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5 July 201819:35

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, July 5, 2018

1286-05-07-2018

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Table of contents

  1. Media coverage of the World Cup in Russia
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the Ministerial Meeting of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
  3. Current situation in Syria
  4. The Syrian Government’s calls for Syrian refugees to return home
  5. Brief summary of Russia's Presidency of the UN Security Council
  6. Chemical incidents in Salisbury and Amesbury
  7. Allegations by The Times on Iranian aid to the Taliban
  8. Results of the meeting of the European Council on June 28-29
  9. EU Agency for Fundamental Rights’ report on human rights in the EU
  10. Radical right forces in Ukraine
  11. Investigation in Ukraine of firing on Maidan Square in February 2014
  12. An incident on the sidelines of the OSCE conference on media freedom in Kiev
  13. Kirill Vyshinsky
  14. Detention of Sputnik Latvia Chief Editor Valentins Rozencovs
  15. Issue of US entry visas to Russian athletes
  16. World Drug Report 2018
  17. Russian Film Week in Mexico
  18. Opening of the exhibition, “The Holocaust: Annihilation, Liberation, Rescue” at the Council of Europe headquarters
  19. Celebration of Ivan Turgenev’s 200th birthday in Baden-Baden and Zurich
  20. The Sever Vash Russian Arctic Air Expedition
  21. Poland continues to pull down monuments to Soviet soldiers
  22. BSEC activities during Azerbaijan’s presidency
  23. Russian company completes clean-up operations after thermal power station accident in Azerbaijan

 

Answers to media questions:

2018 FIFA World Cup

Russia-North Korea relations

Russia-Jordan relations

Russia-Ukraine relations

Russia-Japan relations

Sanctions policy towards Russia

US calls for higher UK defence spending

Petr Poroshenko’s statement on hoisting Ukrainian flags in the Sevastopol bays

Human rights in Ukraine

Incident in Amesbury

 

Media coverage of the World Cup in Russia

 

The 2018 FIFA World Cup continues to delight with its exciting football contests. Experts and fans are unanimous is their opinion that the matches have been spectacular. There’s no need to even mention the entertainment aspect of the tournament, as fans are clearly having the time of their lives when there are no matches to watch. According to our guests’ posts on social media, the atmosphere is fantastic not only in Moscow, but other host cities as well. We can see that the enthusiasm of the fans is rubbing off on the media, which is great. Indeed, we focus on these matters, because there was so much misinformation. This is not surprising, as it is difficult to make up stories now, because everyone can see everything with their own eyes, and the mudslinging directed at our country before the World Cup doesn’t work anymore.

However, the anti-Russian campaign continues unabated led, unfortunately, by the British media. They rank number one in terms of the number of ridiculous and totally outrageous tales, which are being relayed with quotes from British politicians. It's horrible. I'm not even talking about Boris Johnson and his predictions, comparisons and epithets. British Prime Minister Theresa May also made her contribution as she voiced her concerns about the British fans’ safety in Russia. She’d be better off thinking about the safety of the British subjects in her country. For some reason, she is concerned about our fans, whereas we have no problems with them whatsoever. Ms May, don’t worry about them, just come and see for yourself how things are.

We come across lots of things in the British media. Recently, the Guardian wrote that Russia extended another invitation to Prime Minister May to visit the World Cup. To reiterate, according to the comment by the press service of our Embassy in Great Britain, no individual invitations to the World Cup have ever been sent to British politicians and, accordingly, they could not be revoked. No one is trying to lure anyone. It’s an international event that is held regularly in close cooperation with the corresponding international organisation, so no one is coming up with any new formats, and everything is taking place in accordance with existing protocol and traditions. Here’s what I have to say to the Guardian – there’s no need for fabrications. We are always happy to provide an opportunity for everyone to support their team, and heads of state, government and cabinet ministers of various countries who have expressed their desire to support their athletes can already tell you about it. We have been good and friendly hosts and are doing our best to help them fully enjoy this festive atmosphere.

It’s a shame, of course, that the British authorities and media have, in fact, by their own hands, deprived thousands of British fans of the opportunity to enjoy the tournament by intimidating them. Even British athletes were subjected to intimidation. Remember, a couple of weeks ago, an English footballer of Jamaican descent Danny Rose said he wasn’t taking his family to the World Cup because of fear of racism or violence against them. There were reports quoted by the Guardian that after several weeks in Russia, this defender of the English team changed his mind and will bring his family to our country for the final matches of his team. Reportedly, the footballer enjoys the relaxed atmosphere of the tournament. As we said earlier, the myths will be debunked. We regret that as a result of this terrible political campaign unleashed by the British government, thousands of British fans were unable to come to Russia just because they were intimidated by their own politicians.

This is the case not only with the UK. Officials in Brussels and EU media, unfortunately, also engage in inserting anti-Russian clichés into the media narrative. We heard things like “Are you ready for the World Cup of shame?” and so on. I would like to remind you that this headline was posted in March on Politico. The European Parliament even went as far as issuing a Joint Statement on sporting events and human rights in Russia before the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Without delving into this document, I would like to reiterate that the forces fanning Russophobia are trying to politicise everything that comes their way, including sports. They tie human rights into this. It is so disgusting that it is surprising that in 2018 these people do not realise that all this is completely transparent. This political bias cannot be hidden even behind such documents.

There was plenty of disinformation of all sorts. In Sweden, for example, special instructions were issued, recommending, among other things, “not to chat over the phone”. Those instructions were distributed among Swedish fans planning to travel to Russia.  I’d like to respond by saying that one should not judge others based on one’s self.

While the latest Cold War-style attacks are being attempted in Western media, a magnificent celebration of sport is going on in Russia, a celebration that has united the whole world and showed that even irreconcilable fans, who are prepared to defend the honour of their teams, stand with them in triumph and defeat, are perfectly willing and able to be friendly, sharing in this festive atmosphere with rival fans of other teams.

We are certainly glad that Russian hospitality was highly praised by World Cup guests. And this was on a truly national scale, because absolutely everyone, including politicians and the event’s organisers, law enforcement officers and volunteers, restaurateurs and hotel keepers, ordinary Russian fans, ordinary people and citizens, came together to make this celebration really all-encompassing, so that everybody who came to Russia would feel like a valued and welcome guest.

It was pleasant to read in The Independent newspaper that fears of fights between Russian and English football hooligans have proved unfounded. Did anyone doubt it? If this had not been instigated beforehand, if specially commissioned films had not been shown on certain TV channels, then there would have been nothing to talk about. For some reason somebody sought to turn this scenario into reality. I was told this a year and a half ago. Ahead of the England versus Belgium match, Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts pointed to the good atmosphere and the absence of any incidents among various groups of fans. According to The Independent, the only instances of violence occurred among the English fans themselves.

The Argentine newspaper La Nacion stressed that the organisers have managed to achieve unity among fans as part of this global celebration of football. It was indeed a difficult goal, considering the experience of previous World Cups and other major football tournaments. But it has indeed been possible to achieve so far. The Financial Times noted that interactions between Russian and foreign fans take place in an atmosphere “euphoria” and “enthusiasm”. So, as long as there are no efforts to instigate and set people against each other, there will be no pretext whatsoever. The newspaper says that similar people-to-people contacts show that relations between Russia and the rest of the world may considerably differ from the distrust and antipathy inherent in geopolitics.

I am turning to all those who were deceived by those same Western geopoliticians and media through anti-Russian stories. We invite all of you who have not yet come to seize the opportunity to participate in this wonderful and colourful event – the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.   

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the Ministerial Meeting of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

 

On July 6, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the ministerial meeting of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna. It will be chaired by Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. 

For our part, we reaffirm our willingness to abide by our commitments as long as the other parties do the same, and we will do all we can to preserve and maintain the stability of the JCPOA.

We intend to continue developing trade and economic cooperation with Iran and will protect it against the impact of extraterritorial sanctions. We have the necessary instruments for this.

Tomorrow, Mr Lavrov is also expected to take part in bilateral meetings with his colleagues on the sidelines of the ministerial meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission. We will inform you about these in a timely manner.

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Current situation in Syria

 

The situation in Syria remains complicated.

The operation to liberate the country’s southwest from terrorists is ongoing. This is being carried out in a comprehensive manner – the use of force against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra units is combined with negotiated solutions based on the agreements reached with the armed opposition groups, which do not want to cooperate with the terrorists, and the representatives of the local councils. An enormous role in the success of these efforts is being played by the Russian military – both the officers from the centre for reconciliation of the opposing sides and the units of the Russian military police that enjoy the respect and trust of the people. In the process, the former militants are offered the choice to either undergo the procedure to regulate their status or join volunteer Syrian Army units for contract service. Militants who lay down their arms on their own free will are not subjected to any reprisals from the government.

The residents of cities and villages that have been freed from terrorist groups are welcoming the restoration of government control at spontaneous rallies and raising Syria’s national flags.

The authorities in neighbouring Jordan are facilitating a peaceful settlement of the conflict. They are interested in restoring the normal functioning of the Syria-Jordan border and the opening of traffic on an important international motorway linking Beirut, Damascus and Amman.

Generally, what is happening “on the ground” is drastically different from the picture of developments in southwestern Syria, as painted by the engaged Western media who use the materials provided by the White Helmets (money is changing hands!) and other provocateurs. We know about their underhanded methods that are aimed at anything but alleviating the suffering of the people. On the contrary, they are aimed at undermining the efforts to reach local negotiated solutions and a political settlement in general. Various lies are used: fabricated figures on the skyrocketing numbers of internally displaced persons that increase  every day – allegedly due to the onslaught by government forces; hysterical outcries over lack of opportunity to send humanitarian convoys to the area of hostilities; fraudulent stories about Russia’s alleged withdrawal from the memorandum on the establishment of the southern de-escalation zone and other similar fake news.

In this context we would like to emphasise once again that the conduct of the counterterrorist operation does not contradict the goals of creating the southern de-escalation zone, which provide for putting an end to the terrorists in this area.

Despite the difficulties, assistance is being rendered to the people of Daraa both by the Syrian Government, Russian military, and the UN. Relief is delivered also to those cities and villages where reconciliation has not yet been reached.

As for internally displaced persons, it is perfectly obvious that part of civilians are leaving their places of permanent residence in areas where the Syrian Army has to overcome the armed resistance of terrorists. Special humanitarian corridors and special centres of temporary shelter have been created for such people, for example, Jabab in Daraa Province where assistance is being rendered to 2,500 people.

 The issue of refugees and internally displaced persons must not be exploited. It is necessary to address this issue in practical terms. On July 3, the Syrian Foreign Ministry addressed those Syrian citizens that were forced to leave the country with an appeal on behalf of the Syrian government.

In cooperation with the Lebanese authorities, Damascus is taking practical steps to mitigate this problem. On June 28, about 400 people returned to Syria from Lebanon. At present, over 3,000 people are included on the return list. This is a small figure for now, but it is increasing.

The final eradication of terrorists in Syria is being largely complicated by the unlawful and completely unjustified US armed presence in the Al-Tanf area. In effect, this is a preserve for ISIS fighters who have not been finished off. The Syrian authorities are not allowed access to this vast territory. Humanitarian access to refugees is closed. They are actually being held hostage by terrorists in the Rukban camp.

If our Western partners really intend to establish lasting peace in Syria, we expect them to make the right decisions, particularly those that will alleviate unilateral restrictions and make it possible to freely buy food, medicines, fuel, equipment and building materials, indispensable for rebuilding the country, in world markets.

It is necessary to conduct humanitarian demining on an enormous scale. We urge our international partners to join the efforts in this area. This would help tens of thousands of Syrian refuges, including those from the Western countries, to safely return home. 

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The Syrian Government’s calls for Syrian refugees to return home

 

On July 3, Damascus published an official statement by the Syrian government calling on citizens who were forced to leave the country amid war and terrorist aggression, to return to their homeland now that most of the areas captured by the terrorists have been liberated. The statement confirms that the Syrian government assumes responsibility for the safety and immunity of its citizens and meeting their needs by maintaining properly functioning schools, medical institutions and other kinds of socioeconomic infrastructure. However, the document also underscores the need for humanitarian agencies and the international community to contribute to ensuring proper conditions for the voluntary return of the Syrian citizens to their homeland. In this regard, it is noted that Syria expects the international community and its specialised agencies to lift the unlawful unilateral sanctions imposed on the Syrian people.

Moscow welcomes the above statement which shows that Damascus is strongly committed to restoring the unity of Syria and the Syrians and to a speedy transition to peaceful life and reconstruction.

Russia will continue to provide assistance and support to the friendly nation of Syria, including by facilitating the return to peaceful life, rebuilding what was destroyed, creating proper conditions for returning refugees and temporarily displaced persons to their homes.

We look forward to members of the international community, the UN and its specialised agencies responding to the invitation by Damascus and making additional efforts to assist Syria and its people in creating favourable conditions for the voluntary and dignified return of Syrian refugees to their homeland. We stand ready to work closely with partners.

We are convinced that the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland will help further stabilise the situation in Syria and the Middle East in general, alleviating the financial and economic burden and social problems which this has created for many states, primarily Syria's neighbours.

The Russian Federation does not recognise the anti-Syrian sanctions imposed unilaterally by a number of states and inter-state associations and considers them a serious obstacle to the final eradication of the terrorist threat in Syria and the political settlement in that country based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

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Brief summary of Russia's Presidency of the UN Security Council

 

Russia’s presidency of the UN Security Council has come to an end. Over June, the UN Security Council has held 31 meetings, adopted eight resolutions and coordinated three statements by the Security Council president and six statements for the press.

The key event held on June 25 to review the situation in the Middle East and North Africa has attracted considerable interest and positive reviews in the media. The Russian delegation was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin. Most speakers supported the need for working out coordinated decisions on resolving the crisis in the region. The call for a unified regional security architecture based on Russian initiatives, including measures to enhance security in the Gulf, drew quite a response.

Syria remained a highly sensitive issue. The Russian side informed its partners about the true situation in the country in the context of the antiterrorist operation there and about our efforts and priorities in the political process and humanitarian efforts in Syria. We also reiterated our warning against the unlawful restructuring of the OPCW by vesting it with the authority to identify culprits behind chemical weapons attacks. The Middle East dossiers concerning Palestine and Yemen were in the focus of attention.

Thanks to Russia’s efforts, for the first time in a long time, agreement was reached on the Security Council President’s Statement on Ukraine, in which the Minsk Package of Measures was reaffirmed as the sole international legal framework for a settlement.

A substantive discussion of the situation in Afghanistan was held, with an emphasis on combating terrorism and drug production. The speakers invited by Russia – Under-Secretary-General of the UN Counter-Terrorism Office Vladimir Voronkov and Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Yury Fedotov – made a special contribution to the discussion.

The situation in Central Asia was discussed amid continued threats emerging from Afghanistan. This dossier is informally supervised by the Russian side in the UN Security Council. We regret that this time we again failed to adopt the UN Security Council statement for the press in support of the Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia because of the United States’ biased and politicised position and reluctance to recognise the CSTO’s and the SCO’s substantial contribution to maintaining peace and stability in the region.

Undoubtedly, most of the time in June was reserved for discussion of African issues – the situation in Central Africa, Sudanese Darfur, South Sudan, and Mali.

We consider it symbolic that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres visited the Russian Federation during the same month (on June 20-21), where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and held talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The events the Russian delegation organised on the occasion of the opening of the 2018 World Cup Russia gave a special impetus to cooperation in the Security Council and the United Nations. This milestone event gave us a chance to show to our colleagues in the Security Council the importance of playing as a team to resolve sensitive issues on its agenda. You probably remember the now legendary footage from the UN Security Council with its permanent members wearing T-shirts of their national teams.

We believe that the Russian delegation has successfully led the Security Council this month, and generally attained the goals set for its presidency, which once again justified our policy aimed at overcoming disagreements and orienting our partners toward seeking compromise solutions. We hope that the steps taken this month, including on such difficult issues as Syria and Ukraine, will work to restore a full-fledged dialogue in the UN Security Council. The next time Russia will preside in it is September 2019.

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Chemical incidents in Salisbury and Amesbury

 

We have received dozens, if not hundreds, of requests for comment on the chemical incidents in Salisbury and Amesbury. Media reported two UK residents had been taken to a Salisbury hospital in critical condition from the nearby town of Amesbury after being poisoned with an unidentified substance. These were initial reports. The incident is notable because it occurred near Salisbury, where, according to British media, an assassination attempt on two Russian citizens occurred four months ago. Let me remind you that the Porton Down Laboratory is also located there.

Statements by the UK police and doctors carried by the media claim possible poisoning with a “toxin” and note the “similarity” of the symptoms with those experienced by the Skripals. Samples of the substance are reported to have been delivered for analysis to the secret laboratory in Porton Down. As early as last night of July 4, Neil Basu, Assistant Commissioner of the Counter Terrorism Command within London's Metropolitan Police Service, declared citing the Porton Down Laboratory that “both the victims were poisoned with the Novichok nerve agent.”

What can be said in this regard? After the hell visited upon Russia by official London, after the international hate campaign launched by the UK Government against our country and our people in the past months, there is much which could be said today. 

We could say that hardly four months elapsed before the British detective thriller “The Mystery of Salisbury” had a sequel. The second installment features the same main character, Novichok. But I am not going to get into that.  

We could remind you that hardly had the fanfares of the military parade died down on Armed Forces Day, where Prime Minister Theresa May announced the next parade would be held in Salisbury, stressing that the professionalism and bravery demonstrated in the face of the attack are among the main reasons why it will be held in Salisbury, where another poisoning occurred a few months later, but I am not going to get into that.  

We could ask the British side to update us on the timing of Theresa May and her team’s next performance in parliament, but I am not going to do that either.   

We could wonder if Porton Down backtracks on its evidence in the new case. Do you remember that a couple of months ago Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson citing Porton Down claimed that the Novichok used to poison the Skripals had been made in the Russian Federation? Meanwhile, the laboratory later disavowed the statements by the UK Foreign Secretary. The Foreign Office had to delete its official statements from social media. The unfolding situation is similar. As we understand it, Porton Down has not made a statement, yet it is being officially and actively cited (their official site has as its main  a more down-to-earth topic – the study of pant washing technique). We could ask whether Porton Down would again disclaim the statements attributed to it. But I am not going to do that either.    

We could point to Neil Basu stressing the “complete lack of evidence” that either of the victims visited the site of the Skripals’ poisoning. He thus indicated that the British citizens were not poisoned while on an occasional stroll in Salisbury, that the two incidents are not related. And at the same time, on July 5, Minister of State for Security at the Home Office Ben Wallace claimed that Russia’s help was crucial to investigate the new incident, that we can “fill in some of the significant gaps” in London’s official investigation of the new incident and to keep the people safe. But I will not do that.

We could pick at the Minister’s words about the “gaps” which indeed abound. From the very start of the Skripal case Russia offered a number of times to conduct a joint investigation of the incident with the British authorities. However, it is Theresa May’s Government, of which Ben Wallace is a member, that has persistently refused any help, incessantly repeating the mantra alleging “Russia’s involvement.” But I will not do that today either.

We could hypothesise that the British authorities have lost control of chemical agents or recall how London demanded that Russia admit to losing control of them. But I will not do that today either.

We could list dozens of versions that were immediately reported by the British press even though Scotland Yard had cautioned against early guesswork and speculation on the topic. We could recall how the British Government accused the Russian Federation of propaganda by quoting Russian media. But I will not do that today.

We could ask Theresa May’s Government a question which interests everyone in the world now – will the OPCW handle the investigation of the new incident?  And I will not do that today either.

We could wish a pleasant holiday to Britain’s Defence Secretary who makes such forceful statements. Do you remember how he recommended that Russia “go away and shut up?” We could ask him now similarly to come and say why this is still happening. But I will not do that either.

We could quote hundreds of mocking comments on British social media claiming that four months later it appears anyone in the UK can come by Novichok nowadays. I also won’t do that.

Today we could have said many things. We could have pointed out that, as if ordered to, several British media outlets have started spreading news that one of the poisoning victims had allegedly found a syringe with what remained of the Novichok, which I would like to remind you, is highly volatile according to experts. But I won’t.

We could have asked why NATO is silent. What does Mr Stoltenberg have to say on all this? But we won’t.

We could have pointed out that another poisoning has taken place in an area under tight police control, where every inch has been examined, where millions of pounds, as we have been told officially, have been spent on decontamination and special security measures. It is the same place where Prince Charles and his wife came just a few days before the poisoning to promote tourism that has suffered after the Skripal incident. But I will not be talking about this either in my official capacity today.

I will not cover any of these points. Today, nonetheless, there will be official statements on the subject.

1. After four months, the so-called Skripal case remains thoroughly murky. The refusal of the UK to cooperate with the Russian Federation to hold a joint investigation, keeping Russian diplomats from having access to our citizens in violation of all diplomatic and consular conventions, and the endless attempts to manipulate the OPCW undermine trust in official London.

2. The victims have our sincere sympathy, and we wish a speedy recovery to all four of them, two being Russian nationals.

3. We call on British law enforcement to avoid being manipulated by dirty political games that certain quarters in London seem intent on playing and to finally cooperate with their Russian colleagues in a joint investigation, not least because Russian nationals have been affected as well.

I am authorised to state that Russian law enforcement stand ready to work together. I would like to say that we have been informing the British of this several times a month through diplomatic channels.

Today we were shocked to see British officials say they were awaiting Russia’s response. Maybe in the UK, ordinary people and the media have not been apprised of the fact that Russia has used its diplomatic channels to make dozens of proposals to London to start joint work.

In the name of security on our continent, we call on the May Cabinet to stop the intrigues and games with chemical agents, stop blocking efforts to conduct a joint investigation into what has happened in the UK to Russian nationals.

I am certain that the representatives of the May Cabinet have ahead of them a long period of apologies to Russia and the international community for all that that Government has done. But, as is British custom, it will happen later. Now it is important to launch a comprehensive investigation.

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Allegations by The Times on Iranian aid to the Taliban

 

We noted an article in the British newspaper The Times about the alleged training of the Afghan Taliban in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Replying to numerous inquiries, we would like to say right away that we do not have any such information. The Iranian Embassy in Kabul has denied the assertions.

We would like to emphasise once again that the Western media, including British media, have repeatedly made groundless allegations about support for the Taliban not only by Iran but also by Russia and other countries without any supporting facts. The article’s references to mythical officers in Afghanistan’s secret services are questionable, while references to sources within tthe Taliban appear to be simply ridiculous.

One gets the impression that with such fake news London is trying to distract the attention of the world public from NATO’s failure after 16 years in Afghanistan, this time artificially linking it with the US withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear agreement.

We believe publications like this do nothing to create an atmosphere of trust and understanding between the states and political forces interested in settling the Afghanistan issue. We advise the authors of this article to give up their stereotypes and objectively assess the developments in Afghanistan. It would be useful if at some point they would start quoting our official statements because in so many briefings we comment on the accusations of allegedly supporting the Taliban and supplying them with arms.

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Results of the meeting of the European Council on June 28-29

 

We consider the political decision by the heads of state and government of the EU member countries to renew unilateral financial and economic restrictions against Russia as yet another lost opportunity for constructive revision of EU foreign policy approaches to Russia. We regret that EU member countries again did not dare to admit the artificial character of conditioning the entire range of Russia-EU relations on the complete fulfilment of the Minsk agreements that are being purposefully blocked by the authorities in Kiev. As before, EU business circles and the ordinary citizens that are suffering from sanctions-related confrontation will have to pay for the absence of reality and flexibility in Brussels’ position.

We are perplexed by the wording of the “conclusions” of the European Council following the inquiry into the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. The document urges Russia to admit its responsibility in the context of UN Security Council Resolution 2166 on the international investigation into this tragedy, and also to comprehensively take part in the efforts to restore truth and justice and identify the guilty party. This is ridiculous because, as distinct from Ukraine that took part in the investigation, we have done everything we could to establish the true causes of the tragedy and, in part, have presented critical radar information to investigators on the air space at the moment of the crash. I do not even want to bring up the aircraft debris. Do you remember how many times we said during briefings and official statements that it was necessary to collect the material evidence that remained on the site. We noted that this was not done at that time. It would be useful if those who are trying to compel us to “admit responsibility” would first explain the incongruities between the preliminary conclusions of the investigators and the information presented by Russia.

Concern is also caused by the unilateral steps to strengthen the EU-NATO link and create new EU internal mechanisms for sanctions under the slogan of countering “hybrid challenges.” Despite the obvious nature of the numerous manipulations of this far-fetched subject, that are demonstrated by Britain’s campaign regarding the Skripal case, the EU continues to create new elements of tension in Europe. It is hardly surprising that there are no serious changes for the better in the public perception of the EU in this country.

It is worth noting the results of the European Council meeting on the migration issue that occupied a central place during the discussion. It is no secret that despite a substantial reduction in the total number of attempts by illegal migrants to enter the EU, this issue continues to set the EU and many of its member countries on edge. We regret that the summit’s final documents did not say that the migration crisis in the EU was largely triggered by the ill-conceived and aggressive actions of NATO members and some Western countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

We hope that in carrying out the decisions on improving the migration situation, the EU member countries will not jeopardise universally recognised human rights standards and the EU’s international commitments on accepting refugees and that their actions will not lead to attempts to keep the issue out of EU borders. The Russian Federation, that knows first-hand about migration pressure and the mass influx of refugees, in part, as a result of the Ukrainian crisis, is willing to share with its EU partners its experience in this area, as we have said many times during the practical discussion of this issue with our EU partners.

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EU Agency for Fundamental Rights’ report on human rights in the EU

 

We have taken note of the annual Fundamental Rights Report, in which the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) reviews major developments and problems in the EU in 2017 and offers recommendations to European institutions and the member states on ways to improve the situation.

It is gratifying that the authors of this report have openly admitted, and provided examples thereof, that the situation with the human rights of vulnerable groups in the member states is far from irreproachable, despite the fact that the EU has a variety of requisite instruments and solid legislation on human rights.

The FRA also writes that the measures taken in the EU, including legislation, and the work done by the EU member states were clearly not enough to provide comprehensive protection from discrimination and racism.

According to the report, racism and xenophobia persisted in the EU in 2017, primarily targeting refugees and ethnic minorities, as well as asylum seekers. The authors admit that “such incidents occurred against a backdrop of persisting racist and xenophobic rhetoric, which some EU politicians embrace.” Of special concern is the increased number of attacks on the accommodation centres for migrants and violence against this vulnerable group by members of the police in some EU member states.

The numerous facts of human rights violations provided in the report confirm the disappointing conclusion that the EU has become a leader in terms of the seriousness and scale of human rights violations in recent years. Russia and the international human rights community have tried to attract public attention to these instances almost daily.

At the same time, we have taken note that the authors of the report gave considerable attention to issues that were previously glossed over for political reasons. This time, although they studiously avoided the use of the term “non-citizens,” they reported problems Russian speakers experience in the Baltic countries, even if they only provide the example of Estonia. The authors write, citing polls, that “one in 10 non-Estonians believed they experienced intolerance based on their nationality or ethnicity, with one in five feeling that they are second-class citizens in the country.”

At the same time, the authors refuse to see the shameless fact of large-scale non-citizenship in Latvia and Estonia, a situation that persists for more than 20 years, resulting in that hundreds of thousands of people are deprived of political, social and economic rights. There are facts of ethnic intolerance towards students and teachers at Russian-language schools and the widespread punitive practice of language inspectors fining Russian speakers. A glaring example of open discrimination is the decision of the Latvian authorities to convert minority schools to instruction in the “state language” by 2021. The Latvian government refuses to heed public organisations’ calls to preserve Russian schools and the autonomy of minority educational institutions.

Hushing up this problem is especially cynical in the light of the numerous recommendations issued to the Baltic countries by international human rights organisations and institutions, such as the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

There is open and consistent disregard for such shameful facts as the glorification of Nazism and the “heroism” of former Nazis, as well as the war some EU countries are waging against the monuments to liberator soldiers who fought against Nazism in WWII. Regrettably, this suggests the existence of a major system-wide problem in the EU and casts a shadow on their stated resolve to fight any elements of racism and aggressive nationalism. The striving to interpret these shameful elements as the realisation of the freedom of expression is a sacrilege and legal illiteracy. Those who are of two minds on this should read the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the CERD assessment of the EU member states’ reservations regarding Article 4 of the Convention.

We urge the leadership of the FRA and the EU to take a more objective and unbiased approach to compiling such reports, to pay more attention to the human rights problems that have been ailing the EU for decades and to take action to resolve these problems.

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Radical right forces in Ukraine

 

We took note of an article that appeared on the Atlantic Council’s website in late June. It was titled “Ukraine’s Got a Real Problem with Far-Right Violence (And No, RT Didn’t Write This Headline).” Indeed, the article wasn’t written by RT or Sputnik but by the Council itself. In the article, the author points to the challenge radical right forces pose to Ukraine by operating in an “atmosphere of near total impunity.” Specifically, the author points to the close links between C14, a neo-Nazi group, and the Ukrainian authorities. In fact, this far right group receives funding from Ukraine’s Ministry of Sports and Tourism, creates street patrols together with municipal authorities in Kiev and a number of other Ukrainian cities, while its leader openly boasts about cooperating with the Security Service of Ukraine. All this is taking place despite the fact that this group has been involved in numerous illegal violent actions.

The Atlantic Council can hardly be accused of adopting a pro-Russia stance, but even this outlet could not fail to mention attacks staged by C14 and other far right groups against ethnic minorities, anti-fascist demonstrations and human rights organisations. The article suggests that the Ukrainian authorities are unable or even not willing to counter these Nazi groups out of fear of deteriorating their relations with them, which could lead to the loss of the monopoly on violence by the state.

For several years now the Foreign Ministry has been talking about the spread of neo-Nazism in Ukraine. All we have been hearing in response were accusations of “Kremlin propaganda” or sarcasm. Even a US think tank is no longer able to sweep this under the rug.

Back in 2015, Ivan Katchanovski, a Canadian scholar of Ukrainian descent, wrote an article titled “The 'Snipers' Massacre' on the Maidan in Ukraine” for a conference of the American Political Science Association. While working on the paper, he conducted his own investigation into the February 2014 events in Kiev by reviewing documentary footage recorded by Ukrainian and international media, photo reports, intercepted radio communications between law enforcement officers, audio recordings of live broadcasts from Maidan Square, and video and photos uploaded to social media by people who were present at the scene or took part in the events. Having analysed data from all this material, the researcher came to the conclusion that far right elements were the ones who opened fire in February 2014 against demonstrators and law enforcement officers in Kiev. You may remember that the West stressed back then that determining who fired the first shot was essential. Four years have passed, and nobody seems to be interested in the results of this investigation anymore.

We believe that these attacks were designed to discredit Viktor Yanukovych’s government, who was ultimately blamed by the opposition for killing protestors. It turns out that the provocation produced the desired effect: an anti-constitutional coup took place with support from a number of Western countries.

Officials around the world have lost interest, while journalists are trying to bring this matter into the limelight.

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Investigation in Ukraine of firing on Maidan Square in February 2014

 

More than four years have passed since the mass shooting on Kiev’s Maidan Square in February 2014, and the culprits have yet to be identified and held accountable. Moreover, Kiev is clearly seeking to soft-pedal this affair with Western support, even though it has attracted the attention of a number of international organisations.

There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that not the Kiev authorities but those who wanted power even if it meant sacrificing the lives of Ukrainians were the ones who were behind the bloodshed. At the same time, sensational evidence by the so-called Georgian legionnaires on the actual culprits of the Maidan massacre are totally ignored. The would-be activist Ivan Bubenchik who had been a witness in the criminal proceedings on the killing of 13 members of Berkut, a unit of Ukrainian special forces, has boasted on numerous occasions that he fired at law enforcement officers from a rifle he got from the so-called Maidan leaders. Nevertheless, these provocative statements were not followed by any actions by the Ukrainian authorities. Ivan Bubenchik could count on the support from Verkhovna Rada MPs. This “sniper” has now disappeared from media radars, and his case was mothballed.

In any state governed by the rule of law, statements alleging to the involvement in mass killings would have been investigated in a thorough manner. This does not apply to today’s Ukraine. The ruling regime in this country intentionally blocks the investigation of crimes fearing that it would place those who came to power in the spotlight. It seems that this is not what the Ukrainian authorities want with the presidential election approaching.

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An incident on the sidelines of the OSCE conference on media freedom in Kiev

 

I would like to remind you that an outrageous incident took place on June 26 in Kiev, Ukraine, where the OSCE was holding its conference on media freedom. Russian journalists were prevented from attending the event, while a man in camouflage somehow managed to get inside the premises (the OSCE do not know how he did it either).

I cannot confirm this information but I can quote it. A number of Ukrainian media have identified this man and even given his name. He declared that he personally had brought to Crimea in his car a certain object that later emerged as evidence of Oleg Sentsov’s guilt and had handled “other undertakings”.

Today, I would like to state officially that we have sent all materials related to this incident to the OSCE and urged it to explain how this man, who was not registered as a participant, found his way into the conference premises and addressed it, who he was, and what was being done to investigate his statement. This is yet another sign that Ukraine basically leaves really explosive statements uninvestigated and that the Western community pays no attention to them either.

 

Kirill Vyshinsky

 

It is 50 days today since RIA Novosti Ukraine Editor-in-Chief Kirill Vyshinsky was arrested on trumped-up charges of high treason.

For 50 days, a professional journalist has been exposed to an unprecedented physical and psychological pressure in the dungeons of the Kiev regime. In fact, he is a hostage and his life is small change in political manipulations masterminded by the Ukrainian authorities, who, on the one hand, are flirting with militant nationalism and xenophobia, while, on the other, are seeking to serve their own interests by drawing international organisations’ attention to human rights problems.

There are people, even in Ukraine, who are not afraid to say so despite dire risks. The “Vyshinsky case” is an unprecedented and appalling act of using physical violence against a member of the media community.

We demand that Kiev immediately and unconditionally release Mr Vyshinsky from custody and relieve him of all the outrageously false charges.

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Detention of Sputnik Latvia Chief Editor Valentins Rozencovs

 

Last night, the Security Police detained Sputnik Latvia Chief Editor Valentins Rozencovs in Riga for an “interview” that lasted 12 hours.

The Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency has commented on this situation. We are also in contact with the journalists. We will monitor the developments and will pass on the information to the OSCE. Of course, we can see pressure being exerted on the editorial policy in the context of what they call an interview. After we have all the facts, we will make the relevant statements. Most importantly, we will work with the international media community and international organisations specialising in media rights protection. 

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Issue of US entry visas to Russian athletes

 

We have repeatedly drawn attention to the deplorable situation regarding the issue of US visas by US consular agencies in Russia. This process has been virtually blocked.  Most categories of Russian citizens planning to enter the United States have to undergo mandatory visa interviews. Since April, visa interview deadlines have been extended to 300 days or a total of ten months, and it is impossible to make appointments. In other words, it is absolutely pointless to contact these agencies.

Even Russian athletes, invited to international competitions in the United States, face the same situation. Here are just a few examples: In April, members of the Russian national freestyle wrestling team were denied permission to undergo visa interviews in advance. Members of the equestrian and yachting teams were also unable to undergo such interviews in June. This happened, although they had sent the required documents to the US Embassy in Moscow three-four months before their respective tournaments.

This amounts to an obvious and flagrant violation of US obligations as a receiving country. If a country undertakes to host multinational competitions, it must allow everyone, invited by the relevant international sports federation, to take part in such competitions. Obviously, failure to issue US visas to Russian athletes who have been officially invited to attend such events discriminates against these athletes and Russia, and this also deals a blow against international sports.

We do not know what considerations are more important here: Does the United States strive to get rid of powerful opponents and pander to its own athletes, or does it want to isolate Russia, as some politicians in Washington still hope? To be quite honest, if such actions persist, they will isolate the United States itself, including in the world of sports. Everyone can see that this country’s authorities are not playing according to the rules. Today, they are playing against Russian athletes, and they can lash out against some other athletes tomorrow.

We suggest that international sports federations refrain from granting the United States the right to host competitions until this situation changes. It is impossible to pander to a state that obviously mixes up sports and politics.

We regret that Washington prefers to tread along this strange road, to sever ties between our nations, including through visa barriers. For our part, we are happy to welcome Americans arriving in Russia. We hope that more and more American citizens will want to see our country with their own eyes and take part in sports events because direct contacts are the best way to strengthen mutual understanding and trust.

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World Drug Report 2018

 

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has submitted its World Drug Report 2018 that highlights more pronounced critical trends in this field. Unfortunately, new record-breaking opium-poppy and coca-leaf “harvests,” as well as heroin and cocaine production volumes, have been posted.

At the same time, we are witnessing a dangerous transformation of the entire structure of the global drug-trafficking system. The share of synthetic drugs, the production of which is not linked with feedstock-growing regions, continues to increase. Moreover, synthetic drugs pose a much greater risk to human health than drugs made from plants.

An extremely alarming situation with the non-medical use of prescription opioids is shaping up. Opioid abuse has reached epidemic proportions in some regions. The report focuses on the so-called fentanyl crisis that has engulfed North America and which is causing the average life expectancy to decrease in the United States and Canada.

These assessments call for further consolidating the international community’s efforts to contain the global drug expansion. The Russian Federation and our supporters, who are ready to counter the worldwide drug challenge with real deeds, advocate this concept all the time.

Our strategic long-term goal is to build a reliable system of a collective anti-drug defence based on interstate cooperation. Unfortunately, not everyone follows this line. We have already expressed our disappointment with the decision of Canadian authorities to legalise cannabis, the most serious trans-border drug problem.

We do not share such approaches, and we still believe that one should not back down, hang out white flags and sign instruments of surrender in the face of the global drug challenge. On the contrary, it is necessary to display self-control and determination in such conditions and to defeat our common enemy through joint efforts. We will continue to move along this road, eventually achieving the global community’s goal as well as building a drug-free world.

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Russian Film Week in Mexico

 

While Mexican football fans enjoyed our hospitality and the atmosphere of football celebration and cheered for their team, Mexico City hosted the Russian Film Week with the support of the Russian Ministry of Culture and the Russian Embassy in Mexico.

It seems that a good tradition is being established. It is the second time an event of this kind has been organised in Mexico since 2016. By the way, several years ago our Mexican friends also organised a similar cultural event in Russia.

Local audiences took great interest in the previous Russian Film Week. This year, the event featured eight new films by young Russian directors, which attracted even more attention of the local viewers.

We are glad to see these events. It is an opportunity for mutual cultural enrichment of our countries and peoples. It also helps us to understand each other better. We look forward to a Mexican film festival in Russia.

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Opening of the exhibition, “The Holocaust: Annihilation, Liberation, Rescue” at the Council of Europe headquarters

 

On July 3, the Council of Europe headquarters in Strasbourg hosted an opening of the exhibition “The Holocaust: Annihilation, Liberation, Rescue.” The event’s keynote was the Red Army’s determining role in the victory over Nazism and in liberation of death camp prisoners.

A more detailed report on the event will be published on the Foreign Ministry’s website.

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Celebration of Ivan Turgenev’s 200th birthday in Baden-Baden and Zurich

 

This year we are marking the 200th birthday of the great Russian novelist, publicist and playwright Ivan Turgenev, who made an invaluable contribution to world literature in the second half of the 19th century. His works influenced the style of not only Russian but also Western European novels.

Late in his life, Ivan Turgenev lived and worked in Germany and France. He was known there and highly appreciated for his writing talent and personality. Along with French writer Victor Hugo, he co-chaired the First International Writers’ Conference in Paris in 1878. Gustave Flaubert and Guy de Maupassant called him their teacher. Many claimed he was their favourite writer.

On July 10-11, the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy is organising the Literature Salons: Russia and the West in Ivan Turgenev’s Works, in Baden-Baden, where the writer worked, as well as in Zurich. The anniversary events are part of the International Diplomatic Forum cultural public diplomacy project.

The Literature Salons will be held in the format of open discussions involving prominent Russian and foreign researchers, literature theorists, diplomats and representatives of the academic and cultural elite, public organisations and Russians living abroad.

The events are supported by the Foreign Ministry, the Russian Embassy in Switzerland, the Consulate General in Frankfurt, the Federal Agency for the CIS Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo), the Russkiy Mir Foundation and the Russian Peace Foundation. We invite speakers, journalists and everyone interested in Turgenev’s life and work to join the event programme and to cover it in the media.

On our part, we would like to suggest that internet users take part in a flashmob in memory of the great Russian writer. The flashmob will be hashtagged #Turgenev200. Do post your favourite quotes, interesting facts about Turgenev and your reviews of his works.

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The Sever Vash Russian Arctic Air Expedition

 

On July 3, Samara hosted the departure of the Sever Vash (Your North) Russian Arctic Air Expedition, a round-the-world oceanic flight round the North Pole in the Arctic Ocean. This is the first leg of the International Round-the-World Oceanic Flight in light amphibian aircraft.

The 45-day flight embraces nine countries with about 50 stops and landings: 15 in Russia’s northern areas (Tyumen, the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area, the Krasnoyarsk Territory, Sakha-Yakutia, and Chukotka), 6 in Alaska, 9 in Canada, 2 in Greenland, 3 in Iceland, 1 in the UK, 2 in Norway , 1 in Sweden, 2 in Finland, and 5 in Central Russia.

The expedition is led by Hero of Russia Pilot Cosmonaut Valery Tokarev, who also heads the Star City municipality.

The expedition will conduct medical, biological, nanotechnological, geoinformational, climatic as well as environmental experiments and studies.

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Poland continues to pull down monuments to Soviet soldiers

 

Poland continues its government-supported bacchanal around the monuments perpetuating the memory of Soviet soldiers who died during World War II. Unwilling to respond to our persistent signals and demands to stop this arbitrary campaign, Warsaw has declared that the demolition of monuments to the liberator soldiers will continue.

Reports are coming in about ever new destructive consequences of this pernicious policy. After the Monument of Gratitude to the Red Army was removed in Dąbrowa Górnicza, Silesian Voivodeship, in May, it is now the turn of yet another memorial in that city and the dismantling is under way. The vigorous stand taken by local activists, who managed to have the project suspended based on the lack of an official go-ahead, was of no avail. The situation is no better in other regions.

To reiterate: settling scores with Soviet monuments that has been sanctioned by the Polish leaders is anything but civilised behaviour and is a violation of legal obligations to Russia. In the meantime, Poland positions itself as a champion of law and morality at international venues, including the UN Security Council, of which it is a non-permanent member. Here are double standards for you.

We also note examples of a different kind. Russia has reached an agreement in principle with the Polish authorities on improvements on the site of a mass burial of Soviet POWs (about 2,500 people), former inmates of the Nazi Stalag II D death camp, discovered near Stargard, West Pomeranian Voivodeship. The remains will be disinterred and identified. After this, they will be reburied with honours in the same place and an appropriate monument will be placed there.

But this episode is more likely an exception from the sad rule. Regrettably, we see the Polish administration’s persistent striving to “sort out” our memorial heritage at its own discretion into “acceptable” and “ideologically unacceptable.” We regard the voluntarist choice of criteria for deciding the fate of Soviet monuments in Poland as far-fetched and harmful.

You cannot bow to the memory of victims alone, while being oblivious of the memory and feat of valour of their liberators as well as those people who voluntarily sacrificed their life for the life of present-day Europe.

We resolutely voice our protest against Warsaw’s current military memorial policy that is affecting our joint history and trying to distort it. We urge Poland once again to discontinue these practices and honestly comply with its international legal obligations. There is no excuse for camouflaging these with so-called “decommunisation.”

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BSEC activities during Azerbaijan’s presidency

 

During our previous briefing, I was asked to comment on Azerbaijan’s upcoming presidency of the Organisation of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), as well as various tasks that Russia, a BSEC member-country, will address during this period. In this connection, I would like to say the following.

Azerbaijan will preside over the Organisation in July-December. We perceive the preservation of its positive and non-politicised agenda as one the Organisation’s top-priority tasks during Azerbaijan’s presidency.

To the best of our knowledge, the timeframe of events in the period of Azerbaijan’s presidency has not been finalised yet. We hope that it will aim to strengthen close departmental cooperation between BSEC member countries. We expect ministerial meetings and various events organised by departmental agencies, including in energy, transport, culture, emergencies management cooperation, the fight against organised crime, development of trade and economic cooperation, tourism, and small and medium-sized businesses.

We would also praise steps aiming to expand the project-oriented dimension of BSEC activities and the further expansion of the project potential. We expect the Black Sea Project Promotion Facility, which has been established on Russia’s initiative and using its voluntary donation to help expand mutual trade between BSEC member countries. With due consideration for previously issued grants, BSEC member countries increasingly focus on this Facility, which is gradually becoming a key tool for addressing the Organisation’s tasks, including efforts to obtain additional practical results from intra-BSEC cooperation.

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Russian company completes clean-up operations after thermal power station accident in Azerbaijan

 

As you know, a major accident happened at a thermal power station in Azerbaijan. I would like to note that Russian’s Inter RAO energy holding provided substantial assistance in resuming power supplies. According to Azerbaijani media outlets, the company did a good job. President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev noted this yesterday and thanked Russia and Georgia for their assistance in connection with the situation in the country’s power grid.

 

Answers to media questions:

Question: We have recently witnessed the triumph of the Russian national football team. The whole of Moscow and Russia, as well as foreign fans celebrated its victory. Russia received a great number of greetings, including from the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry. How did other countries react to this victory? Have any of those who are boycotting this championship sent their greetings?

Maria Zakharova: You can see for yourself, because we publish all such greetings, including on the social media. The embassies and many foreign ministries sent their greetings to the official accounts of the Foreign Ministry of Russia and its diplomatic offices abroad. Yes, we have received a great number of official greetings, as well as unofficial greetings from officials delivered through the diplomatic corps. We received a hearty response from football fans around the world, including both Russian and foreign fans.

Question: Any word from the foreign ministries of the countries that are boycotting the 2018 FIFA World Cup?

Maria Zakharova: I believe that greetings have no connection to the boycott. Many officials, in particular from Northern Europe, are revising their position. You have probably seen this happen. First they said they would not go [to Russia], and then they changed their minds. We have taken note of this.

I would like to say once again that although we have to monitor these terrible warnings against going to Russia, the boycott and various other admonitions, our door is still open to all those who want to attend the matches and cheer for their teams, be they ordinary fans, representatives of sports associations, officials or heads of state. This is our customary position, which has not changed.

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Question: Ri Su-yong, Director of the International Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee, came to Moscow for a visit on Tuesday. Who will he meet with, and what will they discuss? Are there any new details regarding Kim Jong-un’s planned visit to Russia?

Maria Zakharova: I will request information regarding your first question. As for summit meetings, we traditionally refer you to the Executive Office of the President of Russia.

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Question: Sergey Lavrov had a meeting with his Jordanian counterpart yesterday. During a similar meeting a year ago, the parties discussed military technology cooperation between Russia and Jordan. Did they talk about it yesterday? The official release does not mention this. Have the difficult situation with rebels in Jordan and general instability and tension in the region prevented the sides from reaching any agreements? Or has there been progress in this sphere?

Maria Zakharova: I would say that yesterday the ministers focused on regional affairs. As you have said, Sergey Lavrov spoke about the results of that meeting at a news conference, where he said so quite clearly. Regional matters and the situation in the region as a whole were at the centre of the discussions.

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Question: Ukraine’s Naftogaz has again said that Gazprom assets would be seized in keeping with the ongoing litigation in Brussels. Do you expect any improvement in this sphere? Will pressure on Russian companies ease? Will the Foreign Ministry do something to help?

Maria Zakharova: Regarding Ukraine and its possible actions against Russian companies, this is old news. Regrettably, the situation has been developing in various forms over many years, for decades, actually. Even when we maintained full-scale relations with Ukraine, Kiev turned the energy sector into a painful element. The situation continued to deteriorate into a scandal despite all the talks and negotiations. I would like to remind you about the internal political processes in Ukraine that are connected with the electoral cycle. Much of what has been said and done is connected with the electoral cycle. I would like to reaffirm our position that political instability must not be allowed to affect energy cooperation, despite Kiev’s repeated attempts to create a connection between the two.

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Question: Our Japanese colleagues have reported that a 2+2 format meeting between foreign and defence ministers of Russia and Japan is scheduled to take place this month. July 21 was mentioned as a possible date. Can you confirm these reports? If so, in which country will this meeting take place?

Maria Zakharova: I have already commented on this topic. July 21 is off the agenda. We will announce the date as soon as we can. All I can say is that preparations for the meeting are underway. We will keep you updated on the location of the meeting. As you understand, there is a connection between the date and place of the meeting. It is not the first time that I hear and comment on July 21 as a possible date, and every time I have to say that this date is not on the agenda.

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Question: The OHCHR Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures Idriss Jazairy has said recently that the sanctions imposed on Russia by the West affected primarily the West. He said that this was an outdated approach, in that it was impossible to hurt Russia without hurting yourself. To what extent do you believe people in the West share this perspective, and can we expect the economy to prevail over politics in the long run, paving the way to the lifting of sanctions to the benefit of Russia, Europe and the US?

Maria Zakharova: I have seen the reports relating to the UN Rapporteur who said that at the end of the day Western sanctions turned against those who imposed them (meaning the West), instead of those who were initially targeted. This is so, as we have said. There are facts and figures to prove this point. Russia had to find a way to take advantage of this situation, but this was not our choice. However, if the West engaged along this path, we had to respond, and the response was designed to serve the interests of the Russian Federation.

The outcome for the West was quite painful. This is not a reason for us to rejoice at the misfortune of others, since the politicians who developed, implemented and imposed these decisions were not the ones who suffered from them. The burden was shifted to ordinary people, European agricultural producers, individuals and companies who have been developing trade, economic and financial relations with Russia for many years, as well as investors who now get lower returns. Instead of expressing malicious glee we regret to see that after seeking to benefit from globalisation for so long, although there is also a downside to it as well, and seeking to expand the opportunities promised by globalisation, the West eliminated in a single blow all the positive achievements, constructive undertakings as well as benefits of operating in a globalised world.

This will serve as a very important lesson. We are talking here about strategic industries. This is an example of relying on easy solutions for resolving misunderstandings that predated the crisis, which only makes things worse, since the crisis was followed by unilateral measures to put pressure on us. This made things only worse and resulted in the consequences mentioned by UN representatives.

We share this view. To what extent are the Western countries aware of this? It all depends. People who are not involved in these sectors are less aware of these facts because the media prefer not to mention this. At the same time, people involved in the EU’s agriculture are fully aware. I have quoted their letters and messages on a number of occasions in which they express regret, etc.

I can assure you that politicians know this all too well. Some of them pretend that this is not happening, while others on the contrary use this information for their own aims. We see that these facts and figures are being used for inciting protest. When we are asked about the political changes in Europe and our view of these developments, implying that the ‘hand of Moscow’ was to blame, we respond that it was not Moscow, but Brussels to blame since it was the EU that introduced sanctions that hurt EU producers, which led them to change their political views as well as preferences.

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Question: Can you please comment on the United States’ demands for the United Kingdom to increase its defence spending?

Maria Zakharova: We have seen these reports. I can say that this is not the first such move by the United States. This is a policy that is directed not only at the United Kingdom but many other areas, with respect to both individual countries and, for example, NATO. This is a policy of forcing NATO allies to increase the alliance’s military spending.

The reports in the media that you are talking about should be viewed in the same context. These reports include references to a bold letter by US Secretary of Defence to his British counterpart. The letter contains an ultimatum, requesting a significant increase in Britain’s military budget to avoid losing its status as “number one partner in Europe.” Once again, I am referring to the media.

Speaking about trends, there obviously is a trend and it is disturbing. In particular, we cannot help but be disturbed by the growth in NATO’s military budget. This is accompanied by the strengthening of the “Eastern front” despite the fact that the alliance has other obvious problems. There are problems and they are indeed much more serious.

Also, this coincides with a growing concentration of respective forces and facilities by NATO members at the borders of our country. The alliance is protecting itself against some factitious threats, creating and building structures from the times of bloc confrontation. NATO and the United States continue to build their missile defences in Europe. The allies have increased the scale and intensity of their command and combat training which is aimed at exploring a European scene of operation. Obviously, this military activity by the alliance is aimed at creating a springboard for putting forceful pressure on our country. The increasing potential for conflict on the European continent is a direct consequence of military preparations which are unprecedented since the end of the Cold War.

Without any ultimatums, the United Kingdom is already exceeding its target for military spending of 2 per cent. However, as we understand it and as our analysis confirms, Britain was not selected by Washington at random but because the country has repeatedly claimed to have a special relationship with the United States and it must remain at the so-called forefront of the NATO bloc. This is an example of obvious pressure by the United States on its allies in relation to increases in military spending. Of course, this does not contribute to the strengthening of military and political stability in Europe.

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Question: Last Sunday, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko again announced that Ukrainian flags will be raised on Ukrainian ships in the bays of Sevastopol. He said this while congratulating Ukrainian Navy personnel on their professional holiday. What is your response to this statement?

Maria Zakharova: Honestly, I do not really understand why this statement caused such repercussions and so many negative reactions in Sevastopol. Crimea has repeatedly heard our statements supporting it in all its concerns, but in this case, I do not share Crimea’s negative attitude to Poroshenko’s statement because, for one thing, I can see that the President of Ukraine is moving in the direction of greater realism. I proceed from the fact that, when announcing the intention to raise the Ukrainian flag in Sevastopol, the President of Ukraine could be referring to the opening of a general consulate there. I do not see anything negative in this. It is a normal diplomatic practice, which must be formalised accordingly. We are ready for this. Let them send documents, open a general consulate with the consent of the Russian Federation and raise the flag there. I do not think that Crimeans would object to that.

Question: President Poroshenko’s recent visit to Serbia has drawn a lot of attention from the Serbian public. Yesterday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vuсiс, while talking to the media, was asked to comment on the assessments of this visit that appeared in some media outlets, including the fact that neither the US nor Russia liked the way Poroshenko was received in Serbia.

Maria Zakharova: Russia did not like the way Poroshenko was received in Serbia?

Question: That was the assessment made by a correspondent with one of the Russian media outlets in the Balkans.

Maria Zakharova: Could it have been his personal assessment? Here is our usual position: A country has its sovereign right to develop relations with other states. There can be no negative assessments of the relations between Serbia and Ukraine on the part of Russia in principle. We ourselves have the aim of developing relations with Ukraine, the Ukrainian people. There can be no negative assessments of cooperation between the two countries.

If some anti-Russian statements were made during this visit, we certainly could not support them or agree with them. To be honest, we did not even hear what Poroshenko said there.

Question: Earlier this year in Poland, the Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia met with the mediation of the OSCE Minsk Group. They reached agreement, in particular, on the expansion of the Office of the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office there. I would like to know whether this process of expanding the Office has begun and how it will affect the settlement process as a whole.

Maria Zakharova: I will get updates and provide you with information as soon as possible.

Question: My question has to do with political prisoners in Ukraine…

Maria Zakharova: Do you want to ask about Savchenko?

Question: No, not at all.

Maria Zakharova: For some reason no one wants to ask about Savchenko.

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Question: There are people who suffer from the repression of the Kiev regime. Can Russia help people who do not have Russian citizenship, or call attention to this issue so that Ukraine respects human rights and rights of political prisoners? In this particular case, our Bulgarian readers asked about a young woman of Bulgarian origin who has been in a remand prison in Odessa for more than three years on an unproven charge of terrorism. This is not a unique case.

Maria Zakharova: I agree with you that we should look for every opportunity, for any options to help our citizens. I understand your question, although, indeed, she is not a Russian citizen. I understand why they are trying every option to bring about her release. There are many such examples. Of course, first of all, they need to attract international human rights groups and specialised organisations such as the OSCE, the Council of Europe and so on.

Unfortunately, our experience with Ukraine in this respect cannot be described as positive. I just talked about journalist Kirill Vyshinsky who was arrested, unprecedentedly, for journalistic activity, only for this, without any other reason. Moreover, allow me to repeat, what is being done to him and how he is being treated is a separate matter, for consideration by the international community.

Frankly, I do not even know what can be done here. If you have any details, could you provide them to us? I will pass them on to our experts. Perhaps they will have some answer to this question.

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Question: Regarding the incident in Amesbury, it appears that the British authorities simply are not in control of the situation. Does the Foreign Ministry plan to issue a warning to Russian citizens in the UK?

Maria Zakharova: Today I made all the statements we wanted to make. I made a point saying that we believe today is not the time to politicise things. On the contrary, now is the time to finally stop these dirty political games and start doing what had to be done on day one, namely, open a joint investigation bearing in mind that the matter involves Russian citizens and that there were no official evidence or leads offered for several months with regard to the first case. What we had instead was endless quoting of sources, unnamed sources or people who refused to identify themselves.

Please note that it happened four months ago. All the punitive measures have already been taken, although neither perpetrators, nor suspects have been brought to justice. For four full months now we have been living in an information vacuum. Everyone is periodically fed leaks that are not confirmed even after their release. So, today I said that everything is turning out in a way that allows us to have law enforcement agencies work normally, and urged the British authorities not to put up political obstacles to UK law enforcement bodies interacting with their counterparts in Russia.

Question: Today, you accused the British government of intrigues and games with toxic agents ...

Maria Zakharova: On the contrary, I thought it was your strong point.

Question: Can you explain what you mean when you say that the British government poisoned people in Salisbury, that is, Amesbury?

Maria Zakharova: To reiterate, today, when we see a great flood of contradictory information coming from London, we do not consider it necessary to make any political statements. We consider it necessary to urge the law enforcement agencies of Great Britain to begin a normal investigation in conjunction with their Russian counterparts, and we urged the British government not to obstruct this process.

I believe I made it very clear. This is not the time to continue political intrigues. What else can you call international bullying and an international campaign to expel Russian diplomats other than intrigue? What do you call what has been done at the OPCW during this time? It is all games and intrigue. However, we made a point of saying that now is not the time to exchange political accusations, but rather it is the right time to launch a joint investigation in the name of the safety of people in Europe since this is happening in the UK, but this also involves Russian citizens and, as we were told by Great Britain, the Russian citizens were also affected.

To reiterate, our embassy in London sent a whole bunch of official documents inviting Britain to start working with Russian law enforcement agencies. Response is nil. That's what we need to talk about today. All political assessments will be given, but today it is important not to miss the right moment and to start working together.

Are you not interested in this as a British subject? Is it really in your interest to leave this case unresolved? For four months now nobody knows the truth about what happened there. I don’t think you know either, but you just don’t want to say so. For four months now everyone, including the BBC, is forced to run endless "leaks" on this matter. For four months now, we heard nothing from London other than unnamed sources and "highly likely." Don’t you think we’ve had enough of it and that now it’s time to do start doing real work together? If the goal was to create a political wave, it is now gone. Perhaps someone in London received some bonuses. Perhaps it's time to stop and really think about the issue which, as we are being told, is chemical warfare agents. If today we are talking about four people, isn’t it perhaps time to make some effort and take it from the political sphere to the sphere of law enforcement?

Question: TASS website issued a report marked "breaking news" quoting Kyoto news agency that the 2 + 2 Japan-Russia talks will be held in Moscow on July 28 or 29. How accurate is this information?

Maria Zakharova: I have said everything about this. As soon as we can confirm this meeting, its date and place, we will do so. Please do not quote each other, but use official information instead.

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