Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, August 3, 2018
- The situation in Syria
- Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ravina Shamdasani on the situation in Syria
- Implementation of the Russian initiative on the return of refugees to Syria
- Canada’s plans to accept White Helmets activists
- UNESCO’s position on restoring Palmyra
- Investigation into the death of Russian journalists in the Central African Republic
- Misinformation about the Russian journalists killed in the Central African Republic
- Assistance Abroad mobile app
- Status of journalists operating in armed conflict zones
- Situation concerning the arrest of Maria Butina
- Arrest of RIA Novosti Ukraine Editor-in-Chief Kirill Vyshinsky
- Developments in Afghanistan
- The inauguration of the new Director-General of the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)
- Release of a film on Russia’s contribution to international development through UN organisations
- Parliamentary elections in Cambodia
- Situation with British Consulate General in St Petersburg
- Developments around the investigation into the Salisbury and Amesbury incidents
- Investigation of Nikolai Glushkov’s murder case
- The use of chemical weapons by British forces during the military intervention in Russia
- Destructive activity of the Bellingcat group on social media
- US State Department statement regarding Facebook
- Regarding exercise Noble Partner
- Statement by Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service chief Mikk Marran
- Waffen SS commemoration in Estonia
- Perpetuating the memory of Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas in Lithuania
- Grave of Soviet secret agent Nikolai Kuznetsov desecrated in Lvov
- Polish court decision on Leonid Sviridov’s case
- Mountain climbers injured by a rockfall in the Kyrgyz mountains
- Roads of Glory: Our History youth charity patriotic event
- BaltArtek International Forum
- Possibility of Russian nationals’ travel to the Republic of Turkey using domestic passports
Answers to media questions:
- Investigation into murder of Russian journalists in the Central African Republic
- Taliban’s possible participation in Moscow format meeting in Afghanistan
- Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan’s possible visit to Moscow
- Russian journalists’ purpose of stay in the Central African Republic
- North Korean workers’ stay in the Russian Federation
- United States’ plans to introduce more sanctions against Russia
- Western countries’ participation in repatriation of Syrian refugees
- Specifics of journalists’ assignment to military conflict zones
- Progress in Salisbury incident probe
- Difficulties Russian Orthodox priests face obtaining visas to visit holy sites in Greece
- Spy scandal inflated by The Guardian
- Second Turkey Festival in Russia
- Prospects of signing Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea at the Fifth Caspian Summit
- Zhara International Music Festival in Baku
The situation in Syria remains complicated, but the trend towards improvement continues, generally.
The operation by Syrian government forces to eliminate a hotbed of terrorism in the southwestern provinces of Deraa and Quneitra is nearing completion. Over the past few days, the Syrian army, with the assistance of the "reconciled" Shabab as-Sunnah group, has pushed the ISIS-affiliated Khalid ibn al-Walid Army to the demarcation line with Israel and the border with Jordan. As of July 30, no more than 2 percent of the Deraa province remained controlled by ISIS. About 120 towns were returned to Syrian government control, of which over 50 were taken peacefully. Major supplies of food and weapons, including Western-made supplies, are being discovered in the fortified areas abandoned by the extremists. Losses among the militants are also rising with 230 terrorists killed on the southwestern "front" in the last 10 days of July alone.
Meanwhile, Syrian government forces are growing stronger. In addition to "reconciled" illegal armed forces who have joined the government forces, their ranks are being replenished by volunteers from among the gunmen who decided to “correct” their status. Thus, 150 former members of the Free Syrian Army registered with a volunteer recruiting station in the town of Nava in southwest Deraa province in mid-July on the first day it opened.
In the neighbouring province of Quneitra, the process of disarming "reconciled" militants is nearing completion. At the same time, the "irreconcilables" and their families are being taken from there to northern Syria. Over 9,000 people left Quneitra in the Idlib de-escalation area. In Idlib itself, the leaders of some groups are trying to establish contact with the Centre for the Reconciliation of Opposing Sides as they try to figure out the terms for possible reconciliation with the authorities.
We noted a statement by Ravina Shamdasani, an official representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, regarding terrorist attacks committed by ISIS in southwestern Syria, in particular, the suicide attack in Suwayda on July 25, which killed over 250 people, and the taking of women and children from al-Shabika hostage. Certainly, we agree with the strong condemnation of these inhumane attacks by OHCHR. However, the UN gave a very unusual explanation for the outbreak of violence in southern Syria linking it to emergence of new ISIS gunmen in the province of Suwayda allegedly brought from Yarmouk, Hajar al-Aswad and Tadamun as part of a "deal" between Damascus and the militants. Ravina Shamdasani expressed concern about the possibility that the situation in Suwayda would deteriorate and urged Damascus to refrain from taking ISIS militants to densely populated areas.
In this regard, we would like to note that, in its statement, the OHCHR has purposefully and, I would go as far as saying - shamelessly - distorted the facts. There was no such thing as "evacuating" ISIS members from Yarmouk, Hajar al-Aswad or Tadamun to southern Syria, as there are no agreements between the Syrian government and the militants on this account. The only evacuation operation that has ever taken place during this period was relocating women and children from the three towns mentioned above, and not to the south, but to northern Idlib.
Thus, in fact, simply taking advantage of the tragedy in Suwayda, these "human rights activists" actually tried to accuse Damascus not only of "collusion" with the militants, but also of the subsequent raid by terrorist killers in southern Syria. Notably, the actual deals with ISIS, where they left large towns on their own, such as Iraqi Mosul and Syrian Raqqa, went unnoticed by the OHCHR.
Attempts to hold the Syrian government responsible for the acts of terror committed by ISIS in the southeast of the country are unacceptable. They grossly pervert the real situation in Syria.
We consider these insinuations that, to our great regret, are made by UN officials on the tragedies of the people that were affected by these acts of terror as discrediting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the office she heads. Unfortunately, this is not the first case where considerations of expediency and anti-Syrian objectives have prevailed over common sense and truth, all the more so taking into account the absence of response by this international human rights office on the real agreements with ISIS that I have talked about.
For obvious reasons, the press is paying much attention to the implementation of the Russian initiative on the return of refugees to Syria. There are some details on this issue.
During our daily cooperation with the Russian Defence Ministry, the Foreign Ministry is actively working on mobilising international efforts to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons to the places of their residence.
Implementing this initiative, the interdepartmental coordination headquarters supervising the return of refugees to Syria conducts meetings and joint briefings.
In the process we are maintaining close contact with the authorities of the foreign states that accepted Syrian refugees on their territory with a view to receiving precise information on the number of people. In the aggregate, over 6.8 million refugees have been recorded in 45 countries, including 2 million women and 3.5 million children. According to the UN Refugee Agency, the highest number of Syrian refugees is in Turkey (over 3.5 million), Lebanon (about 1.975 million) and Jordan (over half a million or 660,000 to be more accurate). In a tentative estimate, a desire to return home was expressed by more than 1.5 – 1.7 million Syrians from eight countries (Brazil, Germany, Denmark, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey).
The homecoming of refugees is most active from Lebanon and Jordan. The Foreign Ministry and the Russian Defence Ministry, as well as our Embassy in Damascus and the Center for the Reconciliation of the Warring Parties all cooperate directly with the Syrian government on the return of refugees. The number of internally displaced persons who are returning to their permanent residences is increasing.
We believe the efforts to resolve the problems of refugees and internally displaced persons should be primarily aimed at increasing humanitarian relief to those who need it, rendering medical aid to the sick and wounded and restoring Syria’s socio-economic infrastructure. These activities should be conducted on a collective and, certainly, depoliticised basis, in accordance with UN rules, in the interests of Syrians and on Syria’s entire territory.
We believe that Syria’s socio-economic recovery and the homecoming of refugees and internally displaced persons is an urgent priority international task. Accomplishing this will largely promote success in expediting the beginning of a truly peaceful life and eradicating terrorism and the factors that generate it on Syrian soil.
The unilateral financial and economic actions that have been introduced against Syria by some countries and regional associations are a serious obstacle on this road. We insist on the suspension of these artificial restrictions that are impeding the normalisation of life in Syria and a long-term settlement on the firm foundation of international law, including the universally adopted UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
We regularly comment on anything related to the pseudo-humanitarian organisation the White Helmets. Actually, frankly speaking, they should have changed their name from White Helmets to White Masks a long time ago. Because these people who had for many years pretended to be humanitarians, in reality turned out to be, and this fact has been proved by now, mere foreign agents who worked on the territory of Syria for vast sums of money, advancing anti-Syrian interests and the interests of other nations. Currently they are being rushed out and stashed away in different countries.
And so we took note of Canada’s recent decision to harbour the White Helmets. Let me remind you that they just pretended to be humanitarian workers, it was all pantomime. No, it goes beyond that – they had close ties to extremists. The fact that they will be hidden away in Canada now, to be honest, did not surprise us for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it is well known that Ottawa alongside with some other western capitals has long been providing this group, let us be specific, both moral and direct financial support. Major sums, millions of dollars. Meanwhile I will remind you that those supposed humanitarian workers, who are in fact pseudo-humanitarian workers, became notorious for their staged scenes on orders from anti-government groups, they tried to keep the war in Syria going as long as possible, to fuel more and more conflicts, to pit Syrians against each other, and to bring Syria and the Syrian people down rather than render real assistance to the victims.
Apparently, there are other factors which prompted Canada to accept these new so-called “refugees.” The White Helmets and the Canadian authorities are one in the same with respect to groundless accusations against the Syrian authorities as well as blaming Russia. By the way, it is a big question what ordinary Canadians are going to feel about such “refugees” after the terrorist groups are destroyed and after realising what is going on now on the ground, and we hope such a realisation will come.
I would like to point out that Canada’s history already has stains, in particular, when it became a shelter for Nazis who hadn’t been finished off, we remember that perfectly well, including the punitive Ukrainian battalions of the SS. We can remind those in Canada who might have forgotten. I would also like to point out that many of them never faced justice for their atrocities. Meanwhile, now Ottawa is embracing a new wave – this time terrorist accomplices. The Canadian public do have things to ponder.
We were asked a question on the UNESCO position and steps that this international organisation is taking to restore Palmyra. I would like to say that the UNESCO position on restoring Palmyra is based on the need to strictly follow the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World’s Cultural and Natural Heritage and its Operational Guidelines, I mean the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention. In this context, the authorities of the Organisation in protecting world heritage are exercised under the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, and UN Security Council Resolutions 2199 and 2253 (they focus on protecting cultural property in case of an armed conflict) and also UN Security Council Resolution 2347 aimed at protecting cultural property under the threat of destruction.
The 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee in Manama (Bahrain, June 24 – July 4) reaffirmed that it would be advisable to refrain from restoring objects in Syria before a UNESCO expert mission arrives in the country. In addition, the possibility of sending such a mission in the near future is not being considered and is made dependent on “security conditions.” The UN security service takes decisions on whether conditions are adequate.
In addition, UNESCO has spread the word that from March 2015 until April 2018, in the framework of the Emergency Safeguarding of the Syrian Cultural Heritage three-year project financed by the European Union, in which special centres and institutions were involved, over 50 actions were carried out that were aimed at preserving the Syrian heritage, and a list of almost 700 exhibits from all over the world was compiled, some cultural objects in Palmyra were restored, damage to 170 historical buildings in Aleppo was assessed, and photographs and papers that were under the threat of destruction were digitalised.
This tragic incident has triggered an entire wave of pain, compassion and sympathy in Russian society as well as all over the world. I have already offered my personal condolences to the families, colleagues and friends of the deceased Russian journalists who were visiting the Central African Republic. And now, I would like to officially offer our profound condolences to them.
I would now like to brief you on the efforts being made by the Foreign Ministry and Russian diplomats to investigate into the death of the Russian journalists and to repatriate their bodies. Initial investigation results show that the journalists were attacked by unknown assailants and were killed while trying to resist them. I would like to remind you that all the findings, even preliminary ones, will be voiced during the investigation. We can only provide information that can be published, including with the consent of investigative agencies.
Four experts from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) are currently involved in the investigation. On August 1-2, the country’s law enforcement agencies, supported by UN specialists, inspected the crime scene and questioned eyewitnesses in Sibut city, as well as in villages near which the attack took place. A meeting involving representatives of the country’s gendarmerie and representatives of the Russian Embassy is scheduled to take place today, on August 3 in the capital of the Central African Republic, with its participants summing up preliminary results of the investigation team’s work.
The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation has opened a criminal case under Article 105 of the national Criminal Code (murdering two persons and more). Committee officials are in contact with the Russian Embassy in the Central African Republic and their colleagues from the country’s law enforcement agencies.
What other information has been obtained during the first few days of the investigation and Russian diplomats’ cooperation with local law enforcement agencies and the UN mission? I can state the following, while comprehensively replying to questions that have been submitted to the Foreign Ministry. Today, we can once again confirm, as proved by an evaluation of the tragedy’s circumstances, that the Russian journalists did not request accreditation from the UN mission and the Central African Republic’s Ministry of Communications and Mass Media or any other official agencies of this state. Officials from the Permanent Russian Mission to the UN in New York City made prompt contacts at the UN Secretariat on orders from the Foreign Ministry and its central administration. These contacts show that media assertions about the alleged coordination of security matters between the film crew and MINUSCA are not true. Neither the Mission, nor the UN Secretariat’s Department of Safety and Security knew about the trip of the Russian journalists until the Central African Republic’s authorities reported their deaths. According to UN officials, the journalists drove around in a private car with a hired local driver, while staying in the country.
During conversations (working negotiations) between officials of the Russian Embassy, chiefs of law enforcement agencies of the Central African Republic and the country’s Ministry of Communications and Mass Media, it turned out that, for unknown reasons, the Russian journalists did not request any assistance and journalist accreditation from the concerned local agencies. It also turned out that the journalists, unfortunately, did not wear flak vests and helmets with the appropriate inscriptions confirming their affiliation with the press.
Unfortunately, we have noted numerous speculations that the journalists were not allowed to visit training camps in the Central African Republic, and that they had to conduct a secret investigation in this connection, and so on. All this is not true. Journalists from any country would not be allowed to visit a military base where representatives of the Central African Republic’s law enforcement agencies and Russian instructors work without prior approval from the local Defence Ministry. Training camps of the Central African Republic’s army are top-secret facilities that can only be visited by accredited journalists with the approval of the competent authorities. Such activities are allowed, provided that the concerned parties obtain this accreditation and are instructed accordingly by local authorities and law enforcement agencies. Earlier, national authorities approved similar requests made by other representatives of foreign media outlets, including those from Western countries. But, for unknown reasons, the Russian group failed to coordinate its visit and work. Nor did the Central African Republic’s law enforcement and military agencies receive such requests in advance.
What do we have so far? The bodies of the deceased are currently placed at the best-equipped hospital in Bangui. The Russian Embassy’s officials are doing their best to have them repatriated already today, on August 3. For ethical reasons, we will not announce the date of the flight’s arrival. At the same time, all data, including specific deadlines for the flight’s arrival, were submitted to the relatives of the deceased. As I have said, we maintain contact with them.
What is being done on the spot to assist the investigation in that country? Considering the friendly nature of the ties between Moscow and Bangui, the Central African Republic’s authorities are focusing on this situation. After our appeals and demands, we were told that the country’s authorities were ready to closely cooperate with us and to clarify the tragedy’s circumstances.
President of the Central African Republic Faustin-Archange Touadéra sent a personal message to President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, offering his condolences and expressing hope that the Central African Republic would be able to restore peace and security on its territory with Russian support, so as to avoid such crimes in the future. For his part, the country’s Minister of Francophonie and State Protocol Chancel Sekode Ndeugbayi , now acting as Minister of Foreign Affairs and of Central Africans’ Affairs Abroad, also offered his condolences in a message to Sergey Lavrov, noting that the Central African Republic’s authorities would do everything possible to apprehend and punish the culprits.
The Foreign Ministry continues to prioritise this matter in collaboration with the Government of the Central African Republic and MINUSCA, as well as competent Russian agencies, including the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation. We will continue to update you on the course of the investigation as well as any incoming information, with due account for ethical aspects.
We are shocked by the brazen misinformation the media has been spreading. Certain articles are beyond any human understanding of ethics and legality. They do everything in their power to misinterpret the information, data and reality of the situation with the Russian instructors in the Central African Republic (CAR), despite the fact that the corresponding official information has been published by official resources of Russian ministries and agencies. In this sense, and also in the context of the questions we have received from you, I would like to mention this matter once again. Let me remind you that this information has been available from official Foreign Ministry resources for several months. As of today, 175 instructors are working in the Central African Republic, including 5 military ones and 170 civilians. The Russian experts have been sent there on a lawful basis: on the request from the country’s president to provide cooperation in training Central African military personnel. The Russian experts’ main task is to provide free training to local soldiers on how to use weapons and equipment provided to the CAR by the Russian Defence Ministry in late January – early February of 2018.
As we have noted many times, they were provided in strict accordance with international law. We would like to emphasise once again that the permission of the UN Security Council Committee 2127 on the CAR was issued according to procedure. The acceptance, transport, security and placement of Russian weapons at Bangui storage sites were carried out in cooperation with the UN Stabilisation Mission in the CAR and with participation of observers from the European Union Training Mission and the UN Mine Action Service.
The Russian experts have helped train 600 Central African soldiers, many of which have already begun fighting illegal military groups and protecting civilians.
The Russian weapons and instructors were sent to the Central African Republic during an escalation of the military and political crisis to help the local authorities address the impending tasks of reforming security forces and upgrading its personnel’s military skills. In addition, we would like to stress that the Russian military experts take no part in combat in the CAR; training military personnel is their only responsibility.
As of today, work is being done to update the contractual basis of bilateral relations in the military sphere. The corresponding draft agreement is being coordinated at the moment.
Unfortunately, due to the difficult security situation in the country we cannot speak about any specific time when the mission of the Russian experts will be over. This will depend on the improvement of the situation on the ground and the progress in Central African soldiers’ training among other things. We proceed from the premise that as peace and security in the Central African Republic are restored and the national reconciliation process progresses, the country will be able to regain control of its territory, which will make the presence of foreign experts unnecessary.
I would like to stress once more that Russian cooperation is provided in line with the general efforts of the international community to strengthen the national law enforcement agencies in the country. We understand why the experts’ actions attract such attention in this situation but we cannot understand why this information is being so badly distorted.
In relation to the tragedy in the Central African Republic (CAR) that resulted in the deaths of three Russian citizens, we would like to once again remind you that when you go abroad you should use the information on the websites of the Federal Agency for Tourism and the Foreign Ministry (including the Consular Department websites) to avoid unforeseen situations and, if unavoidable, to minimise the consequences. We believe, and for good reason based on the expertise and feedback we received last year, that the Assistance Abroad mobile app designed by the Foreign Ministry’s Crisis Management Centre would be of help to anyone who travels abroad, especially to difficult and problem regions. It contains important recommendations for various emergencies.
We have mentioned this and presented it many times; we have even held special media briefings to describe how to use this app so journalists can report on it to a broad audience in detail.
As a reminder, the Foreign Ministry officially presented the Assistance Abroad mobile app in September 2016. It contains as many tips on countries, regions and the situation there as possible, including security related issues. In addition to these data, the app contains information on crime, the terrorist alert level and entry and exit procedures.
Honestly, we were surprised to see the large amount of materials published on the social networks that assume that journalists are not required to apply for entrance documentation and that tourist visas are adequate. Of course, they are, but there may be consequences. I would like to remind you that each country, in both stable and problem regions, has its own accreditation rules for a number of reasons. I would like to note that each EU country has its own unique accreditation rules despite the provisions that unite them in complex areas like the economy, law and foreign policy. I mean that every EU state has its own accreditation procedures. And so do many other countries and regions where the situation differs from Europe. Everything is done for a reason. All of this is done to protect and save the lives of journalists who, for obvious reasons, have to work in the most difficult situations, combat zones included. But they must follow the accreditation rules on the ground.
The mobile app can build a route with information on people who can accompany you, and this information will be promptly sent to Moscow in case of emergency.
The app contains contact details needed in an emergency. In addition, it has the special “panic button” to send for help with one touch. If this button is used, Moscow, the Foreign Ministry and its Crisis Management Centre receive user location data.
The Foreign Ministry monitors existing crises including new ones that crop up anywhere in the world. Using the information received from embassies, other government agencies, media and social networks, it develops recommendations for Russian citizens traveling abroad. This information is constantly updated by diplomatic missions on site. In addition to the Assistance Abroad app and the Foreign Ministry and Crisis Management Centre’s websites, there are also accounts in social media where additional information and details can be promptly provided.
Now I would like to specifically talk about the status of journalists operating in armed conflict zones. I want to address this topic after all since there was a lot of speculation. It is particularly striking that there have been calls to completely ignore any regulations and work “on the ground as is,” at one’s own risk.
The status of various categories of journalists working in an armed conflict appears to be sufficiently regulated. They all enjoy a very high level of protection under modern humanitarian law. This should be utilised.
The legal framework for journalists’ security is provided by existing international law (including the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the additional Protocol I to it of 1977), according to which journalists, media professionals and related staff operating on dangerous work assignments in conflict zones are considered to be civilians and are protected on the condition that they do not engage in any activity contradictory to this status and, of course, that they identify themselves as members of the press. Therefore, under any circumstances they enjoy the fundamental guarantees that prohibit, in particular, any violent actions threatening the life and wellbeing of any people in control of any conflict party, as well as any kind of torture, offence to human dignity and hostage-taking.
Russia considers any cases of violence against journalists during armed conflicts as unacceptable. The Federal Agency for Press and Mass Media with support from the Defence Ministry and other security agencies, as well as the Foreign Ministry supported by the Moscow Union of Journalists have developed and successfully implemented Bastion training courses. I understand that perhaps right now it may prompt bitter laughter from you but if we continue to speak about this regularly and if everybody uses it, the chances of safe return will perhaps increase. This is a special training course for representatives of the media outlets and information departments of government bodies who operate in the conditions of a crisis (armed conflicts, counter-terrorist operations, emergencies or mass riots).
One of the purposes of this training programme is to provide trainees with knowledge and skills that will ensure their safety and wellbeing and help them to act appropriately in critical situations while on assignment.
We are monitoring the situation concerning Russian citizen Maria Butina, who was arrested in the United States on July 15 on far-fetched charges of operating in the United States as an unregistered foreign agent.
The other day diplomats from the Russian Embassy in Washington once again visited Butina and found out that the conditions of her confinement leave much to be desired, to put it mildly. She is being treated as a dangerous criminal and has been put in solitary confinement, where she is watched around the clock. The wardens who stand guard at her cell enter it in the dead of night, allegedly to check on her, turned on the light and disrupted her sleep. Maria’s cell is very cold and she only receives meagre portions of food. Unlike other prisoners, Butina is not allowed to take walks outside. We have taken up all these problems with the American side.
In light of this prejudiced and unacceptable treatment of a Russian citizen, Embassy officials have met with the prison authorities to inform them of Maria’s complaints and demanded that her situation be improved without delay. We have also sent an official request to the US authorities.
We insist that Maria Butina is innocent. Her lawyers have pointed to this, and I want to say this once again. The charges brought against her are nonsensical, and the so-called evidence is based on her private correspondence in the social media. Separate phrases are plucked out of it and misinterpreted. She clearly did not commit any crimes. The case against her has been trumped up for exclusively internal political reasons and also a desire to demonise Russia.
Taken together, this suggests that Maria is a political prisoner. We hope that the international community as well as international human rights agencies will take note of these arbitrary actions in the United States.
We demand that the unsubstantiated persecution of Maria Butina be stopped and that she is allowed to return back home as soon as possible.
The situation concerning Kirill Vyshinsky has not changed since July 11, when the Kherson City Court extended his arrest until September 20.
Citing the fact that Kirill Vyshinsky has Ukrainian citizenship, the Ukrainian authorities have denied the Russian consular officials’ requests for meeting with him.
The Russian Embassy in Ukraine and the Consulate General in Odessa continue to monitor the situation and are giving all the possible help to his lawyers.
We demand that international organisations and human rights advocates express their opinion of these arbitrary actions. We emphasise that this case concerns a journalist who was doing his professional duty openly, in keeping with the host country’s laws and in full compliance with journalism ethics.
Tension in Afghanistan does not subside. Taliban continues to attack counties in different parts of the country one after another. Last week, Hojagar County in Takhar Province on the border with Tajikistan came under attack. For the first time in recent years, Taliban attacks have been recorded in the relatively calm Bamyan Province in central Afghanistan.
We have noted large-scale engagements between Taliban and ISIS in the northwestern Jowzjan Province. We call on Afghanistan’s leaders to tighten security in the northwestern provinces. We hope that First Vice President Avdul Rashid Dostum’s return to the country will help to stabilise the region.
Terrorist attacks continue in big cities. During the last few days, militants have repeatedly attacked civilian facilities in Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan. For example, the Midwife Training Centre came under attack last Saturday, leaving 11 persons injured. The responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Islamic State terrorist group. The Department for the Refugees and Repatriates was attacked in the same city on Tuesday, with at least 30 people, including an employee of the International Organisation for Migration, dying or receiving injuries. We convey condolences to the families of the dead and wish an early recovery to the victims.
We are still convinced that a settlement in Afghanistan is only possible through a peaceful dialogue between Kabul and the armed opposition. We have noticed in this connection reports about US-Taliban contacts in Doha. It looks like Washington is gradually realising that its reliance on force lacks prospects.
On July 25, the OPCW Technical Secretariat head stepped down. The new Director-General is Mr Fernando Arias González, a career diplomat, who was Spain’s Permanent Representative to the OPCW between 2014 and 2018.
His election by consensus is a sign of high confidence on the part of the member states of the Chemical Weapons Convention. At the same time, this imposes upon him much responsibility.
We congratulate Mr Fernando Arias González on his assuming the office and sincerely wish him every success. He will have to work in a difficult environment and therefore will need all his experience and professional grit.
The OPCW, until recently regarded as one of the most authoritative and successful international organisations in the field of non-proliferation and arms control, is experiencing hard times. Regrettably, the Western countries, in their pursuit of time-serving goals, have politicised its operations beyond any measure and gone as far as using illegal methods, such as non-compliance with clear-cut standards of investigating assumed uses of chemical weapons as imposed by the CWC and the OPCW’s internal regulations. There is much destructive potential in certain states’ striving that became apparent in recent months to make the OPCW change its fundamental aims and objectives by investing the Technical Secretariat with totally extraneous functions, such as “establishing those guilty” of the use of poisonous agents.
We hope that the new Director-General will find enough inner strength and energy to bring this technical organisation back to the normal and constructive channel that has been tested by decades of operations. The activities of the OPCW and its Technical Secretariat should remain strictly professional and unsusceptible to political pressure brought to bear by individual, even if highly influential, states.
The important thing is to do the utmost to restore the spirit of consensus in the OPCW and focus on addressing the main tasks prescribed to it, to wit, to press for a speedy elimination of chemical arsenals by all CWC member states and work towards making the CWC universally effective.
In the framework of the Russia-financed project of the United Nations Development Programme, a film has been released about Russia’s contribution to international development through UN organisations. It was first shown on July 17, during a themed event which Russia organised on the sidelines of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development under the auspices of ECOSOC in New-York. The event was chaired by the head of the Russian delegation Andrey Chibis, Deputy Minister of Construction, Housing and Utilities of the Russian Federation.
This film is not only available in the UN. Everyone interested can see it. The Foreign Ministry website has a link to the film: http://www.mid.ru/diverse/-/asset_publisher/zwI2FuDbhJx9/content/fil-m-ob-okazanii-rossiej-sodejstvia-mezdunarodnomu-razvitiu-smr-po-linii-organizacij-sistemy-oon-na-anglijskom-azyke- and on our Facebook account: https://www.facebook.com/MIDRussia/videos/1422295144536589/.
On July 29, regular general parliamentary elections to the National Assembly took place in the Kingdom of Cambodia. They were characterised by an unprecedentedly high voter turnout: about 83 per cent of the electorate.
Numerous national and international representatives took part in monitoring the elections, including the Russian State Duma and the Federation Council, the Civic Chamber and the Central Election Commission. Russian observers noted the honest and transparent character of voting and its compliance with the current international standards.
The official election results will be announced on August 15. At the same time, according to preliminary data, the Cambodia People’s Party has won a resounding victory.
We note with satisfaction that thanks to the Cambodian authorities’ efforts, the election was held in a free and peaceful environment. We plan to conduct an interested and constructive dialogue with the next Cambodian Parliament and the country’s Government, which will be formed according to the election results to implement agreements reached at top-level talks on further developing the multifaceted mutually beneficial cooperation.
We have noted media reports concerning the British Consulate General in St Petersburg. As is known, the Russian side withdrew its consent to open it as part of the actions taken in response to provocative anti-Russia moves such as the promotion of the so-called Skripal case.
In this regard, a note was sent to the British Embassy in Moscow in March listing the parameters of the consulate's closure and setting the deadline at August 1 to implement the necessary procedures such as dealing with the property lease and the employment of the local staff, as well as other necessary actions.
To date, the British side has taken the necessary steps and duly informed us that the conditions have been met. In particular, the Consulate General building was transferred from the lessee back to the lessor. At present, a reorganisation is underway for the transfer of the regions formerly under the consular responsibility zone in St Petersburg to the zone of responsibility of the British Embassy in Moscow.
Thus, parity has now been established between our countries on the number of consular institutions: the United Kingdom has the Consulate General in Yekaterinburg, and Russia still runs one in Edinburgh. We hope that they will continue to work effectively.
I would like to remind you that the decision was not Russia’s choice, but a response to unfriendly actions on the part of Great Britain.
We have noted a large stream of reports in the British media of late, containing more versions of what happened in Salisbury and Amesbury, all of which are based on questionable sources, often contradicting each other and creating a very confusing picture in the aggregate, but, apparently, this is the purpose of planting these stories. It is a campaign to hide the truth and reality of what happened. On top of this, the police investigating the case ignore requests, and refuse to confirm or deny the snowballing rumors.
This proves one thing. By planting obvious speculations while creating an atmosphere of secrecy around the ongoing investigations in London, they are trying to hide the truth and prevent it from being established. And they have the nerve to accuse Russia of disinformation and dirty PR campaigns. What kind of dirty PR actions are we taking except sending diplomatic notes with requests to answer the piles of questions that the Russian side has? By the way, there is a remarkable fact: when yet another anti-Russia story began in the UK, our Embassy sent notes to inquire on the progress of the investigation. In an official response, London advised us to contact the police. For several months, the Russian Embassy systematically, regularly and consistently contacted the police, as we were told. But a few days ago we received another response, also from the official British authorities, telling us not to contact the police anymore. This is the level of response, this is cooperation and assistance to the investigation and law enforcement agencies, and the general level of culture.
Obviously, the police have to conduct an investigation under tough political pressure. There is no doubt about this. This, by the way, is evidenced by the urgent request for the Russian side to not contact the police anymore. The investigation takes into account the high political stakes official London has made on the incidents in Salisbury and Amesbury. This will never result in finding the real perpetrators of this crime. I would like to remind you that the Salisbury attempt is also being investigated by Russian law enforcement agencies, which still have not received a response from the British side to their requests for legal assistance.
We believe that not only Russia, but also British citizens and anyone allied with London on the so-called Skripal case has the right to demand from the British Government an objective, independent and transparent investigation. As we have repeatedly said, Russian law enforcement agencies are prepared to lend any assistance to their British colleagues.
Once again I would like to return to the so-called solidarity issue. Until today, none of those who supported the UK, has received any information about what happened in Salisbury. As a reminder, so-called solidarity was manifested right after the Salisbury incident. In talks with us and behind the scenes, everyone was saying there had been hope that the countries that have shown solidarity would be somehow informed about what happened and updated on the course of the investigation. London remains shrouded in fog, while that hope has dissipated, as no one has received any information. They have deceived everyone, as they have done many times.
We have to again take note that the British authorities keep us in the dark about the investigation in the murder of Russian citizen Nikolai Glushkov in Great Britain in March. As it was said earlier, the Russian party has repeatedly asked London for information about the investigation process and the results of the review of the relevant requests in legal aid from the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office.
The British part has not provided us with any substantial information yet. They keep giving us the runaround which, given the lack on transparency in investigating publicised cases, again proves that London’s true goal is to avoid finding the real circumstances and causes of this case as well.
We consider it unacceptable that the British authorities are trying to keep secret the circumstances and the investigation in the murder of a Russian citizen.
Once again we have to urge London to launch productive as well as responsible interaction with the Russian law enforcement agencies in the Glushkov murder investigation.
Interestingly, during the situation in Salisbury, we were eerily told that since there were no possibilities other than to suspect Russia, they refuse to deal with us in establishing any contacts between law enforcement agencies. What has the Glushkov case to do with it? There is no connection to Russia. So why don’t they want to cooperate with us in this case? Because there is no goal to find the truth, to hold an unbiased investigation which would be open for our law enforcement agencies and other countries. The goal is just the opposite.
The Russian party has not received answers to its requests in months. Let me remind you, there was no solidarity in relation to the Glushkov case, no accusations were issued against the Russian party, even the “highly likely” ones. So why is there no information and no desire to cooperate? Because their goal is to entangle, close, hush up, make fake news in the media and let them circulate just as it was in all previous cases.
I would like to recall that, 100 years ago, on August 2, 1918, a 2,000-strong detachment of Russia’s allies, primarily British soldiers, landed in Arkhangelsk during the all-out military intervention of Entente forces in northern Russia. Interventionist forces included US, French and various colonial troops, as well as Serbian and Polish volunteers. In all, several tens of thousands of Allied soldiers, primarily British service personnel, were deployed in Russia’s northern region. Of that number, up to 25,000 soldiers were deployed there at any given moment. All of this information can be found in archive records.
You can read all this and once again recall the history of military intervention on Russian territory. Russia’s withdrawal from World War I and the signing of a truce with Germany did not suit the Entente and the United States. In March 1918, delegates of the London conference decided to launch an open military intervention. Northern Russia was seen as a convenient bridgehead for advancing into the Russian heartland. Numerous slogans were voiced, and many political tasks were set.
During their intervention, the Allies exported worth over one million pounds of timber alone. When they mail us pictures about Russia’s unbefitting behaviour, some hackers attack the Bundestag. Let’s recall the facts and the behaviour of the United Kingdom. It may be surprising, but many of these aspects have something in common with the current situation, and you will understand why. The Allies exported about two million poods of flax (Editor’s Note: One pood, an old Russian measure of weight, equals 16 kilograms) or about 33,000 tonnes. They also exported manganese ore and other mineral resources worth an estimated 3.5 million pounds.
While moving deeper into northern Russia, the interventionists committed severe reprisals against the local population and established a reign of terror. Archive records show that they also set up “death camps.” We will provide footnotes and hyperlinks to this entire text, so that it will be possible to recall all this.
And now, I would like to say a few words about our partners. During their campaign, British forces used chemical weapons on a regular basis. In 1919, British airplanes dropped mustard-gas bombs. Does this ring any bells? In July-September 1919, they dropped 321 chemical shells, according to the book “Myths of World War I” by Yevgeny Belash (Moscow, 2012, pages 166-168). Other sources indicate that British forces dropped 2,700 shells containing diphenylchloroarsine that caused fits of choking cough (R. M. Douglas “Did Britain Use Chemical Weapons in Mandatory Iraq?” The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 81, No. 4 (December 2009), pp. 859-887). If you think this is Kremlin propaganda, you’ve got it all wrong. These materials were published in the British media.
In 2013, the British press carried sensational stories implying that the then Secretary of State for War and Secretary of State for Air Winston Churchill personally approved the use of chemical weapons in 1919 during the British military intervention in Russia. This was reported by The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/world/shortcuts/2013/sep/01/winston-churchill-shocking-use-chemical-weapons), The Daily Mail (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2440225/Winston-Churchill-wanted-use-devastating-chemical-weapon-devised-Russian-Bolsheviks-end-WW1.html) and The Daily Telegraph (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/10346568/Winston-Churchill-authorised-use-of-chemical-weapons.html).
For example, The Guardian wrote: “The use of chemical weapons in Syria has outraged the world. But it is easy to forget that Britain has used them – and that Winston Churchill was a powerful advocate for them.” Everyone has forgotten this today, but we will remind you.
In 1918, British specialists developed a new type of chemical shells codenamed the M Device and filled with diphenylchloroarsine at their notorious military-chemical laboratory in Porton Down. It was soon decided to test those new shells. World War I was already over, but an even more interesting pretext, namely, the Entente’s military intervention in Russia, was used.
Military historian Simon Jones also writes on this subject. His article “The right medicine for the Bolshevist: British air-dropped chemical weapons in north Russia, 1919” (https://simonjoneshistorian.com/2015/03/02/when-chemical-weapons-were-first-dropped-from-the-air-north-russia-1919/) was published in the Imperial War Museum Review (No. 12, 1999). On February 2, 1919, the newly-appointed Secretary of State for War and Secretary of State for Air Winston Churchill informed Major General W. E. Ironside, Entente Commander in Chief in Arkhangelsk, that chemical munitions were being shipped to northern Russia (page 80). Incidentally, that same day, Churchill made a statement for the press noting that the Bolsheviks had used chemical shells on the Arkhangelsk front. Russian researchers note that the Red Army had decided to use chemical weapons only on February 14 in retaliation for the use of choking gases by the enemy (“On the use of chemical weapons during the Russian Civil War” by Nikolai Zayats, published July 6, 2018 in Scepsis academic-educational journal, http://scepsis.net/library/id_3821.html). History has repeated itself 100 years on.
Here are some quotations:
“In early February 1919, Commander of the 6th Detached Army of the Red Army’s Northern Front Alexander Samoilo received two situation reports from the 3rd Army.”
“January 20, 1919, Perm sector. We entered the village of Karagaiskoye, but our units withdrew to Ust-Lysva once again after being shelled by the enemy’s choking-gas shells.”
“February 8, 1919, Perm sector. We repelled several attempted enemy attacks near the village of Yevginskoye, located 12 versts (Editor’s Note: One verst equals 1,060 metres) east of Rozhdestvenskoye. Elements of the 3rd Brigade, deployed in the vicinity seven kilometres north of the village of Kalinyata (the last village on the Paya River), were repeatedly lambasted by the enemy’s chemical shells during the day …” You can read all these numerous quotations.
These articles note that the British had started preparing for their “retaliatory response” much earlier than February 2. On January 27, London received an unverified and fake report from Major Gilmore that the Bolsheviks were allegedly using chemical shells. This information was immediately used as a pretext for an offensive. The coincidence is remarkable. In his February 7, 1919 circular, Churchill signed a directive and ordered the use of chemical shells in full measure by British forces and the British-supplied Russian troops.
As we can see, British politicians of that period also manipulated public opinion on the chemical weapons issue.
In his article (page 83), Simon Jones quotes a special brigade lieutenant, Donald Grantham, who visited Plesetskaya station nine days after the attack and found that several civilian inhabitants had been gassed. According to Jones, the experiment was eventually deemed unsuccessful. “The investment in technological development and production, and the sending of stores and personnel to Russia, was in no way matched by the practical results” (Ibid, page 86).
In 2013, British journalists cited facts to prove their country’s complicity in using chemical weapons elsewhere. Unfortunately, they simply don’t have enough resources for dealing with the current hullabaloo around the so-called Syrian chemical file, Salisbury and Amesbury. Do we have to wait another 100 years, or will the British press somehow wake up and start doing what they are supposed to do? Instead of serving political interests, spreading fake news and feeding off endless media leaks, they should launch a real investigation. It is already high time to start dealing with Porton Down.
More criminal investigative activity from Bellingcat on social media. This is going over the top. We have commented on the activity of this private British group several times, the group that is conducting a so-called online investigation into the Malaysia Airlines Boeing crash over Ukraine. I would like to remind you that the group is known for striking conclusions on the cause of the crash that were based not on actual evidence but on questionable social media content. The group has planted information across the media space and the anti-Russian sentiment is running like a golden thread through these plants.
My personal observation is that the activity of these groups is similar. Bellingcat, White Helmets or the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (which is located not in Syria but in London) – they are all incredibly similar.
Recently, there was an outrageous incident that we cannot ignore – specifically, the completely caddish and disgraceful statements made by Bellingcat founder, British blogger Eliot Higgins. In early June, Dmitry Polyanskiy, First Deputy Permanent Representative to the Russian Federation in the UN, published a comment on his personal Twitter account, which he uses for commenting about foreign policy matters, among other things, regarding the memorial campaign for victims of the MH17 crash in the Netherlands, and expressed his hope for an open and unbiased investigation of the tragedy, with Russia’s participation. The diplomat stressed that the Joint Investigation Team and the Bellingcat private organisation are drawing conclusions in the Malaysia Airlines Boeing case based on unverified data. We have repeatedly expressed the same opinion. Most importantly, we provided facts. Specifically, we provided masses of material from the company involved, Almaz-Antey Concern. We provided physical evidence and re-enactments. Dozens of experts, not only from the public community but also those involved in respective scientific research, spoke on the matter.
In response to this, Eliot Higgins and his supporters started full-scale bullying of the Russian diplomat, down to personal insults using very specific offensive and inappropriate vocabulary. They went further to insult Russia in general.
Interestingly, some tweets disappeared after a time. They like deleting tweets in the UK. Remember the recent incident with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?
Unfortunately, this story went beyond social media and was picked up by the Washington Post. On July 25, the media outlet published an article in which Bellingcat bloggers and Eliot Higgins personally appear as the only fighters for truth. The unpleasant incident, to put it mildly, with Higgins’s reaction to Polyanskiy’s tweets is also mentioned in the article and presented by Washington Post correspondents as another example of destructive propaganda by the Russian Foreign Ministry. Everything is turned upside down and the insulting tweets are not even mentioned as if they never happened. The Washington Post just did not see them.
In the same context, the US newspaper is referring to the comment made by the Information and Press Department regarding the four-year anniversary of the Boeing crash that was circulated in the UN Security Council. Perhaps earlier it would not be possible to see the connection between social media, journalism and foreign policy. Now it is possible to do so by literally two clicks and follow the entire trail of one media outlet supporting the information campaigns by allegedly independent investigators.
We have repeatedly assessed the activity of not only Bellingcat but also those who use their material as a source of trustworthy information. They cannot be taken seriously.
We assume that serious media outlets must not be involved in such blatant information campaigns and their support.
It was with regret that we have learned about the August 1 statement made by the US Department of State supporting claims of external influence on the Americans’ sentiments through social media, including Facebook, and putting the blame on Russia, of course. As usual, no hard facts have been provided, yet Russia has been described as a “malign actor.”
We believe that diplomats should always act within the framework of diplomatic ethics and should be aware of the consequences of what they say.
The two year-long hysterics over the alleged Russian interference in the US elections is not only undermining bilateral relations but has also made a laughing stock of the US political system and has presented American democracy as a house of cards.
I would like to say that the Facebook administrators’ arbitrary decision to expunge dozens of accounts, much to the delight of the US State Department, has confirmed this problem and has cast a bright light on the current crisis in the US political system. It is a case of direct infringement on the freedom of expression. Four to six years ago, American officials, including at the Department of State, told us that the social media are a well of open and unbiased information provided by the people. But today their accounts are expunged.
Here is what I would like to say in this context. We have said more than once that the United States invariably votes against the draft resolution on combating the glorification of Nazism, neo‑Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, which Russia submitted to the UN General Assembly. Moreover, the United States tried, though in vain, to find supporters for its stand.
Every time we asked what offended them in this draft resolution, which is aimed at combating Nazism, neo-Nazism, racism, xenophobia and intolerance, they replied that demonstrations held by Waffen SS veterans, the monuments erected in honour of Nazis and other actions of this kind are part of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and that we may not infringe on the freedom of opinion and expression. In the Americans’ opinion, when people in Nazi uniforms with neo-Nazi slogans and symbols hold their demonstrations, which immediately brings to mind the horrors of WWII but which we cannot stop by word or action, this is proof of the freedom of opinion and expression. At the same time, they applaud Facebook’s decision to expunge accounts for political considerations even if these accounts do not influence anyone and do not contain any extremist slogans or expressions.
This is the US diplomacy’s selective and pharisaic interpretation of fundamental rights and freedoms.
It also surprising that the US State Department is openly playing along with those forces in the country that question the legitimacy of their president’s election in a bid to split the American society. I wonder in whose interests the US State Department is working? I have no answer to this. But then, I believe that it is for the American society to answer this question.
We have taken note of the State Department’s appeal to “technology companies to take an aggressive approach to this insidious problem.” This is a very symptomatic statement. Regrettably, we see that the recent actions taken by Facebook and other US corporations controlling global social networks are being increasingly adjusted to the US administration’s instructions. Who is controlling the media business in the United States – the media business itself, the users or the State Department? In this particular case, we see a clear instruction manual, and with each such instruction the social media is gradually changing from an area of free expression to an increasingly tightly US-censored venue.
I remember a huge number of cases when media administration blocked innocent accounts and the accounts of officials, as well as denied certification to innocent accounts, like for example, the account of our embassy, as I told you before. Receiving certification is a very complicated procedure.
The Facebook and Instagram accounts of several Russian media outlets, in particular, the Federal News Agency, Nevskiye Novosti and Zhurnalistskaya Pravda, were blocked in early April 2018. Similar restrictions have been adopted against very many organisations. For example, the accounts of a public elections monitoring movement, Rossiya Vybirayet, were banned from Facebook and Instagram and blocked on Twitter without any explanation. It is a very strange position. It is particularly alarming that this process is being “orchestrated” by the US Department of State.
NATO keeps up with its provocative and destabilising activities in the Black Sea region. The multinational exercise Noble Partner 2018, which began on August 1, is being held in Georgia for the fourth time. This year’s exercise seeks to enhance the interoperability of the NATO member countries and partners in defensive and offensive operations, the readiness of military and combat training facilities, logistics potential and the capability to deploy military hardware in Georgia. Being used in the manoeuvres are foreign heavy weaponry, including Abrams tanks, Stryker armoured combat vehicles, Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, as well as Black Hawk utility helicopters and Apache attack helicopters.
We cannot accept the statements regarding this exercise, including by the Georgian Defence Ministry, which claim that the manoeuvres are designed to maintain a stable and secure environment in the Black Sea region. Its real goal is, clearly, to project pressure primarily on Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Russia. The obvious outcome of this exercise will be stronger militarist aspirations of the Georgian leadership as well as increased tension in the South Caucasus.
It is regrettable that Georgian neighbours have been involved in this questionable project under various pretexts.
In addition to traditional allegations of the Russian threat, Director General of the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service Mikk Marran said at the annual Aspen Security Forum in the United States that they “have detected a network of politicians, journalists, diplomats, business people who are actually Russian influence agents.”
The reason behind such statements is obvious: the ruling elite in Estonia and several other countries are using allegations about the “hand of Moscow” to draw public attention away from domestic problems and the consequences of their confrontation policies pursued contrary to the interests of the people. The statement made by the Estonian intelligence chief can only be interpreted as an attempt to demonise everyone who calls for maintaining constructive relations with Russia and to denounce them as “Kremlin agents.” In addition to this, the Estonian official wanted to intimidate those who refuse to blindly believe fake news about Russia’s destructive influence and aggressiveness.
On July 28, Estonian WW2 Waffen SS veterans and their supporters gathered for an annual meeting in Sinimae.
This event is fresh evidence of an open glorification of Nazi collaborators, who had opted to serve Hitler Germany and its interests, in Estonia. There are monuments and memorial plaques commemorating these people, who are honoured and remembered not only by members of Estonian political parties but also by members of the Estonian government. We call on the concerned international organisations to focus their attention on this.
It is outrageous that some Estonian politicians deem it possible to censor the Russian Embassy in Estonia, which allegedly interfered in Estonia’s internal affairs by criticising the Waffen SS commemoration event. We have time and again attracted the attention of the international community to actions like this that encourage the revival of the Nazi ideology, and we will continue to do this. Any attempts to present such facts as the internal affair of any country can only be interpreted as open connivance with the advocates of the ideas of ethnic or racial hatred.
I would like to say that the international community has marked Victory Day for several years, and that the celebrations have become increasingly festive in the past few years because there are ever fewer WWII veterans left. Films about the WWII tragedy are made in many countries, and every possible opportunity is used to remind the world about the millions of lives lost in that war. In this context, why then do all countries remember the victims and honour the winners, yet only Russia sees that those who are guilty of the death of millions of innocent people are celebrated in some countries, in particular, Estonia? What is the reason for this?
Unfortunately, we are once again witnessing the Lithuanian authorities’ policy of rewriting historical realities linked with the events of World War II and the postwar period. This is most deplorable.
The well-known Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas was one of the commanders of the Forest Brothers bandit units. He was a criminal whose henchmen were active pro-Nazi accomplices during the war, and they killed thousands of civilians in Lithuania.
Nevertheless, the Seimas (Parliament) of Lithuania proclaimed 2018 the Year of Ramanauskas-Vanagas. Members of the Klaipeda City Council suggested installing a memorial plaque in his honour at Klaipeda University. And there are plans to officially reinter the “hero’s” recently found remains.
And what happened after City Council member Vyacheslav Titov, head of the Klaipeda chapter of the Lithuanian Russian Union, dared to oppose efforts to perpetuate the memory of this odious person? They started harassing the politician on an unprecedented scale. During the discussion, council members insulted Mr Titov, demanded that he be expelled from the council and even stripped of his Lithuanian citizenship. Lithuanian law enforcement officers also searched his car and office, and confiscated various documents, flash drives, hard drives and his office computer. Indeed, democracy has “triumphed” in this modern European country.
We are expecting the international community and specialised international organisations, as well as everyone fighting neo-Nazism, to appropriately assess the policy of toughly suppressing any manifestations of dissent in Lithuania that simply resembles a reincarnation of a “witch hunt.”
Ukrainian vandals have once again desecrated the grave of Soviet intelligence agent and Hero of the Soviet Union Nikolai Kuznetsov on Glory Hill in Lvov, smearing the inscription on his headstone with yellow paint. The radical nationalist organisation C14, banned in Russia, claimed responsibility for this outrage, publishing photos on its Facebook account and cynically interpreting the incident as congratulations on Lvov’s liberation day marked July 27. What will Facebook say in this connection?
I would like to recall that this is the second act of vandalism with regard to Kuznetsov’s grave in the past two months. On June 21, a trident was drawn on the grave, and an inscription calling him an enemy of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army added. This was not the first act of vandalism. In August 2017, culprits stole metal letters and figures from his headstone. Earlier, several monuments to Kuznetsov were also destroyed in Ukraine. In 2015, his name was listed among persons covered by the Ukrainian de-Communisation law. Under this law, the city of Kuznetsovsk in Ukraine’s Rovno Region, named in honour of this hero, was renamed Varash.
Kuznetsov was born in the village of Zyryanka in the Yekaterinburg Region, now the Sverdlovsk Region. During the Great Patriotic War, Kuznetsov who was fluent in German, operated in occupied Ukraine, posing as First Lieutenant Paul Siebert of the German Wehrmacht. Kuznetsov, who was trusted by Nazi officers, managed to conduct several incredibly daring military operations. He obtained valuable intelligence about German plans to assassinate Josef Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Big Three conference in Tehran. He also found out the location of Adolf Hitler’s headquarters near Vinnitsa and learned about a planned German offensive in 1943. He therefore contributed to the defeat of German forces during the Battle of the Kursk Bulge, whose 75th anniversary we are celebrating this August. Besides, Kuznetsov eliminated Senate president Oberfuhrer Alfred Funk, head of the financial department of the Reichskommissariat of Ukraine, Minister Hans Gehl, his secretary Adolf Winter, Deputy Governor of the Galicia District Otto Bauer and several other Nazi activists. Assisted by partisans, Kuznetsov abducted General Max Ilgen in charge of Ukrainian punitive forces.
Kuznetsov was killed on March 9, 1944 in the village of Boratin in the Lvov Region after being ambushed by Stepan Bandera’s supporters who outnumbered him. Finding himself in a hopeless situation, Kuznetsov detonated a hand-grenade and killed himself and his enemies.
In 1960, Kuznetsov’s remains were exhumed, subjected to an expert examination and reinterred on Glory Hill in Lvov.
We already noted a year ago that we perceive acts of vandalism with regard to monuments to Soviet heroes as a consequence of the current Kiev regime’s policy of completely falsifying the history of their own country. They are telling us that we are exaggerating, while talking about efforts to rewrite history. What exactly are we exaggerating? This person is a hero who fought Nazism and fascism in practice, not in theory. His grave is being desecrated year after year.
I have just talked about Nazi accomplices, and memorial plaques are being installed in their honour. And people opposing all this are accused of all deadly sins. This is how history is being rewritten.
We are demanding once again that the Kiev authorities investigate all acts of vandalism, locate and punish the culprits, and that they take all necessary action to prevent such incidents.
On June 27, the Supreme Administrative Court of Poland deemed legitimate the decision to revoke Rossiya Segodnya journalist Leonid Sviridov’ residence permit in the European Union and to ban him from entering the Schengen area countries. Let me remind you that Sviridov began working in Warsaw in 2003, and on October 24, 2014 he was stripped of his accreditation by the Polish Foreign Ministry and was forced to leave the country because his stay was declared a serious threat to state security.
From the beginning, we condemned this decision of the Polish authorities as a spontaneous and unsubstantiated move against a professional journalist. At the same time, the inability of the Polish side to provide any proof of the Russian journalist’s wrongdoing and its keeping in secret the case materials thus making it almost impossible for him to protect his interests show how absurd and far-fetched this action is.
It is obvious that the recent decision of the Polish court, which de facto approves the gross infringement of the rights of the Russian journalist, as well as international law where it relates to the freedom of expression, is dictated by political considerations. It is obvious to us. The question is: how can this judiciary system and the government’s repressive measures against journalists correspond with European democratic values?
We sincerely hope that the court will take a proper look into Sviridov’s case on the European level and urge the relevant international agencies, including those within the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe, to give assessment to such justice.
I would like to remind you that this was one of the first cases when Russia had to take reciprocal measures and expel Polish journalist Waclaw Radziwinowicz.
According to the Russian Consulate-General in Almaty, seven mountaineers were injured in a rockfall; among them were three Russian citizens. The Kazakhstan Department for Emergencies evacuated all of them by helicopter to City Hospital No. 4 in Almaty.
One of the Russian citizens refused hospital admission; another was treated for a hip pointer, and the third one sustained a slight fracture. Their condition has been deemed satisfactory; all of them have been discharged from hospital.
Our citizens did not seek assistance from the Russian Consulate in Almaty.
The Roads of Glory: Our History youth charity patriotic event was held in July and August. For three years, the project has proven its success and sociopolitical relevance.
It was a rally that included Hero Cities and sites of military glory of the Great Patriotic War. We believe this event is needed for a very important cause: to educate young people about their country’s traditions and preserve historical memory, as well as to help combat the West’s anti-Russian campaign to falsify history and depreciate the crucial role the Soviet Union played in defeating the Nazis.
The rally was also held in Belarus, in particular, in Brest, Vitebsk and Minsk where ferocious battles with Nazi occupiers took place.
It is symbolic that this year the route of Roads of Glory: Our History includes Crimea and the Hero City of Sevastopol, which is an emblem of military valour and courage.
I would like to focus your attention on this project, because it is indeed very significant. We support it by all means.
On August 9–16, the Kaliningrad Region will host the first BaltArtek International Youth Educational Forum.
The forum will unite 350 international relations and public diplomacy experts: young compatriots living abroad, representatives of volunteer organisations and socially-oriented noncommercial organisations, as well as coordination councils of Russian compatriots.
Participants of the forum live in more than 70 countries from all the continents, such as Austria, Belgium, Belarus, Ukraine, Israel, Iceland, Luxembourg, the US, Norway, Morocco, Mexico, South Korea, Palestine, Serbia and Denmark.
The forum’s task is to lay the foundation for an International Compatriot Network and to consolidate the efforts of young compatriots aimed at promoting the concept of the Russian world abroad. Each day of the forum will be dedicated to a certain topic: science, economics, culture, kindness, Russia and the world, with the goal of discussing as many issues as possible and elaborating useful proposals for further cooperation and to strengthen ties with Russia and between compatriots living abroad.
The Year of Volunteers is the unifying theme of the Federal Agency for Youth’s forum campaign this year.
For the previous briefing, Vestnik Kavkaza news agency asked a question on the possibility of Russian nationals’ travel to Turkey using domestic passports.
Under Federal Law No. 114-FZ of August 15, 1996 On Exit from and Entry to the Russian Federation, Russian citizens must travel outside the Russian Federation with valid documents certifying their identity outside the Russian Federation.
The primary identification documents for Russian citizens travelling outside the Russian Federation include a passport, a diplomatic or service passport.
According to the May 12, 2010 Agreement Between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Republic of Turkey On Terms of Mutual Travel of Citizens of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey, the valid documents certifying identity of Russian citizens travelling to Turkey include a service passport, a foreign passport of the Russian national, a seafarer’s passport (ID) or a permit to enter (return to) the Russian Federation.
Answers to media questions:
Question: It has been reported that Russian investigators will go to the Central African Republic. Is there an official decision yet? Will they assist with the investigation?
Maria Zakharova: Yes, the decision was announced yesterday by the Russian Investigative Committee. As soon as we know the specific details from this organisation we will be able to support our colleagues and will inform you.
Question: The media reported that the Central African Republic is having a problem with autopsies of our colleagues’ bodies. Do you know if the problem has been resolved? Are there any difficulties with transporting the bodies despite the fact that the logistics of their repatriation is worked out?
Maria Zakharova: The repatriation of the deceased will, of course, take many hours but it will begin today. Everything has been done for this to happen today. These efforts and the final decision on repatriation were discussed with the families. As concerns your question regarding the problems with autopsies, I am not aware of them. It would be more appropriate to address this and other related questions to our law enforcement agencies that are dealing with this case.
Question: Zamir Kabulov, Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan and Director of the Foreign Ministry’s Second Asian Department, announced Russia’s plans to invite Taliban representatives to a Moscow format meeting in Afghanistan that will take place later on in the summer. Did Russia actually send Taliban an invitation?
Maria Zakharova: I will find out.
Question: Recently some unofficial Armenian sources spread a report that a visit by Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan to Moscow for a meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is probably being prepared and discussed. Is this report true and if so what issues are likely to be discussed?
Maria Zakharova: Such a meeting is not on Mr Lavrov’s schedule. I don’t know about it. We are maintaining close contact with the Armenian Foreign Ministry at different levels and in different formats.
Question: As you know, Russian journalists made a documentary about the alleged private military company Wagner in the Central African Republic (CAR). Does the Foreign Ministry deny reports by the Russian and foreign media about the existence of this company?
Maria Zakharova: First, I’d like to say a few words about the goals of the Russian journalists in the CAR. You began your question by saying that you knew about the goals of the journalists in the CAR and the shooting of a film. Why are you suggesting this? No production companies have contacted us, as we have said more than once. You can believe me or not. I have been contacted by the head of the Investigations Management Center, but this was only after the tragedy. I don’t even know who sent them there. It might sound strange but I don’t even know whether they represented the media or a public organisation or whether they acted under contract. I don’t know about this. I don’t have this information. Probably, we should have looked into this by now, but to be honest we are dealing with many different issues – we have enough on our plate. The most important thing was to work on two tracks there.
First it was necessary to do everything to facilitate the CAR investigation at the site and establish contact between law enforcement bodies of the two countries. It was essential to see that the primary information was recorded and to make sure the CAR political leaders are doing what is necessary and possible for the criminals to be finally found.
The second track is about the delivery of the bodies: identification, release of documents and the like. During this two-day marathon I didn’t have a second to talk about who sent them and for what purpose. Maybe this is my omission and I should have done it. Since returning from Singapore early this morning I have been talking to the relatives on completely different issues.
I will certainly look into this, but later on. Don’t make statements on our behalf which do not reflect reality. We don’t know what they were doing there and who sent them. We devoted a lot of time during today’s briefing to just one issue – we’d appreciate it if, when sending people from your company (either journalists or documentarists) to challenging regions, you would use the opportunities offered by the Foreign Ministry. This does not guarantee anything but increases the chances for assistance in these hot spots.
Because of the periodic interest in private military companies, we have commented on this issue before. They are not within the Foreign Ministry’s competence and you should know this.
Question: To continue the subject of the CAR incident, journalists received a version of the story from Mikhail Khodorkovsky who now lives in London. He promised to clarify the circumstances and find those who killed them. He wrote on social media: “We continue the investigation. There will be risk and there will be ambitious people; these people change the world. My colleagues and I are putting a group together for an independent onsite investigation.” In other words, he wants to send people to the world’s most dangerous country again. Has the Foreign Ministry responded to this?
Maria Zakharova: As for sending journalists to hot spots and conflict areas, I have already said everything I can. I don’t think I should repeat it.
Question: It has been reported in the media today that a thousand North Koreans came to Russia and were offered jobs in September 2017. Is this so?
Maria Zakharova: We have received requests regarding this as well. I have read these media articles. As I see it, you want to know more about North Korean workers and the Interior Ministry permits issued to North Koreans, in particular, in June this year. Speaking about North Korean workers, it should be remembered that Provision 17 of UN Security Council Resolution 2375, which stipulates that the member states “shall not provide work authorisations for DPRK nationals in their jurisdictions in connection with admission to their territories”, also says that “this provision shall not apply with respect to work authorisations for which written contracts have been finalised prior to the adoption of this resolution.” The Russian Interior Ministry is working with those North Koreans whose contracts were finalised prior to the adoption of this resolution on September 11, 2017.
In this connection media outlets also ask about a North Korean company called Zenko, which has won a tender. They cite the provision of UNSC Resolution 2375 that prohibits “the opening, maintenance, and operation of all joint ventures or cooperative entities, new and existing, with DPRK entities or individuals.” I would like to say that Zenko is not a joint venture or cooperative entity and neither is it on UNSC sanctions lists. Therefore, this company’s participation in a tender for utility works in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk does not run counter to UNSC resolutions on sanctions against North Korea.
Also, we have been asked if job listings of North Korean companies registered in Russia run counter to UNSC resolutions on North Korea. I can assure you that they don’t, unless this violates Provision 17 of UNSC Resolution 2375.
Question: It is rumoured that the United States plans to adopt new sanctions against Russia. Will you comment, please?
Maria Zakharova: Such rumours appear regularly. We understand that this is a never-ending process in the United States. These decisions are not based on facts but on internal political considerations. We have pointed this out many times. However, it would be unwise to comment on a decision before it is made. I have commented on the general trend, and we will comment on concrete developments as soon as they take place or fail to take place.
Question: Is it possible to get Western countries involved in the effort to repatriate refugees, in particular European countries that have given shelter to a great number of Syrians?
Maria Zakharova: I have answered this question in great detail. This is what we are discussing with many countries. I have also named the countries with the largest number of refugees. Trying to get them involved is what two Russian departments – the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry – have been doing.
Question: How many journalists working in conflict zones other than Syria in the last fifteen years received work visas from the Foreign Ministry? How many of them notified the embassies?
Answer: The fact is that the Foreign Ministry issues visas only to those who want to come to Russia. Our embassies and consulates take visa applications from foreigners, so we cannot issue a visa to our journalist, who, for example, goes to the CAR, Syria or Egypt. What do we do if, for example, there is an Arab Spring or a country announces a special regime for journalists working on its territory? As a rule, these countries notify foreign ministries through the embassies that an emergency regime is being introduced from this date, and requires the following measures, and inform them that foreign journalists should be guided by specific requirements. This information is sent through to the Russian Foreign Ministry, and we forward it to the media (at briefings, by e-mail, or on request from Russian journalists).
There is also another procedure when Russian journalists apply to the embassies of the countries they plan to visit. If they are told that there is a special regime for journalists working in these countries, they turn to the Foreign Ministry for explanations. We give such explanations if they have failed to obtain or understand such information from the embassies of the countries where they want to go and whose visas they need to obtain.
The problem was that our journalists who applied to the Embassy of the Central African Republic in Moscow failed to inform them that they were travelling there as journalists. They applied for tourist visas, so there was no way to warn them or explain, even no possibility to kick in and help. The embassy of the CAR did not know that they were travelling as journalists, the Russian Foreign Ministry did not know that they were going there at all, let alone as journalists, while our embassy in that country knew nothing at all.
As for the number of visas issued, we can tell you how many journalist visas were issued to foreign correspondents. As for how many Russian journalists obtained visas to go to various hot spots, this question should be asked of the respective countries that issue such visas. I can only tell you how many people seek consultations with us. Hundreds. This I can tell you, just hundreds. Even your colleagues sitting in this room, who regularly travel abroad, seek us out. We maintain regular contact with them on this subject. Most of them understand perfectly well that working in hot spots implies everything from accreditation and declaration of their route to body armour, helmet, protection or assistance from the local authorities, or from private agencies. This is our routine, we do this regularly, not only with journalists. There are similar groups such as bloggers. Many of our bloggers know this (we gave them advice and helped); we can also mention representatives of civil society, for example participants in motorcycle rallies in unstable regions. We dealt with such a case several years ago – a group applied for assistance and a visa to a country. We tried to dissuade them as best we could, explaining that no motorcycle rally was possible there because of ongoing military operations. They would not listen, went there without the proper papers and ended up in jail. We dealt with the release of these people. They were not journalists, but activists, representatives of a civil society agency. So this is our routine, we do it every day.
Question: This question concerns Salisbury. You said before that our law enforcement agencies were involved in this case, but Britain ignores any inquiries. How do our agencies conduct this investigation? What methods are acceptable and can work when the other side has no desire to cooperate and share information?
Maria Zakharova: For all my desire to talk about this issue, I still believe that the agencies involved should describe what methods they are using. I can only speak about the aspects that concern the Foreign Ministry.
When we receive an application, request or information from our law enforcement bodies – information that needs to be confirmed or provided, or when they need to communicate with certain people, including conversations and so on, a relevant query is officially sent through the Foreign Ministry (this practice is not limited to Britain but is traditional). Our embassy in the country concerned writes a note to the government agencies dealing with foreign policy, whether it’s the Foreign Office, the Department of State or the Foreign Ministry. Or if the country has this practice, a relevant query is sent directly to its law enforcement agencies; an application from our law enforcement bodies is sent.
In case of tragic events, a team of investigators will go there. When Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov was killed in Turkey, representatives of our law enforcement bodies worked directly at the site.
We can also work to collect information and conduct cooperative investigative activities (I’m sorry if I do not have the precise terms) with local law enforcement bodies onsite. This is what we are doing to facilitate the investigation.
As for the methods used, this is a question for the investigative bodies.
Question: The Greek Embassy has increasingly been denying visas or issuing them for very short periods to Russian Orthodox clergymen, Russian citizens who would like to visit Mount Athos and other holy sites.
Prominent Moscow archpriest Vladimir Vigilyansky sent an open letter to Ambassador of the Hellenic Republic to Russia Andreas Fryganas on this issue the other day. Can the Foreign Ministry help resolve the issue and support those that are discriminated against on religious or professional grounds?
Maria Zakharova: I can’t rule out that I am not aware of this; this is the first time I’m hearing that pilgrims who want to go to Greece just to see Mont Athos are denied visas. I will talk to our experts on Russian-Greek relations.
If you have specific materials, please forward them to us. We will check them out and reply.
Again, I have never heard any complaints about the work of the consular department of the Greek Embassy in Moscow on such issues.
Question: I would like to raise a question on the spy scandal that The Guardian has been reporting on. Is this yet another planted story about the Russian woman who has been spying in the US Embassy in Moscow for ten years?
Maria Zakharova: I have no idea what this is about. I cannot comment on what I don’t know. If there are some specific facts, please present them and we will try to figure it out.
I’ve seen these headlines but it is impossible to comment on something that is not based on facts. I think The Guardian should explain itself and tell us what they mean. Then we will clarify things and figure it out.
Question: The second festival of Turkey in Russia will open in Moscow’s Krasnaya Presnya Park on August 10. How important is this event for the development of Russian-Turkish relations?
Maria Zakharova: Any humanitarian interaction and cultural cooperation is certainly important. I would like to clarify this issue. If this is about a cultural festival, it can only be welcomed. I think we will have another briefing before August 10, and I will be able to tell you about it.Question: The foreign ministers of Russia and Iran met yesterday to discuss also the Caspian issue ahead of the 5th Caspian Summit on August 12. Will the summit include the signing of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea? Are the countries in the region ready for this agreement?
Maria Zakharova: Next week we will provide detailed information on this matter. As before when I answered your questions or questions from your colleagues, the preparations are intensive, constructive and efficient. It is rare that a process can be described as all of the above but this is exactly the case now. I believe that next week we will publish a comprehensive report on this issue.
Question: Would you share your impressions of the Zhara Festival in Baku? Do you think events like this festival help strengthening the friendship between our countries?
Maria Zakharova: I was happy to attend this event. I was invited to it officially. Honestly, I didn’t even imagine how big it would be. I talked about this extensively in the media but, using official words and giving official feedback, I want to say that it is an excellent example of the actual cultural cooperation that must happen.
This is an international festival, an international programme, an international event that unites rather than divides. It demonstrates that our specific features must not separate us and, all the more so, must not emphasise any differences that might form a watershed between us. Our specific features can in fact bring us together. We can use our traditions, customs, rituals and history for this unity. I think what I saw at the festival indicates that.
There is another matter that I was approached about literally fifteen minutes before the briefing.
On August 1, US citizen John Martin William III (born in 1972) was discovered near Mys Nunyamo (Chukotka Municipal District). The law enforcement agencies found that the US citizen is a resident of Soldotna, Alaska, and lives in Anchorage. He was travelling along the Yukon River (Alaska) in his personal one-man boat.
About two weeks ago, John Martin William III decided to sail into the open sea. Due to severe weather and unavailable navigation devices he spent several days out at sea and ended up in Russian territory. He was transported to the village of Lavrentiya in the Chukotka Municipal District. An investigation is underway. John Martin William III was provided with medical aid and an examination showed that his condition is satisfactory.
It is expected that he will be transported to Anadyr. The Chukotka Autonomous Area authorities have informed the US Consulate General in Vladivostok about this. This is the information available at the moment. He is doing fine and will be even better.