Briefing of the Foreign Ministry Spokesman
Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow, December 10, 2020
- Coronavirus update
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming talks with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates
- Update on Syria and related events
- The evacuation of the White Helmets leader from Jordan to Germany
- UN General Assembly resolution on the militarisation of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol as well as parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov
- Foreign Ministry report on Ukraine’s human rights record
- “Old Tunes about What Matters Most” in Russian in Ukraine
- Update on Venezuela
- Human Rights Day
- 74 years of the UN Children's Fund
- 60 years of the UN Declaration on Decolonisation
- New anti-Russia resolutions adopted by US Congress
- Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act
- Meeting of Fort Ross Dialogue US-Russian forum
- President Emmanuel Macron’s interview with Jeune Afrique
- Piotr Smolar’s item about “cold diplomacy” in Le Monde
- Russian views on the initial period of Italy’s G20 Presidency
- The 25th anniversary of signing the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Tokyo exhibition on the South Kuril Islands
- Joint Russian-Indian exercise in the Bay of Bengal
- Unveiling Marshal Zhukov bust in Montenegro
- Opening of the exhibition devoted to the 130th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and Mexico
- Republic Day in Burkina Faso
- 57th independence anniversary of the Republic of Kenya
- Statement by Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics
- Releasing Russian nationals Maxim Shugaley and Samer Sueifan
- Update on Nagorno-Karabakh
- US Congress approves expanded sanctions against Nord Stream 2
- Censorship against Russian media by US social media networks and platforms
- Possible causes of neurological disorders among US diplomatic staff
- Returning IDPs and refugees to Nagorno-Karabakh
- Prerequisites for establishing dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan
- Washington’s new attempt to assume the role of “defending” religious followers around the world
The spread of the coronavirus infection remains alarming. The disease’s incidence rates continue going up. National healthcare systems are under serious loads and governments are toughening restrictions. As of December 10 of this year, the total number of coronavirus cases in the world has reached 69 million. The increment almost reached 6 million in the first ten days of the month. These are global statistics.
The entire range of coronavirus related problems was discussed at an online UN General Assembly special session in New York on December 3-4. It was attended by Healthcare Minister of the Russian Federation Mikhail Murashko. He reviewed the situation with COVID-19 in Russia and the world, and emphasised the role of our country in countering the pandemic. The session’s materials are published on the websites of the WHO and the Russian Mission at the UN in New York.
We again emphasise to our citizens that all the previous warnings and recommendations made by the Foreign Ministry on the spread of the coronavirus remain relevant. This applies to foreign travel and the need to consider the risks.
On December 14, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who will pay a working visit to Moscow.
The ministers plan to discuss the entire range of issues on the steady development of multifaceted bilateral relations. The special nature of these relations was fixed in the Declaration on Strategic Partnership between our countries, which was signed on June 1, 2018. They will review the intermediate results of joint efforts on implementing the agreements reached following the state visit by President of Russia Vladimir Putin to Abu Dhabi in October 2019 and other contacts at the top level.
The foreign ministers will compare in detail their positions on the situation in Syria, Libya, the Arab-Israeli settlement and other current regional issues. They will focus on the need to find political solution to persisting conflicts and differences in the Middle East and North Africa as soon as possible, including prospects for reliable stabilisation in the Gulf area by creating mechanisms for a collective response to all challenges and threats in this sub-region with the participation of all interested states.
The fourth session of the Drafting Commission of the Syrian Constitutional Committee was held in Geneva from November 30 to December 4. The Syrians and the UN representatives assess the outcome positively. In accordance with earlier agreements, the government delegation and a delegation representing the opposition with the participation of the independent civil majority discussed “national principles and foundations.” The discussions took place in an emotional, but overall constructive atmosphere. As a result, the participants agreed on the dates and agenda for the fifth round of intra-Syrian consultations in Geneva scheduled for January 25-29, 2021, which will focus on the contents of the constitution.
In conjunction with our Astana format partners, we plan to continue to nudge the Syrian sides towards a constructive dialogue in the interest of bringing their positions closer and developing a common vision for their country’s future. The continuation of the Constitutional Committee’s work confirms the effectiveness of our comprehensive efforts to help resolve the Syrian crisis. We believe that ensuring substantial progress on the constitutional track will contribute to the earliest achievement of long-term and comprehensive stabilisation of the situation in Syria in full compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the outcome of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.
Hostilities have subsided in most of Syria. The situation remains tense in the Idlib area, which is still held by the terrorists. In response to provocations from the armed formations there, the Syrian army and the Russian Aerospace Forces retaliate against their gun nests and strongholds.
ISIS attacks continue in eastern Syria, primarily, east of the Euphrates River. As you may be aware, this part of the country is controlled by the self-proclaimed Kurdish administration supported by the US military.
An exciting material was published by Der Spiegel on a topic related to the situation in Syria, namely, the White Helmets and the evacuation of a leader of this inhumane and certainly non-humanitarian organisation from Jordan.
The article covers the traditional German hospitality of dubious nature regarding one of the White Helmets leaders, Khalid al-Saleh.
The journalistic investigation shows that when reviewing the application for asylum filed by this pseudo-humanitarian activist, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany two years ago came to unequivocal conclusions about his radical Islamist views and potential connections with terrorists. According to Der Spiegel, videos with terrorists and jihadist propaganda materials found on al-Saleh’s phone, as well as correspondence with terrorists in social media, left German law enforcement officers convinced that taking this person in was fraught with major risk and threats for Germany’s national security.
However, according to Der Spiegel, the German Foreign Ministry chose to look at the situation differently. Based on the material from Der Spiegel, the Foreign Ministry believes that Khalid al-Saleh had proved himself positively during the White Helmets’ “rescue operations” in Syria. As a result of this cynical approach, asylum was granted. At the same time, the fact that no other country agreed to take in this pseudo-humanitarian activist, despite background checks conducted by the competent departments of the United States and Jordan, failed to get the German authorities’ attention.
On December 7, Germany carried out an interdepartmental special operation to move al-Saleh and his family from Jordan with the participation of the Interior Ministry, the Defence Ministry and the Foreign Ministry of the Federal Republic of Germany. Most interestingly, a government Airbus was used in the operation. Allegedly, on earlier occasions, the airplane was used for the Chancellor’s flights. Lately, Angela Merkel has been amazingly generous in her treatment of guests. After the organisation of this honourable flight, information on the whereabouts of one of the White Helmets’ leaders in Germany was classified. The “heroic” past of this “rescue ranger” who spent two years in a refugee camp in Jordan has not been disclosed either. The article does not mention whether there was a motorcade with dozens of cars after the aircraft landed and the man stepped out of the plane that was made available to him with great honours. Unfortunately, the journalists could not get to the bottom of this, but it would be nice to know how many vehicles escorted this figure.
If the information is correct, it can cause nothing but deep disappointment mixed with outrage at this political and moral promiscuity, Berlin’s hypocrisy in its approaches to fighting terrorism and its inability to take a clear look at the White Helmets’ obvious criminal activities in Syria. Although the information was provided through a variety of channels, blind support of forces or individuals who oppose official Damascus has become a habit in Western countries, thus hindering an early political settlement in Syria, which is regrettable.
On December 7 of this year, the UN General Assembly, at its plenary session, adopted a politicised and counterproductive resolution submitted by the Ukrainian delegation, titled, “Problems with the Militarisation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (Ukraine), as well as Parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.”
As in the previous two years, only one third of the member states supported the initiative. This indicates that the major part of the international community do not accept the distorted picture enforced by the Kiev authorities, according to which Crimea is part of Ukraine and Russia is “an occupying power.” And this despite the undisguised pressure, strong-arm tactics used by Kiev’s Western patrons to push through such documents.
The adopted resolution is based entirely on a distortion of facts and unsubstantiated accusations against Russia. Significantly, no consultations were held on the text, and we can tell you why. It’s embarrassing to discuss this false propaganda. Therefore, instead of discussion, delegations were persistently persuaded that voting for the resolutions was supposedly a confirmation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Many, unfortunately, still believe in this inculcated nonsense.
Our position hasn’t changed, and the question of the status of Crimea and Sevastopol was resolved in 2014 by the people of the peninsula themselves – the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol are an integral part of the Russian Federation. This decision is final and is not up for review. Russia is a sovereign state and has the right to hold exercises on its territory, establish any facilities, announce conscription for its citizens, and organise patriotic education for its young people.
At the same time, the Ukrainian authorities would better not talk about the “militarisation” of Crimea. It’s enough to recall that in August of this year, President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky boasted of the largest military budget in Ukraine in the history of “independence,” despite the coronavirus pandemic, which hit hard the country’s economy.
I would like to emphasise once again that this vote will not affect in any way the decision of the Crimeans themselves. They will only be further convinced of how well they did in 2014, choosing to reunite with Russia.
The Foreign Ministry has compiled its regular report on Ukraine’s human rights record.
We have to note that unfortunately there are no signs of a willingness by the Ukrainian authorities to settle the current difficult human rights situation at home. The policy of the new Ukrainian authorities on most key issues has remained almost unchanged for over a year since the presidential election. It has remained the same as under the previous president despite the election statements and promises.
There are continued systematic violations of basic human rights and freedoms in the country. The right to freedom and personal inviolability is not being observed. There are numerous cases of unlawful detention in custody, torture, intimidation and cruel treatment aimed, in part, at compelling the detainees to admit their guilt.
The Kiev authorities have not discontinued persecuting their political opponents, independent journalists and media companies, as well as members of “undesirable” public organisations. Radical nationalist groups often pressure dissenters with the tacit connivance of the authorities. The high levels of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and numerous acts of vandalism against religious sites, places of worship and monuments is not surprising against this background.
Having taken a course of forced Ukrainisation of the country, the authorities are consistently adopting laws that infringe on the rights of national minorities, primarily Russian speakers. These laws do not match the norms of the Constitution and Kiev’s international human rights commitments. This is particularly pronounced in education.
Kiev is purposefully falsifying the history of World War II, justifying and glorifying Nazi criminals and their Ukrainian accomplices. They impose on the younger generation the distorted interpretations of the historical events of this period, and present collaborationists as “participants in a national-liberation movement” and an example to follow. These actions are aimed at cultivating nationalist attitudes in the public at large.
The Kiev-introduced restrictions on the socio-economic rights of internally displaced persons who fled from the armed conflict in the southeast of the country and civilians in Donbass remain in force. The Ukrainian authorities continue limiting their rights under the pretext of the need to counter a “Russian aggression” and separatism.
We noted a post in Google’s Ukrainian blog to the effect that in 2020 Ukrainians have been listening mostly to Russian songs. The post is referring to YouTube and YouTube Music, where among the most popular tunes only two out of ten were performed by Ukrainian vocalists and groups. Both in Russian as well. Hopefully, this is objective data – from Kiev’s point of view. Can Ukraine recognise the US company’s report as truthful, honest and undistorted? I hope it can. You can hardly suspect these companies of pro-Russia sentiments.
On July 16, 2019, Ukraine enacted the law On the Functioning of Ukrainian as the State Language, which is aimed at a wholesale Ukrainisation of that country’s public and political life. We have repeatedly commented on this.
Under this law, any attempts to introduce multilingualism in the country shall be recognised as actions directed at a forcible change or overthrow of the constitutional system. The act provides for preferential treatment of minority languages, but the Ukrainian legislators have only included Crimean Tatars, Krymchaks and Karaites in this category, with certain exemptions made for EU languages.
The Russian language, which is habitually used by the majority of the population, has, in effect, suffered double discrimination.
The provisions of this law directly contradict Kiev’s international legal obligations under a number of multilateral documents, including:
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination;
- European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms;
- Framework Convention of the Council of Europe for the Protection of National Minorities;
- European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
These discriminatory initiatives also contradict Ukraine’s political commitments. Specifically, the reference is to those under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, the Concluding Document of the CSCE Vienna Meeting 1986, the Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE 1990, and the Report of the CSCE Meeting of Experts on National Minorities 1991.
This is eloquent evidence – for Russia, but obviously not so for Kiev’s Western patrons – that the law was passed in violation of the human rights and constitutional norms. But the main thing is that it has been forced on Ukrainian society with total disregard for the citizens’ opinions. This law and a number of other artificial and extremely politicised initiatives adopted by Kiev are only aggravating the split in Ukrainian society and preventing a settlement of the continuing internal armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The musical chart in this case is an indicator, an acid test, a symptom of this crisis. This example confirms that a language is a living organism and a part of culture. Let me remind you that Russian is one of the six official languages at the UN and an acknowledged tool for international communication. It is also a powerful factor in both classical and contemporary world culture. Russian is an inalienable element of everyday social life in all the post-Soviet countries, a factor that brings the people of our countries closer together. This fact is confirmed by life itself.
You may remember that back in 2014 Iosif Kobzon was banned from entering Ukraine, his country of birth. Let us recall the lyrics of the song titled “The song remains with the person.” It was performed by Iosif Kobzon, a native of Donbass:
Through the years, through the distances
On any road, at the side of any
You won't say goodbye to the song
The song doesn't say goodbye to you.
Those who can’t sing and listen to songs
Will never be happy.
These are prophetic words for Kiev. Please commit them to memory. Shame on you for barring this man from your country, for not allowing people to speak their native language, for all the macabre games you are playing with the Russian language.
On December 7, 2020, we published a comment on the parliamentary elections in Venezuela on the Foreign Ministry’s website. We would like to add several important points.
The main results of the elections in Venezuela included the creation of the lawful legislative authority for the next five years. I would like to emphasise the word “lawful” for our Western partners, among others. The people of Venezuela clearly supported the idea of dialogue in parliament, having elected their lawful representatives to the National Assembly. Starting January 5, 2021, they will start negotiating ways of resolving the problems that have piled up in the country.
Despite very strong outside pressure on the Venezuelan authorities and people, the election was held in strict compliance with the time schedule and procedures established by the Constitution and the law, and we are happy to congratulate them on this once again. Not a single party was denied registration. The fact that some right-wing radical movements did not wish to take part in the electoral process was their own decision and responsibility to the voters.
Over 200 international observers from 15 countries (including Ireland, Spain, Canada, Columbia, the US and France), representatives of the domestic opposition and various NGOs reaffirmed the absence of serious violations.
A delegation of Russian observers, which included representatives from both chambers of the Federal Assembly and the Foreign Ministry’s Ambassador-at-large, visited over 20 polling stations and regional election commissions on election day. They met with the leaders of all parties that took part in the elections, including oppositionists that confirmed that the necessary conditions for a transparent and democratic electoral process had been ensured. Terminals were equipped with fingerprint identification devices that eliminated repeat voting. Full automation, high technical standards and an opportunity to conduct inspections at every phase of the election allowed the Bolivarian authorities to create an effective and reliable system, minimising the risks of fraud. There are no grounds to disbelieve these statements or the election results.
As our observers aptly remarked, the situation in Venezuela is far from monochromatic although many politically motivated media tried to depict it as such. This situation is multi-layered and complex like in any other country. It is impossible to judge the situation in a country while being far away. Obviously, those who had announced their refusal to accept the results of the election long before it was held are now trying to tailor reality to their predetermined conclusions. We recorded attempts to exert very serious pressure on Venezuela and its people, including in the media.
I recall that some states urged a postponement of the election because of the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, they held the election in 2020 despite everything. This is not just dual morality but also a manifestation of discriminatory approaches and manipulation of principles, rules and criteria of democratic processes depending on the extent of the loyalty of various governments.
We again urge all foreign forces to renounce interference in the affairs of Venezuela and let its people decide their destiny themselves. We are seeing that there are European and Latin American countries that are willing to support the political settlement of internal Venezuelan problems. For his part, the Venezuelan president confirmed immediately after the election his willingness to hold a dialogue with all the opposition sectors – both participants in the elections and those who decided to abstain from the constitutional process for various reasons.
We urge all responsible states to provide constructive support for the people of Venezuela in their efforts to choose independently the best format for a dialogue between the authorities and the opposition.
On December 4, 1950, the UN General Assembly adopted a historic resolution that proclaimed December 10 as Human Rights Day. It was on this day in 1948 that the UN member states approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The foundation for the modern international system for promoting and protecting human rights laid by that document is undergoing serious tests today. The crisis that has hit the world because of the pandemic has revealed a thick layer of deep-rooted unresolved problems, including drastic social stratification in many countries and the ensuing difference in the level of social security, the growing disunity between states and some countries’ unwillingness to put aside their selfish momentary interests in favour of a positive unifying agenda and genuine international cooperation.
Russia has been consistently upholding the rule of law as well as the collective principles in international relations, including the promotion and protection of human rights. We are confident that the international community can only make real progress in upholding human rights if its efforts rely on mutually respectful dialogue and confidence-building between states. Equal cooperation, consideration of each other’s interests and willingness to compromise are the real factors that can contribute to a rapprochement of various states, regional and political associations, can strengthen the climate of trust and mutual respect in promoting and protecting human rights.
On October 13, 2020, during a plenary meeting of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, the Russian Federation was re-elected to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) for the period of 2021-2023. By taking part in this key international human rights body as a full-fledged member, Russia will continue to make a significant contribution to promoting constructive interstate cooperation in the human rights sphere, to strengthening the international human rights regime based on justice and equality and in harmony with the goals and principles enshrined in the UN Charter. We are interested in seeing the Council as an effective and efficient instrument for the promotion and protection of human rights throughout the world, relying on the principles of universality, non-selectiveness, objectivity, equal treatment of all categories of human rights, and respect for cultural and civilisational diversity. These are the goals on which Russia will focus its efforts in the UN Human Rights Council in the next three years.
On December 11, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) marks its 74th anniversary.
UNICEF is recognised as a leading United Nations agency responsible for protecting and providing development aid to children. Among the key areas of the Fund's work are protecting the health of mothers and children, supporting early childhood development, nutrition, education, and meeting the needs of mothers and children in emergencies such as natural disasters, armed conflicts, and epidemics.
Russia is a long-term and reliable partner of UNICEF closely cooperating with it to support the development of partner states.
In September 2019, the strategic nature of relations between our country and the UN Children's Fund was enshrined in the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Russian Federation and UNICEF. This document is aimed at taking this cooperation to a new level in priority areas for Russia, in the context of providing assistance to interested states.
On December 14, the world will celebrate 60 years of the UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, also known as the Declaration on Decolonisation.
This vital document gave a powerful impetus to the colonial territories’ movement for independence, proclaimed the necessity of bringing colonialism to a speedy and unconditional end, and ultimately changed the world. Its implementation has released some 750 million people, or one-third of the world’s population at the time, from the colonial occupation, drastically changed the political map of the world and resulted in the establishment of over 80 new states in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania.
The declaration is one of the largest UN achievements. Its draft was submitted for the consideration of the 15th session of the UN General Assembly by the Soviet delegation on September 23, 1960. We take pride in the fact that the document was drafted and adopted at the Soviet Union’s initiative. Russia is carrying on the decolonisation process initiated by the Soviet Union, including by actively contributing to the efforts of the UN General Assembly Special Committee on Decolonisation, or C-24, and other UN bodies dealing with the implementation of the Declaration on Decolonisation.
However, although the majority of colonial territories have become independent, the decolonisation process is not over yet. There are 17 non-self-governing territories with a population of 1.6 million people, who have not yet realised their inalienable right to self-determination, including because of the former parent states’ imperial ambitions. The decolonisation process would have long been completed if not for the distorted interpretation of the fundamental norms and principles of international law and the UN Charter by a small group of Western countries. The allegation that the remaining non-self-governing territories would not survive as independent states, or that their current status is compliant with the will of the indigenous population is often far removed from reality. We believe that the population of these territories has an inalienable right to independently determine their future.
Today many of our Western partners with historical links to Africa prefer to forget the past and the causes for Africa’s current problems, and to hinder their discussion and analysis. In our opinion, it is unacceptable to forget about the tragic colonial period or close one’s eyes to the neo-colonial practices that continue to this day.
UN decolonisation activities remain highly relevant. We hope that the universal organisation will continue to provide all-round assistance to the efforts to complete the decolonisation process, and that the UN member states will redouble their efforts towards attaining this goal as soon as possible.
For our part, we are ready to continue doing our utmost to put an end to colonialism on our planet.
We have taken note of the latest set of anti-Russia resolutions adopted by US Congress, which call for increased pressure on Moscow to support “political prisoners” in Russia and for harsher sanctions against Russian nationals and companies allegedly involved in interference in US elections.
Although these documents are not legally binding, it is regrettable that US lawmakers continue to harp on about Russia’s alleged human rights violations and interference in the US internal affairs even amid the complicated socioeconomic, sanitary and epidemiological situation in the United States and the rest of the world. Instead of looking for answers to questions that are of grave concern to the American people, such as how to get along and how to overcome the deep divide in the American society, US lawmakers are burrowing into things that go beyond their competence, and keep using the pretext of Russia while doing this. We have commented on such insinuations on numerous occasions, pointing out that these allegations are obviously manufactured, unsubstantiated, cynical and without any evidential basis.
The mythical threat coming from Moscow is an internal American product. Nevertheless, we haven’t lost hope that such far-fetched plots will eventually be laid to rest, and that their authors will stop poisoning bilateral relations. It is time the Moscow-Washington dialogue returned to a constructive path in the interests of searching for joint solutions to the really serious global problems facing humankind. We are ready for this.
We note that the so-called Rodchenkov Act, which enables criminal prosecution of individuals for doping schemes at international sports competitions involving American athletes, caused a public outcry in the sports and para-sporting community after it was signed into law by US President Donald Trump. This situation is hidden behind lofty slogans and striving for ‘justice.
We have spoken publicly on this topic more than once in the past. Reasonable people, not only in our country, but around the world, have regarded this law as politically motivated because the extraterritorial application of US legislation to foreign coaches, agents, managers and representatives of government agencies could undermine the current global anti-doping system in its entirety. Obviously, by extending its jurisdiction to other countries, the United States is trying to gain some extra leverage on sports and anti-doping agencies to give its athletes an advantage. It has nothing to do with the purity of sports or a fight against doping.
This move could have dire consequences for the entire sports community. Duplication or alteration of the WADA anti-doping rules could lead to utter chaos in international sports. In such a case, the full responsibility for destroying the international sports movement would lie with the United States alone.
The latest session of Fort Ross Dialogue, an annual US-Russian forum for sociopolitical, academic and business communities, took place from November 30 to December 4, 2020. This year, the event was held for the first time on a virtual platform, via online participation only.
On the Russian side, the videoconference was attended by Ambassador of Russia to the United States Anatoly Antonov, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, and Governor of the Vologda Region Oleg Kuvshinnikov; the US participants included Lieutenant Governor of California Eleni Kounalakis, and former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control Rose Gottemoeller. At the start of the Forum, it was announced that the former Governor of California Gerald Brown, who made a great contribution to the preservation of our cultural and historical heritage in the United States, including the development of the Fort Ross State Historic Park, was decorated with the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Medal For Assistance in Strengthening Peace.
The participants in plenary meetings discussed aspects of strategic stability and arms control, the outlook for bilateral cooperation in energy and healthcare, and the development of interregional ties and person-to-person contacts.
Despite the difficult situation in Russian-American relations, Fort Ross Dialogue continues to be a respected platform for the exchange of views, which reflects the strong interest of both the Russian and the US public in an in-depth discourse and constructive cooperation.
We have been puzzled by what President of France Emmanuel Macron said in the November 20 interview with the Jeune Afrique weekly about Russia allegedly nurturing anti-French sentiments in Africa.
We regard this as an attempt to shift the blame for the situation in Africa onto someone else. Like other European powers, France had colonies in Africa for centuries, and the Africans’ attitude to the parent state was developing throughout that period. In the post-colonial period, Paris pursued the so-called policy of Francafrique aimed at keeping the newly-independent African countries in the zone of its influence.
It is this Francafrique and not efforts by some third countries that has provoked the Africans’ dissatisfaction and resentment towards France.
We would like to point out in this connection that Russia’s relations with African countries have always developed on a fundamentally different basis. Russia has never had any colonies in Africa. Moreover, the Soviet Union and Russia have always actively helped African countries overcome the consequences of colonialism, strengthen their sovereignty and national economies, develop infrastructure and build up their international standing. Russia will continue to build up its cooperation with Africa and is open for partnership with all interested parties in this sphere. We will also continue to fend off such disinformation.
We have taken note of an item by Piotr Smolar about Russian-French relations titled Macron-Poutine, la diplomatie froide (Macron-Putin: Cold Diplomacy), published in Le Monde on December 5. The reporter quotes many current and former political leaders and mentions, almost in passing but quite unambiguously, some “unchallengeable scientific evidence” in the so-called Alexey Navalny case, which Berlin, followed by Paris, used to initiate a new set of unilateral EU restrictions against Russia.
Everything is clear about the EU sanctions, which are not legitimate in terms of international law. But we are puzzled about the “unchallengeable scientific evidence,” which the author claims to have, and who has this evidence. Anyhow, it has not been provided to Russia despite our numerous official requests. As far as we are aware, the other EU member states have no access to this information either. But if it is available to French journalists and Le Monde has it, maybe the time is right to present this evidence to the international community, which is being kept in the dark regarding this very strange case. Maybe Le Monde should send its “secret information” to several western European capitals, which are still acting in the spirit of “highly likely” and “almost certainly,” so that they can operate more confidently and everyone knows what really happened to Alexey Navalny? This could also help make clear what is happening with the Skripals.
We are waiting for a response from Le Monde. Please, send us your “unchallengeable scientific evidence.”
On December 1, Italy assumed the G20 Presidency. This took place at a difficult time when international solidarity was being put to the test. We need to find a coordinated answer to global challenges. The G20 was established as an effective mechanism for dealing with global economic crises, but today we are facing a much more serious challenge. The coronavirus pandemic has claimed thousands of lives and increased unemployment, which has hit women, young people and small and medium-sized businesses especially hard. Years of our progress towards sustainable development, including in the vital spheres of combating poverty and hunger, are at stake.
We agree with our Italian partners that the main objective is to stop the pandemic and return the global economy to the undeviating path of sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth based on interstate agreements and multilateral documents. We share the priorities of Italy’s G20 presidency in 2021: People, Planet and Prosperity. It is especially important to strengthen national healthcare systems in light of the threat of pandemics. It is vital to continue working towards an effective implementation of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
We are committed to ensuring early access for everyone to coronavirus vaccines and to promoting research, technological and industrial cooperation in this sphere based on Russian achievements, including the marketing of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine as soon as possible.
We believe that the revival of the global economy should be based on the rational use of all sources of energy, resource efficiency and cleaner production, which can be achieved through the use of promising instruments such as the concept of a “circular carbon economy” (CCE) endorsed at the G20 summit on November 21-22.
Priority attention should be given to relaunching the global value chains and ensuring more open global trade. We would like to point out the importance of the initiative to introduce green corridors, free from trade wars and sanctions, for the delivery of basic necessities, advanced by President Vladimir Putin in March 2020.
We are committed to continuing the G20’s interaction in vital spheres such as reforming and strengthening the potential of the main global institutions – the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), in particular, so as to enhance the role of the emerging economies in their governing bodies. We would also like to note that we hold similar views on the international anti-corruption agenda.
We believe that it is a key priority to promote Russia’s initiative for protecting consumer rights in the digital economy, which could make a large contribution to these efforts within the framework of the G20 and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Progress in this sphere could boost e-commerce in the post-COVID period, broaden international ties between small and medium-sized enterprises and reduce risks for digital platform customers.
December 14, 2020, marks the 25th anniversary of signing the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina in Paris. The Russian Federation acts as one of its guarantor states.
Twenty-five years ago, an armed conflict that had devastated Bosnia and Herzegovina and the entire Balkan region since 1992, was stopped through joint efforts by the international community. The conflict killed tens of thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes. It destroyed thousands of cultural landmarks, as well as residential, industrial and religious facilities.
The principles of the Dayton-Paris Agreement remain topical today. They guarantee the rights and interests of ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as those of its entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska. They guarantee this multi-ethnic country’s stability, security and all-round socio-economic development.
The Russian Federation wholeheartedly supports fundamental Dayton postulates regarding the domestic organisation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and urges all domestic and external parties to unfailingly honour them. We are convinced that mutually respectful domestic political dialogue, compromise and consensus, as well as full compliance with the principles of external non-interference, are the key to facilitating genuine national reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Attempts to demolish the Dayton system in Bosnia and Herzegovina are fraught with the most serious consequences, regardless of their motives.
On December 1-3, 2020, official Japanese agencies held yet another exhibition dealing with the South Kuril Islands at a major railway station in Tokyo. This was done in circumvention of sanitary and epidemic restrictions, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants in the event once again made futile attempts to substantiate illegal Japanese claims to the above-mentioned Russian territories.
The organisers presented the exhibition as an educational event. In reality, its contents had little to do with historical realities. For example, no place was found for a map showing the deployment of a Japanese naval squadron in South Kurils that perfidiously attacked Pearl Harbour in December 1941. Nor did the exhibition feature any photos showing the ceremony for the signing of Japan’s unconditional surrender instrument on September 2, 1945. That event became a predictable result of the war unleashed by Japan in the Pacific Ocean. It may be symbolic, but this final episode of World War II has gone unnoticed in 2020 while the whole world has been marking the 75th anniversary of the end of that war.
Most importantly, the organisers “forgot” about Russia’s sovereignty over the South Kuril Islands, as formalised by the UN Charter among other documents. We are convinced that those visiting the exhibition should have seen this document as the main exhibit at the entrance.
On December 4-5, 2020, a warship unit from the Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet conducted a joint exercise with naval ships from the Republic of India. The exercise was part of its long-range Asia Pacific mission.
The Russian party deployed the guided missile cruiser Varyag, the flagship of the Russian Pacific Fleet, the anti-submarine ship Admiral Panteleyev and the medium-sized sea-going tanker Pechenga. The Indian Navy contributed its frigate Shivalik and anti-submarine corvette Kadmatt.
During their exercise, Russian and Indian sailors practiced tactical manoeuvres and established joint communications networks.
On December 9, a bust to outstanding top military commander Georgy Zhukov, Marshal and Four-Time Hero of the Soviet Union and recipient of many Soviet and foreign awards, was unveiled in the city of Berane in Montenegro. Made by Russian experts in Krasnodar under the Russian Glory Alley project, the monument was unveiled in a local public garden.
Russian Ambassador to Montenegro Vladislav Maslennikov and Berane Mayor Dragoslav Scekic attended the opening ceremony. The Bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church and other officials were among the distinguished guests.
After the unveiling ceremony, Mr Maslennikov had a meeting with senior municipality officials and presented them with citations from the Voluntary Society for Assistance to the Army, Air Force and Navy for their active contribution to implementing this project.
The Embassy would like to thank the administration and residents of the Berane Municipality for their consistent work in installing the bust of Marshal Georgy Zhukov that will, undoubtedly, symbolise the respect and friendship between the peoples of Russia and Montenegro and will remind future generations about the heroic feats carried out during the struggle against Nazism in the name of peace and freedom.
December 11, 2020 marks 130 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Mexico. The history of our bilateral cooperation has many highlights and is imbued with a spirit of mutual respect and sympathy.
By tradition, such landmark dates are marked by a series of major exhibition events organised by the Foreign Ministry. However, given the current situation with the coronavirus pandemic, the themed exhibition has been prepared in an online format and will be posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website. It will feature the seminal documents, rare historical photos and other materials from the Russian Foreign Policy Archives that reflect the most interesting events from the history of bilateral cooperation.
The exhibition opens with the messages of greetings and themed articles by the Foreign Ministers of Russia and Mexico, Sergey Lavrov and Marcelo Luis Ebrard Casaubon, as well as video addresses by Deputy Foreign Ministers of the two countries, Sergey Ryabkov and Julian Ventura Valero.
We invite everyone to visit the virtual exhibition.
On December 11, 2020, Burkina Faso, with whom Russia has traditionally friendly relations, marks its main state holiday, Republic Day. The people of Burkina Faso had gone a long and challenging road before gaining independence.
The French began the colonisation of Upper Volta in the late 19th century; it lasted over 50 years. Soon after World War II, a movement for national autonomy began to gain strength in the country. In September 1947, Upper Volta was included in French West Africa, and on December 11, 1958 it was reconstituted as the self-governing Republic of Upper Volta as part of the French Community. The country declared independence on August 5, 1960 and received its current name in 1984.
As of now, Burkina Faso, despite a series of objective difficulties, including in security, has been gradually moving along the path of social and economic development. Measures are being taken to invigorate the economy and improve the quality of life.
We sincerely congratulate our Burkinabe friends on Republic Day and wish them peace, wellbeing and prosperity.
On December 12, 2020, the Republic of Kenya marks the 57th anniversary of independence.
In the 1920s, an organised political movement of Africans was born in Kenya, then a British colony, which in the late 1940s gave way to a spontaneous anti-colonial movement that later grew into an armed rebellion. In January-March 1960, during a London conference with the participation of the British government and all racial groups of the colony, a decision was made to gradually transfer the power in Kenya to the African majority. In 1963, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), created three years earlier, received a majority of seats in the National Assembly election. In June 1963, it formed the first African-majority government. On December 12, 1963, Kenya declared independence. On December 14, 1963, our countries established diplomatic relations.
We value the traditionally friendly ties between Russia and Kenya. Our political dialogue has been steadily developing, including at the high and highest levels. We maintain close contacts between our foreign ministries and improve the legal framework of our interaction. The meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa Summit in October 2019 in Sochi gave a significant boost to our bilateral cooperation.
We congratulate our Kenyan friends on their national holiday and want to express confidence that the traditional relations of friendship and cooperation between Moscow and Nairobi will continue to develop successfully to the benefit of our peoples, and in the interests of peace and stability in East Africa.
We have taken note of the statement by Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, saying that the detention of Russian-speaking journalists by the Latvian Security Service is related not to a violation of the freedom of speech, but to compliance with the so-called sanctions. Mr Rinkevics and everyone participating in this punitive operation, please stop misleading people and telling lies.
We are witnessing consistent efforts by the Latvian authorities to aggressively drive the Russian media out of the country. What do the sanctions have to do with it? Muster up the courage and admit that you are trying to push out the undesired media and the Russian language from the Latvian media space. Under false pretenses Riga is waging a real attack against everything that is Russian or related to Russia.
Russian journalists are under constant pressure. The retransmission of seven RT channels has been blocked. Amendments have been approved to the law On Electronic Media regarding language quotas on television, aimed at limiting the share of programmes in other languages to 20 percent of the total air time, which discriminates against some 40 percent of the population that prefers Russian-language programmes. The First Baltic Channel has been shut down.
We consider it unacceptable to use the EU’s illegal unilateral restrictive measures as a pretext for the blatant censorship conducted by the Latvian authorities to the detriment of their own people and in violation of their international obligations to ensure the freedom of expression and media pluralism.
Just a moment ago, Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa Mikhail Bogdanov spoke with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Government of National Accord of Libya Mohamed Taha Siala.
The parties exchanged opinions and, referring to a recent agreement, our partners informed us about the transfer of Russian nationals Maxim Shugaley and Samer Sueifan to a representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, former Russian Ambassador to Libya Ivan Molotkov, at the Tripoli Airport. The two men had been detained in Libya since May 2019. The Russian deputy minister expressed satisfaction with the decision of the Libyan authorities and thanked everyone who assisted the release of the Russian nationals.
Question: The agreements between the heads of Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan on November 9 on Nagorno-Karabakh provide for the opening of all economic and transport connections in the region. The Border Guard Service of the Russian Federal Security Service will be responsible for overseeing transport connections. What progress is there in unblocking transport?
Maria Zakharova: Indeed, according to point 9 of the joint statement of the leaders of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan of November 9, all economic and transport connections in the region shall be unblocked. The Republic of Armenia will guarantee the security of transport connections between the western regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchevan Autonomous Republic in order to arrange unobstructed movement of individuals, vehicles and cargo in both directions. The Border Guard Service of the Russian Federal Security Service will be responsible for overseeing transport connections. As agreed by the Parties, new transport links will be built to connect the Nakhchevan Autonomous Republic with the main territory of Azerbaijan.
Unblocking economic ties and building new roads is a long process. It is necessary to involve many industry-specific stakeholders in it. The main issues will be resolved by the authorities of Armenia and Azerbaijan, which, as far as we know, have set up special mechanisms to respond to problems and difficulties arising during the post-conflict phase.
The restoration of railway connection looks the most promising option. With the assistance of Russian specialists, an initial survey was conducted of the border sections of the railway infrastructure in the Nakhchevan Autonomous Republic, as well as the railway lines adjacent to the border in Armenia.
Question: President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, speaking at a parade in Baku today, said that Yerevan, Zangezur and Sevan were, historically, part of Azerbaijan. The Turkish President recalled Enver Pasha, who was one of the organizers of the Armenian genocide. How do you assess such anti-Armenian xenophobic statements against the background of the trilateral statement of November 9?
Maria Zakharova: The situation in the region is difficult, much effort was made to make it return to a peaceful track, to stop the fighting, to bring parties to the negotiating table and start the most complex processes of refugee return, infrastructure reconstruction, to create the prerequisites and conditions for the normalisation of life in all areas. This work is extremely painstaking. We believe that political statements should contribute to these processes. A lot of effort has been put into it, a lot of energy has been spent, and let’s not forget that many lives have been given away. No political statement should throw this away.
Question: Yesterday, it became known that the US Congress approved expanded sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. This is not a surprise. Anyway, the Foreign Ministry has already commented on this. The Deputy Foreign Minister said that he has no doubt that the construction of this pipeline will be completed. But a year ago, these sanctions halted construction, even though the pipeline was 90% finished. How does the Foreign Ministry see the continuation of this construction? If Russia is going to respond to this step, then how? Is there any action plan in mind? What is the Foreign Ministry’s position on these sanctions?
Maria Zakharova: You answered your own question by quoting a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who said that construction will not be disrupted. We have a programme for the implementation of this project, and the specific steps that will be taken. We are well aware that the United States will not stop trying to prevent Russia from implementing not only this project, but also its foreign policy and international activities in general.
We see such attempts constantly. This is called a containment policy towards our country. It has many components: the adoption of sanctions, the introduction of stop lists, restrictive measures against business representatives and companies, aggressive political statements, and unfriendly actions against Russia.
The United States will use any opportunity imaginable. For what? I have already commented on this, and Russian representatives at all levels have repeatedly talked about this. This is a policy of containment. It is being pursued because in many areas the United States cannot compete based on common rules of doing business. They can no longer stand this rivalry on grounds that are fixed, prescribed and equal. To do this, they need to create artificial restrictions for a number of states. They started with our country, but now a similar policy is being pursued against China in a number of areas: the economy, science, technology, etc.
Our response is primarily the implementation of the project that was developed based on a clear international legal foundation. It is legitimate, it does not violate any obligations and it has been agreed upon with many international participants.
Question: Yesterday, the State Duma passed the first version of a bill responding to censorship against Russian media outlets by US social media networks and platforms. What do you think about this initiative?
Maria Zakharova: We welcome the State Duma’s decision to pass a federal bill called Amending Federal Law on Information, IT and Information Protection and Federal Law on Measures to Influence Persons Involved in Violating Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms and the Rights and Freedoms of Russian Citizens.
We are convinced that this comes as a timely and well-substantiated response to the unfair behaviour of US social media networks and video hosting websites that unilaterally and arbitrarily conduct political censorship of Russian media accounts. Clearly, in order to successfully counter the arbitrary rule of US IT giants that are openly turning into a geopolitical weapon to defend US interests, there was no choice other than to carefully analyse and modify national legislation and law-enforcement practice.
We appealed to the United States and our Western partners and regulators, etc., for a long time and asked them to change their mind and not to do what is being done with regard to Russian media outlets and to reinstate a certain legal reality. The need for more effective regulation of the activities of digital platforms is long overdue, so that they comply with fundamental international legal norms dealing with freedom of speech and opinion. This primarily concerns respect for the rights and interests of Russian citizens as regards access to information and media outlets’ rights to the unimpeded circulation of information.
Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights formalises the right to freedom of convictions and the right to freely express them, free access to information and its free circulation. Article 19 of the 1976 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights formalises the right to freedom of opinion and the right to freely express it.
Nor should one forget that, by signing the 1975 Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in Helsinki, as well as documents of the OSCE’s Vienna Meeting in 1986, the 1990 Copenhagen Meeting, the 1991 Moscow Meeting and the OSCE’s Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, the participating states pledged to simplify the freer circulation of all forms of information, to encourage cooperation and information exchanges with other countries and to improve conditions enabling journalists from one participating state to conduct their professional activity in another participating state.
While improving national legislation to regulate the activity of media platforms, lawmakers took into consideration the above-mentioned obligations by OSCE participating countries, and they also used the experience of our foreign partners in this sphere.
They have been continuously trying to oust Russia from the global media space under far-fetched pretexts, by groundlessly accusing it of violating certain platform/community regulations and without giving specific reasons. They have been continuously trying to evict Russia from the information space, partly because our Western partners can no longer stand the competition. They dominated in the past and were the only ones capable of global broadcasts. They are not used to competition, based on common rules, drafted by them.
They believed that, after the elaboration of these rules, no one would be able to compete with them, and that they would dominate, due to such factors as financial support for the media and cutting-edge technology. This is now history. Most importantly, entirely new technologies and factors can ensure worthy competition today. Money and technological advantages alone do not decide everything. Objective news coverage accomplishes a lot. People can obtain various information sources via the Internet, compare and analyse such information. They realise that the mainstream media outlets provide certain viewpoints but do not show a diverse picture. Users are looking for more interesting, topical and objective sources of information, and they find such information on Russian media websites. Our Western partners could not stand this. They started ousting Russia from the media space with the help of IT giants and private companies. All these amendments aim to prevent and thwart such developments, and they were drafted in response to restrictive measures.
Question: The US National Academy of Sciences has published a report on the possible causes for various neurological disorders among members of US diplomatic missions working in Russia, Cuba and China. The Academy’s report cites the use of directed-energy microwave weapons, capable of causing impaired hearing and other painful symptoms. What is your response to the conjectures that Russia might have used such weapons against US diplomats and officials in Moscow?
Maria Zakharova: We have no information suggesting that Russia has directed-energy microwave weapons, never mind information on cases of their practical use. One can hardly perceive these provocative and groundless conjectures and fantastic theories as a serious pretext for a comment.
Question: Can you comment on the situation with the return of the so-called historical Azerbaijani refugees and internally displaced persons who were expelled from Karabakh in the early 1990s in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? Have discussions already begun on the mechanisms for their return to Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven surrounding regions?
Maria Zakharova: The sustainable ceasefire, which was achieved thanks to Russia’s mediation role, has created real conditions for the solution of the humanitarian issues.
We note in particular that point 7 of the trilateral statement of the presidents of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia of November 9 provides that all internally displaced persons and refugees shall return to the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent regions under the supervision of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. A number of other relevant international organisations – The International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and UNESCO – are also involved in addressing humanitarian consequences of the crisis.
On November 13, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an executive order on the establishment of an interdepartmental humanitarian response centre, which, among other things, will facilitate the return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their places of permanent residence, provide them with assistance, help restore civilian infrastructure, and create conditions for normal life in Nagorno-Karabakh. Resolving these issues is one of the main goals of the Russian peacekeepers in the region.
The question about the expulsion of refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent regions in the 90s and later should be addressed to Baku. I have expressed Russia’s approaches and efforts to return the refugees.
Question: Russia has opened the way to peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia. In Russia as well as in Azerbaijan, these words are also heard, and they like to cite the example of two peoples living together in the past in different historical periods, including during the Soviet era. There are good examples of this harmony, when people living in Baku, for example, were not divided by nationality. What is the key to the success of peaceful coexistence and interaction between the two peoples? How can the historical stress experienced by the people be overcome? How do you see the life of Azerbaijani and Armenian people as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement?
Maria Zakharova: Many things are included in your question. There is positive historical experience of the two nations living together – the Azerbaijani and Armenians – both on the territory of Azerbaijan and in Armenia: they worked together, made friends, and created families.
Now, thanks to Russia’s mediation efforts, the bloodshed has been stopped, agreements have been reached on the return of refugees and internally displaced persons, and on unblocking transport and economic connections in the region. A humanitarian response centre has been established to assist Azerbaijan and Armenia in restoring civilian infrastructure and creating conditions for the normal life of their people. This creates real conditions for establishing a dialogue between the two peoples, and a dialogue is the only possible way to overcome the differences.
With all the dissimilarities in the region, with all the deep differences between neighbours, it is necessary to look for ways to combine the interests of the parties. In our opinion, a greater focus should be placed on the implementation of various mutually beneficial options of synergy of trade, transport and energy capabilities in the region.
There is no doubt that the agenda needs to include building up and consolidating contacts between businesspeople, scientists, and civil society representatives in general. One possible approach is mutual visits by journalists. I believe that this is a right step towards sustainable peace between the people of Azerbaijan and Armenia.
But all this is only possible given the political will of the leaders of the states in question.
Question: The United States has put Russia on a special watch list for violations of religious freedom. This information was reported by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In addition to Russia, the list also includes Cuba, Nicaragua and the Comoros with the wording that the governments of these countries engage in or tolerate violations of religious freedom. What is Russia’s position on this step by the United States? Can you comment on this action?
Maria Zakharova: This is not the first year that Washington has tried to act as the “defender” of believers around the world. There are a lot of reports on this topic that are printed in the United States. They have come up with a kind of system for evaluating the policies of certain countries in this area.
In the same context, there are attempts to give legitimacy to certain international associations as “global regulators” in the sensitive sphere of religion, whose guidelines may become binding on the states participating in such associations in the foreseeable future. In fact, this course is a continuation of a policy based not on law, but on certain rules. In this regard, we do not see the need to react to another American venture of this sort.