Briefing of the Foreign Ministry Spokesman
Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow, December 24, 2020
- Coronavirus update
- Russia’s coronavirus assistance to South Ossetia
- Nepal receives Russian test kits for diagnosing COVID-19
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming December 25 online meeting with participants of the programme Dialogue in the Name of the Future of the Gorchakov Fund
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Sochi
- Upcoming talks between Russian and Libyan foreign ministers
- US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Russia threatens Mediterranean stability
- Mike Pompeo’s anti-Russia statements
- US liberal media mooting reports on Russian trace in the cyberattack on the United States
- US Department of Commerce issues a new blacklist
- New version of the joint strategy for the US Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard
- Developments regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
- CAS decision banning the use of national flag by Russian athletes during international competitions
- Private military companies’ involvement in crimes against Afghan civilians
- Germany’s support for the White Helmets pseudo-humanitarian organisation in Syria
- UN assessment mission in Nagorno-Karabakh
- Declaration of the Second Protocol Committee of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict
- Liberation of schoolchildren in northwestern Nigeria
- Update on the Central African Republic
- Appeal in the January 13, 1991 case
- Establishment of a new government in Yemen
- Plans of the Latvian media regulator to restrict the broadcasting of Rossiya RTR TV channel
- Russia – Council of Europe seminar on the outcome and lessons of World War II
- Historical revisionism in Lithuania
- Salzburg Museum returns ancient artefacts to the Temryuk Historical Archaeological Museum
- Greece holds International Forum on Religious Diplomacy: Religions and Challenges in the New Decade
- Commemorative event on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to mark the 60th anniversary of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples
- Release of the No One Left Behind album
- Prospects for a better international environment
- Nagorno-Karabakh update
- Efforts to legalise materials concocted by US special services
- US sanctions against Turkey
- Priority access to the coronavirus vaccine
The news was not good last week: the number of confirmed coronavirus cases is growing around the world. There were over 78 million of them on December 24, and the death toll exceeded 1.7 million. The pace of the coronavirus’ spread does not allow governments to ease off restrictions, and some countries have reintroduced strict lockdown measures to slow the spread. At the same time, vaccination is gathering momentum.
We have taken note of the new strain of COVID-19 reported in the UK, which is spreading at a faster rate, according to specialists.
This strain has already been reported in Australia, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, South Africa and several other countries, which might indicate its adaptability to new conditions. Virologists are not yet sure that this variant has an increased risk potential. The WHO has refrained from providing any assessments of the dangers carried by the new strain and has cautioned against drawing conclusions until scientists have reliable data. Russian scientists, who have received samples of the new strain, are analysing them and exchanging information with their foreign colleagues and WHO representatives.
Nevertheless, over 50 countries, including China, Canada, Turkey, India, Iran and Germany, have partially or fully suspended transport links with Britain. Russia has followed suit, adopting a week-long ban on passenger transport to and from the UK and a 14-day quarantine for all arrivals from the UK as of midnight December 22.
The Foreign Ministry once again urges Russians to refrain, as far as possible, from making foreign trips and to carefully consider the risks of foreign travel until the situation with the spread of the COVID-19 infection stabilises.
A mobile multidisciplinary hospital of the Russian Defence Ministry, which was deployed in South Ossetia in late October, has completed its tasks. Russian specialists gave medical check-ups to 1,474 local residents, and the PCR lab analysed 2,152 diagnostic tests. In-treatment was provided to 192 patients; all of them recovered. A similar hospital is working in Abkhazia.
The rapid deployment of the multidisciplinary hospital and a combined radiation, chemical and biological protection unit of the Russian Armed Forces, as well as medical specialists from the Russian Healthcare Ministry and Rospotrebnadzor, was a key element in stabilising South Ossetia’s efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.
We are ready to continue helping the fraternal republic deal with the coronavirus infection.
On December 10, 2020, 50 test kits and related reagents for 5,000 tests, allocated by the Russian Federation on a gratis basis, as part of efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, were delivered to Nepal. The very next day, the Russian Embassy transferred the test kits and reagents to Nepal’s Ministry of Health and Population. We are ready for subsequent cooperation with Kathmandu in fighting the pandemic.
These are just a few examples. Work is underway, and assistance is being provided. This is a wonderful tradition showing that countries provide mutual assistance while addressing a global problem.
On December 25, 2020, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet, via videoconference, with participants of the annual educational programme Dialogue in the Name of the Future of the Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund.
During the ten years of its implementation, the project has rightfully earned the reputation of an important venue facilitating greater trust between the Russian and foreign public. The programme includes a weekly cycle of lectures, seminars and roundtable discussions involving young foreign specialists on foreign relations and leading Russian political analysts, academic experts, cultural workers and representatives of public administrative agencies. In accord with tradition, the series of events ends with the Minister’s meeting with the Dialogue participants. The parties focus on topical matters of the international agenda during their free discussion.
This year’s anniversary Dialogue in the Name of the Future will be held via videoconference for the first time and will mark the 75th anniversary of the Great Victory and the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the UN. It will be attended by delegates from 19 CIS, European and Central Asian states.
On December 29, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will pay a working visit to Sochi, Russia, at the invitation of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to attend the 8th meeting of the Joint Strategic Planning Group that functions within the framework of the High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council. On March 29, 2019, Antalya was the venue for the Council’s seventh meeting. The participants will review a wide range of topical regional and international matters. They will compare positions on the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, the South Caucasus, Central Asia, Ukraine and the Black Sea region. They will discuss ways of facilitating more effective cooperation at international organisations.
There are plans to analyse current matters linked with implementing the November 9, 2020 Joint Statement by the Leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia on Nagorno-Karabakh. The participants will prioritise efforts to minimise risks of possible armed clashes and to provide the former belligerents with humanitarian relief.
The participants will focus on streamlining the activities of the joint Russian-Turkish centre for monitoring the ceasefire and ending all hostilities in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone.
On December 30, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will have a meeting with Foreign Minister Mohamed Siala of Libya's Government of National Accord, who will pay a working visit to Moscow.
During the upcoming talks, the sides are expected to exchange views on the emerging situation in and around Libya, including efforts to strengthen the ceasefire and advance the political process based on the decisions made at the Berlin Libya Conference and on UN Security Council Resolution 2510, while emphasising Russia's greater role in assisting the early achievement of a Libyan settlement. In addition, the ministers will substantively discuss a number of practical matters concerning the expansion of bilateral relations in various fields.
We have noted a December 15 statement by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo concerning the Middle East in which he made some critical remarks about Russia’s Mediterranean policy. He groundlessly accused our country of sowing “chaos, conflict and division” using a variety of techniques to spread disinformation. There are many such accusations, but we cannot leave them without comment. If we do not comment, we will give others reason to believe this is all true. That is why we will have to elaborate on these statements.
To begin with, we would like to remind Mr Pompeo of how the dramatic events in Libya actually began. It was the United States with its NATO allies that launched an open armed aggression against that country in 2011, destroying the country's socioeconomic infrastructure and even Libya’s statehood. Incidentally, the United States later actually distanced itself for a long period of time from resolving the crisis that it instigated.
Russia, on the contrary, has been an active participant in international efforts to resolve the crisis at various multilateral platforms, ever since the start of the armed confrontation between Eastern and Western Libya. We maintain contact with all the Libyan parties, urging them to end the fratricidal civil war. We reject the insinuations that Russia allegedly supported the Libyan National Army’s offensive in Tripoli in 2019, because as soon as that military operation began, we began to consistently urge the leaders of the East Libyan side to return to the negotiating table. It was the joint statement by the presidents of Russia and Turkey calling for a ceasefire in Libya, issued at a meeting in Istanbul on January 8, 2020, that paved the way for the future armistice agreement concluded in Geneva on October 23.
Mr Pompeo accused the recently released Russian citizens Maxim Shugalei and Samer Sueifan of contacts with private military contractor Wagner; these allegations are totally absurd. Our compatriots arrived in Tripoli legally in May 2019, with the consent of local authorities, to conduct sociological surveys for Russian research centres. Then they were kidnapped. We could not even establish their whereabouts for a while until we found them in the Mitiga prison. They were facing unfounded charges of espionage in favour of one of the parties to the Libyan conflict. The American side is obviously guided by the “testimony” squeezed out of them under torture or self-incrimination.
As for the mentions of Wagner, we note that there are no Russian service personnel in Libya. The activities of private military companies are not covered by the laws of the Russian Federation.
In his statement, the Secretary of State praises the United States’ vigorous work to strengthen the UN’s leading role in the Libyan settlement, primarily through expanding the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) operating since 2011. Mr Pompeo used a rhetorical technique to hint that Russia, as well as China, are opposed to this.
But if we look at the facts, the picture is different. Over the past nine-plus months, the Americans have tried to undermine any progress the UN has made on the Libyan track. Abusing its status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Washington has blocked the appointment of a new head of UNSMIL to replace Lebanese representative Ghassan Salamé who resigned in March 2020. The Americans rejected, without giving any reasons, at least two very worthy candidates representing Africa. Those candidates were proposed by the UN Secretary-General and supported by the overwhelming majority of the UN Security Council members, including Russia. The Americans continued to stall even after mid-September when the UN Security Council approved the US proposal to reformat the UNSMIL management structure following long and difficult negotiations. Meanwhile, from March to mid-December, the mission was led by Stephanie Williams, a US citizen and former high-ranking State Department employee – quite an incredible coincidence.
The stories regularly planted by Washington about Russia violating the UN Security Council’s arms embargo on Libya have not been supported by reliable facts. Ideological propaganda has no use for facts, whereas we prefer working in accordance with rules. We need to see facts proving the involvement of Mohamed al-Kani, whom Mr Pompeo mentioned in his press statement, in the crimes imputed to him. This is why we have not “blocked sanctions at the UN Security Council” on this Libyan citizen and his militia group, as the US Secretary of State said, but put the matter on hold, as it was put at the UN, promising to resume the discussion of sanctions when their initiator provides reliable evidence of the alleged violations. Mr Pompeo knows better than many that the United States often acts likewise at the sanctions committees, including those that deal with the activities of terrorist organisations.
Next, the allegation that Russia “printed counterfeit Libyan dinars” has nothing to do with reality. The banknotes were printed by Russia’s Goznak under contracts signed by Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Libya (CBL) in Tripoli Ali Mohammed Elherbi and were designed for use throughout Libya to make up for the shortage of cash and to increase solvent demand. These dinars were to facilitate economic stabilisation and act as a unifying factor in the Libyan state, which was split and devastated through the actions of its Western partners.
As for the allegation that “Russia continues to threaten Mediterranean stability” by supporting “the Assad regime whose war against its own people has added to regional instability, led to a protracted humanitarian crisis, and displaced half the population,” we would like to remind the Secretary of State of the facts.
It was thanks to Russia’s decisive role that international terrorism was delivered a crushing blow in Syria, which thereby avoided the fate of Libya whose statehood was destroyed by illegal NATO air raids. This has prevented the split and takeover of Syria by the groups that have been denoted by the international community as terrorist, primarily ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. Consequently, this has protected the Middle East and the Mediterranean from the potential proliferation of terrorism and instability.
At present, a sustainable ceasefire is maintained in the majority of Syrian regions. We are actively helping Syrians deal with their current tasks, namely, to promote a political settlement, restore national unity, rebuild the war-ravaged economy, and last but not the least, solve the problem of the millions of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). We urge the international community to provide active support for the settlement of humanitarian and economic problems in Syria without any political preconditions.
Despite the resistance of Washington and its allies, an international conference on the return of refugees and IDPs was held in Damascus on November 11-12 with Russia’s support. We would like to remind our opponents that the importance of settling the problem of refugees is specifically mentioned in the related UNSC decisions, including Resolution 2254. We believe that the Damascus forum may help launch a multilateral process, which other concerned countries, including the Mediterranean ones, and specialised international organisations would be able to join later.
As for Mr Pompeo’s allegations concerning our relations with Greece and the Republic of Cyprus, we are aware of the pressure put by US representatives on the hierarchy of the Greek and Cypriot Orthodox churches to recognise the Ukrainian schismatics. This looks strange for a secular state that is located thousands of kilometres from Ukraine, and that does not have, unlike Russia, strong historical, spiritual and cultural ties with it, and where Orthodox Christians account for barely 2 percent of the population.
However, Washington has openly indicated that Athens and Nicosia must curtail their cooperation with Russia if they want to develop bilateral ties with the United States. We have emphasised on numerous occasions that blackmail has no place in a civilised society and international politics.
Here is one more example of the US arm-twisting policy. Secretary Pompeo mentioned in his statement that Russian diplomats were expelled from Greece in 2018 for undermining the Prespes agreement. However, no proof of the Russian representative’s illegal activities has been provided to this day. Moscow supported the agreements reached between Greece and North Macedonia on the latter’s name. However, they were made in violation of international law and the Macedonian Constitution under powerful pressure by the Western countries, first of all the United States, with the aim of encouraging Skopje to join NATO as soon as possible rather than to promote a settlement of the bilateral dispute. We put forth our position frankly and openly.
Lastly, the issue of financial and economic transparency should primarily be the concern of the country where such activities are taking place. In such instances, the national authorities should act in accordance with national legislation and international norms rather than external recommendations for punishing those who allegedly maintain ties with “undesirable” regimes.
Mr Pompeo’s statements regarding Russians laundering money in Malta have not been substantiated with facts. It is strange that American diplomats are not aware of the measures taken in Russia to combat the criminal practice of expatriating funds to offshore havens.
For example, on October 1, 2020, the governments of Russia and Malta signed, at Russia’s initiative, a protocol amending the Russian-Maltese convention of April 24, 2013, on avoidance of double taxation and prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income. Russia began amending such agreements to raise the tax on dividends expatriated to offshore havens with the countries through which considerable funds made in Russia are channelled.
The protocol is aimed at making the expatriation of funds inexpedient, reducing the amount of assets withdrawn from the Russian jurisdiction, strengthening legal regulation in taxation and preventing tax avoidance.
On December 18, 2020, in an interview with radio host Mark Levin, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo openly said that Russia is on the list of America’s enemies, that Russia’s nuclear weapons pose an “enormous” threat to Americans and that Moscow is behind the recent cyberattack on the government in Washington. As usual, no evidence was offered to substantiate these claims.
Not so long ago, on May 14, 2019, during a news conference following talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Mike Pompeo, speaking on behalf of the United States, stressed their willingness to “seek a better relationship with Russia.” He assured us that he was doing everything to take steps in that direction. Instead, we are hearing, from the country’s chief diplomat, openly hostile rhetoric, which is not helping to normalise the bilateral dialogue at all.
Mike Pompeo’s remarks did not add anything new to the now traditional set of hacking accusations that we hear from overseas in the form of unfounded reproaches against Russia. The statement was yet another rendition of the unsubstantiated accusations of Russia’s “irresponsible” conduct in cyber affairs. This issue continues to hold a central position for Washington when it comes to “pumping up” its own audience amid the political infighting.
In this context, it is interesting that on December 19, the current US President Donald Trump commented on Twitter that the attack could have been carried out by another country. The lack of coordinated stances inside the US political establishment is a new trend in the American government.
One question remains: why does the outgoing administration, whose efforts resulted in the Russia-US relations going through a really bad stretch, continue to make them worse?
Constantly planted “breaking news” about multiple cyberattacks allegedly targeting US government agencies by hackers acting in the interests of Russian authorities, has become a political routine. The lack of facts is compensated by speculations about the Russian trace in the cyberattack on the United States.
We have long suggested that our colleagues put an end to this fabricated insinuations and stop misleading their own citizens and the global public. However, the United States has avoided a constructive discussion of the issues related to ensuring international information security, thus demonstrating the absence of solid arguments to support their claims.
Instead of dealing with domestic political problems, it is convenient for the American establishment to promote the image of an external enemy represented by Russia. It should not be ruled out, however, that the real reason behind the new allegations against us is to prevent President-elect Joe Biden from developing cooperation with us, including on international information security.
We believe that this scenario serves neither Russian nor American national interests. On our part, we are ready for a constructive, professional and pragmatic dialogue on international information security with any US leader. We would like to remind our colleagues once again of the statement President Vladimir Putin made on September 25, 2020, which contains specific proposals with regard to developing cooperation between our countries on this matter.
In addition, as part of the bilateral agreements made with Washington in 2013, we have official direct communication lines established between our competent authorities as well as high-ranking officials in case of cyber incidents. Also, the National Computer Incident Response and Coordination Centre has operated in Russia since 2018. It is an authorised body responsible for interaction between the Russian Federation and agencies in foreign states, international non-governmental and foreign organisations that respond to computer incidents. Once again, we urge our American colleagues to use official channels to share information about computer incidents instead of issuing unfounded and politically charged allegations.
We are puzzled and shocked by the latest decision of the US Department of Commerce to modernise the US export regime by adding a new Military End User (MEU) list and putting over 40 Russian companies on it.
Under the guise of care for US companies, which are allegedly concerned that they might unwittingly sell their sensitive goods to some undesirable clients, Washington has made yet another unfriendly move with regard to Russia. It claims that certain goods might enter the defence industry, due to the fusion of the Russian defence and civilian sectors. These actions fit clearly in the overall US line aiming to comprehensively contain Russia.
At the same time, it is strange that the MEU list, aimed at countering Russian’s “destabilising military programmes,” includes purely civilian producers in metallurgy, instrument-making, energy and the civilian aircraft manufacturing. Obviously, the outgoing US administration is trying to complicate Russian-US cooperation in precisely these areas to the greatest possible extent and to undermine healthy competition on global markets.
Indicatively, a number of enterprises and companies covered by the restrictions have been maintaining mutually beneficial cooperation with the United States for a long time. It turns out that US authorities are also deliberately creating additional obstacles for cooperation with Russia in this area to the detriment of the US business community. This looks strange, but it is their right. Besides, the United States is forcing Russia to strive for complete technological independence from the West. This will undoubtedly require certain time and resources, but the result will be achieved.
We are once again urging the United States to heed the voice of reason and to take, at long last, a realistic look at the consequences of its destructive actions for the political atmosphere of relations between our countries, as well as for their trade and economic component.
We have taken note of the Pentagon’s new version of the joint strategy for the US Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, published on December 17, 2020. The document describes a general plan to prepare for a confrontation with Russia and China. Both countries are described as “the two most significant threats to this era of global peace and prosperity.”
According to the United States, Russia displays an aggressive attitude by implementing scheduled programmes to develop nuclear and missile weapons, submarines, aircraft and air defence systems. At the same time, the United States once again claims that Russia is committed to the concept of “escalation for de-escalation.” This means that, in the event of a hypothetical conflict, Russia is ready to use nuclear weapons to end hostilities on beneficial terms. This is an outright lie.
Washington’s “strategists” are mostly concerned with the fact that an increase in Russia’s naval capabilities can put into question the US naval advantage. It appears that the United States has not heard about such principles as equal security and parity. And if it has heard about them, it has probably misinterpreted them. As a result, an openly confrontationist idea of rivalry between the great powers runs through the entire US document.
In the past few years, we have repeatedly seen similar US assessments and plans regarding confrontation with Russia. They are contained in numerous doctrines and budgetary documents whose rhetoric is becoming tougher all the time. The United States is rubberstamping these “strategies” in an effort to justify its policy of expanding the already absurdly huge US military spending under the pretext of ensuring Washington’s global domination. This approach has no future. It is not conducive to achieving the stated goal of using the world’s oceans for bringing various communities closer together. This looks particularly cynical in this context and lays a long-term foundation for expanding military confrontation on the high seas, which is fraught with extremely dangerous consequences. We believe that the new US administration ought to give this serious thought.
During the past week, numerous efforts have been taken to preserve and stabilise the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme. On December 21, the foreign ministers of the JCPOA signatory states held a videoconference. On December 22, the UN Security Council met to discuss the report of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231. Comments and other materials about these events have been posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website and on the official website of the Permanent Mission of Russia in New York. They set out clearly the main elements of Russia’s position on a topic that is becoming increasingly important and urgent.
The results of the JCPOA ministerial and the UNSC meeting have demonstrated a complete failure of the attempts to overthrow the nuclear deal, prevent its implementation and question the legality of UNSC Resolution 2231. Despite their efforts, our American colleagues have failed to put the clock back and to relaunch the sanctions resolutions that were effective before the JCPOA was signed. They have not managed to restructure the nuclear deal. It has survived and will be gradually implemented. Likewise, UNSC Resolution 2231 remains effective in the form in which it was approved by consensus on July 20, 2015. All countries, including the United States, must comply with this resolution without any ifs and buts, in accordance with Article 25 of the UN Charter.
The path towards implementing the JCPOA will be long and winding. The United States must mend its violations of the Action Plan and UNSC Resolution 2231 and restore the careful balance of interests underlying the comprehensive arrangements, ultimately facilitating Tehran’s full compliance with the JCPOA provisions it has suspended in response to Washington’s subversive activities and anti-Iran sanctions. We believe that Washington’s return to the JCPOA must not be conditioned on any additional requirements or prerequisites.
We hope that progress will be reached in this sphere. We have taken note of Iran’s readiness, regularly confirmed by the leadership, to act in this manner. There is the political will and enough room for collective efforts towards implementing the 2015 agreement.
On December 17, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) adopted sanctions against Russian athletes, who will be unable to use the national flag at Olympic and Paralympic games and world championships in the next two years. The Russian anthem will not be used during the sanctions period either.
We regret this decision by the court and that it has not taken into account Russia’s reasoning.
Russia has always called for the promotion of international sports cooperation and honest and fair sports competition without any political bias. While condemning the use of prohibited substances, we regard bias and the enforcement of the principle of collective responsibility for the violations committed of individuals as unacceptable. Russia stands for broad international collaboration in combating doping in sports.
We have taken note of a report published by the online resource The Intercept about crimes against Afghan civilians committed by private military companies sponsored by US intelligence agencies.
According to publicly available information and expert assessments, these paramilitary units were involved in the murder, kidnapping and torture of between 20,000 and 25,000 Afghan civilians in 2018-2019. At least 50 people have died as a result of these activities. Many of the paramilitaries’ attacks targeted religious schools (madrasahs), leading to the death of children.
We believe that the mercenaries’ criminal activities against Afghan civilians must be investigated and the culprits held accountable.
It would be interesting to know what the United States will do with these paramilitary units in light of President Trump’s decision on troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The German Federal Foreign Office has completely abandoned all hesitation and constraint and is now, with growing enthusiasm, acting as the primary promoter and sponsor of the infamous White Helmets presenting them as “heroes” of humanitarian service who “symbolise hope” for the civilian population of Syria. This is the dramatic language used to describe the White Helmets’ activity in a special publication posted by the Federal Foreign Office on its official website. Our German colleagues are sparing no words to portray activists of this NGO as knights without fear or reproach. According to Berlin, they are humanitarian “first responders” in Syria performing a wide range of tasks, from rescuing the injured and providing emergency medical assistance to victims in the areas of military activity to firefighting and preventing the spread of COVID-19 among civilians.
According to the said article, in 2020, the Federal Foreign Office provided an impressive aid of 5.1 million euros to the White Helmets for all these noble purposes. It remains unclear, including to the German public, how much of this public money was used to fuel the cooperation between these pseudo-humanitarians and Jihadist terrorist groups operating in northwestern Syria, such as Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham and others. Does this amount include the cost of the grand move of Khalid al-Saleh, one of the White Helmets ringleaders, from Jordan to Germany organised by official Berlin? Intelligence agencies report that he has direct links with terrorist groups, which we reported on in detail during previous briefings.
It is really easy to get confused when looking at the accounting records of Germany’s White Helmets sponsorship. It is becoming harder to draw a line in these records between the expenses supporting humanitarian activity and the expenses related to various assistance to the terrorists so brazenly glorified by Berlin.
It has been reported that UN senior officials decided to send a comprehensive assessment mission to the area of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It is understood that representatives of competent humanitarian agencies will take part in the mission in order to review the situation on the ground and assess the needs of those in distress.
Preparations for and discussion of the parameters of this assessment mission are currently in progress. For our part, we consider it useful and necessary to intensify humanitarian assistance to all victims through competent international organisations, in coordination with the parties. Russian ministries and agencies began relevant efforts immediately after the adoption of the trilateral statement by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia on November 9, 2020, the statement that made it possible to cease hostilities.
We welcome the Declaration of the Second Protocol Committee of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict regarding protection of cultural heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as readiness to send a UNESCO independent technical mission to the region.
We find it important that the Declaration calls for continuing work with the States Parties and other interested parties towards creating necessary conditions for the work of this independent technical mission.
We believe that UNESCO’s humanitarian mission, organised in cooperation with its international NGO partners, can provide an objective assessment of the state of the cultural property that is part of the Nagorno-Karabakh multidimensional legacy.
We followed with great concern the developments after the kidnapping by unidentified persons of 344 boys from a boarding school in Kankara, northwestern Nigeria, which took place on December 12, 2020. Our hopes for a happy ending in this tragic story were fulfilled. On December 18, Nigerian authorities reported that all the hostages had been released.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has high regard for the professionalism and efficient response of the Nigerian law enforcement agencies who ensured the boys’ safe release and saved their lives. We are certain that the Nigerian government and law enforcement will do everything they can to hold the boarding school attackers accountable and prevent similar crimes in the future.
The situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) remains difficult. The personnel of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) together with units of the CAR army counter attacks from illegal military groups trying to advance on the CAR capital, Bangui, from various directions. There are reports that several towns previously captured by the rebels have been liberated. Control was regained over the towns of Bossembele, Yaloke and Boda, where battles took place the day before with militants supporting former CAR President François Bozizé and three military groups: 3R, МРС and Anti-balaka. On December 22, the troops managed to defend Bambari, which has key importance for defending the capital of the republic from the east.
The main goal of the government and the peacekeeping forces opposing illegal military groups is to prevent the blocking of major transport routes connecting the centre of the country with its regions and to ensure security in towns and villages, including with due account of the tasks set for the preparation for the general elections scheduled for December 27.
In November, the Lithuanian Court of Appeals concluded the hearings on the tragic events that took place in Vilnius on January 13, 1991, with 59 out of 67 convicts filing appeals, as well as victims and prosecutors. The verdict is to be announced on March 15, 2021. Taking into account that the Lithuanian judicial system is controlled by the ruling elite, there is little hope for a fair verdict.
Russia’s position on the issue is well-known. We regard Vilnius’s shameful rigged trial as the continuation of its immoral policy of falsifying history and settling old scores with Russia.
The persecution of Yury Mel, Gennady Ivanov and other Soviet servicemen is carried out in violation of international law on human rights. The crimes they are incriminated with were absent both from the Soviet and Lithuanian law until 2020, which goes against the fundamental principle of “there is no punishment without a crime” and inadmissibility of applying a penal statute retroactively.
We will continue to provide all the necessary support to the Russians who fell victim to this judicial outrage. We are especially closely monitoring the situation with Reserve Colonel Yury Mel, who was arrested in 2014 and convicted after several years of imprisonment for the allegedly committed “war crimes and crimes against humanity.” The Russian embassy’s diplomats in Lithuania visit him regularly, provide all the necessary legal assistance, including presence at court meetings, and carefully monitor his health. The issue of improving his confinement conditions has been raised with the heads of penitentiary facilities and the Lithuanian ministries of justice and foreign affairs.
At present the Investigative Committee of Russia continues to investigate the criminal case on illegal prosecution and deliberately unfair verdicts against Russian citizens regarding the events in Vilnius in January 1991. On this fact, Lithuanian judges were charged in absentia under Part 2 of Article 305 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The investigation took the necessary measures to organise an international search for these Lithuanian judges.
On December 18, it was announced that a new government has been formed in the Republic of Yemen, and for the first time a significant part of ministerial portfolios was given to representatives of the southern regions. The decision on such a composition of the new cabinet followed talks between the official Yemeni authorities and the leadership of the Southern Transitional Council (STC), which took place in Riyadh with Saudi mediation. According to our information, the signing of the relevant executive order by the President of the Republic of Yemen was preceded by a mutual withdrawal of troops from the contact line in the Abyan Governorate and the evacuation of STC combat units from Aden, the capital of South Yemen.
Moscow welcomes these agreements. We would like to especially highlight the role of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have helped to reach these agreements and implement them.
We proceed from the fact that important steps have been taken towards the practical implementation of the Riyadh Agreement of November 5, 2019 on the normalisation of the situation in South Yemen. We hope that aforementioned measures will result in greater public security and will make it possible to focus on solving acute socioeconomic and humanitarian problems in this part of Yemen. We also call for the soonest possible implementation of the Riyadh Agreement’s provisions concerning the launch of talks between the joint delegation of the official Yemeni authorities and the Southern Transitional Council and the leadership of the Ansar Allah Houthi movement on the future political set-up of Yemen.
At the same time, we also reaffirm our principled position in favour of ending all hostilities in Yemen. We call on all parties to the conflict to refrain from attacks, in which civilians and civilian infrastructure may suffer. We believe the resolution of the numerous contradictions accumulated in Yemen, including the issue of its administrative division, is only possible through an inclusive dialogue and consideration for the legitimate interests of all the leading political forces in Yemen.
We will continue to fully support the achievement of these goals in our regular contacts with all involved and interested parties.
We cannot ignore a statement made by the head of the National Electronic Mass Media Council of Latvia Ivars Abolins on December 17, 2020 that a decision may be made to restrict the retransmission of the Rossiya RTR TV channel in the Republic of Latvia no later than January 2021.
According to Ivars Abolins, the corresponding procedure was launched in July on the grounds that the channel allegedly “incites hatred” towards Ukraine.
We regard this as yet another case of neglecting the rights of national minorities living in Latvia and violation of the principles of freedom of speech and pluralism of the media. Far-fetched claims against the content of Russian programmes are just a pretext. The true goal, as we see it, is the continuing policy aimed at eradicating any dissent, as part of which Russian and Russian-language media are ousted from the country’s information space.
We will continue to raise these issues at international venues. We do not give up the hope that the principles of true democracy will prevail, and Latvian authorities will be brought to account.
We state with regret that Russia is forced to consider the possibility of using response measures due to the continuing and increasingly unfriendly steps of the Latvian leadership towards the Russian media.
On December 14-18, 2020, the Memory and Lessons of World War II international youth seminar, dedicated to the 75th anniversary of Victory over Nazism and the 70th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights, was held via videoconference. This event, which has been held since 2014 as part of the Framework Programme for Cooperation in the Field of Youth Policy between the Russian Federation and the Council of Europe, was organised by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation, the National Council of Youth and Children’s Associations of Russia and the Youth Department of the Council of Europe. From year to year, such seminars evoke an interested response from participants. They highlight the importance of preserving historical memory and passing it on to new generations, help to increase the interest of European youth in the history of World War II and to realise the importance of its results for the formation of a world order based on international law.
This time, the videoconference involved youth workers, young diplomats, politicians and academics from 21 countries. The speakers included Scientific Director of the Institute of World History of the Russian Academy of Sciences Academician Alexander Chubaryan, Chairman of the Board of the Russian Historical Society Konstantin Mogilevsky, as well as representatives of the Secretariats of the Council of Europe and UNESCO.
The Russian participants particularly emphasised the inadmissibility of falsifying the past and revising the decisions of the Nuremberg Trials and stressed the decisive role of the USSR in ridding the world of the brown plague. The event showed that, despite the well-known desire of a number of EU states to distort the history of World War II, the dialogue on this topic can be honest and useful. We are pleased that in today’s Europe the tone is not always set by those who glorify Nazi accomplices and destroy monuments to the soldiers-liberators. It is important that the Strasbourg-based organisation, which was created on the post-war ruins, will maintain an understanding that the values and principles on which it is based were achieved through suffering and at the cost of millions of lives, and that without the feat of Soviet soldiers we would not be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights this year.
Unfortunately, official Vilnius continues to persevere in its efforts to rewrite the history of the Second World War. This was again demonstrated by the conference held on December 15, 2020, under the high-sounding title “Lithuanian struggle for statehood and historical truth: The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact 1939–1989–2020”, which was held under the auspices of the president of Lithuania.
Unfortunately, there was no objective scholarly discussion – the event had a politicised tone from the outset. Again, statements about the so-called “Soviet occupation” were voiced as an axiom, as well as unacceptable theses about the equal responsibility of Nazi Germany and the USSR for the outbreak of World War II.
Attempts to draw a causal link between the signing of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact on August 23, 1939, and Lithuania's entry into the Soviet Union in the summer of 1940 is a deliberate distortion of facts and disregard for the historical context. There were many such distortions of facts at this conference. We will publish materials on this subject later. I would like to emphasise once again that comparing the Soviet Union to the Third Reich is sacrilege against the hundred thousand Red Army soldiers who gave their lives for the liberation of Lithuania from Nazism.
We are well aware of why the Lithuanian authorities are implanting the myth of “Soviet occupation” in the minds of their citizens by holding such pseudo-scientific events. It is no coincidence that the leitmotif of the conference was speculation about the damage that the Russian Federation is supposed to compensate Lithuania.
No good will ever come of rewriting history. The world has gone through this several times. Unfortunately, many have not learned anything from world history.
On December 25, the Temryuk Historical Archaeological Museum will host a ceremony of receiving ancient artefacts (antique amphorae and bas-reliefs) that had been stolen during the Great Patriotic War by the Nazis. Now Austria has voluntarily returned the items home, to their rightful place.
We told you in November about the Salzburg Museum, whose management is carrying out systematic work on the restitution of displaced valuables in its collection. We highly appreciate this approach. In our opinion, this is an inspiring example of restoring justice, getting rid of the legacy of crimes, and putting things right.
Before the war, Temryuk’s local historians, general historians, and museum enthusiasts conducted surveys and excavations, and put together a fascinating collection of archaeological finds discovered in Taman. But the war came, and the area was occupied. The museum, like thousands of similar collections throughout our country, was ruthlessly and barbarically looted. Part of the collection, unfortunately, is irretrievably lost.
We are grateful to Austria for this gesture of goodwill. We are sure that the returned exhibits will become another thread connecting our nations with the ties of friendship and genuine, sincere amity. In the museum and in Temryuk itself, visitors from Austria and other countries who are interested in the new “old” exhibition will always be welcome.
We have noted the online conference “International forum on religious diplomacy: Religions and challenges in the new decade,” organised in Greece by the Athens branch of the Foreign Affairs magazine.
Russian representatives had not been invited despite the theme of the event, which directly affects our interests. This circumstance is quite understandable, given that the leitmotif of the forum (and apparently its purpose) was to promote absurd reproaches against Russia that allegedly undermines the unity of the Orthodox world and interferes in the internal affairs of Orthodox countries. Such statements sound especially cynical coming from the notorious American “defenders of Orthodoxy,” who, as expected, were the main organisers of this online event.
It is perplexing how persistently the United States is trying to fix in the minds of its allies its own interpretation of the schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy, motivated solely by political considerations and largely inspired by them, as well as its attempts to oust Russia from discussions on this topic, as if there were no centuries-old cultural, spiritual and family ties between Russians and Ukrainians. It is regrettable that regional actors are actively playing along with this, and seem to care more about their own opportunistic interests than about the protection of true Orthodoxy, which is far from disputes about hierarchical primacy.
The most important thing is that again the victim here is history, which is rewritten, altered, and simply mocked.
On December 17, Russia together with Vietnam and South Africa organised a commemorative online event on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to mark the 60th anniversary of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, which was adopted on December 14, 1960.
This initiative evoked great interest among the member states, which can be seen from a significant number of participants in the meeting: over 80 delegations. At the same time, almost all representatives of the West ignored the event, which comes as no surprise considering that this group of states does not want to recognise the crimes of their colonial past and abandon its neocolonial ambitions.
The need to urgently complete the decolonisation process in accordance with the principle of self-determination of peoples stipulated in the UN Charter was the keynote of most speeches. The delegations agreed on the leading role of the UN General Assembly Special Committee on Decolonisation (C-24) in these international efforts.
Russia reaffirmed its key contribution to preparing the adoption of the declaration as well as to the independence of colonial nations. Once again Russia called on its Western partners to stop using neocolonial instruments, including unilateral sanctions, trade wars and the policy of “regime change.”
This event helped attract international attention to decolonisation, which remains an important topic. This was also an opportunity to discuss practical measures in countering the remnants of colonialism. It is also important that the meeting showed the similarity of approaches of the global community’s constructive part to this vitally important problem.
As a founding state of the UN and consistent defender of the supremacy of international law and justice, Russia will continue providing all-round assistance to completing the decolonisation process, including within the C-24. We urge all concerned countries to join our efforts.
This is another very important topic for us. As you may remember, over almost six months we started our briefings and other events with a coronavirus update but also with the issue that became an unexpected challenge for us. When I say “for us,” I don’t only mean the Foreign Ministry but also all Russian government agencies and all Russians. You remember as all of us – the Government, the Emergency Response Centre to Prevent the Spread of the Novel Coronavirus in Russia, public organisations and the human rights commissioner helped our compatriots and citizens of other countries stranded abroad to return home.
Today I would like to express my special gratitude to the TASS news agency for releasing a special book titled No One Left Behind. It is about the unprecedented campaign carried out to help repatriate Russians who were stranded abroad due to the lockdown and a transport collapse.
No One Left Behind is not just a figure of speech. These words mean colossal work that demanded complete selflessness from all who were involved in it. TASS journalists dedicated the book to the work of the Russian diplomatic missions on the front line. It includes stories on the return of Russians from 53 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America as well as their memories and stories from ambassadors and general consuls about how the work was organised from scratch, given that the world had never passed such a trial before.
The most interesting fact is that the book came to life in every sense of the word. It is interactive. With the GlazzAR app, people’s stories come across vividly in media reports and their speeches. The book is also available online at the Foreign Ministry’s official website.
Question: I would like to wish you a happy birthday on behalf of the foreign correspondents accredited at the Russian Foreign Ministry, and to express hope that you remain a successful, proactive and versatile person. I would also like to take this opportunity to wish you a Happy New Year.
Our world has been suffering from tensions over the past few years and is looking with hope into the future as the New Year approaches. What, in your opinion, can be done to improve the international situation, especially if we note the fact that Russia and the United States are “doomed” to maintain accord because there cannot and must not be any other scenarios?
Maria Zakharova: Thank you for your kind words.
In replying to your question, I would like to note that thousands, if not millions, of people are doing their utmost to fathom this subject. What can be done to prevent the world from spiralling into disastrous consequences at this time of transformation, but takes on another form making it possible to avoid global upheavals in international affairs?
Considering the scope of this question, it would take several hours to answer it. But to keep it short, let me say that there are some key aspects. One of them is an honest and responsible approach of all international players towards their policy on the international stage. It goes without saying that efforts to defend one’s national interests always remain a high-priority task of countries’ leaders. At the same time, this must not run counter to international law and deliberately create a situation that would aggravate the position of other players. I am not just talking about borders on the map or names of countries, but about nations. Therefore, it is important to have an honest and responsible approach. It also calls for kindness, care and love that should fill even the most serious decisions made by the world’s politicians.
Question: We would like to wish you a happy birthday. Thank you for speaking with journalists on this day. We wish you good health, peace and happy days.
The war in Nagorno-Karabakh and the establishment of peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia, with Russia’s mediation, rank among the three most significant events of 2020, according to a poll by the Russian Public Opinion Research Centre. Russians said the Karabakh peace settlement was one of Russia’s main victories in 2020. In one of your interviews, you were asked what you would do if you had a magic wand. You replied that, apart from restoring peace all over the world and ensuring universal health, you would resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Russia made this possible and became that magic wand to some extent. Like most Russian citizens, would you call the Karabakh peace settlement Russia’s biggest foreign policy achievement in 2020? What would you wish to Azerbaijan, Armenia and their people in 2021?
Maria Zakharova: I will not make any all-out assessments of Russia’s foreign policy achievements because Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s news conference is scheduled for January. This traditional event sums up the year’s results. The foreign minister will provide his assessments of international efforts and actions, as well as Russia’s foreign policy efforts that the media has discussed so actively. Mr Lavrov will sum up the main results.
I can say what we have repeated time and again: this is a highly important event in the regional and global context.
Indeed, I consider it to be a major achievement. The role of Russia is obvious. The world is already recognising our country’s contribution.
There is a very important segment between miracles and reality: work. I will get a bit lyrical ahead of New Year holidays: it is work, as well as patience, responsibility, kindness and love that guarantee that miracles become a reality.
What stands behind the landmark November 9, 2020 Statement by the Three Leaders is a tremendous amount of work, and its implementation requires even greater efforts. We have to accomplish a great deal. Russian peacekeepers are working on the ground, and Russian diplomats and international organisations are working on the political track. Large-scale and comprehensive work lies ahead. It is up to you to decide whether this is a miracle or the result of efforts. I have stated my viewpoint.
Regarding wishes, my biggest wish is for peace. I know that it is possible to achieve a lot, although not everything, in peacetime. From the bottom of my heart, I would like to wish peace to Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Question: The official Russian authorities have not in fact commented on Alexey Navalny’s poisoning. At his annual news conference, President Vladimir Putin described the media investigation of the incident as legalising the work of US intelligence agencies, but gave no answer in essence. Can you answer if the FSB was involved in Navalny’s poisoning – yes or no?
Maria Zakharova: Thank you for your trust. But I will disappoint you – I have no bombshell for you. Russian President Vladimir Putin, representatives of the relevant government agencies, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and our representatives at international organisations have answered this question many times and the answer was no. If this is not enough for you and you continue to pretend you do not understand and ask me point-blank – two letters or three – I can humour you: it’s three.
I will repeat what many seem to hear but do not want to accept. We have been seeing provocations involving chemical weapons for years around the world – the Skripals, Amesbury, Syria, and now Navalny, and the Western intelligence agencies were behind all of them.
The cases could vary, but the goal was the same: to use the chemical weapons topic as a convenient pretext for convictions without trial or investigation, and then applying sanctions.
Question: Happy birthday and a Happy New Year!
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington decided to impose sanctions on Turkey for purchasing Russia’s S-400 air defence systems in order to deprive Moscow of revenue. How does the Foreign Ministry assess this sanctions response from the US to military-technical cooperation between Russia and Turkey?
Maria Zakharova: I gave so much attention and time today to the sanctions-related initiatives of the US State Department that I really do not want to return to it again. Everything I said before is also relevant to your question.
Question: I would also like to join the holiday greetings. I would like to wish you every success, achievements and new heights. It is important to hear more positive and good news in your remarks in the New Year. Unfortunately, a lot of bad things are happening in the world now. In the new year, we hope that we will hear more good news from you about Russia and about international affairs alike.
Official web resources, including the Moscow Government website, have published lists of professionals and agencies entitled to priority coronavirus vaccinations. The list includes media representatives. We would like to ask you to find out if this applies to representatives of the media accredited with the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Maria Zakharova: I will find out, absolutely. We will make sure that all foreign correspondents are notified in the appropriate way. We will duplicate it through the Association of Foreign Correspondents.
As this is the last briefing of this year, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, everyone! Wishing you and your families and friends health and prosperity in the New Year.
I would have liked to give everyone a magic wand so we could magically reduce our challenges. However this is hardly realistic. But it is realistic to wish you strength in overcoming them, if any. From the bottom of my heart, I would like to wish you more joy and more good news that will surprise you. May you be happy for your loved ones and may the number of your true and trusted friends grow and disappointments lessen.