Official Russia reacted to the decision by the Trump administration to attack the Syrian regime's Shayrat airbase, from where the chemical weapons attack on the Syrian village of Khan Sheikhoun was launched. Russia predictably condemned the attack as a violation of international law and claimed that America had reverted to its unilateralist behavior in acting without consultation and without a UN mandate. Perhaps with an eye of exploiting the still open wound in American opinion about the Iraq war, numerous spokesmen compared the attack to the run-up to the Second Gulf War when the U.S. invaded Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein claiming that Saddam had concealed weapons of mass destruction. The current American charges against Bashar Assad were equally mendacious, and it was necessary to prevent a repetition of the Iraqi tragedy. Moreover, the attack weakened the coalition against ISIS and perhaps confirmed the worst fears about America's surreptitious collaboration with the terrorists.
Others claimed that the entire chemical weapons attack was either a provocation by the jihadists to unravel the coalition against Islamic terror or even a master stroke by the Russophobic American establishment to derail Trump's policy of rapprochement with Russia.
There were cracks in the universal wall of condemnation. Some analysts understood the realpolitik behind the American attack. There was no reason for excessive responses as Russia's military and political reputation had not been harmed by the attack and the damage done was easily reparable. Others warned against letting things get out of hand in the torrent of recriminations or argued that this was window dressing concealing the fact that real negotiations between the U.S. and Russia were about to begin. US-Russian cooperation was essential they argued for a political solution in Syria.
We present a roundup of Russian official and elite opinion:
Kremlin Spokesman Peskov: 'Putin Considers The U.S. Strikes Against Syria An Aggression Against A Sovereign Country'
Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov: "President Putin considers the U.S. strikes against Syria an aggression against a sovereign country violating the norms of international law, and under a trumped-up pretext at that... The fact that all Syrian armed forces’ chemical weapons stockpiles were eliminated was registered and confirmed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a specialized UN unit... Putin believes that total disregard for the use of chemical weapons by terrorists only exacerbates the situation significantly... Putin also sees the strikes on Syria by the U.S. as an attempt to divert the attention of the international community from numerous civilian casualties in Iraq. Washington’s move impairs the Russian-U.S. relations, which are in a deplorable state, substantially. And, most importantly, Putin believes that this step does not bring us closer to the ultimate goal in the fight against international terrorism. On the contrary, it creates serious obstacles to efforts to forge an international coalition to fight against it and effectively counter this global evil. By the way, U.S. President Donald Trump proclaimed this as one of the key objectives during his election campaign."
(Rbth.com, April 7, 2017)
Lavrov: ' It Looks As If The Intention Was To Distract Public Attention From Jabhat Al-Nusra'
As opposed to President Putin, who elected to respond to the attack via a spokesman rather than himself ,Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov played the bad cop by launching a broadside at the Americans and invoking the parallel to Iraq: " The situation is reminiscent of 2003, when the United States, Britain and some of their allies invaded Iraq without the approval of the UN Security Council and in violation of international law. But they at least tried to provide material evidence to justify the invasion. Colin Powell, my good friend, had been misinformed by the CIA, who gave him a vial with some white substance; it was tooth powder, I believe. He presented this vial at the UN Security Council claiming that it contained anthrax. This time they did not even try to provide any hard facts. They have only shown photographs, again speculating on children and the alleged evidence from various NGOs, including the crooks from the White Helmets, who stage various situations to provoke action against the Syrian Government.
"I have mentioned the invasion of Iraq. Approximately 10 years later, Tony Blair, who was UK Prime Minister at the time of the invasion, admitted that they had used misleading intelligence. I don’t know when we will find out the whole truth behind the decision to deliver air strikes at Syria, but I think that we must demand the truth. This is what we will be doing.
"Once again, this makes us wonder whether Jabhat al-Nusra, which keeps changing shapes and names, is viewed by our Western partners as an organisation that should be preserved even though the UN Security Council has declared it a terrorist organisation. When the US-led coalition delivered strikes against some ISIS positions during the Obama administration, it spared the territories held by al-Nusra. As we said, there are grounds to believe that the territory in the Idlib Province the Syrian Air Force bombed was controlled by al-Nusra, which had units, weapons and military equipment in the target area. It turned out that there was also a chemical weapons factory there. We provided this information without claiming it to be the ultimate truth. We said that this is the information we have at our disposal and requested that OPCW experts be dispatched to the area to look at the situation on the ground. The US strikes were delivered before the OPCW inspectors went to Syria to investigate the attack. It looks as if the intention was to distract public attention from Jabhat al-Nusra, which is still considered by some as a reserve force for transitioning from talks to the change of government in Syria.
"When you stop to think who will benefit from this, the answer is that this will only benefit those who want to derail the Geneva and Astana processes and create evidence, pretexts and motives for moving from a political settlement to the change of government through the use of armed force. Jabhat al-Nusra and those who are cooperating with it – there are many of them – would be useful in this case.
"Of course, it is regrettable that this is damaging Russian-US relations, which are already in poor shape. I hope these provocations will not produce irremediable results, although the media are citing joyful statements by former members of the Obama administration to the effect that Russian-US cooperation looks utterly unrealistic after these strikes. I hope they will be brought to shame, although we will draw conclusions from this situation regarding the future of our relations with Washington.
(Mid.ru, April 7, 2017)
Russia's Foreign Ministry: 'There Is No Doubt That The Military Action By The U.S. Is An Attempt To Divert Attention From The Situation In Mosul'
Lavrov's Foreign Ministry echoed its boss in absolving the regime of involvement in the sarin attack and introduced a new rationale for the American strike. The US military action in Syria was intended to divert attention from the toll in civilian lives exacted by U.S. airstrike in Iraq: "... The U.S. opted for a show of force, for military action against a country fighting international terrorism without taking the trouble to get the facts straight. It is not the first time that the U.S. chooses an irresponsible approach that aggravates problems the world is facing, and threatens international security. The very presence of military personnel from the U.S. and other countries in Syria without consent from the Syrian government or a UN Security Council mandate is an egregious and obvious violation of international law that cannot be justified. While previous initiatives of this kind were presented as efforts to combat terrorism, now they are clearly an act of aggression against a sovereign Syria. Actions undertaken by the U.S. today inflict further damage to the Russia-U.S. relations.
"Russia has expressed on numerous occasions that it was ready to cooperate on resolving the most urgent issues the world is facing today, and that fighting international terrorism was a top priority. However, we will never agree to unsanctioned action against the legitimate Syrian government that has been waging an uncompromising war on international terrorism for a long time.
"Seeking to justify military action Washington has totally distorted what had happened in Idlib. The U.S. could not have failed to grasp the fact that the Syrian government troops did not use chemical weapons there. Damascus simply does not have them, as confirmed a number of times by qualified experts. This was the conclusion reached by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Over the recent years this organization inspected almost all the facilities linked or possibly linked to Syria’s chemical weapons program. As for Idlib, the terrorists operating there used to produce toxic land mines intended for use in Syria and Iraq. These manufacturing facilities were put out of operation in a military operation carried out by the Syrian air force.
"The U.S. pretends that it does not understand obvious things, turning a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons in Iraq, officially confirmed by Baghdad. The U.S. refuses to believe the evidence provided by certified documents confirming the use of chemical weapons by terrorists in Aleppo. In doing so, the U.S. is abetting international terrorism and making it stronger. New WMD attacks can be expected.
"There is no doubt that the military action by the U.S. is an attempt to divert attention from the situation in Mosul, where the campaign carried out among others by US-led coalition has resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties and an escalating humanitarian disaster.
"It is obvious that the cruise missile attack was prepared in advance. Any expert understands that Washington’s decision on air strikes predates the Idlib events, which simply served as a pretext for a show of force. Russia suspends the Memorandum of Understanding on Prevention of Flight Safety Incidents in the course of operations in Syria signed with the U.S..."
(Mid.ru, April 7, 2017)
Russian Deputy Ambassador To UN: Era Of Western Ultimatums Is Over, World Has Become Multipolar
On April 7, Russian Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Vladimir Safronkov, said on a meeting of the UN Security Council: "We call on the United States to immediately halt aggression, join the political efforts and start a coordinated struggle against the terrorist threat. We remain ready to cooperation of this kind." He then added: "We either cooperate professionally, or the ultimatums will fail. This won’t work. The world has become very complicated and multipolar."
(Tass.com, April 7, 2017)
Safronkov at UN (Image: Rt.com)
Russia Suspends Air Space Deconfliction Agreement With The U.S. – Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman: 'The American Cruise Missile Strike Had Been Planned Long Before This Event'
Perhaps the harshest accusations of American bad faith came from Russian defense sources. The accusations went beyond blaming the U.S. for sabotaging the anti-terror coalition but actually insinuated that the Americans were in collusion with the terrorists. The airstrike on Shayrat was not a response to an alleged atrocity but was timed to assist Islamic terrorists. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the following: "These actions by the American party are considered a serious violation of the Memorandum on prevention of incidents and providing security during operations in the air space of Syria signed in 2015. The Russian Defense Ministry suspends the cooperation with the Pentagon within this Memorandum.
"All the accusations against Damascus that it had violated the Chemical Weapons Convention of 2013 given by the U.S. as reasons for the strike are groundless.
"The Russian Defense Ministry has repeatedly explained that the Syrian troops had not used chemical weapons. The Russian military department is looking forward to receiving explanations from the U.S. concerning the existence of irrefutable proof that the Syrian army had used chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun.
"It is to be stressed that in the years 2013-2016 the Syrian government undertook all measures to eliminate chemical weapons, its delivery systems, production facilities. All chemical weapons stocks have been eliminated. The components for their production have been transported from the Syrian Arab Republic to the enterprises of the United States, Finland, Great Britain, and Germany where they have been destroyed.
"The U.S. administrations have changed but the methods for unleashing wars have remained the same since bombardments of Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya. Allegations, falsifications, grandstand playing with photos and test-tubes with pseudo results in international organizations became the reason for aggression initiation instead of an objective investigation.
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"It is to be stressed that a large-scale offensive of the ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra armed formations has been launched right after the massive missile strike against the Syrian Air Base. The Russian Defense Ministry hopes that the activities of the insurgents had not been coordinated with the American party.
"Today, it is obvious that the American cruise missile strike had been planned long before this event. It is necessary to conduct reconnaissance operations, to plan and prepare the missile flight paths, and put them on full combat alert.
"It is clear for any specialist that the decision for the missile strike on Syria had been made well in advance of the events in Khan Sheikhoun, which have become just a formal reason for the attack, while the demonstration of military power has been dictated only by reasons of internal policy.
"In the near future, the effectiveness of the Syrian Armed Forces air defense system will be improved in order to cover the most important objects of the Syrian infrastructure."
(Mil.ru, April 7, 2017)
Konashenkov could not resist the Iraq parallel: "Dozens of representatives from the media, local administration, fire services, police, let alone the Syrian military, have visited the aerodrome. At Shayrat they have not seen depots or moreover chemical ammunition, all the people at the aerodrome do not wear masks and feel absolutely well. This raises a question: who and what once again had been presented to another U.S. president as a 'proof' of 'chemical weapons' in a country disagreeable to Washington?" He then added: "Once again this resembles the story with Colin Powell’s white powder or reports to the UK prime minister about the claimed chemical weapons in Iraq."
(Tass.com, April 8, 2017)
Igor Konashenkov (Image: Suchtv.pk)
State Duma Speaker: 'This Is An Act Of Aggression On The Part Of The U.S'
Russia's legislative leaders joined the chorus of outrage. Vyacheslav Volodin State Duma Speaker said : "We must depart from the premise that the airstrike were delivered against a sovereign government – a UN member and this is an act of aggression on the part of the U.S., an aggression on absolutely invented pretexts. Everyone remembers that type of pretext was used in order to put in motion the military actions in Iraq... Chemical weapons were not found as a result they said that there had been an error it cost tens and hundreds of thousands of lives. The very same thing can also occur in Syria. Therefore it is necessary to do everything in order not to allow that scenario to repeat itself."
(Rbc.ru, April 7, 2017)
Senator Morozov: 'The Attack On The Airbase Is Reminiscent Of The Bombing In Yugoslavia, Intervention In Iraq…'
Senator Oleg Morozov, a member of the International Affairs Committee of the Federation Council were acting according to form : "The attack on the airbase is reminiscent of the bombing in Yugoslavia, intervention in Iraq, ruining Libya and other US actions disregarding international law. Now it's completely obvious that the Idlib chemical attack was an American provocation in order to justify the strike against the airbase."
(Ria.ru, April 7, 2017)
MP Leonid Slutzky, chair of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs: "The United States’ actions show that it is ready to do whatever it takes to topple Assad’s regime despite Washington’s recent statement saying that only the Syrian people will decide Assad’s future… the U.S., as usual, is acting based on double standards, using force while there is no solid evidence, and turning a blind eye to the fact that terrorists used chemical weapons in Iraq’s Mosul a few weeks ago. We all remember well Colin Powell’s address to the United Nations in February 2003 which led to the military intervention in Iraq. But it seems that the US hasn’t learned the lesson of the Iraqi campaign, though no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. So the methods of the US political circles do not change."
(Tass.com, April 7, 2017)
Dmitry Medvedev: Trump Broke His Electoral Promises, Caved In To Power Elite
A recurring theme in Russian reaction to the airstrike on Shayrat was that the action proved that Trump was not in control, and those calling the shots were the elites who were bent on imposing an anti-Russian policy on the president. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev led the attack in a post on his Facebook account in both English and Russian:
"That’s it. The last remaining election fog has lifted. Instead of an overworked statement about a joint fight against the biggest enemy, ISIS, the Trump administration proved that it will fiercely fight the legitimate Syrian government, in a tough contradiction with international law and without UN approval, in violation of its own procedures stipulating that the Congress must first be notified of any military operation unrelated to aggression against the US. On the verge of a military clash with Russia. "Nobody is overestimating the value of pre-election promises but there must be limits of decency. Beyond that, it is absolute mistrust, which is really sad for our now completely ruined relations. And which is good news for terrorists. One more thing. This military action is a clear indication of the U.S .President’s extreme dependency on the opinion of the Washington establishment, the one that the new president strongly criticized in his inauguration speech. Soon after his victory, I noted that everything would depend on how soon Trump’s election promises would be broken by the existing power machine. It took only two and a half months."
(Facebook.com/Dmitry.Medvedev, April 7, 2017)
MP Slutzky: 'The Entire Situation With The Chemical Attack In Idlib Was A Provocation Designed To Undermine Trump's Rhetoric'
MP Leonid Slutzky, chair of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs: "It cannot be ruled out that the entire situation with the chemical attack in Idlib was a provocation designed to undermine Trump's rhetoric and restore the U.S. to an anti-Assad vector in US policy in Syria...Due to this, a broad coalition in the struggle with terrorism in Syria thanks to the actions of the US and its allies will not be created this way and Russia will be compelled to fight the forces of international terror by itself."
(Rbc.ru, April 7, 2017)
Senator Konstantin Kosachev, head of the international committee of the Russian Federation Council: "By a strange coincidence of circumstances the sharp hardening in the American relation with Assad occurred two days after its softening. A steady impression is emerging that neither in the Pentagon nor in the American intelligence services was there agreement with this softening thesis and Trump was nailed to the wall by 'incontestable evidence.'"
(Rbc.ru, April 7, 2017)
FM Spokewoman Zakharova: An American Game Of Thrones
Commenting on the American airstrike to the NTV channel, FM Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: "I would call the things we see the 'Games of American Thrones.' This is a war among internal political clans, military-financial and political-financial structures, which (still) cannot accept the results of the elections. What we saw today has no aim, it's not clever and is dangerous, because the goals are not clear. Any clear U.S. strategy towards Syria is absent. This is a reaction, a forced outcome of this colossal internal political struggle". She added that when the time arrives the Americans will be mortified due to the airstrikes their country had delivered.
(Interfax.ru, April 7, 2017)
Zakharova (Image: mid.ru)
The political magazine Vzglyad.ru mockingly described how Trump's decision to hit Syria went down:
"On April 6th, it became absolutely, crystal clear that Trump's crusade against Washington's establishment has totally failed. The 45th president of the United States raised both hands [in surrender], and crawled on his knees before the punctilious men and women, who are accustomed to defining US foreign policy : "How can I serve you?".
- You may serve us by striking Bashar Assad, whom you, naughty Donald, refused to topple and whom you called the ISIS fighter instead of calling him hell's fiend.
- As you wish, I'll call him hell's fiend and will strike him.
- Follow your orders.
Definitely, in reality it looked somewhat different, but the this is the exact essence of what has happened. Trump with his special view regarding foreign politics and ideas of non-intervention into sovereign states internal affairs, with his concentration of American interests, committed a total capitulation and disarmed in the face of the party and the government. It's highly doubtful that anyone in the US cares about beautiful kids from other countries. The goal of Washington's establishment is to remain the sole superpower. The goal of military industry and its lobbyists is new big orders. Trump's goal is to stay at power by any means. "
(Vz.ru/politics/, April 7, 2017)
Attempts At Cooling The Atmosphere
Despite the angry rhetoric there were also attempts at keeping things in perspective. The American missile strike did not call into question Russia's military resurgence as demonstrated in Syria and any deficiency lay with the Syrian armed forces and could be corrected.
Valdai Club Expert: 'The Airstrike Has A Certain Military Significance... But With Limited Losses For The Syrian Armed Forces'
Valdai Club expert Vasily Kashin, Senior Research Fellow at the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies: "If we look at the behavior of representatives of the Russian Foreign Ministry, it becomes clear that Russia expected a high probability of a military strike... We also know that there was a warning about the strike. They apparently organized a mass evacuation from the base. Fifty-nine Tomahawk missiles with cluster warheads have enormous destructive power. If this was a fully staffed military base with personnel, where combat duty is still ongoing and departure flights are being prepared, at the very least, hundreds of people would have been killed... It must be kept in mind that air forces of such countries as Syria always have a significant percentage of aircraft that are in non-flying condition, stay grounded, and are used as a reserve for providing spare parts for those aircraft that are actually flying... So far, everything indicates that the airstrike has a certain military significance, because the base has been destroyed and it will not be possible to use its runway for some time, but with limited losses for the Syrian armed forces, which can be quickly compensated by deliveries from Russia and Iran."
(Valdaiclub.com, April 7, 2017)
Editor-In-Chief of National Defense Magazine: Syria Is Unable To Repel U.S. Strike – 'Apart from Pantsyr, All Other Systems Are Outdated
Igor Korotchenko, the editor-in-chief of the Moscow-based National Defense magazine: "In the first place, the Syrians have island-like air defenses. This means that the units and weaponry systems them have cover separate facilities. They don't have an integrated air defense net and I don't rule out there were no air defenses around that base at all. Secondly, apart from Pantsyr [a surface-to-air and antitank missile system] all other systems are outdated because they were manufactured back during the Soviet era and they stand in need of upgrading. That's why the Syrians couldn't rebuff the strike meaningfully." Korotchenko then added: "America has unsealed Pandora's box and has demonstrated once again its thinking in the categories of a global policeman. This line of logic may prompt Trump to make new ill-conceived steps."
(Tass.com, April 8, 2017)
Russian Expert: If Russia Had Intercepted The Cruise Missile, A Nuclear Conflict Could Have Started
Sergey Sudakov of the Russian Academy for Military Sciences: "The main question which is being asked is why the Russian air-defense systems did not intercept [American] cruise missiles. Ordinary people think it should have been done, thus the attack could have been repelled. But if we had started to intercept them – we may not have awakened in the morning, since it could have meant 'a nuclear conflict' since it could have been a clash between two nuclear superpower in the territory of a third state."
(Izvestia.ru, April 7, 2017)
Understanding The Complexities Of The International Game: Cooperation Between The U.S. And Russia Remains Vital.
Russian readers were also reminded that the international game was complex and involved competition and cooperation between Russia and the U.S. so it was best not to get carried away and work to reduce tension.
Editor-In-Chief of Arsenal Otechestva Magazine: The U.S. Strike Was Also A Signal To China
Viktor Murakhovsky, editor-in-chief of Arsenal Otechestva magazine: "At the moment of the attack, Trump was hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping and this was clearly a graphic demonstration of force to China, since Trump said earlier China was among the apparent political competitors of the U.S."
Commenting on the Russia-U.S. memorandum on flight safety, Murakhovsky said: "Our commanders at Hmeymim (airbase) received a notification two hours prior to the strike that is was coming up because the Americans were apprehensive that Russian servicemen might turn out on the Shayrat base. Now that we’ve suspended effectuation of the Russian-U.S. memorandum on the prevention of dangerous incidents in Syrian airspace, we won’t be receiving any notifications from the Americans and that’s a strong signal to them that they should behave reasonably."
(Tass.com, April 8, 2017)
The Federation Council's International Affairs Committee chair Konstantin Kosachev commented:"I think it does not mean that the Russian airforce will be dragged into military actions against the US and those whom the US supports, if no direct danger to our military personnel in Syria exists" He was concerned that a failure by the international community to condemn the American attack then it could encourage the Americans to secure its less obvious goals by military means. be perceived as a signal to continue to "American goals, which are less and less obvious" by military means. Thus, the threat of various confrontations will rise considerably'
(Ria.ru, April 8, 2017)
Senator Viktor Ozerov, chair of the Federation Council Security and Defense Committee affirmed that despite the airstrike, Russia remains ready to cooperate with the US regarding Syria since without such cooperation the"fight against terror or future post-war political settlement in Syria are not possible".
"We will experience an objective necessity to negotiate ( with the US), given that NATO allies stand behind the US. The US is not the last player at this chess table, and without agreements between us it will be hard to accomplish this game", said the senator.
(Ria.ru, April 8, 2017)
Senator Oleg Morozov, who had accused the Americans of committing a provocation cautioned: "We should refrain from sharp retaliatory decisions – We should analyze and understand US behavior and await their explanations. We should not respond by belligerent means ".
(Ria.ru, April 7, 2017)
Mikhail Fradkov, CEO of the Russian Strategic Research Center, and a former head of the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service) warned: "This is not the case when one should raise the betting stakes. Any actions which are not carefully thought out may lead to the escalation of the conflict and losing control over the unfolding situation. This is a most risky and very undesirable scenario. If someone has an aim to choose such a scenario – this means he completely misunderstands or even aggressively neglects the developments around Syria and in the Middle East. Such behavior borders on dangerous irresponsibility. At the moment there is need to act as responsibly as possible and refrain from casualties and international tensions. It's important to prevent the growth of confrontation between the US and Russia, which is dangerous for the entire world, to enhance by all means". (Riss.ru, April 7, 2017)
Mikhail Fradkov (Image: Rt.com)
Interviewed by the official Rossiskaya Gazeta, Fyodor Lukyanov, editor in chief of the Valdai Club. Russia in Foreign Affairs magazine took a realistic view of the American attack. The decision to attack Syria was indeed thought out and not a product of Trump's reflexive behavior. The decision indicates that for Trump the Obama period of the U.S sidelining itself from Syria is over. America is back in the Middle Eastern game. "the leitmotif of Trump's election campaign was, no one can ignore America - everyone should respect it", said Lukyanov. This logic precipitates Trumps' actions: he demonstrated that "America is still here, the Russians are not the kings in Syria".
Lukyanov believes that the administration is unclear about where it goes from here and sincerely hoped that the visit to Russia by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would introduce some clarity since he doubted that Trump himself had clearly thought out his policies.
(Rg.ru, April 8 2017)
Prior to the US attack but after the chemical attack in Idlib Vedomosti quoted Alkesandr Shumilin, head of Center for Middle East Conflicts Analysis at the Institute of US and Canada, Russian Academy of Sciences. Shumilin said that at the moment there is bargain between the US and Russia: currently the sides accuse each other but the moment will arrive when Russia stops covering up for Assad. "Russia is interested more than ever in negotiating (the settlement) and getting out of Syria, Russia is getting tired of being dependent on Assad and to a less extent on Iran regarding the situation in Syria." If Trump gets suspicious and rejects Assad this will put a brake on the rapprochement process with Moscow, added the expert.
(Vedomosti.ru. April 7, 2017)