenced to 20 years in US prison over absolutely unsubstantiated accusations, has received, at last, adequate medical treatment. He has long suffered from several medical conditions, including those that he acquired as a result of being beaten during the arrest. Currently, following a recent planned surgery, he is undergoing postoperative rehabilitation.
We consider this to be a positive development, however, we expect more – we are waiting for a decision to send him back to his home country on humanitarian grounds, which we have been seeking since 2010. So far, it looks like Konstantin Yaroshenko, like Viktor Bout, who is also serving a long sentence in an American prison, are held hostage in Washington. And this is not a case of emotions running too high: former US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland frankly told us last year that both Russians, who had flatly refused to plead guilty in court, would serve their full sentences to teach others not to follow suit. To put it differently, they want them to serve as an example that will make our other compatriots who happened to be detected by the “American justice” more compliant. I would like to stress that I am not speaking about real crimes or attempts to commit a crime but rather about completely staged provocations.
As for the Foreign Ministry, it continues to work to ensure that Russian nationals who received prison sentences in the United State return home.
US allegations regarding Russia Today
We appreciate the attention given to Russia by the US State Department in the context of the registration of the RT television network as a foreign agent. However, we would like to caution them about interpreting factual material, or more precisely, US rather than Russian legislation, and to urge them to act more professionally when commenting on Russia’s proportionate responses to US actions involving Russian media outlets.
I would like to point out a mistake the US State Department made when assessing the consequences of RT’s registration as a foreign agent. For example, State Department representative said that this would not affect their ability to gather information and report. It turned out that this is not so. On November 29, RT received a letter saying that their credentials at the US Congress have been revoked because as a foreign agent they are no longer eligible. This means either that American officials do not know their legislation, or that they know their legislation but choose to mislead everyone.
We have also analysed the list of media outlets registered as foreign agents in the United States. We received statements from the US State Department saying that the law has been applied to all media outlets similar to RT. But this is not true. We would like to point out that there are other foreign-financed media outlets working in the United States, such as Al-Jazeera and France24, which are not registered as foreign agents. This raises questions about the competence of those who represent US views on the international stage, as well as about the selective application of this law, in particular, against RT.
A lot of comments have been made regarding the amendments to the Russian media law with respect to government-financed foreign media outlets. The Russian law provides for the registration of US state-owned media outlets that are broadcasting to the Russian audience. Many people in the United States, including our colleagues at the State Department, say that this law is harsher than the American law. This is not true either. The Russian law stipulates administrative liability for failure to register as a foreign agent, while the American law stipulates criminal penalties for violating it.
Our American partners continue to say that the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) is a mere formality and that no consequences are implied for violating it. This is not true again. RT has reported that its registration as a foreign agent has resulted in practical obstacles to its operations. For example, many of its old-time partners have added unacceptable terms to their contracts. They are doing this to protect themselves, because otherwise they can be required to register as a foreign agent for cooperating with RT, which is a foreign agent.
I would like to say once again what we have said many times before and what seems to escape the attention of the US State Department and our American colleagues. First, the amendments to the Russian media law are a proportionate response to US actions, and second, these measures and any other measures that may be taken in this respect in the future will be cancelled as soon as the US restrictions are lifted from RT and the other media outlets against which these restrictions have been applied. However, this phrase seems to go unnoticed by the US media and Washington officials.
Answers to media questions:
Question: US President Donald Trump intends to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to announce the transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. White House representatives said this at a media briefing. How would the Russian Foreign Ministry respond to this? And what effect will this recognition have on regional security?
Maria Zakharova: Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov has commented on this situation. He said that Russia considers it premature to discuss decisions that have not been taken yet, but the Kremlin is worried this might complicate the situation. I am quoting Mr Peskov from press reports. You can check them by reading first-hand information.
Of course, we need to wait until the declaration of recognition or however else this action may be described by our American colleagues. I just wanted to explain the fundamentals of Russia’s attitude to such issues. This attitude was put forth in a Foreign Ministry statement of April 6, 2017, which reaffirmed our commitment to the UN-approved principles for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, including the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. I would like to say once again that we will not comment on US intentions. Again, we have put forth our position of principle on this issue many times.
Question: Is there any concrete information regarding the dates and time for potential meetings between Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson? Will they talk to the press following the OSCE Ministerial Council in addition to the news conference you mentioned?
Maria Zakharova: A meeting with Mr Rex Tillerson has been set for the afternoon of December 7. But their meeting could be rescheduled.
As for meeting with the press, you know that we always invite the media to attend the beginning of such meetings, when the opening remarks are made. This can be interpreted as a meeting with the press. Sometimes we publish comments following bilateral meetings. We do not intend to do this in this particular case, but it is possible. However, the main accomplishments of the OSCE ministerial meeting will be reviewed at the news conference I mentioned.