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28 March 201916:13

Briefing with Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, March 28, 2019

643-28-03-2019

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Table of contents

  1. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the seventh meeting of the Joint Strategic Planning Group
  2. Abkhazian Foreign Minister Daur Kove’s working visit
  3. Russian Foreign Minister’s participation in a meeting of the CIS Council of Foreign Ministers
  4. Update on Syria
  5. Current situation in Venezuela
  6. The Kingdom of the Netherlands and the US sign an agreement on the use of Curacao island facilities for humanitarian supplies to Venezuela
  7. Nicaragua update
  8. Establishment of the Forum for the South American Progress (PROSUR)
  9. Another instance of US interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign states
  10. Update on Donbass
  11. Russia’s approaches to religious intolerance
  12. Update on Maria Lazareva
  13. Transferring the remains of Russian national Arsen Voskanyan
  14. The safety of Russian journalists in France
  15. Western technology to fight against fake news
  16. Third meeting of the Russian Historical Society’s International Commission to mark 75 years since the liberation of Eastern Europe from Nazism
  17. Announcement of the verdict in the January 13, 1991 Vilnius events case

Answers to media questions:

  1. Death of Azerbaijan service person in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone
  2. Czech Republic’s attempts to erect signs in memory of Czechoslovak Corps legionnaires in several Russian cities
  3. Russian specialists in Venezuela
  4. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement regarding so-called Russian interference in US election
  5. Presidential election in Ukraine
  6. President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic
  7. German journalist Billy Six’s release in Venezuela
  8. Situation with Maria Lazareva
  9. Initiative on establishing international court over ISIS members
  10. Ukraine’s violation of international obligations during elections
  11. Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu’s statement regarding the possibility for Russians to enter Turkey with domestic passports
  12. Presidential election in Ukraine
  13. U.S. Representative to the Conference on Disarmament Robert Wood’s statement regarding Russia-US consultations on Strategic Nuclear Forces 
  14. Cases of vandalism on Soviet memorials in Europe and Ukraine
  15. Ukraine’s ban on entry to Italian singers Al Bano and Toto Cutugno
  16. Israeli offensive on Gaza Strip and Syria
  17. US sanctions policy against Iran
  18. Russian specialists in Venezuela

 

 

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the seventh meeting of the Joint Strategic Planning Group

 

On March 28-29, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Antalya, Turkey to take part in the seventh meeting of the Joint Strategic Planning Group, co-chaired by the foreign ministers of Russia and Turkey. The group functions within the framework of the High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council, which is headed by the Presidents of Russia and Turkey. On March 14, 2018, Moscow hosted the previous, sixth, meeting of the Joint Strategic Planning Group.

During the upcoming meeting, there are plans to discuss a wide range of current bilateral, regional and international matters and to compare positions on the situation in the Middle East, North Africa, the South Caucasus, Central Asia, Ukraine and the Black Sea region. The parties will discuss ways to facilitate more efficient cooperation in international organisations.

The sides will focus on the political settlement of the protracted conflict in Syria by jointly eliminating the surviving terrorist elements on the ground and by launching a comprehensive national dialogue based on generally recognised principles of international law, primarily UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

Meeting participants will concentrate on ways to further expand bilateral trade and economic cooperation. They are to discuss the implementation of strategic bilateral energy projects, including Turkey’s first nuclear power plant at Akkuyu, and the TurkStream gas pipeline.

The talks will include current issues of consular services and the prospects for further simplifying the requirements for travel for the citizens of both countries.

The sides are to exchange opinions on practical steps for expanding Russian-Turkish cultural and humanitarian cooperation. They will prioritise preparations for holding the overlapping Year of Culture and Tourism in both countries throughout 2019.

A plan for meetings between the foreign ministries of the two countries in 2019-2020 will be agreed on and signed.

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Abkhazian Foreign Minister Daur Kove’s working visit

 

On March 31-April 2, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Abkhazia Daur Kove will pay a working visit to Moscow at the invitation of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

During the Russia-Abkhazia talks on April 1, the ministers will exchange opinions on the main issues of the bilateral agenda as well as on strengthening Abkhazia’s international position. The ministers will pay particular attention to improving foreign policy cooperation in the course of the Geneva discussions on security and stability in South Caucasus.

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Russian Foreign Minister’s participation in a meeting of the CIS Council of Foreign Ministers

 

On April 5, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will participate in a regular meeting of the CIS Council of Foreign Ministers in Moscow (Turkmenistan presides over the CIS this year).

The foreign ministers will share their views on the topical issues of the regional and international agendas, and discuss cooperation prospects within the CIS with a focus on intensifying the partnership between the foreign political bodies of the CIS members. A number of documents will be approved that are aimed at expanding cooperation in law enforcement and cultural affairs.

In the context of the efforts to counter the falsification of history and the “war against memorials,” the ministers plan to adopt the Address on the Importance of Preserving and Maintaining Military Graves and Memorials of the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War, as well as to approve a draft statement of the CIS heads of state regarding the 80th anniversary of World War II that will be submitted for consideration to the heads of state.

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Update on Syria

 

Life is returning to normal in most of Syria. This is bound to cause satisfaction. At the same time, there are still hotbeds of tension that could shatter the situation in Idlib, the Left Bank of the Euphrates River and in the south of the country. Thus, terrorists continued their aggressive inroads and provocations from the Idlib de-escalation zone. In the last two weeks the shelling in the provinces of Aleppo and Hama have killed several dozen Syrians, both military and civilians. Special concern is caused by a report on the use of chemical agents by Jihadists in Al-Suqaylabiyah, and the villages of Al-Rasif and Al-Aziziyah in the north of Hama, where over 20 people were taken to hospital with signs of chemical poisoning. For the first time since the beginning of the year, the terrorists shelled the city of Tartus with jet projectiles. In response, government troops, supported by Russian Aerospace Forces, dealt pin-point strikes to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist alliance positions.

On March 23, the US reported the successful completion of the cleanup operation against ISIS on the East Bank of the Euphrates River. However, as a result of protracted fighting for Al-Baghuz during carpet bombing, hundreds of civilians were wounded and thousands were forced to leave their homes. Thus, the nearby al-Hol camp cannot take the flow of refugees; about 3,000 people have fled there during the past week alone. As a result, the number of people in that already overcrowded temporary accommodation centre reached 70,000.

Regarding internally displaced persons, we have noted reports on the evacuation of 360 residents from the Rukban camp to Syrian government-controlled territory. Refugees went to the Djleb checkpoint that had the conditions for receiving them.

Russia is ready to cooperate with all sides that are really interested in helping the refugees from the Rukban camp. Let us note again that the real reason for the disastrous position of the camp’s refugees is the US’s illegal occupation. This situation cannot be resolved with humanitarian convoys.

In this context we noted the joint statement of the US, Britain, France and Germany that is timed to one more anniversary of the Syrian conflict. It is regrettable that these countries are stubbornly neglecting positive changes and stabilisation in Syria and are openly politicising the issue of the return of refugees. Regarding a settlement of the Syrian crisis on a universally recognized international legal basis, we would like to recall that UN Security Council Resolution 2254 urges all countries in no uncertain terms to respect the sovereignty and integrity of Syria, which rules out the illegal occupation of any part of its territory, from the Golan Heights to the East Bank of the Euphrates River.

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Current situation in Venezuela

 

US President Donald Trump said at a meeting with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido’s wife on March 27, that the United States would consider “all options” to force Russia to pull its troops from Venezuela. Vice President Mike Pence, who also attended the meeting, called on Russia to immediately “cease all support of the Maduro regime and stand with […] nations across the world until freedom is restored.”

At the same time, speaking at Congressional hearings, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explicitly said that the United States’ aim is not only Nicolas Maduro’s withdrawal from politics but also the cessation of Russian and Cuban influence on the Bolivarian Republic.

This begs the question for the above individuals as to the legal basis for those statements:

A) international law

B) US domestic legislation

C) other legal acts nobody else is aware of

To be honest, this is not a rhetorical question. We would still like to have it answered. 

Let me stress again. Russian specialists arrived in Venezuela in accordance with the provisions of the bilateral agreement on military technical cooperation. This document has not been suspended. The Russian side has not violated anything – neither international agreements nor Russian national law, nor Venezuelan law. Russia is not tipping the balance in the region. Russia is not threatening anybody unlike certain Washington, D.C. residents whose statements I have just quoted.

I would like to underscore once again that this is the principled position of Russia, which we strictly follow.

In this respect a declaration made by the Lima Group came to our attention which condemns “any provocation or military deployment that threatens peace and security in the region.” Dear Latin Americans and Canadians, we are totally united with you on this. Moreover, we support the call to all nations to assist in looking for solutions to restore constitutional order in Venezuela. This primarily concerns curbing the provocative activities of the impostor, the so-called “acting president” on undermining the legal foundations of Venezuela’s statehood, as well as the need to put an end to the global international bullying of the legally elected president.

As to the statements by the US President and Secretary of State, we regard them as an arrogant attempt to dictate to two sovereign states the way they should build their relations. I would like to remind you that proconsuls were appointed in Ancient Rome to govern the provinces. Neither Russia nor Venezuela is a US province.

This underlies the basic difference between nations abiding by international law – and there are too many to list them all – and the group of nations who make up pretexts for interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.

Regarding Washington’s idea of who we “must” support in Venezuela. Russia supports the legitimate authorities. This phrase contains two key words – legitimate and authorities. It is legitimate because only Venezuela’s people have the right to elect their leaders in accordance with the national Constitution. If there are other interpretations, we would like to ask the US a carefully worded question: What legal grounds does the US have to make statements like the ones made in the last 24 hours? The Venezuelan people made their choice.

The authorities – because there are no authorities in Venezuela except President Nicolas Maduro’s government. Mr Guaido can claim to be whoever he wants. Such cases are recorded in history and in medicine. Let’s look at reality itself, which Mr Pompeo spoke about in a different context. Law and reality in this case coincide. Juan Guaido has no real authority no matter where his wife goes. By the way, this is exactly what the US Special Envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams said recently. We must agree with him on that. I am not sure if the White House and other members of the US administration are aware of his statements but they can read them.

By denying Nicolas Maduro the right and obligations of authority, Washington and its proxies are denying the people of Venezuela “here and now”  the right to live in a country which has authorities. I believe Washington explains its actions in Venezuela by the interests of the Venezuelan people having state services, government protection and government-provided public order. We see a steady chain of actions targeting stability: imposing sanctions on the financial, petroleum, and gold-mining industries, introducing division in society, armed forces, attempts to forcefully bring “humanitarian aid,” the continuous sabotage of the country’s energy system. Yet another attack was made the other day – this time on the transmission lines from the Guri hydroelectric power station that was under cyber attack three weeks ago. Such facts can be listed ad infinitum. All of this is the conscious provoking of chaos and the collapse of the state where no one can win. Do you understand this in Washington, D.C? We have asked the same question regarding other nations, and we have been right.

We would like to go back to the talks between high-ranking Russian diplomats and Mr Elliott Abrams, which took place in Rome on March 19. We have the impression that, after all, the Americans consider dialogue between the involved parties as a way of resolving the complicated situation in Venezuela. I would like to remind you that the legitimate Venezuelan government is ready to begin a negotiating process and dialogue and has said this many times. This is precisely the Russian principled approach. We are urging everyone to face reality and be guided by common sense.    

Let us continue to talk about compliance with law. The other day pseudo-diplomats representing the self-declared President Juan Guaido, with support from US police, broke into the buildings of the Venezuelan General Consulate in New York and the Venezuelan Defence Attaché’s Office in Washington D.C., which were earlier abandoned by Venezuelan diplomats following the severance of diplomatic relations between the two countries. These actions are a flagrant violation of the provisions of Articles 22 and 45 of the Vienna Convention, which refer to commitments to ensure diplomatic mission safety. We see Washington extend the tactics it has widely used in recent years to illegally seize diplomatic property, in particular, Russian diplomatic property, to other sovereign states as well. Reciprocity has always been the underlying principle of diplomacy. Does this mean that by helping break into Venezuelan foreign missions, the Americans will approve the same treatment of their diplomatic missions in Venezuela?  

Nevertheless, I would like to conclude my comment on Venezuela on a positive note. We continue to provide assistance to that country’s legitimate government to stabilise the political situation and overcome the socioeconomic crisis in the country. A few days ago, a new humanitarian aid shipment containing medical modules was delivered to Caracas, in keeping with basic UN General Assembly Resolution 46/182 and in response to the Venezuelan Government’s request. We are calling on all responsible members of the international community to also observe the rules, rather than impose “welfare” by force.   

The 14th meeting of the High Level Intergovernmental Commission headed by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov and Vice President for Economic Area and Minister of Industry and National Production of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela Tareck El Aissami will take place next week. We are looking forward to reviewing in detail the issues related to trade, economic and investment cooperation and signing a number of economic, trade, energy and education agreements.

I would like to recall a situation, which is not completely similar but has some things in common with a situation that we witnessed in another part of the world, specifically Libya, when some hasty decisions were taken and international laws were even evoked to substantiate these decisions for the benefit of the people of that country.  

We all remember well – not that many years have passed – how the decisions, which were explained by concerns about the future of Libya, various benefits for the country and the need to restore democracy and freedom there, were taken and how quickly they were pushed through. All this was done in the interest of the Libyan people. We can see what happened there afterwards.  

For several years now we can see international conferences follow one after another, donor groups meet and negotiations, roundtable discussions and symposia take place to address the situation in Libya. Maybe it is time, at last, to do it the other way around and first hold conferences, roundtable discussions and symposia, and discuss, including with the involvement of high-ranking official representatives from various countries, the future of a region, a country or a people, asking the people in question if they need this kind of help, and only then proceed to action? As things stand, we see a growing number of countries with, frankly speaking, an undecided future and a statehood that has crumbled and will not be restored no matter how much someone wants this to happen. We see the suffering of people that is incomparable with the problems that the relevant actions were supposed to resolve. These scenarios are multiplying.   

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The Kingdom of the Netherlands and the US sign an agreement on the use of Curacao island facilities for humanitarian supplies to Venezuela

 

The theme “good humanitarian intentions” by several Western countries, headed by Washington, towards Venezuela is in the spotlight; everyone is discussing it. We could not stay away from the agreement between the Netherlands and the US, signed on March 15, which allows the use of Curacao (a member state of the Kingdom of the Netherlands) as a hub for humanitarian supply distribution to Venezuela.

At first glance, this document looks like permission for the US to access facilities on Curacao in order to use them to provide humanitarian aid to Venezuela and third countries “affected by the crisis in the Bolivarian Republic” and only “through civil means.”

One interesting detail. The Curacao parliament and government were very cautious about this idea at first, because they wished for no tensions in their relations with Caracas. Nevertheless, they were “pressed” in the end with the promise that Curacao’s infrastructure would not be used for military purposes. This means that The Hague gave the US carte blanche to use its former colony as a platform for aggressive intervention in Venezuelan affairs under the veneer of humanitarian pretenses.

However, it turns out that this deal does not exclude the use of “other,” not just civil, means of delivery if necessary. The implication is clear: military delivery.

We hope that Curacao’s authorities will not allow their island to be used as yet another base for the West’s escapades that will seriously destabilise the region.

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Nicaragua update

 

We continue to closely monitor the developments in friendly Nicaragua, which is being subjected to increased external pressure by the forces that are trying to discredit the country’s legitimate government.

We welcome the progress in developing stable algorithms for a national dialogue that resumed in late February as well as real developments in the agreement on a preliminary agenda of further talks between the Sandinistas and their opponents.

We can see the government’s consistent efforts to stabilise the situation, such as the decision to release all the prisoners detained earlier for participating in riots and armed clashes in 90 days (according to the norms of the national law). Let me remind you that over 100 of them were placed under house arrest at the end of last month.

We believe that the Nicaraguans are able to find the solution to all domestic issues independently, without external interference. We hope that all the Nicaraguan political forces will work continuously and constructively in order to ensure the country’s stable and progressive development.

Let me explain why we speak about the endless interference and shaping of domestic situations from the outside in such detail: not because we want to troll our Western partners. This is not the reason. The reason is the pragmatic approach. We are not only confused by the theoretic side that will have consequences such as the violation of the current stable system of international relations based on international law, but by the facts that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke about. If our US colleagues manage to influence a situation that would result in a global improvement of the situation on the ground, even by removing or revising some of the norms of international law, then maybe we could study this experience or at least start from there. But there are no such examples. On one hand, international law is being violated, and on the other, the situation on the ground is deteriorating. This results in enormous tragedies in the life and destiny of the peoples living in these countries. Where are the positive examples that can be put on the table and used as an example of Washington’s good actions? There are none. If they existed, then maybe we would have something to talk about.

There is the situation in Syria. If it had been left at the mercy of these Western “forces of good,” it would not only have resulted in degradation in one country but in the region. On the contrary, the example of Russia’s actions shows the compliance with international law and real progress in the situation on the ground.

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Establishment of the Forum for the South American Progress (PROSUR)

 

On March 22 in Santiago, the presidents of seven South American countries – Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Chile and Ecuador – as well as Guyana’s representative signed a declaration launching a new regional bloc: the Forum for the South American Progress (PROSUR).

Russia has always spoken in favour of the solidarity of Latin American and Caribbean states based on a non-ideological foundation. We have constantly stressed that we would like to see this region united, politically strong and economically stable. With this, we firmly support the integration trends we can see there as well as the existing multilateral organisations and associations, above all the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) that unites all countries in the region on the basis of non-discrimination and mutual respect.

At the same time, based on the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs, we believe that countries in the Western hemisphere find the most suitable forms of regional and sub-regional cooperation by themselves.

We believe that the main thing in evaluating these processes is their positive attitude “towards” and not “against” someone, an inclusive approach to the participants instead of an exclusive one, and respect for the countries’ national identity and their right to decide on their state systems without external interference.

We reaffirm our readiness to develop traditionally friendly relations of constructive and mutually beneficial cooperation with each PROSUR member state. We will closely monitor further steps in the development of this organisation and specification of its practical goals.

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Another instance of US interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign states

 

We have repeatedly quoted examples of US interference in the domestic affairs of other states. Now Moldova’s turn has come. Moldova held regular parliamentary elections on February 24. During their preparations, Western and some Moldovan politicians repeatedly accused Russia in public of alleged interference in the internal political affairs in Moldova and attempts to influence the results of the voting. Needless to say, no evidence was presented, as usual.

Since not a single Moldovan political party received an absolute majority in the new parliament, the country started the complicated and sometimes painful process of forming a ruling coalition and a government. At this responsible moment, Washington unabashedly interfered in the process via its ambassador in Chisinau, Dereck J. Hogan.

Hogan’s so-called “open letter” to Moldovan MPs, distributed the other day, is uniquely straightforward and cynical. It wasn’t even presented as “highly likely” but as a US open dictate to Moldova. He openly claimed that “…the best way to create the conditions for a better future for all Moldovans is to strengthen Moldova’s relations with the United States and Europe” and that a “recommitment to Western values” can resolve any problems.

But even this was not enough. In the letter, that looks more like a guide for action, the ambassador describes in detail how and what domestic reforms the Moldovan state and society should carry out, how to defend itself from modern threats “by bolstering cybersecurity defences and tightening scrutiny on foreign companies seeking influence over critical infrastructure.” He writes that the US wants to “help Moldova diversify its routes and sources of energy.” In other words, this is a well-known package of recipes and instruments, which the US is using for its own purposes.

As was the case in Ukraine, Moldova is being pushed to what is called “the only right choice.” The votes of a considerable number of Moldovan citizens with a different opinion are being ignored in the process.

The example of a neighbouring country shows the outcome of such a policy, all the more so in a split civil society. The Euromaidan lessons seem not to have taught Washington any lesson. Apparently, it is turning a blind eye to what is now happening in Ukraine. We would like to hope that considering the road taken with neighbouring countries, the West will have a different future at least for Moldova, but everything points to the reverse. 

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Update on Donbass

 

The situation in Ukraine is still tense. The country’s armed forces continue shelling civilian infrastructure.

The most noticeable attacks over the past week were against school No. 77 in Golmovsky on March 20 and against secondary school No. 116 in the Trudovskiye area of the Petrovsky district of Donetsk on March 21. In the latter case, the school was shelled during school hours. By pure luck, none of the children and teachers were hurt.

Furthermore, on March 18, a high-voltage powerline and a transformer substation in the village of Staromikhaylovka were knocked out of service by a Ukrainian security forces precision BMP-2 strike, leaving the southern part of the village without electricity.

On March 19, three buildings in Kominternovo were damaged by 120 mm and 82 mm calibre mortar fire. On March 22, a powerline was damaged there cutting off more than 1,500 civilians.

The Ukrainian armed forces continue to use unmanned aerial vehicles, including assault drones, in Donbass, violating the Package of Measures, which prohibits UAV flights with the exception of the OSCE monitoring mission, along the entire contact line.

According to the information we have, last week alone, the security forces of the people's republics destroyed three Ukrainian armed forces’ UAVs; these statistics indicate the scale of their use by Ukraine.

According to the OSCE SMM report of March 26, the SMM team saw two Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel launching an unmanned aerial vehicle in the vicinity of ​​the Zolotoye entry/exit checkpoint.

The situation around ​​the Zolotoye checkpoint.

We certainly could not overlook the strange actions of the Ukrainian side around this control point – to put it mildly. Having announced Kiev’s plans to close the only checkpoint on the demarcation line in the Lugansk Region, the one at Stanitsa Luganskaya, representatives of Ukraine in the Trilateral Contact Group, Irina Gerashchenko and Yevgeny Marchuk, said Ukraine would unilaterally open a checkpoint in the village of Zolotoye.

It is important to mention that the possibility that the Zolotoye checkpoint would be used by civilians was not even considered at the Minsk talks for security reasons.

I would also like to remind you that the Framework Decision on the Disengagement of Forces and Hardware in the vicinity of Zolotoye was signed in 2016 in Minsk. Despite this, the Ukrainian security forces continue to deploy weapons and military equipment in this area.

Moreover, the area near Zolotoye that was mined in 2015 by the Ukrainian side, remains uncleared to this day because the disengagement of the parties in this area is repeatedly disrupted by Kiev. The roads and the surrounding area are literally filled with anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, which makes the safe operation of the Zolotoye checkpoint impossible.

Reading the reports by the OSCE SMM, their summaries of what is happening on the ground, one gets the impression that people are simply being destroyed in this territory. We receive so many letters from people who live in Donbass asking what will happen to them. Many states have in one way or another acted as guarantors of Ukraine’s future, supporting the Minsk Agreements and recognising them as the only settlement plan that is not only generally accepted, but can actually work. People are asking what they should do and how to go on. They feel trapped in a besieged fortress. They can see how the Kiev regime hates them.

Over the period starting with the spring truce alone, the OSCE SMM has recorded 11 violations of the ceasefire by the Ukrainian armed forces in the Zolotoye area, including the use of over-100-mm calibre artillery, which is prohibited by the Minsk Agreements.

In this context, it is completely unclear what goal Kiev is pursuing, closing the relatively safe checkpoint at Stanitsa Luganskaya and announcing the opening of a unilateral access passage for civilians along a mined road in the Zolotoye area. This is a kind of actual fascism. We are talking about civilians who know little about these things. They do not have any special equipment to ensure safe passage. Why are you destroying the people you consider your citizens, those living in the region that the Kiev regime supposedly plans to return to its control?

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Russia’s approaches to religious intolerance

 

The situation with ethnic and religious violence in the modern world is a serious cause for concern. Like the rest of the international community, Russia was shocked by the terrorist attack in New Zealand’s Christchurch on March 15. Russian authorities expressed their explicit condemnation of this massacre, while the citizens expressed their sympathy.

As a multi-religious country that has a long-standing tradition of neighbourly coexistence between people of different religions, Russia was particularly concerned by the fact that the terrorist act in New Zealand was a religious hate crime, with followers of Islam once again becoming the victims of terrorism.

We share the outrage of Muslim states and communities worldwide at the New Zealand incident, and support the message made during the extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s Executive Committee that took place on March 22 in Istanbul, concerning the need to take effective measures to protect groups and individuals from religious discrimination and violence.

This problem is of the widest range. Recently, the Western countries have been experiencing an increase in the number of anti-Semitist, Christianophobic and Islamophobic cases of discrimination and intolerance. There has been a surge in racism and xenophobia-based violence against national, ethnic and religious minorities, as well as in acts of vandalism against places of worship.

To counter such trends, Russia annually submits a draft resolution, Combating the Glorification of Nazism, Neo-Nazism and Other Practices That Contribute to Fuelling Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, to the UN General Assembly. One of the key elements of this document concerns the unconditional condemnation of any denial or attempts to deny any manifestation of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against individuals or communities based on their ethnic origin or religious beliefs. The resolution emphasises that every state must ensure full and effective implementation of legal, political and institutional measures to protect national, linguistic or religious minorities, as well as safeguard these groups’ human rights without discrimination.

The ongoing wide support for Russia’s initiative shows the international community’s realisation that any statement glorifying national, racial or religious hatred must be prohibited by law, while the dissemination of ideas or incitement to racial or religious discrimination must be criminalised and punished in accordance with international law.

Let me remind you that the list of countries that traditionally vote against this resolution includes the US and, on occasion, Ukraine. We hope that at least with the help of US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s words, with the help of reality, they will become aware of the need to support this very important  resolution, especially in today’s world.

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Update on Maria Lazareva

 

In May 2018, the Kuwaiti Supreme Court sentenced Russian national Maria Lazareva to ten years in prison on charges of embezzling Kuwaiti state funds.

Ensuring fair and impartial consideration for Maria Lazareva’s case in a Kuwaiti court and the observance of her rights and legal interests are under the Foreign Ministry’s priority supervision.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed this Russian national with his Kuwaiti colleague Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah on September 18, 2018 in a conversation held on the sidelines of high-level UN Security Council meetings in New York, as well as in talks during a working visit to Kuwait on March 5-6, 2019. In addition, a request was made to change this Russian woman’s sentence to home confinement for humanitarian reasons (Lazareva is a single mother with a young child). This issue was raised with Kuwaiti leadership by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Russian Federation.

The Court of Appeals met twice over the case of Maria Lazareva, on March 10 and 24, to hear prosecution witnesses for the first time. Their contradictory testimonies once again demonstrated the inconsistency of the evidence which served as the basis for the criminal prosecution of our compatriot.

Russian diplomats continue to provide Ms Lazareva with consular assistance; they visit her in prison, closely monitor the course of the trial, attend the court hearings and are in touch with her lawyers.

The next court hearing is scheduled for April 21.

We expect objective and unbiased consideration for this Russian national’s case from the Kuwaiti court in the course of the ongoing appeal process. We hope that our serious concern with legal arbitrariness regarding Lazareva will be taken into account and that the court will make a fair decision which will allow her to go home as soon as possible.

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Transferring the remains of Russian national Arsen Voskanyan

 

Through the joint efforts of the Russian Embassy in Colombia, the government of that country and the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the remains of Russian national Arsen Voskanyan, who died in captivity after being seized by rebels from the National Liberation Army (ELN) in 2017, were moved to Moscow and passed to his relatives on March 25. The ICRC paid the repatriation costs.

As you may recall, Voskanyan's case was opened in October 2016 after his relatives, who were unable to get in touch with him, contacted the Russian Embassy in Bogota.

After a request filed by the Russian Embassy, the Colombian authorities established that Voskanyan went missing in the Choco region, an area marked by a high activity of illegal armed groups. After several months of a search-and-rescue operation conducted by the Armed Forces and the National Police of Colombia, it became clear that the Russian national was captured by the ELN guerillas and died while trying to escape.

For almost two and a half years, we have been in constant contact with Colombian law enforcement agencies and have closely monitored this situation.

We express our gratitude to the Government of Colombia and the ICRC mission for their assistance at all stages of the investigation into Arsen Voskanyan’s case, starting from clarifying the circumstances of his disappearance and death, to searching for him, receiving and identifying the remains, and ending with their repatriation and transferring them to the family.

Thus, this tragic story has now come to an end.

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The safety of Russian journalists in France

 

The situation surrounding our media in France continues to deteriorate. We have repeatedly stressed that Elysee Palace has consistently and systematically taken discriminatory steps against Russian journalists that are accredited in that country. Moreover, such a policy is accompanied by public statements of a hostile nature addressed to them by French officials, including President Macron himself, who recently proposed creating an agency for protecting democracy in order to combat external information interference in the EU coming, primarily, and allegedly, from Moscow. All this has created an atmosphere of distrust and toxicity around Russian media. This is part of the propaganda, which, unfortunately, is gaining momentum in Western Europe and in France in particular.

So, on March 19, RT France television channel received an anonymous letter with threats to its journalism team. In particular, the anonymous author issued a death threat to TV channel head Ksenia Fyodorova. According to RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan, the editorial office also received, on earlier occasions, angry letters and phone calls from other people who wanted the channel closed.

All this is a direct consequence of the completely irresponsible and anti-democratic statements by French officials, as well as their desire to divide the media in the eyes of the public into ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ This policy by official Paris incites hatred and radicalism against journalists, which places their physical safety in jeopardy, which leaves much to be desired even without that, given the reports we receive, including from Paris, about how our media are exposed to physical attacks, instead of being properly protected, as recently agreed to within the OSCE. I would like to note that Russian journalists in France are really trying to be objective but still risk their safety when they report stories without commenting them, when they just turn on their cameras and broadcast live on social media what they see on the streets of Paris. How is that wrong? What's wrong with that? What are they doing wrong?

Moreover, the French authorities themselves, I know this for sure, use the materials provided by RT France as an important source of information. And then official Paris continues to accuse Russian journalists of propaganda and biased coverage of protests.

The French authorities continue to delay issuing press passes to Sputnik France employees, thereby depriving them of the ability to effectively carry out their professional duties. I would also like to remind you that the French media work in Russia completely unhindered and do not face obstacles on behalf of the authorities, despite the fact that their materials are replete with fake news, of which we have notified the French authorities. We posted these materials in the appropriate section as unverified or false information. At the same time, once again we emphasise our right to take retaliatory measures if the situation with the Russian media in France does not improve.

Once again, we remind France of its international obligations to ensure the safety of journalists, freedom of expression and equal access to information for all. We would also like the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Desir, who posted a brief declarative message about the incidents on social networks, to provide a more substantive reaction, because there are now too many facts that reveal the true situation with the Russian media in France and the bullying in which some of the French establishment are involved.

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Western technology to fight against fake news

 

It has transpired recently that the Czech Symantec Vision company has received $250,000 in grant funding from the British government and the US administration to develop technology that would identify content spreading disinformation on news websites and social networks.  

I must say that before the grant was allocated Symantec Vision had made a high-profile statement about its success in tracking down materials containing “elements of Russian propaganda.” In the struggle for Western grants, it appears to be nothing short of a bid for success. Britain and the US just could not fail to encourage smart developers who are keeping abreast of the times and Western propaganda trends.

In general, we cannot but welcome such a daring initiative in the fight against fabricated news stories in the media, especially given the endless flow of such stories generated in the West. We are ready to lend a helping hand. In particular, Czech specialists can visit a section of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website devoted to untrue information published by the Western media. It can be examined for free.  

The main thing is that the digital early warning platform should not collapse under the weight of lies and fake news, say, in the Anglo-Saxon media. No filters are going to help.  

Hopefully, this project will not turn into another weapon of information warfare being waged by the West against Russia. Instead of identifying misleading facts, it would be good to look into what is happening in the Western mainstream media today, given that the newly-released report by Robert Mueller offers every reason for this. The report can be used to carry out an analysis, all the more so as the US has allocated money while the materials that directly accused Russia and claimed there had been the collusion between the Kremlin and American politicians were published in the US media. In these materials, the journalists were insistent, imposing their viewpoints to the audiences in a peremptory manner.      

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Third meeting of the Russian Historical Society’s International Commission to mark 75 years since the liberation of Eastern Europe from Nazism

 

On April 8 at 10 am, the Russian Historical Society House will host the third meeting of the Russian Historical Society’s International Commission to mark 75 years since the liberation of Eastern Europe from Nazism.

As a reminder, the liberation of Eastern Europe from Nazism began on March 26, 1944, when units of the 2nd Ukrainian Front led by Marshal Ivan Konev approached Prut River – the state border of the USSR – and entered the territory of Romania.

In 1944-1945, the Red Army fully or partially liberated the territories of nine European countries: Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Denmark, and Norway.

The Red Army’s irretrievable losses while liberating European countries totaled about one million soldiers and officers. The Soviet Union suffered the greatest losses of some 600,000 while liberating Poland; some 140,000 were killed during the battles to liberate Hungary and the same number in Czechoslovakia, where Nazi defences were especially strong.

In all, over 100 million people were liberated from Nazi oppression.

The event on April 8 will be chaired by head of the Russian Historical Society Sergey Naryshkin and attended by renowned historians from France, Austria, Germany, Italy, Norway, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Bulgaria and Israel.

Participants in the commission’s meeting will include Co-chair of the Russian Historical Society and Rector of Moscow State Institute of International Relations Anatoly Torkunov, Member of the Russian Historical Society’s Presidium and Director of the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences Yury Petrov, and Director of the State Historical Museum Alexey Levykin.

The meeting will also include a presentation of the book by Catherine Horel, General Secretary of International Committee of Historical Sciences, “Cette Europe qu'on dit centrale. Des Habsbourg à l'intégration européenne 1815–2004.”

Location: 13/1 Vorontsovo Polye, Moscow.

Journalists are registered between 9 am and 9.55 am on April 8 (entrance from 25/3 Podsosensky Pereulok).

Accreditation ends at 4 pm on April 4.

For further details, contact Vera Marunova at press@rushistory.org, phone: +7 905 502 40 57.

To receive accreditation, please provide your full name, nationality, date and place of birth, passport serial number, place of employment, and position. Foreign journalists must present the accreditation number provided by the Russian Foreign Ministry.    

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Announcement of the verdict in the January 13, 1991 Vilnius events case

 

A court in Vilnius has found 67 Russian citizens “guilty of military crimes and crimes against humanity” and sentenced most of them to prison in absentia.

President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite said: “This case is a face-to-face encounter with truth.”

I would like to note the comment of Russia’s Ambassador to Lithuania Alexander Udaltsov, who said that despite the fact that the case was against Russian citizens, several of whom were present at the hearing, “Russian diplomats and journalists were not allowed there.” Despite the fact that it was an open hearing. Diplomats from the Russian Embassy, including the Ambassador, were not admitted. No reasonable explanation was provided.

Official representatives were not allowed into the courtroom under some far-fetched pretext in violation of the common norms of court hearings with foreign citizens. We have already given our assessment.

The basic principles of justice were ignored during the hearing, primarily the inadmissibility of retroactive application of the law. Testimonies that refute Russian military personnel’s involvement in the death of civilians on that tragic day were ignored. The authorities’ attempts to distort obvious facts, the officials’ bias and clear pressure on judicial bodies as well as judicial manipulations reflect the destructive policy of the current Lithuanian leadership towards Russia.

Of course, we will not leave this without a response.

Ms Grybauskaite, truth did not come to your face-to-face encounter.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: The other day an Azerbaijani serviceman lost his life at the contact line in the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This points to persisting tension in the conflict that should be settled as soon as possible. What can Russia as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group wish the conflicting sides to achieve at the meeting between the President of Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of Armenia in Vienna tomorrow? What are your expectations of this meeting?

Maria Zakharova: All aspects of the upcoming summit meeting will be discussed today at the meeting of the Minsk Group co-chairs with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia. The point is not what we wish for but about the analysis of the situation there. This analysis will be made at this meeting. We will tell you about its outcome.

Question: Will any bilateral event be held on the sidelines of the April 5 meeting of the CIS Council of Foreign Ministers, for example, a meeting between the Russian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers?

Maria Zakharova: There is no information about any individual meetings at this point in time. But the agenda is flexible. If such meetings are added to it or are held spontaneously, we will share this information with you.

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Question: The Military Memorials Association recently reported that the Czech Defence Ministry continued to advocate the idea of opening six memorials to members of the Czechoslovak Legion in Samara, Novokuibyshevsk, Ufa, Zlatoust and other Russian cities, where the public is firmly against the glorification of marauders and murderers. Local residents say the legionnaires’ memory has already been perpetuated in the monuments to their victims. The Samara Region Governor said, though, that despite this public reaction and protests from the family of Vasily Chapayev he would continue to consider ways to open such monuments and memorials. At the same time, the Czech Republic has joined the campaign of sanctions against Russia. Czech Defence Minister Lubomir Metnar has said that Russia is one of the main threats for NATO. Provocations continue against high-ranking Russian officials and Russian military graves in former Czechoslovakia. Why does the defence ministry of a foreign country continue to promote its initiatives in Russian regions?

Maria Zakharova: Your question includes so many subjects that I would like to divide them. You have painted a horrible picture of Russian-Czech relations. We have a different view. There are many topics, some of which can be described as problems, on which we have not found common ground or hold different positions, but we are also actively interacting with Prague in many spheres. We are satisfied with this interaction, and we would like to strengthen it. Therefore, the picture is not as gloomy as you assume.

Also, I do not agree that the sanctions should be linked to historical memory. Of course, there is a certain general picture. I agree that attempts have been made to connect the rewriting of history with the containment of Russia. It may be part of the general picture, but I wouldn’t apply it in the context of your question.

Next, why are some countries’ defence ministers advocating the establishment of monuments to the military personnel of the countries that did not enter Russia as the “forces of good”? I believe that it is mostly for them to answer this question.

As for the Russian Foreign Ministry, its goal is to ensure the preservation of the memory of our fallen servicemen in many countries and the maintenance of their graves, and to prevent the demolition, movement or desecration of these memorials. We are working on these topics, trying to do everything within our power, and we inform you about our achievements. This matter is definitely not concerned with the rewriting of history. The position of Russia, including its leadership, society and public organisations, is perfectly clear: we will not permit the rewriting of history. The memory of the Great Patriotic War and our forefathers’ contribution to victory in WWII is sacred to us. It is a topic on which we have broad public consensus. There is no need to provide any additional assessments. We have set our priorities straight. And now we must achieve the goals set in the country and beyond it.

In the context of history, we have seen not only the attempts to glorify aggressors, but also the maintenance of their graves. There are many cases like this, including in Russia, in particular, in Volgograd. These matters are settled and formalised in agreements by the concerned agencies on a bilateral basis. I believe that this work should proceed in this context and on the basis of provisions that are absolutely inviolable for us. As I have said, this work is ongoing not only in the context of WWII but also previous wars. Monuments have been erected at the site where French soldiers died during the 1812 Patriotic War. We have an agreement with the French side, and we are honouring it. It is a matter of bilateral relations, as you can see from this example and the experience we have accumulated over decades and even centuries.

One more thing: I don’t think it concerns the Foreign Ministry, yet I must speak about this. It concerns the work of people, the public, NGOs and the authorities in the regions who must consider all aspects of the subjects concerned with historical memory. I can understand the negative public reaction and protests. But we can deal with this by applying our experience through diplomatic efforts and bilateral agreements. There are many positive examples of this approach.

Besides, I believe it is very important to work together with large agencies that have proved to be effective, such as the Russian Military Historical Society, which will help find acceptable forms of cooperation, including on such a complicated matter as this one.

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Question: Could you describe the work of Russian specialists in Venezuela in greater detail? How long will they stay there, and what will they do?

Maria Zakharova: They implement agreements in the area of military-technical cooperation. We have repeatedly noted this verbally and in the form of official statements.

They will stay there as long as they need to, and as long as the Government of Venezuela needs them. All this is being done under agreements within the framework of international law and bilateral arrangements.

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Question: Could you please comment on a statement made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying that Russia had meddled in the 2004, 2008, 2012, as well as 2016 US elections. Actually, he made these statements without providing any evidence.

Maria Zakharova: First, this is a factor of US domestic politics. Regarding meddling, I would advise US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to reread the published memoirs of Hillary Clinton where she describes down to the smallest detail how representatives of the US authorities meddled in the domestic affairs of various countries, as well as their forms, methods and how many times they did this. Her memoirs provide such fantastic assessments and also describe such situations when the United States became directly involved in the domestic affairs of various states that I have just one question left: How do representatives of the pro-democracy lobby dare accuse anyone of anything after the publication of these memoirs? I am talking about a big 500-page thick book. Each page contains several examples of US meddling in the domestic affairs of other states, including US efforts to import democracy, to reinstate people’s freedom, to change financial flows, to deal with energy cooperation, etc. Everyone should start with this book, before accusing someone of meddling in anyone else’s affairs.

Second, unfortunately, the matter of the so-called meddling in US elections and domestic affairs will not disappear anywhere because, as we see it, there are no other subjects for addressing domestic matters facing the United States. This subject was lavishly spiced up and elaborated upon for several years. Even the latest report made by special counsel Robert Mueller that should have answered all the questions has not consolidated society and has failed to calm down the situation. On the contrary, the report has triggered off even more heated debates on this matter. Quite possibly, this can be explained by the fact that it was not published in full. This created confusion and provides additional pretexts for speculation on this matter.

Here is the third aspect. The US side should start by conducting an inventory of its foreign policy at a time when there is no evidence incriminating Russia, and when other historical evidence proves that the United States had meddled in the affairs of other states. This can be done by setting up a club of active and former Secretaries of State who will exchange experience and tell each other how and when they meddled in the affairs of other countries. This is because not all Secretaries of State have published such detailed memoirs as Mrs Clinton. I believe that others have stories they have yet to share. If they create such a club, they will be able to regularly exchange recollections on how and when they meddled in the affairs of sovereign countries. Perhaps they will calm down on this matter after this.

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Question: A couple of days ago we heard that Petr Poroshenko’s opponent in the Ukrainian presidential election is Russian President Vladimir Putin. Many people wrote to me and asked at which polling station they can vote for Vladimir Putin.

Maria Zakharova: You have not been paying enough attention to the situation in Ukraine. We have already covered that. It did not happen only a couple of days ago. Election campaign videos were filled with photographs and images of the Russian President as well as respective slogans. We understood it was a key element of Petr Poroshenko’s election campaign.

As regards voting for Vladimir Putin, the election in Russia is over and polling stations are closed.

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Question: The Serbian government and the so-called opposition are proxies of the West. President Aleksandar Vucic declares Serbia’s military neutrality while NATO has an office at the Serbian Defence Ministry and NATO soldiers have full immunity on Serbian territory. Amadeo Watkins from the UK conducted a reform of the security sector and is now reforming the government sector in Serbia. At the same time, the Russian-Serbian humanitarian centre in Nis never received a diplomatic status. President Vucic comes to Russia, asks Russia to help with Kosovo and immediately signs agreements in Brussels that allow Kosovo to gain independence. The Serbian press is under the complete control of the CIA, which is not a secret. They disseminate information that discredits Russia and the Russian government. The West is bullying our country in every possible way. If you look at everything that is happening in Serbia (our government supporting the West), do you think that Aleksandar Vucic was a planted Trojan Horse that is supposed to split the Russian and the Serbian people?

Maria Zakharova: I would not compare Mr Vucic with a horse, even a Trojan one. I have more human associations.

The question regarding the conduct of the Serbian politicians and officials should be addressed directly at them. I represent the Foreign Ministry of Russia. And I am content with the country to which my office belongs.

We see the problems Serbia is facing. We are trying to help Belgrade when asked for assistance. At Serbia’s request, based, as we understand, on the aspirations and interests of the Serbian people, we are protecting the international legal foundations of the situation in Kosovo. We have been doing that for many years. I will repeat once again that in doing so, we employ international legal institutions and diplomatic opportunities. In doing so, we are not promoting our own views but work in cooperation with Belgrade, at its own request, and understanding that the interests of the Serbian people are at stake.

Regarding the action of the Serbian leadership elected by Serbs, this question is for them directly.

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Question: A few days ago, German journalist Billy Six was released from a Venezuelan prison, where he was detained following accusations of espionage, riot, illegal entry into specially protected facilities and a number of other crimes. Federal Foreign Office Spokesperson Maria Adebahr said she was unaware of the role of Russia and, in particular, of its Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the release of Billy Six. At the same time, she also noted that German diplomats had made every effort to ensure the journalist’s release and had stayed in close proximity to him until his departure to his homeland. This version contrasts with that of Billy Six himself, who accuses the authorities of the Federal Republic of Germany of complete inaction. Can you comment on this discrepancy?

Maria Zakharova: Indeed, German diplomats are not aware of Russia’s involvement because they never spoke with Russia about it. I do not want to assess or comment on the activities of the German foreign ministry regarding whether they were or were not involved in helping to bring about the release of the German journalist. This would be inappropriate and unethical.

At the same time, I consider it equally inappropriate and highly impolite of people representing the government of a country whose journalist was released, thanks among other things to the efforts of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, to not even find it necessary, at least publicly, to thank those who provided active assistance in resolving the journalist’s difficult situation.

I do not know what action German diplomats took, and I am not going to comment on them, but I can say that Billy Six’s situation was raised during the talks between Sergey Lavrov and his Venezuelan counterpart Jorge Arreaza in Vienna on March 14. The reason for the Russian side raising this issue was a direct appeal from the journalist’s family to the Minister. I can also say that Russia has not received any requests from official Berlin, its executive authorities or the Foreign Ministry. As for the subsequent developments after March 14, when Sergey Lavrov made a request to Venezuela, I think that the journalist himself will relate all the details and ups and downs. The most important thing is that he is free, and is back with his family, relatives and friends. From them, we have heard the only words of gratitude.

By the way, I would like to say that it is not the first time that Moscow has made efforts to help free journalists, including German ones, or to ease the situation when they find themselves in this kind of predicament.

I would like to say that there are Russian journalists who also get into difficult life situations, often through no fault of their own, but due to circumstances outside their control. In particular, there is Kirill Vyshinsky, our journalist, who is being held illegally in Ukraine, for no reason, contrary to that country’s international obligations. We have witnessed relevant appeals from concerned Russian agencies. At Russia’s foreign ministry, we receive piles of letters and requests to defend his rights, to assist him, to help to speed up his release.

At the same time, we do not see any – not hype, but even any attempts from our western partners, who so often ardently defend the rights of journalists and seem to care about them – to do anything to help bring about his release. Not a single effort. I have not heard EU foreign ministers making any persistent public calls urging Kiev to release him. During talks, I have never heard any representatives of the EU foreign policy agencies telling us what they are doing to help end this scandalous case in the European space, and to release the journalist.

As a reminder, Kirill Vyshinsky was detained solely for his professional activities, that is, he hasn’t done anything illegal in his life – he was just writing. This is the only grounds on which he was arrested and held prisoner for many months. And there has been no activity from the relevant foreign agencies (I mean journalistic), not hypocritical, not a kind of ‘we do it once and don’t ask us again’ – but with genuine concern.

In the same way, everyone seemed concerned about the representatives of Ukraine detained in the Russian Federation, not under a false pretext, but on absolutely clear charges – for example, Nadezhda Savchenko. You must remember the show in the European Parliament, the endless pickets. As soon as she was back in Ukraine, the same thing happened to her. The only difference was that in Russia, she was accused for obvious reasons, and was confronted with the relevant documents and evidence. In Ukraine, her case was different – she was arrested under some far-fetched pretext for her political and civic activities.

We have not seen any high-profile action regarding the detention of a journalist exclusively and only for his professional journalistic activities. No one is interested in his future, even though we have been making almost weekly statements and appeals for half a year, and will continue to do so. Behold a difference in approaches.

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Question: I would like to specify the Maria Lazareva case. Are there any currently inactive mechanisms, including diplomatic protection, that the Russian Foreign Ministry could use in the near future?

Maria Zakharova: The Russian side is informing its Kuwaiti partners about its position.

We will certainly tell the Kuwaiti side about this situation if human rights activists, civil society and NGOs examine the case and if they deem it possible to voice additional support. You should address this question to civil society, rather than the executive branch. So far, the executive branch is doing all it can to defend the Russian citizen’s rights abroad.

I have not seen any activity, except sporadic pinpoint materials regarding this matter, on the part of civil society. Please correct me if this is not so.

In this case, I believe that, considering the number of Russian citizens detained in foreign prisons under far-fetched pretexts, Western experience would prove very useful. Civil society’s sincere support, based on its own assessments, would be more than appropriate in this particular case.

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Question: After the final victory over ISIS, which you mentioned, Syrian Democratic Forces where Kurdish self-defence forces play a leading role have called on the international community to establish an international tribunal for ISIS members. Is Moscow ready to facilitate this initiative? What will become of the ISIS fighters that are currently in detention?

Maria Zakharova: We have commented on this. In our opinion, this matter should and can be discussed. There are some examples, namely, black sites and secret prisons that should not be an option in this situation. At the same time, we assumed that, first, national legal tools should be used. Second, we should use international counter-terrorist provisions and a regulatory database to exchange information, and hold consultations and talks on the relevant subjects.

I will ask our experts whether they have any ideas for establishing the framework you have mentioned. So far, I know nothing about it. We have noted the current primacy of national law in countries that detain terrorists and which should put them on trial based on the corresponding evidence.

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Question: In one of your interviews with Russian television networks, you reproached Ukraine for violating its international obligations during the election campaign. What did you mean? You also asked foreign media outlets to respond. What do you expect?

Maria Zakharova: I have already elaborated on this idea. In my opinion, I have clearly set forth this viewpoint. For example, this concerns a refusal to allow Russian observers and journalists, as well as those from other countries, to monitor the Ukrainian presidential election. So, here are two specific examples that I have mentioned.

Foreign media outlets have already responded, and international organisations have responded to the second aspect. We have repeatedly read OSCE statements about the harmful nature and unacceptability of refusing to allow media outlets and journalists with the relevant experience and accreditation to cover the election process; these statements also note that such actions run counter to the relevant legal norms.

With regard to the first matter, it receives more localised coverage and has not attracted substantial attention, although, in my opinion, it provides a very graphic description of the Ukrainian election campaign.

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Question: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently announced that the country is ready to consider letting Russians enter the country using domestic passports. When can we expect the ‘verdict’? How much time could it take to work out this issue? And how will this affect Russia-Turkey relations?

Maria Zakharova: We did note these statements. We also received questions regarding Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s statement about potential opportunity for Russian citizens to enter Turkey using domestic passports.

This subject was earlier raised by Turkey during our bilateral consultations on consular matters. We communicated our view to our partners, which is that this initiative would be rather difficult to carry out, for a number of reasons.

First of all, there are legal aspects when it comes to using a domestic passport when travelling abroad. As you know, the use of national passports is restricted by Russian law. There are certain exceptions, for the countries with which we have achieved a very high level of integration. Also, in these countries border control officers have a very good command of Russian.

At the border with Turkey, there will inevitably be a problem with reading the information in Russian domestic passports since it is provided only in the Russian language.

Local authorities’ lack of Russian language skills may result in a great number of conflicts involving Russian nationals during their stay in Turkey.

Additionally, Russian law prohibits any unauthorised markings, including border crossing markings, in domestic passports. We do not see any problem with using foreign passports. The procedure for obtaining a foreign passport has become significantly easier in the past several years. The number of foreign passport holders is growing. You can check the statistics.

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Question: Ukraine is about to hold an election. Do you have any specific hopes regarding this event? What do you think the outcome will be?

Maria Zakharova: It is Ukrainian citizens who should have hopes in the first place. I think it is a question for them.

We did have hopes regarding the events in this country as they all concerned the Russian Federation one way or another. After 2014, Ukrainians started moving to Russia (for some, Russia became a home, for others it was just a place to recover before going back). We had great hopes that the situation would be settled. Russia did everything it could for that to happen. It initiated the first Minsk Agreements that formed a basis for subsequent agreements that are now known to the entire world. We did everything for them to materialise. The agreements contained a detailed plan for resolving the internal situation in Ukraine. Unfortunately, the Kiev regime that came to power with the slogans of peace, failed to deliver on this mission. Now there is no doubt it was all done intentionally. Today, as an example, I told you about civilians being sent to a checkpoint the road to which was infested with mines. You do not do this to the people who you consider your citizens. That is what is done to enemies, as an act of revenge, to destroy them. Not to those who, hopefully, could become allies and could be forgiven and peace could be made with.

There were hopes, not empty ones but hopes based on the efforts that, as we supposed, were to be realised. I think we did everything we could for that. We took in those people; we fed them, provided them with jobs and their children with places in schools and kindergartens. We assisted them in every possible way. Do you know how many Russian regions accepted refugees from Ukraine? We participated politically in the Minsk Agreements and, on top of everything else, exercised tremendous patience towards the outrage that was happening and continues to happen in Ukraine.

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Question: US Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament Robert Wood has twitted the other day that Russia and the US will hold strategic arms consultations in Geneva on April 3 to 12. But he deleted that tweet almost immediately. Are such consultations in the pipeline? Have the Americans made any proposals regarding an arms control dialogue?

Maria Zakharova: Maybe something went wrong on the Twitter?

As for consultations, he was probably referring to the planned meeting of the bilateral consultative commission, where experts discuss compliance with the New START. Maybe this is what he meant? Such meetings are held in Geneva twice a year. The next meeting is scheduled for early April. I don’t know what the Americans will bring to Geneva. It is a question for the US Embassy. We don’t know anything about any new proposals. As for the format of these consultations, I have already told you about that.

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Question: We denounce acts of vandalism against Soviet memorials in Europe and Ukraine, and we are doing the right thing. But some time ago members of a television show insulted the memory of Hero of the Soviet Union Dmitry Karbyshev. Do you think this is acceptable?

Maria Zakharova: Are you serious? Frankly, I think that your question is an insult to the memory as well. I respect you, and I will take on any question, including the most difficult ones. But asking such questions at a briefing on foreign policy?

There can be different situations in society, any society, and there is the attitude of the authorities, civil society and the public to them. I am a representative of the foreign ministry. If you have questions about problems in our society, why are you asking me about them here? If you want my personal opinion on this matter, we can talk about it after the briefing.

There must be a clear line between discussing serious matters and a desire to get into the spotlight by asking about matters that have sparked a public outcry. Let’s act professionally, without lowering ourselves to such rhetoric.

It is very seldom that I have such a sharp attitude to such questions. I consider your question inappropriate. I hope you understand why.

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Question: Italian singers Al Bano and Toto Cutugno have been recently denied entry into Ukraine. For me, this is an important question, because I represent the Italian media. These singers’ songs are not only the Italian heritage but also the global cultural heritage. What is your opinion of this matter?

Maria Zakharova: I believe that they are loved so much in Russia that they are considered Russians in Ukraine.

Back in 2013 and 2014, we were quite outspoken on the problem. Don’t think I intend to insult you, but you paid no heed to what we said back then. You have noticed the problem now because it directly concerns your countries. Several years ago, we said that nationalism and extremism know no borders. This is the problem. They cannot be local. When somebody tells himself and everyone else that they have problems because other people pray differently or wear a different kind of clothing, this problem does not and cannot have any borders, as history has shown more than once. 

When nationalist trends started developing in Ukraine, they were spearheaded primarily against Russia, against Russian speakers and entire regions that did not live as those who had seized power in Kiev wanted. We said back then that it wouldn’t stop there, because it is very difficult to contain the nationalist beast once it has been released. This beast needs nourishment all the time. Consequently, everything we said out loud five years ago, trying to make everyone hear us, has struck back at your countries, your journalists, performers, singers, politicians and NGOs. And it will get worse and worse, unless we stop this Ukrainian madness, which is being fuelled from beyond the country. We know where the incitement comes from. It comes primarily from Washington, as you can see from the statements made by US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker. This is what you must see. It will get worse for Ukraine and, regrettably, for the common European home, because Ukraine is a European country. The resources, including financial ones, which the European family has channelled into Ukraine, are so huge that your national leaders and the EU should have long asked themselves how the money Kiev gets from international organisations and the EU is spent, and where the country led by the Kiev regime is headed.

As for why Italian singers were denied entry into Ukraine, it’s a big question for me. It is something I cannot understand.

Also, I believe that it is wrong to speak only about the problems of those who created vocal masterpieces and are good singers. This is not a matter of creative endeavour, professionalism or contribution to global culture. It is a matter of nationalism and extremism, which do not have an adequate view on reality and which do not know any borders.

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Question: Israel has attacked the Gaza Strip and Syria; many have been killed and wounded. If Israel attacks Iranian military advisers in Syria, what will Russia’s reaction be?

Maria Zakharova: I really hope the hypothetical scenario you describe will not come about. Neither do I think it possible or necessary to comment on it in such a hypothetical context. I would say this is the most dangerous scenario, fraught with disastrous consequences.

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Question: Is there a way to stop the US sanctions machine? As a journalist, I can see that Iran is fulfilling the JCPOA requirements, which is confirmed by the IAEA. However, the sanctions against Iran are only getting worse. Some companies in Russia do not even want to mess with Iran for fear of fines and sanctions. This violates Iran’s rights. Is there a way out of this situation? Can any statements be made by the Security Council, or the UN General Assembly?

Maria Zakharova: There have been statements in support of the JCPOA, and vigorous action has been taken (perhaps the EU could have been more active) to develop alternative mechanisms for building relations with Iran, including in the financial sector.

There is a theoretical point here, which each state should at least consider. Right now, everyone believes it is all about Washington's phobias in relation to several specific countries that the United States cannot pressure in any other way except via sanctions. This is a big mistake. All those who believe they are safe are mistaken. There are historical examples, plenty of them.

The problem is that there is no systematic approach that would safeguard any state against Washington’s sanctions.

We can see that Washington is completely unpredictable – this has become an axiom in recent years. So, it is important that each state, government, and all political forces should realise that using sanctions as a unilateral policy, without the approval of the UN and its relevant agencies, is unacceptable on principle. They need to assume a proactive position on this issue, not just silently step aside and watch others fight.

Allow me to remind you that when such unilateral moves were made against Cuba, Russia said it was unacceptable at various UN platforms; we did this for decades, before sanctions were even considered against Moscow. We were not advocating for specific governments or individuals, but arguing that such a mechanism was unacceptable.

The same goes for North Korea. We insisted that there is a mechanism of the UN Security Council, and that sanctions adopted collectively, on the basis of the law and evidence transferred to the Council, would be effective. But no additional unilateral sanctions should be applied, because they are illegitimate. We supported this position not because sanctions were used with respect to Russia, but because this is our principled approach. It seems to me that all states could use it. This way the situation might change globally.

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Question: A clarifying question about the contingent of Russian specialists in Venezuela, I am interested in the facts: how big is the group and does it include Defence Ministry personnel or private military companies?

Maria Zakharova: Why are you so interested in this? Why is the US so worried? I can see it is a sensitive issue for the United States, given that all the top-level officials in the current Administration have been making similar statements. What’s the problem? Right, you know the leaders of the country you lived in better than I do, so maybe you can explain to me, what is wrong with the fact that Russian specialists go to Venezuela? Juan Guaido’s wife comes to visit Donald Trump – fine, they sit there chatting. Now what is wrong with Russian specialists? What is the problem? No laws have been violated, everything is done openly and transparently, no one is hiding anything.

If, in general, these specialists do not have the right to visit any agencies controlled by Nicolas Maduro, this is a matter of principle. We disagree with that. We do not view this government as illegitimate. It is legitimate for us, as well as for a large number of other states and for the UN. They want specialists, so they arrive; they don't want specialists, no one arrives. Why is this causing such hysteria around the world? What is the problem? How long they will be there, what they are doing there – if it fits within the legal framework, it should not worry anyone.

As for private military companies, as you call them, this is not a question for official Russian representatives, because, as you understand, we are not responsible for them. Where they are, what they call themselves, or what you call them, has nothing to do with us.

There are military experts implementing contracts on military technical cooperation. How many, exactly? I would say, after so many photos have been published, you could have already counted them.

This is not a question for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I can ask my colleagues. But I repeat: everything was done openly, for everyone to see. Just do not get too stressed in any case.

I am surprised by this fuss over our specialists in Venezuela, while we have been waiting for a month for Donald Trump's promise to withdraw his specialists from Syria to be fulfilled. When will you recall your specialists? No one can say, not even Donald Trump himself. What about Afghanistan, Iraq, where they are being alternately pulled in and out? Everything is legal with us; but over there, we are not so sure.

 

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