“US was warned of new poultry regulations in a timely manner”

Visits by the Turkish Prime Minister and Spanish Foreign Minister to Moscow, air travel between Russia and Georgia, as well as Russia’s aid to Haiti were in focus in the first Russian Foreign Ministry briefing of 2010.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to our first briefing this year. I will take this opportunity and wish you all a happy year. I wish you health, success and all the best.

Today we would like to update you on the most important international events that took place in the last few days, after the holidays.

Turkish Prime Minister’s visit

First of all, I would like to mention the main results of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan’s visit to Russia which took place on Jan. 12-13. During his visit, the Republic of Turkey’s prime minister was received by the president of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev, and had substantive and productive talks with the head of the Russian government, Vladimir Putin.

The parties agreed in principle to establish a new mechanism for top-level consultations between Russia and Turkey, a Top-Level Co-operation Council. The first meeting of the Council is expected to take place in 2010 during the Russian president’s visit to Turkey in the context of celebrating the 90th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey.

The parties discussed the whole range of bilateral co-operation issues, the current state of trade and economic ties and important international and regional problems, such as the prospects of creating a new European security architecture, the situation in the South Caucasus in the context of the normalisation of Turkish-Armenian relations, the Middle East peace process and the two countries’ interaction in the Black Sea Economic Co-operation Organisation and other international structures.

The parties devoted special attention to the implementation of Russian-Turkish joint projects in energy, such as the South Stream and Blue Stream 2 natural gas pipelines, the Samsun–Ceyhan oil pipeline and a nuclear power plant in Turkey. Also, the parties exchanged views on the progress made in implementing the agreements reached in August 2009 during Vladimir Putin’s visit to Ankara and included in a number of intergovernmental and interagency documents.

The government of the Russian Federation and the government of the Republic of Turkey signed a plant quarantine agreement. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yildiz issued a joint statement on co-operation in building a nuclear power plant in Turkey.

As the main outcome of the visit, the parties confirmed that they have achieved a high level of mutual understanding, of the realization of their common interests and of their willingness to work together to reach the objectives set by the leaders of Russia and Turkey and bring bilateral relations to a fundamentally new level.

Russian aid to Haiti

On Jan. 13, the president of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev, sent a telegram to the president of Haiti, Rene Preval, expressing his condolences with regard to the massive earthquake which killed a large number of people and caused major destruction.

Following an order by the president of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s Emergencies Ministry promptly began to send aid to Haiti in order to help with the aftermath of the natural disaster. The ministry sent four planes with search-and-rescue teams and humanitarian aid. The ministry will use the Global Radius system (an IL-76 jet and BO-105/BK-117 helicopters), which can be promptly set up to support the UN Disaster Assessment & Co-ordination mission. Also, the ministry sent its IL-76 jet with a heavy search-and rescue team that includes search dogs, trauma counsellors and an air-mobile hospital.

Three of the Emergencies Ministry's planes have landed in Santo Domingo, the capital of the neighbouring Dominican Republic, since the runway at the Port-au-Prince airport was too busy. Two of the planes later took off for Port-au-Prince to start rescue activities on the ground.

Russia’s Embassy to Venezuela (the Russian ambassador to Venezuela is also accredited in Haiti and the Dominican Republic) sent a group of embassy workers to Santo Domingo and Port-au-Prince to co-ordinate Emergencies Ministry teams coming to these countries and help them with the logistics. The first secretary of the Russian embassy, Mr Seredin, accompanied the planes going to Port-au-Prince.

Russian police officers who are part of the UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti are providing significant help, assisting in logistics and communication with Russian diplomats and Emergencies Ministry teams, as well as the Haitian authorities and the UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti.

As far as we know, none of the Russian citizens who are currently in Haiti (about 30 people) were injured in the earthquake.

Mr Dzhurayev and his family, who were reported missing earlier, are in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, according to their relatives.

According to Russia's Honorary Consulate in the Dominican Republic, the situation in the country is calm, with no panic among Russian tourists.

Spanish Foreign Minister’s visit

On Jan. 12, the Spanish minister of foreign affairs and co-operation, Mr Miguel Angel Moratinos, came to Moscow on a working visit at the invitation of Russia’s foreign minister. He met with Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov, who co-chairs the Russian-Spanish intergovernmental commission for economic and industrial co-operation and had talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

During the meeting with the deputy prime minister, the issues of bilateral interaction in the economy and other areas were discussed in detail. The parties devoted special attention to the plans of holding a Year of Russia in Spain and a Year of Spain in Russia in 2011, according to an agreement between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

During the talks in the Foreign Ministry, all aspects of Russia-EU relations were discussed, including preparations for the next Russia-EU summit. Since Spain is now presiding in the European Union, the parties compared notes on key areas of Russian-EU co-operation: preparing a new framework agreement, moving towards a visa-free regime, joint efforts in crisis management, and the energy dialogue. The two ministers discussed the prospects of developing the Partnership for Modernisation project, which was announced at the Russia-EU summit in Stockholm in November 2009. They also discussed Russia’s accession to the WTO.

Mr Lavrov and Mr Moratinos exchanged views on key international issues. They continued discussing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s initiative concerning a European security treaty and considered ways to strengthen the role of the OSCE and to enhance the work of the Russia-NATO Council. Also, they discussed important regional problems, such as the Middle East peace process and the situation in the Western Balkans.

Also, the ministers analysed the current situation with bilateral co-operation in various areas and ways to improve it. They considered several promising projects in investment, energy, transport and infrastructure. They agreed that the Year of Russia in Spain and the year of Spain in Russia in 2011 will help significantly improve bilateral ties in cultural, humanitarian and economic areas and expand our knowledge and understanding of each other.

The parties agreed to continue their active dialogue both bilaterally and in the context of Spain’s presidency in the EU. The Russian minister confirmed that he intended to accept Mr Moratinos’s invitation and visit Madrid. The dates will be coordinated via diplomatic channels.

Foreign Minister visits Armenia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov concluded his working visit to Armenia yesterday. He was received by Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and had talks with Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian.

The conversations took place in a businesslike and friendly atmosphere, which is typical of the Russian-Armenian partnership. The parties exchanged views on important issues on the bilateral and international agenda. They had a productive discussion of problems related to the negotiation process on a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement.

The transcript of the two ministers’ joint press conference with detailed comments on the talks and meetings in Yerevan is available on the Foreign Ministry’s website.

Swiss Foreign Minister’s visit

On Jan. 17, Swiss Foreign Minster Micheline Calmy-Rey will make a short stop in Moscow.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Swiss counterpart will meet to discuss the development of bilateral co-operation in many various areas. They will also consider Russia’s interaction with the Council of Europe, as Micheline Calmy-Rey currently chairs the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers.

The ministers will exchange views on further interaction between Russia and Switzerland in international organisations, primarily the UN, on disarmament and arms control, Iran’s nuclear programme and prospects for settling some regional conflicts.

Switzerland’s role as Russia’s representative in relations with Georgia will be another important subject at the talks.

Russia-US consultations

As you know, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and US Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns met for consultations in Moscow yesterday, Jan. 14.

They discussed important issues of Russia-US relations, including the work of the bilateral Presidential Commission. Also, they discussed international and regional issues, including Iran’s nuclear programme, the situations in Afghanistan, in the Middle East, on the Arabian Peninsula and in Latin America and problems in the Caucasus.

Middle East consultations

I would like to draw your attention to a report published on our website. It says that on Jan. 13, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Saltanov, who is the Russian president’s special envoy for the Middle East, and US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell met for consultations in Brussels.

They exchanged views in detail on the situation in the Middle East.

On the same day, Mr Saltanov and Mr Mitchell met with the Quartet’s special envoys to co-ordinate further steps that need to be taken to resume the negotiation process between Palestine and Israel as soon as possible.

For more information, please go to our ministry’s website.

Election in Croatia

Concerning the results of the presidential election in Croatia, I can say the following.

The presidential election in the Republic of Croatia, won by the candidate from the Social Democratic Party, Ivo Josipovic, took place, observers report, in a calm atmosphere and according to Croatian laws, Croatia’s international commitments and common standards for a democratic electoral process.

Moscow expects that the new head of the Croatian state will continue to have an open and friendly political dialogue with Russia. We are ready to further improve our bilateral co-operation with Croatia, especially in trade and economy. We are certain that this will serve the interests of our two countries and help strengthen peace and security in Southeast Europe.

Kazakhstan’s presidency in OSCE

In 2010, as you know, the Republic of Kazakhstan is presiding over the OSCE. Kazakhstan is the first CSTO and CIS member-state to perform this responsible function.

Russia strongly and consistently supported Kazakhstan’s bid for the presidency in the OSCE. The presidency had an impressive start, with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev sending a video address to the OSCE Permanent Council on Jan. 14 and Kazakh State Secretary Kanat Saudabayev, who is the new OSCE chairperson-in-office, giving a keynote speech at the session.

Moscow shares Kazakhstan’s assessment of the situation in the OSCE, its approaches to the crucial issues it is facing and the priorities of the presidency. We welcome Kazakhstan’s commitment to bringing closer the East and the West in how they view key issues of the modern world order, to overcoming the remaining dividing lines and double standards in the OSCE, to achieving an optimal balance of all the three “baskets” in the OSCE work and to strengthening its fundamental principle of consensus-based decision-making. We support Astana’s offer to host an OSCE summit in 2010, as the last summit was held in 1999.

We wish all the best to the new OSCE president and will support our Kazakh friends in every way in presiding over this organisation.

Georgian flights to Moscow

As we informed you earlier, the Georgian airline Airzena Georgian Airways contacted the Russian aviation authorities last December and asked for permission to make a series of direct charter flights from Tbilisi to Moscow and back to Tbilisi during the New Year and Christmas season. A week later, the Georgian side made a similar request for flights from Tbilisi to St. Petersburg and back to Tbilisi.

Taking account of the humanitarian aspect of this problem, its significance and the way it affects the interests of a large number of people in both countries, including those linked with family bonds, the Russian side decided to grant the Georgian side’s request.

After necessary arrangements, the Russian Transport Ministry gave permission to Airzena-Georgian Airways to make flights to Moscow and St. Petersburg between Dec. 26, 2009, and Jan. 10, 2010. The Russian aviation authorities set a condition that the passengers onboard should only be Georgian nationals.

There were certain difficulties last year, of which we informed you at our previous briefings, but the Russian side was not the one to blame. The charter flights from Tbilisi to Moscow and back to Tbilisi took place on Jan. 8, 9 and 10. The two flights to St. Petersburg were cancelled. As an Airzena-Georgian Airways spokesperson explained, there was “no demand for the tickets.”

We are satisfied that these flights have taken place after all, despite attempts by Tbilisi officials to thwart this important humanitarian project. We hope this was another step to restore ties between the people of our two countries.

Also, while we are on Georgia, I would like to mention that the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman has commented on the situation regarding the Russian national, Zaurbeg Khestanov, who has been convicted in Georgia and on the criminal prosecution of another Russian national, Boris Galabayev. The comments are posted on the Foreign Ministry website.

US poultry imports

I’ve been asked to comment on the introduction of new public health regulations by Russia that caused a ban on poultry imports from the US. On June 2, 2008, Russia’s chief public health inspector issued an order “On Production and Sales of Poultry.” According to the document, after Jan. 1, 2009, it is prohibited to process poultry meat with chlorine solutions if the level of chlorine is higher than the limit established for drinking water. In December 2008, it was decided to postpone the implementation of the new rule until Jan. 1, 2010, in order to make some adjustments to the technical regulations based on the new rule after some comments were made, including those by the US.

Russia introduced this requirement to promote more modern, efficient and safer technologies and poultry meat disinfectants in the interests of consumers, and to harmonise its national veterinary and phytosanitary standards with those of the EU. It is a technical requirement, which is not meant to create trade barriers for suppliers of high-quality and safe goods.

The US side was informed about the new requirement in a timely manner. In May 2009, Russia sent an inquiry to the US Department of Agriculture, asking for a list of American companies that could comply with the requirement. There was no official reply from the US, but we know, based on direct contacts between Russian experts from the Federal Veterinary and Plant Disease Oversight Service and American producers, that technically they are capable of complying with the restriction that came into effect on Jan. 1, 2010. But products from companies that are still using chlorine solutions will not be allowed to be imported to Russia.

Following a request from the US side, bilateral consultations will take place in Moscow on Jan. 19-20. Ministries and agencies concerned will discuss the quality of US-imported poultry meat and its compliance with Russian standards.

Iran’s nuclear programme

I’ve been asked to comment on the situation with Iran’s nuclear programme, including the recent remarks by Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Iranian parliament’s committee for national security and foreign policy, who said that Iran would by itself produce fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor unless it receives 20% enriched uranium from abroad.

The situation with Iran’s nuclear programme remains complex.

At the same time, we believe it is still possible to use diplomatic efforts to implement the agreements reached at the meeting between Iran and the six powers in Geneva on Oct. 1, 2009, including the IAEA-proposed plan to take low-enriched uranium from Natanz and enrich it further elsewhere to produce fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor.

Tehran has repeatedly made statements that Iran will start further enriching the low-enriched uranium it has to 20%. We believe that at this stage it is important to focus on finding mutually acceptable solutions along the lines of the IAEA-proposed plan for supplying fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. In early January, Tehran submitted additional comments on this subject to the IAEA. We are now considering them together with the other participants in the project. We hope that eventually we will find a common ground.

If this plan is successfully implemented, this would become a good example of Iran’s co-operation with the international community in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. This would be the first real step towards restoring trust to the purely peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme. Also, this would create an atmosphere of trust necessary for starting a dialogue on the basis of mutual respect.

North Korea

The position of the Russian Foreign Ministry on the statement the Foreign Ministry of the DPRK made on Jan. 11 is as follows. We, as always, deem it necessary to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula in compliance with the Joint Statement made on Sep. 19, 2005, especially because all the participants in the six-party process have confirmed their commitment to it. We believe that purely political and diplomatic means must be used to find mutually acceptable solutions. To do so, it is necessary to resume the six-party talks as soon as possible. The International Atomic Energy Agency should also join the talks to provide consultations and other kinds of assistance.

We also believe that the format of the six-party talks should be used to discuss how to improve the situation and build confidence on the peninsula and in Northeast Asia in general, including the normalisation of relations between the nations concerned.

Our country is directly interested in peace and stability in Northeast Asia. From the outset, we have been an active participant in the six-party talks. As you know, Russia presides over the working group on a Northeast Asia peace and security mechanism. We are ready to continue this work once the six-party process resumes.

Arms seized in Thailand

I can give you an update on the cargo of weapons seized in Thailand and on the report the Thai authorities sent to the committee established pursuant to the UN Security Council Resolution 1718 for sanctions against the DPRK. As you know, on Dec. 11, 2009, the Thai authorities detained a plane belonging to the Georgian airline Air West, which was carrying arms from the DPRK.

UN Security Council Resolution 1874 prohibits North Korea from exporting any arms or related materiel, and prohibits all UN member-states from purchasing such goods from the DPRK.

In accordance with Article 11 of the UN Security Council resolution, Thailand inspected the cargo in the Bangkok airport and found goods prohibited for export. The Thai authorities investigated the incident and, in compliance with Security Council regulations, on Dec. 28, 2009, they sent an official report to the UN sanctions committee, providing details concerning the inspection and arrest of the illegal cargo.

The UN sanctions committee will continue to investigate the case and the DPRK’s violations of the sanctions imposed against it. It is expected that the chairman of the committee will send requests to all parties involved in the incident asking them to provide an explanation concerning what has happened.

Cyprus settlement

I was asked the following question: There are media reports that the talks between the leaders of two Cypriot communities on resolving the island’s problem have entered the intense phase. What is Russia’s position on this issue?

Indeed, last December, the leaders of the Cypriot communities, Mr Dimitris Christophias and Mr Mehmet Ali Talat agreed that in January they would hold two three-day rounds of the so-called intense talks within the framework of the ongoing direct intercommunity dialogue on settling the Cypriot problem. In keeping with this agreement, the two leaders have conducted the first round of talks on Jan. 11-13. The second round is planned for Jan. 25-27.

Russia supports the initiative of the leaders of the two Cypriot communities to intensify the process of direct intercommunity negotiations. We believe that no matter how difficult the negotiation process is, there is still a way to reach a compromise. In our opinion, proposals voiced during the intense dialogue regarding joint administration of the future Federation must be balanced and focused on reaching the goal of an early settlement and on helping the united nation of Cyprus function genuinely and effectively. We believe that the leaders of the Cypriot communities have the political will which will help reach a compromise.

As for Russia’s position on the Cyprus settlement, it remains unchanged. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, we are for continuing the dynamic process of direct intercommunity negotiations, with no pressure from outside and in accordance with appropriate UN Security Council resolutions, in order to achieve a comprehensive, fair and viable settlement for the problem of the divided island in the interests of all the Cypriots, both Greeks and Turks.

Russian tourists in Ecuador

I would like to draw your attention to contradictory reports in the Russian media about a group of Russian nationals who found themselves in a difficult situation during a private trip to Ecuador.

On Jan. 8, a group of Russian tourists, who were on a private trip to Ecuador, decided to cross the Peruvian border by boat on the Morona River without permission from the Peruvian authorities and necessary papers. Peruvian border guards stopped the tourists from crossing the border and explained that under existing rules the border should be crossed through official checkpoints.

As soon as the Russian Foreign Ministry learned about the incident, it took all the necessary measures through its channels, including the Russian embassies in Lima and Quito. They contacted the authorities in Peru and Ecuador to ensure the security of the Russian citizens and to resolve the problem according to universally accepted legal standards. The diplomats explained to the tourists the risk involved in staying in this dangerous and sparsely populated area of South America.

It is clear that this situation developed as a result of the violation by the Russian tourists of universally accepted rules of conduct in a foreign country, especially because this case involved extreme tourism.

I can also add that thanks to well-coordinated actions by the Russian Foreign Ministry, our embassies in Lima and Quito and the Peruvian authorities, the difficult situation with Russian tourists on the border between Ecuador and Peru was resolved. At present, the Russians are safely proceeding with their trip across the Peruvian territory. The group’s leaders are regularly contacting the Russian Embassy in Lima by telephone.

According to the trip’s organizers, three travellers have decided to finish their journey ahead of time and are on their way to Russia. There is no threat to their life or health.

Once again, we strongly recommend to Russian tourist agencies and tourist and geographical societies that they don’t rely on good luck or any private agreements when planning such extreme tours. Instead, they should coordinate in writing the exact dates and routes of their trips with the embassies of the destination countries in Moscow and with Russian diplomatic missions abroad. This is the only way travellers can avoid unpleasant and dangerous incidents.

Isabella Belfer

I would like to pay special attention to a situation with the Russian national Isabella Belfer who has been pardoned in Israel.

On Thursday, Jan. 7, Israeli President Shimon Peres signed a decree pardoning 71-year-old Russian national Isabella Belfer. In 2007, a Tel Aviv district court sentenced her to six years in prison (the term was later reduced to three years) on charges of aiding her daughter in bringing her granddaughter illegally from Israel to Russia.

Isabella Belfer was released on Jan. 8.

The case attracted a lot of attention both in Russia and Israel. The case of Isabella Belfer was repeatedly raised during Russian-Israeli high and top-level contacts, including the bilateral summit in Sochi on Aug. 18, 2009.

The Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv have been consistent in their efforts to resolve this problem.

Moscow is genuinely satisfied with the decision made by the Israeli side.

Article by Aleksandr Saltanov

I would like to say a few words about an interview that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov gave to International Affairs. It is titled “Russia and the Middle East.” It was published by the magazine in December 2009 and is available on the Ministry’s website.

Three ships seized by pirates

We continue following the situation with three ships seized by pirates: the Thai Union 3, the St James Park and the Asian Pride. The safety of the crews, including Russian crewmen, should be a priority. As usual, we are in touch with competent Russian agencies. The situation is unusual. The pirates, as you know, are acting more and more impudently. This once again proves the need to establish clear-cut coordination among various agencies and departments at the national level and exert joint efforts together with other countries.

We maintain close contact with the British and Thai sides and the Bulgarian authorities.

What makes the situation even more difficult is that the pirates demand that the authorities release a group of their supporters, whose criminal activities were stopped earlier with the help of the Russian Navy. It should be taken into account that the pirates may start making similar demands now or in the future. Refusal to grant unrealistic demands and claims by the pirates should not be perceived as lack of regard for the safety of our citizens.

The Russian Foreign Ministry plays an active role in taking all the necessary and possible measures in this situation.

Russian aid to Tajikistan

Now a few words about the humanitarian aid Russia has been providing to Tajikistan as part of the UN World Food Programme.

Since 2005, Tajikistan has regularly been on the list of recipients of Russian relief aid (2005 – $6 million, 2006 – $2 million, 2007 – $3 million and 2008- $2 million).

In 2009, Russia increased its annual donor contribution to the UN programme to $15 million, $5 million of which were allocated for Tajikistan. The Russian Emergencies Ministry’s Emercom agency, which coordinates Russia’s participation in international humanitarian operations, has delivered this sum’s worth of wheat flour to Tajikistan.

Dedication in Kyrgyzstan

I would like to mention that on Jan. 13 there was a ceremony dedicating and raising church bells at the Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God, which opened in 2009 in a village outside Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. The ceremony was attended by the wife of the Kyrgyz president, Tatyana Bakiyeva, various Kyrgyz public figures and staff of the Russian embassy in Bishkek. The consecration service was led by Metropolitan Vladimir of Bishkek and Central Asia.

We believe it to be a significant event in the spiritual life of Orthodox Christians and all ethnic Russians in Kyrgyzstan. The Russian deputy foreign minister, State Secretary Grigory Karasin, sent a message of greetings to them. He stressed that the dedication of the church bells was another good manifestation of historical friendship between the people of our two countries. It speaks of the atmosphere of religious tolerance, mutual respect and accord existing in multi-ethnic Kyrgyzstan.

Irina Skvortsova

The Foreign Ministry, the Russian Embassy to the Federal Republic of Germany and the General Consulate of Russia in Munich follow closely the situation with the Russian bobsledder Irina Skvortsova, who was seriously injured during the competitions in Bavaria on Nov. 23, 2009. German clinics have performed over a dozen extremely complicated surgeries on Ms Skvortsova. Her doctors say her life is no longer in danger, yet her condition is serious, albeit stable.

We note that the Skvortsova incident has attracted a lot of attention in Germany. Bavarian Prime Minister Horst Seehofer, expressed his deep concern with regard to Ms Skvortsova’s accident and pledged, on behalf of the German Bobsleigh, Luge, and Skeleton Federation, every kind of support for the athlete, including her subsequent medical rehabilitation.

We are also monitoring the Bavarian police investigation into the accident. The investigation records are likely to be sent to the prosecution service later this month. Simultaneously the Russian Bobsleigh, Luge, and Skeleton Federation is considering suing the person directly responsible for the accident and the event organisers, who are responsible for the grave mistakes made during the competition. We are willing to provide assistance in this matter. We hope the trial is objective and fair.

Foreign Minister’s upcoming press conference

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold a press conference to sum up Russian diplomatic activities in 2009. The function will take place in the Foreign Ministry’s conference hall on Jan. 22.

Election in Ukraine

Q.: Ukraine’s presidential election is scheduled for next Sunday. Is there any candidate that might be described as preferable for Russia? What shifts does Russia expect in connection with the coming change of leadership in Kiev?

A.: Ukraine will indeed hold a presidential election on Jan. 17. It cannot be ruled out that more than one round of voting will be needed to determine the winner. Under the Ukrainian legislation, a second round, if required, should take place on Feb. 7.

It is with an understandable interest that Moscow is watching how the situation in Ukraine unfolds. A large team of Russian representatives, including those of the Foreign Ministry’s Information and Press Department, is monitoring the Ukrainian elections as part of various international observer missions.

We are not hiding the fact that we are by far not indifferent to what policy the new Ukrainian leadership is going to pursue and how it will shape its relations with Russia. But I would like to stress that the election is a sovereign affair of the Ukrainian people, who, we are sure, are capable of sorting things out on their own and of making the right choice.

We hope that the candidate who receives the majority vote and becomes the president will pursue a responsible, open, respectful and sincere policy with respect to Russia and that he or she will be ready for a mutually beneficial practical co-operation in all areas of our interaction.

Customs Union

Q.: The Belarusian side made a comment a few days ago, saying that the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan lasted only three days. What can the Russian side say about the prospects of the Customs Union?

A.: It is our priority to create conditions for the structure of the Customs Union to take shape, as it is the "core" of integration within the EurAsEC, which other countries can join later whenever they are ready. We are determined to complete this process as soon as possible. This will strengthen the economic stability and the position of EurAsEC member states in the region and the world in general.

In this context, we regard as a very important step the decisions agreed by the three states at the meetings of the EurAsEC Interstate Council (which is the supreme authority of the Customs Union) at the level of the heads of state in Minsk on Nov. 27, 2009, and the EurAsEC Interstate Council at the level of the prime ministers in St. Petersburg on Dec. 11, 2009, pertaining to advancing from the existing free-trade zone to the establishment of a customs union.

The primary purpose of the decision to launch Customs Union mechanisms, made by state leaders on Nov. 27, was to establish a common approach to trade with third countries.

We see the practical effect of launching the Customs Union in that, by July 1, 2010 it will allow to establish a common customs territory with no customs duties and no economic barriers applied within it. The parties will use the same customs tariffs and the same regulations in their trade with third countries.

It was a significant step that gave a new dimension to the entire process when the Customs Union Commission received a number of supranational functions on Jan. 1, 2010. Decisions made by the Commission will be binding for all parties on the national level.

According to the agreed timeline, the Customs Union began functioning on Jan. 1, 2010. We are now working on the next stage, establishing a Common Economic Space. Working groups are being established that will work on implementing the Common Economic Space, as agreed by state leaders during an informal meeting in Almaty on Dec. 19, 2009. We are ready for close co-operation with our Belarusian and Kazakh colleagues. We intend to strengthen the Customs Union, build a common approach to trade with third countries, build a common commodity market and ensure equal conditions on external markets for companies of Union member states. We will resolve all emerging questions as partners by way of dialogue, especially considering the significant experience gained in this area during our work on the Customs Union.

Auschwitz

Q.: Aktualne.cz (Czech Republic). With the 65th anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation of Auschwitz coming up, some foreign media are speculating who will lead the Russian delegation, President Medvedev or Foreign Minister Lavrov. Could you please clarify this?

A.: We are preparing to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the end in World War Two. We attach extreme importance to this date and closely watch the preparations in other countries.
We noticed the reports you have mentioned. It is difficult to comment on media reports that are based on speculation, as you said.

To us, January 27, the day when the Red Army liberated the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, has a special, symbolic meaning. It is a day to remember millions of people: Jews, Poles, Russians, and people of other ex-USSR nations brutally killed by the Nazis. Also, this day reminds us of the historical truth of the USSR's decisive contribution to our common victory over Nazism.

As for the level of the Russian delegation, I can say that the decision will be made soon depending on the format of the planned activities.

Nagorny Karabakh

Q.: What can you say about the Nagorny-Karabakh settlement in the context of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan’s recent visit to Russia and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Yerevan? It was declared that the co-chairs, including Russia, would do all they can to help Armenia and Azerbaijan find a mutually acceptable solution. Don’t you think the differences are too great? What are your hopes based on when you say that such a solution may be found?

A.: The words you have quoted are true. The Nagorny Karabakh issue is duly addressed in our contacts with all OSCE co-chairs and interested parties. The Russian Federation plays an active role in the process. There is little I can add to what has been said already. The problem is quite complex, with many delicate nuances to it. Negotiations, consultations, and exchanges of views on this issue are taking place. The parties promptly release to the media whatever news they deem appropriate to disclose.