Briefing of the Foreign Ministry Spokesman
Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, April 29, 2020
During the past week, developments related to the spread of the coronavirus remained alarming. The pandemic is still raging in over 180 countries. There are general estimates of international health organisations. They confirm this fairly worrisome trend. The total number of infected people is growing. As of April 28, it exceeded 3 million and continues growing. Let me repeat that these estimates are confirmed and verified by international health organisations.
Many countries have over 100,000 cases: the United States (their number is approaching 1 million), Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Britain and Turkey. The evolution of the sanitary-epidemiological situation has differed by country and region. A relative reduction in the disease and death rates was recorded in Italy, Spain, Germany, France and the Czech Republic. In the US, there has been practically no change in the dynamics of the infection’s spread. Regrettably, as a result, tens of thousands of people have contracted the disease and many have died.
Work continues to help Russians who are stuck abroad.
Following the decisions and procedures of the Government Emergency Response Centre, the Foreign Ministry is taking an active part in helping Russian citizens return home as soon as possible. This work is being carried out with due account of the sanitary-epidemiological situation that is taking shape in this country and the real capacity to receive arriving people and put them in two-week quarantine. I am referring to the regions.
The practice of bringing people to their cities and regions of permanent residence is being developed. We note that regional governors have actively joined these efforts. The Foreign Ministry is receiving many requests of assistance, including from governors. The local authorities are drafting programmes to enable arriving people to follow all isolation procedures. In some cases, they even pay for return flights and help people get home from airports.
At the same time, the Government made decisions to grant material and financial assistance to those who are waiting to return home. For this purpose, the Foreign Ministry has established a commission on cash remittances. Thousands of Russians are already receiving them. Every day, we conduct this difficult, painstaking work. I would like to emphasise that this assistance by no means alters the goal of helping Russians return home.
According to official information of the working group of the Federal Air Transport Agency, about 250,000 people came home from March 20 to April 26. Since the quotas on receiving compatriots from abroad in Moscow and other regions were approved by the Government Emergency Response Centre to prevent the importation and spread of the novel coronavirus in Russia on March 31, over 14,000 have been brought home.
There is another issue we are working on now that has evoked public interest and is monitored both by the media and society: Russian school students who remained in the United States. Just a couple of hours ago, an Aeroflot plane landed in Sheremetyevo and brought a large group of our children home. Let me speak more of that.
The Russian Embassy in Washington, despite the fact that a group of Russian school children arrived in Moscow today, continues searching for our children in the United States. We have already said how they got there: through various American education programmes whose implementation was not agreed upon with our authorities and was in fact conducted in secret. When the coronavirus pandemic broke out, some receiving organisations preferred to make an exit and relieve themselves of any responsibility for the Russian children in the United States, and asked to take them away as soon as possible.
The US Department of State was the first to make this request on April 6. It announced that the Secondary School Student Programme, which was advertised on the State Department website, was being closed. However, it did not provide us with a list of children, even the exact number of them. They only said that there were “approximately” 80 secondary school students from Russia.
Since last week, American diplomats have been saying that “fewer than 30” Russian teenagers remained in the United States as part of various programmes. It is hard to say where these numbers come from. The US authorities also cannot say when and how these children, who did not contact the Russian Embassy, left Russia. They never explained any of this, never gave us the contacts of these children despite our numerous official requests. The Russian Embassy itself found 35 school students in various states. It is clearly more than Washington claimed (30 children).
Most children left New York aboard Russian flights specially organised to bring them home. This is the information as of today. Some of the children, as agreed by their parents and given that they were from Russian regions, decided to stay in the United States until their planned leave in May-June. Actually, this decision was made together by the parents, children and with the assistance of diplomats. It was their choice. Nobody tried to convince them to stay or leave. We looked at each particular situation separately taking into account what would be best for a concrete child given all the circumstances.
So, as of today, we can say that some 40 children have returned to Russia; 19 children arrived today.
Given this confusion with the numbers and conflicting data provided to us by the US authorities, we will continue looking for the children.
In general, as of today, all the children we found and who contacted us themselves or whose parents contacted us have been either returned to Russia (most of them) or decided to wait for their US visas to expire. At the same time, we have not finished our work; we cannot finish it because we don’t have complete information about how many Russian school students are currently staying in the United States.
Therefore, we are grateful for any information and want to thank everyone who got involved in this effort and helped us.
So, that is how information was concealed from us. Deliberately or not, maybe it is the confusion and the mess in the US Department of State, or maybe it is someone’s malicious intent, I don’t want to talk about it now. All this makes us raise this issue again and ask Russian schools and relevant oversight agencies to be responsible. It is obvious that we must not let our children be exported abroad by anybody without the clearly stated responsibility of the receiving agencies, which also should be backed by government guarantees: where they go, for how long, what their contacts are, and who is responsible for their stay abroad. In fact, the problems that many people did not care about are seen very clearly against the backdrop of this pandemic crisis. Naturally, we will draw our conclusions.
On April 30, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in a videoconference of the Normandy format countries’ foreign ministers.
They will discuss the implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures and the decisions of the Paris summit held in December 2019.
I would like to note that we have relaunched a traditional, though essentially innovative event, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s news conferences on the outcome of his international talks.
We have had the first such event. Following a meeting of the BRICS Council of Foreign Ministers yesterday, Sergey Lavrov held a briefing for Russian and international journalists. We are planning to hold a virtual press opportunity on the outcome of the videoconference tomorrow.
Despite the current difficulties created by the spread of the coronavirus infection throughout the world and quarantines enforced in nearly all countries, the Russian diplomatic missions abroad continue working but have adjusted their operations to these conditions. The schedule and formats of the planned celebration events on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 have been revised. This primarily concerns mass events. In particular, it has been decided to postpone the formal events planned at the Russian diplomatic missions abroad, the public ceremonies of laying wreaths at Russian military memorials, exhibitions, concerts, meetings with compatriots and sports events.
In light of the epidemic, our foreign missions plan to focus on holding online and media events due to the coronavirus infection, such as photo exhibitions and special expositions, including war photo and video flashbacks, as well as the screening of Russian feature and documentary films and programmes about the Great Patriotic War.
As usual, representatives of the associations of Russian compatriots living abroad will attend the Victory Day celebrations we will organise. However, this year they will be held online, including the international Immortal Regiment march, the Candle of Memory and the St George’s Ribbon campaign. In addition to this, Russian diplomats will take part in the memorial events organised by the local authorities, including virtual ones.
The current situation has greatly complicated the planned presentation of commemoration medals for the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 to the war veterans who live abroad. Therefore, we plan to hold onsite presentation of the medals by members of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s missions abroad who will visit the veterans in person or mail their medals to them. This will be done in strict compliance with the epidemiological situation and instructions issued by local authorities. We will do everything in our power so that the veterans who live abroad celebrate Victory Day and know that it will be celebrated broadly, as usual, in Russia. They must know that they have not been forgotten and that the memory of their heroism is still alive in our hearts and is also part of our very lives. However, the focus will be on the veterans’ health.
Since it will be impossible to hold protocol and other major events on May 9, we are considering the possibility of postponing them to a later date. For example, Russia’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York has provisionally decided to postpone until autumn a photo exhibition on the press in the war, which we are organising together with the TASS news agency, as well as a gala concert at the UN General Assembly hall with Russian music groups and individual performers.
The ministry’s Information and Press Department is providing information and advisory assistance to our missions abroad. We are working as a close-knit team, giving our foreign offices access to archival photographs and photo collections, including those prepared by the Federal Archive Agency (Rosarkhiv) and Russian news agencies, as well as plenty of other material.
We have noted on numerous occasions that Western countries and their allies are patronising the White Helmets, a pseudo humanitarian organisation affiliated with terrorist groups operating in Syria. I would like to draw your attention to an interview by TASS news agency with Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov who spoke at length on this subject.
Questionable foreign policy initiatives of this kind are not in short supply. Canada’s financial and political assistance to these would-be rescue workers is one such illustrative example. In 2016, the White Helmets leader, Raed Saleh, was invited to speak at the Canadian parliament, but instead of pleading for stepping up humanitarian efforts, he called for using military means to put pressure on official Damascus. According to the information we have, following his visit Ottawa allocated $4.5 million to this organisation and transferred these funds through intermediaries.
Western capitals placed their stakes on terrorists achieving a military victory over the legitimate Syrian Government, but when it did not work out this way, and the events took a different turn on the back of the successful operation carried out by the Syrian Armed Forces in the country’s south, it was also Ottawa, with the active backing of the United Kingdom, who engaged in proactive efforts to evacuate and save these would-be rescuers. They wanted to relocate their White Helmets clientele to Jordan, and after that to have them resettled in a number of Western countries. We are all well aware that at the July 2018 NATO Summit in Brussels, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland went to great lengths calling on her NATO partners to join this effort, citing the example of Canada relaxing its national laws in order to facilitate this resettlement initiative.
It turned out later that things did not go as smoothly as it seemed. First, the Western donors who had been so diligent in generously sponsoring these would-be rescue workers for several years, all of a sudden faced exacting demands, including instant citizenship, resettlement and employment. It seems that these people understood that these countries had to pay their dues for the work they carried out, including the information they could provide in exchange for a favourable living environment.
The patrons of the White Helmets in Ottawa, London and other patronising capitals are well aware of the fact that their clients have real experience in sabotage and terrorist activities. This gives these countries food for thought, and things to worry about, as they prepare resettlement plans for these White Helmets. This is the only way we can explain the fact that Ottawa has yet to complete the initiative that was initially expected to take just three or four weeks. On the other hand, the Western political elites may be tempted to support the White Helmets and keep them on standby in Syria, since their provocations and sabotage have blended into the tactics of the terrorists who have been losing ground and moral support in the country.
We can understand Tehran’s sharp criticism of the American warships that were making dangerous and provocative manoeuvres close to Iran in the Persian Gulf on April 15.
We would like to point out that Moscow has always regarded stability and security in the Persian Gulf as a key factor in the broader situation in the region. This logic underlies our popular initiative on collective regional security.
We call on our partners to show maximum restraint and caution, to resist provocations and disregard aggressive rhetoric, and, of course, to act in strict compliance with the relevant international norms and rules.
We are convinced that illegal unilateral actions that are preventing many countries from saving the lives of their citizens should be suspended now for humanitarian reasons. Instead of making manoeuvres, it would be much better to create humanitarian aid corridors.
The 2020 review conference for the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was supposed to open at the UN headquarters in New York recently but has been postponed. The global pandemic, which has also affected the United States, has prevented it. The NPT member states have decided to postpone the review conference until April 2021 at the latest. The precise date will depend on the end of the epidemic and the schedule of international events. Russia has supported this decision.
We regard NPT review conference as a vital element of consolidated international efforts to strengthen the non-proliferation regime. We hope the next conference will be a success. It is of priority importance for all the signatories to reaffirm their commitment to the NPT goals and their obligations under it. Russia is ready to work actively together with all the countries concerned when it comes to all aspects of the NPT review.
We have taken note of the material published by the US Department of State on April 24 concerning the creation of the US low-yield W76-2 warhead and the conversion of some of the Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) to this capability. The creation and deployment of low-yield nuclear weapons has been presented as a US response to the increasing global threat, primarily the growing nuclear capabilities of Russia and China.
As we said before, we consider this to be a dangerous move and an element of destabilisation. In our opinion, it is a deliberate attempt to muddy the difference between non-strategic and strategic nuclear weapons, which will inevitably lower the nuclear threshold and increase the risk if a nuclear conflict. We are not alone in thinking so. This opinion has been expressed, in part, by some respected members of the US academic community and even in US Congress.
It is vital that everyone understands this, which is why I would like to point out once again that any attack involving a US SLBM, regardless of its specifications, will be perceived as a nuclear aggression. Those who like to speculate about the “flexibility” of the US nuclear potential must understand that under the Russian military doctrine such actions are seen as warranting retaliatory use of nuclear weapons by Russia.
We have become aware of a report about the training of Ukrainian military personnel by Norwegian instructors. It is notable that the item published by the Donbass Insider online resource about nine Norwegians and three Swedes who were on a training tour in Kiev and its suburbs in April 2016 has been reposted by several Norwegian resources.
Norway has not refuted the facts published on the above mentioned website, according to which a group of instructors from the Norwegian Air Force Academy visited several training camps in Ukraine. The main objective of that visit was allegedly to collect information about the situation in Ukraine, its relations with Russia and methods of the hybrid war.
This is just one of the many examples of Norway’s systemic support to Kiev. It is a fact that the political authorities in Oslo unconditionally supported the anti-constitutional coup in Kiev and have since been actively helping Ukraine to strengthen its military capability.
We believe that Oslo, while pursuing this policy, is aware of its share of responsibility for Kiev’s actions towards the Donetsk and Lugansk republics. We hope that Norway, instead of pursuing this destructive line, will use its international standing and its influence on the Ukrainian authorities to convince them to honour the Minsk agreements.
Latvia’s Saeima recently passed legislative amendments in the final reading that prohibit wearing Soviet military uniform at public events thus making it equivalent to a Nazi uniform in that country.
Official Riga’s relentless urge to rewrite the historical reality is no longer raising eyebrows. Of course, we realised all along that all this dirty and absolutely incongruous bustle will, unfortunately, continue and even then, it was hard to imagine that they would take it so far.
It was also predictable that the Latvian parliament would be so anxious to time their malicious initiatives to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War over the brown plague.
What about wearing uniforms of other countries of the anti-Hitler coalition? Can people still do that or not any more?
There have been many questions regarding the publication of fake news and misinformation in the Czech media. Many publications like this have been circulating recently. Unfortunately, we have also found that they did not stop at planting false information. Last Monday, Respekt, a Czech media outlet, published some results of a journalistic investigation according to which Russia, acting through its Embassy in Prague, is allegedly intending to physically eliminate the initiators of the removal of the Marshal Ivan Konev monument, for which a Russian intelligence agent arrived in the Czech capital with poison in his suitcase.
Now, these are unhealthy fantasies. There is simply no point in criticising, describing or otherwise characterising them. This is yet another crude provocation by destructive forces in the Czech Republic and borderline delirium. They want to damage Russian-Czech relations at all costs and, as we understand, they will do anything to achieve this goal. We presume that Prague fully realises that using such methods and manipulation may lead to very serious consequences.
On April 3, Foreign Affairs, an influential US media outlet, published an article with a title “To Russia With Love,” something very unusual for US media. What is this article about? Again, surprisingly, it was written by American academics and contains a very interesting sociological study which is more interesting to the American audience rather than for internal audience because the American public has long been lacking information on the issue that I will mention further. The article attracted our attention because of its evaluation of Crimea’s present reality and its perception by peninsula residents (what they think and how they live) that is not typical for the present period and the Western political science community. It turns out that “when Ukrainian activists and Western politicians claim that the residents of Crimea are ‘living under occupation,’ they mistake the experience of some for the experience of all.” This was compellingly confirmed by the surveys conducted among Russia’s Crimea residents in 2014 and 2019. The researchers ordered the survey from an independent polling company and received funding from the US National Science Foundation, which is sponsored by US Congress.
Apparently, the US academic community is showing a tendency for an objective analysis of the outcome of Crimea’s reunification with Russia. Through a blind screen of misrepresentation, blatant misinformation and propaganda clichés, we can see sprouts of some objective reality showing, a balanced and sensible outlook on the matter that has been bothering everybody in the West for many years. I really strongly recommend reading this article: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/ukraine/2020-04-03/russia-love.
This re-evaluation could not but spark a furious response from Kiev. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba secured an alternate publication in the same magazine on April 21, which is traditionally brimming with accusations against Russia. And, despite the laws of reasoning, causes are misrepresented as effects; the origins and the evolution of the situation on the Crimean peninsula, its major political and legal aspects are completely ignored. For the sake of NATO’s and EU’s solidarity, the norms and principles of international law get a lopsided interpretation; people’s right to self-identification by means of a referendum is called into question.
The truth is that for Crimeans, who feel a strong sense of belonging to the heroic past of our nation, the Maidan pseudo-values forced on them from outside were alien. They did not want to be pawns in somebody else’s game and chose to be masters of their own fate and the fate of the peninsula. This is a direct quote from Foreign Affairs: “They are reasonably happy to be living in Russia.”
It is regrettable that Kiev officials, despite the historical, genetic and civilisational ties, and the economic, cultural and family links between our nations, let themselves be drawn into an openly anti-Russia project and fell into the traps carefully set up for them by their custodians. However, the moment of realisation must eventually come. Nobody in the European Union is waiting for Ukraine to become a full member. With respect to that country, the EU’s policy can be summed up as “the final goal is nothing; movement is everything” (as long as this movement is away from Russia). But the mirage is fading. Once again, the reality is so obvious it is no longer possible to overlook. I think as we go forward, more truth will be coming out about those events, including in US media.
We have noticed some kind of new misinformation boom over the past couple of weeks, already known as the misinformation – or fake news – pandemic. And we can see that our country seems to occupy a central position in this strange misinformation campaign. Why is this being done? For many reasons, probably.
Motives are being attributed to our country – and some other countries too – such as an interest in dividing the Western community and its supranational bodies, NATO and the European Union. A stereotype is being imposed that all hazards come from Russia.
Many of the problems that Western – as well as some other – countries are facing today are systemic and deep-rooted. There has been much talk about the challenges that the digital revolution poses to democracy and to the market economy social model, the impact of globalisation on identity issues and its projection on international security. Some of our colleagues in the West do not bother to analyse the root causes of their own difficulties, but continue, out of habit, to write them off as the dealings of certain external forces. As a rule, they follow a well-trodden path and blame Russia. Although, again, new threats are also being mentioned – such as the WHO, China, and others. For us, a situation where our partners cite Russia’s interference whenever some election or referendum results are not to their liking is nothing out of the ordinary. Suppose the open door immigration policy isn’t working – Russia will be blamed for generating refugee flows to Europe. In an era of electoral processes and electronic technologies, our country is even being credited with “involvement” in stimulating separatist movements, supporting Euro-sceptic sentiments and cyber-attacks – predictably with no proof.
In this context, a new subject is now being vigorously explored – misinformation in connection with the coronavirus pandemic. NATO and EU agencies are launching rumours that Moscow is allegedly using the unfavourable situation in Western countries to discredit the transatlantic unity and ideas of European integration, and also supposedly trying to make the situation look as if the Western democracies have collectively and individually failed in their pandemic response and relief efforts.
Let’s look at some of the declarations by official representatives of Western countries.
The Prime Ministers of Spain, Pedro Sanchez, and of Italy, Giuseppe Conte, have long warned of the risk of the disintegration of the EU in their public statements – not behind the scenes or in some closed clubs. Amelie de Montchalin, French Foreign Ministry Secretary of State for European Affairs, has spoken about the same thing. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen apologised to Italy for the insufficient effectiveness of the European Commission measures at the initial stage of the pandemic. Where do representatives of Russia come in?
Former President of the European Council, now head of the European People’s Party, Donald Tusk (the man involved through and through with European integration, Brussels, the commonality of views of those who lead and rule the European Union) said in an interview with German Der Spiegel that he does not rule out the collapse of the European Union as a result of the “coronacrisis.” He described the situation in southern Europe as a disaster. I would like to emphasise once again that these are not Russian statements – these are assessments that our European colleagues have put forward themselves.
As for transatlantic ties, hardly anyone could have inflicted a greater blow on them than the United States itself, by making the decision in March to suspend air travel with Europe, and also, according to some information, seizing a batch of medical masks intended for German law enforcement services. This information needs to be double-checked of course, but some Western media outlets have run stories on this.
Concerning misinformation, the popular European resource Politico openly acknowledged in one of its articles that most of the fake news in the media about coronavirus in Europe was being generated by ordinary Europeans trying to find answers to their questions, advice or support on social media.
Representatives of the European Union or its member countries openly make statements that are much more drastic than anything Russian officials have ever said about them. Yet, no one seems to accuse them of wanting to “undermine the unity of democracies,” of spreading misinformation, using misinformation to undermine the unity of democracies. What is the question about? Is it about the real problems that these countries are facing or is it about who is making these statements? It appears that the liberal community does not want to hear the truth and know the real situation, and, perhaps, it can’t bear to hear it, and that’s why it is making drastic efforts to prevent this truth from being voiced. But there is a simpler way. The European Union just needs to determine who is authorised to speak in the EU, in Brussels voicing the one and only appropriate truth. Everyone else should just repeat their statements. Otherwise, if this is not the case, they need to stop blaming Russia, because harsh, critical and evaluative statements are being made by representatives of these very countries, and Russia has nothing to do with it.
The situation in the Western community that has been exposed amid the pandemic is being openly recognised as unsatisfactory by the official representatives of these very countries. And they are not using delicate language. Yet, it is Moscow that Western propagandists accuse of an alleged willingness to undermine the unity of democracies. And this, instead of learning the right lessons from this unprecedented crisis and focusing on finding ways out of it. All this is just astonishing.
We were concerned to learn that the Danbury prison, where Russian national Bogdana Osipova is kept, reported that one of the inmates has tested positive for coronavirus. We immediately contacted Ms Osipova through various channels and received an update. Currently, her condition is normal.
Yet, this was the second COVID-19 case detected in that correctional institution in the past week. Therefore, our Embassy in Washington has forwarded a note to the US Department of State demanding that the Russian national should undergo a full medical examination, including the coronavirus test.
Obviously, the Danbury jail, where Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko is also kept, is facing a critical situation amid the soaring number of detected COVID-19 cases in the United States. As we understand, a massive outbreak among the inmates could occur at any time. We request the information on the Russian citizens’ status from the US side on a daily basis.
Once again, we urge US authorities to immediately release Bogdana Osipova and Konstantin Yaroshenko on humanitarian grounds, as well as all Russian nationals currently under investigation or sentenced to jail terms in the United States.
May 1 will mark 60 years of the diplomatic relations between Russia and the Togolese Republic.
This nation, which has maintained traditionally friendly ties with Russia, has come a long way in its national liberation fight for freedom and the right to independently decide its future. As you know, the coast of Togo was a major slave trade area in West Africa from the 15th through the 19th centuries, hence the name The Slave Coast. In the late 19th century, colonial annexation of the Togolese territory began. Until 1914, Togo was a German protectorate; during WWI, it was occupied by British and French forces. It was only in April 1960 that Togo became independent and received its new official name, the Togolese Republic, later in 1963.
Today, ahead of the 60th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between our countries, we can say with confidence that during this period we have managed to maintain a constructive and fruitful political dialogue, which is based on the similarity of both countries’ stances on the most pressing issues of our time. We are building up cooperation between our foreign ministries and improving the contractual and legal framework of our relations. We are taking joint steps at the UN and other international organisations to enhance peace, stability and security.
The participation of the Togolese delegation, led by President Faure Gnassingbe, in the Russia–Africa Summit and Economic Forum in Sochi in October 2019 gave a powerful impetus to promoting bilateral cooperation. Following these events, we outlined ways to expand our mutually beneficial partnership in a wide range of areas, including trade, the economy, investment, education and culture. According to our joint assessment, we have good opportunities for developing cooperation in agriculture, the energy industry, infrastructure, as well as in natural resource development.
We sincerely congratulate the people of Togo on our shared holiday, and reaffirm our strong commitment to the continued dynamic development of the entire scope of Russia-Togo relations. We wish peace, prosperity and well-being to the Togolese Republic.
Question: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed ways to streamline the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission’s activities in Ukraine with OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger. How will the coronavirus affect the activities of the OSCE?
Maria Zakharova: Given the pandemic, all OSCE field operations have imposed temporary restrictions on their programme activities and are following the sanitary instructions issued by local authorities. Most employees are working remotely.
As for the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, more than 150 out of 729 international observers have been recalled to their respective countries of citizenship.
The DPR and LPR authorities have introduced sanitary and epidemiological rules regarding the SMM observers’ travel in order to preserve the health of the people in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions and the mission’s employees. During a telephone conversation with OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger on April 27, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasised the validity of such measures and called on the mission’s senior officials to establish a proper dialogue with the sanitary authorities in Donetsk and Lugansk.
In general, we proceed from the fact (Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has repeatedly pointed this out) that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine will continue to fulfill its mandate, which, by the decision of the OSCE Permanent Council dated March 19, was extended until March 31, 2021.
Question: On April 23, The Hague District Court upheld the investigative authorities’ decision not to disclose the identities of 12 out of the 13 witnesses who will testify during the MH17 probe hearings. How may this affect the trial?
Maria Zakharova: I would like to say that Russia is not part of this lawsuit, which we have already mentioned many times. However, charges were brought against three Russian citizens, so we are closely following the developments to make sure the rights of the accused are not violated.
To mete out justice, it is important for the process to remain truly open and legal, so that the hearings fully take into account the arguments of all parties, not just the prosecution. As far as we understand, it was decided to make the hearings public and broadcast them online to demonstrate the independence and impartiality of the process.
Does the above decision on the status of witnesses in this case meet the purported criteria? We doubt it.
I will explain why. As you may be aware, the Netherlands prosecutor’s office states, as part of the first stage of the hearings in March 2020, that it is concerned about the witnesses’ lives. Who specifically is threatening them remains unclear. However, such claims gave enough reason to the investigating judge to establish corresponding activities in 2018-2019 and to give them the status of “at risk,” in connection with which the witnesses’ identities have been classified.
The lawyers of one of the suspects, Oleg Pulatov, protested the lawfulness of the investigating judge’s actions. Such an additional veil of secrecy does not allow the defence to question the veracity of the witnesses’ testimonies. It is important to make sure that the witnesses are not interested in the outcome of the process or motivated by anything else. However, as we see, the court did not support the defence and rejected the lawyers’ demands to declassify the identities of 12 out of the 13 witnesses.
There’s an interesting detail, though. In its decision, the court does not even hide the fact that the Dutch Code of Criminal Procedure has been violated in 11 out of 13 instances. Under the law, it was first necessary to obtain the opinion of both parties, but, in fact, only the position of the prosecutor’s office was taken into account. Nonetheless, the judges thought such a violation of the law was possible in the name of higher considerations, as they said, “the seriousness of the crime and the gravity of the charges.” This is a strange interpretation of law by the Dutch judicial authorities.
As we see, conflicting decisions that are technical only at first glance were made from day one of the trial which the Netherlands believes to be highly important. It emphasises the high standards of its judicial system and the unquestionable legal proficiency of its judges.
In fact, the ruling on the witnesses’ anonymity may have far-reaching consequences, including in terms of credibility of the final court decision, whatever it may be.
Question: What can you say about the forthcoming declaration on comprehensive partnership between Russia and Uzbekistan?
Maria Zakharova: Indeed, thanks to Uzbekistan’s initiative, a declaration on a comprehensive strategic partnership between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Uzbekistan is being drafted. By mutual agreement, it was decided that this important document will consolidate significant progress in state-to-state interaction, promote cooperation in foreign policy and security, the economy, finance, energy, transport and cultural and people-to-people relations, including their multilateral integration aspect.
In fact, this document will open a new phase in implementing the fundamental principles of Russian-Uzbek relations laid down in the Strategic Partnership Treaty between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Uzbekistan of June 16, 2004, the Treaty on Allied Relations between Russia and Uzbekistan of November 14, 2005 and the Declaration on Promoting Strategic Partnership between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Uzbekistan of June 4, 2012
Everything related to adopting this declaration is a matter of competence of the heads of state. Accordingly, this information will be commented upon by the respective administrations as well.