Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, May 23, 2019
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Second Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brunei Darussalam Dato Erywan Yusof
- Visit by Foreign Minister of the Republic of Cuba Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla
- Visit to Russia by Foreign Minister of the Republic of Belarus Vladimir Makei
- Ceremonial meeting on the 100th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Afghanistan
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s working visit to the Republic of Slovenia
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Japan
- Update on Syria
- US declarations of new signs of chemical weapons use by the Bashar Assad regime
- Update on Libya
- US pressure on Iran
- Situation in the Persian Gulf
- Update on Venezuela
- New planted stories regarding the Salisbury and Amesbury cases
- Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford’s remarks on Russia’s nuclear doctrine
- Visa-free status in South America for short visits by Russian citizens
- Border check of Russian citizens upon entering the Republic of Moldova
- Polish authorities’ denial of Świnoujście port call to Russian Sedov training vessel
- Scandal at WWII Museum in Gdansk, Poland, over Dark is the Night song
- More distortions by the Euronews TV channel
- 24th International Charity Golf Tournament
- Austrian ministries refuse to participate in Valdai Club
- Iran and Afghanistan’s prospects for joining the SCO
- Anti-Russia rhetoric in Riga during campaign ahead of elections to the European Parliament
- Russian-Pakistani relations
- Deployment of an American radar station in northern Norway
- Iranian Ambassador to Russia Mehdi Sanai’s meetings with Deputy Foreign Ministers Sergey Vershinin and Sergey Ryabkov
- Russian-Iranian relations
- President of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid’s statement on Russia’s return to PACE
- Statement by member of the House of Representatives of the Japanese Diet Hodaka Maruyama on potential military seizure of southern Kuril Islands
- Upcoming SCO summit on June 13-14
On May 24, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with Second Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brunei Darussalam Dato Erywan Yusof, who will be in Russia on a working visit on May 23-25.
The officials will discuss in detail the current situation and prospects for the further development of bilateral ties as well as current regional and global matters.
Brunei is an important partner of Russia in Southeastern Asia and the entire Asia Pacific Region. Bilateral relations are characterised by a stable political dialogue, expanding cooperation between the parliaments, security councils and relevant ministries and agencies, as well as growing economic cooperation and exchanges in spheres of mutual interest. The countries actively cooperate in the UN as well as within multilateral mechanisms operating in the Asia Pacific Region.
On May 25-28, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla will come to Russia on an official visit.
On May 27, the foreign ministers will hold talks where they are expected to discuss various aspects of bilateral cooperation, including economic and investment cooperation, as well as a wide range of current issues on the international and regional agenda. They will pay special attention to efforts to further step up Russian-Cuban interaction on the global stage.
The visit by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla is a testament to the consistent development of the strategic partnership with Russia’s old-time friend and ally.
On May 27, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Belarus Vladimir Makei will come to Russia on a working visit at the invitation of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The programme of the visit includes talks between the two foreign ministers.
The officials will discuss a wide range of issues related to Russian-Belarusian foreign policy cooperation, upcoming political contacts at the high and highest level and will exchange views on current global and regional issues, including international and European security.
As per tradition, the ministers will focus on their joint work in the integration formats of the Union State, CIS, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation and the EAEU as well as the coordination of actions on the global stage.
A ceremonial meeting will be held in Moscow on May 28, marking the centenary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Afghanistan. Representatives of the Russian public, the Embassy of Afghanistan in Russia and a number of Afghan political figures have been invited to the event.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will deliver a welcoming address.
On May 28-29, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to the Republic of Slovenia. He is expected to meet with President of the Republic of Slovenia Borut Pahor, Prime Minister Marjan Sarec and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Miro Cerar.
During the meetings, the plan is to discuss the state and prospects for the development of Russian-Slovenian relations and opportunities for deepening political, trade, economic and people-to-people cooperation. The parties are expected to exchange views on the situation in Southeastern Europe, as well as on a number of current international issues.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the ceremony of unveiling the monument to Slovenian philologist and author of the first Russian-Slovenian dictionary Davorin Hostnik in the city of Smartno pri Litiji.
On May 30-31, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Tokyo to participate in the fourth round of Russian-Japanese talks between the foreign affairs and defence ministers in the 2+2 format. He will also have a separate meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono.
At the 2+2 meeting, the ministers will discuss current issues of the global and regional agenda in the military-political sphere, including developments around the Korean Peninsula and in Syria, non-proliferation and arms control issues and interaction in combating new challenges and threats.
During the talks, the foreign ministers will exchange views on the full range of bilateral relations, including the political dialogue, trade, economic and other practical cooperation and people-to-people exchanges, in the context of preparations for a possible top-level bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit this June in Osaka.
We have noted the dangerous escalation of tensions around the Idlib de-escalation zone since late April and up to present where the largest group of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) terrorists is deployed. The Russian Defence Ministry regularly covers developments “on the ground,” including in Idlib.
We would like to add to these reports. The aggressive activities of the HTS terrorists in Idlib – firing at towns and villages and attacks against Syrian government forces positions – create a security threat for the civilian population and lead to civilian casualties, including women and children. Thus, four children and one woman died and about ten children were wounded on May 12 after a strike on the pre-school centre in the Christian city of Suqaylibiyah in the northwest of Hama Province.
Also, the jihadists’ regular attempts to attack the Russian air base at Khmeimim with multiple launch rocket systems and combat drones pose a direct threat to the safety of Russian service personnel. The last terrorist attempt of this kind was recorded on May 19, when the air defence system shot down six missiles and destroyed two combat drones.
The Russian Aerospace Forces provide the Syrian government forces with necessary backup in order to crush the hotspots of terrorist activity in the southern parts of the Idlib de-escalation zone. Such measures are limited in scope. I would like to stress again that the Syrian armed forces and the Russian Aerospace Forces deliver strikes only on terrorist facilities, which are confirmed by reconnaissance data. Any talk of a peaceful coexistence with terrorists is out of the question. Meanwhile, the Russian side remains committed to the full implementation of the respective Russian-Turkish agreements on Idlib, including the September 17, 2018 Memorandum.
The latest developments in Idlib and around it have, predictably, prompted a negative response from the Western nations, including at the UN platform. Over the past two weeks, the UN Security Council met twice to discuss the situation in Syria, focusing on Idlib. Recent discussions once again showed the West’s policy of double standards and the selective approach to the humanitarian aspects of the situation in Syria. In this connection, we would like to ask the Western representatives who are concerned so much about the humanitarian aspects of the situation in Idlib – why, for instance, don’t you demand special UNSC meetings on the situation in Syria’s northeast? In particular, on the aftermath of the anti-terrorist operations of the so-called international anti-ISIS coalition.
There is abundant information in this regard as well as confirmed data on civilian deaths as a result of the US-led coalition’s actions. We have already referred to the publication by the Amnesty International human rights organisation about the events surrounding the so-called liberation of the Syrian city of Raqqa in 2017. The report can be supplemented with reports by other foreign NGOs published in recent months. Thus, we have noted the reports by British NGOs that say that over 13,600 people, of which 3,800 are civilians, including 972 small children, have died in the air strikes by the US and its allies in the provinces of Hasakah, Raqqa, Idlib, Deir Ez-Zor and Aleppo from September 2014 to present. Moreover, in the first quarter of 2019 alone, over 1,200 people, predominantly civilians, died in the coalition’s massive air strikes on Baduz al-Faukani in Deir ez-Zor. All of this information is available and is posted on the websites of these organisations. We call on all interested parties to carefully study these reports once you trust them. As to the Americans and their coalition partners, they need to find the courage to admit responsibility for the crimes committed in Syria.
We would like to note, regarding the situation concerning the Rukban camp, that the Syrian authorities, with Russian support, are continuing their efforts to evacuate the camp’s residents. Over 13,000 people have left since late March thanks to these measures. They were all taken to temporary shelters in the Homs province. In early May, these shelters were visited by officials from the respective UN agencies, in particular, the UNHCR, who could personally see that the Syrian government provided the required level of accommodation for the refugees in Homs. It is remarkable that most of the former Rukban residents have already relocated from temporary shelters in Homs to permanent residencies in government-controlled areas.
On the political track of the Syria settlement, we note with satisfaction the consistent character of interaction between the Syrian authorities and the office of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria. Recently, Khawla Matar, Deputy Special Envoy for Syria, visited the Syrian capital and met with the leadership of the Foreign Ministry of Syria. We expect that the dialogue between the UN and Damascus will facilitate the initiation of a sustainable political process carried out and driven by the Syrians themselves with the assistance of the UN in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the decisions of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.
A question was asked at the previous briefing regarding security at the Syria-Turkey border. We proceed from the assumption that any agreements on this matter should be grounded in total respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. Any actions violating these principles cannot be a foundation for the sustainable and lasting stabilisation of the situation in Syria.
We have noted the statements made in Washington on May 21, some at official levels, about new signs that the Bashar Assad regime may be using chemical weapons in northwestern Syria. This information has already been refuted by the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
First of all, we believe that this is most likely another staged performance by the militants from the armed Syrian opposition in the town of Kabbani in northern Latakia. The information itself was posted on the internet resources of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist group. These sound like dubious sources of information to prompt official statements by a UN Security Council member state.
We regret to say that these insinuations on the alleged use of chemical weapons by Damascus against their own people have become an integral part of NATO policy in Syria and in the Middle East. Instead of making efforts to assist in the political settlement of the internal Syrian conflict involving all the warring parties, the West opts for the continuous destabilisation of the region.
Amid the opinionated statements from the United States accusing the Syrian authorities of the alleged regular use of chemical weapons, Washington and its allies are openly showing they are ready to “immediately and appropriately respond” to such informational fraud. We know very well what this means – in violation of the UN Charter and generally recognised norms of international law, they have twice launched missile strikes at Syrian territory in the interests of the armed Syrian opposition as well as the international extremist and terrorist groups operating in this sovereign state.
Developments in Libya are a matter of serious concern. The opposing coalitions, formed around the Government of National Accord led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and the Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of Khalifa Haftar, continue to rely on a military solution to the conflict between them. This is facilitated by both camps being generously supplied with weapons and military equipment apparently smuggled into Libya while bypassing the UN embargo.
As a result, the death toll is already in the hundreds, the number of wounded in the thousands, and of internally displaced persons, in the tens of thousands. The urban infrastructure of the Libyan capital is also being destroyed. Recently, unidentified gunmen cut off the water supply in Tripoli. Humanitarian organisations are sounding the alarm. Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Libya, Ghassan Salame, whose mediation efforts we fully support, has warned that the country is on the verge of a major civil war with dramatic consequences not only for Libya, but also for the entire region. This is what we have been talking about for several years.
Amid the bloody civil strife in Libya, terrorist groups are also raising their heads. They have become active in the west and south of the country, making criminal forays against LNA troops and oil and gas facility guards.
We reaffirm our principled position in favour of the cessation of hostilities and the launch of an intra-Libyan political process under the auspices of the UN with the ultimate goal of establishing unified sovereign state institutions capable of reinstating peace and prosperity in Libya. At the same time, Russia is ready to continue to provide the Libyans with the necessary assistance while interacting with the international parties concerned.
We are seriously concerned about the anti-Iran hysteria being whipped up in the United States. The latest round began after Teheran's announcement of its intention to suspend performance of part of its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding the Iranian nuclear programme, in response to massive US sanctions.
The question is whether Iranians have the right to take such steps. In our opinion, and according to international law, logic and an understanding of the recent years’ developments, of course they have the full right to take such steps on the basis of UNSC Resolution 2231, which approved the JCPOA in 2015. Its Article 26 says that “Iran has stated that it will treat < ...> a re-introduction or re-imposition of the sanctions <...> as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.” So the issue of whether or not Iran has such right can be considered closed and not subject to discussion.
So no complaints can be made against Iran in the context of the JCPOA. At the same time, there is an obvious paradox, with the US having left the agreement a year ago but demanding that Iran stick to it. Speaking of the theory of US exceptionalism, this is one of its elements. Adherents of this theory in Washington, who speak about it and implement it, are apparently insisting that the US exclude itself from the modern international law system, step by step – but others should remain under these and other obligations.
The US is aggravating the situation by sending aircraft carriers and bombers to the Persian Gulf area, which is accompanied by bellicose statements and groundless and unsubstantiated accusations that Iran is engaged in “subversive activity” in the surrounding region and creating threats to US diplomats in neighbouring Iraq. However, Washington does not recall those Iraqis who were killed as a result of its actions.
It seems that Washington uses sanctions, military pressure and harsh, aggressive rhetoric to provoke a tougher response from Iran, and even seek a pretext for direct confrontation.
This is a very dangerous policy which is intended not only to deliberately destroy the JCPOA, which Iran has strictly complied with, but which runs the risk of destabilising the entire Middle East region.
We would recommend that the US consider the consequences of its aggressive behaviour and think about additional problems that such a policy could create for this long-suffering region and for international security as a whole. Otherwise, Washington will have to bear full responsibility.
Once again, Russia advocates that a meeting of the Joint Commission of the JCPOA members be convened promptly. Coordinated efforts are required to preserve the agreement and seek ways forward. The US should not impede this.
It worried us to learn that on May 12 four oil tankers, two of them Saudi-owned, one owned by the United Arab Emirates and one Norwegian vessel, which were sailing under the flags of various countries in the UAE’s territorial waters off the coast of the Emirate of Fujairah, were the target of attacks or acts of sabotage committed by unidentified individuals. Fortunately, the incidents caused no casualties and no serious damage was inflicted. Nor did the incidents lead to oil spills in the open sea.
Based on incoming information, the UAE authorities promptly started to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incidents. We believe it is necessary to carefully look into who is responsible for these incidents and the real motives of the organisers of these acts.
Incidents like these cannot but raise our concern. They create a threat to safe international sea traffic, especially, along the strategically important trading routes passing through this area.
All this is contributing to tensions that are already running high in the Persian Gulf area following the considerable reinforcement of the US Navy group deployed there. Unfortunately, the Americans still believe that by exerting intense pressure on Iran, they can force it to cede ground, in particular, to scrap its missile programme and stop its alleged interference in the domestic affairs of other countries.
We believe that the evolving situation is fraught with fatal consequences and may plunge the region into a large-scale military confrontation that will lead to numerous casualties and considerable damage. Obviously, in this case all parties involved will be worse off.
The current developments show that there is no alternative to the peaceful, civilised approaches to settling domestic differences by the Venezuelan citizens themselves. We welcome the willingness of the government and the opposition to establish contacts as a prelude to the start of a dialogue, in part, with international mediation. We support any initiatives that consider the interests of all sides to an equal extent. Only inclusive talks involving all the constructive political forces in Venezuela that favour a peaceful, diplomatic settlement of disagreements in line with the Constitution can lead to a sustainable settlement of the crisis.
Russia is open to discussions with all sides that are interested in the peaceful settlement of the domestic political situation in Venezuela. I would like to explain Russia’s position of principle once again. One of the key principles of Russian foreign policy is invariable respect for the sovereignty of other countries and non-interference in their internal affairs. Russia consistently deals with lawful governments that have received the mandate of trust from their people, and hence, enjoy legitimacy and full authority. This allows us to treat them as dialogue partners that are capable of pursuing their own independent line in the international arena, which we consider of value.
Statements about “Russia’s responsibility” for what is happening in Venezuela are absurd. They are simply untrue. It is the sanctions of the US and other Western states that have led to a noticeable degradation of the socio-economic situation in Venezuela this year. The ambassador of Venezuela spoke about this in detail at a meeting with the media in Moscow.
While all Latin American and Caribbean countries, and the overwhelming majority of states in other parts of the world, clearly oppose an armed invasion of Venezuela, the American military continues its overt provocations – on May 9, a US Coast Guard ship was located in Venezuelan territorial waters 20 km off the port of La Guaira. Such actions only escalate tensions and do not facilitate the building of trust.
In the process, the radical opposition initiated talks with the US Southern Command with a view to overthrowing the legitimate government. This is beyond common sense. We urge all responsible Venezuelan politicians to adhere to a strictly peaceful means of political struggle. We consider steps that provoke a civil war and attempts to topple the legitimate President by force unacceptable. This is the road to violence and bloodshed.
There are demands from outside the country that the Nicolas Maduro Government should stop what is called the political harassment of National Assembly deputies, which is beyond criticism. To begin with, this is yet another example of interference in internal affairs. The accomplices in the coup are being presented as “prisoners of conscience and victims of a dictatorship.” Participation in an armed rebellion is punishable by law in any civilised country. Why should an exception be made in the case of Venezuela and why should it abstain from investigating the crimes and punishing the criminals? Everyone must respect Venezuela’s statehood and its citizens.
A new and unprecedented excess in violation of international principles and norms took place last week (May 13). US police entered the territory of the Venezuelan diplomatic mission building in Washington D.C. This is a flagrant violation of articles 22 and 24 of the Vienna convention on the protection of diplomatic missions. Let me recall that in March the US police helped “the diplomats” of the self-proclaimed president seize the premises of the Consulate General in New York and the Military Attaché Office in Washington D.C. In this case it removed civil activists from the diplomatic mission building who were there with the consent of the Venezuelan government. This is yet another example of the blatant disregard for international law and double standards by US authorities.
In general, although we have become accustomed to blackmail, personal pressure and other illegal methods used by Washington on its opponents, it is still surprising with what ease the US political establishment applies them to its strategic partners, among others. After members of the Constitutional Court of Colombia refused to discuss amendments to the law on a special court for the transitional period with the US Ambassador in Bogota, the US Department of State cancelled the US visas of the judges involved. In effect, the high-ranking representatives of Colombia’s judiciary were put on the same level with the members of the Venezuelan Supreme Court that are under sanctions. What do you think of this mathematical equation?
For its part, Russia continues working with its Venezuelan partners on a constructive agenda that meets the interests of our two countries.
We have read the recent piece on the incidents in Salisbury and Amesbury which appeared in The Guardian last week. Quoting anonymous sources privy to the investigation the British newspaper writes about new details that point to the obvious incongruities in the British version of events. I would like to draw the attention of the British Foreign Office to the following: usually we hear from British diplomats about the numerous versions in the Russian press on these cases. I would like to say that the versions published by the Russian press pale in comparison with the astronomical number of insinuations, leaks and planted stories that circulate in the British media. It would be good if the British Foreign Office expressed its opinion on this issue since it provides overviews of what the Russian media publish about this.
It turns out that in the absence of clear-cut evidence against those who were accused by the press and political circles, the investigators are looking for their accomplices but without any success. That said, police confirm that it is impossible to establish the origin of the bottle with Novichok found in Amesbury and link it convincingly with what happened in Salisbury.
The new “leaks” show that despite its intensive efforts, the British police are unable to support with evidence the version of events imposed by the British political leadership regarding the crime in Salisbury. Let me repeat once again that we are talking exclusively about materials of the British media. Each new article merely points to the absence of real evidence that could support the accusations in the so-called Skripal case, which were made by London from the very start.
In connection with the article in The Guardian, the Russian Embassy in London sent a request to the Foreign Office to confirm or refute this information. The answer is still pending like in the case of a dozen similar inquiries sent by Russian diplomats in Britain to the competent British agencies. In general, despite our numerous inquiries Britain cannot provide any credible information on the so-called Skripal case. Judging by everything, the reason is simple: either it has what to hide or there is simply no real evidence of the accusations levelled.
Under the circumstances, I would like to recall that British Ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow rushed to hold a briefing in Moscow on March 22 of the past year, where he accused Russia of using a chemical weapon in the streets of Salisbury based on a vague presentation of five or six slides. So why doesn’t he hold a briefing now to report on progress in the investigation, present hard facts rather than pictures of a fifth former from a secondary school and show real information that could certainly be obtained in a year instead of speculation about historical chains of events. It seems that journalists would find it interesting to ask him direct questions since he is well-versed in what stands behind the incidents in Salisbury and Amesbury. Otherwise, he would not be holding briefings for the diplomatic corps in Moscow.
For our part, we would like to recall again that London continues to reject any cooperation with competent Russian agencies in the investigation of the attempt on the lives of Sergey and Yulia Skripal. As before, Russia is motivated to establish the truth in these incidents. We will continue demanding that the British authorities provide exhaustive official information and abide by their international legal commitments to grant consular access to our compatriots.
I would like to suggest once again that the British authorities abandon speculation, insinuation, leaks, falsehoods and provocations in the so-called Skripal case in favour of facts if, of course, they have any.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford stated at a Congressional hearing that the US military sees scenarios where the Russians think they can use their non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe and then put the US in a position where it will not be able to respond with strategic nuclear weapons or respond at all, and how low yield nuclear weapons are designed to convince the Russians that there are no circumstances where the use of nuclear weapons could give them a strategic advantage.
In the propagandistic anti-Russian rhetoric of the United States and some other NATO countries under US pressure, an inherently false premise has taken hold about how Russia has allegedly adopted at the doctrine level a premise allowing for the local use of nuclear weapons within some “offensive operations” in order to finish them in an advantageous position – the so-called “escalate to de-escalate” concept.
Absolutely groundless allegations regarding Russia’s nuclear policy are made for those who are used to unconditionally accepting at face value “highly likely” information fakes which have become traditional for Washington-led coalitions. In turn, unbiased specialists clearly see the falsity of Western theses regarding the Russian military doctrine which is aimed at preventing nuclear military conflicts as well as any other military conflicts. The doctrine explicitly and clearly lays out specific scenarios where our country reserves the right to use nuclear weapons. There is no need to look for novelties, it is all well-known. Each of them is purely defensive in nature and is targeted exclusively at containing aggression against the Russian Federation.
By all appearances, the experience and approaches of some NATO nuclear powers are being unfairly projected onto Russia. Their doctrines allow for preventive “limited” use of nuclear weapons like the so-called “last warning” or “show of resolve” within the framework of defending their “vital national interests” which are traditionally viewed extremely broadly by the leading countries of the North Atlantic bloc.
Apparently, the made-up fear-mongering concept called the “Russian nuclear threat” is fuelled by Washington primarily to whip up anti-Russia sentiments among its allies and other partners who enjoy a generously unfolded US “nuclear umbrella” above them (actually, the doctrine does not have the list of such countries appended to it). This pretext is also used to sustain NATO’s practicing of “joint nuclear missions” which runs counter to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and involves non-nuclear countries, which have US nuclear weapons deployed on their territory, in their handling and use. Also, it justifies the destabilising US steps toward engineering additional low yield nuclear weapons, including on strategic carriers, as part of the strategy to acquire an expanded range of means to project military power against US opponents.
The agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Republic of Suriname on eliminating visa formalities for travel by citizens of both countries came into force on May 13. This is a significant, landmark event: now all of South America, which includes 12 countries, is visa-free for Russian citizens.
It opens broad opportunities for the development of business, cultural, humanitarian and tourist contacts between Russia and the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. Favourable conditions are being created for increasing the entire set of relations with the region.
We hope for the further expansion of the geographic area with agreements that provide visa-free travel on a reciprocal basis.
We point out another round of artificial obstacles put up by Moldovan authorities against Russian citizens visiting Moldova, and I am not talking just about government employees. For example, Director of the Russian Youth Resource Centre Alexei Lyubtsov was detained “for interview” at Chisinau Airport on May 15, and this after the Russian Embassy advised the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Moldova of his visit in a timely manner. Head of the Russian Civic Chamber committee Alexander Malkevich, journalist Darya Aslamova and other Russian citizens were denied entry to Moldova with no clear reason.
Naturally, this practice is unacceptable. Such actions do not encourage the constructive development of Russian-Moldovan relations, especially against the backdrop of the positive examples, like the bilateral consultations on pension provision for our countries’ citizens held in Chisinau on May 14-15.
I am especially interested to know why they denied entrance to Darya Aslamova. If they worry that she will ask difficult questions there, then reread her interview with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. It is full of difficult questions and strong debate. But it’s okay, we survived.
Another negative incident in relations with Poland occurred the other day. With no reason offered, the Polish authorities denied the Sedov, a Russian training barque, access to the Port of Świnoujście. The ship was to call on the port for cadet rotation.
We drew the attention of our Polish colleagues to this unfriendly act during bilateral consultations at the Foreign Ministry territorial director level on May 21. We said that this action was inconsistent with official statements released by Warsaw on its interest in developing relations with Russia, and that further, obviously unfriendly, actions in this respect testified to the contrary.
On May 18, Director of the Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk, Karol Nawrocki, literally sent the Polish band playing Dark is the Night off the stage, calling the world-famous Russian war song the group chose for the European Museum Night concert a “Bolshevik” song. Please note that it was a Polish band. Perhaps, with all the wildness and absurdity of what happened, it would have remained an internal affair of the Polish cultural space, but the museum administration did not stop there and reinforced the absurdity by publishing an official statement insulting the Red Army soldiers the song is dedicated to. I will not quote their news release here. Some things just should not be quoted. Some countries have laws that prohibit quoting Nazi or fascist documents and manifestos. The museum’s statement is not only offensive, but extremely nationalist and verging on racist in tone and message, which makes it impossible to quote directly.
It describes the song as propaganda and the band’s performance, “a staged political provocation.” I would like to note that the director’s demarche and the museum’s boorish statement are quite in the spirit of the institution’s policy. For reference, in recent years, virtually all objective materials that reveal the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazism have disappeared from the Gdansk museum’s displays.
I would like to say that Dark is the Night was written by composer Nikita Bogoslovsky and poet Vladimir Agatov literally overnight during the difficult war year 1943. Since actor Mark Bernes first sang it in the film Two Fighters, it has truly become one of the favourites for generations of Russian viewers.
I could talk for a long time about what a lyrical and emotional song it is; I don’t think I need to, because it immediately gained huge popularity in the country fighting Nazism, both at the front and in the rear. So why do people love this song so much? The reason is simple. Its meaning is clear and relatable for any person, regardless of what language they speak and what political views they have. This song rallied the nation and explained why people of different political views closed ranks and went to fight fascism and Nazism. There is no doubt that those people really had different political views – some publicly, some at heart, but they understood that the threat was so great and monstrous that everything else faded by comparison. It is a song about how people were unified by a human motivation.
The manager of the band, musician Piotr Kosewski, perfectly summarised the essence of the song that they were trying to perform: the soldier at the front is yearning for his beloved.
The song’s popularity has extended far beyond the Soviet borders. There are versions in Hebrew, Finnish, Serbian and other languages. The Polish version that caused the scandal was written by Julian Tuwim, a renowned author both in Poland and in Russia, and became his valuable contribution to the rapprochement of the two cultures. He translated into his native language many pieces of Russian and Soviet literature. His poetic translation of Dark is the Night became a real hit in Poland in the 1950s and 1960s, performed by popular Polish vocalists. I feel strange having to explain this to the Polish museum director; perhaps he will read it on the internet himself.
The incident at the Gdansk Museum is another manifestation of the policy pursued by the Polish authorities, aimed not so much at desecrating the memory as at dehumanising the 600,000 Red Army soldiers who died liberating that country from the “brown plague.” For many years, anti-Russia forces in Poland have been fighting with the fallen, destroying the Soviet war memorials. Now they seem to have started on songs and poems. Where is the limit to the absurdity and baseness, attempting to extricate the role of the Soviet Union and the Red Army in liberating Poland from fascism and Nazism in people’s memory?
It is important that many Poles condemned the museum director’s deed, uncivilised for the 21st century, a century of tolerance. We have noted that the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza criticised the authorities for trying to decide what Poles should listen to. Through the efforts of the Polish media and bloggers, a large audience learned about the song, including young people who had been unaware of it. At least in this sense, the museum director should be thanked. The Polish media noticed the absurdity of his boorish accusations.
If Warsaw is truly interested in, as they said lately, moving relations with Russia from the “freezing point,” they should respond to such deeds without a reminder. Unfortunately, none of the officials in Warsaw has commented.
I would like to add that this is not the only case of the WWII results being revised, and the Soviet Union’s contribution to the victory over fascism questioned. Another example has shaken the media landscape. An American souvenirs producer has recently made a 75th Victory anniversary coin. Well, I would like to remind the company that it was the Soviet Union that bore the brunt of the fight against Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, our country, which was then called the Soviet Union, is nowhere to be seen among the leading anti-Hitler coalition countries on this coin. Whether they forgot, or did it intentionally, it seems that with such coins, the future generation of Americans will pay for their ignorance of history.
I could cite other stories from other countries such as the Ukrainian authorities’ refusal to celebrate Victory Day, frequent acts of vandalism against Soviet military burials, events in a number of European countries aimed at glorifying Hitler's accomplices. All of that actually suggests a conclusion about purposeful efforts to discredit the Red Army heroes and rehabilitate those who served the Nazis. Such examples abound. The purpose of this policy is also clear – to devalue, and then completely erase from people’s memory around the world the feat of the Soviet people who fought against the Nazi ideology.
Over a long period of time, on more than one occasion, the Information and Press Department of the Foreign Ministry has drawn the attention of the Euronews TV channel leadership to the regular, if not systemic, distortion of information about events that directly or indirectly involve our country, distortion designed to make the channel’s audience perceive our country in a negative light. We sent numerous letters and promptly made phone calls about inconsistencies and factual errors. We did our best to avoid using the words “fake news” but this time, I believe, it is appropriate to use them.
The latest such episode was the coverage of the political developments in Austria. Euronews presented them as a corruption scandal involving Russia. The country’s name is Austria and the people involved in the story highlighted by the media are not Russian nationals, at least, as far as we know. Nor did the channel provide any facts. However, the caption and the arguments underlying the news story clearly pointed to a corruption scandal involving Russia.
This was yet another case of Euronews rebroadcasting unverified and untrue information, according to which one of the main personages in the story suddenly turned into a Russian female, although it has since become clear that this woman comes from the European Union – Latvia, to be exact. Call a spade a spade and provide more details if they are available. Why create a classic fake news story, which the European Union struggles against.
Speaking about the role of the media in hyping this story, now that we have mentioned it, I cannot fail to say a few words about the presentation of all these so-called revelations that German periodicals widely circulated, although they are always the first to say that they fight against fake news, have traditions and are democratic and free.
News weekly Der Spiegel, which has long since become solidly anti-Russia, has come out with a number of planted news items of this kind in recent months. There is nothing ingenious about them. As for the above story – and this is an entirely domestic policy matter – the magazine, nonetheless, provides an anti-Russia story. Of course, we would be glad to be proven wrong about our conclusions. Please correct us, if you have relevant facts. Today, we have different facts – the unabated and consistent manipulation of public opinion by pushing a narrative about Russia’s alleged interference in the political processes unfolding in European countries, in particular, Austria.
We get the impression that the media are trying yet again to feverishly use whatever they can to create a new scandal, Ibizagate, to eclipse or play up their own Relotiusgate, based as they are on classic anti-Russia sentiments. It is impossible to not mention this.
We were struck by many things but most of all by Euronews and by how the German media presented this story, coming out as a global and consolidated anti-Russia front. It is absolutely unclear what Russia has to do with all this.
On May 31, ahead of International Children’s Day, the Moscow Country Club – a division of the GlavUpDK at the Foreign Ministry – will host the 24th International Charity Golf Tournament.
We are inviting members of the media to take part in covering the event. For more information, please visit the GlavUpDK website.
Question: What consequences for Russian-Austrian bilateral relations will ensue following Austria’s refusal on Monday to attend the planned Valdai Club meeting?
Maria Zakharova: We have commented on this. It would be odd in a normal situation, but we can understand their logic, given the latest developments in Austria. Of course, this has harmed the event. I read many social media comments contributed by people who had come to attend the meeting. This has thwarted numerous plans and caused additional problems as far the organisers are concerned. It’s not the way to do things.
As for the extent, to which the situation in Austria will influence the bilateral relations, the impact will be the same as on bilateral relations with other countries. They have a domestic political crisis on their hands and changes in development that concern primarily Austria itself rather than Russia.
Question: A party quite friendly to United Russia has left the coalition…
Maria Zakharova: It is Austria’s internal affair. We see how this story is used and covered by the media. I am not quite sure that they rely on journalistic investigations. I have a feeling that this is a paid-for plant because they are naming things that are not true to reality. I am referring to their constant allusions to Russia. But in so doing, they don’t cite facts that are necessary in this situation. The media I have mentioned today are targeting domestic political processes in Austria.
If the EU and NATO are so intolerant of propaganda, fakes and promoted stories, let them investigate this case. Look at how the media are not just involved in efforts to change the domestic political landscape in the country but are actually the tool whereby this is being done. To reiterate: There are strong doubts that this is the result of journalistic investigations. Obviously, we have every reason to call it a targeted campaign. This big puzzle lacks some of the most important facts and details. It would be fine if these could be provided.
Why call individuals without Russian citizenship “Russians?” Why exploit allusions to Russia and describe what has happened as a “Russia-related corruption scandal,” when there are no facts to support these allegations? At this stage, at least, I have seen nothing that would link this case to Russia.
Today, I have cited the example of Euronews television that was constantly airing this news story. When the businessman, whose name was implicated in the story concerning the woman in question, said that he was unrelated to her in any way, the channel didn’t think it necessary to apologise or confess that a mistake had been committed that resulted in misinformation. No sir, they started a new tune, saying that the young woman was a Russian speaker and a Russian citizen.
If information is changing the political landscape in an entire state, you must get at the truth of the matter. But why is no one trying to do this? I am referring to countries that set up a vast number of organisations that fight fakes and propaganda and campaign for media integrity lest these public outlets become tools in political infighting or are used to influence sovereign countries. Why doesn’t anyone ask questions that lie on the surface? What kind of a story is this? Who has orchestrated it? How was this story made public? Who fed it to the media? Who are the people figuring in the footage? What kind of passports do they have? They are citizens of what countries? How did they surface in that situation? I think this is the stuff that should interest everyone in the first place. No answers have been given to the part that is of most importance. But there are consequences.
Question: What are, in your opinion, the prospects for Iran and Afghanistan joining the SCO?
Maria Zakharova: There are relevant procedures for that. Any states wishing to join [the SCO] and to become full-fledged members should follow these procedures. We advocate constructive dialogue under this format, and suggest involving those states that are ready to address practical matters and to resolve global issues and crises and prevent, rather than aggravate, them.
Question: Riga lapsed into real hysterics in the run-up to the European Parliament elections. First, an electronic voting system allowing unregistered voters to cast their ballots developed a malfunction. Later, it turned out that the Latvian Central Election Commission failed to send notices to all voters. Local journalists immediately started looking for a Russian connection, by hook or by crook. The cover of today’s Ir magazine features a yellow five-pointed EU star etched against a dark blue background and a worker and a collective farm woman sawing with hammer and sickle at one of its lower points. The caption under the picture reads: “Why should you vote in the European Parliament elections? So that Putin doesn’t do it for you!” How would you comment on this?
Maria Zakharova: I haven’t seen the cover of the issue you mentioned, but I have seen many similar publications. This is part of election campaign technology and information campaigns to support various foreign policy moves of some countries by using Russophobic information and misinformation that aim to distort Russian approaches in international affairs and various aspects of Russian policies.
We have repeatedly commented on this, citing specific examples. Some things happen year after year and for decades on end. For example, the media atmosphere is always soured by such leaks, when Russia hosts major sports events and when it displays traditionally high event-organisation and guest reception standards. This is a traditional thing.
There is also some know-how, namely, the alleged Russian meddling in domestic political processes and election campaigns. This amounts to groundless accusations, associations and subtle chess-style moves. For example, associations with the “Skripal case” and the alleged use of chemical weapons in Salisbury, various comments regarding the situation around Syria and changes in the OPCW after certain accusations are real innovations. I cannot recall such all-out information campaigns and such a diverse and ramified approach.
There are also some new phenomena, including the establishment of centres engaged in anti-Russia activities under the pretext of combating the Russian information threat. These centres misinform the public, spread fake news and so on.
On the whole, I can say that this approach is counterproductive in the context of relations between countries, and that it undermines fundamental principles of international law. It is also counterproductive because it undermines the human psyche all over the world. People simply lose their bearings.
When we see that fake news are published time and again, when the US media conducts a schizoid anti-Russia campaign for the past few years, then all of this, of course, has a direct impact on people’s perception of the world and their surroundings. Many people are trying to resist this process. They are highly educated, they travel, and they read more than just a few lines on Twitter or a couple of phrases posted in other social media. They can actually read, and they have a certain reading culture, including knowledge of several languages.
Some people lose their presence of mind when they have no other sources except these. For example, people don’t have to read or watch television, but they become immersed in all this. Just look at the headlines at newsstands on the streets of New York. People may not know the gist of certain matters, but they formulate their attitude towards global processes by reading lead-ins and headlines. The same is true of aggressive advertisements forming the background of all television and radio broadcasts, as well as public areas, and also helping influence people’s mentality.
I have a big question: do all these agencies and people acting behind this endless story linked with manipulations and the use of media as a tool of Russo-phobia or all-out global misinformation realise that they undermine the human psyche all over the world, not just the psyche of one person or people in any one state? People lose their bearings, and they no longer discern between good and bad, the truth and falsehood.
We have seen some blatant fakes that were spread by high-ranking representatives of Western countries in the context of Venezuela. For example, it was claimed that President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro had fled or intended to flee to Russia.
At the same time, it turns out that the United States has once again started buying oil from Venezuela, although it forced all countries to refrain from any cooperation with that country only two months ago. Imagine an ordinary person who is at a loss what to do and whom he or she can trust. They have told this person that everything regarding cooperation with Venezuela is wrong, and that any transaction or contract is a blow against the people of Venezuela. Two months later, this person finds out that those who talked about this matter are starting to buy Venezuelan oil once again. What is this person supposed to do? Where is that tuning fork criterion for this person to compare his perception of various realities? How should he perceive the world?
This is a matter of a global campaign unfolding with regard to various states, rather than minor fakes. For many years, we have seen this in the context of Syria and the White Helmets, and now we can see this with regard to Venezuela. And Iran is next in line.
As for Russia and what is going on with regard to this country, the situation is beyond good and evil. But the most terrible thing is that people’s perception of reality tends to become distorted.
I remember former US Secretary of State John Kerry sitting in the UN Security Council conference hall and saying that he appeared to be living in two worlds, with official statements on the one hand, and reality on the other hand, and that he did not know what he could trust. He formulated this perfectly. And what are ordinary people supposed to do when, unlike professionals dealing with international relations and politics, they don’t have access to a multitude of materials? They need to trust something. A lot of Venezuelan citizens live in the United States. How should they perceive this information?
I apologise for this lyrical digression, but I recently visited New York City and attended a meeting of the UN General Assembly’s Committee on Information. And I saw panicky Venezuelan citizens who live in the United States trying to call their relatives on the phone. When my colleagues and I were sitting in a café, a waiter told us that our order was not ready yet because their Venezuelan cook was unable to reach his relatives on the phone. Someone should also think about these millions of people who have been disoriented with these fakes.
The same is happening in Austria, thanks to Euronews. Local and German media present information in such a way as to imply that Russia is to blame. The reservation that we should wait a few more days and probably obtain additional facts no longer applies. What is done is done, and many people already perceive the situation in the required context.
Question: Relations between Russia and Pakistan have peaked. The meeting between Russian and Pakistani foreign ministers, Sergey Lavrov and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, charted the progress of our relations still further. Do you plan to expand dialogue with Pakistan in order to strengthen regional peace and harmony?
Maria Zakharova: Indeed, contacts have intensified as of late. Sergey Lavrov met with Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Bishkek on the sidelines of a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of SCO member states. They discussed topical matters of bilateral relations, the international agenda, the situation in the region, in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East peace settlement. A Russian-Pakistani statement on No First Placement of Weapons in Outer Space was signed, and it is posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website.
This is not just a contact but a substantial contribution to the development of bilateral relations that will serve as an example for intensifying bilateral cooperation in other fields. We cooperate at international organisations, bilaterally, at the regional level and on such matters as security and counterterrorism.
The prospects are good.
Question: The US is building a radar in northern Norway not far from the Russian border. What is your view on this?
Maria Zakharova: We have paid attention to these reports. The deployment of Globus II radar station by the US in Norway was repeatedly addressed. I would like to remind you why this is really a matter of concern for my country. The radar is located a mere 50 kilometres from the Russian border and is served by Norway’s military intelligence service. It is no secret that the information it obtains is beamed to the US.
An April 2016 press release by the Armed Forces of Norway said that Globus II would be modernised between 2017 and 2020, with a new radar to be added to the system. We have repeatedly pointed this out to Oslo. Norwegian officials avoid explanations as to the aim of using the modernised radar system. They just confine themselves to saying that “it is not aimed against Russia.” But let me remind you that it is located within 50 kilometres of our border. Moreover, there is every reason to believe that the radar will watch the Russian Federation’s territory as part of the US antimissile system.
It is clear that deploying a US radar in this area is not a matter for Norway alone. It concerns the general context of maintaining stability and predictability in the North. Apart from everything else, we heard the aggressive statements made by US representatives on the sidelines of the recent Arctic events.
Despite repeated Russian proposals to hold expert consultations on matters of concern, our Norwegian partners invariably turn them down. This seems odd to us. I think it is clear that military preparations near Russian or any other borders cannot be disregarded by Russia or any other country. We proceed from the assumption that we will retaliate to provide for our own security.
Question: Earlier this week, Iranian Ambassador to Russia Mehdi Sanai held meetings with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov. Could you tell us what was discussed and what diplomatic work is being pursued by Russia and Iran?
Maria Zakharova: Relevant press releases have been posted on the Foreign Ministry website following the meetings.
As far as the interaction with Iran is concerned, with all due respect for the level of relations between the ambassador and the deputy foreign ministers you have mentioned, there is a most active dialogue directly between the foreign ministers [of Russia and Iran]. They hold regular meetings and telephone conversations on the entire range of bilateral relations. There are a lot of global and regional matters, which are influencing the international agenda and to which our two countries are making an important contribution. Some cases in point are the Syrian settlement, the situation in the Middle East as a whole, and the developments in the Gulf area. These concern security and stability, including in a situation where a number of forces are attempting to meddle in the region’s affairs in order to force it to obey rules of their own making. Russia and our colleagues, including from Iran, are opposing these approaches because we are guided by the principle of respect for sovereignty of specific states. We proceed from the assumption that the region, which has a number of umbrella organisations, an ancient history and much experience in settling conflicts, is capable of addressing its problems on its own and certainly has no need for someone’s aggressive policy aimed at changing the internal agenda.
Therefore, we are promoting active dialogue on economic matters that in some way or other are related to international politics, taking into consideration the sanctions pressure applied to Iran, as well as on many other aspects.
Question: After the visit of US State Secretary Mike Pompeo and the meeting between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Austria Alexander Van der Bellen, some experts from various Arab media outlets started interpreting Vladimir Putin’s remark that Russia was not a fire brigade and that it could not rescue everyone everywhere as Russia’s changed position with regard to Iran. Has Russia modified its position on Iran after Mike Pompeo’s visit?
Maria Zakharova: Our relations with Iran develop at various levels, including the top and high levels, and at the level of heads of foreign ministries and diplomatic missions. Active dialogue is underway. Certainly, we live in a world, rather than in a vacuum. The multi-vector modern international relations presuppose complex forms. But, speaking of the context mentioned by you, our relations with Iran do not depend on contacts with other countries.
Question: President of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid has opposed Russia’s return to PACE. Earlier, she noted after talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin that dialogue with Moscow could not be boycotted. What does the Foreign Ministry think about this dual Estonian position with regard to Russia?
Maria Zakharova: You have noted correctly that we perceive it as dual.
We believe that every state has a right to express its own viewpoint. First of all, this concerns domestic politics and, of course, international relations. But we have repeatedly stated that this position should not hinge on political phobias and biased attitudes alone. It should be based on arguments that, in turn, rest on facts.
After the recent ministerial meeting of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in Finland, everyone said that it would be wrong to deprive Russia of the right to vote. We heard statements by many countries and delegations that had not modified their positions regarding a number of matters that caused disagreements with Russia. At the same time, they called for reinstating the Russian delegation’s voting rights and also advocated equal rights for all delegations during this body’s work.
In this case, you have quoted two passages from the statements by one and the same person, and they contradict each other to some extent. One can say that this is a dual position.
Question: Could you comment on a statement by Hodaka Maruyama, a member of the Japanese Parliament’s House of Representatives, who suggested discussing the issue of seizing the South Kuril archipelago by force?
Maria Zakharova: Everyone noted this statement. We are outraged by such rhetoric. It is important to find out whether this incident is an escapade of a marginal politician or whether it really reflects the moods of the local elites and the public at large.
The incident highlights yet another problem. We have some questions as to how the Japanese side addresses mutual visa-free trips by South Kuril residents and Japanese citizens that were launched in the early 1990s under bilateral agreements. The politicisation of such exchanges (that no longer meet the current level of relations between neighbouring states) by the Japanese side has caused them to virtually stop fulfilling their initial objective, which was to strengthen friendship and trust between the residents of neighbouring regions and the people of both countries in general.
The Russian side noted the response to this incident by the Government, Parliament and leading Japanese political parties, as well as the legislative assembly of Hokkaido Prefecture. This response instils hope for the better. We hope that an uncompromising assessment of Hodaka Maruyama’s provocative statement will be made during the examination of a parliamentary resolution advising Mr Maruyama to resign as a member of parliament, now being jointly drafted by the ruling coalition and representatives of the opposition.
Question: Yesterday’s meeting of SCO foreign ministers was part of the preparations for the SCO summit scheduled for June 13-14. At previous SCO meetings, the Chinese delegation repeatedly urged the SCO member countries to withdraw from the dollar zone. Will this subject be discussed at the summit?
Maria Zakharova: This subject is not suggested for discussion from summit to summit. It has come to a head as a result of destructive policies that the United States is pursuing in the modern world, particularly by using political tools to address its economic and financial problems.
This subject is discussed both at open and closed venues. We have repeatedly commented on this. Everyone is concerned about what is to be done, how countries should behave, what solutions could be found to the existing difficult problems (and these did not emerge of their own accord, being a result of actions by the Washington elites) in an epoch witnessing the climax of sanctions pressure and the use of political mechanisms in the world economy that was proclaimed open and built on the liberal basis of free competition. This subject is being discussed by all states. It is of topical importance for China, Iran, Russia, and European countries, which are interacting with each other and other states.
The US by its own actions has targeted the use of its currency in interstate settlements of third countries. There are quite a few instances of this kind. Most importantly, they are not theoretical or virtual but quite practical. And they are having a destructive impact on the economy as well as on the development of countries with a high economic potential and economic development rates exceeding those in America. No one wants to be hostage to a country that behaves destructively in economic processes. All nations are concerned with their security.
To reiterate: This subject is being discussed not only at official events and summits, but also at expert level and among diplomats, financiers, economists and business circles. Everyone is concerned. This subject also has a practical dimension involving the study of options for creating alternative payments systems, which is also a consequence of the US policies.