Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Samara, June 20, 2018
- Development of international and interregional cooperation in the Samara Region
- Extension of the deadline for submitting accreditation applications to 2018 FIFA World Cup city press centres
- FIFA World Cup coverage
- Mobile festivals of local cuisine “The gastronomic map of Russia” in cities hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders
- Situation in Syria
- US resumes funding for White Helmets
- The situation in Yemen
- Current developments in Israel and Palestine
- Situation in Afghanistan: Update
- General Austin Miller’s statement on alleged Russian, Iranian and Pakistani support for the Taliban in Afghanistan
- United States’ withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council
- US Department of State press release on political and religious prisoners held by the Russian Government
- US to establish a space force
- Western media publications about the so-called Skripal case
- Statement by Margaret Thatcher
- Statement by Canada’s foreign minister
- US military biological activity near Russian borders
- Situation with US and Russian diplomatic personnel
From answers to media questions:
Samara residents, guests of Samara,
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to hold our weekly briefing by the official Foreign Ministry spokesperson in this wonderful city. I can let you in on a little secret (although, perhaps, this is no longer a secret after my post on the social networks today). When choosing a city press centre for the World Cup (we wanted to try firsthand the infrastructure created for reporters without FIFA accreditation), there was a personal factor. My father is from the village of Stepnaya Shentala, Samara Region. I went there this morning. This is what the birth certificate of my grandfather, Yuri Ivanovich Zakharov, says. I kept this name, and I was really surprised to see so many people whose last name was Zakharov. Much more than in Moscow and the Moscow Region. I received an unrealistically warm welcome. I am very grateful to the leaders in the Samara Region, the Koshkinsky District and the residents of Stepnaya Shentala. This is a Mordvin village, so they welcomed me with folk songs and sweets wearing ethnic costumes. It was unforgettable. Samara and the Samara Region is a spectacular place for its beauty. We drove around the neighborhood. An amazing feeling. Once again many thanks for such a warm and heartfelt welcome.
While on the road, they treated me to strawberries. Very beautiful berries. I thought it was an imported product which usually is not as sweet or tasty as our berries. When I tried it, I realised that this was a real garden strawberry like we always grew on our plots. They said it was from Samara. I was delighted. I brought some with me, and I will share them with everyone after the briefing. However, before we get to the strawberries, let's get to work.
Now that I am in Samara, I would like to start with the development of international and interregional cooperation in the Samara Region, all the more so there is a lot to say about it. I am largely addressing our foreign guests to let them know about the region’s potential. This potential is indeed great, no matter what people write or say. I came here today and looked at it – the investment potential is simply huge.
The Samara Region Government is working hard to involve foreign partners in resolving its socio-economic goals, in part, by enhancing its investment and economic appeal.
It is developing the international and foreign trade ties of the region in strict compliance with Russia’s foreign policy concept endorsed by the President’s executive order in accordance with Russian law, the recommendations of the Presidential Executive Office and the Foreign Ministry.
The Samara Region maintains contact with its foreign partners by exchanging official delegations, including economic missions, holding fairs, exhibitions, and other educational and cultural events and taking part in international shows.
The region lines up its priorities regarding different regions in the following order: the CIS, BRICS, EU countries, and countries in North and South America.
International interregional cooperation is largely helping the Samara Region develop its ties with foreign partners. We note that the Samara Region Government is active in establishing and developing contact with foreign countries. At present, it has cooperation agreements with the following foreign regions:
1. Quebec (Canada) – 1994.
2. Henan Province (China) – 1995.
3. Fribourg Canton (Swiss Confederation) – 1997.
4. Gyor-Moson-Sopron (Hungary) – 2001.
5. Greater Poland Voivodeship (Poland) – 2001.
6. Eastern Kazakhstan Region (Kazakhstan) – 2002.
7. Western Kazakhstan Region (Kazakhstan) – 2002.
8. Karnataka State (India)– 2002.
9. Stara Zagora Region (Bulgaria) – 2003.
10. Zlin Region (Czech Republic) – 2006.
11. State of Santa Catarina (Brazil) – 2006.
12. City of Shenzhen (China) – 2009.
13. City of Chongqing (China) – 2014.
14. Anhui Province (China) - 2016.
15. Hubei Province (China) - 2016.
16. Sichuan Province (China) - 2016.
17. Canton of Neuchatel (Swiss Confederation) – 2015.
Many agreements regulating these activities have been signed. The region’s government and the administration of the Western Kazakhstan Region are planning to sign a cooperation agreement in the trade, economic, scientific, technical, social, cultural and humanitarian areas. At present the parties are discussing the possibility of signing it at the 16th Forum of Interregional Cooperation between Russia and Kazakhstan. This is planned for the future, but I must mention it because the parties are working hard to make this happen.
Honestly, there is potential for even greater development. There are also some negative trends. Thus, relations with Greater Poland Voivodeship were severed in 2014 at the Polish initiative (maybe this is not common knowledge). This only evokes regret, all the more so since there is every opportunity for expanding cooperation.
There are positive trends as well, and they prevail. In February 2018, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus Igor Petrishenko visited the Samara Region. Agreements on expanding cooperation with Belarus in transport, the municipal economy and medicine were reached. The sides also discussed the participation of a delegation from the Samara Region in the Fifth Forum of Russian and Belarusian regions in Mogilev next October. The sides plan to sign a package of cooperation agreements at the forum.
Contacts in the trade, economic and cultural spheres between the regions of the Volga Federal District of the Russian Federation and the Upper and Middle Yangtze River of the People's Republic of China are improving which is a good example for our European - or, as we call them, Western - colleagues, who can see Samara expanding relations with its eastern neighbour. I think this sets a good example.
Discussions are under way to implement joint logistics projects with companies from Chongqing and Beijing. A draft agreement on cooperation between the Samara Region Government and the People's Government of Hunan Province of the People's Republic of China is being negotiated.
Our cooperation with France, Germany and the Czech Republic as the region’s key foreign economic partners is underway with the active assistance of Russia’s trade missions in foreign countries and the embassies of these countries to Russia.
Over the past few years, the Samara Region has been expanding contacts with the territories of France. During the visit by the Samara Region delegation to the city of Reims in April 2015, talks were held on promoting cooperation in various areas between the Samara Region and the Champagne-Ardennes region, and a Protocol of Intentions was signed. In 2015, two visits by official delegations of the Champagne-Ardennes region to the Samara Region took place (including in May to participate in celebrations dedicated to the 70th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War). In 2016, following the territorial reform, the Grand Est Region was formed, with which the Samara Region maintains contacts. In 2018, President of the Grand Est Regional Council Jean Rottner suggested considering the possibility of signing an agreement on cooperation after identifying the most promising areas of cooperation with the Samara Region.
In 2017, after a long break (on the one hand, it cannot but cause regret, but on the other hand, the contacts resumed, and this is good), in particular, a delegation of the Zlín Region (Czech Republic) led by Governor Jiri Cunek, which included business people, visited the Samara Region. There were many such visits, and contacts continue with Germany and Switzerland.
I would be remiss not to say a few words about cooperation with our foreign partners in the cultural sphere. We maintain good contacts with the universities of the People's Republic of China, the Federal Republic of Germany and the French Republic. Agreements between the universities include student exchanges, cooperation in the sphere of scientific research and improvements in teaching methods. We pay particular attention to teaching students to operate high-tech equipment produced by leading Russian and foreign companies.
The region has gained positive experience in implementing state ethnic policy. Today, I saw it with my own eyes. One village has been home to people of different ethnic backgrounds for centuries, preserving the good things that traditional cultures have to offer, while evolving and moving forward. This experience of regulating inter-ethnic and inter-confessional relations is being successfully used now. Various forms of support for the activities of regional national and cultural associations located in the Samara Region are being developed and implemented. In particular, financial support is provided to non-profit organisations implementing projects aimed at preserving and promoting ethnic culture in the region on a competitive basis as part of the Samara Region state programme, Promoting Culture in the Samara Region to 2020, approved by the Samara Region Government.
There is something I must tell you: people in the village of Stepnaya Shentala want the authorities to overhaul their cultural centre. They believe (and I fully support them) it needs an upgrade.
Many events are being held. In particular, last year 41 were held as part of cultural cooperation with the countries of the near and far abroad.
Concluding the topic of international cultural cooperation and development of the Samara Region, I want to say that on our way back from Stepnaya Shentala, we passed through the town of Koshkino. I had a chance to see their sports complex. Perhaps, you can’t even call it a complex. It's a spacious centre built in 2016 in record time. It took them less than a year to build it with the support of Lukoil. I was shocked. Even large cities cannot always boast such a mini-football field and a full-blown hockey rink. We stopped by there by chance. It wasn’t included in our itenarary. I saw children figure skating. The level of equipment at this sports complex is amazing. I was shown a local relic - Vyacheslav Fetisov’s jersey signed by him. They said all residents of the district dream about him coming there. I spoke with him today and conveyed this wish. He promised to go. He said he will find an opportunity to make it there closer to September.
Now let us move to information concerning the activities of city press centres and journalists covering the FIFA World Cup.
I would like to note that due to keen interest and numerous requests on the part of Russian and foreign journalists, it has been decided to extend the deadline for submitting applications for accreditation to 2018 FIFA World Cup city press centres once more, until July 11 this year.
At the moment, city press centres operated by Rossiya Segodnya have received about 10,500 applications, 3,000 of which came from foreign countries.
I would like to remind you that city press centres were established specifically for media representatives who do not have official FIFA accreditation and for independent journalists and bloggers who want to cover the FIFA World Cup in Russia. Let me say it again (though we distributed this information) that such press centres operate in each city hosting the World Cup.
As you can see once again today, city press centres regularly hold briefings, news conferences, video conferences, tours, presentations and much more.
I was told that today’s briefing is being broadcast at all city press centres. I would like to take this opportunity to send greetings from Samara to all the cities and journalists working at city press centres. The people of Samara support me, I can see it in their eyes.
To find out more about the accreditation process as well as the press centres’ addresses and opening hours, visit www.footballcitymediacenter.ru. Detailed information about this is also posted on our ministry website, mid.ru.
I would like to inform you about the FIFA World Cup coverage. Speaking about Russia, I would like to inform everyone that Zabivaka the Wolf is working hard. This morning I woke up with a sore throat, because we were cheering for the Russian team in the Koshkinsky District together with local residents. I would like to seize this opportunity to say that I always root for a good and beautiful game, but when our national team is playing I support our team. I would like to thank them for this fantastic feeling that we experienced yesterday. Everybody notes that there is a special atmosphere in the World Cup host cities. I definitely felt it in Moscow. It is impossible to describe, but I think that you can feel it here, too. But sometimes, when reading about it in foreign media, I want to ask: are we even living in the same time period as the journalists writing these articles?
During the previous briefing, we spoke about the amazing atmosphere. More people witness it each day. We are very happy to see the two million fans who have come to Russia and those who will come here. I am sure, I do not just hope but know that they will take home with them the best and warmest impressions of Russia: both of our hospitality (we know how to show it) and, of course, of how the championship was organised.
After watching yesterday’s match held at the stadium in St Petersburg, which allegedly should not be, I visited the Samara stadium today, which, according to many publications, should not be either. I was impressed with the view from the ridge near the entrance way to the district and, of course, near the stadium. The only thing missing is sufficient green grass, which has not yet had time to grow, but I believe that it will be there, maybe not for tomorrow’s match, but definitely for the final one. Everything else is so beautiful that I envy you, especially those who will attend the match tomorrow.
Hundreds of millions of people all over the world are watching on their televisions. We are really grateful to the journalists and media that truthfully and objectively – I do not say well or positively, but truthfully and objectively – convey the spirit of what is happening here. Russia is doing everything necessary for this all the time. I would like to single out employees, state agencies and Rossiya Segondya that organised journalists’ work and welcomed them in Russia.
Here are several gratifying quotes. US television channel CNN commented on the success of Felix Mikhailov, who directed the opening ceremony and, according to US journalists, managed to fill it with colourful and unforgettable performances. The British newspaper The Sun noted the successful duet of Russian opera singer Aida Garifullina and British singer Robbie Williams. The Spanish newspaper El Pais focused on the high quality of the sports facilities. Several media noted the hospitable and cheerful atmosphere and events in various cities. The Guardian has written today that Russia is “a great place to host the World Cup.” The newspaper also notes that English fans will likely change their views of the country for the better. According to The Independent, Brits were scared of potential altercations with Russian ultras, but the latter do not want to fight, they want to hug. I am afraid this full-blast fraternisation, as well as the singing and dancing going on now in Moscow and other cities, may be regarded as Russians’ tactical maneuvers to improve their capoeira skills. We cannot rule this out.
Of course, the fly in the ointment is bound to be in the coverage of the FIFA World Cup. This is simply comical and sounds like satire. Thus, for some reason UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson timed his anti-Russia article to the opening of the World Cup in Russia. What can I say? Mr Johnson, after such articles you should not be hypocritical and tell us how much you love Russia. Let’s be straight – there are politicians that can hardly be called Russia’s friends. This is so because of their conduct and statements.
The US Department of State did not dare break Cold War logic. Regrettably, some of our American colleagues have become deeply bogged down in this logic in the past few years. I will not quote their statements or mention the horrors they describe. I think the American fans (and there are lots of them here, by the way) that are now in Russia, even though their team did not make it to the cup, will tell their officials about everything upon return. Probably, this will be a good excuse to pull the US political establishment out from behind the looking glass where they reside.
Some publications in the past few days have been truly surrealistic. Even my foreign acquaintances smile when they read them. Thus, the BBC wrote that For LGBT fans, a visit to Russia is a risk with potentially catastrophic implications. This is complete idiocy. Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center William Evanina also made quite a remark. He warned US fans not to take their cell phones. It seems they judge everything by their own fear. We take our mobile phones with us when we visit them. Sometimes when you take a phone abroad, it begins to live its own life. But if they treat their foreign guests like this, they should not assume that everyone does the same.
Of course, one of the best is an article in a German magazine that was published on June 15, one day after the cup’s opening. The article is entitled “The face of true Russia.” The author of this obviously custom publication describes how a Russian woman resisted cancer. The cynicism of the author of this obviously paid-for publication is stunning and only exploits the difficult position of a seriously ill person. The author linked this case to the world cup and put it in the relevant section dealing with 2018 World Cup. How low can one fall to do such a thing?
I was astounded (I did not believe this and had to address our experts on German) that the author wrote that the German notion of “menchenfreundlich” allegedly does not exist in the Russian language or in Russian mentality. Before dealing with our mentality I would advise the authors of such publications to open the most trivial dictionary or probably do it on line. Those who know that libraries exist could visit them as well.
This word can be translated precisely into Russian. Moreover, there are several synonyms that are translated as well-wishing, considerate, human and humane. Can you imagine that while preparing this publication, this German journalist is telling his audience that such notions as well-wishing, human and humane do not exist in Russian minds. This is beyond acceptable behavior. Let me repeat that I could not help mentioning this. I am sure that upon return home German fans will tell their compatriots, including these authors about all the good and bad things they have seen here. But this will be unbiased and honest. These anti-Russia fake articles are dishonest journalism.
But no examples no matter how absurd, caricature or wild can overshadow the atmosphere of this special sports event. We are seeing it ourselves. The impressions of eyewitnesses speak for themselves. Here is what one fan said (sorry if some words do not fit in at the briefing): “We are sick of people who promise trouble. If you behave respectfully, there will be no problem.” This is the very truth of it.
I wish good and professional results and success to all teams.
In the context of the World Cup, I would like to tell you about a very interesting project, “The gastronomic map of Russia.” One component of this project was timed to the World Cup in Russia. This project is the responsibility of the Federal Agency for Tourism together with the Russian Export Centre and with support of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Foreign Ministry, the Federation of Restaurateurs and Hoteliers, and the National Association of Culinary Experts. The aim of the project is to promote our gastronomic culture and provide information about traditional dishes and opportunities to try them.
The eleven food vans representing various regions of Russia are specially made GAZ vehicles with cooking equipment that travel around the country. They are equipped with a mobile bakery, pastry kitchen, tea room, snack bar and the like, depending on the local cuisine of the region they represent.
During the first two festivals in the cities hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Sochi and Rostov-on-Don, thanks to the chefs and authors of the best city food projects in the “The gastronomic map of Russia” project, Russian and foreign fans tasted Moscow pocket-shaped rolls, Buryat buuzes, Rostov chicken pies, Ossetian pies, Udmurt shortcakes, Black Sea oysters, Murmansk cod, lamb with pickled grapes and red onions and these delicacies (I didn’t even know they existed, why didn’t anyone point them out to me?) Novorossiysk whelks.
Tasting Baltics cuisine, Mordovian delicacies and Tatar cuisine is still ahead. Today’s young chefs as well as experienced restaurateurs together with their food are part of our identity highlighting the delicacies that our country’s cuisine can offer.
The motto of this part of the project is WELCOME FOODBALL CUP. The festival travels under the national brand “The gastronomic map of Russia.” I would like to remind you (many of you probably know) that this part of the festival will run from June 14 until July 15. The vehicles display the names of the football host cities Moscow, St Petersburg, Saransk, Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg, Kaliningrad, Kazan, Volgograd, Sochi and Rostov-on-Don and will travel to Kaliningrad, the westernmost point of Russia. Over a month, the mobile restaurants will cover a distance of about 10,000 kilometres and will offer the food of the regions and cities hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup to Russian and foreign fans.
The team of chefs represent a variety of regions. The mobile festival format will make it possible to try various local delicacies.
Now the main thing, the festival dates. On June 21 the festival will be in Nizhny Novgorod, on the new embankment; on June 28 in Kaliningrad; on July 6 in Kazan; on July 8 in Saransk; on July 10 in Samara; and on July 14 in St Petersburg. The hours are noon until midnight.
On June 23, Sergey Lavrov will meet in Moscow with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Kingdom of Belgium Didier Reynders at the Belgian side’s initiative. Mr Reynders will come to Russia on a private visit in connection with the Belgian national team’s participation in the World Cup.
The two foreign ministers will discuss bilateral relations as well as the prospects for their further development in the context of the agreements that were reached during the official visit of Prime Minister Charles Michel to Russia between January 29 and 31, 2018.
They will exchange opinions on Russian-Belgian interaction at the UN Security Council in light of the election of Belgium as a non-permanent member of the council for 2019−2020 and with due regard for the two countries’ foreign policy priorities.
The ministers will also discuss outstanding international matters, including the situation in Syria and Ukraine, and Russia-NATO relations.
The recent situation in Syria has been a patchwork of positive and negative factors, which we have reported before.
The legitimate government is strengthening control and working to normalise life in the greater part of the territory where some 90 percent of Syrians live, primarily the recently liberated districts around Damascus and in northern Homs. Streets in Eastern Ghouta are being cleaned up from the debris, and residential houses and electricity and water supply systems are being repaired. Funds have been allocated for repairing hospitals and medical centres in Nashabiyeh, Harasta, Douma and Mleiha. Emergency and assembly work has been completed on the electricity lines and at transformer stations in the districts of Rastan and Talbiseh in the Homs Province to resume electricity supply in a number of populated areas.
I always provide detailed information on the resumption of a peaceful life in Syria, including with Russia’s assistance, which we receive from experts at the Foreign Ministry, Defence Ministry and other agencies. How many foreign policy departments and their officials in other countries report on their countries’ contribution to the rehabilitation of a country which they as representatives of the international community humiliated for years? Have you ever heard our American colleagues speak about the restoration of bakeries, the delivery of generators or the number of schools that have reopened? No, we only hear about plans to withdraw or keep the troops in the country, bombing raids and other threats. This is evidence of the difference in our countries’ approaches, which is regrettable, because we would like them to be similar on the matter of the Syrian settlement. The examples I have provided show that we are really concerned about a settlement in Syria, which must ultimately result in the full restoration of life in that country.
For example, railway communication between Tartus and Homs, which was disrupted for the past seven years, has resumed.
The liquidation of the remaining ISIS groups is ongoing in the desert regions in the east and south of Syria, namely, in the Suwayda Province. Last week, an area of some 2,000 square kilometres west of Mayadin in the Deir ez-Zor Province was liberated from terrorists.
However, in the night of June 17/18, massive airstrikes were launched at the deployment areas of the Syrian military and their Iraqi allies from the Popular Mobilisation Forces (Al-Hashd Al-Sha’abi) and the Lebanese Hezbollah near the town of Al-Hari southeast of Al-Bukamal in the Deir ez-Zor Province. Dozens of those who were selflessly fighting terrorists were killed. The US military say that the US-led coalition was not involved in those airstrikes.
The continued illegal presence of foreign forces in Syria, which have been deployed there in gross violation of its sovereignty, is keeping the door open for anyone who is pursuing their own goals in Syria and the means to attain them. This clearly cannot encourage the opponents of the Syrian government to abandon the illusion of a possible revenge for their defeat on the ground or ensure these forces’ constructive involvement in the common search for a political solution. As for terrorists, this situation is fuelling their hopes for relaunching chaos and regaining their positions in the country.
This calls for accelerating the movement towards a political settlement in Syria based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the outcome of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi, which provide for preserving the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria. Russia continues to work consistently towards these goals in its contacts with the Astana Format partners, other concerned parties and the UN, as well as the Syrian Government and opposition.
Where do funds allocated by our US colleagues go when it comes to Syria? You are right. A decision has been taken to restore funding for White Helmets. Since I have to use polite language, I would say that this organisation is rotten through and through, although I would have preferred some stronger Russian words for it. These are the very people who undermined trust not only in themselves (there is no question about that), but also in humanitarian NGOs operating in the region. Now the order to produce fake videos and stage sham campaigns is backed with money and a multi-million tranche was allocated to this effect.
The White Helmets clearly serve as a tool of information and propaganda warfare. If several years ago we suspected that they were being used, now we realise and we know, with facts in hand, that from the very outset the organisation was created with the exact purpose of staging these provocations. This was a ploy by a number of countries against the legitimate Syrian government, ordinary Syrians and all those who actually help that country and the entire world to fight terrorism.
I do not have official data, since it comes from the US, but from what I saw in the media we are talking about tens of millions of dollars. Just think about it. These funds are allocated to the people who create and take part in provocations week after week, month after month and year after year, instead of investing in what the country actually needs, such is restoring civilian infrastructure: clean water supply, healthcare, schools, roads and transport.
There is one more thing I wanted to say about money. My knowledge of what the people of Syria have to endure is based not only on expert reports and official talks, but also since I maintain regular contacts with them. This is true. Syrian nationals come to Russia, and Syrian children are sent to Russia for rehabilitation. I also talk to Syrian journalists. They are all ready to share their stories. In addition to this, there are quite a few mixed Russia-Syrian families, who also share information about the developments on the ground. We have yet to get a full picture of what the country has experienced over the past years. I would like to explain what these tens of millions of dollars allocated to the White Helmets mean. After the latest fake videos the entire world knows that Syrians are ready to act in staged, scripted and made-to-order clips for a bowl of food, for admittance to a safe shelter during shelling or an attack by the militants, for getting treatment for their children. For that they are ready to do anything, and this is understandable. The war has been going on for many years now. Can you imagine what can be done with tens of millions of dollars? This is what this policy is all about.
We are not just confident, but we know for a fact and have information that members of the White Helmets maintain close ties with terrorist groups in Syria, including Jabhat al-Nusra. Reports by truly independent journalists visiting Syria point in the same direction. I am talking not only about Russian, but also about Western reporters. Unfortunately, these reports do not make the headlines in the West and go unnoticed for being inconsistent with the “Assad must go” narrative.
On April 26, 2018, Russia held a briefing in The Hague to debunk the staged chemical attack in Douma. The Syrians who were falsely presented as the “victims” of the chemical attack were present at the event. All this enabled us to provide clear evidence that this was a set-up, and that people got involved in it, believing that otherwise they would not be able to get food or shelter during shelling by the terrorists.
Given the situation in the regions and the civilians’ desperation, this is a huge injection of money. We expect it to be followed by new fake reports on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government against civilians. These reports are paid for and made to order. We get signals that provocations of this kind are in the making. If we get reliable information, we will try to spread the word before it happens in order to prevent provocations.
In recent days, the situation in the Republic of Yemen (RY) has been following the worst-case scenario.
We note an intensification of rocket and bomb strikes that the Saudi-led “Arab coalition” delivers on the Yemeni capital, Sana, and its suburbs, which results in a growing number of civilian deaths and injuries and increased damage to the social infrastructure.
For their part, the Ansar Allah Houthis have stepped up their attacks, including with the use of ballistic missiles, on Saudi areas bordering on Yemen.
All of this is taking place against the background of Operation Golden Victory launched on June 13 by the Yemeni armed groups loyal to the legitimate authorities with support from the “coalition’s” air force and navy. The aim of the operation is to clear the Houthis from the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen’s key transport and logistics outlet. According to incoming reports, the “allies” managed to take under their control a number of neighbourhoods abutting the port, including the airport area. Helped by a number of specialised international organisations, the authorities are evacuating civilians, but regrettably they cannot avoid civilian casualties. While Hodeidah’s marine terminal is still receiving ships with humanitarian cargo, it cannot be ruled out that it will be put out of operation at any moment, something that would threaten the ordinary Yemenis with the most disastrous consequences.
In this context, we have noticed the efforts made by the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, who, daring the risks, visited Sana from June 16 to19 and held consultations on a peace settlement, including primarily possible parametres of de-escalation at Hodeidah, with the opponents of Yemen’s legitimate government.
Moscow proceeds from the need to render extensive support to the UN envoy’s mission. As we see it, its success hinges on the participants in the intra-Yemeni conflict achieving an early end to their armed confrontation and generally renouncing reliance on force as an argument in the controversy over subsequent political organisation of the Republic of Yemen. We are confident that there is not and cannot be an alternative to its settlement at the negotiating table. We again call on the Yemeni protagonists as well as their regional supporters to take a break and have time to realise what we believe to be an absolutely clear postulate. They must not deprive the long-suffering people of that country of chances for the restoration of peace and accord, of course, with active assistance from the international community.
The situation in Palestine and Israel remains complicated and explosive. In recent days, we have observed a new surge of tension around Gaza.
According to incoming reports, the Israeli Air Force has been attacking, since June 17, Gaza infrastructure facilities of HAMAS militants in response to more frequent launches of burning kites, incendiary balloons and rockets at the Israeli territory. This night, the Israeli aircraft attacked over 20 targets in Gaza, the heaviest strikes during the last week.
Moscow is concerned over the new spiral of violence in Gaza. We are in favour of lowering the level of confrontation and oppose any further escalation. We call on all sides to practice restraint and renounce any steps capable of fueling a full-scale military confrontation.
It is obvious that such incidents point to a need for an immediate resumption of a substantive negotiating process based on the well-known international legislation on a Middle East settlement so as to achieve long-term fair solutions which meet the interests of both the Palestinians and the Israelis.
The situation in Afghanistan remains complicated. The armed opposition, namely, the Taliban, controls a substantial part of the country and regularly stages major terrorist attacks, including on Kabul. A virtual stalemate that has shaped up on this improvised “battlefield” prevents any of the warring parties gaining the upper hand in the armed confrontation.
In this connection, the Russian side praised the initiative of President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani on launching direct talks with the Taliban without any preconditions and a subsequent ceasefire on the part of the Government and the Taliban. We also support Kabul’s decision to extend the ceasefire regime for another ten days.
However, the truce linked with the end of Ramadan, the Muslim fast, was marred by the June 16−17 terrorist attacks in Jalalabad that killed and wounded over 40 people, including civilians and service personnel of the Afghan national security forces, as well as members of the Taliban involved in joint festivities. The ISIS extremist group claimed responsibility for one of the attacks.
We resolutely condemn this barbaric act that once again highlights the true essence of international terrorism, which is doing its best to prevent the establishment of peace and stability in Afghanistan. Doubtless, these terrorist acts were aimed to thwart efforts to launch dialogue and to end the protracted fratricidal war.
We have repeatedly noted the need to wage an uncompromising and consistent struggle against ISIS that threatens Afghanistan, as well as peace and stability on the entire Asian continent. We hope that the Afghan authorities and forces of the international coalition, deployed in the country, will step up the fight against this extremist group and other radical paramilitary units operating in conjunction with it.
We have noted numerous requests to comment on the statement made by Lieutenant General Austin Miller who has been nominated the commander of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan about alleged support for the Taliban on the part of Russia. This statement is contained in his written replies for the upcoming US Senate confirmation hearings.
This subject is not new. In the past 12 months, we have recorded countless media leaks by US representatives on this matter; these leaks contained virtually identical wordings and provided no facts, and this has already become something classic.
Time and again, one gets the impression that US attempts to distort Russia’s Afghan policies aim to distract attention from Washington’s numerous mistakes made during the 16-year-plus presence in Afghanistan (I would like to remind people who don’t know this and the younger generation).
Moreover, the Russian side has repeatedly noted at various levels that US military assistance to Kabul is a source of support for the Taliban. This military assistance is not recorded accordingly, and the incoming consignments are often being stolen on the ground. While discussing this matter, we cited data from US sources, independent experts and journalists.
We have not received a clear reply from the US side as regards the redeployment of weapons and militants of the ISIS international terrorist group by unidentified helicopters (we have discussed this aspect in great detail) in Afghan air space that is completely controlled by the United States and NATO. So far, no one knows whose helicopters operated there.
We are confident that, instead of voicing groundless and strange accusations with regard to Russia and Afghanistan’s neighbours, the new commander of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan should first move to correct their own mistakes and strengthen the atmosphere of trust between states for resolving the Afghan problem.
This is not the first zigzag in our American partners’ policy. It is the second time in the history of the UN Human Rights Council (established in 2006) that the United States has recused itself from this vital UN inter-governmental body that is in charge of multilateral cooperation in human rights.
When the US re-joined the Council in 2009 after the first episode of its “voluntary absence,” many got the impression that our American colleagues learned the lesson and closed the boycott chapter forever. As it turns out, we were mistaken. Once again, the United States caused serious damage to its own reputation as a human rights advocate and demonstrated negligence not only to the Human Rights Council but the entire United Nations and its institutions.
We are surprised by the trite and brazen cynicism of our American colleagues, who are stubbornly refusing to admit huge human rights problems in their own country while endlessly trying to rehash the Council to fit in with their own political interests (and these interests only) – the Council in which, they claim, there is no room for “notorious violators of human rights.”
The US attempts to force an extremely specific understanding of human rights on other states is a grave deviation from human values and civilised conduct on the international stage. The Human Rights Council, like the whole United Nations system, is committed to serving all member states rather than one specific country or a group of countries. If the United States worships democracy as the only possible form of statehood then why are they denying the international community the right to have democracy in international relations?
We were not surprised by the United States’ withdrawal from the Human Rights Council. The withdrawal from UNESCO and now the Council confirms that Washington is willing to cooperate only with those multilateral bodies and only on those issues that serve the interests of Washington itself. The same happened with UNESCO. We have seen massive pressure from American “diplomats” in the Human Rights Council (diplomats are expected to use the art of diplomacy rather than force and fighting) – specifically, there is an example of the US delegation in the UNSC. Look what our Western partners are doing in other bodies directly linked with the UN, such as the OPCW. This is colossal pressure. The Skripal case alone demonstrated their desire to rehash the organisation to meet their own imaginary and absurd needs. This is one small example.
The UN Human Rights Council was already successful without the United States and will be able to do so in the future.
Nobody is gloating over the United States’ non-participation. That would be a mistake. Instead of using its very powerful and extensive resources for a good cause, the United States is interested only in promoting its own interests. The problem is that these interests are changing and becoming polar opposite in the US. If it was a consistent concept that the world would understand then it would be clear why the actions are so harsh – because it is a principled course. But the course is not principled. Look what is happening with Iran and the nuclear deal. And this is just one example. It means these are not principled issues. If the issues are not principled how can they remake the whole world to suit them? Why does the world have to take part in this wavering of the US political establishment?
The Human Rights Council does have its flaws ant shortcomings (it is not a perfect institution and there are no perfect institutions). However, it has proved its sustainability.
Russia will continue to actively develop a mutually respectful, constructive and de-politicised dialogue in the Council aimed at promoting and protecting human rights across the world. This is exactly why Russia has nominated itself for the 2021-2023 membership in the Human Rights Council.
We have taken note of a press release published on June 18 by the US Department of State, “On political and religious prisoners held by the Russian Government.” This sounds like the best choice to post on June 18, right after the opening of the World Cup! Every effort is being made to somehow cloud the true atmosphere of this sporting event and draw attention to problematic matters or even invent some.
The Department of State position, stated in the release, is a flagrant attempt of the US side to invent and introduce its own vision of human rights issues. This has happened before. However, this time around, it coincided with the US withdrawal from the Human Rights Council.
Everyone is bored with this haughty attitude, behaving as a self-proclaimed unquestioned authority in the sphere of human rights, and the complete disregard for the traditions, history, and cultural values of other countries and peoples, and cannot take them seriously. When such releases coincide in time − America publishes a certain human rights document while withdrawing from the HRC, absurdity is the only right word for it.
We have repeatedly given detailed explanations regarding the suspects and defendants in accordance with our legislation for various grave crimes. US calls for the release of prisoners convicted of terrorism and extremist activity can be considered as acquittal of such acts, which is unacceptable. For our part, we consider absolutely unacceptable any attempts to interfere with our internal affairs, the work of Russian law enforcement agencies and the judiciary.
It is quite natural that the authors of the document have omitted the human rights, democracy and the rule of law situation in the US (as if there are no problems, which are actually there), namely, the growing system-wide problems associated with the die-hard racial discrimination, impunity for inhuman treatment and torture under special CIA programmes and other challenges in this field. Suffice it to mention the US special services’ global hunt for nationals of other countries accused of violating US legislation. Moreover, this policy is being pursued on fictional, far-fetched and fake stories and pretexts to seize people and transport them to the US, secretly or otherwise. The reprisals that the United States arranged over Konstantin Yaroshenko and Viktor Bout, and other Russian citizens are clear proof of this.
Attempts to forcefully impose the extremely specific US understanding of human rights on other countries is in itself a gross violation of universal human values and civilised norms of conduct on the international arena.
They must start with themselves. How many years have we heard about the closure of the despicable detention centre at the US Navy base in Guantanamo? How many years, with such statements woven into various US politicians’ election campaigns, have they remained unrealized? The Guantanamo prison has become a symbol of legal nihilism as well as violation of human rights standards by the US authorities.
Once again, we urge our colleagues to seriously address these pressing problems at home, to listen to the numerous urgent recommendations of relevant international structures and human rights activists, including international ones, and to abandon this lecturing tone in statements to Russia. Russia does not need to be lectured. We are for cooperation, equal interaction and joint work on problems, but not for this kind of approach.
The Foreign Ministry took note of US President Donald Trump’s instructions to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford to withdraw the space force from the Air Force and make it into a separate branch. What alarms us the most in this news story is that the purpose of this instruction was clearly stated: to ensure “American dominance in space.”
This is fresh proof of Washington’s plans to deploy weapons in space creating the prospect of space warfare. It seems that the US does not intend to give up on its position on the use of force in space (including for deterrence purposes), set out in doctrines prepared under the Obama administration.
We pay very close attention to Washington’s initiatives in this field, and carefully weigh all the consequences. It is already clear that any increase in the US military capability in space (especially bringing weapons to space) would undermine strategic stability and international security.
Russia holds a completely different view, prioritising solely peaceful purposes in using and exploring space. In recent years Russia proposed a number of initiatives aimed at preventing an arms race in space. The key proposal was the Russian-Chinese initiative to draft a Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects. Its updated version was submitted to the Conference on Disarmament in June 2014. Russia intends to keep up its active and results-driven efforts in this field.
Let me remind you that the US has already made attempts to achieve military dominance. For example, there was a time when the US aspired to a nuclear weapons monopoly. This led to a vicious nuclear arms race and a horrifying escalation of international tension, and their ramifications can still be felt.
Russia calls on Washington to be reasonable and refrain from repeating mistakes of the past. The consequences of an armed conflict in space could be just as perilous as the nuclear race recklessly launched by the US after the Second World War.
For those interested in the Russian Aerospace Forces, I must emphasise their solely defensive nature. Our country is not interested in achieving any objectives in space by relying on striking power.
No hard facts, no evidence of any kind – yet the Western media continue to publish reports about the so-called Skripal case. Western officials either do not provide any comment and do not answer questions about the progress of the investigation, or continue with their policy of blaming everything on Russia. However, the situation in the media space is gradually changing. But it is too late – not just late, but too late, because everything London has done is patently foolish and their policy of mutual cover-up, which they describe as solidarity, has been laid bare.
Still, there have been new reports on the case. For example, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson writes in The Sun on June 14 about the “sins” of “Putin’s Russia,” including its responsibility for “poisoning British citizens in Wiltshire.” I would like to explain why, when we speak about the Skripal case, we always add “so-called” or “as they put it” or “according to the British side.” Several months ago London did its best to ensure that the world will speak about this case without these descriptive words. It has succeeded. I recently gave an interview to a journalist who represented Scandinavian media outlets. As we talked, she kept saying that the Skripals had been poisoned, asked me to comment on statements about the use of certain amounts of the nerve agent Novichok, and claimed that the poison used in the so-called Skripal case was made in Russia or the Soviet Union. When I provided hard facts in my answers, she suggested adding that this is Russia’s view on the situation. I asked why their media outlets don’t write that it is the view of the British political establishment when publishing the lopsided statements made by British politicians. Why do they always write “as Russia claims” when publishing our responses to concrete questions? In other words, they treat everything London tells the media as documented facts. Who has documented them? Nobody has.
Foreign Secretary Johnson also mentions the expulsion of Russian diplomats, whom he calls “spies”. I would like to tell the British side and all those who write on this subject that, lamentable as it may be for them, it was Sergey Skripal who was a spy. However, the British media, let alone UK officials, don’t refer to him as a spy.
London has not provided any arguments that can be accepted as evidence or facts, no figures, dates or names.
On June 15, Der Spiegel published an article. Its journalists have compiled and analysed all the information available about the so-called Skripal case and have concluded that the Western claims of Russia’s involvement in the poisoning of Sergey Skripal and his daughter are completely unsubstantiated. They write that the motives ascribed to Russia are not at all obvious and that Moscow’s arguments sound logical and have been supported with facts.
Moreover, the authors of the article in Der Spiegel have confirmed that Novichok is not an “exclusively Russian nerve agent”, contrary to what the British say. According to the journalists, the United States, Britain and the Netherlands held certain amounts of the nerve agent back in the 1990s, and the Czech Republic tested until recently.
During one of the past briefings, we cited several Russophobic statements and actions by the British political elite, including in recent and contemporary history. In particular, we cited a phrase that many experts attribute to Margaret Thatcher: “It is economically feasible for only 15 million people to live in Russia.” And what should all the others do, we wondered? This has provoked a wave of fake news claiming that the quotation is not credible, that it was deliberately planted by Russia, and that Margaret Thatcher never said this.
Let’s see how it was.
The quotation comes from a statement made by Margaret Thatcher at the annual meeting of the American Petroleum Institute in Houston in November 1991. As I said at the briefing, we would only be too glad if this speech had never been made. Regrettably, however, documents prove that she did make that statement.
It is true that historians have been arguing for decades whether Thatcher made this unpleasant, to put it mildly, statement regarding Russia. Dozens of politicians, respected historians and journalists cite this statement as true, while others claim that Thatcher never attended that meeting, let alone made that statement. Can you imagine the intrigue? They are clever at this kind of thing. They do not analyse the quotation but are doing their best to confuse everyone regarding Thatcher’s attendance of the event. This is surprising. Thatcher is a legendary figure who has done so much for the Cold War, and they cannot say for sure if she was in Houston in 1991 or not? When the focus is on her attendance, this leads to a discussion on whether she was or was not there. Public attention is being drawn away from the substance of what she said there.
Judging from the facts at our disposal, Margaret Thatcher did attend that meeting in Houston. There are at least two articles in The New York Times to prove this, if you want international sources.
We have found an article in the newspaper’s archives dated November 18, 1991 (https://www.nytimes.com/1991/11/18/business/an-anxious-oil-industry-meets.html). The author, Matthew Wald, writes about the upcoming event and says that Margaret Thatcher is expected to speak at it: “Attendance is likely to be up in Houston, because at least for now, the price of oil is a bit stronger. This year, the convention is in the heart of the oil patch, and the featured speaker is Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of Britain, a major oil producer.”
Moreover, the journalist writes that Russian experts, over 50 of them, are expected at the meeting. I am saying this for those who deny the reliability of Russian experts’ recollections and claim that Russians don’t remember anything. Here is the quotation: “Also expected this year are about 50 Russians. ‘They’re probably just trying to rub elbows,’ Mr. DiBona [Charles DiBona, the president of the institute] said. ‘We don’t have anything planned for them’.”
The expected argument is that Thatcher could have cancelled her visit to Houston. But it turns out that she did go there. The above journalist wrote in The New York Times on November 19 (https://www.nytimes.com/1991/11/19/business/oil-industry-lashes-out-at-restrictions.html) that Margaret Thatcher not only attended the meeting but was also the main speaker. He wrote: “The attack on environmental initiatives was carried on by Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of Britain, who was the main speaker today. Mrs Thatcher, who was once a research chemist, said oil company executives were as concerned as environmentalists about providing a clean environment for their children. But, she said, the country should ‘have solutions that are sound scientifically, and some of the ones proposed are not’.”
While the article contains extracts from her speech on environment protection, the archives available at the Margaret Thatcher Foundation website, the main database for all Thatcher’s speeches, does not even mention her appearance at what was a major event for the petrochemical industry. It would be a rhetorical question to ask why this speech has not made it into the official records. It may be that it was a private event and her remarks were not intended for publication or maybe her remarks were recorded but never published for some other reason. All this now raises many questions.
The Margaret Thatcher Foundation recognises that it does not have all speeches and interventions by Margaret Thatcher on record, which is hardly surprising, since the internet and digital technology did not exist at the time. In addition to this, it was not uncommon for politicians back then, as it is today, to speak off the record.
At the same time, recollections by S. Pavlov, a Russian essayist who took part in this event, are freely accessible online (https://moiarussia.ru/margaret-tetcher-kak-my-razrushali-sssr/). Here is what he wrote, in particular:
“I do not know whether anyone had warned her that there were Russians in the audience (it is quite possible that nobody had). Margaret Thatcher was just as cynical as she was smart. She played an important part in destroying the Soviet Union, and was quite open about it. Her view of the state of the Soviet economy and the changes experienced by the country was at odds with what we knew from our media… Of course, it is impossible to remember every word of a speech. However, we came together in the evening and tried to recall what was said in order to write it down.”
Essayist Andrey Parshev, who wrote a research paper on the same topic, titled “Why Russia is not America” (http://lib.ru/POLITOLOG/PARSHEW/parshew.txt), came across an audio recording from the event and included quotes from it in his research.
Andrey Parshev also writes that when he heard about 15 million people, he thought that he must have got it wrong, hearing 15 million instead of at least 50 million. So he listened again, only to hear that she was talking about 15 million people.
A number of Russian scholars, politicians, essayists and historians have referred to this speech, including Director of the Centre for Russian Studies at the Moscow University for the Humanities Institute for Fundamental and Applied Research Andrey Fursov (http://mediamera.ru/post/14261), Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR Anatoly Lukyanov (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0u9U-cAOfiI), and editor-in-chief of International Affairs magazine (https://interaffairs.ru/news/show/7851).
Of course, if would be great if this speech never existed, which would prove all these people wrong. In fact, historians always have to make value judgements. That being said, unfortunately there have been more questions than answers so far.
So what is there to be done? Who can we trust? Should we believe those who took part in this event or those who deny the fact that the Iron Lady attended the convention and seek to erase any trace from the public domain? When it comes to one of the key Cold War ideologists, it can be argued that it is “highly likely” that the speech took place and that these exact words were spoken, as described in the abovementioned research papers.
In addition to this, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that in almost a week since our last briefing, we have not received an official rebuttal from Britain. This adds to the controversy. There were a huge number of propaganda-inspired responses on the social media. In my opinion these were the trolls the West tends to refer to when pointing at Russia. It turns out that these trolls are paid by the West.
At the very least I can say that our experiment worked, since we were able to identify a huge number of people engaging in destructive efforts of this kind online.
We will definitely follow up on this topic. Let me reiterate that we now have an extraordinary formula from our British colleagues so that we can say that it was “highly likely.” even if these words have never been spoken.
The statement by Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on receiving the Diplomat of the Year award is another topic I cannot fail to mention.
Unfortunately, the Canadian minister took her cue from conventional Western diplomats by dividing the world order into the so-called “liberal democracies” and “authoritarianism.” She said that authoritarian regimes were seeking to undermine established democracies, suppress younger democracies aspiring to join the democratic world, and the international rule-based order through propaganda and espionage programmes.
This begs a question. Where were Canadian ministers and officials when it was revealed a few years ago that US secret services wiretapped Chancellor Merkel? Do they view Germany as a “younger democracy” or is America the “younger democracy”? Did Freeland make a statement to this effect? Nothing happened at the event I mentioned, but we are still waiting.
Of course, Canada positions itself alongside its allies as a genuine democracy that stands at the source of the existing system of international law, while Ms Freeland portrayed Russia as an antagonist. The minister went on to emphasise that with Western global dominance dwindling there was a need to force (and I quote) some undemocratic powers to abide by the existing international rules. We all see how this works in the Middle East.
It should be noted that the Russian Federation has repeatedly stressed the importance of abiding by the principles of international law, while also calling for the emergence of a multipolar world based on the principles of mutual respect and non-interference.
Neither Canada nor any other country can aspire to a monopoly over democracy. Accordingly, we believe comments by Canada’s Foreign Minister on the status of Russia’s democracy to be extremely inappropriate.
We would like to draw Chrystia Freeland’s attention to some of the essential features of a true liberal democracy highlighted in the Guidance Note of the UN Secretary-General on Democracy.
Specifically, it is about the rule of law, transparency and human rights. While democracy is not limited to these characteristics, without them no political system can be regarded as a true democracy.
Let me now draw Chrystia Freeland’s attention to some of the aspects of Canada’s foreign policy under her leadership. Unfortunately, disregard for the abovementioned principles is all too common, and so is the fact that this foreign policy undermines the very rules-based international order the Canadian minister wants to preserve.
Despite Chrystia Freeland’s statements on the importance of international rules, it must be noted that by deploying its troops to Syria as part of the so-called “international coalition” Canada violate the principles of international law.
Let me give you an example. The UN Security Council did not authorize the so-called “international coalition” that includes Canada to carry out a military operation in Syria. Article 51 of the UN Charter on individual or collective self-defence can hardly be used to justify Canada’s military intervention in Syria.
Finally, Canada was not invited by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic, which has repeatedly demanded that all foreign troops operating illegally in Syria withdraw from the country in order to facilitate post-conflict recovery. Let me be clear: Canada’s presence in Syria is illegal and at odds with international law. This begs a question: does democratic Canada abide by international law in this case? It does not.
The principle of “rules-based international order” has not stopped the Canadian government from distorting the meaning of UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 so as to bring about a change of government in Libya. Just to remind you, the sole goal of these resolutions was to establish a no-fly zone to prevent the government from using combat aircraft against civilians.
The actions taken by Canada and its NATO allies, including a large-scale air and naval campaign to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi government, went beyond the framework of UN Security Council resolutions and sometimes directly contradicted them.
This distortion of the principles of international law in the pursuit of one’s personal interests is threatening the system of international law, which Ms Freeland likes to pontificate about.
As we said before, a truly liberal democracy must seek to comply with the principle of transparency, especially when the issue concerns its potential involvement in an armed conflict that has claimed thousands of lives.
I would like to remind you that in December 2017 Chrystia Freeland announced Canada’s decision to include Ukraine in the Automatic Firearms Country Control List.
Private companies now can request a permit from the Canadian Foreign Ministry to export automatic firearms to Ukraine, which was prohibited before. However, there is no information regarding any such requests and whether Ms Freeland has granted them.
In May this year, an official representative of the Canadian Foreign Ministry refused to answer media questions “for reasons of commercial confidentiality.” So, what is Canada’s priority, “commercial confidentiality” or transparency?
I would like to remind you that thousands of civilians have perished in the armed conflict in Donbass, and millions of Ukrainian citizens have become refugees. The delivery of weapons to the conflict zone would only lead to the escalation of the Ukrainian crisis, as we pointed out many times.
This is probably why Canada has refused to comment on any applications for permits to export lethal weapons to Ukraine. Moreover, adding Ukraine to the firearms control list is not the only example of how Canada’s economic and other interests have eroded the principles of the liberal democratic world, which Chrystia Freeland likes to speak about in such detail.
The problem also concerns the multi-billion contract on the delivery of light armoured vehicles (LAV) to a Persian Gulf country. We are not concerned about the contract itself but about Canadian media reports to the effect that Canadian armoured vehicles could be used to suppress internal dissent in the Middle East. The Canadian Foreign Ministry launched an investigation into these reports, but in February this year Minister Freeland stated that her department “found no conclusive evidence that Canadian-made vehicles were used in human rights violations.” At the same time, the Canadian authorities refused to publish the full text of the investigation despite numerous requests from human rights organisations and the media.
All this is related to the issue of transparency. Human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International, have expressed concern that Canadian-made weapons could be used in the Yemeni conflict. By continuing to deliver heavy weapons despite the reports on their misuse, Canada may be condoning human rights violations to meet its own economic and political interests.
Ms Freeland said in a recent statement that authoritarian regimes are “actively seeking to undermine” democracies because they are “inevitably imperfect.” Being imperfect but working to mend your system’s problems is one thing, but deliberately violating the fundamental principles of democracy, as Canada sometimes does, is quite another matter.
I have one more question for Canadian officials. It may sound rhetorical, but still. Does the United States know that Canada views it as an imperfect democracy? I don’t think so, considering the concept of American exceptionalism, which all US leaders are actively promoting.
During the previous briefing, we received a question about the United States’ military biological activity near the Russian border.
Russia is concerned about the US Defence Department’s increased biomedical activity in the post-Soviet space. Despite the Americans’ assurances to the contrary, we believe that these activities are carried out in the interests of the Pentagon rather than for humanitarian purposes, such as preventing and combating infectious diseases in the former Soviet republics.
Evidence of this can be gleaned from the mode of operation of the Richard Lugar Centre for Public Health Research, located in the Alekseyevka suburb of Tbilisi, Georgia. A biosafety level-3 (BSL-3) microbiology laboratory built by the US Department of Defence in Georgia, it houses a permanent US Army Medical Research Directorate-Georgia (USAMRD-G), which is studying especially dangerous pathogens (EDPs) that can be used for biological weapons research. The Lugar Lab is fully financed by this directorate of the US Army, which poses modestly as a lessee. Beware of US lessees who want to rent your properties, for they may represent the US Army medical research centre.
The USAMRD-G is subordinate to the United States Army Medical Research Unit-Europe, but functionally it is a subordinate command of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (Silver Spring, Maryland). One of its tasks is to take anti-epidemic measures in order to prepare Georgia for the deployment of large military contingents from the United States and allied countries.
We have taken note of similar alarming activities by the Pentagon in other countries in the immediate vicinity of the border with Russia. The unceremonious interference by the US military in the sphere of ensuring biological safety in the post-Soviet republics is leading to the deformation of the national health systems in these countries and increasing the risk of dangerous and especially dangerous infections, including in Russia.
It should be said that the United States conducted an offensive biological weapons programme until 1969, when President Richard Nixon announced a decision to end it. Washington joined the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in 1972. However, in 2001 it prevented the completion of international talks on a multilateral verification system for compliance with the BWC and has since hindered their resumption.
You may remember that at the previous briefing I was asked to comment on the situation with US and Russian diplomatic personnel. I would like to say that first the United States expelled our diplomats and then we took reciprocal action. On December 29, 2016, the US Department of State notified us of its decision to declare persona non grata 35 Russian officials without giving any reason for this decision. Despite the generally recognised principle of full reciprocity applied in such cases, Russia waited for seven months before responding to this, even though we were not allowed to fill the vacancies. People often ask us if this is true. Yes, I can confirm this. Only after the US Congress adopted a bill on July 27, 2017, which declared Russia an adversary and stipulated other unfriendly moves, did we take measures to reduce the total number of US diplomats and operational personnel in the Russian Federation to match that of Russia’s staff in the US. In addition, we gave the US side an advantage by including the Russian Permanent Mission to the UN when calculating this number, although it has no relation to bilateral ties and its partner is not the United States but the UN, which is headquartered in New York.
The Americans regularly complain about a shortage of personnel, which is allegedly why receiving US visas takes such a frustratingly long time in Russia. The official wait time before a visa interview is 10 months. In fact, we are not exactly to blame for this. The decision to reduce the number of consular personnel was taken by the United States, and it was clearly done deliberately to create a feeling of discontent, including among Russian citizens.
When the US authorities expelled 60 Russian diplomats on March 26, 2018, we responded in kind. And we will continue to take reciprocal action in the event of any further escalation of bilateral tensions, as the Russian leaders have said.
This is not our choice. You know this phrase. You have heard us say this many times before. Regrettably, we have to respond to unfriendly actions. For our part, we are ready to discuss with the Americans the entire range of issues of mutual concern. We have urged them to do so many times. These issues concern the operation of diplomatic and consular offices.
As for filling the vacancies created in March because of the US decision to expel Russian diplomats, it will take a long time. It is impossible to send dozens of diplomats to the United States overnight. We have taken note of Washington’s promise not to obstruct this. We hope to see consistency between words and deeds.
Answers to media questions
Question: Some foreign media outlets, including Arabic and English ones, have recently published stories, quoting Syrian army sources that a chemical unit, allegedly used by illegal paramilitary units to manufacture toxic agents and explosives, was delivered to Russia. How authentic is this information?
Maria Zakharova: I have also read such stories about certain equipment, used for the above-mentioned purposes and removed from Syria. Of course, the Russian Defence Ministry should comment on these matters. I will certainly ask our colleagues about this, and comments will be posted by either the Defence Ministry or the Foreign Ministry.
Question: Now that cyberattacks have become more frequent, does Russia score any successes while combating hackers?
Maria Zakharova: We hear so many accusations with regard to Russia in connection with hackers, that all this has already bred various myths and legends. We suggest to all countries stating this at official level, bilateral cooperation when it comes to cyber-fraud and cybercrime.
We have already noted this. Full-scale, full-format and profound consultations involving professionals were planned with the German side, etc. But the Germans declined to hold talks several days before specific deadlines commenced, citing certain attacks, although everything had been coordinated. If they suspect that the attacks had originated in Russia, then discussing everything was necessary.
The same can be said about the US side. We have repeatedly suggested holding discussions in any shape or size. As soon as we start speaking about the possibility of consultations, our US colleagues also decline to hold them for unspecified reasons, saying this is not the right time for doing this. And this is happening time and again. We are being told that they can see that the attacks are being launched from the Russian Federation. We request data, and they reply that such data will, certainly, be provided. But they prefer to vanish into thin air, rather than make contact.
It goes without saying that, apart from the Russian side’s words and statements, there is also some practical activity. Here is the latest story that I read the other day: Moscow’s Savyolovsky District Court has sentenced members of a hackers’ group headed by St Petersburg residents, citizens of the Russian Federation. It was proved that, from March 2013 until May 2015, this group had received access to the accounts of clients of leading Russian banks and embezzled over 12 million roubles. The investigation involved Russian law enforcement agencies and criminalists from a major Moscow-based international company that specialises in preventing cyberattacks and developing IT security products.
Cooperation between official agencies and private companies made it possible to completely investigate this case and to sentence the culprits. The company mentioned by me operates real criminalist equipment in Eastern Europe, and its rapid response centre deals with cyber incidents 24 hours a day. We don’t see any problems in investigating these cases with the help of foreign experts. We are prepared for this multi-level and multi-format work, and this job is now underway.
This is just one example. If the international community provides all available opportunities in the context of countries and the potential of international organisations, then it would be possible to achieve very good results. We are urging everyone to do this.
Unfortunately, the West does not publish such information, and no one knows anything about this there.
Question: Are there any statistics on nationals of so-called capitalist countries, Southeast Asian countries, seeking political asylum or citizenship in Russia?
Maria Zakharova: Yes, of course, we gather these statistics not only for the sake of it but also in order to retain records of the relevant requests. At the Russian Foreign Ministry, this is the business of the Consular Department. There are also other Russian official agencies that receive these requests if they come through our foreign missions (embassies, general consulates).
This is not art for art’s sake, nor because of a particular interest in statistics; we record these requests and the replies arising from the consideration of applications and documents. If you give me your contact details, we will try to provide you with the necessary information.
Question: It is no secret that during the FIFA World Cup, the leaders and top officials of many states reach informal agreements while they are in their VIP boxes at the stadiums, and these agreements are later put in black and white as official documents. We could see heads of state smiling mysteriously at one another during the opening match. Could you tell us whether any agreements of this sort have taken place during the last week’s games?
Maria Zakharova: You must have no knowledge of our custom of division of responsibilities. (I mention this often. I am not sure it is good for journalists, but it is very useful for government agencies.) We do not comment on the agenda of talks, nor do we announce or disclose what heads of state talk about. For this, there are the Presidential Executive Office, the Press Service and the Presidential Press Secretary. This is why I cannot tell you what the President talked about and what understandings, if any, have been reached.
Of course, informal communication always takes place at major international events – not only sports but also during cultural and humanitarian occasions. This is a matter of creating a definite atmosphere for confidential contact and an opportunity to discuss very serious things at an informal level. This is often used in diplomatic practice. It is not so much a question of the secrecy or openness of the information that is exchanged as an opportunity to talk as human beings, if this can be applied to heads of state and foreign ministers, to talk openly and trustingly, or to discuss something in a more relaxed atmosphere.
The TV coverage of a match involving the Russian team, which was relayed all over the world and which I watched live at a sports bar in Tverskaya Street in Moscow, caused a storm of emotion and was no less invigorating than the goals scored by the Russian players. In this, I agree with you.
Question: If you look at the country statistics of the fans who came to Russia, most of them come from South America, not Western Europe. Can you say that football fans from European countries have to some extent succumbed to the propaganda in the Western media, and refrained from travelling to Russia out of fear?
Maria Zakharova: I thought the local organising committee website and Rossiya Segodnya agency have statistics on the number of fans, guests and other people associated with the World Cup who came to Russia and where the visitors are coming from. It’s many different countries, including a lot of people from the West. Let’s be honest: if a man has a good excuse to leave home for a couple of weeks, would he miss the chance? He would not be stopped by any political statements. I'm just joking, of course, but it's true: sports, and football, are a matter of dedication, knowledge and real enthusiasm when it comes to football fans. There are no random people here: the real fans of football, supporters of their teams will follow them anywhere because this is part of the atmosphere that players need.
There is one more important point: I am often asked why the West makes these statements and harms us. Certainly, these actions do not add warmth to bilateral relations. These statements also harm the investment potential, and bring down the interest in the potential investment opportunities that exist in our country. We understand all this. But this is a dialectic matter, and sometimes by doing harm, they actually help in some ways. In this case, they have shown their true face, not only to Russia, but also to their own citizens. The discrepancy between the landslide of toxic content based on leaks, references to unnamed sources or simply documents published by Western governments regarding the upcoming World Cup, on the one hand, and what people actually see in Russia, on the other, mainly hits those behind this campaign.
Today I said (and I was being sarcastic) that yesterday we all saw a tremendous game of our team at a stadium that allegedly does not even exist – referring to what was said about it in the West. Today I saw another “non-existent” stadium, as they claimed. The organisation of such a grandiose event as the World Cup certainly involves difficulties, and it cannot be otherwise, but it is natural. Projects like the World Cup and other major events among other things serve to spur on the implementation of the host country’s projects it would hardly have been able to fulfill otherwise. It is about taking on the difficulties, and searching for solutions. Why would they want to hamper those projects? If you’re not helping, then at least do not interfere, I would say. That’s why I’m saying that this propaganda is helping in a way. There are also positive comments, I see them, read them. But most of what was published is still so indecent, so low and absurd, that it backfires instead of harming us.
Question: Not so long ago, you were on holiday in Sochi. Could you share your impressions of the city and its preparations for the FIFA World Cup, the top international sports event of the year?
Maria Zakharova: Those were incredible days off. It all happened unexpectedly. I was pondering where to go. I had been in Sochi many times before, but only on working trips, so, eventually, I decided to relax and go there for recreation and tourist purposes. Not only did I not regret it, but it gave me a positive charge of vitality that, I hope, will last a long time.
Everything is fine, but, in my opinion, Sochi (to answer your question about the city’s readiness for this sports event), comparing it with other Russian cities, let us be honest, Sochi is in a somewhat privileged situation. After the Olympic Games, hosting the FIFA World Cup is less scary, even though the city has its own peculiarities and its own aspects. Sochi played host to the Olympics, and we all know how it prepared for the Games and what enormous information and propaganda pressure this put on the locals. The Olympic experience was taken into account during the preparations for the World Cup. I even find it awkward to say that the city is ready, because there is no doubt whatsoever.
Question: Nizhny Novgorod is now actively developing the tourism sector, and this is happening thanks also to the World Cup. Could you advise how this positive tourist image can be reinforced? Would it be possible, with your help, to organise media tours for our foreign colleagues so that back home they can spread the word about our landmarks?
Maria Zakharova: We will gladly organise a press tour, all the more so if I can regard your question as an invitation. We, as the Foreign Ministry, as a press service, as a department that works with foreign correspondents, will do it with pleasure. There is an association of foreign journalists in Moscow. We will get in touch with them by all means and come up with a proposal.
As for reinforcing Nizhny Novgorod’s positive image, the recipe is always the same: active work on the internet and in social networks, both on a professional and informal level. I mean that people themselves should talk about it on their web pages, share their own impressions of their city. I try to make sketches of all places where I go. Today, I visited the village of Stepnaya Shentala, and all my Facebook subscribers, several hundreds of thousands of them, now know what kind of a village it is, who lives there and why its name is translated into other languages as “blue expanse” (researchers claim that Shentala was derived from several languages).
Today, after we had climbed to the second floor of a sports complex in the village of Koshki, I passed by a huge window (the building has glass walls), and I suddenly had the feeling that there was the sea beyond the window. And yet, I know that there can be neither the sea, nor even the Volga over there. I collected myself (for I actually saw that blueness), went up to the window and realised that sprawling beneath and far away were endless forests and fields that seemed blue on the horizon. It was the very blue-green colour that is often described as blue haze. I saw it with my own eyes today and tried to take photos.
In other words, it is very important that local residents should become promoters, advertising their region and telling other people about it. A professional set of instruments should, of course, also be used.
Question: On June 18, British officials and football fans laid wreaths in the Hall of Memory at Mamayev Kurgan in Volgograd. Do you think it could be a step towards improvement in the bilateral relations with the UK?
Maria Zakharova: We saw this sign, this gesture of goodwill and memory on behalf of the British representatives – and not only us but the residents of Volgograd as well. Honestly, I cannot think of anything but words of encouragement and gratitude to the British citizens. This is indeed the right and very much needed gesture. I think it was not so much for protocol but a sincere gesture.
Let me remind you that we fought against Nazism together. The history of Volgograd (Stalingrad) is well known in the West, in Europe and America. They know about it despite the attempts to rewrite history. The Battle of Stalingrad is a landmark in the history of the 20th century. Therefore, it would be impossible not to honour the memory of those fallen in Volgograd when you visit the city. I myself have been to Mamayev Kurgan – by the way, during the talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the-then German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Their programme included a visit to Mamayev Kurgan and the burials, mass graves of Soviet soldiers and the German cemetery. This is a part of official delegation visits to Volgograd.
As concerns whether that can become a starting point, I believe the events like the Great Patriotic War must never become starting points. It is a constant, a tuning fork of sorts to gauge our life today, our actions on the international arena. It must not be a point of departure or a fleeting excuse. It is something that must stay with us every day, especially those who are involved in international politics. But, of course, there can and must be more gestures like this, in the humanitarian area, in the economy, finance and communication, including person-to-person communication. We support it by all means.
Once again, despite the whole outpour of ridiculousness and dirt we are getting from Britain, we have always said that the peoples of our countries are interested in the opposite. We are ready for positive changes and for constructive relations.
Question: We all saw that the opening of the World Cup literally served as a peacemaking platform. With the involvement of President Putin, a meeting took place between Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. Is it possible that the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet in Moscow and will Russia help with that?
Maria Zakharova: Last week I already answered a question on whether Armenia and Azerbaijan will hold any bilateral meetings and said that it is up to the representatives of the countries themselves to announce such plans. But I can assure you that Russia is fully committed to its role of an OSCE Minsk Group participant and will do everything in its power to make a constructive and efficient contribution to resolving the current crisis and improving the relations between the two countries. This is our traditional stance. It is a very important issue for us.
Question: Kaliningrad will host several more World Cup matches. What is the simplest way for foreign fans to reach the city, considering its exclave status? What are the rules for crossing the borders of Lithuania and Belarus?
Maria Zakharova: This information has been posted on the Foreign Ministry website, but I can update you on it based on the opportunities offered by City Press Centres within the framework of the World Cup. During Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s recent visit to Belarus, we signed an Agreement on Issues Related to the Entry of Foreign Nationals and Stateless Persons into the Union State to Attend Sporting Events. You probably remember that it took us a long time to draft this agreement. We needed to consider various scenarios, but we ultimately signed this agreement because both sides acted constructively.
This document regulates the entry procedure for certain categories of foreign citizens into the territory of the Union State during the preparations and hosting of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the Second European Games, which will be held in Minsk in 2019.
In particular, Clause 1 of Article 2 says that foreign citizens and stateless persons who arrive to attend an international sporting event during the period of its holding in the State of one Party, may enter, leave, stay and transit through the territory of the State of the other Party without requiring any visas, only holding a valid ID and a document for attending an international sporting event (FAN ID).
Lithuania has agreed that four additional trains running to the Kaliningrad Region will cross its territory daily during the World Cup. Transit passengers crossing the Lithuanian border must hold a Lithuanian transit or Schengen visa.
If you have any information about foreign nationals’ complaints or questions, please let us know via the City Press Centres, those responsible for the centres’ operation, the Rossiya Segodnya staff, or directly via the Foreign Ministry and its representative offices. We have representatives in all host cities of the World Cup, including Samara. We will promptly act on this information by providing explanation or taking practical measures.
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Thank you. You have endured an event which Russian and foreign media representatives have to sit through every week in Moscow. I was happy to be able to visit Samara. It was a dream, because my parents told me about this wonderful city when I was a child. My dream has come true. Once again, thank you very much, and good-bye for now.