“START treaty talks have reached final stage”- Foreign Ministry spokesperson

Russia-US START treaty talks have reached the final stage and both sides are trying to ensure the possibility of signing the deal in the near future, said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Andrey Nesterenko.

In his weekly media briefing, Nesterenko elaborated on Russia’s disarmament efforts and recent political events, including the outcome of the Russian Prime Minister’s visit to India, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Konstantin Grishchenko.

Meeting with Jordanian King Abdullah II

Jordan's King Abdullah II paid an official visit to Moscow on March 11. During the visit, he had talks with President Dmitry Medvedev. The parties discussed prospects of cooperation in trade, economic and humanitarian spheres. Special attention was paid to the Middle East peace process.

Detailed information on the visit is available on the Russian President’s website.

The results of Putin's visit to India

At the invitation of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made a working visit to India on March 12. He held extensive talks with Head of the Government of India Manmohan Singh, as well as meetings with the President of India Pratibha Patil, and Sonia Gandhi, President of the Indian National Congress.

The focus of the talks was on practical aspects of Indian-Russian cooperation in high technology industries, especially joint projects in nuclear energy, in the defense industry, and in telecommunications equipment manufacturing. All in all, 14 documents (including contracts) totaling more than $10 billion were signed during the visit.

The most important accords concerned the peaceful utilization of nuclear energy. An intergovernmental agreement for cooperation on peaceful uses of nuclear energy was concluded. The road map for serial construction of nuclear power plants in the Republic of India, signed at the end of the talks, identifies the steps agreed by the parties for continued long-term bilateral collaborative effort in this field.

The parties confirmed their intention to advance Russian-Indian military-technical cooperation. In furtherance of the agreement reached at the talks between President Medvedev and Prime Minister Singh in Moscow in December 2009, a package of contract documents to repair and upgrade the heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser Admiral Gorshkov and to supply India with 29 MiG-29K/KUB carrier-based fighter planes was signed. The parties also discussed issues of further developing a fifth generation fighter and a multi-purpose transport aircraft.

Cooperation on GLONASS satellite navigation, including a joint project for the production in India of ground equipment for receiving GLONASS signals, has moved into practical realization.

The supply of mineral fertilizer and Russian diamonds to India is put on a long-term footing. FosAgro has concluded a major contract for the supply of diammonium phosphate (US$1.5 billion), and ALROSA three contracts for the supply of rough diamonds.

Ample opportunities are opening up for joint projects between Russian and Indian companies in the oil and gas sector. The New Delhi talks resulted in a decision to craft an intergovernmental agreement on the extraction and processing of hydrocarbons in Russia, India and third-party countries. The parties also expressed interest in expanding cooperation in the field of pharmaceuticals.

The successful holding of the Year of Russia in India in 2008 and the Year of India in Russia in 2009 was noted with satisfaction. During the talks it was arranged that an intergovernmental agreement on the mutual recognition of certificates of higher education would be prepared.

The results of a meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Union State

On March 16, 2010, Brest hosted this year’s first meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Union State with the participation of the heads of the governments of Russia and Belarus, Vladimir Putin and Sergey Sidorsky. The meeting substantively examined a broad range of topical questions of bilateral integration cooperation, including in the context of forming a Single Economic Space and the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

The meeting summed up the economic and trade collaboration in 2009, and reviewed the progress achieved in carrying out the two governments’ Joint Action Plan to minimize the effects of the financial crisis. In this regard, the meeting commended its effective realization, resulting in a significant mutual trade growth of 17% at the start of the current year.

The meeting also discussed matters relating to the further development of the legal framework for the Union State in the economic sphere. It approved balances of fuel and energy resources of the Union State for 2010 and predictive supply and demand balances by major types of products of the Union State.

The parties reviewed progress on the Union State program to harmonize labor legislation and social guarantees in Russia and Belarus, and discussed the process of the creation of a single information space, and the activities of the customs and transport authorities of Russia and Belarus.

At the meeting, decisions were taken on a number of union programs to develop new technologies and put them to industrial use.

In connection with the upcoming 65th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War, the parties discussed the course of the preparations for the celebration; in particular, the work on a joint film entitled “Brest Fortress” – the premiere of which is scheduled for 04:00, June 22, 2010 in Brest, which is symbolic.

Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Turkmenistan

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov paid a working visit to Turkmenistan from March 15-16.

He was received by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov of Turkmenistan, and had a conversation with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Rashid Meredov.

The main theme of the talks concerned Russian-Turkmen relations. The parties discussed the state of and prospects for expanding mutually beneficial economic ties, augmenting trade and reinvigorating cooperation with Russia’s regions and Turkmenistan. They noted the positive role of the Russian-Turkmen Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation in developing the bilateral interaction.

More detailed information about the visit is available on the Ministry’s website.

Talks between Lavrov and Hryshchenko

Talks took place on March 16 between Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Konstantin Grishchenko.

The meeting was businesslike and candid. It examined the most topical questions of many-sided Russian-Ukrainian collaboration.

In practical terms, political dialogue between Russia and Ukraine was discussed, along with a concrete schedule with regard to the accords reached by the presidents of the two countries during the official visit of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich to Moscow. Preparations began for the third session of the Russian-Ukrainian Interstate Commission and for the visit to Ukraine by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Lavrov and Grishchenko signed a plan of cooperation between the two foreign ministries for the current year. In particular, a meeting of the Subcommittee on International Cooperation of the Russian-Ukrainian Interstate Commission is to be held in April. As part of its preparations it will be preceded by meetings of the respective working bodies, such as the sub-commissions on border issues, on the Azov-Kerch settlement, on consular cooperation, on the struggle against new challenges and threats, on cooperation in international organizations and on the resolution of regional conflicts.

The ministries’ plans include organizing a traditional meeting of the two foreign ministers with the heads of the border regions of our countries and representatives of the relevant agencies and holding consultations at the level of deputy ministers on European security issues.

The work of the Sub-Commission on the Operation and Presence of the Russian Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian Territory will continue. Expert consultations are to be held on information support for foreign policy, on disarmament and nonproliferation problems, on collaboration within the UN and on CIS-related themes.

A constructive exchange of views took place on individual aspects of humanitarian-historical problems, primarily in connection with the celebration of the 65th anniversary of the Great Victory.

The sides also touched on a number of most pressing international problems, including various aspects of European and regional security and CIS activities. Attention was devoted to settlement of the Transdniester conflict.

The exchange of views was very useful for the elaboration of practical solutions to the tasks facing the ministries of foreign affairs of the Russian Federation and Ukraine in order to further the development of Russian-Ukrainian relations.

Visit to Moscow by Ban Ki-moon

An hour ago, a meeting ended between Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who has arrived in Moscow for a visit, including participation in a meeting of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators at ministerial level, which as you know will be held tomorrow.

Conversation assessments were heard during the joint final press conference, a transcript of which will be posted on the Ministry website.

Hillary Clinton’s visit to Moscow

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Moscow today for a working visit, where she will stay until March 19 to participate in the Quartet ministerial meeting.

In addition to joint participation in the Quartet’s work, Clinton and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold bilateral talks on March 18, during which they plan to consider key issues on the agenda of Russian-American relations, and to exchange views on pressing international problems.

The talks begin at 16:00. A joint press conference will be held at their conclusion.

Meeting of Karasin and Gordon

State Secretary and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Grigory Karasin received on March 17 US Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon, who has arrived in Moscow as part of the working visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Russia.

During the meeting, Karasin and Gordon discussed the situation surrounding Georgia, and prospects for the bilateral relations of Russia and the United States with Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. Separately they considered problems connected with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement.

Ministerial meeting of the Middle East Quartet

Convened in Moscow on Russia's initiative, the Middle East Quartet ministerial meeting will be held at a very acute moment for the peace process and the region as a whole. As a result of the plans announced by Israel for new large-scale construction in Jerusalem, the situation has become very tense. Therefore, collective action and reaction of the Quartet are more than urgent. We will together with our partners try to find ways out of the dangerous impasse in the peace process.

The main purpose of the meeting is to send a clear and strong signal that the international community, through the Quartet, stands for an early resumption of negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, with the ultimate goal of establishing a just and lasting peace in the region. Today, it is extremely important to prevent destabilization in the region and, conversely, try to find a way towards a compromise in respect of the restoration of the Palestinian-Israeli dialogue.

One important outcome of the meeting should be a confirmation of the well-known international legal basis for settlement – the Road Map, relevant UN resolutions, the Madrid principles, and the Arab peace initiative. Only on this basis, including also negotiations on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks, can a comprehensive and lasting peace be achieved in the Middle East.

It is expected that the Quartet at the end of its meeting will adopt a final statement laying out its approaches on all issues discussed.

Outcome of the 15th meeting of the MFA Council of Heads of Subjects of the Russian Federation

The 15th meeting of the Foreign Ministry’s Council of Heads of Subjects of the Russian Federation was held in Moscow on March 17 under the chairmanship of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Taking part in the work of the Council were the Presidents of the Republic of Bashkortostan, the Republic of Buryatia and the Chechen Republic, the Kursk Region Governor, the representatives of the administrations of Krasnodar Territory and the Tyumen Region, as well as senior officials from the Russian Presidential Administration, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Regional Development, Economic Development, Education and Science, and Culture, the Federal Agency for CIS Affairs, Compatriots Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation, and the Federal Agency for Tourism.

The meeting focused on cooperation with Russia’s regions and international organizations of the UN system and on the task of using more actively the capabilities of the subjects of the Russian Federation in the training of foreign citizens and overseas compatriots in Russian colleges and universities.

A report on the experience of interaction with organizations of the UN system was delivered by Murtaza Rakhimov, President of the Republic of Bashkortostan. The Council examined prospects for cooperation by Russia’s regions with operational funds, programs and specialized agencies of the UN system, and noted the expediency of putting these relationships on an equal partnership footing, taking into account Russia's graduation into the category of donors of international development assistance. In this context, an important role is to be played by greater coordination between the executive bodies of the subjects of the Federation, and the Foreign Ministry and other relevant ministries and agencies in questions of expert examination and monitoring of UN projects in the Russian Federation.

Deputy Minister of Education and Science of the Russian Federation Vladimir Fridlyanov, Kursk Region Governor Alexander Mikhailov and Rossotrudnichestvo Head Farit Mukhametshin, in their reports, called for stepping up cooperation by the relevant federal executive bodies with the subjects of the Russian Federation in organizing the admission of foreign citizens and overseas compatriots to our universities and colleges. The meeting decided to promote more active participation of Russia’s regions in the export of educational services.

Also, the Council heard the Ministry’s communication on progress in the implementation of the proposals of the “East of Russia and Integration in the Asia-Pacific Region” conference held in Moscow in July 2009.

The Council adopted the appropriate recommendations on the issues discussed.

Meeting of CIS Foreign Ministers Council

We received the following question from RIA Novosti: What are the agenda and major topics of the CIS Foreign Ministers Council scheduled for March 26?

The CIS Foreign Ministers Council (FMC) will meet in Moscow on March 26, 2010. It will be presided over by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation as the country chairing the CIS during 2010. The agenda includes 18 items concerning various areas of multilateral cooperation within the Commonwealth.

Themes relating to the 65th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War will occupy a special place. The Foreign Ministers will consider a draft of a Message of the Heads of the Member States of the Commonwealth of Independent States to the Frontline Veterans and Home Front Workers of the Member States of the Commonwealth on the Occasion of the Victory Anniversary Celebration. In the case of an appropriate FMC decision the document will be submitted to the Heads of State at an upcoming informal CIS summit in Moscow on May 8. It is also planned to discuss assistance to CIS veterans’ organizations in coping with the socially significant tasks before them and the holding in the educational institutions of the CIS member states of a single day dedicated to the Victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.

Foreign policy cooperation among the CIS states features prominently on the agenda. It is planned to hold an in-depth exchange of views on topical international policy issues, particularly with regard to the activities of the OSCE in the context of Kazakhstan's chairmanship of the body in 2010, as well as the promotion of Russia's initiative for a European Security Treaty. The ministers will review the implementation of the 2009 Plan of multi-level inter-foreign ministry consultations within the CIS framework and approve a plan for 2010.

Traditionally, considerable attention will be given to humanitarian cooperation. In particular, as part of education cooperation development the ministers will consider a draft decision bestowing upon the federal state institution “Moscow State University of Geodesy and Cartography” the status of the CIS member states’ basic organization for the training of personnel in geodesy, cartography, cadastre, and remote Earth probing.

A solid cluster of issues deals with security and cooperation among law enforcement agencies. In particular, the ministers will consider the draft decisions proposed by member states on the interstate search for wanted persons, on anti-corruption efforts and on the introduction of amendments and modifications to the Statute on the CIS Coordination Council of Prosecutor General.

A Draft Protocol Modifying the Agreement on the Formation of the Council of Heads of Migration Agencies of the Commonwealth of Independent States will be discussed.

As part of streamlining military cooperation, a Draft Protocol Amending and Modifying the Agreement on Cooperation in Ensuring the Uniformity of Measurements in the Armed Forces of the States Parties to the Agreement on Pursuing an Agreed Policy on Standardization, Metrology, and Certification is expected to be considered.

There is to be a discussion on the work of the CIS in the field of election monitoring in member states and on ways to improve the activities of CIS observation missions and the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly as an important factor in ensuring the objective and balanced character of international observation of elections in the post-Soviet space.

The ministers will consider the interim results of the realization of the Plan of Basic Measures to Implement the CIS Further Development Concept, as adopted by the Heads of State in October 2007. In this regard it is planned to exchange views on making possible adjustments to the Plan to have it updated in the light of the objectives of streamlining the work of the Commonwealth and of its mechanisms.

The ministers need to agree on issues relating to the dates for the forthcoming meetings of the Councils of Heads of State and Government, as well as take some decisions of an institutional and personnel character.

Disarmament problems

We received a number of questions from the German radio station Deutschlandfunk on disarmament problems.

So we are being asked: President Medvedev proposes the concept of a single security zone from Vancouver to Vladivostok. How can that contribute to disarmament?

Naturally, the continuation of the disarmament process is possible only with a reduction of tension in international relations and the creation of an atmosphere of equal security for all its potential participants. The initiative put forward by the President of Russia for creating a single security zone stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok, the first step towards the realization of which should be a European Security Treaty, is designed to, inter alia, create conditions for deeper cuts in both conventional and nuclear weapons on a multilateral treaty basis.

The next question concerned the intention of US President Barack Obama to significantly limit the arsenals of nuclear weapons while not abandoning the development of the United States’ own missile defense system. How does the Foreign Ministry of Russia regard this position?

I can say that the relationship between offensive (including nuclear) and defensive weapons is a truth that does not require proof. The unlimited deployment by a state or military-political bloc of missile defense systems could undermine international efforts for genuine nuclear disarmament. Therefore, we propose undertaking joint efforts in the field of a collective missile defense system with equal access to its management and resources. The first step in creating such a missile defense system should be a joint assessment of missile challenges. Such work is being carried out by Russia with the US and NATO.

I was also asked to comment on how we understand the notion of “nuclear disarmament” used in the course of the negotiations on strategic offensive arms. Does this imply merely the separation of warheads from missiles or complete disposal of warheads? Which interpretation of the notion do you support?

In answering this question, I can say that in the SOA negotiations we rely upon the notion of “nuclear disarmament” viewed in the context of Article VI of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The question is one of a comprehensive long-term strategy for a balanced and phased reduction of nuclear arsenals while observing the principle of equal and indivisible security for all.

Russia contributes significantly to the process of nuclear disarmament. In accordance with the agreement of Presidents Medvedev and Obama of July 6, 2009, negotiations are continuing on a new full-fledged agreement on further reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms, to fix lower limits for nuclear warheads and their delivery vehicles (intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers), as well as procedures for their elimination. Overall, in our judgment, the negotiations have reached the final stage – most of the document text is agreed. And the mindset on both sides is to ensure the possibility of signing a new treaty in the nearest future.

And one more question from the German radio station, which reads as follows: “Highly enriched uranium from Soviet warheads currently in the United States has become a significant source of energy, constituting 10% of the country's energy balance. Do you support the approach whereby a renewed Russia-US HEU-LEU contract, beneficial to both partners, will play a role in the SOA negotiations?

On this question I can answer as follows. Indeed, about 10% of the total electricity production in the US comes from the LEU received under the Russia-US HEU-LEU Agreement of 1993.

At present Russia has more than 350 metric tons of HEU converted to LEU, which is equivalent to about 14,000 nuclear warheads.

We will complete the execution of this Agreement, as scheduled, in 2013. Now commercial contracts are being negotiated and concluded for the supply of LEU to the United States after 2013. Contracts as part of the implementation of the HEU-LEU Agreement are not connected with the ongoing negotiations for a new START Treaty.

As to the question about the notion of Global Zero (Global Nuclear Zero), we commented on it during our recent briefing on March 4, the materials of which are available at the Foreign Ministry website in the Briefing section.

The events in Riga of March 16, 2010

The event held in Riga on March 16 – the march of former Latvian Waffen SS legionnaires and their supporters – cannot but cause legitimate indignation. And although Latvian statesmen before this event in every way showed that Riga does not officially support the ideologies of Nazi collaborators, but merely “ensures the realization of the right to freedom of assembly,” the engagement of the authorities, including Interior Minister Linda Murniece, to “defend” the march has clearly shown these statements for what they are.

We hope that authoritative international organizations such as the OSCE and the Council of Europe, as well as the leadership of the European Union, professing a commitment to the struggle against neo-fascism, xenophobia and racism, will not be aloof, but will, at last, give an objective assessment of this annual march in Riga. It can only be described as a mockery of the memory of the tens of millions of civilians tortured to death and burned alive in the crematoria of Nazi concentration camps and of the millions who died on the battlefield for the liberation of the peoples of Europe from the brown plague.

The domestic political situation in Afghanistan

The situation in Afghanistan is still far from stable. Extremists, despite the efforts of the Afghan armed forces and foreign military presences, are expanding their sphere of activities, including in Kabul and the previously relatively peaceful northern provinces of Afghanistan.

The series of terrorist attacks in the city of Kandahar, which killed over 30 people, including 13 Afghan policemen and a citizen of Pakistan, was another manifestation of subversive terrorist activities.

These attacks triggered a retaliatory action by the Afghan authorities. According to a statement of the Afghan Interior Ministry leadership, IRA President Hamid Karzai ordered the dispatch of additional units of national security forces to Kandahar.

Scheduled for the spring of this year is a large-scale joint antiterrorist operation in Kandahar province with the participation of units of the Afghan National Army and International Security Assistance Force, by analogy with the operation in Helmand province, the active phase of which ended in early March of this year.

The piracy situation off the Somali coast

We received the following questions from the newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta. From the vantage point of the Foreign Ministry – what should be done in order to fundamentally change the critical situation with Somali piracy? When and with whom could a uniform legal framework be developed in order to be able to lawfully and fairly judge the Somali pirates for their deeds?

I will answer. Somali pirates are indeed becoming ever more active. Despite the measures taken by the international community, the number of pirate attacks in 2009, compared to 2008, only increased. Moreover, the pirates have spread their activities far beyond the Gulf of Aden – to the extensive waters of the northwestern Indian Ocean. Making attacks in small speedboats, they use the earlier captured vessels as floating bases.

The states and their associations which are parties to the international anti-piracy coalition intend to increase efforts to ensure the safety of maritime commercial shipping in the Horn of Africa area. To this end, more and more naval ships are being sent there, aircraft are being more widely used, coordination and interaction between the ships of navies and their groups deployed there are being improved and communication channels streamlined.

However, according to the dominant view, security measures at sea alone are not enough. It is almost generally acknowledged that the pirates need to be fought on shore as well. This refers not only to military action against, say, the port facilities used by pirates and the like, but also to complex, extensive prevention efforts aimed at eliminating the causes contributing to the emergence and spread of the phenomenon of piracy.

Among those reasons: the twenty-year war in Somalia, which has practically led to the disintegration of the state, including its power structures, and the loss by the federal government of control over a significant part of the territory of the country. Of course, the severe plight of the population is a major factor stimulating Somalis to engage in piracy.

Many states offer various forms of help to the Somali government that includes assistance in many areas, like training and equipping personnel for the security agencies of the Somali government, which would be in a position to undertake the primary task of preventing piracy on the coast.

It is equally indubitable that economic assistance will be expedient only with the country’s return from chaos and lawlessness to more or less orderly governance. In other words, as law and order are strengthened, Somalia will be provided with aid oriented towards sustainable economic and social development of the country. Taken together, all these efforts should lead to a complete victory over piracy.

Answering the second part of the question, I can say the following: the problem of bringing piracy suspects to justice is conditioned by several factors, of which the principal ones are the establishment by states of their jurisdiction and the compatibility of the rules of criminal procedure. As you know, several states have sent their naval units to confront Somali pirates and have concluded with some regional countries bilateral agreements on the transfer of detained pirates to those countries to face trial. Practice shows, however, that such bilateral agreements are not a reliable and durable solution to the problem of bringing pirates to justice.

The position of Russia in this regard presumes the desirability of having a universal solution, which obviously must be a multilateral one. Probably, the United Nations is the most appropriate international forum for developing and adopting the relevant kind of decisions. I can also add that this topic was discussed today during the meeting between Sergey Lavrov and Ban Ki-moon.

On the death of the Cyprus policeman who took part in the operation to rescue a Russian family

As you know, on the night of March 15-16 near Paphos (Cyprus) a storm wave turned a yacht over that was carrying a Russian family (presumably from Yaroslavl): spouses Aleksey and Lyudmila Zavarzin, their three-year-old son and ten-month-old daughter.

During the rescue operation, as a result of which Aleksey Zavarzin and his two children were rescued (Lyudmila Zavarzin has still not been found and is considered missing), one of the rescuers – 29-year-old Cyprus policeman Andreas Georgiou – perished.

In connection with this tragic accident, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has sent a telegram to the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Cyprus, Markos Kyprianou, expressing condolences to the family and friends of the man who showed heroism and courage and gave his life to save others.

On the provisions of the EU Visa Code

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that on the Ministry website is posted the text of the EU Visa Code, which contains information on the conditions of obtaining Schengen visas for Russian citizens.

On the adoption by the European Parliament of a resolution condemning the human rights situation in Belarus

At the last briefing I was asked a question by a correspondent of Regnum News Agency concerning the EP resolution condemning the human rights situation in Belarus.

I would like to answer the question thus. Russia's principled position is that human rights promotion and protection should not be used as an instrument of political pressure on individual states. We are categorically against the practice of “punishment” of states by so-called country resolutions, which leads only to their further self-isolation from participation in international cooperation in the human rights sphere.

A positive alternative to country resolutions is the Universal Periodic Review procedure, set up by the UN Human Rights Council, which is mandatory for all UN member states. The review involves a state’s comprehensive report on the human rights situation in it, as well as on its fulfillment of its international obligations in this area. As regards to Belarus, it will go through the Universal Periodic Review procedure in May 2010.

What is noteworthy is the genuine interest on the part of the European Parliament to discuss human rights issues in third countries and to actively use the practice of “double standards” in the process. For example, the EP does nothing to solve the chronic problem of mass non-citizenship in its members Latvia and Estonia. A typical example: the reports published on March 2, 2010, by the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance on the human rights situation in Estonia, Austria, Britain and Albania. The report on Estonia convincingly attests to the systematic infringement of the rights of the Russian-speaking minority in that country. However, these documents remained unnoticed by the human rights zealots from the European Parliament. Such a selective approach to the problem in our view is unconstructive and is not conducive to the development of trustful partnerships with the European Union.

Responses to media questions:

Question: How does the Foreign Ministry assess the situation in Greece, which has recently been experiencing serious political and financial difficulties?

Answer: Indeed, the situation in Greece is complicated. We see it from media reports.

I can only say that Greece has been and remains not only a traditionally friendly country to Russia, but also our important international partner, including in the trade and economic sphere. The acute financial and economic crisis facing the world today has affected all countries, including Greece. I sincerely wish our friends and partners an early solution to their problems. And let’s hope that the Greek government will handle this.

Question: How is the situation evolving around the case of Robert Rantala?

Answer: Before the briefing, we clarified the latest information on developments at our Embassy. Pavel Astakhov, Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights, is currently in Finland to assist in resolving the situation with the seven-year-old Russian boy Robert Rantala, whom Turku’s social care authorities placed in an orphanage in February this year, as well as to examine other similar cases.

For Astakhov, meetings are organized with Finland’s Ombudsperson for Children Maria Kaisa Aula and with representatives of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, with Robert Rantala and his parents, Inga and Veli-Pekka Rantala, with senior officials of the social services of Turku, Parliamentary Human Rights Ombudsman Petri Jaaskelainen, and the Finnish President’s legal adviser Jukka Lindstedt.

Of course, our Embassy and Consulate General continues to be in close touch with both Astakhov and the Finnish authorities for resolving the situation.

We believe it would be appropriate to comment in greater detail on this matter, taking into account the outcome of these meetings.

Question: You said that the treaty on strategic offensive arms will be signed shortly. You also mentioned that the obstacle to its signature was a mismatch in the Russian and US positions on the issue of missile defense. Does this mean that the question of missile defense is now removed from the agenda?

Answer: I did not say anything about any obstacles. I set out the missile defense theme in my answers to the specific question of the German radio station.

Several times Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke about signing-related issues. To this I can add nothing more.

Question: You mentioned the meeting of Grigory Karasin with Philip Gordon, and that the theme of Georgia was touched upon. Can you give us any details?

Answer: I do not have more detailed information.

Question: Today, a Polish newspaper published an article stating that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at the upcoming meeting with Donald Tusk at Katyn on April 7 intends to hand over a list of four thousand Polish citizens who were shot in 1940 by the NKVD. Ostensibly, such documents are kept in Moscow. Is this true?

My second question is whether an official notification of Polish President Lech Kaczynski’s visit to Katyn on April 10 has been received?

Answer: With regard to the lists, I cannot say anything concrete. I can say that the meetings you mentioned are being actively prepared. So far, I have no information about their specific content in the part concerning this tragedy. But the preparation is underway.

On the second question I have no information as yet.

Question: Does Russia intend at tomorrow's Quartet meeting to reiterate the proposal for holding a Middle East conference in Moscow?

Answer: I do not rule out that this topic will be discussed tomorrow. Let us wait for the end of the discussion. So far there are only the intentions, which I have already described in detail.

Question: What items exactly does the plan of cooperation signed between Russia and Ukraine include?

Answer: On this subject quite a lot of information has been published. I advise you to turn to the sources where these problems are set out in detail: the websites of the Russian President and Foreign Ministry.

Question: What was the main obstacle to the signing of an SOA treaty?

Answer: Neither the Russian nor the American side has said that there are “major”, “secondary”, or “tertiary” obstacles. The idea was that we discussed with the American colleagues all those issues that were of interest to each of the parties. All this was done in a mutually respectful manner, intensively, because the presidents of the two countries followed the negotiation process. The heads of the delegations reported regularly on progress. There was a normal, intensive, energetic work with the intention to reach a common agreement as soon as possible. As Minister Lavrov has noted, the greater part of the document is agreed. There were some technical matters arising, which the negotiators removed. It concerns the work on a very lengthy annex to the treaty and translation (the Russian and English texts must be checked against each other). Again, the document is voluminous and, of course, it will have historic significance. This work is now being finished.