Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, July 17, 2019
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva Tatyana Valovaya
- OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Lamberto Zannier’s visit to the Russian Federation
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Latin America
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly Maria Fernanda Espinosa
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the Kingdom of Thailand
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in Russia-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting
- Ukraine’s Law “On ensuring the functioning of the Ukrainian language as the state language” comes into force
- Developments in and around Venezuela
- US mercenaries in Syria
- Russia-Syria news conference “Who is using chemical weapons in Syria?”, The Hague, July 12, 2019
- 41st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council
- Statements regarding Russia’s interference in the election in Argentina
- The House hearing on United States Efforts to Counter Russian Disinformation and Malign Influence
- Global Conference for Media Freedom in London
- Denial of diplomatic visas to teachers of the Anglo-American School
- The importance of taking out a medical insurance when going abroad
- Possible impact of anti-Iranian sanctions on the construction of Bushehr nuclear power plant Unit 2 and reconstruction of the Arak reactor
- Situation involving Russian School of Estonia Chair Mstislav Rusakov
- Ankara purchases Russia’s S-400 air missile defence system
- EU sanctions against Turkey
- Russia-Japan talks on Kuril Islands
- Tunisia update
- Possible Russian mediation between US and Iran
- US withdrawal from JCPOA
- Outcome of Afghan settlement talks between government and Taliban
On June 22, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold a meeting in Moscow with newly appointed Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva Tatyana Valovaya, and with the heads of the United Nations Information Centre and Russian representative offices of international organisations headquartered in Geneva.
The meeting will focus on a wide range of current issues on the political and socioeconomic agendas that are discussed at UN Geneva and the prospects for improving effectiveness of cooperation within the above international organisations.
The appointment of Tatyana Valovaya to such an important post is recognition of her professional and personal qualities, her merits as a member of the Board (Minister) of the Eurasian Economic Commission, and also her contribution to the development of integration associations both to solve economic problems at the national level and to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Thanks to her initiative, the Commission was the first among such associations to present a report on the achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals by the EAEU countries at the Political Forum on Sustainable Development in 2017.
We count on further strengthening of Geneva’s contribution to the development of global cooperation and the preservation of its significant role as a depoliticised platform for resolving and discussing international issues and the development of sectoral cooperation without prejudice against individual regions, countries or categories of individuals.
OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Lamberto Zannier will visit the Russian Federation on July 22-26.
During his visit, Lamberto Zannier will meet with federal authorities in Moscow, including leaders of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly and the Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will receive Mr Zannier on July 23. They are expected to discuss, among other things, the declining conditions for Russian language speakers in Ukraine and the Baltic countries.
The High Commissioner plans to visit Kazan on July 24-25 where he will meet with President of the Republic of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov and other regional ministers and officials.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s tour of Latin America is scheduled for July 23 through July 27. The minister will pay official visits to Cuba on July 23-24 and Suriname on July 26-27 and will also attend a BRICS Foreign Ministers Meeting in Brazil on July 25-26.
On July 24, Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla in Havana. The ministers are expected to discuss the most important issues on the bilateral, international and regional agendas. Lavrov also plans to have several meetings with other Cuban leaders.
On July 25-26, Sergey Lavrov will be in Brazil to attend a BRICS Foreign Ministers Meeting.
At their meeting in Rio de Janeiro, the foreign ministers will look into issues on the international and regional agendas, such as efforts to maintain peace and security and resolve violent international conflicts. They will focus on ways to coordinate the approaches of the BRICS countries in key multilateral forums, step up joint work to counter terrorism and transnational organised crime and ensure international information security.
The ministers will review strategic cooperation between the BRICS countries in three key areas – political, economic and cultural – and also discuss progress in preparations for the 11th BRICS Summit scheduled to take place in Brasilia on November 13-14.
On July 26, Sergey Lavrov will meet with Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo on the sidelines of the meeting of the BRICS Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Rio de Janeiro. The ministers will thoroughly discuss cooperation between Russia and Brazil as part of a strategic partnership, in particular, in trade, the economy, investment activities, science and engineering. Regional affairs and prospects for cooperation in key multilateral formats, such as the UN, BRICS and the G20, will be given priority.
Sergey Lavrov will meet with Suriname’s Foreign Minister Yldiz Deborah Pollack-Beighle in Paramaribo on July 27 to see if it is possible to further expand relations between Russia and Suriname in various areas. The programme also includes a ceremonial meeting with President of the Republic of Suriname Desi Bouterse.
The forthcoming meetings show that cooperation between Russia and its partners in Latin America and the Caribbean region is steadily gaining momentum.
On July 29, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly Maria Fernanda Espinosa will meet with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as part of her visit to Moscow.
The parties will address most topical political and socioeconomic issues on the agenda of the global organisation’s main consultative body, including the reform of the UN Security Council, invigorating the work of the General Assembly, climate change and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
Moscow highly appreciates the activities Ms Espinosa is carrying out as the President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly. We have taken note of her active efforts aimed at strengthening the multipolar world order, searching for collective responses to modern challenges and threats and establishing constructive cooperation in the General Assembly.
On July 30-31, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a visit to Bangkok where he will have talks with Foreign Minister of Thailand Don Pramudwinai. The topics of their substantive discussion will include the current state and prospects of building up bilateral cooperation in political, economic and cultural affairs with a focus on fulfilling high-level agreements. The parties will also compare their approaches to currently important international and regional problems.
On July 31 in Bangkok, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold a regular meeting with his colleagues from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It will be the first meeting in this format since the Russia-ASEAN Summit which took place in Singapore in November 2018 where the relations between our country and the association reached a new level of strategic partnership. Therefore, the foreign ministers will need to focus on implementing the decisions made at the top level.
The aim of our efforts will be to promote Russia’s long-term interests in the Asia-Pacific Region (APR), strengthening cooperation with the association, including at such ASEAN-centric platforms as the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) on security matters, and creating a balanced, equal and relevant architecture of inter-state relations.
Meeting participants will analyse the measures taken by the parties in politics, trade and economy, social, cultural and humanitarian fields, as well as agree upon further steps towards expanding our cooperation. Our common priorities include improving coordination on key international and regional affairs, bolstering joint action against new challenges and threats, including counter-terrorist measures and enhancing security of information and communications technology.
On the practical level, we will concentrate on cooperation in high-tech and innovative spheres, draw the attention of our ASEAN partners to our developments in improving the digital economy, energy and infrastructure improvement.
In the context of delivering on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s initiative of building a Greater Eurasian Partnership, we will raise the topic of developing links between ASEAN, the EAEU and the SCO based on the three organisations’ similar fundamental goals as well as principles of operation.
July 16 will be remembered as a sad day in the contemporary history of Ukraine.
The discriminatory Law “On ensuring the functioning of the Ukrainian language as the state language” has come into force in Ukraine. Despite its fancy title, it in fact legalises forced Ukrainisation of the multi-ethnic Ukrainian society, where the majority use Russian in everyday life.
Yesterday, I read discussions and statements by Ukrainian politicians. Honestly, I do not know what to call Pavel Klimkin, whether he is a former, or a current minister, politician…I cannot figure out the political environment as regards the positions and areas of responsibility of an entire range of Ukrainian politicians, so I will just call him Pavel Klimkin. While making condescending remarks on the statements of relevant international agencies and public organisations, Klimkin said: “They should come to Kiev, walk the streets of Ukrainian cities and listen to what language people use.” According to Klimkin, people speak Russian. Well nobody has ever doubted that. The thing is that the law says nothing about it and actually states the opposite. And we know very well what language Ukrainian people speak and think.
By the way, I think that those foreign officials who hoped that the law would be amended and harmonised with reality were disappointed by this decision. In fact, we have seen criticism of Kiev from those who are supposed to observe whether states fulfil their obligations at the international level.
Now, according to the law, the Ukrainian language must become obligatory in absolutely all areas of the country’s everyday life: in government agencies, from central to local, healthcare, culture, education, the mass media, the housing and utilities sector, consumer services and others. Yesterday, bloggers wrote about it separately. How can people who speak Russian be classified as a minority? This is nonsense. Minorities will be able to speak their languages only in everyday life and during religious rituals. A system has been introduced imposing large fines for the violation of this law, which is a barbarity for the 21st century.
The law was adopted in violation of human rights and constitutional norms, without taking into account the opinion of Ukrainian citizens or international legal expertise. In addition, it contradicts the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements approved by UN Security Council Resolution No 2202, which guarantees the residents of Donbass the right to linguistic identity. I would like to remind you that it was the language issue that led to the domestic crisis in eastern Ukraine. There is no doubt that the adoption of the language law will postpone the prospects of a peaceful settlement in Donbass and could result in a further escalation in the region.
In this connection, we believe it is necessary to draw attention to Ukraine’s blatant disregard of the Minsk Agreements. On July 16, a meeting of the UN Security Council on the Ukrainian language law took place at the initiative of Russia.
Speaking at the meeting, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo admitted the need for strict adherence to the ethnic, cultural and linguistic features of all groups in Ukraine, while Lamberto Zannier, High Commissioner on National Minorities for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), urged Kiev to listen to the opinion of the minorities when developing such documents.
Here, I am referring to the relevant provisions of international conventions, as well as statements by foreign officials about ethnic minorities. I reiterate, how can people who have spoken, thought and used Russian throughout their entire lives be considered a minority in Ukraine?
Another thing that attracted our attention yesterday was the decision by Ukraine’s Constitutional Court ruled that the notorious Law on Education, which provoked a lot of criticism, both within the country and abroad, complies with the Constitution. It is regrettable that the body which is supposed not only to monitor but also to ensure compliance with the Constitution, has acted in accordance with the political climate.
During his election campaign, Ukraine’s President Vladimir Zelensky promised to carefully study the language issue in Ukraine which has caused such heated debate. It was fateful for Ukraine. So far, however, Kiev has been sending contradictory signals and there is no consensus yet.
Evidence of this discord can been seen in a draft law on the abolition of the Law “On ensuring the functioning of the Ukrainian language as the state language” that was submitted yesterday to Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada. When I hear that this “confusion and vacillation” is a sign of democracy and freethinking in Ukraine, the creation of a new Ukrainian state, I think on the contrary, it shows chaos in the country and the lack of either a national consensus or any attempts to reach one.
I believe that the objective of any government is to consolidate society rather than to disengage, especially against the backdrop of a long-standing domestic conflict. We will continue to monitor the situation and draw the attention of the global community to the violation of linguistic rights in Ukraine.
Russia fully supports the commitment of government and opposition representatives to continue direct talks for achieving a settlement in Venezuela. The reports we are receiving on the latest round of talks that took place on Barbados and were mediated by Norway give rise to cautious optimism. Of course, this is a lengthy process that follows its own pattern. We hope that the sides refrain from exchanging political claims. It would be highly desirable if they focused on discussing mutually acceptable options constructively around the negotiating table in order to put Venezuela back on track for sustainable development.
In the current environment when not a day goes by without Venezuela suffering from outrageous violations of international law, including sanctions, outright interference in domestic affairs and barefaced aggression, following the main medical ethics principle of abstaining from doing any harm is essential. This rule also applies to all other international initiatives that are intended to help the people of Venezuela. Those behind them should think whether any additional efforts can hinder the Norwegian format. Acting otherwise would mean following the inhumane divide et impera, i.e. divide and rule, principle. This is something that should be avoided. In fact, the only way to explain why certain political forces call on the Venezuelan military to break their oath is that they have opted from the second principle. By the same token, this is the only way to explain the tightening of unilateral sanctions that are hurting the most vulnerable segments of the population, and the attempts to engineer some kind of an exchange whereby children suffering from cancer would get treatment in exchange for political concessions from the legitimate Venezuelan government. This can hardly be regarded as a responsible posture.
In this connection, we once again call on the international and regional actors who are genuinely interested in improving the situation in Venezuela to heed the calls coming from the Norwegian mediators and exercise restraint in their statements and actions in order not to interfere with the negotiating process that is taking shape.
This is the position Russia intends to follow.
According to the incoming reports, in connection with the planned reduction of US troops deployed to the Syrian Arab Republic, the US Command has been increasing the number of private military contractors in the country’s northern and north-eastern regions.
It is reported that the number of private military contractors in Syria exceeds 4,000, and as many as 540 people arrived in the country in the second half of June, including 70 command personnel and instructors.
These mercenaries are transported by car in groups of 12 to 16 people.
The main job of the private military contractors is to train combat units that are loyal to Washington, as well as to protect oil and gas infrastructure and ensure security.
This subject may not deserve any special attention if not for the fact that these private military contractors get their orders from the US Central Command.
The “exploits” of US private military contractors are well known, for instance in Iraq. This is just one of the recent examples. These US soldiers of fortune have hardly changed since then.
These US mercenaries will be present on Syrian soil illegally in violation of all international norms and rules, which is another outrageous fact.
Talking about Syria, I would like to go back to an event that took place at the end of last week.
On July 12, a major news conference was held in The Hague under the title “Who is using chemical weapons in Syria?” Among its participants were Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the OPCW Alexander Shulgin, who moderated the event, as well as Syria’s Permanent Representative to the OPCW Bassam Sabbagh, Deputy Chief of Russia's NBC protection troops Maj. Gen. Sergei Kikot, and President of the Foundation for the Study of Democracy Maxim Grigoriev.
The news conference attracted an audience of about 100 people, including reporters from the top Western news agencies and holdings such as UK’s Reuters, France’s Agence France-Press (AFP), and other media outlets from across Europe and around the world, despite the fact that the United States and its allies directly prohibited members of the Western group or representatives of the EU or NATO to be present at the event (speak about democracy!).
I will spare you a detailed account of this news conference. You can find the transcript both in Russian and English on the Foreign Ministry’s official website and via our social media accounts. A video recording is available for those who prefer an audio-visual format.
Let me just draw your attention to the fact that the news conference was based on real evidence. As sad as it is, there have been insistent attempts lately to persuade us that there is a parallel reality, and many in the West believe in it. We are being persuaded that in this new parallel reality the so-called highly-likely principle can be regarded as an indisputable argument. This is completely surreal, no matter how you look at it. It does not matter for them whether there is any evidence. It does not matter anymore. They just say: “this is what we believe to be highly likely,” and for them this is the truth. So the news conference in The Hague demonstrated the extent to which information can be objective. You will hardly find any evaluative judgements in what was said at the news conference, just testimonies, facts and questions that were mostly not rhetorical but real questions that we want to be answered. We believe that they have to be answered so that the international community understands the reality it lives in.
There is the report released in April 2018 by the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma, and the information it presents. But there are also facts exposing inaccuracies and inconsistencies, to say the least, that were actually outright falsifications. You know, nothing personal, only facts and questions.
Let me emphasise once again that Russia proposed holding a briefing session as part of the 91st session of the OPCW Executive Council with all FFM experts who took part in drafting the report in order to clarify the situation and what actually happened in Douma and get exhaustive answers. This initiative was supported by a number of other delegations, but we faced a refusal. The OPCW Technical Secretariat referred to a vote during the Executive Council’s March session when the US and its allies opposed a debate on the merits of the report.
Let me share some of the key messages from the news conference on the activities of the OPCW and the facts Russia and Syria have. We would like to draw your attention to these facts in order to once again stress their significance. We would very much like the OPCW to pay attention to them, not just to take note of them but to actually start working on these findings.
– Seeking to derail the investigation by the FFM in Douma, the United States, France and the United Kingdom carried out a massive missile and bombing strike against the Syrian territory just a few hours before the arrival of OPCW experts to Damascus. Therefore, they showed their true attitude toward the OPCW: while proclaiming their commitment to the elimination of chemical weapons and the strengthening of the OPCW’s role, they completely disregard it or seek to manipulate the organisation, or both. At the same time, Syria and the Russian military created the most favourable conditions to enable OPCW representatives to work there and ensured their safety.
– The 100-page report does not mention last year’s briefing at the OPCW headquarters with 11 Syrians who inadvertently appeared in the well-known video recording by the White Helmets. At the briefing, they said that this was a staged incident and a provocation. The FFM was clearly guided by a flawed method whereby it preferred contacts with representatives of NGOs, despite their close affiliation with criminal groups and terrorists, while ignoring verified information from official Syrian sources and witnesses who were ready to speak out. This means that the OPCW accepts reports and sophisticated video sequences, while refusing to talk to witnesses who were present at the site, can tell what happened and even answer additional questions. But all this is ignored.
– The conclusions contained in FFM’s official report were refuted by the findings from a report by an FFM member, Ian Henderson, an Australian national. FFM claims in its report that two cylinders containing chlorine were dropped from a high altitude, which automatically suggested that Syria was to be held accountable due to its use of air power. Mr Henderson was involved in the engineering assessment. In his report he wrote that “there is a probability that the cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from an aircraft.” Since Douma was controlled by fighters on April 7, they were the only ones who could place the cylinders there.
– Witnesses were interviewed in a selective manner. Out of 33 witnesses only seven were interviewed in Syria, and the involvement in the incident of 26 witnesses who were interviewed outside Syria is not proven or questionable. The report omits all the information on terrorist groups that had access to toxic chemicals, and fails to mention the links between the White Helmets and Al-Nusra Front or other terrorist organisations.
– Russia submitted to the OPCW Director-General and sent to the organisation’s Technical Secretariat evidence presented by Russian experts proving that the cylinders were manually placed where they were discovered instead of being dropped from an aircraft.
– Here are the takeaways from interviews carried out as part of Maxim Grigoriev’s investigation and a survey of 300 local residents by Syrian volunteers: people who were inside the building on the day and night of the alleged attack (these people are alive, they have addresses, documents and names, and they are ready to speak out and share the story of what they saw and experienced, but no one wants to listen) not only were not hurt, but did not notice the alleged chemical attack. There was not a single resident from the building or the neighbourhood in the video footage of bodies from the FFM report. How is that possible? Therefore, these data prove without any doubt that the bodies were placed there in order to stage the event, and what happened on the April 7, 2018 was a mere fabrication.
– Some witnesses reported that the fighters who came with the White Helmets brought the bodies, and pushed local residents out in the street, threatening them with arms, while blocking others inside their apartments. After that, they proceeded with shooting the sequence and brought the bodies out in the street. Witnesses believe that the bodies were brought from Al-Tawba prison, where fighters kept people they caught, including women and children, and that people appearing in the footage were killed for being used in this staged incident. Maxim Grigoriev also showed a testimony by a Syrian man, who recognised his brother killed earlier during artillery fire, whose body was used by the White Helmets as a “victim” of the chemical attack.
– The Syrian authorities did not deny FFM members access to burial sites for exhumation. This was a matter of respecting the customs of the Middle East and North Africa. The White Helmets were the ones who destroyed the bodies by burning them before the Syrian authorities came to this neighbourhood. As we know, it was all later presented the other way around, and those who were involved in fabrications became the primary sources of information, while the true primary source was accused of spreading misinformation.
Attempts made by the United States to replace international laws with its own rules placed the OPCW in a tight spot. Under pressure from the US and its acolytes, in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and to the detriment of the UN Security Council’s authority, the organisation was given the job of identifying the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks, which does not fall within its mandate. These and other messages were emphasised and backed with evidence at the news conference.
The US imposes its own rules on the FFM and uses them at its own discretion. At first the US demanded that everyone acquiesces to the FFM findings, arguing that the mission was staffed with the best professionals. But when the expert findings became at odds with the opinion of the US, the Americans called for trusting some outside experts rather than the FFM. But who are these experts? Who are these people? We would like to know what their level of expertise is and whether they can be trusted. At the end of the day, we want to look at their CVs.
Despite all the assurances that these experts can be trusted, all this information is kept secret, including their names. Judging by the available information, one of these people can be hardly viewed as a model of impartiality and integrity. Of course, no one bothered to provide an explanation that would satisfy experts, why should the identity of these people be kept secret from an international agency, its member states, delegations and the professional community? Why not arrange a normal expert conversation and ask some questions?
It is alleged that this is a matter of their security. Does this mean that it is not safe for experts to say something at The Hague? In reality, the idea is simply to keep them out of the public eye because they will inevitably face questions, and the answers they provide will contradict the conclusions that are being imposed upon us.
Having compared the incident in question with the chemical incident in Khan Sheikhun, which provided a formal pretext for a missile strike by the US Navy against Shayrat airbase, participants in the news conference agreed on the need to prevent punitive action of this kind by the United States and its allies who used as a pretext a staged provocation by their puppets from the White Helmets. It was also emphasised during the news conference that the FFM has to be reformed as soon as possible, since it increasingly tends to intentionally distort the reality and avoid facts in its work. The Russian representatives called for strict compliance with the CWC and OPCW’s regulations.
Once again, I urge you to pay special attention to this transcript and video material. I cannot list all the arguments and this is not my intention, since all this information is available on the Foreign Ministry website, including videos, interviews, figures, facts, geographical locations, etc. Please, go and take a look once more. I assure you that you will find many interesting things, if you are really into this problem.
The 41st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council took place in Geneva between June 24 and July 12.
Participants had a thorough exchange of opinion on a wide range of topical issues on the international human rights agenda. These included action against racism and human trafficking, extrajudicial killings, ensuring the independence of judges and lawyers, observing freedom of speech and freedom of peaceful assembly as well as protecting the rights of migrants and internally displaced persons. The results of the Universal Periodic Review of 14 UN member states were approved. A total of 26 resolutions on various aspects of human rights protection were passed during the session.
The Russian delegation played an active role in the session and consistently pursued the course of helping its foreign partners to understand that it is important to depoliticise human rights protection; it is unacceptable to use it as an excuse for interfering in the domestic affairs of sovereign states, and it is necessary to build a constructive and mutually respectful dialogue on topical issues with regard to protecting and promoting human rights.
We noted recent statements made by one of the emotional Argentine MPs who, ahead of the general election on October 27, tried to accuse Russia of interfering in Argentina’s domestic affairs by supporting a presidential candidate from the opposition.
We would like to stress with great certainty that Argentina is Russia’s strategic partner and friend. Our countries enjoy long-term relations which are not opportunistic in nature. They are also characterised by a continuity which indicates beyond any doubt that developing friendly and constructive links is in the interests of the leading political forces and the widest spectrum of the population in Argentina.
For our part, we are committed to strengthening cooperation across all areas. This cooperation is valuable in itself and is not directed against anybody, either in Argentina or elsewhere.
Perhaps not everybody likes it hence these bogus stories about ‘Russia’s interference’ that occasionally surface in the media. Tellingly, sometimes in these stories you can catch a glimpse of direct references to government sources in Washington.
All of this is out-of-date. I would like to say, including to certain politicians in Argentina, that these are last year’s trends. Right now cooperation with Russia is in style. If you have not grasped this yet, I am giving you a hint. Perhaps all this would not be worth responding to if it was not for two things.
First, sadly, playing the Russia card has already become a political technology tool. This method is on its last legs. Do not fall victim to these tricks especially if they have foreign origin.
Second, we noted with satisfaction that there was a healthy reaction to these claims in Argentina, both from the government and the opposition. Almost immediately, Argentina stressed the absurdity of this kind of slur. We cannot help but welcome their common sense. If anybody needs additional guarantees we are willing to strengthen cooperation with all countries, including Argentina, in the area of international information security and to promote both multilateral and bilateral efforts. By the way, our cooperation in this area with our Argentine colleagues is just fine.
We took note of the House hearing on the Trump administration’s efforts to counter “Russian disinformation and malign influence.”
The speakers – Coordinator of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center Lea Gabrielle, State Department’s Coordinator for US Assistance to Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia Jim Kulikowski, and CEO of the United States Agency for Global Media John Lansing – were vying to scare members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs by the “global scale of Russia’s meddling” in the affairs of the United States and its allies.
They claimed, among other things, that the “Kremlin’s operations” included election “subversion,” disinformation, bribery, blackmail, and the bankrolling of pro-Russia “agents of influence.” In principle, this is an entire set of primary claims made by persons with mental disabilities when diagnosed for spy mania and all that sort of thing. As usual, they referred to RT and Sputnik as Russia’s main “tools.” The Russian Orthodox Church was described as the main element of the Kremlin’s “soft power.” Moreover, Ms Gabrielle openly accused Russia of political assassinations and coup attempts, all of which was allegedly aimed at interfering with the US global leadership. I am almost tempted to continue her line of thought: interfering with the US leadership in political assassinations and coup attempts. I think she has just forgotten to add this. As is only natural, it was claimed that this country was attempting to shatter the trans-Atlantic unity. Well, regrettably we had to read other people’s letters, but it was against our free will. I would not have read them but for the fact that the British Ambassador’s correspondence with the Foreign Office has been made public. So, please don’t tell us anything about the trans-Atlantic unity or how we are trying to shatter it. If there is anyone who is attempting to shatter it, you would do better to search him out at home. Do reread the British Ambassador’s correspondence with London: it has much to say on this topic. Ms Gabrielle believes that as usual our main goal is to destabilise the West as a whole. Well, it is absolutely stable, and we are trying to destabilise it.
Not surprisingly, the invitees were demonstrating resolve to counter the “Russian offensive,” calling for more funds to be allocated to the propaganda organisations affiliated with the Department of State. To cut a long story short, they needed money but were short of a pretext for saying so. So, they decided to have a dig at Russia again. Available data show that the State Department’s allocations for countering the “Russian influence” in Europe, Eurasia and Central Asia amounted to $103 million in 2017 and $54 million in 2018. These funds were used to squeeze allegedly “fake” media out of the international information space and replace them with the “right” media. So, if we call things by their proper names, the money was used to shape an information environment. To be sure, the speakers said they would like to see local journalists loyal to Washington as heads of these media outlets. This is also clear.
They emphasised the key role of the US embassies in Ukraine, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and a number of other states in training the local government authorities and civil society to “repel Moscow’s propaganda attacks” with an eye to countering “Kremlin disinformation inside Russia itself.” These are the US frontline tides. This is what they are doing in America instead of promoting normal and mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia. To address this task, they have even started promoting a television broadcaster alternative to Russian television channels in Russia and neighbouring countries.
One has the impression that apart from addressing domestic political agendas, the infusion of yet another portion of Russophobia into the US political establishment serves the purpose of eliciting additional budget allocations for the steadily growing US propaganda army. It is clear that countering the so-called “Russian disinformation” is just a pretext for financing real US propaganda. Their aim is clearly to influence the audiences both inside and outside.
I cannot help but once again mention the Global Conference for Media Freedom in London. We have already commented on the event that took place in London on July 10-11, both at the briefing and in answers to media questions. Let me remind you that the organisers of an international event on freedom of the press denied accreditation to a number of media outlets, including Russia Today and Sputnik, because of “their active role in spreading disinformation.” We gave the London authorities time to either take back what they said or to provide evidence to support these claims. Neither has been done. We dismissed this absolutely aggressive act in the media environment by the London authorities represented by the Foreign Office as a classic example of a fake news attack and misinformation. If you accuse somebody of something you must provide evidence in support of your case. If you fail to provide a single proof, the case is closed and it is you who is misinforming, not the Russian media.
As I said before, the British barred the official Russian delegation from this conference. My colleagues had something to say but were prevented from saying it. So I will say it for them.
Let us summarise the outcome of the conference. It might take a while. When you ban our media outlets and give them no chance to speak, you reap what you sow.
By hosting the conference, London clearly demonstrated that there is a competition among Western states for a palm of victory in the international media environment. In other words, whoever is the loudest defender of freedom of speech and independent journalism will, apparently, be the good guy. This is strange reasoning. But we are witnessing a real battle between the Western states to host increasingly bigger and more pretentious events meant to defend freedom of speech and protect it from fake news and disinformation. Now, let us take a closer look at this event and what it was like. The organisers owed the deliberate bombast and supposedly wide international representation (there were indeed a great number of high-profile delegates) to the fact that foreign ministers of the Commonwealth of Nations were holding a meeting literally next door. They simply moved from one room to the other, ensuring a high turnout. A true story.
It is not difficult to understand that the event was part of political infighting, namely British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s struggle for leadership of the Conservative Party – where he is not a leader at all right now. Of course, it was a platform for political infighting. No holds barred. The event had nothing to do with international media cooperation and freedom of speech. I can prove this to you with the facts at hand.
Multiple repetitive decisions made at the conference shared the same keynote slogan: protect journalists from their own governments. UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland announced a new coalition for freedom of the press. According to the organisers, there is also a plan to create an “international task force” that will “help governments to deliver their commitments on media freedom.” Moreover, annual meetings on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly will review the task force’s work and develop recommendations for the countries where the problem is handled least efficiently. A “contact group of likeminded countries” will be established to stand up for freedom of speech “in unison” when this freedom is, according to the group, threatened. In light of this, I would like to remind our British and Canadian colleagues (who stood behind the stage and directed the event and then went out to get into the saddle) that there are currently a whole number of dedicated international platforms for discussing journalists’ security and protection of rights, freedom of speech and decision-making. These platforms include the UN, UNESCO, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, including the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media’s office. Perhaps you should continue working within the existing formats instead of duplicating them and creating politicised clones and soap bubbles? Most importantly, you should avoid appropriating freedom of speech and assuming responsibility for its regulation. This is the last thing that the media community needs.
It was also announced that a so-called Global Media Defence Fund would be established, to be administered by UNESCO. Great Britain will provide GBP 3 million over the next five years while Canada will allocate CAD 1 million. They suggested asking for handouts from other countries. The following main goals of the fund were declared: providing legal advice to journalists, organising safety training for media professionals and creating media communities. In other words, journalists whose independence has been a matter of struggle for so many years, including for governments, must create their communities through government mechanisms funded by governments and under the shared control of Great Britain and Canada (the headquarters, apparently, must also be based there). This plan includes creating communities for freelancers.
The UK’s Department of International Development is launching a freedom of press programme costing GBP 15 million that will “seek to tackle the root causes of the global crisis in independent media.” It is easy to guess how this money will actually be spent. I think they will just spend it on propaganda.
I cannot pass over the initiative of Foreign Office Special Envoy on Media Freedom Amal Clooney who invited a “panel of legal experts” to develop and promote some legal mechanisms for the protection of journalists’ rights as well as to provide legal advice to governments on observing these mechanisms. I understand that all high-ranking British officials wonder what they will do when they are no longer high-ranking British officials. Right away, they start consulting governments on the same issues and problems that they created when they were heads of state or held other high-level posts.
I would like remind you about just one thing – namely, the great importance of everything that they spoke about in London, those lofty and beautiful words, the great importance of protecting freedom of speech and journalists. My impression is that London has already made the first step in this direction. Julian Assange is very safe and it is in London that he is so safe. Now, he is finally protected from any threats from open society. British lawyers and human rights officers packed him away so well that, I am afraid, we will not see or hear from him for a very long time. It is so incredibly cynical to convene an entire conference and discuss freedom of speech in the country where he was held hostage and subjected to moral and psychological experiments for so many years, where he was detained, arrested and basically caged up for many years. This entire conference amid Assange’s arrest in London resembles a cat symposium on mouse protection.
Another similarly remarkable persona is the second conference organiser and champion in the battle against disinformation and for freedom of the press, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland. Her story requires some background information.
In a 2015 interview for the Toronto Star, Chrystia Freeland revealed that her grandfather, Mykhailo Chomiak, and her grandmother, both of whom she called refugees, fled from Ukraine immediately after the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. That story was clearly intended to make us sympathise with her ancestors. She said so herself.
However, an up-close picture emerged from the declassified Polish state archives and the official archives of Canada’s Alberta province where there are personal belongings, letters and newspaper clippings that belonged to Chrystia Freeland’s grandfather.
From the very beginning of WWII, Mykhailo Chomiak was a voluntary Nazi collaborator. On his behalf, the fascist occupation authorities “mopped up” the editor-in-chief’s desk at Krakivski visti in Krakow. Former editor-in-chief Moshe Kafner was sent to the Belzec extermination camp where he died in 1942. Mykhailo Chomiak befriended the “commander-in-chief” of the Nazi press in Poland Emil Gassner and became the head of the main Nazi propaganda outlet in Galicia. Krakivski visti encouraged aggressive antisemitism, praised the formation of the 14th SS-Volunteer Division “Galicia” in Lvov, the Nazis’ crimes in Babi Yar and the invaders’ other feats. When Mykhailo Chomiak realised that the Red Army was approaching in 1945, he and his “masters” fled to Vienna where he continued his pro-Nazi propaganda.
After Europe’s liberation from the Nazis, Mykhailo Chomiak and his family wound up in Bavaria where the intelligence base of US ground troops was located at the time. Chomiak started to actively cooperate with US intelligence in exchange for a “full board” arrangement that included housing, food and a monetary allowance. His living situation was quite good. He was fine except that Polish law enforcement continued to search for war criminal Mykhailo Chomiak up until his death in the 1980s.
What does this have to do with Chrystia Freeland and the London conference? Here it goes. She is fighting against misinformation. In 2016, Chrystia Freeland tweeted that she was proud of her grandfather. She also tweeted that Mykhailo Chomiak “worked hard to return freedom and democracy to Ukraine.”
When the truth about Mykhailo Chomiak was exposed by the Canadian media, journalists started asking the minister hardball questions. But Chrystia Freeland not only denied her grandfather’s past as a Nazi collaborator, this fighter against misinformation and fake news also called the exposé part of a Russian disinformation campaign. It was not until later that she, through her press secretary, had to admit those facts and called them a “difficult chapter in her late grandfather’s past.” And today this person is in charge of the world’s battle against disinformation? What a way to manipulate public opinion. And now this person is teaching the world about freedom of the press and trying to protect journalists?
In conclusion, I would like to say that this London benefit show was another attempt to monopolise the international media environment by creating real “soap bubbles.” Why were the official Russian delegation and Russian media denied access? Because we would have told them all this in person. Because they needed to do everything, anything – deny visas, cancel accreditation, stand in the door – so that we would not be able to speak out at that conference, ask questions or simply put a vast number of international documents on the table regarding the protection of freedom of speech, which already exist but for some reason do not work, partly through the fault of our Western partners. What is this new thing that the international community needs to protect freedom of speech without turning to the documents of the UN, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and other bodies? We would have asked these questions had the organisers not done everything to prevent the Russian delegation from attending.
We have read a lot about the American school in Moscow. First, we saw an article in The New York Times, a US newspaper, and took a pause. You may have noticed that we are quick to comment on everything, but this time we held back because this was an article. It said that once again Russia had shown its bad qualities and denied visas to American teachers who are to work at the American school and teach children, doing a good cause.
Why did we wait instead of posting this story in our fake news section? Because we wanted to give our US partners a chance to clear this up. Why should we work hard enough for both of us? We want to represent Russia only and speak only about Russia’s position. Why should we always comment on the facts that our American friends should give their comments on?
When we received clarification from the US Embassy, we were shocked, to tell the truth, because the blatant lies from US diplomats accredited in Moscow added up to the blatant lies in the article. They sent out information that Russia was really denying the visas to American teachers and undermining the educational process, and the US diplomats could not understand why Russia was doing so. This served as proof that the article in The New York Times was no coincidence. I am sure of this, and I have irrefutable evidence that this information was leaked through Washington and someone was told to write this article.
Of course, all of this is another piece of fake news. It is obviously false that Russia is denying visas to American teachers working in Moscow. This is a shameless lie, because the US (both journalists and diplomats) hid the truth. And if you do not tell the truth which you have known for many years, and if you are aware of the essence of this matter, then this is fake news. You are shaping the public opinion the way you need it, which is not true to the facts at all. And now about the facts. Teachers working at the American school in Moscow are sent to Russia as embassy employees holding diplomatic passports, although the school operates as a commercial organisation. Let me make this clear: there are schools based at embassies. This is how diplomatic life works. Most countries’ diplomats go on long missions abroad together with their families and children. Children must go to school somewhere and receive education in line with their national educational programme, so schools are established at places with diplomatic status. Based at the embassies, these schools also have diplomatic status. This is where primarily and mostly the children of the corresponding diplomats are taught. But all of this has nothing to do with the Anglo-American School in Moscow.
I would like to remind you that the school was moved from the US Embassy complex in Moscow in the mid-1990s without the approval of the Foreign Ministry, although this is stipulated by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations for all foreign missions. In addition, this school is located in a different part of the city, and diplomats’ children are in the minority there. This is open information. The school focused on providing paid educational services to anyone. To put it simply, in legal terms the school became a commercial organisation. There is no other way to classify it: it is not located within a diplomatic mission, it does business, providing services on a commercial basis for everyone. It selects people who can receive educational services for a fee. This does not comply with any diplomatic norms, so what diplomatic passports for teachers are we talking about? This is nonsense! By the way, we are speaking about the country that is very meticulous in making sure that a visa corresponds to the purpose of the visit and a passport’s colour matches what its bearer does. We can see how seriously the US authorities treat everyone arriving in the US and how both individuals’ and entities’ activities must comply with the purpose of their travel.
Despite all of this, the US State Department issues diplomatic passports for American school teachers, which they continue to use to come to Russia. To put it simply, American teachers are equated with American diplomats. The US Embassy requests us to give them accreditation as their administrative employees with all the immunities and privileges of a diplomat. This means that a teacher at the American school has the same passport and status as the US Ambassador in Moscow. This school is not located within the diplomatic mission and operates as a commercial enterprise. You can have a look at their price list: the prices are very interesting there. If you believe the information published in the media today, that Russia has suddenly reconsidered and denied visas, that is a lie. We have been asking and trying to solve this issue with our American partners for at least 15 years, based on international law, the Vienna Convention, mutual respect, normal relations and the negotiation process. This has been going on for at least 15 years, but in fact even longer. We addressed it at different levels: through embassies, ministers and diplomatic correspondence. We said the same thing over again: let’s resolve the status of your school and your teachers. Instead, they refused to cooperate and discuss this issue, took provocative actions, planted information and now made a blatantly false claim. This is an information campaign. It is not clear why they need it.
Let me repeat (and this is very important), that we have been asking the US to smooth differences over the status of the school operating outside the embassy grounds as a commercial enterprise. We have been suggesting the US to bring it in line with the law. Let me stress once again that the US does not want to do this. It continues to count the teachers as embassy staff and does not want to make it a separate commercial enterprise operating according to Russian law. The US insists that this is the embassy school that has diplomatic immunity and diplomatic status, as well as its teachers.
We are very surprised to see the US Embassy spreading this information today while hiding all the facts. All that I am saying relates primarily to the US and not to Russia. It is a good question why they have hidden all these facts.
The children, whose parents pay an enormous amount of money for their education, are hostages of American politicians.
Every time, Washington continues to send teachers with diplomatic passports to Moscow and demands accreditation for them as administrative employees of the embassy. At the same time, the US does not issue visas to the same category of administrative and technical staff of Russian foreign missions. Apparently, the US officials have deliberately created this deadlock to contrive a new scandal or provocation, while shamelessly sacrificing the interests of people living both in the US and Russia.
But what is even more appalling is that over the last week, as we have learned, the US went even further and began intimidating and blackmailing some students’ parents. They received letters saying that they “should think about the future” and find a way out. The children’s education is now dependent on the status of their parents, who may find solutions or know important people. These parents are asking us what to do.
I would like to note that the school keeps silent, because it understands that this whole American story has gone too far and that the school has become part of political manipulations. However, it is completely unclear why children, parents and ordinary people have to suffer.
Another important point. I would like to remind you that more than two years ago the US authorities began a “visa war” against Russia’s diplomatic missions in the US: real ones, complying with all the provisions and conventions, both bilateral and multilateral, and not operating on a commercial basis and located someplace else. The US has been delaying issuing visas to new employees of our foreign missions for many months and even years. Direct visa denials have also become frequent. This is done intentionally and purposefully. They deliberately interfere with our staff rotation to make the normal operation of the Russian Embassy, consulates general and even the Permanent Mission to the UN in New York more difficult. In addition, the US authorities do not limit themselves to erecting visa barriers but create problems in several other areas. As you can see, for some time now, Russia has been taking reciprocal measures when it comes to visas. This is a forces measure that we had to take. Since Russian diplomats who are to replace those whose mission has ended cannot enter the US, we have to balance out the situation with the entry of US staff to Russia. We have spoken about this publicly and during talks many times. This is necessary in order to make progress with Russian foreign missions’ administrative staff, including secondary school teachers for schools at our embassy in Washington and the Permanent Mission to the UN in New York. The US Embassy is perfectly aware of this from our diplomatic correspondence and talks but keeps silent.
I would like to stress a very important point. Our schools operate on the grounds of our diplomatic missions and do not engage in commercial activities, while the US sends teachers of the Anglo-American School in Moscow as administrative employees of its embassy and at the same time does not issue visas for the same category of our missions’ employees. Why did The New York Times and the US Embassy keep silent about this?
In this context, the statement that Russia has denied visas for American teachers is a blatant lie. Russia has not denied anyone. On the contrary, we are ready to promptly issue visas to all the employees of US diplomatic missions in Russia, including school teachers, on the condition that Washington will do the same for the Russian staff. Our American partners are well aware of this.
We have suggested to the US State Department to normalise mutual visa issuance many times, but received a refusal in response. This is why we expected some positive shifts from the US, but instead you saw manipulation through the media.
Complaints about the delay in teachers’ arrival at the school affiliated with the US Embassy must be sent to Washington and not to Moscow. The unblocking of the visa process depends completely on the US authorities. They should stop visa denials. You know that they do this regularly. We have been speaking about this for a long time. We have done nothing proactive to make contacts between people, teachers or tourists more difficult. And you know this very well.
I would like to remind you about a story that has already become part of all the international relations manuals, in fact in the manuals’ section on international non-relations. You may remember that at the end of 2016 President Barack Obama decided to expel Russian diplomats from the US, taking the defeat of his Democrat colleague out on them. This was done barbarically; employees, their families, children, babies and pregnant women were given only a couple of days. Our employees sent from Moscow and granted entry in conformity with all the diplomatic and consular conventions were told to collect their things immediately. And this happened right before the New Year Eve.
Do you remember Russia’s response? I ask this question to all of those who have written today about Moscow’s barbaric denial of visas, the delay and so on. Do you remember the response? Let me remind you. In response, the US Embassy’s employees received tickets for their children to the New Year show at the Kremlin. And many people, among them public figures, demanded really harsh measures to be taken. However, we offered a gesture of goodwill to our partners despite their rude behaviour, because we believed it was not just a mistake but an attack on our bilateral relations and the people of our countries. We did not send any tickets this time because no New Year shows are held at the Kremlin in the summer.
I am ready to answer additional questions on this story and provide facts. I am kindly asking you not to be guided by fake materials published in US newspapers but by facts. The US has them. Please ask them a couple of follow-up questions based on what I have told you today. The main question is how long Russia has been offering Washington to settle these issues and hold relevant talks.
The holiday season is in full swing and many Russians are going abroad to take a break. I would like to point out the applicable law regarding paying medical costs in foreign countries.
According to Article 14 of Federal Law 114-FZ On the Procedure for Exit from the Russian Federation and Entry Into the Russian Federation, dated August 15, 1996, the payment for medical services provided to a Russian citizen abroad should be covered by an agreement on rendering medical services or an agreement on voluntary medical insurance. This also applies if individual or human remains, in fatal cases, have to be repatriated back to the Russian Federation.
If there are no such documents in existence, the cost of the medical expenses will fall on the individual or people sponsoring the person concerned.
In addition to this, some foreign states require by law that tourists pay for medical treatment themselves. For example, the authorities in the popular Russian tourist destination of Goa, India determined in November 2018 that foreigners would have to cover the expenses of their medical treatment in full regardless of whether it is a state or private health centre they are using.
Again we earnestly advise all Russian citizens travelling outside the Russian Federation, notwithstanding the purpose and period of their stay abroad, to take out a health insurance in advance. In doing so, please, pay attention to the amount of the insurance claim payment which should as of the date of the start of the medical insurance cover a required minimum level of two million roubles at the Bank of Russia exchange rate.
We have been receiving a lot of letters, requests and calls for help when something happens to Russian citizens abroad during their holidays because they did not buy any health insurance. This creates many problems, including in terms of the relevant legal rules in other countries where our tourists go. I ask you to pay special attention to this matter.
The construction of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant is our flagship project in Iran. Its first unit is operating nonstop generating the country’s electricity. The second unit is being constructed according to plan.
Of course, doing business in Iran is sometimes being hampered by the illegitimate US sanctions against that country. Nevertheless, we are not sitting idle; we are adapting to the situation and are expanding a range of measures jointly with our Iranian partners to protect all our trade and economic ties that have substantial prospects. Although we understand that many are trying to impede this.
As for the reconstruction of the Arak reactor, we are naturally keeping a watchful eye on this matter. It was one of the central topics at the meeting of the parties to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on resolving the situation concerning the Iranian nuclear programme held in Vienna on June 28. Let me remind you that under the JCPOA all parties assumed certain obligations. Russia undertook to restructure the former Iranian uranium enrichment plant in Fordo while China and the UK were ready to redesign the Arak heavy water reactor.
We believe that all JCPOA parties should act as a collective guarantor of the agreed projects that are an integral part to the arrangements, and display readiness to jointly struggle for their further implementation, notwithstanding unlawful unilateral steps taken by the United States.
At the last briefing I was asked to comment on media reports that the Estonian police had opened a case against the Chair of the Russian School of Estonia non-profit organisation Mstislav Rusakov.
We are keeping an eye on the actions being made by the Estonian law enforcement authorities with respect to Mstislav Rusakov, a prominent public figure from the Russian community in Estonia and also the Director of the Kitezh human rights centre.
We are calling on the Estonian authorities to avoid putting politically motivated pressure on the human rights activist, including in connection with his activities regarding the preservation of the Russian language and education for ethnic minorities in that Baltic country.
Question: Ankara’s purchase of S-400 air missile defence systems from Russia and the resulting discontent in the US and NATO are currently in the international spotlight. Bulgaria will soon have no other option than to buy F-16 US fighter jets that have the technical capability to carry B61 nuclear bombs. If the United States decides to withdraw its weapons from Incirlik Air Base and relocate them elsewhere, could this create a nuclear threat for Europe?
Maria Zakharova: Unfortunately, Europe has never ceased to be under nuclear threat. You are probably aware of the number of nuclear weapons in European countries, including those that are not members of the nuclear club, since these weapons belong to the US. This is something to be remembered at all times, even though some ignore this altogether. Several years ago Europeans were shocked by the news that there were nuclear weapons on their territory, and they neither own nor control these weapons. What else is there to say about nuclear safety? This is a fact that has to be known and reckoned with.
We do not have any information on Washington’s plans to take its B61 nuclear bombs out of Turkey and redeploy them to Bulgaria or elsewhere in other NATO member states. We have seen speculation on this matter here and there. In terms of facts, however, we do not have any confirmed information. Almost three years ago there were what was cast as “reports” on the redeployment of US nuclear weapons from Turkey to Romania, but they were refuted.
Russia maintains its invariable position regarding the deployment of US nuclear weapons in Europe. All B61 bombs have to be transferred to the country that owns them, which means the United States, and of course, all infrastructure outside of the country for deploying these weapons must be liquidated. Of course, all NATO nuclear sharing activity must cease. This includes nuclear planning and training to use US nuclear weapons involving countries without nuclear weapons. These actions are directly at odds with articles 1 and 2 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Russia believes the approach adopted by the US in performing its obligations under the NPT to be unacceptable and irresponsible. This does nothing to de-escalate tension, remaining one of the most serious challenges in the nuclear sector. The international community must pay close attention to these developments.
Question: What is your position on the EU sanctions against Turkey?
Maria Zakharova: Of course, this is a bilateral matter between Turkey and the European Union. We have heard Turkey’s statement on the matter, and you know our position.
Russia proceeds from the premise that sanctions should not be used as a tool for exerting pressure, although unfortunately this has become an important factor in international relations today. This is by no means a diplomatic tool and should not be at the core of international politics. Sanctions lead to dire consequences: the erosion of international law and civilised forms of communication. This may come off as literary, but sanctions dehumanise international processes in the sense that they sow animosity among countries and peoples. People do not understand what they are punished for. People do understand talks, when parties succeed in finding mutually acceptable solutions, when some come out as more resourceful or tenacious. What people do not understand is why advantages resulting from long years of colonial policies have to be used against countries or peoples. This is hard to understand. After all, we have learned our history, and are aware of how certain European counties, specifically the EU’s leading economies, gained economic and financial advantages and derived their financial and economic might from countries, peoples and continents.
Russia firmly opposes all sanctions that were not approved by the UN Security Council. As a retaliatory measure, of course; we have to admit that sanctions are part of today’s reality. But we cannot accept illegal, unilateral policies designed to exert aggressive pressure in pursuit of self-interest.
Question: Some media have reported that at the G20 summit Russia refused to discuss with Japan the transfer of two Kuril Islands due to concerns related to the military union between Japan and the US. Is this true? Could you give more detail about this refusal?
Maria Zakharova: We did not confirm these reports. We said they were made up, I mentioned this when answering Vladimir Solovyov’s question in the interview with the Rossiya-1 television channel.
Russia is not holding talks with Japan on anything except the peace treaty. Of course, we are maintaining negotiations on the economy and cultural cooperation, but in the context of the issue you have mentioned, our talks with the Japanese party focus on the development of a peace treaty on the relevant platform.
I just cannot confirm all these fabrications and stories about something that did not happen.
In reply to a related question by journalists, I emphasised that together with the Japanese party we would create, among other things, a relevant information environment. We are not going to speculate, comment on information leakage or use other ways to outline our concerns via the media. When there are questions, there are experts that can answer them. This is what we agreed upon.
The most important thing is that it is the Japanese party that has always insisted that everything should be done in a respectful manner, without using harsh public statements, but at the level of experts. But it seems that something has gone wrong. This is not the first time that the Japanese party has violated this constructive atmosphere, in particular, using bogus stories in the Japanese media. I do not know who is behind all this (some diplomatic sources were mentioned), but it is definitely not the Russian party.
Question: On July 17, a video appeared online calling for new terrorist attacks in Tunisia. In 2015, a Russian citizen was injured during a terrorist attack in this country. What is the current situation there? Is there a possibility that flights could be cancelled?
Maria Zakharova: All recommendations regarding Tunisia were updated a month ago and are currently in force. You can find them in the relevant sections of the Foreign Ministry website.
Question: According to some media, given the good relations between Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran, the US could ask Moscow to be a mediator in settling the situation with Tehran. How would Russia react to such a possibility?
Maria Zakharova: I have commented repeatedly and in detail on this question during my previous briefings. First of all, we believe that there is no need to create tensions in the region. Hostile political rhetoric towards a sovereign state, threats to use force, and interference in its domestic affairs are unacceptable. Second, the countries should resolve their disputes at the negotiations table using diplomatic means with the involvement of experts. Third, as I said, there have been examples of successful interaction between Washington and Tehran. In particular, the development of the JCPOA took several years; it was not an easy process but quite constructive. The result was also obvious. Accordingly, in the present case, the US and Iran have all the necessary means to deal with their issues. Washington should simply abstain from provocations, incitement and aggressive statements. All issues must be dealt with using relevant diplomatic means.
Question: US President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA. Do you believe this was justified?
Maria Zakharova: For over a year we have been observing US policy around breaking the JCPOA from the President’s Administration. We said from the very beginning that we thought Washington’s actions were a mistake. The JCPOA and the work carried out under it have borne practical results in easing tensions and bringing the region to a new level in the establishment of a stable and mutually respectful order in this part of the world. The adoption of the JCPOA showed that all the talk about countries with different political systems, political goals and values being unable to hear each other is a myth. Despite having different goals and objectives, countries can – sometimes with difficulty, it’s true – develop a joint agenda and solutions. We believe the US path to be a mistake and speak about this publically as well as directly with our US partners.
Question: Afghan-Taliban talks are in process. What will be the outcome of these talks? What opinion does Russia have on these talks?
Maria Zakharova: I had questions about this, so I will speak about the Afghan settlement process on the whole, considering the international meetings in Doha and Beijing.
We believe the intra-Afghan dialogue and consultative meetings between special representatives on Afghanistan in the three plus format (Russia–US–China and Pakistan) are critical and mutually complementary political mechanisms promoting a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan.
As you know, Russia has said many times that a unique platform has been created at the meetings in Moscow and Doha for a dialogue between the representatives of a wide range of social and political forces in Afghanistan, including the armed opposition, that aims to launch the peaceful settlement process in the country as soon as possible. The inclusiveness of this format allows for considering the interests of all parts of Afghan society in the efforts to achieve peace in Afghanistan. In addition, the Afghans themselves are in dialogue, which gives us hope that no external forces would interfere with this process.
The consultative meetings in the three plus format are held to reach an international consensus to create favourable external conditions to launch the peace process in Afghanistan. The format will expand with the progress of the national reconciliation process in that country. During the latest meeting in Beijing, the warring Afghan parties were called on to take practical measures to decrease the level of violence that would result in a comprehensive ceasefire and the beginning of intra-Afghan talks, including the adoption of a detailed agreement on the future political system acceptable to all Afghans.
We are confident that combining these two consultative mechanisms’ successful work and promoting talks between the US and the Taliban will help solve the Afghan problem.