Briefing of the Foreign Ministry Spokesman
Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, December 26, 2019
- Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s working visit to Russia
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the Republic of Uzbekistan
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s working visit to Sri Lanka and India
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves
- Russia’s BRICS Presidency in 2020
- Syria update
- WikiLeaks releases documents exposing data fabrication during the investigation into an April 2018 incident in Douma, Syria
- Parliamentary hearings in the Netherlands on Iraq bombings in 2015
- Update on Venezuela
- European Union Council extends sanctions against Russia
- Holding the International Festival of Crimean Tatar Culture in Istanbul on December 14
- Initiative to relocate monument to Marshal of the Soviet Union Ivan Konev from Prague to Slovakia
- Remarks by French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian at the conference Beyond 1989: Hopes and Disillusions after Revolutions held at Charles University in Prague
- Article by Ante Filip Tepic, political scientist at the University of Gothenburg, “Why is Hitler on television every day?”
- Detention of Russian sailors involved in criminal schemes to transport illegal immigrants to Greece and Italy
- Changes to the rules for filling out e-visa application forms for foreign citizens
- Admission of Russian specialists to US bio-lab based in Armenia
- Interagency consultations with sports officials
- Problems with obtaining US visas
- The opening of a bridge across the Samur River on the border of Russia and Azerbaijan
- Nord Stream 2 update
- Preliminary results of the presidential election in Afghanistan
- German Prosecutor General’s request for legal assistance on the Zelimkhan Khangoshvili case
- Response to US sanctions against Nord Stream 2
- Media reports on the Estonian authorities’ unprecedented pressure on the Sputnik news agency being prompted by the United Kingdom
- US Cyber Command operations against the Russian elite
- December 23 Russian-Turkish consultations at the Russian Foreign Ministry
- First joint military exercises between Russia, China and Iran in the Indian Ocean
- The main international event of the outgoing year
- UN Security Council resolution on the return home of North Koreans working overseas
- Won Together International Doc and TV Film Festival in Sevastopol
We have decided to support Kirill Vyshinsky’s initiative to launch a media response to the completely unacceptable behaviour of the Estonian authorities towards the media, in particular Sputnik Estonia.
We have said many times that any pressure on the media, any form of genuine pressure or intimidation when there has been no violation of the law or the accreditation procedure but only political reasons, is unacceptable. The Estonian authorities refuse to listen to Russian and international arguments.
International organisations and specialised agencies have spoken out in support of Sputnik Estonia. And we believe it is important to focus on this problem today. And this is a real problem for our European continent. If a country believes it is committed to the European values envisaged in many international legal documents, in particular, of the Council of Europe and OSCE, it must adhere to them or shrug off the responsibility and recognise its inability to honour this commitment.
This real bullying, not only of Sputnik Estonia but of every employee that works there, is unacceptable. Try to walk in their shoes, like you are trying on these Sputnik vests today. Ask yourself what it’s like to be in the place of these employees, who, instead of preparing for the holidays and doing their job well, have to think about their future, without violating any laws of the country they are in or any rule of professional ethics.
Please forgive me for this long introduction. But I believe it is high time we all stood together and showed that this behaviour is unacceptable.
I will continue without taking off this vest. I really want everyone who will see photos from today’s briefing to ask: why Sputnik? What is going on? How can this be acceptable in today’s world? Who gave the Estonian authorities the right to act like this?
On December 30, Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif will arrive in Moscow on a working visit, during which he will meet with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The ministers will discuss the state of Russian-Iranian relations, prospects for further strengthening the bilateral political dialogue and developing ties in the trade, economic, cultural and other fields.
When discussing current issues on the international and regional agendas, special attention will be paid to the situation regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear programme, the Syrian settlement, developments in the Persian Gulf area and other regional issues.
Following the talks, the ministers will hold a joint news conference.
On January 12-13, 2020, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit the Republic of Uzbekistan.
The minister will be received by President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Mr Lavrov will also have talks with Foreign Minister of the Republic of Uzbekistan Abdulaziz Kamilov. In addition, the Russian Foreign Minister will address the teaching staff and students of the Tashkent branch of the MGIMO University, opened on December 9, 2019.
The meetings will include a review of the range of bilateral political, trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian interaction. The implementation of the agreements reached during President Vladimir Putin’s state visit to Uzbekistan on October 18, 2018 will receive special attention, as will preparations for events at high and top levels in 2020.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan plan to sign a cooperation programme for 2020-2021, which provides for the reconciliation of approaches and coordination of actions in key multilateral and regional areas of foreign policy.
Such interaction is a reflection of the trust-based level of the strategic partnership and alliance between Russia and Uzbekistan.
On January 14-15, 2020, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to Sri Lanka and India.
On January 14, Sergey Lavrov will be received in Colombo by President of Sri Lanka Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and will also hold talks with Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.
There are plans to discuss the current status of Russia-Sri Lanka relations, prospects for advancing political dialogue and expanding cooperation in trade, the economy and the humanitarian area as well as in other spheres and to review matters of expanding the bilateral contractual-legal framework. The parties are to focus on more profound collaboration at international organisations, primarily the UN and its specialised agencies.
The next day, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in New Delhi.
The heads of the foreign policy agencies will review the current status of expanding bilateral relations and their prospects in the context of guidelines set following the 20th Russian-Indian summit of September 4-5, 2019 held in Vladivostok. They will also review the timeframe of top-level political contacts, scheduled for 2020. There are plans to conduct a detailed exchange of views on regional and international affairs.
Additionally, Sergey Lavrov will attend the annual international politology conference Raisina Dialogue to be held in the Indian capital on January 14-16.
On January 14-17, 2020, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves will visit Moscow for the first time in the history of bilateral relations and will attend events of the 11th Gaidar Forum (January 15-16). His talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are scheduled for January 17. The parties will exchange their views on topical regional and international processes and will discuss matters of collaboration on the international arena in the context of this state’s upcoming debut in the work of the UN Security Council in the light of the fact that the country will become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2020-2021.
The Prime Minister’s upcoming visit, talks and the programme of his stay highlight a mutual demand for open, constructive and pragmatic cooperation, while heeding each other’s interests and common tasks to maintain international stability and security.
Russia will assume presidency of the BRICS international association on January 1, 2020.
President Vladimir Putin set out our presidency priorities at the 11th BRICS summit held in Brasilia on November 14, 2019. The main priority of our presidency, just as of the multifaceted cooperation within BRICS, is to enhance the quality of life in the group’s countries.
We will continue to promote the main three spheres of the group countries’ cooperation, that is, political, economic and humanitarian cooperation. We will need to give more effort to enhancing our coordination at the basic international platforms. We are set to deepen our dialogue on counterterrorism.
We plan to update the Strategy for BRICS Economic Partnership so as to build mutual trade and investments. Russia will also be working to reinforce the potential of the BRICS New Development Bank.
We will encourage our partners to continue to promote out parliamentary, sport and educational contacts as well as youth exchanges.
Russia’s motto for its BRICS presidency will be BRICS Partnership for Global Stability, Shared Security and Innovative Growth. We have chosen this motto because it fully conforms to the group’s goals.
We plan to hold around 150 events at different levels, including two summit meetings (the official summit will be held in St Petersburg in July, and an informal summit will take place on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Saudi Arabia) as well as over 20 ministerial meetings held in over 10 Russian cities.
The situation in Syria has mostly been stable in December, with the exception of the northern regions, which the Syrian Government does not control.
The terrorists doubled the number of attacks on the Syrian Government forces in the Idlib de-escalation zone compared to November. The number of artillery strikes reached 60 every day; over 90 Syrian military personnel have been killed in these raids. Tensions increased dangerously near Aleppo. According to reports, the terrorists shelled the city’s residential districts more than 200 times in December, killing civilians.
The Syrian forces had to respond to that. As for us, we are taking measures to keep the situation under control. However, it is time we did something about the terrorist enclave in Idlib. Russia calls for taking more active measures to implement the Sochi memorandum on Idlib signed on September 17, 2018, primarily when it comes to creating a demilitarised zone and separating the so-called moderate opposition from terrorists.
We are working with our Turkish partners to stabilise the situation east of the Euphrates. On December 23, we held a planned ground patrol along the Syrian-Turkish border. Russian military police are conducting ground and air patrolling of the regions controlled by Damascus. Russian military doctors are helping civilians in the towns of Qamishli and Kobani. They have treated some 7,500 patients since November.
However, this balance remains very fragile, first of all because of the illegal presence of US forces and their allies east of the Euphrates, as well as because of Israel’s air strikes at the Syrian territory.
On December 20, the UN Security Council voted on draft resolutions on extending the authorisation for the mechanism that allows cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid in Syria. Russia prepared and submitted a balanced compromise draft that takes into account the changes that have taken place on the ground over the past five years, as well as international humanitarian law. However, Western countries blocked it for purely political reasons. We regret that our Western partners continue to politicise the humanitarian problem, as their actions indicated more than once, and view the cross-border mechanism as an instrument for undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria rather than delivering aid to those who need it.
For our part, we are providing comprehensive humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people both on a bilateral basis and through special international organisations. In mid-December, the Russian Government decided to transfer $17 million to UN agencies for their humanitarian projects in Syria in 2020. In addition, early next year we plan to start wheat deliveries (approximately 100,000 tonnes) to Syria as humanitarian aid.
Russia-Syria relations are developing rapidly. On December 17, Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov, co-chair of the Russian-Syrian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, visited Damascus. On December 19, Damascus welcomed a Russian delegation led by Dmitry Sablin, the coordinator of the State Duma group on ties with the People’s Council of Syria. The Russian politicians met with President Bashar al-Assad to discuss current developments in Syria and the further development of bilateral ties. On December 23-25, Moscow hosted the 12th meeting of the Russian-Syrian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation.
We took note of the release by WikiLeaks on its website of new documents showing that the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM), tasked with establishing facts regarding the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, misrepresented facts about the investigation of the incident that took place in the Syrian city of Douma on April 7, 2018. A number of media outlets reviewed these reports, adding their own analysis and comparisons.
In particular, this includes email exchanges between FFM staff and senior officials from the OPCW Technical Secretariat and some of its departments, expressing bemusement and concern over the fact that data provided by experts who were deployed to Douma were ignored, and these staff members were excluded from the work on the final report. This is a very significant point because it casts doubt on the accuracy of the conclusions contained in the report. We also found this document and its early draft online, they are available. I did not see anyone from the OPCW offer a rebuttal of these documents. In this context, as far as I understand, they can be used and relied upon. It is now up to the media to draw the conclusions. Whichever way you look at this, it leads to many questions, and possibly answers as to what is going on within the OPCW.
This clearly shows that the senior officials of this once respected international body have taken an overtly biased anti-Syrian stance regarding the investigations into the alleged chemical incidents involving the use of toxic chemicals and warfare agents in Syria. As much as we regret this, the OPCW has opted for ignoring the multiple questions raised by the state parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention and the international community despite all the publicity surrounding these outrageous developments. We proceed from the premise that the OPCW is not a private shop, although many try to assume exclusive control over it. This is an intergovernmental organisation that has to provide answers, even if doing this is inconvenient.
As you know, our Western partners often profess groundless accusations against our country, among others, of committing various “grave” violations in the Middle East and North Africa, which includes Syria and so forth. We are being accused of “destroying civilian sites,” of allegedly “attacking medical facilities,” or causing “unjustified civilian casualties.” The Netherlands is not an exception. More and more reports to this effect are surfacing in the media at the initiative of the local officials. Most interestingly, the bigger the momentum in anti-Russia coverage, the more facts emerge showing the actual role and the true interests of these countries, including in terms of humanitarian affairs, and what these states and governments actually think about human rights and preserving life in the Middle East and North Africa in general.
I would like to say a few words about the tragic and outrageous incident involving the Dutch military in Iraq. It has been overlooked by the international community. Journalistic investigations carried out by a number of media outlets showed that in June 2015 F-16 fighters of the Royal Netherlands Air Force bombed the Iraqi town of Hawija. Some reports claim that the raid resulted in 70 civilian casualties, while other sources say that there were about 300 casualties.
It turns out that the Dutch government has been trying to conceal this fact for four years. Two defence ministers, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, who is now Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, and Ank Bijleveld who replaced Hennis-Plasschaert in 2017, intentionally concealed and then for a long time denied the number of civilian casualties resulting from this operation in Iraq, including in front of their national parliament to which they report, by the way.
During parliamentary hearings, Defence Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert and Prime Minister Mark Rutte wanted to get away with evasive replies, claiming that the country’s leadership was not briefed on the number of casualties (and consequently this incident was put on the back burner). At the same time they tried to shift the blame on their allies within the anti-ISIS coalition who allegedly provided inaccurate coordinates to the pilots. Finally, they said that residential buildings were destroyed inadvertently when ammunition from the terrorist hide-outs detonated during the bombing. There were also cynical statements made whereby the government was not entitled to inform the parliament of these developments to ensure the “safety of the pilots.” There were a lot of fairy tales.
As far as we can see from the relevant public documents, pressure from the members of the Second Chamber did not yield any results. The opposition failed in its attempts to hold the government to account or adopt a non-confidence vote. However, in the past, it used to take much less for a government official to be forced to resign.
At the end of the day, cabinet members came through unscathed without even providing any persuasive explanation on the death of dozens, if not hundreds, of innocent civilians, and why this fact was hushed up.
This was just one of the examples of Dutch-style fair justice and the determination to constantly shift focus from discussing their own role in international affairs to other subjects, in particular Russia.
Tension persists in Venezuela. Last time we talked about the Venezuelan Government exposing the radical opposition’s plans to attack military garrisons in Sucre to seize their weapons. Last Sunday, a similar plan was implemented in the state of Bolivar. The attack shows that the radical wing of the opposition has resumed the tactic of provocations aimed at inciting armed clashes and at creating an atmosphere of chaos. The prompt and professional actions taken by the Venezuelan armed forces have prevented the terrorists from seizing over a hundred light weapons.
It is obvious that the opponents of the legitimate Venezuelan authorities have not abandoned their plans to stage a military coup. We were alarmed by what President Nicolas Maduro has said about the plans and possible sites of these provocations. I would like to remind you that Russia has warned about the danger of planning any operations in the border regions more than once, including because of their destructive consequences for all countries in the region. I would like to say that Russia firmly condemns any extremist actions and any attempts to justify them. We will closely monitor the investigation into this incident.
Meanwhile, Washington continues to use the tried and tested methods of interference in Latin American and Caribbean countries approved by American ideologists, including the Monroe Doctrine-style ones. It is now laying a legislative trap for sensible politicians who may try to restore US diplomatic ties with Venezuela. Its preliminary condition for relaunching dialogue with Caracas is the recognition of Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president. If approved, the bill will remain in effect until 2025. This is something to be considered seriously. Juan Guaido’s powers as President of the National Assembly of Venezuela expire in 10 days, on January 5, 2020, when the Venezuelan MPs will elect a new president. The countries that respect democracy cannot predict the outcome of the voting. At the same time, Washington wants its puppet to become head of both the legislative and executive branches in Venezuela for the next five years. I can’t remember such a lawless disgrace ever being forced on Latin America, where the United States has gone a long way historically. It is an international judicial knowhow. In addition, it is also an instance of interference in the affairs of a foreign state in violation of the UN Charter and yet another infringement on the political rights of 30 million Venezuelans.
Polls show that the majority of Venezuelans have had enough of confrontation and are ready to take part in the parliamentary election scheduled for 2020 in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution. However, a radical minority is violating the country’s fundamental law to uphold a semblance of their popularity in the country. This is the goal of the reform of the National Assembly rules and procedures, which was presented as a progressive law defending Venezuelan democracy. After the parliament approved this law, some opposition MPs, including a member of their party, Juan Guaido, declared that the law violated national legislation and filed a complaint with the Constitutional Chamber at the Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, which has declared the law “null and void.” This is a travesty of international law and common sense launched by ideologists in Washington or those supported by it.
We urge Venezuelan politicians and their international colleagues to take a sensible look at the changing situation, to respect Venezuelan legislation and international law, to uphold the right of Venezuelans to independently find a way out of the crisis, and to speak out in support of the National Dialogue Roundtable, which has produced positive results.
We are disappointed by the European Union’s inert policy regarding the extension of sectoral restrictive measures against our country. This is what we think of the Council’s decision of December 19, 2019.
The European Union, unfortunately, has again missed the opportunity to rehabilitate relations with its largest neighbour on the continent. Today it is more than obvious that the unilateral sanctions do not work. They not only resulted in deteriorated Russia-EU relations, which, as we already mentioned, marked their 30th anniversary this year, but also complicated the activity of the EU economic operators on the Russian market. The losses of European Union from the sanctions standoff have reached hundreds of billions of euros.
We still hope that there are sensible politicians in the EU, who should be able to purchase a calculator and make some calculations on it. They are also probably able to reflect on ways to bring relations with Russia in line with the long-term interests of their own countries and peoples. It would seem that it would serve the purpose of implementing a ‘more strategic’ approach in international affairs set by EU leaders.
On December 14, Istanbul, the Republic of Turkey, hosted the International Festival of Crimean Tatar Culture with the active assistance of the local associations of ethnic Crimean Tatars and business leaders. The event brought together the Haytarma Crimean Tatar Ensemble of Song and Dance, the Crimean Federation of National Kurash Wrestling, the Millet Public Television Company, the Crimean Tatar Museum of Cultural and Historical Legacy, as well as representatives of the Crimean Federal University and the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of the Republic of Crimea.
The aim of the festival was to display the rich cultural heritage of Crimean Tatars and convey the truthful information about the efforts to preserve it in Crimea to the Turkish public. We consider it a very positive event, which will facilitate the establishment of ties between the Crimean Tatars in Crimea and Turkey. These ties must be promoted and encouraged. The most important thing is to give people an opportunity to learn about each other, each other’s achievements and problems, learn about the everyday lives of people through normal cultural relations and communication, instead of using imaginary humanitarian data by the analysts who have not visited Crimea in the past five years.
We are grateful to the former Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic Jan Carnogursky who has contacted Prague-6 municipal authorities and suggested buying the monument to Marshal of the Soviet Union Ivan Konev which is located in this district and relocating it to Slovakia and installing it there.
The mocking attitude of local politicians towards the memory of the Soviet military commander who liberated the Czech capital from the Nazi scourge has offended reasonable segments of European society.
We are confident that the initiators of the campaign to rewrite history in line with time-serving political considerations will prove unable to erase the grateful attitude of the continent’s nations towards the Red Army that liberated them from Nazism.
At the same time, we reaffirm our position with regard to monuments: They retain their meaning and significance in those areas where historical events [in whose honour they were put up] had taken place.
Speaking of the above-mentioned decision and other odious decisions by a number of Prague municipalities, we would like to once again urge the state agencies of the Czech Republic not to cite domestic legal restrictions but to start fulfilling their international obligations with regard to memorials and monuments.
What we call the rewriting of the results of WWII is assuming disastrous proportions and absolutely ugly forms. To be honest, we are forced to recheck these incoming reports and information because it was simply impossible to believe them from the very beginning. It appears that educated and reasonable people who are knowledgeable about history not just from textbooks and who are members of generations that recall the postwar world as it looks like decades later as the one that was built with due account for the results of WWII, simply cannot say this. But it turns out that they can.
We took note of the speech by Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs of the French Republic Jean-Yves Le Drian on December 6 at Charles University in Prague as part of the conference titled Beyond 1989: Hopes and Disillusions after Revolutions.
We definitely feel compelled to offer a detailed response to the remarks by the French foreign minister. He called for combatting historical relativism and revisionism, warning against any politically-driven attempts to rewrite history, while at the same time going down this untenable path by equating the annexation of Eastern Europe by the Nazi regime and the post-war evolution of this region within the socialist system.
We categorically oppose this distorted logic, especially coming from an official representing France in international affairs, rather than a fringe historian. Interpretations of the post-war decades of Soviet rule in this region may differ, but there is no way the occupation of the Czech Republic or Poland by Hitler can be equated to the period when these countries lived under the people’s democracy. This is what a crime against history is all about. It can be committed inadvertently. Sometimes it can be explained by lack of knowledge. But coming from an educated person, we do not have any right to use any other epithets. This position is totally at odds with objective historical approaches.
It is equally impossible to comprehend why during his presentation in Prague he did not mention the Munich Accords with their disastrous consequences for Czechoslovakia, or the liberation of the Czech capital by the Red Army that suffered heavy casualties in the operation amounting to 11,000 soldiers and officers.
In this context, we cannot fail to question the French initiative to establish an Observatory on History Teaching under the auspices of the Council of Europe. At the outset, Russia was quite positive about this proposal. Now we are not as sure as we were that Paris is not using this initiative to impose an equally biased approach to major historical events.
The call on Eastern European countries to sacrifice part of their sovereignty for enhancing integration within the European Union also sounded strange, to say the least, against the backdrop of the bitter denunciation of the so-called annexation of the Baltic states by the USSR. There is also an attempt to pretend that the Yalta Conference did not yield any results, although it was quite a meaningful event for France. It is astonishing to hear that France never accepted the Yalta world order. There are things that I find hard to believe. It took us some time to respond because we wanted to check whether we understood everything correctly, or not everything was published. Just to remind those who may not be aware of this, it is as part of this world order that the United Nations Organisation was established, and France joined the ranks of the victorious powers and got a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. The Provisional Government of the French Republic did not object to the resolutions of the conference whereby it received an occupation zone in Germany under its control and the right to be part of the Allied Control Council for Germany. France went on to join a number of international instruments adopted in the follow-up to the Yalta agreements. France was represented during the drafting of the German Instrument of Surrender, the Agreement on the occupation zones in Germany and the Agreement on Control Machinery in Germany, and also took part in the signing of surrender documents with Germany and Japan, and preparing peace treaties with Germany’s former allies. I cannot believe that Paris forgot all this.
Of course, there is no getting away from the fact that it was the Soviet Union that played a key role in helping France restore its international standing. Let me remind you that the USSR practically lobbied for France, convincing the allies to accept its point of view. You can read the archives, they do exist.
Unlike the USSR, Great Britain and the United States did not recognise the Provisional Government of France for a long time and minimised military assistance to General de Gaulle’s armed forces in the liberated territories. In this situation the Franco-Soviet Treaty of Alliance and Mutual Assistance that was signed in Moscow on December 10, 1944, played a critical role.
Even considering the audience targeted by this speech, the ideas that were voiced in Prague hardly correspond to the focus on promoting constructive dialogue and cooperation that has been apparent in Russia-France relations in recent months.
Unfortunately, this question gets so much attention in Russia for a number of reasons. We remember all too well where experiments with history can take the world. Not only Russia or the Russian society are concerned. We received many questions after the presentation by the French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian.
I was struck by an article that recently came out in Sweden. I realised then that those topics that concern Russia, Russian society, Russian citizens, and Russian historians, one way or another, also concern members of the public in other European countries. Officialdom does not seem to talk much about this, but academics and the journalistic community are beginning to debate this topic.
The article I am talking about focuses on romanticising the image of Adolf Hitler in the local media. The writer provides an analysis of publications and broadcasts on this topic. According to the article, the abundance of so-called historical programmes that praise certain geopolitical achievements of the head of the Third Reich shortly before WWII will inevitably lead to an increase in the number of ultra-right activists in Europe and specifically in Sweden. The question is raised about the need to tell the true story, the truth about those events, rather than snatch things out of context – let alone romanticising that period.
In particular, we are talking about an article by a representative of the University of Gothenburg, a political scientist of Croatian origin, Ante Filip Tepic, who asked the Swedish public a peculiar question: Why is Hitler on television every day? His analysis was published by Expressen, a central newspaper, on December 25. He notes that Swedish educational programmes on the 1930s-1940s events in Europe have acquired a very dangerous colouring of late. He is indignant that the creators of these programmes focus too much on the details of Hitler’s biography, voluntarily or involuntarily romanticising the image of the greatest criminal in human history, creating, in the eyes of an inexperienced viewer, an image of a charismatic 20th century leader. In the author’s opinion, the endless stories about how the founder of the Third Reich instantly gained popularity, hoodwinked many world leaders, destroyed millions of lives sound like some potential inspirational instruction for the younger generation.
The article also says that the hoaxes spread by the local television about the Nazi elite successfully fleeing to South America, can give young people an idea – unfortunately, given their limited knowledge of history – of the impunity of criminals who are responsible for tens of millions of deaths.
This publication is actually quite indicative, because, as it seems to us, the demolition of memorials, the pseudo-expert conferences, the statements made by officials reinterpreting historical events at strange symposiums, the reprinting of literary works by the leaders of the Third Reich are all links of the same chain. Indeed, such a change in the perception of those events is the other side of the same coin.
I think this topic should be given a thought because history is developing cyclically. After some time, we will be facing problems we will be incapable of dealing with.
Recently, detentions of Russian sailors serving under contracts with foreign ships have become more frequent at the maritime borders of Greece and Italy. The Russians are charged with transporting illegal immigrants, as a rule, from Turkey, the Balkan states or North African countries.
Now 24 people are held in custody in Greece and 23 in Italy. Some of them have already been convicted, while most sailors are still waiting for a final decision to be made by the local judicial authorities. The Russians themselves claim they have been dragged into this activity fraudulently. Their recruiters allegedly offered them highly paid jobs on cruise boats, through social media or personal contact. It was not until they arrived at their destinations that the Russians realised that matters stood differently.
It should be noted that European courts treat this type of crime uncompromisingly and do not take into account any extenuating circumstances. No acquittals ever happened after a red-handed detention. We would like to emphasise that the punishment in such cases is really harsh – the convicts face imprisonment for a term of from five years to life. The capabilities of our country's diplomatic missions and consular offices in such cases are very limited. Not when illegal actions have been recorded, and ignorance of laws, as you know, does not exempt from liability. Diplomats can monitor the observance of our citizens’ procedural rights and, if those rights are violated, signal to local authorities. However, defence during their trials is performed exclusively by licensed lawyers, as in Russia.
We caution Russian citizens to be very careful when seeking employment abroad, especially if the counterpart is not a reputable large company but random people on social accounts with unproven resources. Do not get deluded – high compensation offered for regular routine work always suggests illegal actions. Moreover, it is rank-and-file workers who get punished. Their superiors generally manage to get off. An irresponsible and careless attitude can lead to extremely grave consequences.
This does not mean that now Russian citizens will not have consular protection and our consular services and foreign missions will not provide them with support and assistance. We just have to be proactive to prevent more such cases and situations.
In order to minimise the number of mistakes made by foreign citizens when they fill out e-visa application forms and the number of incidents when travellers are denied entry to the Russian Federation, the following changes were made on the Foreign Ministry’s website for e-visas, electronic-visa.kdmid.ru, on December 17.
The new rules for filling out the application form have been published. Foreign citizens now have to write their names and surnames in strict accordance with the machine-readable part of their passports, irrespective of how they are spelled in the visual part.
Thus, it is a simple and user-friendly process of filling out forms for foreign citizens if they have several names, last names and/or if their names are written in the visual part of the passport with letters of their national language, as well as a unified approach of transport companies and the border service to check that personal data in the e-visa is the same as in the passport. Most of the problems were associated with this discrepancy.
In addition, the size and colour of the font of the most important information have been changed.
A link to the calculator of the allowed duration of stay in the Russian Federation has been added.
A warning was added for foreign citizens that any mistake in the passport information can become the reason for travellers to be denied entry to the Russian Federation. Foreign citizens are advised to double check the form before submitting the application.
At the same time, it should be noted that an e-visa, as well as a regular visa, cannot serve as a guarantee of entry to the Russian Federation. The final decision is made at the border checkpoint, which is in full compliance with international practice.
I would like to say that this issue is one of the most important and problematic. The Foreign Ministry is actively working on it to minimise potential problems.
Question: Quite recently, Yerevan and Moscow reached agreements on admitting Russian specialists to a US biological observatory in Armenia. However, it was noted that specific deadlines will be clarified after departmental coordination and departmental work are complete. Do you have any news on this score?
Maria Zakharova: I will specify these deadlines, and I will let you know. So far, I have not seen that these deadlines have been coordinated, but I will specify the matter.
Question: I would also like to wish you a Happy New Year and robust health because one needs to be very fit working in various climatic zones.
And here are some chronological facts for my question. In November-December 2017, WADA barred the Russian national team from taking part in the 2018 Winter Olympics in the Republic of Korea. In late 2017, the US Department of Justice demanded that RT register as a foreign agent. In February 2018, Russian Olympic athletes took part in the Winter Olympics under a white flag. On March 4, 2018, Sergey Skripal was poisoned in the United Kingdom, with British authorities accusing Russia. On April 15, 2018, a provocation was staged in Syria, with the OPCW launching an investigation. On May 15, 2018, Kirill Vyshinsky was arrested in Kiev. On July 16, 2018, the US Department of Justice arrested Maria Butina. I have mentioned the most sensational facts. History moves in circles: On December 9, 2019, WADA suspended the Russian team for another four years. So, we are wearing these vests and supporting Sputnik, rather than RT. One does not have to be a wizard astrologer to realise that, if Russian athletes and sports officials once again go to Japan under a white flag, then Russian citizens would feel even more uneasy throughout 2020. So, here is my question: Is it possible to hold some inter-departmental consultations with sports officials and make them understand that they should not travel under a white flag and take part in Olympic Games and other competitions.
Maria Zakharova: I would like to say that one also needs absolutely robust health for working with representatives of media outlets.
Replying to your question, I would like to note that we don’t hold such inter-departmental consultations on matters addressed by other agencies. At the same time, we, indeed, collaborate with Russian ministries and agencies, including the Ministry of Sport, on various international-law measures [which have to be implemented and which will be implemented] for defending the rights of Russian athletes. This sufficiently active work is now underway. And I can confirm this. Regarding your specific question on specific symbols, this matter is, of course, addressed at an inter-departmental level, too. But I would say the decision will probably be made in line with the entire combination of factors that should be taken into account. International-law activities are part of the Ministry’s work, and the Ministry largely coordinates the work of national ministries and agencies. Well, this work is proceeding very actively.
Question: There were reports recently of Russian diplomats being prevented from travelling to the United States to take part in UN events. This is not the first time this has happened and it will not be the last. But what can be done? It is not uncommon for diplomats from Iran, Russia and a number of other countries to have visa problems when planning a diplomatic trip to the US. What was the response from Russia and the international community?
Maria Zakharova: I believe that we have had this problem before. You mentioned the first year and the first time. When it happened for the first time, it was done somewhat boorishly by the US when Russia had its delegation on stand-by but did not know how many members, and from what agencies and branches of government, would be able to attend the UN General Assembly’s “political week.” This was the way it happened the first time. However, this is by no means the first year or the first time the US has denied visas to Foreign Ministry employees, diplomats and representatives of other Russian ministries travelling to the United Nations and various events, even official events held at the UN.
Let me remind you that in 2015 there was a similar international row with the United States when Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko was unable to attend parliamentary events at the UN Headquarters. Our experts who are not designated on any stop lists or under sanctions, and are experts in specific matters, respected by their foreign peers, are regularly prevented from attending various UN General Assembly committee meetings and other events. Usually, instead of having their visa applications refused, they simply do not issue them on time. Considering the need to make an overseas flight of about nine hours, it is usually too late to change the ticket and impossible to get there on time. This is a long-standing issue. How can it be resolved? Is Russia alone in being treated this way? No, Russia is not alone. When certain US officials or politicians (not the United States as a country and even less so its people) believe that certain people or countries are acting or making statements in an undesirable manner, they become entangled in visa warfare. Is this legal? On the one hand, I have just said that a state has the right to refuse a visa and prevent a person from entering its territory even with a visa. This is a sovereign right. There is one caveat however. The United States has an obligation towards the international community to issue visas to people travelling to events and meetings held by UN bodies, including the General Assembly, the Security Council, and other forums and structures. This is an obligation. This is my first point. However, apart from hosting the UN Headquarters, the US also has other obligations, such as not to hinder the free movement of people or their communications. This includes refraining from intentionally using visa restrictions and rules governing entry to and departure from the country for political purposes and as a punitive measure. This does not refer to criminals, dangerous people or those who pose a national security threat, but to situations where the point of view people express does not coincide with the opinion of government agencies that have the power to deny entry. This is part of the country’s international obligations. Not only did the OSCE, where the US is still a member, discuss these matters, but also adopted documents to this effect.
What is to be done? There are international legal structures and mechanisms that we have recently mentioned in our comments. We will use them, and will keep doing so. But there is also the notion of solidarity that our Western partners have recently reinvigorated and reanimated, by the way. Each country has to understand one simple thing: they will be the next to face this kind of pressure and this unfriendly and illegal policy that can even be referred to as persecution. No one can guarantee anything.
Question: On December 24, your birthday, the bridge over the Samur River, on the Russian-Azerbaijani border, opened in an impressive setting. What does the Foreign Ministry think about the opening of this bridge, and what is your opinion of 2019 in the context of expanding relations between Russia and Azerbaijan.
Maria Zakharova: Do you associate the opening of the bridge with my birthday? I thought that Vestnik Kavkaza might link it with the birthday of President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. I don’t make any connection between these events, but I believe this is a nice theory.
Question: I would like to make the following comment. When the United States declared sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 project, it seemed it was only for its own benefit. In effect, the US side wanted to shut down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and to throw doubt on what happened next …
Maria Zakharova: This is something obvious. US Ambassador to Germany Richard A. Grenell is a good friend of mine. We worked together in New York City, and he was the US mission’s press attaché. Ambassador Grenell has made a lot of statements on this matter and written many articles dealing with it. He coaxed them softly, but I get the impression that he used some tough leverage for coercing the German establishment and clearly set forth the US approach. They concealed nothing and resorted to open and direct threats. They did not even lobby for this because lobbying is when someone offers interesting and more profitable terms and some options that would open up if the relevant decisions are made. But this was intimidation and a very aggressive approach. No one concealed anything. On the other hand, it would be interesting to know how this tallies with the law that Washington defended for so many years and free-market competition. If you recall, they told us ten years ago that it was absolutely impossible to link the energy aspect and sector with politics, and that these two options were completely different. It would be unacceptable if, God forbid, Russia linked its national interests or international approaches with the energy sector. But, in Washington’s opinion, it is possible and necessary to do this. No one concealed this.
Question: The preliminary results of the presidential election in Afghanistan were announced this week, and a number of countries have officially recognised them. I would like to know what Russia thinks about this.
Maria Zakharova: On the one hand, we are aware that the preliminary results of the presidential election in Afghanistan were announced, as you say. But we also noted that some presidential candidates emphatically disagreed with them. In this connection, we are counting on a thorough and unbiased assessment of all existing claims, so as to guarantee the most honest election results that the people of Afghanistan would then accept.
Question: It has recently become known that the German Prosecutor General’s Office did not send a request for legal assistance in the case of Zurab Khangoshvili, killed in Berlin, until December 6 and 10 — that is, after Russian diplomats had been expelled from the country. Could you comment on this information?
Maria Zakharova: Yes, I can confirm this. Moscow indeed received official requests from Berlin to provide legal assistance in the investigation of the murder of former member of North Caucasus terrorist groups Zurab Khangoshvili on December 6 and 10. This indeed happened after the German government’s unjustified decision to declare two members of the Russian embassy in Berlin personae non gratae. As a reminder, their expulsion was announced on December 4 and on that day, Germany said the two diplomats should leave Germany because Russia was not showing the proper level of cooperation. But the actual request for cooperation came only two days later. I can, indeed, officially confirm this. And, well, at the same time, I can also say that contacts between the law enforcement agencies and special services of Russia and Germany on the so-called Khangoshvili case have been going on since the end of August. This is also recognised by Berlin.
Although we have mentioned this on many occasions, I can repeat once again that the German authorities’ allegations about Russia’s allegedly unsatisfactory level of cooperation in clarifying the circumstances of the crime, look strange at the very least, and, with the recent confirmation of the dates, are not true. The whole situation seemed strange to us in the first place. We never expected official representatives of Germany to make such statements that Russia was not contacting the German side about that person. You know that we have cited the relevant facts concerning the dates of the relevant inquiries to the German side and the agencies involved. So frankly speaking, in this case, you know Berlin looks somewhat lame.
Question: Can any retaliatory measures be expected from Moscow to US sanctions against Nord Stream 2 – such as, against American private companies?
Maria Zakharova: I will not say exactly what the retaliatory measures will be on Russia’s part. But, as you have already heard from Russian officials at various levels, we always respond to such unfriendly attacks. So unfortunately, last time I checked, this symmetrical, or ‘mirror,’ approach was still in effect.
Question: According to media reports, Estonia’s unprecedented attacks on the Sputnik news agency have been orchestrated by Britain and its special services. What can you say about these assumptions?
Maria Zakharova: I have seen these reports. By the way, we have had similar questions. I have not seen the term “special services,” but I remember reading that “Estonia, guided by British mentors, is pursuing an anti-Russia policy, in particular, with regard to Russian media.”
Here is what I would like to say. “There is a special and very close bilateral friendship between Britain and Estonia, but also more broadly, the United Kingdom is our key strategic partner, who will continue to make a strong commitment to allied relations and European security. We wish to have the closest possible relationship in all areas, especially in the fields of foreign, defence and security policy, as well as economics and education.”
Do you think I have made this up? Not at all. Do you want to know who said this? It was not a journalist or analyst. It was Prime Minister of Estonia Juri Ratas. Here you are. It is an official statement by the Prime Minister of Estonia. It was made the other day, on the occasion of a visit by – guess who? Yes, the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
The tone in relations between these two countries has been set and explained by their officials. We have not invented this. It is an open fact, and it doesn’t take much effort to find it. By the way, Boris Johnson said in response to this statement by his Estonian counterpart – a quote as well: “NATO (…) has been historically the most successful military alliance in (…) the last 500 years and it’s got a great future. But today we are here to show Britain’s support for Estonia. ...And we will continue for a very long time.”
This is very interesting, historically. And this will continue in Estonia with Britain’s mentorship in various fields. I would like to repeat that it was not I who said this, and it was not our experts who wrote this. This is the heads of two sovereign states talking about their countries’ special relations. And the last but not the least, the deployment of British troops in Estonia is increasing the anti-Russia bias of that Baltic state, including in its attitude to the Russian media. It is also an undeniable fact that the British authorities do not respect international standards in the field of freedom of the media, denying some media outlets, including Russian ones, access to international events held in the UK, as well as denying visas or refusing to prolong visas for journalists. The British authorities also apply discriminatory measures against individual media representatives. What London is doing to Julian Assange is a glaring example of Britain’s violation of all and any journalistic standards.
And now let’s project London’s special relations to the current situation in Estonia. Everything the “big brother” has done before is being done in Estonia, clearly with the support which Boris Johnson and Juri Ratas mentioned. They even recited the fields where these special relations apply.
As for the field of the media, let’s talk about facts, so that nobody can accuse us of mere hypothesising. London and Tallinn, the media, cooperation and special relations. There is an active system of grants under the so-called Baltic Centre for Media Excellence. Many of its donors are British organisations, including the Foreign Office itself and the notorious British Council. The tentacles of certain British agencies have taken hold of the Baltic countries, including the country in question, Estonia.
As for the British Council, you can see it everywhere. Here are a few examples. The Baltic Centre for Investigative Journalism, which has declared the goal of exposing “Russian propaganda,” is located in Riga, Latvia. According to public sources, this centre has prepared secret reports about the mood of Russian speakers in the Baltics for a British intelligence and defence fund. No, we have not made this up. It is not even data that needs to be verified. It is public information. You just need 20 minutes for browsing an online search engine to find many more interesting things. In principle, the logical conclusion is that this centre is working to fulfil the tasks and meet the goals of the concerned services. There are many more such examples. It is notable that few of the joint British-Estonian projects have constructive goals. More than that, they are not focused on EU problems – or Brexit – either. They are paid, instructed and set to act against Russia. And they don’t even make a secret of this. Moreover, it looks like a declared mission to me. And lastly, huge sums are allocated for this. Does it surprise you? Is there anyone who doesn’t know this? Is it a secret? No, it isn’t. I believe that we should be talking about this more often. Regrettably, we had a sad occasion for talking about this today – pressure put on a Russian media outlet. Well, let’s not forget about this; let’s continue to talk about it.
Question: The Washington Post recently published an article quoting US officials that the US cyber command is planning operations against the Russian elite. Of course, they justify this by possible interference in the US elections in 2020. The idea is that confidential information from Russian politicians and businesspeople could be threatened. Is this threat real? Is there any evidence of such interference and will Russia take any reciprocal actions? Thank you.
Maria Zakharova: Is this a revelation of a big secret for us? Is it some new reality? This is what has been actively used by our Western partners that interfered in home affairs and sometimes changed regimes. Now many European countries have been subject to media attacks when through the publishing of some discrediting materials pressure was exerted on the domestic situation or international contacts of these countries. As a result, either governments have had to quit or it was necessary to shape some public opinion for adopting some or other decision.
Today, with such statements the United States is legalising its activities. It appears that the United States is behind the video footage of people associated with the Russian speaking environment ostensibly doing something illegal. So we can just thank them for this admission and the evidence of their obviously illegal activities. The US accuses others of doing this but not themselves.
Question: On December 23, a Turkish delegation came to Moscow to discuss the situation in Syria and Libya. Today, the Vedomosti newspaper wrote that they delayed leaving for three days. Can you tell us anything about this or should we wait for a statement?
Maria Zakharova: I can confirm that Russia-Turkey consultations took place at the Russian Foreign Ministry on December 23. Maybe you didn’t notice this but I will reveal a great secret: a relevant report was published on the Foreign Ministry website. I think it is better to ask the Turkish delegation why they extended their stay. Moscow is very beautiful and festive now. Maybe they liked it. I have no additional information, but I can check on my side. However, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we have already officially published this information. Naturally, different issues have been discussed, including the urgent situation in Libya. I would like to draw your attention to this press release.
Question: Tomorrow, on December 27, Russia, China and Iran will hold joint military exercises in the Indian Ocean for the first time. What is your opinion on this? I would also like to thank you for the visas for the filming crew of the TV channel that came to Russia this year.
Maria Zakharova: Thank you very much. I’d just say that you are no exception. We help all journalists promptly process their documents for arrival in our country. We have a fairly simple and transparent procedure for processing travel documents. The press centre does not receive complaints from anyone. But thank you for your kind words.
As for military exercises, I don’t think I should give my assessments. This should be done by military experts and the Defence Ministry. We are conducting these activities openly and legally. We are dealing with issues that are linked with the maintenance of stability and security and the struggle against terrorism in the region. I would like to repeat that this bilateral or multilateral cooperation is always based on a legal foundation.
Question: What international event do you consider the most important in the outgoing year? Please tell us how you are going to see the New Year in. Thank you.
Maria Zakharova: I think the main achievement of the outgoing year is the absence of any global upheaval or a new hot conflict. So let me congratulate you on this. As we have said more than once, peace is not a natural situation. For all of us to enjoy it, many experts in different countries and international organisations that are called on to maintain peace must work hard to make it possible. So, they all did a good job this year. I hope this is so. But I won’t make a final statement because there are still several days left before the New Year. But in any event, the 360 days of this year so far are our main common achievement. As for how I will see the New Year in, I will tell you later, probably via social media.
Question: Regarding the UN Security Council resolution on sending workers from North Korea home. Would you please comment on the current situation? Will Russia report on the fulfillment of this resolution?
Maria Zakharova: We strongly believe that the sanctions the UN Security Council imposes, including on North Korea, should be scrupulously observed. You know that trade and economic ties between Russia and North Korea are as transparent as they could possibly be and they cover only those areas that are not prohibited under the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. To give you an example, we submit all the reports we are required to submit to the UN Security Council Committee [Established Pursuant to Resolution 1718] on Russia’s export of oil products to North Korea and on the transit of Russian coal via the North Korean port Rajin, as well as on the shipments of materials that are required to support port operations, and we do so in a timely manner.
Russian customs agencies take all the necessary measures to prevent goods from North Korea that fall under the sanctions from passing the Russian border. Our customs bodies issue, in a transparent manner, news releases, in which they give detailed accounts of incidents involving the seizing of banned goods. All this information is available.
At the same time, our principled approach to this matter is that it is necessary to more actively use UN Security Council mechanisms to facilitate the settlement of the situation on the Korean Peninsula. The UN Security Council should increase its efforts to encourage Pyongyang to take steps towards denuclearisation. In practice, this means the gradual easing of the international sanctions imposed on North Korea as the country takes practical steps towards nuclear disarmament. Accordingly, we regard the policy of exerting the so-called maximum pressure on Pyongyang, which is pursued by some members of the Security Council, to be counter-productive and shortsighted as it implies that the sanctions should be preserved in full until the process of denuclearisation is over.
In addition, as you know, attempts are being made to sever Pyongyang’s external ties even in areas that are not related to nuclear missiles programmes. Clearly, this impractical position does nothing to facilitate the settlement process. In order to mitigate the negative humanitarian impact on the population of North Korea, Russia insists that international sanctions be eased in a manner proposed by UN-linked institutions carrying out activities in North Korea. We also believe that international restrictions imposed on Pyongyang should exclusively target channels that are used to fund the country’s nuclear missile programmes. These restrictions cannot be used to punish civilians.
Question: You said that next year there would be a high-level meeting between the Russian and Uzbekistani foreign ministers. This is not a question – rather it is a wish. Every year I come to Sevastopol for the Won Together International Doc & TV Film Festival. This festival is not just about war but it is also about everyday victory. Films from Uzbekistan are included in this festival programme. Do you think the House of Russian Culture in Uzbekistan can help promote these films?
Maria Zakharova: Which city hosts the festival?
Maria Zakharova: Let’s take Roman Tsymbalyuk [Ukrainian journalist] with us. We will both see the film and visit Sevastopol. This is a good subject. And you, as a representative of a Ukrainian media outlet, can tell your subscribers what is really happening in Crimea. At the same time, you can also get to know Uzbek films.