"Ensuring adequate levels of physical nuclear security is a prerequisite"

We hope that we will continue to work together to achieve a common goal: to strengthen nuclear security in strict compliance with non-proliferation obligations, Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Nesterenko said.

Briefing by Russian MFA Spokesman Andrei Nesterenko, April 8, 2010

About the signing of a new START Treaty

In a few hours Russian and US Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama will sign a Treaty in Prague between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on Measures to Further the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms. It will replace the Treaty between the USSR and the USA, which expired on Dec. 4 last year. With the entry into force of the new Treaty, the Russian-US Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty of May 24, 2002 will cease to have effect. The sides have long since fulfilled, even over-fulfilled the obligations under the two previous treaties.

Please note that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in his press conference on April 6 gave a detailed assessment of the main elements of the treaty.

The events in Kyrgyzstan

As to the events in Kyrgyzstan, I would like to draw your attention to the assessments that have been made by our President and Prime Minister in the last few hours. In particular, Dmitry Medvedev said that Kyrgyzstan has been and remains a strategic partner of Russia, and therefore, the Russian side will follow the developments there closely.

Outcome of President Medvedev’s visit Slovakia

The official visit of the President of the Russian Federation to the Slovak Republic on April 6-7 was held under the banner of the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Bratislava by the Red Army and the anniversary of the Victory over Nazism.

These dates were celebrated with a solemn ceremony attended by the leaders of the two states at the memorial for Soviet soldiers on Slavin Hill and with the presentation of high state awards to Russian and Slovak antifascist veterans. The Joint Statement adopted by the Russian and Slovak Presidents to mark the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe resounded weightily.

Medvedev and the country’s leadership, in their meetings and conversations, expressed mutual satisfaction with the state of friendly, partner relations between Russia and Slovakia, and gave a high appraisal of the intensive political dialogue and the level of mutual trust and understanding in international affairs, especially concerning Europe's future.

Ways to deepen bilateral economic and trade relations and to enhance co-operation in high-technology fields were substantively discussed, highlighting the role of the bilateral Intergovernmental Commission on Economic and Scientific-Technical Cooperation in the elaboration of joint projects in the fuel and energy sector, transport, agriculture, science, technology and innovation. During the visit, nine bilateral documents were signed – of an intergovernmental and commercial nature, reflecting specific areas of cooperation in these and other spheres.

A formal unveiling of Ruzomberok’s Proton Therapy Center built with Russian participation took place during the days of the visit.

Medvedev’s talks with the Slovak leaders on international issues focused around strategic stability and security, and disarmament efforts in the context of the signing in Prague of a new treaty on strategic offensive arms. Considerable attention was paid to the Russian initiative for a legally-binding European Security Treaty, which has met a lively response from Slovakia, and to creating a new stage of Russia-EU relations, including the prospect of visa-free travel for citizens, various aspects of Russia-NATO interaction and the two countries’ collaboration in multilateral formats.

There was a separate conversation between Sergey Lavrov and his Slovak counterpart, Miroslav Lajcak. Among the issues discussed they focused mainly on the situation in BiH and ways to resolve it on a consensus basis.

The visit of Dmitry Medvedev, held in a decidedly friendly and warm atmosphere, constituted a landmark event in the rapidly developing Russian-Slovak relations, and confirmed the mutual resolve to elevate them to the level of a mature partnership that meets the development needs and interests of the citizens of Russia and Slovakia, and the task of creating a broad space for mutual understanding and cooperation across Europe.
You can acquaint yourselves with the texts of the speeches, statements and other documents relating to the visit on the official website of the President of the Russian Federation.

Outcome of Prime Minister Putin’s visit to Venezuela

At the last briefing, I was asked about the visit to Venezuela by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, which took place on April 2 this year.

The visit was an important signpost for the development of multifaceted co-operation between Russia and that country and Latin America in general. During his stay in Caracas, Prime Minister Putin held talks with President Hugo Chavez. The talks have confirmed that Venezuela is one of Russia’s key partners in Latin America, the high level and trustfulness of the political dialogue with which serve as a reliable basis for sustained development of the entire range of bilateral relations.

The visit took place against a background of significant dates in the history of both countries: the 200th anniversary of the start of the liberation struggle in Venezuela (April 19), and the 65th anniversary of the Victory [in WWII]. Putin and Chavez signed special Joint Statements on these important events.

Following the talks a major package of accords (32 agreements in all) considerably strengthening the legal framework and advancing our co-operation in various areas: the fuel-and energy and mining sectors, transport infrastructure, science and technology, metrology, agriculture, fisheries, banking (including the creation of a Russian-Venezuelan bank), culture, education, sports, disaster management, etc. was signed.

Of the total number of agreements and contracts signed (their complete list is on the Russian Government website), I will single out the documents related to the establishment and management of a joint venture for developing the Junin-6 oil block. This is a large deposit with oil reserves of 53 billion barrels. The Russian line-up for the project will be the National Oil Consortium (NOC) consisting of leading Russian oil companies (Gazpromneft, Lukoil, TNK-BP, Rosneft, and Surgutneftegaz). This project is designed for many years to come and like a locomotive engine pulls in its wake a series of related projects, including construction of an oil refinery and the use of petroleum coke for new generating facilities that will also be built in Venezuela. Agreement has practically been reached on the participation of Russian partners in several other energy projects as well.

The parties signed documents on the project for establishing a national center for prevention of disasters (CENAPRED); a contract to supply Venezuela with 2,250 Lada cars; and protocols regarding the establishment of Lada and Kamaz assembly plants and service centers there, joint ventures to upgrade Venezuela’s air fleet and that of several other Latin American countries and tankers for transportation of gas and oil from Venezuela to markets; the organization of flights from Moscow to Caracas via Havana and Madrid, the construction of a shipyard in Venezuela, and the preparation of a design for the first nuclear power plant in the country. The Venezuelan side expressed its intention to acquire a Russian Be-200ChS amphibious aircraft designed to extinguish fires. The parties also discussed matters relating to further development of bilateral military technology cooperation.

I would like to mention one important aspect of the accords reached. Investing in Venezuelan projects is an investment both in the future of our bilateral relations and at the same time in the support of the Russian economy, Russian manufacturers, their guaranteed orders and jobs, work load for enterprises, development of the technological base, including national defense industries.

In Caracas, Putin also met with the President of the Multinational State of Bolivia, Evo Morales. They discussed further developing Russian-Bolivian economic and trade relations and augmenting cooperation in the oil and gas field and in the energy sector.

Memorial events at Katyn

As you know memorial events took place in Katyn yesterday. They were attended by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland. An assessment by the Russian side of the events of those years is set out in the speech of Vladimir Putin; the text is posted on the Prime Minister’s website.

Summit on Nuclear Security

A summit on nuclear security will be held in Washington on April 12-13. Heads of state and government from 45 countries, including Russia, are invited. President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev will take part. The aim of the meeting is to discuss ways to improve physical nuclear security and prevent the danger of nuclear terrorism, including through strengthening the nuclear nonproliferation regime. In this context, the question of universalizing relevant international legal mechanisms, such as the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, will also be discussed.

It is expected that the summit will adopt two documents: a communique setting the general principles and directions for cooperation in this field; and a more technical paper, the work plan containing a list of concrete measures that states would implement on a voluntary basis.

The nuclear industry is a significant innovation-oriented branch of the world economy. Ensuring adequate levels of physical nuclear security is a prerequisite for its quality performance.

Nuclear security in our country is ensured on a high level; in particular – considerable experience has been amassed in providing physical nuclear security. The decisions of the summit will aim to facilitate the expansion and deepening of international co-operation in this important area. We hope that we will continue to work together to achieve a common goal: to strengthen nuclear security in strict compliance with non-proliferation obligations.

About BRIC summit in Brazil

Together with partners, we are currently engaged in intensive preparatory work to ensure the success of the second full-blown BRIC Summit on April 15-16 in Brasilia and its concomitant activities – four-way meetings of high representatives on security, representatives of development banks, commercial banks, cooperative societies, and meetings of a business forum and a political science workshop. This intensive program bears testimony to the ongoing expansion of the spectrum of our partner ties within the BRIC.

We expect that the outcome of the summit will further promote the constructive role of the BRICs as an important stabilizing factor in international affairs and as a reliable mainstay in the formation of a polycentric, more just and democratic world order.

The development of dialogue and cooperation within the BRIC is one of the priorities of Russian foreign policy.
We consider this format as an effective tool for promoting a more balanced, predictable international system and as an important element of multipolar network diplomacy, whose importance in international affairs is constantly growing.

The development of the dialogue reflects the interest of Russia, Brazil, India and China in working out co-ordinated approaches to crucial issues of contemporary international relations and world development, the transformation of the system of global governance; in ensuring the effective participation of the BRIC countries in shaping the global agenda; and in uniting our efforts to deal with the consequences of the global financial and economic crisis for the economies of the four countries and the world as a whole. In this context, we attach special importance to the interaction of the BRIC countries within the Group of Twenty.

Visit to Moscow by Jaime Bermudez

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia, Jaime Bermudez, was in Russia on an official visit from 4-7 April at the invitation of Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov.

At the conclusion of the talks Lavrov and Bermudez signed a Joint Statement and spoke to the press to inform them of the basic accords reached.

The talks of the ministers were candid and trustful. The heads of our foreign affairs agencies, especially pointing out that the visit was taking place in the year of the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and the bicentennial of Colombia’s independence, noted with satisfaction the consonance of their states’ approaches to major international problems. They discussed concrete prospects for bilateral co-operation in the trade, economic, investment, scientific, technological, cultural and humanitarian fields and in the sphere of agriculture.

The legal framework for Russian-Colombian relations was further expanded: a Treaty between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Colombia on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, and a Memorandum on Co-operation in the Field of Physical Culture and Sport were signed. It was agreed to have an intergovernmental reciprocal visa waiver agreement signed as soon as possible.

We are sincerely thankful to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia – a country that has fallen victim to acts of terrorism more than once – who visited the Metro station “Park Kultury” and paid tribute to the victims of the recent terrorist attacks in the Moscow subway, laying flowers at the memorial plaque installed there.
I would also like to especially mention the visit by Jaime Bermudez to the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia to which in connection with the 50th anniversary of this educational institution he presented the state award of the Republic of Colombia – the National Order of Merit. Let me note that, during its existence, the University has trained about 600 specialists for Colombia. It currently has 60 Colombian students and graduate students. All in all, there are more than 2000 alumni of Russian (Soviet) tertiary education institutions in Colombia.

On the International Arctic Forum

An “Arctic – A Territory of Dialogue” international forum will be held in Moscow on April 22-23, 2010 under the auspices of the Russian Geographical Society, the board of trustees of which is headed by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is a member of the organizing committee for the forum. Among the guests – the attendance of over 100 politicians, diplomats, academics and NGO representatives is planned – are President of Iceland Olafur Grimsson and Prince Albert II, the reigning prince of Monaco, who are expected to speak at the forum as guests of honor.

Participation by Russian MFA and its overseas agencies in preparing for the 65th Victory Day celebrations
The Russian MFA and its overseas agencies are completing their preparations for the celebration of the 65th anniversary of the Victory in [World War II] the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. Veteran organizations at home and abroad, associations of our overseas compatriots, public and academic circles, and the media are actively involved in it.

Our joint efforts are focused on giving the 65th anniversary of the Victory broad international resonance, asserting its everlasting historic significance, and securing recognition of the crucial role of the Red Army in defeating Nazi Germany.

We are paying special attention to veterans, particularly in terms of the Year of the Great Patriotic War Veterans to be held in the CIS space under the slogan “We won together.”

On Russia MFA’s proposal, the CIS Heads of State at an upcoming informal Commonwealth summit in Moscow on May 8 will adopt an Appeal to the Frontline Veterans and Home Front Workers on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of Victory expressing special appreciation for their feat of arms and labor.

About 60,000 foreign veterans of the Great Patriotic War are to be awarded the Commemorative Medal for the 65th Anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War, 1941-1945. Work has begun on the presentation of the medals to veterans, which involves the Russian embassies abroad.

About 100 foreign veterans of the Great Patriotic and Second World Wars from 23 countries will be invited to the commemorations in Moscow on May 9.

For the conduct in the anniversary year of the international St. George’s Ribbon campaign under the motto “Hurrah for Victory” 143 sets of state symbols of Russia, including 715,000 St. George's Ribbons have been sent to the Russian foreign agencies.

In all countries wreath-laying ceremonies will be held at the Russian (Soviet) war memorials and war graves, which will be attended by veterans, officials, servicemen, the public and the diplomatic corps of the host countries.

Heads of State/Government from more than 30 countries, as well as the Secretary General of the Council of Europe are expected to arrive in Moscow for the anniversary celebrations.

Also, Moscow has invited the former leaders of a number of foreign countries who fought in World War II on the side of the Allies and rendered outstanding personal military services.

For the first time, troop units of the CIS states, USA, UK, France and Poland will participate in the Military Parade on Red Square in Moscow on May 9. Military bands from the USA, Britain and France, invited by the Moscow City Government to the Ode to Peace festival, will perform in the Parade.

Participation of Georgia’s representatives in the 65th Victory Day Celebrations

I was asked about the participation of Georgia’s representatives in the events commemorating the 65th anniversary of the Victory.

My answer is, in the absence of diplomatic relations between the Russian Federation and Georgia, officials of that country will not be invited to the celebrations on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the Great Victory.
However, taking part in the May 9 celebrations in Moscow from Georgia, as a former Soviet republic, will be four Great Patriotic War veterans, accompanied by four other Georgian citizens. The question of the participation in this Victory Day celebration of representatives of the Georgian public is also being studied.
On the publication by South Korean newspaper The Korea Times of Moscow bombing cartoons
The offensive cartoons that appeared a few days ago in the influential South Korean English-language newspaper ‘The Korea Times’ about the terrorist attacks in the Moscow Metro on March 29, 2010, have caused indignation in Russia.

At a time when words of sympathy, grief and support come in from across the world, including from President of the Republic of Korea, Lee Myung-bak, such a cynical move by the South Korean newspaper can only be regarded as an outrage upon the memory of the dead and as an insult to the feelings of the Russians who have lived through a terrible tragedy.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has made an appropriate formal representation to the Korean side over the publication in The Korea Times.

The Russian Embassy in Seoul demanded an official apology from the Korea Times editors.

I would like to note that similar cartoons also appeared in a number of other foreign publications, such as the Indonesian newspaper The Jakarta Post and the Belgian magazine Knack. This is an insult to the feelings not only of Russians but also of citizens of other states who were shocked by this barbaric crime. It is, if you will, an insult to our country. We have drawn the appropriate conclusions.

On the Transdniestrian settlement

We have received a number of questions about what progress has been made in Transdniestrian conflict settlement and what efforts Russia is exerting to this end. This topic has recently been actively discussed in many media.

The Russian Federation in dealing with Chisinau and Tiraspol constantly touches upon the theme of Transdniestrian conflict settlement and matters relating to the preservation of the Dniester region’s stability, aided by the existing peacekeeping operation in the region. There were meetings in Moscow recently with the political representatives of the parties in conflict, Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister Victor Osipov and Transdniestrian Foreign Minister Vladimir Yastrebchak, during which, inter alia, the work of the Moldovan and Transdniestrian working groups on socio-economic confidence building measures was examined.

As is known, the joint work on a political Transdniestrian conflict settlement model was interrupted in February 2006. Russia currently seeks in conjunction with the mediators from Ukraine and the OSCE and with the observers from the EU and the US to bring Chisinau and Tiraspol back to the negotiating table in the 5+2 format. The visit on April 1 to the region by the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev, aimed to create the appropriate conditions for that and to firmly establish the practice of direct contacts between the political representatives of the two banks of the Dniester.

Due to the unfinished constitutional procedures for forming Moldova’s state leadership after last year's parliamentary elections, the constructive settlement potential contained in the Moscow Declaration of the leaders of the Republic of Moldova and Transndiester of March 18, 2009 so far remains unrealized.

On the fourth regional conference of Russian compatriots living in Europe

The Fourth European Conference of Russian Compatriots was held in Vienna on April 3-4, opening a series of regional meetings to be held in 2010 with the assistance of the Government Commission on the Affairs of Compatriots Abroad and the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Eight such regional meetings involving leaders of country co-ordinating councils of compatriots from countries with the largest Russian communities have been held since 2007 (e.g., Central Asia, the Baltic Area, Europe). In addition, about 90 country conferences of Russian compatriots’ organizations are convened every year. The conferences serve as venues towards consolidating overseas compatriots and exchanging their experiences of work with host-country authorities. Representatives of major Russian state and public bodies working in this field participate in them.

Leaders and members of the co-ordination councils of Russian compatriots from 31 European countries attended the Vienna Forum, along with representatives of the Russian MFA, Rossotrudnichestvo, the Moscow City Government, the Leningrad Regional Administration and the Russian World Foundation.

The conference reviewed the performance of the country co-ordinating councils over the past year, and considered the questions of structuring compatriots’ organizations, preserving the Russian ethno-cultural space and Russian language, and strengthening the communities’ ties with the historical homeland.

Delegates to the conference backed the amendments contained in the Draft Federal Law Modifying the Federal Law on Russian State Policy toward Overseas Compatriots, submitted by the Russian Federation Government to the State Duma on March 17, 2010. They pointed out the importance of legislatively confirming the system of regular contact between Russia and its compatriots at the global, regional and country levels that has been created in recent years; inter alia, to help protect the rights and legitimate interests of compatriots, and facilitate their voluntary relocation to the Russian Federation or entry into Russian educational institutions on an equal basis with Russian citizens. However, none of the leaders of the country co-ordinating councils from Europe and Israel (traditionally participates in the European forums) even touched on the question of issuing administrative documents, and granting benefits and preferences to compatriots, which certain Moscow pseudo-defenders of compatriots’ interests so zealously advocate.

Considerable attention was paid to the preparation by compatriots of commemorative events for the 65th anniversary of the Victory.

M.A. Dadikozyan (Bulgaria), M.D. Ignat (Romania), I.N. Muchkina (Austria), and I.V. Khashin (Portugal) were elected as the representatives of the region in the World Co-ordination Council of Russian Compatriots. Incidentally, the election was held on an alternative basis (there were 8 candidates), and by secret ballot.
It was decided to hold the next regional conference in the spring of 2011.

Overall, the results of the conference have confirmed the need for such venues for meetings of Russian compatriots and discussion of the most important issues facing the communities and of their collaboration with the Russian Federation.

Pakistan’s intention to become a full member of SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure

Regarding the announcement by the President of Pakistan of its intention to become a full member of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure, I can say the following.

We welcome the intention of Pakistan to develop interaction with the Shanghai Co-operation Organization.
Pakistan has, since 2005, had observer status at the SCO, which gives it a wide range of opportunities for co-operation within the association. The SCO member states are committed to maximize the active engagement of the observer states in joint work.

One of the key lines of SCO activity, as you know, is ensuring regional security and stability, and combating terrorism, drug trafficking and transnational organized crime. In the domain of counteraction against terrorist threats, its Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) plays the principal role and is now undertaking practical steps to enhance cooperation with the observer states. The legal basis for such cooperation was laid back in 2008 with the signing of the Rules of Interaction by RATS with the states and international intergovernmental organizations granted observer status at the SCO.

The RATS Council, meeting in Tashkent on April 2-3, took decision to send a RATS delegation to the observer states’ capitals, including Islamabad, to develop a mechanism of interaction by these countries with the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure.

Pakistan plays an important role in international efforts to combat terrorism. Therefore, the participation of the Pakistani partners in the RATS will be mutually beneficial and mutually useful, above all in the context of countering threats and challenges emanating from the territory of Afghanistan.

On the report of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime

The first-ever Afghanistan Cannabis Survey, produced by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), states that the country has become the world’s leading producer of drugs in this group, primarily hashish (3,500 tons a year). Furthermore, the yield capacity of Afghan cannabis exceeds four times the similar index for Morocco, the second biggest illegal producer of this drug.

The UNODC report points out that the cultivation of cannabis is a “profitable business,” which reaps a high return exceeding four times the cost of cultivating and processing this crop.

There is certainly cause for worry that, as noted by UNODC, cannabis cultivation tends to become concentrated in the southern provinces of the IRA, which already account for almost the entire production of Afghan opiates. At the same time we are concerned about the fact of cannabis crops being grown on areas cleared of opium poppies. In Russia there is evidence that such a “substitution” is increasingly observed in the country’s northern provinces bordering the states of Central Asia, provinces which are considered “free” from the production of opiates.

In this context, the UNODC thesis that these trends are due primarily to the “weakness” of the central government, particularly in the southern provinces, does not seem very convincing. Obviously, the destruction of drug crops should proceed in parallel with fostering the cultivation of alternative farm crops and establishing the necessary conditions for selling the output. This in our view will be able to keep Afghan farmers from switching to other types of illegal activity, which often is almost the only source of livelihood.

We support the conclusion of the UNODC that control of the financial flows associated with the illegal production of cannabis is in the hands of extremist and terrorist groups. Naturally, as with the proceeds from illicit production of opiates, “cannabis” revenues are used to fund terrorist and other criminal activities.
The initiative being pushed by the Russian Federation on major international platforms and, above all, within the “Paris-Moscow process” to combat the Afghan drug traffic, for identifying and stopping the associated financial flows acquires increasing urgency in this context.

Obviously, the UNODC-predicted stable growth of cannabis production in Afghanistan will also spur the illicit demand for it, both inside and outside the country. Accordingly, the world community apparently will have to work out adequate measures to reduce and then eliminate this threat.

Given the fact that the Afghan drug problem is complex and multifaceted and actually poses a threat to international peace and security, a point increasingly agreed upon by major international forums, including the UN and its Security Council, the same systemic approach is needed to counteract this phenomenon as well. We regard as a serious undertaking on this front the Political Declaration and the Plan of Action of the world community to counter the global drug menace, approved by UN General Assembly resolution 64/182, which set the goal of achieving by 2019 a significant reduction in the production of heroin, cocaine and cannabis in the world. We believe that all UN member states should make every effort to achieve those goals by the deadline.

First session of working Committee of Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum

In accordance with the Memorandum between the Russian Federation and the League of Arab States on the Establishment of the Russian-Arab Co-operation Forum signed in December 2009, the first meeting of the joint Committee – the working body of the Forum – took place in Cairo on April 7. Priority attention was given to consideration of matters related to holding the first ministerial session of the Forum consisting of the country chairing the LAS, Russia, the Arab Troika and the Secretary General of the League. Taking part in the event from the Russian side was Sergey Vershinin, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Department for the Middle East and North Africa.

Russian-Israeli cooperation

We received a question from TV channel Russia 24: “An Israeli Knesset delegation came to Moscow this week to participate in the work of the Federation Council-Knesset strategic group. How can you describe Russian-Israeli cooperation in the struggle against terrorism, and what are its prospects?”

Indeed, Moscow has been hosting a group of Israeli deputies led by chairman of the Israeli Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tzachi Hanegbi since April 6. The Israeli legislators came under the auspices of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation to participate in the first meeting of the Russian-Israeli inter-parliamentary group on strategic cooperation. I think that more information will be available from the Press Service of the Federation Council.

Regarding the second part of the question, terrorism has long since gone beyond individual countries and become increasingly global in nature. Under these conditions, the only right decision is to strengthen international anti-terrorist co-operation. The security interests of Russian citizens will only gain from this. To this end, we consider it useful to co-operate, including with Israel, which has amassed considerable experience in combating this scourge.

Situation in the Gaza Strip

I was asked how the Russian Foreign Ministry assesses the situation in the Gaza Strip since the outbreak of tensions in Gaza and southern Israel last week.

I will respond. The situation in Gaza is constantly in the center of our attention, same as with all Palestinian territories. Immediately after those events in Gaza, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement to the media. I want to emphasize that we continue to firmly proceed from the need for the parties to refrain from any action which would unleash a spiral of violence, and exacerbate the already dire humanitarian situation in which the residents of Gaza have now been for several years. We are working with both Israelis and Palestinians in this vein.

In particular, as you know from our press releases, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on March 31 during a telephone call with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal called on Palestinian factions to resume the “calm” with Israel.

Middle Eastern mass media have reported that a number of armed Palestinian groups in Gaza, including those controlled by Hamas, have reached agreement on maintaining a truce with Israel which provides for cessation of rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli territory.

We hope that this encouraging news is confirmed. However, it is important that all Palestinian armed groups in the Strip should join this decision.

And one more question regarding the events in the Gaza Strip. I was asked to comment on the reports that amid a deteriorating situation Israel has allowed a commercial shipment of shoes and clothing into the Gaza Strip for the first time in three years.

It is well-known that Russia has consistently advocated for improving the socioeconomic conditions in Gaza. We believe that lifting the blockade of the Palestinian enclave would contribute to this in the first place. In this regard, we have noted the information that the Israeli authorities have allowed the first commercial shipment of shoes and clothing into Gaza in three years. Hopefully, after this decision more substantial steps will follow: the opening of the checkpoints for residents of the Strip both at the border with Egypt and with Israel, where many Gazans had previously worked; and permission to import the necessary amounts of building materials, everyday goods and medicine.

For its part, Russia continues to provide humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians. Thus, on March 25 the Emergency Ministry completed a food relief operation for the PNA by delivering 9,839 tons of wheat flour funded by Russia’s US$7.3 million earmarked voluntary contribution to the United Nations World Food Program Fund.

On the political situation in Iraq

I was also asked to comment on the political situation in Iraq and to answer the question whether the increase in violence over the last month is the result of a growing political struggle following the general election held in the country on March 7.

Indeed, the growth of violence has been observed in Iraq since the March 7 parliamentary elections. A new series of terrorist attacks occurred on April 6. Their targets this time were residential buildings, and civilians who lived in them became the victims.

Our position of condemnation of such criminal acts is well known.

Now, in our view, it is important that leaders of major political forces show a high sense of responsibility in terms of the swift formation in accordance with existing legislation of the highest bodies of power, which would make it possible to implement effective measures to stabilize the country based on national consensus and the preservation of the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Iraq.

On the political situation in Thailand

We have repeatedly been asked about the situation in Thailand. We have commented on the subject in sufficient detail.

Again, I want to emphasize that we consider the events in Thailand as an exclusively internal affair of that state. However, we hope that the parties involved in the confrontation will be able to settle existing differences through peaceful means, within the legal framework, without endangering the safety of both the subjects of the Kingdom and the foreign tourists in the country, including Russian citizens.

In this connection I would like to draw your attention to the following information on the Ministry’s website: “Taking into account the above, the Russian Foreign Ministry strongly recommends that Russian citizens intending to visit Thailand refrain from visiting Bangkok for the time being. In the case of staying in the capital it is necessary to show caution and avoid places of mass gathering of demonstrators, in particular, the areas near prominent government buildings, the Democracy and Victory Monuments and shopping malls and night markets.”

On the situation with Russian citizen I.F. Kuznetsov

On March 21, a Russian holidaymaker in Hurghada, Igor Fyodorovich Kuznetsov, was stung by a jellyfish while swimming in the sea. During his transportation to the hospital the victim had a heart attack and fell into a coma. A team of doctors, sent by an insurance company to the scene, stated that it was impossible to fly the patient to Russia by a regular flight because of his extremely critical condition. In this connection our Embassy in Egypt actively explored alternative transportation options for the patient. Constant communication was maintained with his family in Moscow, as well as with the competent Russian authorities.

In these circumstances, the Emergency Ministry decided to send a special plane to Hurghada, and on the night of April 6-7 in collaboration with the Embassy’s consular officials, carried out the successful evacuation of I.F. Kuznetsov home.

On the operation of visa centers in Russia

I received questions from the newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta about the legality of the use of the services of visa centers by foreign embassies in the issuance of visas, given that the price of the visa services thus increases considerably and whether a similar scheme of issuing visas is used by Russian embassies in other countries.

First, at the present time in different cities in Russia there operate the visa centers of the following countries: Bulgaria, Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, France, and the Czech Republic. As far as we know, the operator companies of such centers are Russian legal entities operating in accordance with Russian law. The way they co-operate with the embassies is determined by relevant agency agreements. The main aim of opening the visa centers the embassies said was to simplify the issuance of visas to Russian citizens, reduce queues and create more favorable conditions for their service.

Indeed, for their services the outsourcing companies charge a surcharge amounting to 1,200-1,500 rubles. The Russian Foreign Ministry in this regard has repeatedly pointed out to the embassies of the states concerned that the availability of a visa center should not deprive a citizen of the Russian Federation of the possibility to directly contact the consular agencies, otherwise it is a breach of the provisions of the Visa Facilitation Agreement between the Russian Federation and the European Community of May 25, 2006, setting a unified visa fee of 35 euros.

The EU Visa Code, which took effect on April 5 this year, clearly defines the framework of relations between embassies and outsourcing companies, their rights and responsibilities. In particular, it provides that the amount of the fee for services by a visa center should not exceed half the consular fee for a visa, and that the applicant is entitled to submit visa documents directly to diplomatic missions and consular offices.

Secondly, Russian visa centers have been operating in London and Edinburgh since January 2009. Their opening made it possible to improve services for citizens, reduce the queues in front of the Embassy, and pay greater attention to work with Russian citizens applying to the consular office. Given the fact that the UK Embassy in Moscow has introduced a requirement to submit documents solely to visa centers, the Russian Embassy in London follows a similar procedure.

On visas for entry into EU member states

You will recall that the Russian Foreign Ministry reported in advance about the changes in the EU visa issuance procedure. Thus, on March 18, information was posted on its website (Consular Matters/Current Information) on the conditions for obtaining Schengen visas for Russian citizens in connection with the upcoming entry into force of the EU Visa Code.

We will once again offer our advice that, before the tourist season kicks off, Russians should take care of visas for entry into EU member states beforehand, without postponing the matter until the last moment before the trip.

The Russian side continues an active, interested dialogue with the European partners on the lifting of visa requirements for Russian and EU citizens undertaking mutual short-term trips.

Our stand on the abolition of visas is well known: it has been decided at the highest political level that we would switch to a visa-free regime “even tomorrow’.

Since the visa-free dialogue should be conducted on a parity basis, we expect response from the European partners on the appropriate level.

But, alas, this does not seem likely at present. Unfortunately, a visa-free regime with the EU soon is not on the cards.

On the death of Anatoly Dobrynin

With sadness we inform you of the death of the outstanding and talented diplomat Anatoly Dobrynin, who passed away on the evening of the day before yesterday. We express our sincere condolences to his family and friends.

Answers to media questions:

Question: How does the Foreign Ministry assess Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s announcement of a new generation of centrifuges for uranium enrichment, and does this move of Tehran signify the inevitable imposition of new sanctions?

Answer: The appearance of new reports about the achievements of Iranian nuclear scientists is quite anticipatable on the eve of Iran’s Nuclear Energy Day.

According to the IAEA, Iran has been developing and experimenting with more advanced centrifuges at the Natanz pilot enrichment plant for quite a long time now. It is on such centrifuges, by the way, that Iran is enriching uranium to 20 per cent.

Iran has a legitimate right as an NPT party to conduct such work in the development of peaceful nuclear energy. However, the IAEA and the international community have questions about Tehran's nuclear efforts, which it should remove.

We have repeatedly said that such actions, along with the 20 per cent uranium enrichment process and the decision to construct ten new enrichment plants, are contrary to UN Security Council resolutions, which certainly is not conducive to constructive dialogue and reinforces doubts about the sincerity of Tehran’s intentions to achieve an early resolution of the situation, stirring up sentiment in favor of increasing sanctions pressure through the Security Council.

The issue of new sanctions is really on the practical plane.

Question: Please comment on the new nuclear doctrine promulgated by the US.

Answer: The new US nuclear doctrine is a very serious and voluminous document that required careful analysis. It provides for a modification of the role of nuclear weapons in US military strategy and concretizes certain parameters of the adaptation of the nuclear forces in relation to a changing security environment. However, the US remains fully committed to keeping its nuclear arsenal as a mainstay of national security.

As to the already emerging questions regarding what “opportunities the new US nuclear doctrine opens up for Russian-American relations,” it should be noted that the degree to which such “opportunities” may unfold depends not so much on general doctrinal assumptions as on concrete actions to ensure strategic stability and international security on the principles of equality, indivisible security, and consideration of the interests of each other.

We believe that an exchange of views on doctrinal assumptions is generally useful, and promotes trust and predictability in strategic relations with the US. Such exchanges have already begun and will continue.

The most important event in this context must be the new full-blown agreement being signed today between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on measures to further reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms. The imperative now is to ensure its early ratification and entry into force, and to guarantee a consistent and undeviating fulfillment of all the provisions set forth therein without exception.

And I’ll add that the new doctrine is quite a voluminous document which will require careful analysis by both diplomats and military experts. We shall be able to make additional comments a little later.

Question: In light of the statement that the issue of sanctions against Iran is on the practical plane, how would you comment on the reports that informal consultations of the Iran Six are due in New York at the level of permanent representatives? Will some possible sanctions against Iran be discussed at these consultations? When may the discussion in the UN of a new sanctions resolution take place?

Answer: Consultations of the six nations on further ways to resolve the situation surrounding Iran’s nuclear program are maintained on an ongoing basis, including through telephone conferences of political directors. The Russian side is represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, of which we have regularly informed you.

We do not exclude the possibility of a preliminary exchange of views at the UN venue in the very near future.

There have been reports today that the consultations may take place in New York outside the UN. Let's wait till 17.00 Moscow time when in New York it will be morning, and promptly, we will inform you about developments.

As to the resolution, the United States’ leadership has repeatedly voiced intentions to push for it. We will respond to appeals to us through the permanent missions in New York and will inform you about the outcome of our participation in these discussions and consultations.

Question: Please comment on the statement of Estonian FM Paet that Russia has declined a NATO proposal to hold a Russia-NATO Council meeting during NATO’s foreign ministers gathering in Tallinn on April 22-23. What can you say about the comments in the media by Russia's Permanent Representative to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, on the possibility of organizing a RNC meeting at the Foreign Minister level in June?

Answer: The allegation by Estonian Foreign Minister Mr. Urmas Paet that Russia has “declined” to participate in a meeting of foreign ministers from the Russia-NATO Council member countries in Tallinn is not true.

The RNC did not take decision to hold a Russia-NATO Council meeting in Tallinn on April 22-23, so to speak about Russia's refusal to participate in this meeting is incorrect.

The underlying documents of Russia-NATO relations state that RNC foreign ministers are to meet regularly. However, they do not stipulate that each NATO ministerial meeting should be accompanied by a RNC meeting at the FM level. There is no automatic nature to this. Let me remind you that the RNC ministers’ meeting in Corfu was not related to any NATO event.

The previous Russia-NATO Council ministerial meeting in Brussels on December 4, 2009 adopted serious decisions to resume normal work of the RNC and prepare a Joint Survey of 21st Century Security Challenges, and approved a RNC Work Program for 2010 and a document on functional and organizational improvement of the Council’s activities.

Currently, work in all of these areas is being conducted “in normal mode.” To say that it is close to completion would be premature.

A meeting date convenient to all RNC foreign ministers will be jointly arranged with regard for the work schedules of the ministers and as the substance for this level of events is accumulated.

Question: In early April the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg condemned Russia’s decision to extradite the Israeli Yair Klein to Colombia, where he was sentenced in absentia for aiding terrorism. Colombia’s Foreign Minister during his Moscow visit expressed hope that Russia would lodge a protest against the decision of the Court. What can you say about further Russian actions in this matter?

Answer: I can confirm that for the Colombian side this is a fairly sensitive issue. It was discussed during the visit of Jaime Bermudez to Moscow. The parties agreed that efforts would be made to resolve this issue without creating an irritant in Russian-Colombian bilateral relations.

I will be ready to give you more detailed information after a thorough study of the matter.

Question: What will be Russia's reaction to US proposals for the adoption of sanctions against Iran?

Answer: I can only repeat that we are waiting for formalized proposals to hold consultations in New York. Our position on this issue will be presented to the partners in the negotiating process. We do not yet know what concretely the initiators of this idea will suggest.