“Russia – NATO relations dependent on NATO further development”

While Russia is ready to cooperate with NATO, prospects for this partnership will be largely determined by NATO's further evolution, said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Andrey Nesterenko.

In his weekly media address, Nesterenko also commented on the election results in Ukraine, the outcome of Israeli and Greek top officials’ visits to Moscow and many other developments.

RT presents the full transcript of Andrey Nesterenko’s briefing, which took place on February 19, 2009.

Meeting of Medvedev and Nazarbayev

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev paid a brief working visit to Moscow on February 14. During his visit he met with President Dmitry Medvedev. The heads of state discussed issues relating to bilateral cooperation.

At the Permanent Council meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on the occasion of the commencement of Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the body, President Nazarbayev had put forward the idea of holding an OSCE summit this year, which has not been convened for 11 years now. President Medvedev backed up the Kazakh leader’s initiative.

Sergey Lavrov’s Visit to Kazakhstan

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to the Republic of Kazakhstan from February 21-22.

Russian-Kazakhstan relations are evolving dynamically across the board as a strategic alliance partnership. An intensive summit and high level political dialogue is taking place. In 2009, the two countries’ presidents met 11 times, bilaterally and as part of multilateral CIS, CSTO, EurAsEC and SCO events. This year, as I reported earlier, Nursultan Nazarbayev paid a working visit to Russia, and held talks with Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin. Regular Prime Minister- and Foreign Minister-level contacts occur; and inter-parliamentary ties are being developed.

Despite the world economic crisis and falling energy prices, mutual trade is regaining its pace of development.

Kazakhstan is Russia’s third-largest partner in the CIS (after Ukraine and Belarus). Mutual trade amounted to about $13 billion in the last year. Active cooperation is maintained in the space, nuclear, transport, innovation, fuel and energy fields and in the sphere of military technology. Russia-Kazakhstan Interregional Cooperation Forums involving the Heads of State take place every year. The continuous improvement and development of the bilateral juridical base is aimed at deepening the integration processes and helps implement high-technology, mutually beneficial projects.

During his visit, Lavrov will meet with President Nazarbayev and hold talks with State Secretary and Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev.

As prearranged, there will be a substantive exchange of views on topical issues in bilateral cooperation, along with discussion of, among other things, certain preliminary results of the realization of the Russia-Kazakhstan 2009-2010 Joint Action Plan. Particular emphasis will be placed on themes related to cooperation between the two countries in the international arena, particularly within CIS integration associations and in universal and regional organizations. The course of Kazakhstan's chairmanship in the OSCE and Russia's of the CIS in the current year will presumably be discussed in detail and joint plans for the future outlined. The agenda of the talks also includes security issues, especially with regard to the influence of the Afghan factor on the situation in the Central Asian region, the settlement of the legal status of the Caspian Sea and the rational management of transboundary rivers.

Outcome of the presidential elections in Ukraine

Russia closely and keenly watched the presidential elections in Ukraine.

The elections, as confirmed by many international observers, passed in a generally calm atmosphere, in accordance with the laws of the country and generally-accepted international standards. An expression of the Ukrainian people’s will take place; the majority of voters clearly favored change.

We hope that the new leadership of friendly Ukraine will succeed in translating the real hopes and aspirations of our peoples into reality and promoting the full-scale and comprehensive development of truly good-neighborly Russian-Ukrainian relations.

President Medvedev congratulated Viktor Yanukovich on his election as President of Ukraine. His congratulatory message reads in part:

“The elections, held in line with generally-accepted international standards, have confirmed Ukrainian citizens’ desire to put an end to the historically doomed attempts to sow discord between the peoples of our countries, and their sincere wish to strengthen good-neighborly relations, which fully meets the aspirations of the people of the Russian Federation as well."

“I hope that Russian-Ukrainian cooperation will regain its constructive and fruitful, truly partner-like character. I am confident that together we can give new impetus to the development of mutually-beneficial bilateral relations.”

Visit to Moscow by Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid a working visit to Moscow from February 15-16. Talks were held with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The parties substantively reviewed the status of and prospects for relations between our countries and the situation in the Middle East and around Iran.

The Russian and Israeli leaders reaffirmed their principled stance against attempts to falsify history and revise the results of World War II, belittle the Soviet Union’s contribution to the victory over Hitlerism, deny the Holocaust and lionize Nazi accomplices. This was stated with abundant clarity in the unsigned February 15 Joint Statement on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the Victory over Nazi Germany. Its text has been made public.

The parties noted the serious potential for effective economic partnership. In this context, they underlined their resolve to promptly implement the agreements reached at the 7th session of the Intergovernmental Joint Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation that was held in Moscow last December. In furtherance of this line, the Russian capital will host a meeting of representatives of business circles of the two countries on March 22-23.

Common interest was expressed in forging cooperation in the fields of innovation, particularly in the use of nanotechnology, and the adoption of advanced Israeli farming techniques. Possibilities exist for investment cooperation.

In the context of legal framework development, the parties indicated the need for early finalization of the draft agreements on industrial research and development and on the encouragement and protection of investment.

Benjamin Netanyahu set out Israel’s vision of how to restore the negotiation process with the PNA leadership and Syria and shared his assessments of the situation in the region.

The Russian side expressed a readiness to continue to encourage the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks on a generally-recognized international legal basis in an effort to move towards a just and comprehensive peace in the region, which would enable Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist in good-neighborliness and security. In this regard, Russia remains focused on holding a Quartet meeting at ministerial level in Moscow in the coming months, and in the longer term, a Moscow Conference on the Middle East. Emphasis was placed on the inadmissibility of unilateral actions, including settlement activity that affects final status issues, along with the need to lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip and to renounce the use of force.

In discussing the Iranian nuclear program, the Russian side expressed the belief that Tehran should more actively and widely cooperate with the IAEA and the six powers in providing information about the INP. The international community must be confident that it is peaceful.

Russian-Abkhaz talks at the highest level

Russian-Abkhaz summit talks took place in Moscow on February 17-18. President Medvedev and Abkhaz President Sergey Bagapsh discussed, in particular, Russian assistance to the social and economic development of the Republic of Abkhazia, and the prospects for expanding cultural and humanitarian contacts.

An exchange of views took place on pressing international and regional problems, including stability and security in Transcaucasia.

The talks concluded with the signing of a package of bilateral agreements on cooperation in transport and communications, as well as on military and military-technical collaboration. All the signed agreements are consistent with the international obligations of Russia and lay the groundwork for the development of Abkhazia as an independent state, Medvedev stressed at a press conference.

More detailed information about the visit of Sergey Bagapsh to Moscow is posted on the Russian President’s website.

Visit to Moscow by George Papandreou

The Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the Hellenic Republic, George Papandreou, paid a working visit to Moscow on February 16. He met with President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Federation Council Chairman Sergey Mironov, State Duma Chairman Boris Gryzlov and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia.

I was asked to answer the question of whether the economic problems facing Greece might negatively impact the Russian economy and whether Moscow intends to provide some economic assistance to Athens.

Indeed Greece is now in huge economic trouble. The situation in the Greek economy is being widely discussed in the EU. It is perhaps the first time an EU county has found itself in such a critical situation. Experts say this is having some negative impact on the financial sphere of the whole Eurozone. As to Moscow’s financial assistance to Athens, it was not discussed at Prime Minister Papandreou’s meetings with the Russian leaders. A constructive exchange of views, and we can say the experience of anti-crisis management of public finance, took place.

During the talks, moreover, the parties reaffirmed the identity of Russia and Greece’s positions on the need to exert, during the global financial and economic crisis, additional efforts to enhance mutually-beneficial trade and economic cooperation. There is a common understanding that it is the realization of major joint economic projects such as the South Stream gas pipeline and the Trans-Balkan oil pipeline, Burgas-Alexandroupolis, and the extension of effective cooperation to all new areas, including advanced technology, that will serve the recovery of our economies and help to overcome the crisis phenomena regionally and globally.

Visit to Moscow by NATO’s “Wise Persons Group”

The “Wise Persons Group,” headed by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, was in Moscow from February 9-11, 2010. It has been set up by the NATO Secretary General to craft a new Strategic Concept of NATO to replace the analogous document of 1999.

Group members were received by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, and attended a State Duma International Affairs Committee extended meeting and political science events at IMEMO RAN and MGIMO (U).

The arrival of the Group provided an opportunity for frank discussion of problematic issues in and prospects for Russia-NATO relations. The discussion noted the importance of combining efforts in the struggle against modern challenges like international terrorism, WMD proliferation and drug trafficking, and in response to natural and manmade disasters and other relevant risks and threats to the stability of our countries.

The tendencies of transformation of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture were examined – particularly in the context of President Medvedev’s initiative for a European Security Treaty and the ongoing process of NATO’s transformation, including work on its new Strategic Concept.

To the “wise persons” were laid out our concerns over the striving to provide NATO with global functions, the enlargement of NATO, its military infrastructure being moved up to Russian borders, and its scenarios for use of force in circumvention of international law.

As you know, NATO is an important factor affecting security near our borders. We are ready to develop cooperation with the alliance in the sphere of our common interests and so that this will meet the challenges of bolstering security and stability in the world and lead to the erasing of dividing lines. It is also clear that the prospects of our partnership with the alliance will be largely determined by the vector of the further evolution of NATO itself, particularly by what direction the future Strategic Concept will impart to it, and most importantly – the extent to which NATO will be prepared to heed Russian security interests and fulfill the principles enshrined in the 2002 Rome Declaration, of indivisible security and working together in the Russia- NATO Council on an equal basis.

The future of Russia-NATO relations largely depends on our partners: whether they are really willing to build relations with Russia not as an opponent, but as a valuable ally in the field of security.
We hope that the thoughts and concerns expressed by us will be duly considered in the recommendations of the “wise persons” and in the future NATO Strategic Concept proper.

Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Latin America

From February 11 to 16, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov paid visits to Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico. During the talks and meetings held there, bilateral interaction, the reinvigoration of cooperation with those countries in various fields, integration in Latin America, as well as topical issues on the international agenda were discussed in practical terms.

Separately I would like to note that, while in Cuba, Sergey Lavrov headed a Russian interagency delegation at the opening ceremony of the 19th Havana International Book Fair.

More information about these visits by the head of the Russian foreign affairs agency is available on our Ministry’s website.

Sergey Lavrov's meeting with representatives of Russian NGOs

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with representatives of Russian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) active in international affairs in a Regular Annual Meeting on February 18. He pointed out the importance of further deepening the Foreign Ministry’s ties with civil society institutions, which represent an actively working channel of international communication and cooperation.

The results of the 2009 interaction between the Ministry and the NGOs were summarized and plans for the future were outlined. Noted was the greater role of several NGOs in the foreign policy process, and their broader links with foreign partners along with examining ways to further intensify the collaboration. Lavrov designated a number of specific areas where civil society initiatives are now in greatest demand. In particular, an exchange of views took place on the question of NGO participation in activities related to the 65th anniversary of the Great Victory in WWII, primarily from the standpoint of countering attempts to falsify history. Noticeable attention was devoted to strengthening the bonds of civil society institutions with overseas compatriots.

Note was made of the NGO community’s growing interaction with the Federal Agency for CIS, Overseas Compatriots and International Humanitarian Cooperation and the Russian World Foundation. Participants were informed of the progress made in carrying out the presidential executive orders establishing the Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund and the Russian Council on International Affairs.

Meeting between Sergey Lavrov and Catherine Ashton

On February 24, 2010, in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/European Commission Vice President Catherine Ashton for the first time.

They will discuss topical issues in Russia-EU cooperation, including the joint initiative for launching the Russia-EU Modernization Partnership, the prospects for the introduction of visa-free travel to citizens, and progress in drafting a new Russia-EU framework agreement. Attention will be given to optimization of Russia-EU interaction formats in the context of the entry into force of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty reforms.

The parties will exchange views on European security matters in the light of President Medvedev’s proposals to craft a European Security Treaty, and on several international problems, including Middle East settlement, Afghanistan, Iran's nuclear program, Eastern Europe and Transcaucasia.

Ratification by Moldova of the CIS Humanitarian Cooperation Agreement

The Moldovan parliament ratified on February 11 the Agreement on Humanitarian Cooperation among the Members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. We naturally commend the act of ratification of a document important for cooperation in culture, education, science, tourism and sports.

Those in Moldova practically involved in carrying out these programs show interest in the expansion of ties and the accession of Chisinau to the Treaty establishing the CIS Interstate Humanitarian Cooperation Fund as well.

In 2010, according to available information, representatives of the Moldovan public are planning to participate in seventy Fund projects. On the initiative of the Fourth CIS Forum of Creative and Scientific Intellectuals, held in Chisinau in September 2009, proposals are being crafted to declare 2011 the Year of Historic and Cultural Heritage in the CIS, and work is underway on an International Youth Cooperation Strategy Blueprint.

65th anniversary of the Crimean (Yalta) Conference of the “Big Three”

65 years ago, from February 4-11, 1945, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt, the leaders of the three major Allied Powers of the Anti-Hitler Coalition, met at Yalta for the historic Yalta Conference. To mark this date, a scientific workshop was held on February 11-14 with the assistance and participation of the Historical Memory Foundation in the same Livadia Palace where the Conference took place.

The Yalta Forum of 1945 was one of the landmark events of World War II, and a vivid example of the successful collaboration between the powers of the Allied Powers. The decisions taken there became an important contribution to the victorious conclusion of the war, and long served as the basis of European and world security. They also laid the groundwork for continuing cooperation among the Allied countries in the postwar period. Unfortunately, this potential has never been fully realized.

The tremendous and extraordinary importance of the 1945 Yalta Forum also told on its perception, still causing divergent assessments among both sociopolitical and academic circles. And, along with serious research we also find rather superficial judgments and assessments of Yalta that distort the true meaning and purport of the decisions taken then and ignore their specific historical context. Faced with politicization and attempts to rewrite history, an honest interpretation of World War II events, including the Yalta Conference, appears to be extremely timely and relevant, particularly before the 65th anniversary of the Victory.

Placement of US missile defense elements in Bulgaria

Last week, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov announced that his country might host parts of a US missile defense system.

We do not understand the situation with the contradictory statements of Bulgarian officials on a possible deployment of US missile defense elements on Bulgarian soil. First, Prime Minister Borisov spoke about the ongoing consultations with the US in this regard. Then the Bulgarian Foreign Minister, Nikolay Mladenov, effectively disavowed those remarks. The US Ambassador to Bulgaria also now confirms the information about the consultations with Bulgaria on missile defense, and now denies it. In connection with this, we probably will formally ask the Bulgarian MFA for clarification.

But most importantly, we still have not received an answer to the question of why the issue of the deployment of high-tech US missile defense systems in Eastern Europe is being stirred up precisely now, because there is no real missile threat to Europe.

Prospects of settling the Darfur issue

Currently, the politico-military situation in Darfur remains complicated. There are continued sporadic armed clashes between the Sudanese army and the rebels, among rebel groups themselves, and attacks on international personnel, including UN peacekeepers. All this greatly undermines efforts for a political settlement.

Like other UN Security Council members, Russia believes there is no alternative to a political resolution of the problems of Darfur through the parties in the conflict reaching a mutually-acceptable agreement within the framework of the Doha negotiation process.

As you know, international mediators’ consultation with representatives of the Darfur rebel groups is continuing in Doha, but persuading them to enter into negotiation with the Sudanese government remains elusive.

Among the priorities at this stage is reinvigorating the negotiation process in Doha with reliance upon the mechanism of international mediation led by Djibril Bassole, the Joint United Nations-African Union Mediator for Darfur. It is important that informal consultations with the Darfurian parties are continuing. But getting the parties to sit down face to face at the negotiating table is still elusive.

We hope that the Doha process will be reinvigorated and develop into full-blown negotiations. The following factors should ease moving forward along this path:

Significant progress has been made in deploying the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur, which contributes significantly to the stabilization of the situation.

Likewise, important for improving the situation in these areas is the incipient trend towards normalization of relations between Sudan and Chad. This is a serious step towards solving the Darfur problem.

It is also very positive that the Sudanese government is pursuing a line on resuming peace talks with the Darfur opposition without preconditions, and aims as the paramount priority to conclude a ceasefire agreement before the general election in Sudan in April this year.

Together with other members of the UN Security Council, Russia has consistently advocated a political settlement in Darfur and finding negotiated solutions there. We have always believed, and proceed from the necessity of a comprehensive, strategic approach of the international community to Sudanese problems at this crucial period for the country, thus providing an anchor of stability in the region as a whole.

Domestic political situation in Afghanistan

On February 15, the 21st anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, we for the first time observed the Day of Remembrance established by the State Duma for our compatriots who performed their official duties outside of the Motherland. In this regard, I was asked about the current political situation in Afghanistan, particularly in light of the large-scale NATO operation against the Taliban, as well as what the present role of Russia is in resolving the situation in the country.

I will note that the situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA) continues to remain extremely tense. A number of extremist groups still operate in much of the country – including the Taliban, Islamic Party of Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The militants, despite the efforts of the Afghan armed forces and foreign military contingents, have managed to expand their presence in the previously relatively peaceful northern provinces of the IRA and to carry out a series of audacious attacks in the Afghan capital.

A major factor fueling the instability in that country is the Afghan narcotics industry, the proceeds of which remain an important source of financing for extremist activities. It is no accident in this regard that the greatest activity of the Taliban and their accomplices is noted in the key drug producing areas of Afghanistan.

This fully applies to the southern province of Helmand, in which, largely under the control of extremists, a considerable part of Afghan drugs are produced. A confirmation of how critical the situation is there is the fact that the anti-terrorist operation launched in the districts of Nad-e-Ali and Marja of that province has become the most ambitious in the history of the Afghan campaign: a fighting involving up to 20,000 Afghan and NATO troops.

It is too early to judge the results of the operation. Nevertheless, we consider it correct that the task of the offensive in Helmand is not only the destruction of extremist forces, but also the restoration of legitimate authority based on units of the Afghan army and police, and the social and economic regeneration of the area. The very history of stabilization efforts in the IRA attests to the fact that terrorist groups can only be defeated by way of combining military and civilian activities.

The Russian Federation, keen to see Afghanistan restored as a peaceful, stable, neutral and self-sufficient state, has been active in helping Afghanistan achieve self-sufficiency in their security and cope with other key national development objectives. In particular, Russia has been training the national staff of Afghanistan, including military and counter-narcotics and, in the future, also law enforcement personnel. Our country has been providing substantial help to Afghanistan in the socioeconomic, humanitarian and cultural fields. Co-operation is increasing on anti-drug and antiterrorist tracks, including regional arrangements, drawing on the capabilities of the SCO and CSTO. We hope that the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will join this collaborative effort.

Russia is also making a significant contribution to the antiterrorist operation of the international community in the IRA, providing its territory and airspace for transit of equipment, including military goods, and personnel of ISAF member countries.

Stay in Moscow of a Group of Experts of the UNSC Sanctions Committee on the DPRK
A group of experts of the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on the DPRK is staying in Moscow at present. On February 18, the group was received by Alexei Borodavkin, Deputy Foreign Minister. Today they had consultations with Ambassador at Large Grigory Logvinov.

As part of their mandate, the Group is visiting a number of countries, in particular those participating in the Six-Party Talks on the Korean Peninsula nuclear problem, to exchange views on increasing the effectiveness of states' implementation of the sanctions provisions of UN Security Council resolutions 1718 and 1874 on the DPRK.

During the meetings, the Russian side reiterated the main points of Russia's principled stand on the current sanctions regime against North Korea, and our vision of the development of the situation around the settlement of the KPNP. It was stressed that the restrictive measures provided by the Security Council decisions should primarily aim to remove the concerns of the international community related to North Korea's nuclear program rather than isolate the country economically.

Tajikistan’s prohibition of the consumption of Russian flour as food

On February 3, the Tajik news agency Avesta reported that Tajikstandart had banned the use for food of about 68 tons of flour received from Russia in summer2009 in the form of humanitarian assistance (all in all, 7,374 tons of fortified wheat flour was delivered to Tajikistan in August-October 2009 pursuant to an order of the Government of the Russian Federation).

Here it seems appropriate to report the following. On November 13, 2009, officials of the Federal State Establishment ‘Agency for Support and Coordination of Russian Participation in International Humanitarian Operations’ (EMERCOM Agency) and the Agency for State Material Reserves of the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan signed an Acceptance-Transfer Certificate for Humanitarian Aid Goods for Tajikistan’s population. The receiving country had no complaints with respect to the quantity or quality of the goods. On February 5 this year, the Tajik body, in response to an EMERCOM Agency enquiry, reconfirmed the high quality of the Russian flour.

Thus, the information provided by the Tajik news agency Avesta about the unsuitability of a part of the Russian humanitarian aid goods does not correspond to reality.

The situation with the Russian crew of the Tai Union 3 boat seized by Somali pirates

In connection with enquiries from relatives and friends of the Russian seafarers on board the Thai fishing boat Thai Union 3, seized by Somali pirates on October 29, 2009, we report the following:
The boat is currently off the coast of Somalia under the full control of the pirates. Contact has been made with the hijackers through the ship owner, who conducts difficult negotiations on the conditions of release of the crew and boat. The situation is being closely watched both in Moscow and in the Russian embassies and other foreign offices in several countries; all other available channels and means are activated.

The situation is really complicated. It is about the safety and health of 23 of our compatriots. Piracy in the Somali region in recent years has become a major criminal business. Pirates are well-armed and organized. They have captured over a hundred vessels of various classes, including some of the largest. Moreover, hundreds of seafarers – nationals of many states – have been held hostage by the criminals. However, none of these states conducted direct negotiations with the pirates. This is the principled stance of the entire international community.

The delicacy of the moment requires exceptional care in disclosing all information on this incident. However, you can be sure that Russian authorities have done and will do everything possible to secure our citizens’ early release.

The domestic political situation in Thailand

Since the situation in the Thai capital Bangkok may soon deteriorate for a number of domestic political reasons, the Foreign Ministry recommends that Russian citizens planning to visit Thailand this February exclude the city from the program of their stay.

If travel to Bangkok is essential, we urge caution and the avoidance of mass gathering places, in particular, areas near Government, Senate and Royal Palace buildings, Democracy and Victory Monuments, downtown shopping malls next to the Thai police headquarters and night markets. Travel agencies are also encouraged to inform Russian tourists bound for Thailand on tours arranged by them about the undesirability of appearance in those places.

The situation in the major tourist centers in Thailand, particularly Pattaya and Hua Hin resort towns, and on the islands of Phuket, Samui and Chang, remains normal.

The Foreign Ministry monitors the situation in Thailand and hopes that the authorities of that country will take the necessary measures to ensure the safety and free movement of Russian tourists.

On the situation with Alexei Karichkovsky

In mid-January this year Russian citizens, Alexei Vladimirovich Karichkovsky and Igor Olegovich Balashov, arrived in the Egyptian town of Hurghada for vacation and checked into one room of a local hotel. On January 18, a tragedy took place – Balashov died of an electric shock in the bathroom. Competent Egyptian authorities began an investigation. Since Karichkovsky was the only witness to the incident, he was banned from traveling outside Egypt until the ascertainment of the circumstances. I will emphasize that no other restrictive measures have been applied to Karichkovsky: he remained at the same Egyptian hotel and his mother came to be with him.

The Embassy of Russia in Egypt almost immediately joined the case. Contacts were quickly established with the parents of the two Russians, with the Egyptian investigative authorities and the hotel administration. The Consular Section of the Embassy in a short time carried out the necessary steps to repatriate the body of Balashov home, and found an interpreter for Karichkovsky to communicate with the local authorities. Our diplomats went to Hurghada, where they met with the mother of Alexei and members of the Egyptian prosecutor’s office. The Russian ambassador to Egypt has forwarded a written request to the Egyptian Minister of Justice to expedite the probe, taking into account the age of Karichkovsky and his moral and psychological state.

New visa regulations in Indonesia

According to information received from the Embassy of Russia in Indonesia, the Indonesian Directorate General of Immigration has taken decision to impose at all immigration checkpoints, a new visa on arrival scheme.

From January 26 this year for 64 countries, including Russia, a visa on arrival will be issued for 30 days, with the right of renewal at local migration offices for another 30 days. The cost of the visa is US$25. The previous regime of granting visas on arrival for 7 days at a cost of US$10 has been cancelled.

Temporary stoppage of operation of the Ministry website

Due to maintenance work, the operation of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website will be stopped on February 20 and 21.

From responses to media questions:

Question: How can the MFA of Russia comment on the information that Helsinki has granted permission to carry out works in the Finnish waters of the Baltic Sea in the context of the project for the construction of the Nord Stream gas pipeline?

Answer: We, of course, have been closely following this theme, and I can say that on February 12, the Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern Finland issued a final permit to build the Nord Stream gas pipeline in the exclusive economic zone of the state. The Russian side is satisfied with this decision. A technical barrier is thereby eliminated to the practical implementation of this project, which is scheduled to begin in April of this year already. As far as we know, the decision taken by the Finnish authorities enables commencement of this within the specified time period.

In general, I would like to stress once again that the Nord Stream is a truly pan-European project meant to diversify the transport routes of Russian gas to EU countries and to ensure reliability of gas supply for European entities and states. This, in particular, has been confirmed by the Finnish Government with the adoption of the above decision and by the leaderships of Germany, Denmark, Russia and Sweden having issued at the end of the past, and the beginning of this, year, the necessary permits for the laying of the gas pipeline in the exclusive economic zones of their countries.

Question: How likely are sanctions against Iran? What does the Russian Foreign Ministry think about the likelihood of a military attack on Iran by the United States?

Answer: On this score I would like to tell you that the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs during his trip to Latin America spoke more than once and gave his assessments on the subject. And I would like to draw your attention in particular to the characterization of this situation that was given during his joint press conference with his Mexican counterpart in Mexico City on February 16. A transcript of this press conference is available on the Ministry website.

But I can also add just this with regard to sanctions. Russia has repeatedly said it is committed to work in the Six Powers framework based on a two-track approach, which in addition to engaging Iran in dialogue through positive incentives implies the possibility of using UN Security Council sanctions if Tehran does not take a constructive approach on the first track.

We have consistently advocated the need to continue searching for additional resources for the implementation of the understandings reached at the meeting of the representatives of Iran and the Six in Geneva that, as you know, took place on October 1 last year. No work on the preparation of a possible UNSC sanctions resolution on Iran is currently in progress in New York. However, in current circumstances, we cannot completely exclude the possibility of the commencement of such work.

Question: New charges have been brought against Viktor Bout. What is the reaction of the Russian Foreign Ministry?

Answer: Your question is quite reasonable, in view of the recent spate of reports from Bangkok in this regard. I can say that the Ministry is continuing to closely monitor the situation around Russian citizen Viktor Bout arrested in Bangkok in March 2008 upon a US extradition request, whose case after the Thai criminal court decision to deny the request is now before the appellate court.

In this context we have noted the media publications that the US side has brought a number of additional charges against our citizen Viktor Bout. At this time, as far as we can understand, they are about fraud and money laundering.

As of today, we have no official information on the substance of those charges. But we will continue to take the necessary steps to protect the Russian citizen’s lawful rights and interests in any scenario. As before, we believe that the guilt of our compatriot has not been proved, and the above court decision is the evidence of this.

Our Embassy in Bangkok actively monitors the developments in the situation surrounding this event, and upon receipt from our Embassy of reliable information we will share it with you.

Two weeks ago, President Basescu announced Romania's intention to host elements of a US missile defense system. Russia said it would conduct a thorough analysis of the likely threats from the new antimissile shield if deployed in Romania. To what extent is the plan a real threat to Russian security? And how will this affect dialogue between Moscow and Bucharest?

We, of course, have been watching this theme, as it was, one might even say, the focus of the world’s media. So I can say that we really pay attention to the sharp surge of US activity in the work with its Eastern European NATO allies to implement the project of “phased, adaptive” deployment of a US anti-missile presence in Europe, in close proximity to Russian borders. We will continue to closely monitor the story from the viewpoint of national security interests and to conduct close dialogue with both Washington and Bucharest or any other European capital that would suddenly want to play these far-from-innocuous anti-missile games.

We have repeatedly emphasized that a hasty response by military-technical means to potential missile challenges not only does not solve real missile proliferation problems, but, on the contrary, can seriously worsen them. There’s a need to start with a thorough analysis of missile challenges. Only with such analysis is it possible to determine against whom and what specific action to take. Moreover, the priority should always be politico-diplomatic rather than military and military-technical methods of response, especially in a situation where nobody is actually threatening either Europe or the US with a missile strike.

Question: The quite successfully-developing trade and economic cooperation between Russia and Japan, unfortunately, is sometimes marred by such incidents as the situation with two fishing boats off the island of Kunashir. As is known, the Japanese government has arrested the captains of the two schooners for violation of the fishery rules. How does the Russian Foreign Ministry assess this reaction of the Japanese government? How could this incident influence such areas of joint cooperation as the extraction of marine resources by Japanese fishermen in the South Kurils area, or visa-free exchange and humanitarian cooperation?

Answer: If the Japanese government has rendered their just conclusion regarding the fishermen’s actions – we can only welcome this.

As to the second question, I can say the following. We will continue contacts with our Japanese partners on the matters raised by you. We will try to reach an understanding satisfactory to both parties. Let’s hope that such incidents will not occur in the future and will not reflect adversely on the cooperation that is evolving, particularly in the humanitarian sphere.

How could you comment on US officials’ statement that the United States had informed Russia beforehand of its intention to deploy a missile defense system in Romania?

Answer: We closely follow what is happening in Eastern Europe. It does not remain unheeded. We draw conclusions and ask our relevant partners questions to clarify the situation.

Question: Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov has said that if Russia wants to, Tiraspol stands ready to place Russian missiles on the territory of Transdniestr as a possible response by Russia to the US missile shield in Eastern Europe. How can you comment on that?

We saw news reports to that effect. I think that for explanation you had better turn to Mr. Smirnov.