Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations

Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations

Press Briefing by First Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy on 28 December 2021

Dmitry Polyanskiy: Despite the fact that everybody is in the New Year mood now, we decided not to cancel this event because this is our tradition to meet with you once a month to answer your questions. So without further ado, I am open to your questions.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, on behalf of the UN Correspondents Association, thank you for this briefing and happy holidays. My question is about the talks that are expected early January between Russia and the United States. Can you tell us what does Russia hope to achieve from these talks? And if you can give us some details, where and when the talks will be held?

My second question is about Syria. There was a huge strike yesterday, last night in Latakia port. It most likely was an Israeli strike. What's your reaction on that? Thank you.

A: I start with the second question. Of course, we do not want any escalation in this region. However, we don't work with “highly likely” information, so we need to investigate it further and understand what has happened. But again, we don't think that any situations of this kind contribute to stability in the Middle East and the situation in Syria as well. That's for sure.

As for the talks, I think I may be the last person who hasn't yet pronounced anything on this, because everybody is speaking, and there have been a lot of details directly from my President, my Foreign Minister, my superiors. I don't think I can add anything here. I heard about the plans to hold these talks in early January. I heard that a meeting with NATO was also proposed by the NATO staff.

As far as I know, the preparations with NATO are ongoing. We yet need to clarify the details of this proposal, because as you know, the problem for us all this time was that we wanted to engage the military people and we had our military people ready, but NATO didn't want to reach this kind of professional result-oriented dialogue. It was eager to flag some political problems. We think it's not the situation which deserves the work of Russia-NATO Council. That's why we need to clarify what our NATO colleagues have in mind.

Russian-American discussions at expert level are ongoing. There will be a meeting, for sure. I don't have confirmation on final place and final date, but it will be early January.

As for what we want, I think we also commented on this many times and this is a serious proposal. First and foremost, we want serious guarantees from the United States and from NATO. We were patient for quite a long time. You surely know this background story: after the Soviet Union ceased to exist, Western leaders made oral promises and gave guarantees that NATO would not be expanding. There were even hopes that NATO would be transformed in some kind of a political organization. There were ideas of NATO merging with OSCE at some point, but those were only theories.

In fact, NATO remained even despite the dissolution of Warsaw Pact. It's difficult to call NATO a defense pact, because it was designed to counter the Warsaw Pact. Once the Warsaw Pact ceased to exist, there was no logic in NATO’s existence. And then, opposite to the logic that we promoted at the beginning of the 90s, there came the expansion of NATO, inclusion of new member states, and placement of serious ammunition and personnel at the eastern border of the Alliance, which is very close to our borders.

We didn't come to NATO’s borders. It was NATO who came to us. This is why we have absolutely legitimate reasons to be worried about it. We promote the principle of indivisible security. According to it, security of one state cannot be ensured at the expense of security of other states. It is the core idea of many documents that were signed at the beginning or in the middle of the 1990s. Now we want to come back to this spirit and we are quite constructive.

I don't think that our colleagues will get away with some “blah-blah-blah thing”, as Greta Thunberg would put it. We really want something serious this time. As my Foreign Minister and my President underlined several times, it was not an ultimatum. It's a constructive proposal, the proposal that works for everybody and that is in everybody’s interests.

Q: Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked Joe Biden, President of the United States, for reliable and legally binding guarantees that NATO will not expand further east now at this point. What is the UN stance on this issue and will the UN get involved if the situation further deteriorates? And my second question would be what is the position of Russia at the UN on the consistent US accusations that Russia is about to invade Ukraine? And do you get a sense where most UN member states stand on these accusations?

A: As far as I understand, the UN is not involved in these discussions at all at this point. First and foremost, it is a bilateral matter between Russia and the United States. I assume that all UN member states would welcome such an agreement and such a move, which would make our world a much safer place. Here I see the interest of the whole UN membership. But UN as an organization is not involved. I haven't heard about anything of this kind.

As for the alleged threats of Russia invading Ukraine, I think this problem can be solved very easily. It was born in the heads of some politicians; therefore it should die in the heads of those same politicians. It only takes a change of attitude, because there is nothing happening on the ground that would justify the position of Western politicians.

Even the numbers of the troops vary greatly. We underline that this is our sovereign territory and we have the right to place and move our troops, conduct exercises. This is our right and we do not have to report to anyone about this. And despite all the allegations of this kind, there has been no significant military activity. So the answer is very simple. Just ask those who are promoting this news to calm down, and then the problem will go away as it was created.

Q: And let me also ask, does the UN support the importance of upholding the Minsk agreement in light of the Russian President saying that Kiev intends to dismantle it?

A: Of course. This I can tell you for sure, because the Minsk Agreement is blessed and given green light by UNSC resolution 2202 of 2015. That's why the implementation of the Minsk Agreement is something that the UN is keeping an eye on. We discuss it on a yearly basis at the UN, and this is a legitimate forum for this kind of discussions.

Q: Fifteen Western countries have denounced the revival of “Wagner” in Mali, which Mali has denied. What is the real position of Russia on this matter?

A: Western media find this story very sexy. I think it may be number two after Ukraine today. To a large extent, it's a product of imagination of our Western colleagues. First and foremost, I personally and my colleagues do not have any information about “Wagner Group”. I don't know whether it exists or not. Even if it does, it's not part of our official toolbox. I assume it might be some private military company. There is a market for such companies with tens or even hundreds of military companies acting abroad and providing their services in the same way as the commodities are being provided.

You can approve or disapprove of this kind of business, but everybody's engaged in it, including our British, American and French colleagues. It's enough to mention some of US mercenaries involved in operations in Venezuela. Some of them were caught, and that's how this whole story of American private military companies acting in Venezuela came to light. Also, I don't remember the exact name of the company, but there were a lot of problems with US private military companies acting in Iraq, for example,

Q: It was Blackwater.

A: Yes, exactly, Thank you very much.

So as for alleged involvement of “Wagner Group”, again, it has nothing to do with any officials in Russia. It's not supported by the state. If it's on the market, so then it's up to any country to choose whether they cooperate with this company or not. And Mali is not an exception. I don't see any reasons why Malian government can't take their sovereign decision to engage with this military company or with a company from another country.

Russia and Mali have established government-level cooperation, but this is a different story, and it has nothing to do with these allegations about the involvement of “Wagner Group”.

Q: Thank you, Ambassador. Thirty years ago, the Soviet Union collapsed. My question is a little bit personal if you allow me. Where were you when that happened and how do you see this event 30 years after? Thank you.

A: A very good question on New Year’s Eve. It was a very interesting period of my life. I was 20 at this time, so I spent part of my life in the Soviet Union, and I can't say that I remember a lot of bad things about the Soviet Union of that time. The latest stage of the Soviet Union was very much different from the one that is usually quoted in the Western media with all the gulags and Stalin with his repressions. We never faced anything like this. We were convinced in our right course, we were all young communists and we were going to pioneer camps and enjoying it very much. Frankly speaking, I still have a lot of friends who came from there, so I have some kind of nostalgia because, you know, when you are young, everything that is happening is somehow better than today. The trees are higher in your childhood, as the proverb goes. The mood was different.

Very few people, frankly, understood what was happening because it was really a wind of change, and nobody could analyze anything. Now, looking back, of course, I have a better understanding of what happened and what should have been done. This was also a consequence of several tragic personal mistakes. I will tell you personally that I think that Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Yeltsin contributed very much to this. All these problems, all this turmoil could have been avoided. I don't know whether the Soviet Union could have been preserved or not. This is a hypothetical question. But a lot of things, a lot of stabs in the neck were made at this point, which unfortunately rendered the whole process irreversible.

It's on the one hand. On the other hand, at this time, everybody was very much, I will say, charmed by the West. Everybody was thinking that people in the West were our friends, that they really were giving us a hand and that we would live in some better place, a better world and nobody would ever remember about the Cold War, about East and West.

The famous Scorpions song “Wind of Change” which was performed in Moscow was really a symbol of that time and a symbol of that mood. But eventually, things have gone other way and very quickly. Very soon we saw that the intentions of our colleagues were not as innocent as it had been presented at the beginning. We saw a lot of Americans and Europeans exploiting our country, trying to split it, crush it, split Russia further, promote separatism in Russia, promote divisions between Russia and the newly emerged states. This is not a secret right now.

And also, we all heard about those pledges that NATO would not go eastwards. It was not a secret. It was shown on TV. There were people from Germany, the United States who approached the microphone and announced publicly that new world was being born and there would be no more NATO, at least no more NATO expansion and so on and so forth. Now they either say that they haven't said this, which is not true, or they bluntly say that they tricked us, which also doesn't add to the trust between the East and West right now.

The first ten years of independent Russia were very difficult, very challenging, and we were really on the brink of a collapse. I remember it quite vividly, and the economic situation was very dire. But then at the beginning of the 2000s, we gradually started to get up on our knees then on our feet. And the moment we kind of restored our national pride and our national capacity to live as independent states, the West and the United States started to perceive us as a threat. Now we have kind of a remake of the Cold War, Cold War 2.0.

I'm putting aside the question of China, which is a separate story. They will tell you themselves how they feel about this. As for Russia, we are really very much puzzled, as the reasons for the East and West confrontation are no longer there. There is no ideology. There is no communist ideology that Russia or anybody else promotes. Our economic structure is very close to that of the United States or any other Western country, but confrontation is there, and the efforts to portray Russia as an enemy are also there. Of course, it brings you to some conclusions that the question was not of ideology, but of geopolitical struggle, which has reemerged right now.

So answering your questions, the feeling is very mixed. But I will tell you that nobody is planning nor trying to recreate the Soviet Union right now in the form that it used to have. There is a famous quote by President Putin, which is always misquoted. When asked about the meaning of the dissolution of the USSR for the world, he answered that it was one of the biggest geopolitical catastrophes of the XX century. That's true. And then he said that those who did't want to recreate the Soviet Union had no heart. And usually people stop there. But the second part of his quote was that those who wanted it back had no brain. And this is really how we feel.

We support the closest possible economic integration. We want friendship with all our neighbors, including Ukraine, first and foremost Ukraine. But nobody's longing for those days and wants to recreate the Soviet Union as a centralized state with its ideology. This is absolutely out of the question. And the younger generation which has emerged has strong patriotic feelings, but they have very little memory of what the USSR was. For them it was a different state. For me, of course, the situation is different.

Q: With the NPT Review Conference coming up next week, could you talk a little bit about Russian objectives for this conference and whether you think realistically anything can come out of it?

A: I believe my colleagues are discussing right now the modalities of the NPT conference, which is supposed to start on January 4. This a Review Conference is a complex event, meaning that there will be a lot of assessments and suggestions of what's going on. There will be different voices about how the NPT regime is being enforced, whether it's efficient or not. There will be heated discussions, for sure. We have our own approach. We also have close coordination with the P5 members of the United Nations Security Council. There are a lot of issues where we see issues eye-to-eye. As for the outcome document, I know that the review conferences sometimes have problems with this. But I wouldn't anticipate the discussion we are all looking forward to. There is every chance to have an outcome document, provided we act in a constructive spirit, listen to each other and don't create unnecessary problems.

Q: I just wanted to ask you that I don't recall you ever saying that Moscow had a government relationship with the Malian government. I assume this is the current military government you're talking about. So maybe you could just describe that relationship. And also, the State Department put out a statement saying that the Wagner Group deal with the Malian government is worth about 10 million a month. And given your relationship with the Malian government, where do you think this money will come from?

A: These are two questions that are not very much related to me and to my work here at the United Nations, especially the second one. As for our relations with Mali, I can tell you that they have always been very friendly. We have long traditions of cooperation and friendship with Malian governments, both with the previous ones and with the current one. For us, it's a legitimate government. There is no doubt about this and we cooperate with it. We don't see any reason why we shouldn't view the cooperation with this government as positive. We want to help the Malian people and we are determined to do so.

I commented on the Wagner Group and on all these allegations. It is difficult for me to imagine what can be invented in the minds of our Western colleagues or our American colleagues. We can't comment on everything, every crazy idea that they have on their mind, on every allegation that they invent because they don't even care to refute any allegations that turned out to be false. They just make new allegations, and everything fits in the picture of malign Russia promoting its malign interests on the African continent. So what you've said now fits very much into this narrative, but it has nothing to do with reality, unfortunately. I'm not in a position to comment on any financial issues or any details of these allegations.

Q: But what do you mean by Russian cooperation with Mali?

A: Government-to-government cooperation in training (and we have always had military cooperation) of the Malian army. But it's not limited to the military issues. It's also cooperation in the field of education, healthcare, and everything that makes a state a state.

We also want Mali to be a strong country. We know that there are serious problems with security. We are very worried to learn that the Malian government has very symbolic control, if any, in the north of the country and now in the middle of the country as well. We don't think it's normal. And we think that it is in our interests and the interests of the whole international community to help Malian government regain control over its territory and help it fight terrorism because the Sahel became a very dangerous region after the Western operation in Libya in 2011.

There are a lot of military groups and terrorists who came to the Sahel, and they are terrorizing all the Sahel states. Mali may be the main and most threatened victim among all the Sahel countries. We think that we should really render our support to Malian state in this regard. This is a totally different story from what is alleged about the “Wagner Group”. I'm speaking about government-to-government cooperation.

Q: Given the news that the Russian Supreme Court has ordered the closure of the rights group memorial. Rights groups have been coming out saying this is part of a trend in Russia, that there's been a crackdown on human rights activists and opposition groups and so on. How would you respond to those accusations? And are you worried that this could come up at the UN, either on the Human Rights Council or some other forum here regarding these accusations?

A: It's very difficult for me to comment on Memorial Group because I don't know the details. There are certain issues with these groups that are being resolved through the law enforcement agencies in my country. I've heard that it is somehow related to the situation of foreign agents in the Russian Federation. As you know, we adopted a law on foreign agents. This means that any organization that has foreign financing should announce this and should be treated as someone who is promoting the interests of another state. Potentially promoting, at least. And one should take this into account when dealing with this state.

Memorial is a very long-acting group. I dealt with this group for many, especially when I was working in Poland and they were dealing with the whole issue of Katyn. Frankly, I had a lot of questions to them, such as their sources of information and the allegations that they were spreading. It was just weird and strange to see serious people spreading all these absolutely unsubstantiated claims. But then I lost the trace of what they were doing. I can't say that they are very notorious in Russia these days.

You mentioned a crackdown on human rights, but what do you mean by this? Again, there are allegations that personalities are arrested or prosecuted, but it's all being tackled through national jurisdiction. There are courts, there are appeal procedures, there are lawyers and lawsuits. I don't think it's something different from Western countries in this regard. There are a lot of cases in Western countries as well that demand attention. And under certain circumstances it can also be viewed as a crackdown on human rights and everything like this. But we do not interfere in the internal affairs of other states, and we don't teach others how they should live and what they should or shouldn't do. That's the big difference between us and Western countries. So it's very difficult for me to comment on the situation in general.

As for whether I was afraid that it might be raised at the UN, we have nothing to be afraid of and to be ashamed of because everything we do – we do it for the benefit of our country and our people. And we have total support of our people in this regard. So why should we be afraid of any discussion of this kind? However, I don't see any reason why it should be raised at the UN at all.

Q: I was just hoping you could tell us about the significance of the nomination of Belarus as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in light of EU-Russia tension and the situation with the Poland-Belarus border disputes, migrants, etc.

A: I haven't heard updates on the recent situation on the Poland-Lithuania border. I heard about some UN agencies finding irregularities in dealing with migrants by all sides. But, as far as I was informed, the accent was made on the unlawful treatment of migrants from the side of Poland, first and foremost.

And this is very good. If you remember, I raised this issue repeatedly when our Western colleagues wanted to discuss the situation on the Belarus-Poland border in the Security Council. And on the margins, when they were making a press statement, they were totally overlooking this issue. But I was, on the contrary, very specific, and said that attention should be given to how Poland and Lithuania were treating the migrants, how they pushed them back against any European and international norms. There were a lot of casualties and a lot of irregularities. There are a lot of NGOs that are not allowed to the Polish and Lithuanian sides of the border areas, whereas there's total transparency on the Belarusian side of the border. They can come and see whatever they want, speak with whomever they want. Far from what we have in Poland and Lithuania. These are clear double standards and the information that international structures have paid attention to it is a bit encouraging.

As for Belarus bidding to be UNSC member in 2024-2025, this is really a very interesting story. Belarus has been on the chart of the Eastern European group as an agreed candidate since 2007, and Slovenia was added there at a later stage. And nobody tried to change this situation. There are nominations for each and every year. This year it's Albania, then it's Belarus, and everything is clear. But all of a sudden, when Western countries realized that Belarus was very likely to get this seat in the Security Council, they just decided to avert this scenario and very rapidly, Slovenia decided to make a nomination for the same period as Belarus and to withdraw from its period that had been planned before. This is a clear provocative step. I do hope that Slovenian bid will fail, because this goes against any rules, any norms of civilized behavior.

This is politically motivated and we will raise this issue. We will show that Belarus was there as an agreed candidate, and there are absolutely no reasons to deny its right to bid for the non-permanent membership at the Security Council. Though we will not disclose our preferences or say whom Russia will support as a P5 state. But this situation is outrageous. I don't have a long institutional memory in the United Nations, but I cannot recall any situation of this kind.

There were conflicting situations in the African group on my memory. Some in the Latin American group. But the situation when somebody just jumps in after many, many years when the candidate was already agreed on is totally political. This is a shame for the European Union and other Western countries.

Q: Ambassador, the security private entities like “Wagner” that you mentioned, we see a lot of exchanging of accusations between Russia and Western countries about how much of these entities are involved in conflicts that are part of the Security Council agenda. Libya is a great example, and we read the UN reports about that now in Mali. Do you see that there is a need for an action in the Security Council to regulate or to shed more light on these entities and maybe to put more pressure on these entities or to have certain frame or anything to discuss this matter in the Council?

A: It depends on what you mean by discussion. Do you mean discussing whether they are private security companies or not? I think it's worthless because they are, as I've told you. They are on the market and unfortunately there is such market. You can support or condemn this. It's your personal position, but this is a fact.

If there are certain irregularities, of course they should be tackled. But those must be neither fake news, nor allegations, but facts. And frankly, we have seen very few facts, if any, about any irregularities. So we refute the information that is circulated in the reports about these facts, and we criticize the panel of experts who produce this kind of unsubstantiated reports. It's sort of, you know, the same sofa experts who do it with Syria and accuse Syrians of irregularities and of using chemical weapons on the basis of video reels from the internet that have been created by the White Helmets and contested by Syrian specialists. This is more or less the same.

We don't see any proof, we just see allegations and that's it. And well, we think that we can't do anything with the fact that there are those security companies. Whether they are involved and if so, the level of their involvement in certain activities should be discovered. As we remember today, there were issues with these Blackwater group in Iraq, with Silvercorp Group in Venezuela, for example. These are the facts that we know.

And once we have facts and information that is really worth consideration, then we can come back to this issue. But so far, these are just allegations and fake news. So, like I said, nothing to speak about.

Q: I've got a question about Syria. And this is on that issue of cross-border aid and cross-line aid. We're coming up to the six-month deadline set out in the most recent Security Council resolution, that's on January 10. The recent SG report said that the cross-border aid remained critical. When we get to this, there might be a disagreement between the different sides in the Council on what the resolution means. From the Russian perspective, does that mean that Bab al-Hawa crossing is automatically renewed for another six months or not?

A: Let's not rush things. It's only December 28 and the issue is to be decided, as you mentioned, on January 9. So we still have a lot of time. Let's not be too quick. We are still considering our position in this regard. We took note of the report of the Secretary-General, and I spoke about it at the relevant meeting of the Security Council. We think that in general it answers the requirements that we set forth in resolution 2585.

However we think, and I also pronounced it quite openly, that our Western partners and the parties could have done more for organizing the cross-line deliveries. We note that the cross-border deliveries are important but we think that there are a lot of unnecessary and artificial hurdles in this regard that cannot be justified. And we all need to work together in good spirits in the Security Council to overcome these hurdles and create the conditions for the implementation of resolution 2585 in terms of making more cross-line deliveries and making them sustainable, implementing early recovery projects, ensuring more transparency of both cross-border and cross-line deliveries. So we believe a lot of efforts still need to be deployed and a lot of things need to be done in this regard. We do not conceal this.

Q: As a follow-up, come January 11. Do you believe Bab al-Hawa should be open or closed?

A: Come January 11? Let it come. Let's wait a little bit.

Q: Since we are at the end of the year and it's a little philosophical. You mentioned China. We know that at the UN you often vote as a bloc geopolitically. How do you describe the relation between Russia and China and a little bit of the history of how we got here? And also how does it relate to the United States?

A: You want history from me? Ok. As you know, our relations with China were not very positive at the moment of dissolution of the Soviet Union. But gradually we started to understand each other much better. Nowadays China is our strategic partner and our most important neighbor-country. China is our most considerable trading partner, and this is enough to pay closest possible attention to the relations with this country.

That's why we made our choice. It was not conditional on all this rift with the West that we experienced at the beginning of the 2010s. It's an issue in itself, so we had to make this pivot towards the East. It was long overdue, regardless of our relations with the West. And again, it's not at the expense of our relations with the West. But the West is turning a blind eye and deaf ear to our positions, preoccupations, and priorities.

That's why we value very much the attitude that our Chinese partners display towards us. We discuss international issues and issues of regional cooperation in a very good spirit, very open-mindedly. There is no mutual pressure, and that allows us to coordinate closely on many issues of international agenda, which we view either identically or very, very similarly. And this, of course, makes us optimistic about our relations with China.

We think that the whole world should benefit from good relations between Russia and China in the regional and in global dimension. So this is an undoubtedly positive trend.

Q: Turkey and Armenia have recently appointed special envoys to normalize relations, and the two countries plan to have talks, possibly in Moscow. No date has been set yet. So my question is, are there any discussions as to when these talks are planned? Do you know? Can you give us a date? Also, does Russia plan to contribute in addition to hosting these talks?

A: It's difficult for me to comment on behalf of my Armenian and Turkish colleagues about the contents of their possible negotiations, the agenda and so on. I don't think we're involved to that extent, but I can definitely tell you that we welcome it. We think that we are in favor of closer regional engagement and we would be very much welcoming the mending of Turkish-Armenian relations. That's why I'm not surprised that the meeting is supposed to take place in Moscow. We are good partners, both with Turkey and with Armenia.

We have been promoting the intensification and improvement of regional ties of economic networks in the region in the context of Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict recently. This was part of the settlement package to establish closer neighborly ties between the two countries, and we very much promote this process. So Turkey was always kept in mind while we were working on these arrangements and of course we are keeping our fingers crossed because it happened before and this is a very fragile process.

Still, there is very little trust among the parties and a lot of suspicion. So we need to overcome this. And if we do, then of course, (I have repeated this several times during this press conference in different contexts, but) the whole world will benefit from this reestablishment of normal neighborly relations between Armenia and Turkey. But again, we are quite far from this. Let's move step by step and encourage possible openings of the two countries towards each other.

Q: Can you look into your crystal ball for the New Year? The obstacles and demands for the JCPOA seem to grow daily on all sides. Do you by any chance, see it? Is there an opportunity for an agreement this year, or is that going to drag out?

A: You know, I am a very big optimist by nature. That's my problem sometimes. So I am very optimistic towards a lot of situations. And I think it's an easier way to live. So I strongly believe that we will succeed relaunching the JCPOA. We have had a very rocky time this year. First of all, we are waiting for the Biden Administration to come back on board. It was a long process lasting for about five months. Then there were elections in Iran and the new Iranian team was formed.

Now the Iranian team is back there and this is the time for really meaningful and substantial discussions. And as far as I am informed, these discussions are going on. As far as i remember, yesterday the eighth round of JCPOA talks was resumed. We have very good professional team in Vienna, headed by Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, my good friend. I am very confident in their diplomatic skills and I know it's not an easy exercise and not an easy ride, but I'm very optimistic.

I think that we have all the necessary conditions for a long awaited success, at which point we could announce that JCPOA is back on track, which will contribute to dissolving tensions in the region.

Q: Demands keep increasing on all sides. I just wonder, how anyone can overcome these obstacles in a very short, well, in a meaningful period of time.

A: That's our job as diplomats to make demands and to accommodate them and then to come to a certain common ground and compromise. That's why there is nothing extraordinary in all sides formulating their demands during the negotiations. That's what the negotiations are for. So I am absolutely sure that my colleagues in Vienna, I mean, not only Russian colleagues, but others are keeping good hold of the situation and will not let it go without control. That's my confidence and that's what my crystal ball tells me.

Q: My question is about the Israeli bombardment of every part of Syria under the open eyes of the Russian Federation. Recently they bombard the Port of Latakia twice. And yet we don't hear much from the Russian Federation. They don't condemn the Israeli raids. Why is that? Since you have an excellent relation with Israel and strategic relation with the Syrian government? How can you allow this to happen?

A: I think there was already question in this regard on the strikes, and I replied that we really need more information to understand what has happened. And in general, we condemn any actions that could aggravate the situation. We never approved of any strikes in this region, including Israeli strikes. But as far as I understand, the issue is complicated by the fact that Israel never admits such strikes. So we need to kind of get information, get more information about what has happened, and we tackle this issue bilaterally with Israel.

We never conceal that we do not approve of such behavior, and I don't have any further details on this. I also, as you did, saw the information about alleged strikes on Syria, and this is very worrying and we should avoid this kind of situation. But we need more information about this to react properly.

Q: How can we believe that the Russian Federation, with all its technical advances, satellites and intelligence, cannot verify that these threats are coming from Israel?

A: Maybe we can verify, but this information doesn't come to me, frankly, so I don't have any official confirmation neither from Israel nor from Russian Federation as to what was behind the strikes or how they were conducted. That is why It's very difficult for me to comment on this situation again. In general, I think that this is a very bad development for the regional stability and security, and we never approve these kind of attacks whoever could have carried them out.

Q: We're only a couple of days away from the Security Council membership changing once again, as it always does every year. Five members leave. Five new ones come. They're not permanent members. They don't carry a veto. But there are some interesting countries in there. As a journalist I immediately think of Brazil and the government of Jair Bolsonaro and perhaps also the UAE joining the Council given it's interesting and growing role in the region. Just from the Russian perspective, what do you think of the new makeup of the Council and how this might create opportunities and difficulties for Moscow in the coming year?

A: Thank you for this question. Indeed, we will have a change of non-permanent membership in the Security Council, and we are looking forward to working with our new neighbors, new colleagues. This always implies something new for the Security Council, and every country that comes usually has a very relative experience, in Security Council matters. So we have to be patient. We have to make these countries better understand the way we work, the limits of our work, and realize the limits of expectations that national capitals sometimes have of the UNSC membership.

There are different constellations and compositions. I can't say that current composition was easy or difficult for us. This is a fact of life. We have countries with different backgrounds, some of them aligning with each other as members of collective West, some of them having their own position. I'm looking at the incoming members. I can't say that we have particular problems with any one of them. We have quite good bilateral relations.

There are nuances, of course. The devil is in the detail. So very much will depend on the development, on the situation in the world. But I am absolutely sure that Security Council will preserve its collective spirit and that we will also try to establish and maintain the best possible personal relations with all the incoming diplomats, which is indispensable for our good tackling of Security Council business.

We respect each other. We sometimes agree or disagree, this is also important but we understand that there is a big responsibility on our shoulders and we need to carry on, keep working together to find compromises, some openings and possibilities to move forward even on the most difficult issues. I think that this year we have been to 99.9% successful in promoting the agenda of the Security Council and avoiding major disagreements. So, hopefully, we will do the same next year as well, and I'm looking forward to welcoming new members on January 1st and to working with them.

Thank you very much. I just wanted to wish everyone a Happy New Year. I think most of you have already had your Christmas. But to those who haven't (like myself), I say Merry Christmas as well. And I'm also looking forward to our meetings, to your questions, to the situations where we can be helpful to you to better understand Russian priorities, Russian politics and maybe the situation in the world from Russian perspective. And hopefully we will end next year with some concrete and palpable results of these negotiations that we are starting in January, which will be very important for the whole world and for the way the international situation will develop in the years to come. Thank you very much. All the best to you.