Briefing of the Foreign Ministry Spokesman
Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, November 8, 2019
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming visit to Armenia
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s working visit to France
- Update on Venezuela
- Update on Bolivia
- Developments in Haiti
- Update on Lebanon
- Adoption of the resolution on combating the glorification of Nazism at the 74th UN General Assembly session
- Desecration of monument to Soviet soldiers in Chisinau
- 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall
- Anti-Iran statements by US officials
- Iran’s suspension of its voluntary commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme
- The quasi-humanitarian organisation White Helmets
- US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change
- US Congress proposes including Ukraine’s special operations Azov battalion on the list of terrorist organisations
- Investigation of the Pavel Sheremet murder
- 3rd Global Forum of Young Diplomats
- Russian-Azerbaijani inter-regional forum
- Meeting of Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Bratislava
- Incident involving Reuters journalist Maria Tsvetkova
- Reminder to the Lithuanians visiting St Petersburg with e-visas
- Russia-Africa summit results
- Strategic partnership between Russia and Azerbaijan
- US policy in eastern Syria
- Damascus’ talks with Kurds
- Implementation of Sochi agreements by Russia
- Russian-Greek relations
- Forcing out Russian language from former Soviet republics
- Possible exchange of convicted spies between Russia and Lithuania
- Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
- Possible effects of Iran’s withdrawal from nuclear deal
In accordance with a previous agreement, on November 10-11, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay an official visit to Yerevan. Mr Lavrov’s agenda includes meetings with Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan and President of Armenia Armen Sarkissian, talks with Foreign Minister of Armenia Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and a wreath laying ceremony at the eternal flame at the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex.
Mr Lavrov and his counterpart Mr Mnatsakanyan will attend the opening of an exhibition to mark the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. The Russian Foreign Minister will give a speech for teachers and students from Yerevan universities. A plan of consultations between the Russian and Armenian foreign ministries for 2020-2021 is expected to be signed.
During the talks, the foreign ministers will discuss a wide range of issues related to bilateral cooperation, interaction within the EAEU, the CSTO and the CIS, and the coordination of positions at the UN, OSCE, Council of Europe, OBSEC and other international forums. They will also focus on regional security, including the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement process.
We hope that Sergey Lavrov’s official visit to Yerevan will give a boost to the multifaceted and mutually beneficial Russian-Armenian allied interaction.
On November 11-12, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to France, where he will attend the second Paris Peace Forum and have a look at the Russian projects presented there. There will be corresponding stands.
Mr Lavrov will meet with French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian on the sidelines of the forum. They will discuss topical issues related to bilateral cooperation and key international topics, including strategic stability and European security, situation in Syria, the preservation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Actions on Iran’s nuclear programme and prospects for settling the Ukraine crisis.
Tensions in Venezuela and around it remain high. Radical opposition forces are still attempting to incite street protests. Rallies all across Venezuela are planned for mid-November.
In this situation, the government and the constructive opposition continue working meticulously within the national dialogue roundtable format. They discuss political, economic and electoral problems, including preparations for the parliamentary elections next year. There are reassuring signs that the opposition National Assembly is becoming involved in the process. Its deputies helped reach an agreement on the joint renewal of the composition of the National Electoral Council. We regard this as the first real step towards overcoming the institutional crisis and the collective search for agreed upon decisions on key domestic political issues in compliance with the constitution.
These agreements received public support. The local Catholic Church expressed hope that they would help find a way to guarantee that the upcoming electoral process would be democratic and transparent.
We believe that the maximum involvement of the country’s political forces in the talks will help reach a national consensus, which is necessary to address the most important, primarily economic challenges. We hope that all outside observers will refrain from counterproductive comments and allow the Venezuelans to come to terms.
At the same time, the “international front” is still trying to undermine the stabilisation process of the domestic political situation in Venezuela. For example, the White House regularly uses its favourite leverages such as illegal unilateral sanctions, which are, unfortunately, often introduced at random, to reach a goal it does not even bother to hide: to topple the lawful Venezuelan government. The US Department of the Treasury cynically makes exceptions for US companies and individuals interacting with Venezuelan government agencies while imposing new personal restrictions against Chavistas. Moreover, in the heat of the sanctions frenzy, Washington begins to threaten its own allies for any attempt to establish constructive relations with Caracas.
At the same time, we noted the statement by the International Contact Group on Venezuela published on November 1. We are happy to see it underlines that the future of Venezuela must be determined by Venezuelans themselves and there is no alternative. Unfortunately, it also states that only the transition of power after credible presidential elections can bring a lasting settlement to the crisis.
We have said many times that any conditions imposed on one of the parties in the domestic political conflict in Venezuela, or anywhere else, does not promote national reconciliation, the establishment of a dialogue, or finding compromising solutions to settle the crisis. I would like to repeat our position that the international community’s task is to help the various Venezuelan political forces find an understanding.
We are closely watching the developments in Bolivia. Currently, an Organisation of American States (OAS) expert mission, which is in Bolivia at the invitation of its authorities, is carrying out an audit on the vote count in the presidential election that took place in the country on October 20 this year. At the same time, protests continue in several cities, with roads being blocked and clashes occurring between groups of protesters. Unfortunately, some people have been injured or killed in these rallies. In connection with this, the Foreign Ministry Crisis Management Centre has recommended that Russian nationals take a responsible approach to planning any trip to Bolivia.
We noted that speculations over another case of Russian interference – this time, allegedly, in Bolivia – had been reprinted by the local media. As each time previously, the accusations are not based on any facts whatsoever. They are groundless. This time the news stories were first planted by the online Project Company, which is registered in one of the Baltic States and which uses funds from abroad to post sponsored materials specifically targeting Russia. This company is trying to position itself as a Russian media outlet, however, this is not true. We resolutely dismiss innuendoes like these. We consider this to be a provocation and an example of fake stories, which everyone is combatting. We believe if someone has specific information about violations of Bolivian law, these facts should be reviewed through existing bilateral mechanisms for legal assistance.
We support efforts to settle the disagreements between Bolivian political forces as soon as possible while remaining within constitutional boundaries. We commend the openness of the country’s authorities on the initiative to carry out an international audit of the election results. As we recall it, Bolivia’s opposition was the first to request the audit and La Paz granted the request.
We believe it is necessary to make sure at this point that the OAS mission can perform its duties in a quiet and unbiased manner. In this context, we believe the attempts by certain political forces to exacerbate tensions over the work of international experts, bringing pressure to bear on them, are unacceptable as they could, in our opinion, make it more difficult for the experts to come up with an objective conclusion. We strongly believe that the statements by Bolivian non-parliamentary opposition members that they will not recognise the audit results no matter what, and their ultimatums, and their calls for removing the incumbent authorities by force, will not help achieve the objective of normalising the situation in the country, and they also contradict the interests of the Bolivian people.
We would like to emphasis again that Russia is interested in a stable and politically and economically sustainable Latin America. We are developing mutually beneficial cooperation with all countries in the region, including Bolivia, based on equality, respect and non-interference in one another’s domestic affairs, in keeping with the UN Charter and international law.
I would particularly like to dwell on the situation in Haiti, as there were some questions about it. We are concerned about the rapidly growing confrontation in Haiti, where mass protests have been going on for more than two months. Since the beginning of the year, 70 people have died, including 34 policemen, as a result of clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement authorities. It is evident that a wide range of problems underlie the current crisis in Haiti: deplorable socioeconomic conditions combined with a food crisis, a severe humanitarian situation and a protracted institutional paralysis. (Haiti has not had a functioning government for over six months.) All this has caused chaos and a power vacuum.
In these circumstances, the most important task is to build public and political consensus around a unifying agenda. We invariably stand for supporting the constructive efforts of all competent political forces in Haiti that aim at launching an inclusive internal dialogue. For Russia, as a country consistently abiding by international law and showing respect for national sovereignty, there is no alternative to a peaceful political solution of differences. At this stage, reliable international assistance to Port-au-Prince is indispensable with the aim of easing public tension and preventing a full-fledged internal conflict in Haiti. We support the UN mediatory initiatives and will continue activities in the format of the UN Integrated Office in Haiti.
We firmly believe that regional crises must be settled exclusively on the basis of constitutions, through negotiations, be it in Haiti or Venezuela. We do not accept double standards and foreign interference in the affairs of Latin American countries.
We are following the rather tense situation in Lebanon closely. We can see some favourable dynamics of late, although it is still far from normal. The number of street protesters is obviously decreasing. Meanwhile, the remaining but well organised part of the protesters is as yet trying to block ministerial offices, as we understand it, in order to obstruct their normal operation. Road blocks are less frequent: this problem is quickly resolved through the effective actions of law enforcement and army units. There have been some clashes between protesters and the military but, fortunately, without serious consequences.
What is alarming is that the internal political crisis that resulted in the resignation of the coalition government led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri has aggravated the differences between the Lebanese political forces, which rely on various ethno-religious groups of the population.
In this context we note with satisfaction that President of the Lebanese Republic Michel Aoun confirmed his willingness to receive and listen to protest movement activists. We hope that ongoing intensive contacts between acting Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the leader of Al-Mustaqbal movement, and acting Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, aimed at finding the best possible way out of the current crisis, will be crowned with success. This would allow for the formation of a new cabinet and practical implementation of reforms intended to improve the situation in the economy and finance, and to combat corruption.
Reaffirming our position of principle in support of the Lebanese Republic’s sovereignty, unity and stability, the resolution of all issues on the national agenda by the Lebanese themselves, within the legal framework through an inclusive dialogue, we specifically emphasise the unacceptability of any form of outside interference in Lebanese domestic affairs, whether in the information, logistics, financial or any other area. No one other than the citizens of this country should be shaping its future. Any attempts to apply social engineering methods that the world has come to know as “Maidan” in Lebanon are fraught with unpredictable consequences for the security of that country and the entire Middle East.
The Third Committee adopted a Russia-initiated resolution on “Combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance” at the 74th UN General Assembly session in New York on November 7, 2019.
The resolution was co-authored by 61 states. It was supported by 121 countries. Two states (the United States and Ukraine) voted against it, with 55 countries abstaining.
The results of the vote show the invariable support of the international community for this initiative that is submitted by Russia to the UN General Assembly every year.
The adoption of this resolution at the 74th UN General Assembly is particularly topical due to the 75th anniversary of Victory in World War II that will be celebrated in 2020. It is in the struggle against Nazism that the anti-Hitler coalition was formed and its participants assumed the name United Nations for the first time. Broad support for this important resolution graphically confirms that the victory won in 1945 is a common asset of the entire international community and all member states of the United Nations, which was established with the account of the disastrous consequences that World War II brought.
The resolution again denounced the glorification of the Nazi movement and the whitewashing of former SS members, including Waffen-SS that were qualified as criminals by the Nuremberg Trials.
Concern was expressed over the incessant “battle” waged by some countries against monuments and memorials to those who fought against Nazism and fascism. In some countries this has become government policy in the past few years. The same applies to the opening of memorials and the renaming of streets, schools and other social facilities in honour of those who fought on the side of the Nazis or collaborated with them.
Another source of concern is the attempt to praise as national heroes those who fought against the Anti-Hitler Coalition, collaborated with Nazis and committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during World War II. Special emphasis is laid on the fact that such actions desecrate the memory of the countless victims of Nazism, exert an obviously negative influence on the rising generation and are absolutely incompatible with the commitments of the UN member states under the UN Charter.
We are convinced that next year’s Victory anniversary is a good reason for countries to pool their efforts, despite any differences, to jointly counter the glorification of Nazism and any manifestations of neo-Nazism and prevent the falsification of history and the revision of the outcome of World War II.
Despite documents adopted every year and those adopted this year, we continue to witness new cases of historical vandalism. On November 7, the monument to Hero of the Soviet Union Georgy Cherniyenko at the Eternity Memorial Complex in Chisinau was damaged. These egregious acts of vandalism cause particular indignation amid worldwide preparations for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War in Russia and the Second World War in the world.
We expect an adequate response to these cynical acts from the Moldovan authorities in accordance with the agreement on perpetuating the memory of the courage and heroism of the peoples of the CIS member states in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 signed on September 3, 2011 by Moldova and ratified by the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova.
As you know, on November 9, Europe will celebrate a landmark date – the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is one of the key events in the contemporary history of the continent. Of course, it is of particular importance to the Germans and has become largely a prologue to the restoration of their state unity.
The Berlin Wall had long been the most visible symbol of the split in Europe during the Cold War. Its elimination was an emotional event that personified the profound changes that took place in the world in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which reasonably gave rise to great expectations among people for a peaceful and prosperous Europe without any dividing lines. Unfortunately, these hopes have failed to materialise. Just as the Berlin Wall came down, these hopes are now fading.
It is important to remember this missed opportunity and prevent the creation of new barriers, which are caused by geopolitical and bloc interests, on the continent. Peace and security in Europe must be universal and indivisible.
As you know, Russia’s foreign policy has followed and will continue to follow these principles. We expect our partners to take reciprocal steps in this direction.
We have received questions as to whether invitations were sent to Russia for the festive event on this occasion, and who would represent our country. Invitations were sent. Russia will be represented by Ambassador of Russia to Germany Sergey Nechayev.
Many issues are related to Iran. We are watching with concern how the United States is again purposefully unfolding with renewed effort its information campaign to demonise Iran in an attempt to justify its sanctions and military pressure on that country. Washington is again accusing Iran of terrorist activity at a high level and has declared it “a major sponsor of terrorism all over the world.”
In so doing US officials do not deem it necessary to buttress such accusations with specific facts. Moreover, they even ignore the opinion of their own experts. I would like to recall that in December 2017 a group of veterans from US secret services, which were against the deepening of the crisis in relations with Iran, addressed their president with an open letter. They directly pointed out that the overwhelming majority of Middle Eastern groups threatening America, notably 13 of 14, consist of anti-Iran forces.
It would seem the conclusion is obvious: it is strange and illogical to accuse Iran of sponsoring its own worst enemies. However, such nuances do not interest the political establishment of Washington for some reason.
In general, one gets the impression that the United States views the anti-terrorist struggle through the prism of its own geopolitical aims. This feeling is becoming stronger all the time. Hence, the dual standards, including the division of international terrorist organisations into “bad” ones, that is, those that oppose the United States, and “tolerable” that do the same thing but without openly calling America their enemy. The latter consist of those who act against countries and governments that Washington finds objectionable, whether it’s Iran or the lawful Syrian authorities, even with the same terrorist methods. We have talked a lot about this and have seen this trend certainly over the past decade.
This is why the United States whitewashes Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. This group has entrenched itself in the Syrian province of Idlib and continues its criminal activity from there. Meanwhile, in 2018 the United States itself included this group, as an Al-Qaeda successor, on its national list of terrorist organisations and supported a similar blacklisting by the UN.
We receive many questions and requests to comment on these statements and express the Russian point of view and the position of the Foreign Ministry on similar accusations. I would like to say the following in this context. Russia has never seen Iran as a source of the terrorist threat. Moreover, the Iranians themselves have fallen victim to attacks by extremist groups more than once. The biggest took place in Tehran in 2017 and in Ahvaz in 2018.
Iran has repeatedly confirmed, through its actions, its commitment to the struggle against international terrorism and its willingness to adopt the necessary measures for this, in part, in cooperation with other countries. It is effectively helping resolve antiterrorist tasks in Syria, where its army personnel stay at the invitation of Damascus.
I would like to emphasise once again that the US-adopted course towards confrontation with Iran is absolutely destructive simply because it is short-sighted. Without Tehran’s participation it is impossible to build a durable security system in the Middle East or stabilise the situation in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. For our part, we continue to closely cooperate with our Iranian partners with this goal in mind.
The anti-Iran campaign is being ratcheted up. A number of aspects play a part. I would like to speak on one of them as a response to the many questions being asked: Tehran’s suspension of its voluntary commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on its nuclear programme. An irritating desire by some Western officials, and a number of media outlets that follow them, to fan a new fire around the Iranian nuclear programme is bound to cause concern for a number of reasons. There is the impression that they are ready to seize any opportunity and use any methods to question Iran’s compliance with nuclear non-proliferation.
We have known for a couple of months that Tehran might suspend some commitments under the JCPOA in November. Gas supplies to the centrifuge cascades at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant have resumed. It should be noted that this would not have happened if the United States had avoided undermining the JCPOA and UN Security Council Resolution 2231, and if the European parties to the agreement had delivered on their promises (in fact, this is not about promises but about obligations since the JCPOA was approved by the UN Security Council, which implies obligations for all members of the international community) and had fulfilled their obligations to create conditions for Iran to get trade and economic preferences, which was the reason for Iran signing the “nuclear deal” in the first place.
The point at issue is exclusively Tehran’s suspension of those elements of the JCPOA that are not related to nuclear non-proliferation or Iran’s commitments under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Safeguards Agreement. The Iranian nuclear programme has been constantly and very tightly controlled by the IAEA. Iran’s steps will not lead to any risk of proliferation, something that the IAEA confirmed. The suspension is technically reversible. This is well known to everyone, however, this information is not brought to the notice of the public. It’s not that it is concealed but rather not emphasised; we do not see it in many media reports that focus on this topic. Iran’s leaders have repeatedly stated their willingness to return to the agreed upon parameters as soon as their legitimate concerns are accommodated.
The fact that Tehran is forced to move along the suspension track means only one thing: the issues that “triggered” this kind of development remain unresolved. Russia has been calling on the JCPOA partners for quite some time to mobilise and together to cope with the challenges that aggravate the implementation of this agreement. We hope very much that this would finally happen.
There is yet another issue to which I continuously return. I noted the statement by Andrew Morrison, Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs at the British Foreign Office. He claimed that the NGO Syria Civil Defence (better known as the White Helmets) has become a target of disinformation by the Syrian and Russian authorities. A Foreign Office communique notes that he made this statement at the meeting with Chairman of the White Helmets Raed al-Saleh, at which they discussed the situation in Syria’s Idlib.
“White Helmet volunteers continue to be subjected to a massive disinformation campaign by the Syrian regime and the Russian government. These deceitful tactics are a brazen attempt to divert attention from the barrage of appalling attacks against the Syrian people, which has included the use of chemical weapons,” Morrison said.
He also reiterated “the UK’s unwavering support” for the White Helmets.
Probably, I would not have brought up the subject of the White Helmets today, as we have already discussed this in detail on numerous occasions, had it not been for this “wonderful” communique addressed to Russia by the UK authorities. But since it was published, we will certainly comment on it.
At a recent briefing we said that the United States sent yet another tranche to the White Helmets. These people who call themselves “humanitarians” received $4.5 million. Let’s see who stands at the foundation of this structure. I will rely on materials from experts that I can access free online. They will probably be refuted but nobody has done this so far.
Owing to investigations, primarily by foreign journalists, it is credibly known that one of the founders of the White Helmets is James Le Mesurier, a former officer of British Secret Intelligence Service MI6. Is this a coincidence? I don’t think so. He has been spotted in many conflicts all over the world, including the Balkans and the Middle East. Considering the role the West played in undermining stability in these areas, it is not difficult to assume what this UK intelligence officer was doing there.
Moreover, a number of researchers (I’m referring to foreign rather than Russian analysts) point to his links with terrorist organisations during his work in Kosovo. According to some sources, al-Qaeda members were part of his team. We would like to hear how London explains these facts. Morrison also founded NGO “Mayday Rescue” that is sponsored by Germany, Denmark, Canada, Qatar, the Netherlands and the United States. Officially, its mission is “to save lives and strengthen communities, thereby building resilience to the effects of conflict and natural disaster.” In reality, it took part in the training and funding of the White Helmets and is now providing information and propaganda support for their activities in the Western media.
Apart from participation in the Syrian conflict, Mayday Rescue carried out projects in Somalia and Lebanon (I just talked about Lebanon and what is happening there) where they supported local anti-government forces under the guise of creating a network of rescue volunteers. The White Helmets have been used in a number of Latin American countries as locals for massive information aggression against the lawful authorities.
These attempts failed, but there is no guarantee that this will not be repeated somewhere else. In effect, the White Helmets tested in Syria became a Western tool in promoting “colour revolutions,” destabilizing situations and creating artificial conflicts in “objectionable” states.
Russia has repeatedly said that the White Helmets are provocateurs and accomplices of the most dangerous terrorist groups. Examples have been quoted and accusations made both by the official authorities in Russia and civil society in the West and in this country. Convincing facts have been cited that nobody denied them. There were just words that have become typical and popular: “This is not the case, don’t believe them.” This is despite reports, presentations, films, video footage and photos that were shown to the international community in this context.
We believe that the White Helmets are opposing the counterterrorism efforts of the Syrian government and supporting countries. It is the White Helmets that have produced and performed many cynical fabrications that were not limited to information but were action-oriented and looked real. Their goal was to create a pretext for the disinformation of a broad international audience, hinder the further stabilisation of the situation in Syria and stand in the way of carrying out priority humanitarian projects.
I believe the history of this organisation and the sources of its funding as well as the relevant mechanisms that assist it, explains the support it receives from the UK Foreign Office, which I mentioned earlier in commenting on this issue.
Here is another subject that evokes keen interest and requires comment and statements on our position: the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
President Trump’s decision in this regard is regrettable. The refusal of a country that accounts for about 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions to be a party to a universal international legal agreement could substantially limit the potential of a collective global effort to reduce the man-induced burden on our planet’s climatic system. However we would like to hope that the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement will not mean the US refusal to implement climate measures on a national level. Although, we have seen a lot of reports to this effect of late.
This situation once again demonstrates how complicated and diverse the problems of global climate change are, and that they affect the basic interests of every state with respect to the environment, the economy and social policy. Every new scientific study on this complements the official positions of the states.
It is clear that the climate problem cannot simply be resolved with political slogans. At every step of negotiations, Russia calls for adopting a maximally pragmatic approach to developing a long-term climate policy regime. We continue to believe that restraint from politicizing the problems of global climate change will promote progress in issues related to the international climatic process. Objective scientific data and an all-round balanced account of socioeconomic and natural geographical specific features of all countries without exception should also be held in mind.
In late October, US lawmakers came up with an initiative to include the Ukrainian Interior Ministry’s Azov special operations unit on the list of terrorist organisations. If this motion is approved by the State Department, Azov will be on the same list with Al Qaeda and ISIS. A number of Congresspeople asked the Department of State to explain why this widely known Ukrainian ultranationalist paramilitary organisation that “openly welcomes neo-Nazis into its ranks” and is known for human rights violations and torture, is still not on this list. Once it is listed, the federal government will have additional tools to neutralise the threat posed by it.
The request pointed out that Azov “has been recruiting, radicalising and training American citizens for years” and directly linked it to bloody attacks in a number of US states and New Zealand. They believe the connection between the Azov battalion and terrorist attacks in the United States is clear. Earlier, US intelligence claimed Azov was implicated in riots in Virginia in 2018.
I would like to note that the West, including the previous US administration, strongly supported and financed a political project called “post-Maidan Ukraine,” which is notorious for its open sponsorship of neo-Nazi ideas. The ideology of neo-Nazism, and we have mentioned this many times, was cultivated in Ukraine largely on Western money.
A long overdue initiative to sort out this matter has valid underlying reasons. An interesting report on transnational extremism, which mentions the Azov unit, was published in the United States in late September. This study was conducted by the US-based Soufan Center nonprofit organisation, which says that “Ukraine has emerged as a hub in the broader network of transnational white supremacy extremism, attracting foreign fighters from all over the world.”
According to this NPO, about 17,000 nationals from 50 countries, including the United States, have taken part in the Ukraine conflict. The ultranationalists have turned Ukraine into a “training ground” for practicing combat skills. The Azov battalion recruited foreign citizens with neo-Nazi views, tested their ideology and trained them for irregular hostilities, the report says. It appears that the prospect of having militants with fighting experience in Ukraine return home is not causing euphoria on Capitol Hill.
In addition, as follows from the report, the Azov unit established contacts with members of the US-based Atomwaffen Division (AWD; German: Nuclear Weapons Division) and militants from the extremist group R.A.M (Rise Above Movement). Their “fusion” goes far beyond network interaction. In addition to training adult extremists, the Azov battalion has allegedly created youth camps and developed military science and white supremacy ideology programmes for nine-year-olds.
According to the researchers behind the study, “from Pittsburgh to Poway and Charleston to El Paso, white supremacist extremists (WSEs) pose a clear terrorist threat to the United States,” and include recent cases of domestic terrorism. Moreover, the threat is very real as over the past decade, three times more people have died at their hands in the United States than at the hands of the Islamists.
We welcome the fact that the United States has begun to pay attention to the situation with the rampant neo-Nazis and ultranationalists in Ukraine. There is a lot of material. A lot of it, if I can put it that way, that has piled up over the years, or months worth of footage (now measured in different units), an array of documents, videos, photographs, statements, programmes, flyers, etc., which should not only be studied, but also acted upon. Unfortunately, Azov’s unlawful and inhumane actions in Ukraine, their crimes and the deliberate efforts to disrupt the Minsk agreements (we saw that recently in a video) have not so far been properly assessed at the official level.
The response of the Ukrainian authorities, which scrambled to defend Azov, is quite telling. Former Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin called this initiative, which allegedly threatens the country's national security, a “knock-down to Ukraine.” Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Vasily Bodnar promised the Americans proper “clarifications.” We, too, can provide the Americans with the necessary facts. We publish them regularly and distribute them through and within the OSCE. A large number of films on this subject, which are produced by independent Russian and foreign journalists, including Ukrainian journalists, have been released. The world is already talking about this, and now, finally, the United States has started talking about it as well. The immediate response was to block the discussion of this topic. The head of the Interior Ministry, Arsen Avakov, saw it as “an attempt to discredit the unit in the minds of Ukraine’s international partners and provoke a crisis in its relations with its allies, as well as weaken Ukraine’s international position.”
Azov battalion representatives went as far as spotting "pro-Russian propaganda" in the Congressperson’s words. Verkhovna Rada deputies wrote an appeal to representatives of the US House of Representatives in which they tried to exculpate Azov and expressed their willingness to “provide assistance in finding objective and unbiased information about the Azov spec ops unit,” although it appears that the Congress has enough of this information. To reiterate, a huge amount of materials has accumulated over the years. It is time to come to a conclusion on this.
In the context of the current developments in Ukraine, I would also remind you that dozens of crimes related to the murder of opposition members, journalists and public figures who expressed a different, dissident point of view over these years in Ukraine, remain unsolved. We have taken note of the recent news that the investigation into the murder of journalist Pavel Sheremet has finally got off the ground – allegedly the suspects have been detained. I would like to recall that the investigation into this high-profile crime, which stirred up the Ukrainian, Russian and international public, has been going on for over three years. Throughout this period, despite the pressure from international human rights organisations, the investigation made hardly any progress. Speaking objectively, it was simply blocked, according to our data. At the same time, there was a clear lack of political will in Kiev to bring the offenders to justice. Some Ukrainian officials, including Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, began to search for a “Russian trace,” making public statements about the alleged involvement of Russian official agencies and departments in this murder.
We hope that as a result of the incipient breakthrough in the investigation the criminals will be brought to justice and other similar investigations of bloody crimes in Ukraine committed in recent years will also move forward. Let me remind you that the 2014 murders of Andrei Stenin, Anton Voloshin, Igor Kornelyuk and Anatoly Klyan still remain unsolved.
We hope that President Vladimir Zelensky’s administration will bring their investigations to an end, and finally put an end to a systematic policy of reprisals against the unwelcome media.
We will continue to closely monitor the developments.
The key event of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Council of Young Diplomats this year, the 3rd Global Forum of Young Diplomats, will take place on November 13-15, 2019. The forum is being held in Moscow for the first time: the two previous events were held in Sochi (in 2017 and 2018). The forum will set a record in terms of the number of participants and their geography, involving over 130 delegates from 70 countries.
The main topic of the upcoming forum is “Change of the global world order.” For the first time, the official ceremony of signing the Memorandum on cooperation between young employee organisations of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the United Arab Emirates Foreign Ministry (UAE) will take place as part of the forum.
The Global Forum of Young Diplomats is the result of six years of work of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Council of Young Diplomats in organising and conducting similar events, which are traditionally attended by current young employees of foreign policy agencies. A closed discussion format allows them to openly and impartially consider the current agenda and exchange views on the most pressing issues in international relations.
Regular information coverage, extended reports, press releases and news conferences make the forum interesting and attractive for a wide audience. The forum will be held at three venues: the Russian Foreign Ministry (meeting with the ministry’s leadership is scheduled), the Diplomatic Academy (plenary session with the participation of Alexander Yakovenko) and the Azimut Hotel.
Special guests of the forum will be outstanding representatives of our parliamentary diplomacy: Konstantin Kosachev, Leonid Slutsky, Yevgeny Primakov and Steven Seagal.
For accreditation to the event, please contact Sergey Spitsyn at the Council of Young Diplomats information centre at
+7 (977) 749-64-70. .
Question: On November 22-23, a Russian-Azerbaijani Interregional Forum will be held in Moscow. What is the Russian Foreign Ministry’s view on the role of this forum as a regular venue for the development and strengthening of bilateral cooperation?
Maria Zakharova: The 10th Russian-Azerbaijani Interregional Forum is indeed scheduled to take place in Moscow on November 22-23. It is being organised by the economic development ministries of Russia and Azerbaijan.
The forum has won respect as a discussion venue where representatives of government agencies, heads of Russian regions, and the business and expert communities discuss current issues of bilateral cooperation and new promising fields of cooperation.
Interregional ties are very important for the development of multifaceted Russian-Azerbaijani relations. They continue to grow and already include over 70 Russian regions. As many as 17 Russian regions have agreements on trade, economic, scientific-technical and cultural cooperation with Azerbaijan. Moscow and the Moscow Region account for over one-third of the trade with Azerbaijan. The top 10 trading partners of Azerbaijan include the Stavropol and Krasnodar territories, the Chelyabinsk, Sverdlovsk, Saratov and Orenburg regions, as well as St Petersburg and the Republic of Tatarstan.
Question: The next meeting of the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan will take place in Bratislava in December. However, it is believed that these meetings do not help stimulate and promote the peace process, at least at this point. Does Russia plan, possibly together with the other co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, to nudge the sides towards organising a bilateral summit during Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Yerevan or on the sidelines of the meeting in Bratislava?
Maria Zakharova: I am not sure about nudging anyone, but the issue will be discussed, as I said. I believe “encourage” would be a better word.
Question: Head of the League for the Protection of the Interests of Veterans of Local Wars and Armed Conflicts Andrei Troshev sent a letter to the Foreign Ministry, demanding that Reuters and its journalist Maria Tsvetkova be punished for trespassing at the SOGAZ medical centre. Pretending to be a visitor, she was bothering patients and tried to break into a ward. Will the news agency be penalised?
Maria Zakharova: The Foreign Ministry is not a law-enforcement body but an executive government agency. It works with foreign correspondents according to the laws of the Russian Federation on the media and regulations on their accreditation.
I have not seen the letter you mentioned. I will read it to see what it is about specifically. We have different methods for voicing our concerns over the unseemly conduct of foreign correspondents in the host country. By the way, I can tell you that there are numerous violations related to visas, migration, or visits to special regulation places, for instance those where the Armed Forces of Russia are deployed in this country. There are plenty of other cases where foreign journalists clearly fail to comply with Russian laws, or violate them deliberately. We inform foreign correspondents and their bureaus about such cases.
We also work with the embassies of the countries whose media get into such problematic situations. But the Foreign Ministry is not a law-enforcement body. We take decisions by Russian courts as a guide for action. For example, if a court passes a verdict on a foreigner, be it a foreign correspondent or a member of the technical staff at a bureau, this information is communicated to the Foreign Ministry, among others. Further on, we act as the law prescribes. As for punishing violators, we do not deal with such matters. Since I have not seen the letter, I am answering your question in general.
There is another common situation, where foreign journalists arrive to work without a journalist visa or accreditation. I am not referring to major international events, when their work is simplified at the inter-agency level but to the simple failure to abide by Russian migration laws and the violation of accreditation rules. We also inform the press secretaries of relevant embassies and have conversations. Many embassies do not even know that accreditation exists, so we send them the relevant documents. I cannot call this punishment. This is the work of a body representing the executive.
Question: This morning the largest Lithuanian news website, Delfi, issued a reminder to the Lithuanians going to St Petersburg on e-visas. It has a lot, starting with police officers who can take your mobile phone and make you delete all the photos when getting off the plane, to jokes and bullying if you say you’re from Lithuania. All the street people were sent away during the 2018 World Cup, and now St Petersburg is showing its true colours.
Maria Zakharova: I cannot deny this after instructions like that. This is to be expected: if official agencies issue such reminders, the country will really be laughed at. This is a fact. I don’t know who this is designed for, perhaps for people with no access to the internet. I cannot rule out that such a situation is possible in the country you mentioned, but the world is open, globalised and informationally accessible. This is another reason to laugh at those who issue things like this. But this is not the first time.
We saw – I read them myself – the reminders issued last year before the World Cup, well-remembered by the internet community. We even discussed them at a briefing, quoted them and showed some on slides. The only reaction to these infamous reminders and those who wrote them was ironic. All who came for the World Cup stayed in Russia for two months and visited many cities. Moreover, participants, journalists, fans and officials not only visited the host cities but other cities too. They were free to move between them. They left Russia, came back, lost and received documents, turned to law enforcement agencies, took taxis, used public transit, flew on Russian airlines from abroad, flew across Russia, used trains, visited doctors, and made phone calls. Not to mention hotels and private accommodation. The conclusion was the same: everything said about Russia in this tone was made up.
I believe this should be double-checked by applying for an e-visa, coming to Russia, seeing everything and writing a review according to this instruction on the website you mentioned. There is no other way to understand who is right and who is wrong.
You may have noticed that this reminder was issued right when e-visas were introduced. Of course, according to this website (I don’t know who is behind it now, but some time ago officials and official agencies were behind it), the situation is so dangerous that this must have been said before, not now when visa requirements are being simplified for tourists coming to Russia. Clearly, they must be frightened so they won’t go to Russia to see everything with their own eyes.
Question: Experts say that Russia at the Russia-Africa Summit clearly identified its priorities for developing relations with Africa in the future. They include military cooperation – the arrival of our bombers to South Africa – and economic cooperation – geological exploration and building power stations. What is particularly important, this was done as part of cultural exchanges. Reсently a moving gesture was made: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Burundian Foreign Minister Ezechiel Nibigira exchanged gifts – our accordion and a Tom-Tom drum, an ancient African instrument. Have all the objectives pursued by the forum been achieved in the view of the Russian Foreign Ministry?
Maria Zakharova: Some objectives have been achieved, including holding multilateral and bilateral meetings. I mean huge efforts have been made to review the status of relations between Russia and all the countries of this part of the world. The preparations for a summit require efforts of all ministries in order to bring up all issues, request or draft a large number of documents, and carry out analytical work. This time there were so many countries. This work can really be described as taking stock of all issues relating to cooperation between Russia and African countries and regional associations, which were also represented at the forum. It took much effort.
Our African partners had conducted similar work, so all discussions were substantive. The delegations were broadly representative.
Practical matters, which Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of African countries talked about in numerous interviews, were addressed. They outlined ways to resolve outstanding issues, as well as numerous strategic plans that were discussed in Sochi.
It is impossible to resolve all issues because many of them require long-term efforts. They were identified, though, and ways to resolve them were outlined.
Maria Zakharova: I have answered this in part, speaking about the Russia-Azerbaijan Regional Forum. This is a practical view of our cooperation.
Our relations are developing progressively and dynamically. We are linked by common history, the present and, of course, the future. So, our cooperation is geared up for the future and has huge prospects.
Question: Does Moscow think US actions in eastern Syria, especially as regards the Kurds and oil deposits, present a threat to the Sochi agreement between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan?
Maria Zakharova: We comment on this every day. I think it is practically impossible to answer this question. The situation ‘on the ground’ changes every day. In global terms, you know our attitude: we do not understand what the Americans are doing in this region and directly in Syria, on what grounds they stay there and what their strategy and policy are. Everything changes every day and there is apparently no long-term strategy that even the Americans themselves understand. The administrations and the men at the helm of these processes have continued to change of the years but no real strategy has yet emerged.
Speaking specifically, regrettably I will have to ask you to go back to our previous comments and ask you what exactly you are referring to. Is there any specific event I can comment on?
As for a threat to our agreements, I do not think we can talk only about US plans and actions. We sign agreements, including those you mentioned, to prevent destructive trends ‘on the ground’. Implementation averts the destructive actions you spoke about.
We expect the United States, a major international player, to make a certain constructive contribution to normalisation in the region. We expect it not only to protect oil deposits for its own purposes but, apart from everything else, to make a specific contribution to normalising the situation that they led into the current crisis. It is necessary to do something besides aggravate the situation. It is time to move to constructive actions – there is a host of opportunities for this. First, in the humanitarian area: it is necessary to restore Syria, which has become a victim of political scheming by many Western and regional parties. This is what lies on the surface. This is what is now being discussed in Geneva, by representatives of the Astana format and at the UN. This is one of the roads that should be followed. But there are a great number of these roads. In practical terms, this is medicine, education, restoration of infrastructure, and financial aid – and not just for some Syrian ‘humanitarians,’ and their Western sympathisers, like the White Helmets or organisations that deal with ‘the restoration of Syria’ indirectly, in theory. It is essential to restore the civilian infrastructure that is necessary for ordinary life, for these people whose existence has been turned into hell.
Question: Apparently, there is a transition to more practical steps in the Kurds’ dialogue with Damascus, as noted by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin. He said Russia is ready to facilitate talks between the Kurds and Damascus on the accession of the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to the Syrian Army. Do you have any details on this? How would this be carried out? Does Russia plan to facilitate a political dialogue in Syria?
Maria Zakharova: Damascus and the associations you mentioned must make decisions on the form and format of this dialogue. Our task is to facilitate it, maybe to guarantee it and the future implementation of the agreements if they are reached eventually. But the format is for Damascus and these associations to decide on. Efforts to normalise political dialogue in Syria have never stopped. We have always advocated them and believe that without them Syria’s political future will be complicated. This is one of the corner stones of our position on the political settlement in Syria.
Question: Yesterday, President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Russia, among others, of not adhering to the Sochi Agreements, i.e. not fulfilling its duties, although Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu said that our country had fulfilled its obligations. Is there a threat that the Sochi Agreements may not be fulfilled?
Maria Zakharova: I can only once again quote Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as saying that Russia has fulfilled its obligations. We proceed from the assumption that Russia will do its part of the the work under this agreement. We hope that our partners will also keep their word. We are working hard on this.
Question: The day before yesterday, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Foreign Minister of Greece Nikos Dendias. The Greek side described this meeting as “a new chapter in Russian-Greek relations.” Do you have any comment on that?
Maria Zakharova: During the news conference following talks, the parties described their attitude to bilateral cooperation in detail, with facts and figures.
If you are asking why it is a “new chapter,” it is because there were previous chapters. They were both good and not very good, those which we wanted to get through faster. As you remember, we met about this – there were strange pages in these chapters. But we assume that they have been turned. We will continue to build traditionally friendly, mutually constructive and mutually respectful relations with Athens.
Question: The other day, Russian President Vladimir Putin sharply criticised the exclusion of the Russian language in the post-Soviet republics. Do you think that Azerbaijan’s approach to the Russian language is the right model to follow?
Maria Zakharova: We respect and appreciate the work that Baku is carrying out to develop and maintain a proper level of Russian language presence in Azerbaijan.
Maria Zakharova: I do not know anything about this. We have already commented on this topic, and the comment is still relevant. If we receive new information, we, as always, will clarify our position.
Question: What proposals and position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement will Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov present at a meeting with Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan? Now the Armenia-Azerbaijan agenda includes humanitarian measures. Sergey Lavrov said some time ago that Russia welcomed an all-for-all exchange.
Maria Zakharova: I can only once again quote Sergey Lavrov’s statement.
We will have a more detailed story on this visit, which we will publish on the site in the coming days. We will also post an interview by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with the Armenian media. We arranged to publish it tomorrow. We will duplicate it on the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry. It will also focus on these topics.
Question: Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said that if the European parties to the Iran nuclear deal failed to deliver, Iran would pull out of the deal. What are the likely implications of this move?
Maria Zakharova: They would be deplorable. This deal took several years to negotiate. The situation before that could be described as a crisis. I remember well the botched efforts to launch a dialogue. The six countries were seeking to secure a deal while the situation tended to exacerbate every now and then. Nevertheless, later, a comprehensive negotiating process was initiated and it lasted for several years. The European Union’s input was great – by the way, this is an example of the EU’s very vigorous efforts in this field and their effectiveness. The United States took a very broad approach to addressing the issue. You also know well what our position is.
Allowing the deal to crash down is definitely not a way out. Unfortunately, we have seen the United States withdraw from it. This is not legitimate given that the deal was approved by the UN Security Council. We already talked about our European partners being unable to guarantee the terms of the deal that were offered to Iran. We see what it might lead to, if the parties to this deal pursue an irresponsible policy like this, a policy that yields no practical results. Of course, all of this cannot help but raise concerns. I do not believe anyone will be able to follow the same path again, as the negotiating process alone took about four years. Then there is such thing as confidence. If something that was agreed upon and secured through negotiations is then discarded, who will play by the same rules, if they are so unceremoniously and boorishly violated?