11 July 201919:47

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, July 11, 2019

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Table of contents

  1. Visit by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica Kamina Johnson-Smith to the Russian Federation
  2. A meeting of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Business Council
  3. Visit by Foreign Minister of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire Marcel Amon-Tanoh to the Russian Federation
  4. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the Federal Republic of Germany
  5. Update on Syria
  6. Update on Venezuela
  7. Developments in Ukraine
  8. Joint statement following EU-Ukraine summit
  9. President of the European Council Donald Tusks statements in Georgia
  10. Outcome of the extraordinary IAEA Board of Governors meeting
  11. Statements by Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces Micael Bydén
  12. Global Conference for Media Freedom in London
  13. Lithuania blocks Sputnik Lithuania website
  14. Cabo Verde installs a commemorative plaque in memory of the heroic raid by the Soviet destroyer Byvaly
  15. Talks with Europe on switching to payments in national currencies

Answers to media questions:

  1. North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s statement  made during his conversation with the pranksters
  2. Russia’s assessment  of French diplomatic efforts regarding Iran
  3. UK seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar
  4. Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov’s statement regarding a meeting of Russian, US and Chinese representatives on Afghanistan
  5. Russia’s response to the incident in the Strait of Hormuz involving British and Iranian ships
  6. Extradition of Ukrainian businessman Dmitry Firtash to the US
  7. President of the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy Sergey Gavrilov’s remarks at a meeting of the Federation Council’s Interim Commission on Protecting State Sovereignty and Preventing Interference in Domestic Affairs of the Russian Federation
  8. Sixth Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions in St Petersburg on intensifying integration
  9. Statement by Chairman of the Federation Council’s Interim Commission on Information Policy and Cooperation with the Media Alexey Pushkov on restricting entry to Russia for Georgian singer Nino Katamadze 
  10. The EU Court lifts sanctions against former President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych
  11. Chances of resuming flights to and from Georgia
  12. The Kerch Strait incident
  13. The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ response to Russian plans to organise a fireworks display to mark  the 75th anniversary of the  liberation of Tallinn from the German invaders  
  14. Forming the Constitutional Committee in Syria
  15. Russia’s plans to build up economic and diplomatic relations with Iraqi Kurdistan 
  16. An update on Denis Lisov who remains in Poland with his daughters

 

 

 

Visit by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica Kamina Johnson-Smith to the Russian Federation

 

On July 14-16, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica Kamina Johnson-Smith will be on a working visit to Russia.

During their talks on July16, the foreign ministers of the two countries plan to discuss different aspects of bilateral economic, investment and cultural cooperation, and exchange views on international and regional issues.

This is the first visit to the Russian Federation by the head of Jamaican diplomacy since 2000.

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A meeting of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Business Council

 

On July 16, Sergey Lavrov will chair a regular meeting of the Business Council of the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation. The participants will discuss the development of Russia’s economic ties with the African countries in the context of preparations for the economic forum and the Russia-Africa summit in Sochi in October.

The participants will focus on the expansion and deepening of Russian-African trade, economic and investment cooperation in the run-up to the Sochi events in the Russia-Africa format. They also intend to discuss ways of enhancing political and diplomatic support for Russian business projects in Africa.

The meeting will be attended by representatives from the Foreign Ministry, other interested ministries and departments and scientific, business and public circles.

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Visit by Foreign Minister of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire Marcel Amon-Tanoh to the Russian Federation

 

Foreign Minister of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire Marcel Amon-Tanoh will be in Moscow on a working visit on July 16-18. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with him on July 17. The ministers plan to discuss approaches to invigorating bilateral relations in the political, trade, economic and humanitarian areas. They will focus on promoting business partnerships in the energy sector, the fuel and energy complex, infrastructure development and agriculture. A bilateral memorandum on foreign ministry consultations is being prepared for signing.

The ministers plan to conduct a detailed exchange of views on major global and regional issues, including crisis settlement and peacekeeping in Africa. They intend to discuss in detail the issues of countering international terrorism and extremism in the context of collective efforts to neutralise these threats in Africa and the rest of the world.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the Federal Republic of Germany

 

On July 18, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be in Germany for a working visit.

The schedule includes talks in Bonn with Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas. The officials are expected to exchange views on the current status of and prospects for the Russian-German political dialogue and practical cooperation in trade, the economy, science, education, culture and humanitarian areas, including people-to-people contacts between civil societies, interregional and inter-parliamentary ties.

Priority will be given to current international issues with an emphasis on settlements in Ukraine, Syria and Libya, the situation unfolding around Iran, arms control and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The two ministers are to address the opening session of the 18th meeting of the St Petersburg Dialogue Russian-German public forum.

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Update on Syria

 

The situation in Syria remains tense.

The most complicated situation is still in the Idlib de-escalation zone where terrorist groups continue to violate the ceasefire by shelling towns and villages and government army positions. This is resulting in the deaths of Syrian service personnel and civilians.

Significant progress has been achieved on the political track towards completing the creation and launching the Constitutional Committee. On July 5, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov received UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen. The parties discussed in detail the political process and expressed hope that the envoy’s visit to Damascus, planned for this week, would expedite the convocation of the Constitutional Committee. (News from the sidelines of the talks is encouraging). This will open up the way for a direct dialogue between the Syrians to outline the parameters of a final settlement to the Syrian crisis and the future of their country.

On the humanitarian track, we continue to watch with concern the situation in the Al-Hawl camp of internally displaced persons in the Hasakeh Province, which is outside Syrian government control. The disastrous humanitarian situation there has become chronic. The camp populated by mostly women and children is overcrowded and the residents suffer from outbreaks of seasonal diseases. Meanwhile, humanitarian organisations note plunging interest among the international community in aid for Syria. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, this year the donors have allocated only 17 percent of the required funds to implement the UN humanitarian relief plan.

In addition, UN officials complain of the persistent underfunding of their programmes in the Rukban camp for IDPs. Less than $2 million was allocated in 2019, out of the $10.6 million pledged by the donors. Against this background, the Russian side keeps resettling Rukban which is situated outside Al-Tanf in an area illegally occupied by the US. Over 16,000 people have left the camp, which means it was abandoned by 35 percent of its residents.

The Russian initiative on returning Syrian refugees to their homes is also on the move. Over 8,000 people have returned since July 1 alone, and the number of those returned since July 18, 2018 is close to 300,000.

We note the ongoing process of restoring Syria’s ties with the outside world that were broken during the conflict, primarily with the Arab nations. On July 7, Foreign Minister of Oman Yusuf bin Alawi visited Damascus where he was received by the country’s leaders. The parties discussed stepping up bilateral cooperation and coordinating efforts to enhance regional stability and security.

On July 1-2, a delegation of Syrian MPs headed by Deputy Speaker Najdat Anzour took part in the 2nd International Forum “Development of Parliamentarism” in Moscow. On the sidelines of the forum, the Syrians held meetings with their colleagues from Arab states, East Asian and Latin American countries.

After more than a nine-year break, a delegation from the Syrian Central Bank’s Directorate on fighting money laundering and terrorism financing, took part in the 26th Egmont Group Plenary meeting in the Hague on July 1-4 (the group brings together financial intelligence units from most of the world’s countries). 

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Update on Venezuela

 

We welcome the resumption of the direct dialogue between the Government and the opposition, a regular round of which was organised on Barbados with the good offices of the Government of Norway. According to incoming reports, it is going well. We would like to again express hope that the sides, including the opposition, will work energetically and in good faith. We are convinced that only the Venezuelans themselves will be able to find a durable solution to the disagreements that have amassed and jointly put the country back on the path of steady development. The compromise they achieve should be supported by the international community.

In this context, we would like to urge once again both foreign states and Venezuelan politicians to display the required restraint and tact and not to impose on the participants and organisers of these talks their own views and some terms that allegedly lead to the adoption of certain decisions. This contradicts the principles negotiated by the Government of Norway with the dialogue participants on May 25.

Regrettably, we have to admit that some states continue following a different logic, the logic of confrontation. Craig Faller, commander of US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), talks about the presence of hundreds of Russian military in Venezuela, which support the regime. Apparently, the Americans do not have a more sensible explanation for their failures to bring down the legitimate Government of Venezuela. In turn, we would like to repeat again that our country is striving to overcome the logic of confrontation in international affairs. We are consistently pursuing a balanced foreign policy based on a unifying agenda and ideology of mutually respectful partnership. We develop our cooperation with Venezuela in strict conformity with the laws of the two countries. The presence of Russian specialists rather than military on its territory is regulated by the relevant intergovernmental agreement and does not change the regional balance of power. So, our American partners and Admiral Craig have no grounds to be worried.

We think the explanation is different. In the modern world every state has the right to freely and independently determine the vector of its development, acting in line with the goals and principles of the UN Charter. Nevertheless, some political forces, representatives of the Washington establishment seem to believe in their right to determine the acceptable parameters of lawful cooperation between other states. One gets the impression that the resuscitated Monroe Doctrine has filled the minds of American politicians and military to such an extent that sometimes they find it difficult to think in a different frame of reference.

On a related note, we would like to draw public attention to the complicated humanitarian situation in Venezuela. It is necessary to immediately lift socio-humanitarian sanctions, primarily, regarding supplies of vital necessities and medications. We said this many times but, regrettably, did not receive a sensible answer. We are convinced that there is no room for bargaining over this and exchanging relief for some concessions from the Maduro Government. This problem should be resolved without any delay because children in need of medical aid may simply die before politicians come to terms. I would like to remind everyone that this is about a programme for the treatment of Venezuelan children with cancer in Italy, which is funded by the PDVSA oil company and which was blocked because of American sanctions.

Judging by everything, the US considers real aid to the population of Venezuela less important than its strategy of maximum politicisation of humanitarian issues with a view to exerting pressure on the lawful Government. I will put the question differently: why do US oil companies have the right to exemptions from the sanctions and Venezuelan cancer patients don’t?

We will not move on from this issue and believe it will be resolved. Maybe it will become a kind of a test mechanism, a litmus test to determine the real and false supporters of the wellbeing and development of that country.

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Developments in Ukraine

 

The situation in Ukraine remains tense. The OSCE mission noted that the ceasefire was broken much more often over the last week. Most violations happened near the villages of Gorlovka, Yasinovataya, Kominternovo, Popasnoye, Donetskoye and Golubovskoye.

The Ukrainian armed forces continue to deliberately destroy civil infrastructure and kill civilians [in Donbass]. Unfortunately, we do not see an appropriate response from Kiev.

Ukraine’s military command has sanctioned real acts of terror against civilians in the frontline regions. Ukrainian snipers have become more active. Canada and the United States support Kiev’s actions by regularly sending various armaments, including sniper and anti-radar systems, and training snipers.

On July 6, a civilian was injured as a result of the sniper fire from Ukraine’s 30th brigade at the Mayorskoye checkpoint. The woman was brought to Gorlovka City Hospital No.2.

On July 7, soldiers of the 36th brigade brought down fire on the Zvezda Russian television channel’s crew and correspondents of the People’s Militia press service, who were filming a report on the destruction of St Spyridon church in the village of Kominternovo as a result of shelling. They attacked with 120-mm mortars.

I would like to remind all of you that this is the third time in the last two weeks when Ukrainian service members attempted to kill media representatives.

In the early hours of July 8, the Ukrainian troops opened fire on the village of Krasnoarmeisk, located in the southern Donetsk Republic. The entire village was under fire from 152- and 122-mm artillery: over 30 buildings were partly destroyed, and a local school and hospital were damaged.

In this context, we would like to ask the Ukrainian leader and commander-in-chief when he plans to start honouring his election promise of bringing about a ceasefire at any cost. It's time to call his uncontrolled Ukrainian military to account. It is clear from the statements made by Kiev that not everything is reported to the office (an upgrade has taken place: it was called the administration before). They can watch the Russian Foreign Ministry’s briefings. Among other things, we will report what is going on there.

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Joint statement following EU-Ukraine summit

 

The joint statement adopted following the EU-Ukraine summit in Kiev on July 8 has demonstrated that Brussels continues to view the situation in Ukraine primarily through the lens of geopolitical confrontation with Russia. This is the dominant point.

The document abounds in unfriendly provisions and propagandistic platitudes towards our country that, sadly, seem borrowed word-for-word from similar statements made during the Poroshenko presidency. Instead of sensibly analysing the reasons that prompted residents of Crimea and Sevastopol to express their free democratic will in support of the reunion with their historical homeland in March 2014, the so-called partners who gathered in Kiev thought it was appropriate to accuse Russia of the “illegal annexation of Crimea” yet again. They also place responsibility on Russia for the consequences of the armed provocation organised by Kiev in the Kerch Strait area in November 2018. And attempts are being made again to blur Ukraine’s involvement in the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash over Donbass, clearly to satisfy Kiev authorities and national extremists. In addition, after condemning Russia’s humanitarian measure to introduce a simplified procedure for granting Russian citizenship to residents of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics, Brussels and Kiev, as per tradition, expressed indifference to the legitimate interests of Donbass residents who have been suffering for more than five years from Ukraine’s shelling and blockade, which I mentioned earlier today by citing specific cases.

That said, EU envoys and their Kiev protégés have once again chosen to ignore problems that if resolved could in fact facilitate peace in Ukraine, which everyone seems to support in word only. As a reminder, the existing bans and restrictions on the use of Russian, the native language for millions of Ukrainian citizens, as well as discriminating education reform, attempts to disrupt the fragile interfaith balance, and manifestations of neo-Nazism – all of these should be fought, and these issues should be a key focus while developing and adopting documents like the one we are referring to today.

It is regrettable that the EU has lost the opportunity to send a clear signal to the new Kiev authorities on the necessity to stop sabotaging the Minsk agreements and sit down at the negotiating table with representatives of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics. We urge the EU to refrain from steps that play into the hands of the “party of war” in Ukraine. We can only hope that sooner or later Brussels and Kiev will come to the realisation that a policy of confrontation with Russia is a road to nowhere.  

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President of the European Council Donald Tusks statements in Georgia

 

Speaking today, July 11, at an international conference in Batumi, President of the European Council Donald Tusk came out with yet another anti-Russia attack. He tried to distort the meaning of the well-known statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the 20th century’s biggest geopolitical catastrophe. I would like to remind Mr Tusk that, as the Russian President has stressed a number of times, the disintegration of the Soviet Union led to countless human tragedies where millions of our compatriots and fellow citizens within a moment found themselves abroad, families and peoples became separated. This is in reference, in particular, to Russian-speaking residents of the Baltic republics. The fact that these countries, which have been EU members since 2004, continue to violate their rights and pursue outrageous acts of discrimination on ethnic grounds, in all probability, does not seem to upset Mr Tusk. He should turn his statements towards that rather than throw another Russophobic fit. 

Also, it appears that the outgoing President of the European Council (let me remind you that this is due on November 30) lacks direct communication with the Russian side. This is not the first time where he has launched a distant argument with the Russian President. This happens with others, too. A one-sided dialogue is a new form of conversation. In this respect I would like to recall that it was the EU that took the decision to freeze the main interaction formats with our country, including the Russia-EU summits. Perhaps, Mr Tusk should ponder this instead of trying to play on historical themes, which he does clumsily and even awkwardly. He still has some time in his current position to try to rectify the unhappy situation in Russia-EU relations, which was not provoked by Russia.

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Outcome of the extraordinary IAEA Board of Governors meeting

 

On July10, the IAEA Board of Governors held an extraordinary meeting in Vienna to discuss Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Ahead of the event, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano made two reports on the partial suspension by Iran of its voluntary JCPOA commitments to simultaneously keep on its territory up to 300 kg of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent.

The IAEA pointed out that these steps do not pose an immediate proliferation risk. The Agency is closely monitoring all of Iran’s projects, which are not in violation of its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the IAEA Safeguards Agreement or the Additional Protocol to the Safeguards Agreement, which Iran is strictly honouring.

It looks like we have long entered the age of a “developed looking-glass world.” Ironically, the extraordinary IAEA Board of Governors meeting was held at the request of the United States, which announced back in May 2018 that it was pulling out of the JCPOA. Washington has unilaterally abandoned all of its obligations and openly violated UNSC Resolution 2231 and Article 25 of the UN Charter. At the same time, Washington continues to demand that Iran strictly comply with all the provisions of the nuclear deal, which the US has torpedoed for more than a year and is trying to prevent the other signatories from honouring it. I cannot understand Washington’s intentions. Does it think that the general public will not bother about the details and that the endless repetition of phrases, like “the nuclear potential,” “nuclear threat” and “non-compliance with agreements,” will create the impression that Iran is always the guilty party and that this subject can be endlessly exploited? Is this what Washington wants? I hope that Washington still has a trace of respect for the public, which provides the foundation for democracy.

The US position has not been supported by the IAEA, which sharply criticised it. It is obvious that the root cause of the current JCPOA tension is Washington’s policy of putting maximum pressure on Tehran based on anti-Iran sentiments and a desire to bring about a change of government in a sovereign state. The United States has been shown that the overwhelming majority of the IAEA states believe that there is no alternative to the JCPOA, have unilaterally spoken up in its support and for the continued implementation of the comprehensive agreements. We hope that our American colleagues will learn a lesson from this and possibly chew things over once again.

We appreciate the IAEA’s contribution to the stability of the comprehensive agreements and hope that the Agency will retain a professional, objective and unbiased attitude when implementing its monitoring and verification obligations based on UNSC Resolution 2231.

We consistently and strongly urge all the JCPOA states to honour their obligations under the comprehensive agreements and UNSC Resolution 2231. We believe that this is a vital condition for ensuring that the nuclear deal, which was made following years of difficult and stressful talks and is an example of an effective settlement of one of the most complicated problems, survives this stress test and that the goals of the JCPOA are achieved in full.

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Statements by Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces Micael Bydén

 

We took note of the recent statement in an interview with US TV network CNN, by Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces Micael Bydén regarding violations of the Swedish air space by other countries.

It has become a common occurrence to see US politicians and journalists set a trap only to fall into it afterwards. This was one such case. The question on the allegedly “aggressive actions by Russia” was clearly provocative. Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces Micael Bydén said that on average Russia accounted for one in fifteen violations of the Swedish border. Someone commits 10 violations of this kind, but Russia is still the one who gets all the informational shaming.

Data from the official website of the Swedish Armed Forces for 2016-2018 show that there were 49 reported incidents of illegal border violations in Sweden by land, sea and air, including military and transport vessels, aircraft and vehicles. Interestingly, NATO member states account for the vast majority of these violations, while Russia is mentioned on three occasions only. Let me remind you that Russia’s Defence Ministry has not confirmed that Russian aircraft violated Swedish air space.

Statements made by the Swedish Armed Forces Commander are clear evidence that the idea of “aggressive and provocative” conduct by Russia’s Aerospace Forces in the Baltic Sea region is inadequate.

Let me remind you once again that Russia has repeatedly said it was ready to launch a dialogue with all the interested parties on flight safety in any format that would suit our partners.

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Global Conference for Media Freedom in London

 

A conference on media freedom will complete its work today in London. Its organisers proudly labelled it as a “global” forum in what could be viewed as an attempt to show its global reach and stress Britain’s leading role in defending media rights and freedoms around the world. But the actual outcome proved to be just the opposite.

Instead of emerging as a defender of free and independent media, official London suddenly and in plain view of a broad audience assumed the role of fighting unwanted news outlets and pursuing a political agenda rather than promoting the freedom of expression principle, which, according to the British authorities, can be applied in quite a selective manner.

I provided an extensive comment on the developments related to this conference in an answer to a media question. Let me remind you that the comment to this effect was published on the Foreign Ministry’s website on July 9. Specifically, we demanded that Britain present facts behind the public accusations against the Russian media of spreading misinformation. In a statement responding to this demand, the Foreign Office declined to comment on the situation.

Therefore, London has de facto openly confirmed its status as a source of fake news and libel, while before there was only indirect evidence of Great Britain’s involvement in misinformation campaigns regarding episodes like, for example, the Skripal case or information leaks regarding the Integrity Initiative project. When legal entities and companies face accusations, especially when it comes to media outlets, you have to present the corresponding evidence. It is that simple! If you allege that someone spreads misinformation, all you have to do is provide examples. We regard these actions as a propaganda attack against the Russian media.

Against this backdrop, there is much concern regarding the recent decision made by UK’s Foreign Office to allocate 100 million pounds over a five-year period for fighting disinformation and supporting independent media in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It is not hard to guess the real reason behind these seemingly benign intentions. Over the next several years these 100 million pounds will be used to promote fake news similar to what the UK Foreign Office has been spreading.

We have also taken note that the Committee to Protect Journalists, as a US human rights NGO, essentially supported these accusations, while being expressly formalistic in voicing its concern over the refusal to accredit Russian media outlets, including Russia Today and Sputnik. In his message to UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Head of the Committee to Protect Journalists Joel Simon said that Russian news agencies “have broadcast disinformation, some of which has undermined democratic elections and put journalists at risk,” echoing London’s and Washington’s official position regarding Russia’s long-rumoured election meddling. We believe that an NGO that has a mission to protect rights has acted in a totally subordinate rather than independent manner. It is hard to imagine how this statement was prepared, but I think that we will find out soon.

It would be interesting to know how many similar would-be independent human rights institutions take up this ungrateful task of covering-up official London. In any case I would like to emphasise that no matter how many official institutions or NGOs are willing to make encouraging noises in London’s support, the UK will still be unable to prove its case due to the lack of evidence. Once again, this is absurd. If media outlets are accused of spreading fake news, show us the evidence, and until you do so, this is all worthless and nonsense.

To conclude on this point let me emphasise that we have been always guided by the reciprocity principle. In this connection, UK media outlets operating in Russia will have to be ready to face the consequences resulting from the actions of the UK government.

By the way, we have all relished at the developments around the leaked reports by UK’s ambassador to the US and the statements coming from London officials about the need to fight leaks and identify enemies who make these leaks possible or organise them. Conspiracy theories are all over the place once again. I have one question in this regard: should the investigation of leaks be limited to diplomatic correspondence only? The entire Skripal case that has been unfolding in front of our very eyes for more than a year now was built on leaks to British media. These were not just leaked opinions by anonymous experts but leaks from unnamed sources in UK’s government agencies. If the UK government does not have enough time to find out how many leaks are there and where they are coming from, we can help, in the sense that we can prepare a media monitoring report and send a digest by diplomatic channels to the Foreign Office for review. Once again, if leaking correspondence between a diplomat and his headquarters is viewed by London officials as a crime that needs to be investigated, I have a question: why was not a single of the tens of thousands of leaks that we have seen over the past year in the Skripal case was investigated? Overall, these leaks were engineered to shape the investigation in the information space and put forward the accusation.

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Lithuania blocks Sputnik Lithuania website

 

The Lithuanian authorities are persisting with their policy of mopping up the country’s information space. This is also part of the absurd picture, given Lithuania’s rather close relations with the UK. While London was hosting the Global Conference for Media Freedom, the Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania ruled in favour of blocking access to Sputnik Lithuania news agency’s website on account of its alleged copyright violation. The ruling will come into force if upheld by the Vilnius District Administrative Court.

Last week, we commented on Lithuania’s harassment of Sputnik, including the detention of its Editor-in-Chief  Marat Kasem and the ban on entering the Republic for five years that was imposed on him. We also commented on the official discrimination against Russian-language media resources, including the regulator’s blocking of seven Internet websites that mostly offered products in Russian. All of this took place at the same time, while  the Global Conference for Media Freedom was being held in London.

All these actions by the Lithuanian authorities are nothing other than open reprisals against what they regard as undesirable media and an attempt to free the domestic information space from alternative sources of opinion.

Surprisingly, this policy that amounts to a gross violation of the fundamental principles of international law – freedom of expression and equal access to information – continues to be openly conducted in a member-country of the European Union that would always pay lip service to freedom and democratic values.

We are calling on the relevant international organisations to respond. I wonder if we see Brussels commenting on the “information totalitarianism” and open flouting of the freedom of speech, which are flourishing in Lithuania.

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Cabo Verde installs a commemorative plaque in memory of the heroic raid by the Soviet destroyer Byvaly

 

On July 5, the Amilcar Cabral Memorial Centre in Praia, the capital of the Republic of Cabo Verde (RCV), unveiled a commemorative plaque in honour of the feat of valor by the crew of the Soviet destroyer Byvaly and her commander, Captain 2nd Rank Yury Ilyinykh. The ceremony was held as part of the celebrations dedicated to the 44th anniversary of the Republic’s independence.

Thanks to the Soviet sailors’ bold and resolute actions in January 1973, the murderers of Amilcar Cabral, leader of the national liberation movement in Guinea Bissau and Cabo Verde, were arrested and put on trial. The sailors also released from captivity Amilcar Cabral’s comrade-in-arms Aristides Pereira, who later became the first president of independent Cabo Verde.

The ceremony was attended by the country’s Prime Minister Jose Ulisses Correia e Silva, members of Government, Mayor of Praia Oscar Santos, MPs, political party leaders, veterans, Russian Ambassador to Cabo Verde Vladimir Sokolenko, and State Duma Deputy Alexei Veller. On July 7, ship commanders from a naval squadron of the Russian Northern Fleet, which made a business call at the port of Praia, established a tradition of laying a wreath at the monument to the Russian sailors.

A careful attitude to historical memory is of fundamental importance to Russia. Moscow is pleased to note that the people of Cabo Verde retain a feeling of gratitude to our country for helping them in their fight for national independence and in the emergence of their statehood. We regard the unveiling of the commemorative plaque in honour of the feat of valor by the crew of the Byvaly as an important symbol of bilateral relations and friendship between our countries and peoples and a sign that Russia and Cabo Verde intend to continue their fruitful cooperation in the current context.

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Talks with Europe on switching to payments in national currencies

 

During the previous briefing I was asked about talks with Europeans about switching to payments in national currencies. I would like to share our analysis with you.

There is an emerging trend on the global markets to scale back dollar transactions in mutual trade-related payments, which is an objective response to the current geopolitical reality. With the United States maintaining an increasingly more erratic economic policy and uncontrollably imposing unsubstantiated restrictions, the reliability and convenience of the US dollar as a priority currency of contracts have been compromised.

It is logical that in these circumstances countries and companies have to take measures to minimise their transaction-related economic losses and risks. They also show interest in developing alternative payment mechanisms. Expanding the use of national currencies in commercial transactions with other states is becoming increasingly more relevant and is an important matter on the current foreign economic agenda.

As concerns switching to payments using the euro with EU countries, we are working on this and quite successfully too. Moreover, our European partners are also motivated to promote their collective currency and to strengthen its international position. This undertaking is in line with the initiatives brought forward by the European Commission to enhance the international role of the euro and expand its use in foreign economic transactions. As a consequence, the share of the European currency in bilateral trade is consistently increasing. We do see mutual interest and a potential for expansion of this type of transactions.

In this context, we are discussing with our partners a wider use of the common European currency in payments for Russian energy supplies. These negotiations have already brought certain results; however, the specifics of global energy pricing do not allow us to convert all payments between Russian and European companies to euros overnight. At the same time, we are certain that this tendency will only grow stronger further down the road.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: The other day, pranksters Vovan and Lexus called Prime Minister of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev pretending to be Petr Poroshenko. During the conversation Zoran Zaev revealed that President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic and President of Kosovo Hashim Thaci had started negotiations on a territory swap and a border change. What will happen to UNSC Resolution 1244 if Vucic and Thaci reach an agreement?

Maria Zakharova: I think it is unacceptable to trivialise such a complicated matter. We are not talking here as if we were in a primary school but discussing complex geopolitical and international processes that require diplomatic talks and decisions that will affect the lives of millions of people. We are talking here about the efforts that are not based on personal ideas about the region’s development but on a legal foundation. You know what we think about  this. It has not changed and still falls back on international law, including the effective UNSC Resolution 1244 that has not been cancelled. Our opinion is that new decisions must be in line with the interests of Serbia as a state and the Serbian people. I am talking about Serbian citizens in general, not just representatives of one ethnicity. You know our opinion on this; it has not changed and is supported by a solid legal and international legal framework. Paging through, jumping ahead and making correlations without understanding nuances is simply impossible. It is unethical and provocative. The processes that are already meant to turn a difficult page in the Balkan history brook no provocations. If any, our comments must be about what is happening right now based on facts rather than hypothetical models. We can and certainly must cogitate over the ramifications but definitely not engage in provocations in the information space.

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Question: What is Russia’s view of the French diplomatic efforts regarding Iran? Is Russia involved? What are the prospects?

Maria Zakharova: At previous briefings we were asked about Russia’s mediation and we said that the relations in question are the relations between two countries, the United States and Iran. All the opportunities for a normal dialogue are in place if only Washington stops building up tension. I hope that we all know and remember (we remember, I hope you do, too) Washington and Tehran conducting a meticulous and mutually respectful dialogue. Of course, every party defended its own interests during the development of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action but they still took each other’s views into consideration. This experience can be and should be applied to resolving other issues. So, all the opportunities for a normal and mutually respectful dialogue between Washington and Tehran are in place. This experience is recent. A couple of years ago, we witnessed hours-long rounds of talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. There were no ideological, cultural or other obstacles for those talks. So in this case mediation is not necessary.

However, we are very well aware that other countries and, of course, France have their own interests. This question should be addressed to France, not Russia.

It is another matter that we can only welcome everything that could defuse the hysteria of a whole number of Washington officials about Iran. But it is necessary to work with Washington because Tehran is acting consistently and relying on law while not only showing respect but also demonstrating admirable patience in its relations with international partners.

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Question: Please comment on the UK’s reckless behaviour in detaining an Iranian oil tanker in the Strait of Gibraltar in violation of international law. Do you think that these actions are a case of piracy and a breach of JCPOA?

Maria Zakharova: I would prefer to use the term “fanning tensions in the region.” This expression is not so much legal as political, but it captures the meaning of the developments to a T. Possibly this is part of a strategy to change Iran’s position on a number of issues. I think Washington is not concealing this either, as part of the Anglo-Saxon partnership. In any case, this road has never led to anything good. At the same time, negotiations with the Iranian partners, which take into account the legal specifics of some or other situation and are based on mutual respect, always yield excellent results. Quite likely, those in the West, who are responsible for foreign policy implementation and for the international agenda, lack the experience pointing to the advantages of the negotiating process involving Tehran, among others. They may be aware that these negotiating processes are difficult and require not so much political rage as skills, knowledge and aptitude. Perhaps, this is the reason. But it is totally unclear why they always choose escalation and tension. I think those who peruse the relevant literature from the last ten years or so will come to the conclusion that this sort of approach always leads to an impasse.   

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Question: There are media reports saying that the Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov made a statement to the effect that Russia, the US and China would hold a meeting on Afghanistan in July. What does Russia expect from this event?

Maria Zakharova: As usual, we expect a constructive dialogue on both the domestic political situation in Afghanistan and the situation in the region as a whole, given that there are a lot of problems. The first and most important of these is counterterrorism interaction. Participants in these meetings discuss a range of issues, from the domestic situation, given that this is part of the international agenda, to the situation in the region as a whole. I will give you more detailed information on this meeting and its parameters later.

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Question: How did Russia respond to the Strait of Hormuz incident involving UK and Iranian ships?

Maria Zakharova: We proceed from the assumption that there should be no escalation of tensions in the region, given that the situation is becoming  dramatic as it is. We have seen the degree of both rhetoric and concrete action rise to a peak. We are well aware that this kind of approach lacks any potential and we know the consequences to which it could lead. What is needed, therefore, is not to foment tensions in the region but, on the contrary, to act in such a way as to steer the situation towards the negotiating process in order to answer the questions the parties may have.    

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Question: The Americans are spreading their national legislation to other countries. At their request, foreign citizens are extradited to the United States, where they are sentenced to various prison terms. The latest example is Ukrainian businessman Dmitry Firtash. What can you say on this score? Is it a politicised case?

Maria Zakharova: I am not going to focus on the case of Dmitry Firtash, who is a citizen of a foreign state. However, I would like to say that there have been enough cases involving Russian citizens to make conclusions from this situation.

Regarding Russian citizens, Washington has been hunting down our citizens in the past few years. Secret operations are staged to abduct them in other countries, following which Washington demands that they should be arrested and deported to the United States. And then we see our citizens tried by a biased American legal system and sentenced to long prison terms. They receive unacceptable treatment and the attitude to this situation is not acceptable either. The charges against them are based on unverified allegations or are trumped up, often with the use of stooges. Many charges do not even look politicised, as you have said. Some of the scenarios used against Russian citizens look like a cheap soap opera.

Such cases have been commented on more than once in statements by senior Foreign Ministry officials and at our briefings. We urged the US authorities and discussed the matter in the public space, as well as in our contacts with [foreign] diplomats, so as to ensure that our citizens have an opportunity to protect their rights. The Foreign Ministry has been working to protect the rights and legitimate interests of Russian citizens in distress.

We see that the United States does not observe the rules of the game, including those based on law. This is not mere primacy of political interests but rather the dictatorship of personal interests of some politicians, who use their powers – which they sometimes hold for a short period of time – to implement such scenarios. The situation is deplorable, and it is getting worse.

I have commented on the fate of Russian citizens. But we see that a similar scenario is applied to the citizens of other countries as well. The US legal system is not being used to punish real criminals, or to hunt down extremists and terrorists, but to punish those whose views are not qualified by Washington as loyal. We see that this legal system is being used for banal revenge rather than retribution. Just look at what is happening to Julian Assange. It is a classic example of both a passionate US attitude to any violation of the freedom of speech and also of how colossal efforts are taken, absolutely unscrupulously, to take revenge on a person who has shown to the world the true face of US policies outside the United States.

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Question: The Federation Council’s Ad Hoc Commission on Protecting State Sovereignty and Preventing Foreign Interference held a meeting today. One of the speakers was President of the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy Sergey Gavrilov, whose address in Tbilisi provoked the riots of June 20. He said that so far the Georgian authorities had not offered any apologies or made any statements. He said this made him wonder if Georgia existed as a state and concluded: “It is a toy in foreign hands.” Could you comment on this statement? Would you say that the loss of Georgia’s statehood is hindering the development of normal diplomatic relations?

Maria Zakharova: The only thing that is hindering the development of normal diplomatic relations is Tbilisi’s decision to sever diplomatic relations with Russia. This is the formal side of the matter.

I would not like to comment on the statements made by Russian lawmakers for a number of reasons, the main one being that they themselves very clearly formulate what they want to say.

Perhaps in this context, I will do something unexpected and comment on a statement made not by any member of the Georgian public but by the editor-in-chief of the television channel Rustavi 2.

If we find the nerve to disregard the insulting emotional statements made by the Rustavi 2 journalists and get down to the essence of what the editor-in-chief of that channel said, we will see that it contains a fantastic eye-opener.

I am referring to the statement he made yesterday. He asked Georgia, the Georgian people and the Georgian public only one thing: “Is Georgia a country? Is it a state?” This is what he asked. The fact that you have mentioned the part of the statement made by Chair of the State Duma Committee on Public Associations and Religious Organisations Sergey Gavrilov, who was in Tbilisi at the invitation of the Georgian side, in which he wonders if Georgia is a state, shows that this subject worries both Gavrilov and the editor-in-chief of Rustavi 2. Surprisingly, it appears that the information campaign launched by Rustavi 2 is targeted at the very person who asked the same crucial question as was asked by the channel’s boss.

I did not want to take the initiative to comment on this matter for a very simple reason: I love Georgia and its people, culture and history sincerely and with all my heart, and I understand that the current developments in Georgia call for silence. We only make public our political views on events because this is one of our responsibilities. Personally, I did not want to do this, because I believe that Georgia has entered a really black period in its history and we should give it an opportunity to focus and think about this in silence.

It is often said reproachfully that Russia has lost Georgia. Don’t you think that Georgia has lost itself? I am not giving any advice; I am just thinking out loud.  We have no right to give advice, because the Georgians are a nation with an ancient history and culture who can sort it all out themselves. But many other people believe that they are unable to do this and hence that they need foreign or overseas advice. Once again, the question, “Is Georgia a state?”, has not been asked by the Foreign Ministry of Russia but by a prominent member of the Georgian public who obviously has no sympathy for Russia. Before answering this question, society in Georgia, all those who live in Georgia, should remind themselves what a state is and what a country is, and which characteristics distinguish a mob from a nation and a nation from nationality.

As I have said, the provocative actions and statements, including those directed against Russia, as well as the personal attacks and insults against the Russian people have above all backfired, or have only struck Georgia. No enemy could have delivered a heavier blow at the Georgian people, Georgia and Georgian statehood that those who make such statements. This is what you should consider.

This is not an official response but an answer to your question. It was probably emotional and sentimental, but since we have no diplomatic relations with Georgia, this could be the only possible answer at this stage.

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Question: The 6th Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions devoted to enhancing integration will take place in St Petersburg. Do you think that the integration of Russia and Belarus could help improve relations with Ukraine?

Maria Zakharova: The situation in Ukraine has certain features, such as the internal conflict, chaos in the domestic political life and an entire range of other problems. First of all, Ukraine needs to think how it can solve these problems at the government and public levels. It has all the necessary means for that, including international mechanisms, the Normandy format, for instance. This question should be addressed to the authorities and civil society which represent the interests of the state. Ukraine’s ability to deal with these issues is the key to its relations with other countries. Our integration processes with Belarus is of inherent value, and I do not see any connection between these two matters.

Question: Kiev is much friendlier towards Minsk than it is to Moscow. Is there hope that the Union State will have more common ground?

Maria Zakharova: Do you think it is difficult to be friendly? We are not speaking about friendliness, but about the dire situation in Ukraine which concerns our country in one way or another. In 2014-2015, we accepted a huge number of Ukrainian refugees. With a friendly smile, we could have refused to admit them. Or it was possible to not simply smile but also to lend a helping hand to those who came to us with their children and elderly and asked for help and protection, and who were not responsible for the decisions of the Ukrainian authorities who ruled the country behind their backs. This is not an issue of friendliness and smiles, but of dealing with concrete tasks arising from the existing problems in Ukraine. There is nothing wrong with smiling though. I think it is one of the reasons why Minsk is hosting a meeting of the relevant mechanism.

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Question: I would like to return to the issue of Georgia, but from a more  technical perspective. Chair of the Federation Council’s interim commission on information policy and interaction with the media Alexei Pushkov said that the Federation Council is going to ask the Foreign Ministry to impose entry restrictions on Georgian singer Nino Katamadze. How quickly can this decision be implemented if the senators file an official request?

Maria Zakharova: I have not seen any such official requests yet, only comments. But didn’t she say publicly that she did not want to come here? Or has she changed her mind?

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Question: The EU court has lifted sanctions against former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and some of his associates. What is the Foreign Ministry’s opinion on this?

Maria Zakharova: We took due note of this information.

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Question: The Kommersant daily published information yesterday about the possibility of restoring regular flights to Georgia if the situation normalises there and there are no more Russophobic events. What is the official position of the Foreign Ministry on this? Is it possible to restore flights before the crisis in the country is resolved?

Maria Zakharova: I was surprised to see so much hype regarding this news for one simple reason: when the relevant decisions were made, they were substantiated and the conditions for their adoption and cancellation were explained. We need to procced from the fact that all relevant comments were given at the time the decisions were made and implemented. There were clear explanations about why the decisions were made and under what conditions they could be cancelled or reviewed. I was surprised that there was so much hype around comments that had already been voiced at the official level.

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Question: You mentioned the incident in the Kerch Strait. Under what conditions can the detained Ukrainian sailors be released? I am talking about their release from prison and return to Ukraine.

Maria Zakharova: We have provided a full explanation on this matter. An investigation is in progress. It must result in a trial and a verdict. Any comments in this regard must come from lawyers. This stand has been clearly expressed and it has not changed.

Meanwhile, we have sent our Ukrainian colleagues a diplomatic note stating that Russian law and the law of a number of other countries provides for release from custody under certain circumstances but not for release from liability. In this case, we need written guarantees that each of these 24 sailors will participate in the procedures before and during the trial. Russian law contains similar articles that could ensure transfer of physical evidence to court under written guarantees of their safekeeping as corpus delicti. These proposals were made to Ukraine through the Russian Embassy via diplomatic channels. Ukraine promptly responded by saying that it has no interest in even discussing these matters. The response was sent officially and also communicated by the then Foreign Minister of Ukraine Pavel Klimkin. I do not know if he is still a minister as the situation there is quite dramatic. He publicly stated that Ukraine was not interested. As far as I understand it, nothing has changed since then. As of the beginning of this week, there were no changes in Kiev’s official stand, at least not in the case of those official bodies that are authorised to comment.

If you want to know about opportunities, articles of law, their numbers, etc., I can provide this information although it would be better if it came from lawyers.

Question: I would like to know whether anything can happen before the verdict. Apparently, not. Your answer is clear.

Maria Zakharova: This question should be addressed to Kiev, not us. Kiev decided against employing (as of today) any existing mechanisms of Russian law. Pavel Klimkin explained why. He put forward an entire theory and misled the Ukrainian public by claiming that Russia links this matter with the recognition of Crimea. Then, under pressure from the Ukrainian media, Kiev published a note of the Russian Foreign Ministry which had absolutely nothing to do with the concerns expressed by Pavel Klimkin. The note was specifically about enforcing Russian law.

Frankly speaking, I find it difficult to say what other options there might be. I clearly outlined our approach to this issue. Everything is changing fast so I will doublecheck but we have not received any other signals from Kiev as of now. We have an expression, “the ball is in our partner’s court.” Regarding this matter, the ball is in Kiev’s court considering that we have heard relevant debates between Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin and other government representatives. At first, the Presidential Executive Office and the President himself refused to accept the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s stand. As far as we know, it led nowhere. They started a public squabble with each other while nothing really changed for the sailors themselves.

It is not the first time I have told this story. I am happy to repeat it for you. If possible, it would be better to address this question to Ukraine.

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Question: Yesterday the Estonian Foreign Ministry protested against Russia’s plans to hold a fireworks display marking the 75th anniversary of Tallinn’s liberation from the Nazis. Estonia said the date marked the day of a new occupation of Estonia. Later, Lithuania and Latvia supported Tallinn. What does the Foreign Ministry think about this reaction? How will Russia respond?

Maria Zakharova: When I saw the news last night I did not have the opportunity to find any well-documented confirmation or refutation. I thought there must have been some kind of mistake. The fireworks display will be held on Russian territory. I do not understand why we have to ask for anybody’s permission to celebrate an occasion. This is something new. Later it turned out that the Estonian and Latvian foreign ministries told the representatives of our respective embassies that these countries consider the Soviet period of their history an occupation (which is their long held view) and object to the fireworks display.

This demarche reflects the absurd and pernicious line of the authorities in these countries. I want to tell everybody who does not know or has forgotten that millions of people throughout the world will join Russia in celebrating the anniversary of this greatest date in the history of Victory over Nazism. These festivities will include fireworks displays that will be held between April 10, 2019 and May 9, 2020 in Moscow’s Victory Park, to commemorate the liberation of Soviet and European cities from Nazi invaders.

I want to add that these fireworks displays are to honour people who for the most part are no longer with us. Many were killed back then and sacrificed their lives for the freedom of others. Many went to war not because they wanted to fight for political values or slogans but because they wanted our planet and Europe, in particular, to have the chance of a peaceful life. It is those people that we will be honouring with the fireworks displays.

I think it is unseemly to tell a country what to do in its own territory. It is especially outrageous to hear them use such wording.

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Question: You said that the work to form the Constitutional Committee in Syria had moved off the dead centre. Has an agreement on the remaining members been reached – those who should have been agreed by Damascus and other participants in the process?

Maria Zakharova: I was referring to talks conducted in Syria by UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen. Let us wait for him to offer his comments. The dynamics that we know of makes us optimistic. We would like to hear his official statement. Our comment will follow in its wake.

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Question: Russia maintains good relations with Iraqi Kurdistan. Yesterday, the Parliament approved a new cabinet and the new prime minister, Masoud Barzani. Does Russia have plans to build up economic and diplomatic relations with this region? What wishes do you have for the new leadership?

Maria Zakharova: We hope for the development of friendly and full-scale relations with Iraq and certainly with Iraqi Kurdistan. We are building these relations on the basis of mutual respect. Of course, we have long-standing economic interests as well as interests in a number of other areas. This is why I think that finalising the formation of government agencies and approving the leadership of the relevant institutions of power will make it possible to continue the promotion of our friendly relations for mutual benefit.

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Question: Is the Foreign Ministry following the developments involving Denis Lisov, who is now in Poland with his daughters, whom he has brought from Sweden somewhat earlier? Will the Foreign Ministry help him return to Russia?

Maria Zakharova: We are not just following news agency reports, we are directly involved in the situation, given that the whole story is about Russian citizens. The Lisovs, a family of Russian citizens consisting of a father and three underage daughters, have been staying in the Republic of Poland since April 1. They arrived there from Sweden under extraordinary circumstances. Denis Lisov was attempting to take his children to Russia via Poland but was stopped by the border service at Warsaw airport. The pretext for this, as you may remember, was the fact that the Swedish authorities had entered the girls on the Schengen restrictive list because of what was claimed to be their “unlawful removal” from a foster family in Sweden, where they had found themselves pursuant to a decision passed by the local juvenile administration. To avoid his daughters’ forced return to Sweden, Denis Lisov has applied for refuge in Poland. His application is being considered.

The Russian embassy in Warsaw, in close coordination with the Russian Foreign Ministry and other relevant agencies and institutions, including the Office of the Presidential Commissioner for the Rights of the Child, is actively involved in the fate of our compatriots, who have found themselves in a difficult situation. The Lisovs have been provided with temporary accommodation and they have been issued new ID cards to replace those they lost. The elder daughter has been allowed to attend the Russian embassy school. If required, the family members have access to healthcare and other support.

On July 10, the Polish court dismissed a Swedish warrant of arrest and extradition served on Denis Lisov for the alleged illegal smuggling of his own daughters from the country.

To reiterate: this situation, like all other situations that involve Russian citizens finding themselves in a plight abroad, has been monitored by the Foreign Ministry with direct and effective participation of the Russian embassy in Warsaw. We will work to ensure the enforcement of the legitimate rights and interests of Russian citizens.     

 

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