Briefing of the Foreign Ministry Spokesman
Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow, February 26, 2021
- Talks with Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Mohammad Haneef Atmar
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan Abdulaziz Kamilov
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to meet with Foreign Minister of the Republic of Abkhazia Daur Kove
- UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ initiative to create a group under the G20 to develop a global plan for vaccination against the coronavirus infection
- Russia’s response to the WHO investigation into COVID-19’s origins in Wuhan
- Report by the Italian Institute of Infectious Diseases on the Russian Sputnik V vaccine
- Russian assistance to African nations fighting Ebola
- US air strike on Syrian territory
- France and Germany’s response to Sergey Lavrov’s message concerning Alexey Navalny
- Political persecution in the United States
- Statement by the German permanent representative to the UN on Berlin’s “concern over the fate of oppressed Crimean Tatars”
- Britain’s efforts to weaken Russian influence
- Decision of Montenegro’s Court of Appeal on the case of the “attempted coup”
- Twitter removing “Russian” accounts
- EU sanctions against Venezuela
- Neuengamme camp guard Friedrich Karl Berger’s deportation from the US
- Desecration of Soviet soldiers’ graves in Jekabpils, Latvia
- Russian position on Kosovo settlement
- Middle East Quartet’s videoconference
- 50th anniversary of the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances
- Plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly
- First railway carriages manufactured at a Transmashholding enterprise in Hungary arrive in Egypt
- Signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in the Field of Disaster Management between ASEAN and Russia
- 20 years of Declaration on Strategic Partnership between the Russian Federation and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
- Natalia Vodianova’ appointment as UNFPA goodwill ambassador
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is currently holding talks with Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA) Mohammad Haneef Atmar.
The foreign ministers are expected to discuss various aspects of bilateral relations, including trade and economic ties, as well as a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan and the efforts to counter threats of terrorism and drug trafficking.
On March 1-2, 2021, Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan Abdulaziz Kamilov will visit the Russian Federation and hold talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The ministers are expected to review the entire range of bilateral political, trade, economic, cultural and educational cooperation.
They will pay special attention to preparations for the signing of interstate, intergovernmental and interdepartmental documents during the forthcoming state visit of President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev to the Russian Federation.
The ministers plan to discuss the tasks facing their ministries in the context of the following events in 2021: the second meeting of the Russia-Uzbekistan Joint Commission at the level of heads of government and the 22nd meeting of the bilateral Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation. They will also speak about mutual support in countering the spread of the novel coronavirus infection.
The foreign ministers will exchange views on the situation in the region in the context of their coordinated contribution to an intra-Afghan settlement, the stabilisation of cooperation and will discuss a number of other issues.
On March 3, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Foreign Minister of the Republic of Abkhazia Daur Kove, who will be in Moscow on a working visit. The ministers will exchange views on key bilateral issues and foreign policy coordination in the international arena.
Friendly Russian-Abkhaz relations are based on alliance and strategic partnership, rely on a solid legal basis and are not affected by fleeting political considerations. In accordance with the policy approved by President Putin, Russia is helping Abkhazia establish itself as a modern democratic state, strengthen its international standing, ensure reliable security and achieve socioeconomic recovery. The republic receives comprehensive assistance in fighting the coronavirus outbreak and addressing other pressing challenges in various areas of interaction.
The dialogue at the highest level is quite fulfilling. In 2020, President Putin held talks with President of the Republic of Abkhazia Aslan Bzhania in Sochi on November 12, and they also met in Moscow on the sidelines of the celebratory events dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the Great Victory.
Interaction is underway as part of the Russian-Abkhaz Intergovernmental Commission on Socioeconomic Cooperation, and the 2020-2022 Investment Programme to Promote the Socioeconomic Development of the Republic of Abkhazia is being implemented.
Regular contacts are maintained between the foreign ministries and other ministries and departments, and cultural, educational and regional exchanges are being conducted.
During the UN Security Council meeting held on February 17, the UN Secretary-General put forward an initiative to create an emergency G20 task force to draft and implement a global plan for immunisation against the coronavirus infection. The goal is to provide the public in all countries around the world with equal access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Russia is taking energetic efforts to curb the pandemic and is providing assistance to the countries in need. We consider vaccination against COVID-19 a global public good, which is confirmed by a WHO resolution. We are ready to conduct a detailed study of the UN Secretary-General’s initiative at the G20, and we look forward to receiving specific proposals.
We consider it important to comment on the WHO’s investigation into the origins of COVID-19 in Wuhan.
The WHO investigation is being carried out on the instructions of its members issued at the 73rd World Health Assembly on countering the novel coronavirus in May 2020.
An international expert group visited China in January-February after thorough preparations in which the WHO was involved, in cooperation with China, since July 2020.
The group included experts from Russia (Deputy Director of Science at Rospotrebnadzor’s St Petersburg Paster Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology Vladimir Dedkov), China and ten other countries, as well as international organisations. The experts conducted serious comprehensive studies, but they are not yet completed and it is too early to draw far-reaching conclusions.
Unfortunately, politicised comments have appeared in some foreign media on the organisation and outcome of the WHO mission in China, which contribute nothing to the effective international cooperation to uncover the truth and defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.
The results of this mission are currently being rigorously reviewed. Russia will continue to monitor the situation as a WHO member and an active contributor in this area.
On February 17, 2021, the Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Italy published its scientific conclusion on the Sputnik V vaccine. The report describes the technical characteristics of the Russian vaccine, reviews the methods and results of its experimental use based on the clinical studies published by The Lancet journal and lists the countries that have approved the Sputnik V vaccine.
The Italian experts note in their conclusion that the available data suggests that the Russian vaccine is highly effective and safe. They believe Sputnik V can play a major role in the coronavirus vaccination programme. The conclusion was submitted to the Health Ministry and Foreign Ministry of Italy.
In an interview with Italy’s flagship TV channel, RAI 1, the director of the institute, Francesco Vaia, urged the Italian authorities not to politicise the procurement of coronavirus vaccines and recommended the use of the Russian vaccine in Italy.
The conclusion of the prestigious Italian institute confirms again that the world’s first Russian vaccine is highly effective against the coronavirus, and underscores the objective and unbiased approach of the scientific community to combatting the pandemic. Russia seeks an open, objective, science-based discussion of these issues. We reject any attempts to politicise this vitally important matter for narrow, opportunistic purposes.
We naturally support the appeal of the Italian scientists to remove ideology from the efforts to confront one of the greatest challenges of our time. Russia seeks the broadest possible cooperation in this area.
We have been closely monitoring developments concerning the Ebola virus in western and central Africa. A new outbreak was recorded in the southeast of Guinea on February 13. Six people are reported to have died while three more with a confirmed diagnosis have been isolated in epidemiological centres.
In 2014-2015, Russia rendered considerable support to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra-Leone to fight the Ebola epidemic. Our assistance exceeded $60 million. A Russian-Guinean research centre for epidemiology and infectious disease prevention operates in Guinea, with Rospotrednadzor specialists stationed there on a permanent basis as well as all the necessary equipment to provide medical care. In November 2019, post-registration studies of the Russian Ebola vaccine, Gam-Evak-Kombi Ebola, were completed. At present, the head of the Rospotrednadzor task force in Guinea is coordinating with the emergency response centre set up by the country’s health ministry.
We hope that the authorities in Guinea will be able to swiftly contain the spread of the disease. We will continue to provide necessary assistance to Guinea and other Western African nations fighting the Ebola virus.
Russia has been providing support to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to fight infectious diseases including Ebola. Russia, through its Rospotrebnadzor agency, trains Congolese specialists in epidemiology, microbiology, molecular diagnostics and biosafety.
In May 2020, the health ministry of the DRC was given over 28,000 items of expendable lab materials and over 8,000 PPE kits including respirators, special clothing and other medical accessories.
In September 2020, Congolese authorities were provided with two mobile microbiological laboratories mounted on all-terrain GAZ-33088 trucks and equipped with cutting-edge Russian equipment for rapid diagnosis of infectious diseases. Congolese doctors will be able to use them to provide service to the local population in the country’s remote areas. In addition, these laboratories are multi-purpose and can be used to combat not only Ebola but also the novel coronavirus and other infectious diseases.
This February instructions were issued to provide the DRC, through Rospotrebnadzor, with additional consultative, material, scientific and technical assistance in order to prevent the spread and eliminate the outbreak of the disease caused by the Ebola virus, including through the use of the Russian-made vaccine in 2021-2022.
On the night of February 26, the United States carried out an air strike on a facility on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic in the Abu Kemal district bordering on Iraq. Initial reports of casualties are starting to come in. According to US officials, the attack authorised by US President Joe Biden targeted a pro-Iranian Shiite militia accused of carrying out rocket strikes on US military bases in Iraq. US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin stressed that the choice of target for retaliation was based on irrefutable intelligence.
We strongly condemn such actions and call for unconditional respect for the SAR’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We reiterate that any attempts to turn Syrian territory into an arena for settling geopolitical scores are unacceptable.
We were perplexed by France explicitly declining to respond to Sergey Lavrov’s verbal message to France’s Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian delivered to him on February 15 regarding the letter by neurologist Vitaly Kozak describing the inconsistencies he had discovered in the allegations about Alexey Navalny’s poisoning.
France and Germany’s failure to respond to the letters sent by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to his colleagues about Navalny’s “poisoning” with chemical warfare agents – which our Western partners have groundlessly accused Russia of carrying out – has raised many questions.
As you are aware, France has not yet responded to Russia’s official request of September 16, 2020 to provide the blogger’s test results, or the inquiry by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office of September 18, 2020 on mutual legal assistance in accordance with the corresponding European convention.
We interpret this not only as another case of double standards on the part of Paris, but also as a lack of basic diplomatic courtesy.
Without going to the trouble of providing substantiated and well-reasoned clarifications, Paris joined in the information campaign designed to exert pressure on our country. People should be held accountable for what they say. Please do so. Follow your glorious traditions, rather than the inglorious traditions of the collective West in recent years.
The situation is similar with regard to our request that Germany provide a reasoned, substantive response to the open letter written by neurologist Vitaly Kozak. We received a perfunctory response (we received similar responses from Berlin to the inquiries sent by the Prosecutor General’s Office). In this particular case, we were told that there was nothing to comment on, since the Federal Foreign Office’s staff are not experts in these matters.
That is, six months ago, everyone was an expert, including heads of state and foreign ministers. Officials representing various departments, ministries, organisations and governments of dozens of Western countries provided a variety of comments on this situation. They were coming up with demands and throwing around accusations. They were using words, the meaning of which they did not really understand, but they were telling everyone things, providing evidence and making demands. After we had steered the dialogue back to substantive matters and suggested speaking the language of facts rather than ultimatums, they abruptly became “non-specialists.” That’s what they are telling us in Germany and France’s foreign ministries: they are not experts in what they accuse Russia of.
Notably, diplomats are working in the OPCW missions. The foreign ministries of many countries, the EU for sure, have units dealing with chemical weapons in the context of disarmament. Where did these specialists go? Why did they stop being specialists?
Let’s think back to the well-orchestrated chorus of foreign ministers and other politicians who were talking in unison about the details of the alleged poisoning of Alexey Navalny in 2020. Remember the outstanding expert in chemical weapons – British Prime Minister Theresa May – who provided a well-rounded account of the Skripal poisoning in the British Parliament three years ago. She struck us as an expert in these matters.
Any deviations from the logic of unfounded accusations and disregard for the truth, any independent assessments of the situation concerning the “Berlin patient” that reveal the West’s biased approach are dismissed out of hand by our Western partners and colleagues. All inconvenient questions and invitations to hold a fact-based conversation, or to exchange data, are roundly rejected.
The Navalny case revealed the actual value of the French and German authorities’ statements regarding their adherence to the principles of multilateralism, objectivity and fairness in international affairs, as well as the fact that neither Berlin nor Paris are prepared to be held accountable for what they say.
In recent weeks, the United States, which seems unable to survive even a day without our country, accusing it of every sin under the sun, has turned its attention to human rights issues and political persecution in Russia.
Who has been talking about it? Representatives of official Washington. So let’s take a look at the United States. When we see and hear numerous statements from the United States about the persecution of some members of the so-called non-systemic opposition that allegedly took place in this country, including the participants in the recent unauthorised street protests in Moscow, we want to understand whether we are talking with experts in this field or people who are simply issued sheets of paper to make statements they do not comprehend. The latter seems to be more plausible to me.
In this context, I want to recall how the American judiciary can be tough on their compatriots involved in politics.
The US campaign to identify and punish those involved in Russia’s alleged infamous “interference” in the US election has become the topic of the day. General Michael Flynn, political scientist George Papadopoulos, lawyer Paul Manafort and several other public figures and politicians connected with the Republican Party were charged, as members of the Trump team, with maintaining contacts with the Kremlin during the election campaign. The pretexts were far-fetched and groundless while the accusations were quite real; this was not just persecution – though, it was a massive information campaign rather than persecution – as there were court cases. At the same time no credible evidence of any sort of collusion with Moscow had been produced. The investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller had not found any proof of Russia’s influence on the course or the outcome of the 2016 election, while the persecution of the US politicians was quite real. Do they not remember this in the White House and the State Department?
Let’s take a recent example. The latest US presidential race was unprecedented in terms of both the intensity of political passions and the extent of scandalmongering, on the one hand, and the level of police violence and lawlessness, on the other. The apotheosis was the massive persecution campaign unleashed by the intelligence agencies against the participants in the so-called storming of the Capitol on January 6, as well as against other individuals who did not accept Joe Biden’s victory and who were labelled domestic terrorists by the Biden administration and the media associated with it. How do you like that? A new term has been coined to refer to public and political figures who are not part of the mainstream. Domestic terrorists – this is how they are called in the United States.
The FBI initiated over 400 criminal cases. Courts were asked to issue over 500 search warrants and subpoenas. Over 230 people were detained. They are subjected to huge pressure, including by taking their relatives and friends in hand and browbeating them into giving the “required” evidence. In addition, they are trying to accuse people who just voiced a different opinion and who have not even formally been charged with anything of spreading fake news and conspiracy theories. These people lose their jobs, they are banished from social networks, with their accounts blocked, and are subjected to public harassment and ostracism. To say nothing of social networks banning government officials, beginning with former President Donald Trump and his supporters, who found themselves under real media sanctions introduced by US internet monopolies.
All this is taking place in a country that is accustomed to posing as the “global beacon of democracy” and urging everyone to take a humane approach, as they say, to “peaceful protests”. It is not a beacon of democracy but rather an anchor of democracy.
The new US administration would do well to, first of all, listen to its own citizens and try to hear them, instead of engaging in witch-hunts in their own country and afterwards talking hypocritically about human rights in other countries. In these circumstances, it has become particularly clear that Washington has no moral grounds to infinitely teach other nations good sense, as far as observing human rights and civil liberties is concerned.
The heads of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People have invented a certain “atmosphere of terror created by the occupation authorities.” Unfortunately, this invention was eagerly picked up by other ill-wishers who are either agents of influence inside or their curators outside. False information was spread about alleged “large-scale abductions of Crimean Tatars” and “numerous unlawful searches and arrests” of their activists in Crimea. All these allegations are completely groundless and not supported by any solid facts.
In this context, we would like to advise Mr Christoph Heusgen to read the article “To Russia with Love” by professors John O’Loughlin, Gerard Toal, and Kristin M. Bakke. It was published in early April 2020 in the authoritative US magazine Foreign Affairs (German diplomats are supposed to trust this publication). The article contains conclusions that are fairly unusual and maybe even shocking to German diplomats. The authors describe actual events and realities in Crimea, and Crimeans’ perceptions of their own lives.
As for anyone being “denied entry” to Crimea, we would also like to refute a statement by the German ambassador to the UN. Russia has always demonstrated its willingness to receive representatives of any international human rights monitoring mechanisms on their official visits to the Russian regions, including the Republic of Crimea. However, during these visits they should abide by their mandates and the procedures for visiting the Russian Federation.
We welcome visits to Crimea by politicians, journalists and public figures because we consider them to be the most effective way of informing the world public about the true situation on the peninsula. I would like to recall that we conduct press tours to Crimea for foreign correspondents accredited in Russia. We are equally willing to support joint business and humanitarian projects in Crimea with foreign participation. But you are blocking all this in the EU. You are describing horrors allegedly perpetrated in Crimea but do not go there yourselves and do not let official delegations visit the peninsula. You are preventing all others from going there by scaring them with sanctions. You are doing all these things yourselves and hurling accusations at us at the same time. Recall how you blocked tourist opportunities for your businesses and your citizens in Crimea. Let me remind you that in the EU you deny visas to residents of Crimea. You are doing all this. You even consider visa discrimination acceptable, as if you are concerned about human rights, but in the next instance you accuse us of not allowing people to come to Crimea.
In 2020, about 90 foreign MPs, representatives of municipal authorities, and public and cultural figures came to Crimea to attend different events. The group of observers for the vote on constitutional amendments in Russia was among them. Here’s a question for Berlin: Did you send your observers there? Did you want to? Maybe you sent a letter to Russia about your desire to monitor the elections in Crimea? I don’t remember anything in this vein. Send me a copy.
Let me recall that Crimea was visited by five deputies of the European Parliament, representatives of German and Bulgarian parliamentary parties among others. Ask them how they get into Crimea. They will tell you (Berlin officials) how it is possible to come to Crimea.
Last year, Crimea was visited by almost 160,000 foreigners. The German ambassador should have asked them how they get in. A certain reduction in their number compared to 2019 is only natural. It is due to restrictions caused by the spread of the coronavirus. It has affected the whole world.
Now I will cite the main piece of information for the German permanent representative to the UN, who believes that it is impossible to get into Crimea because Russia bans all visits there. Nowadays, Simferopol Airport receives from 16 to 25 flights by 17 airlines daily, including 13 flights from Moscow, three from St Petersburg and one from Yekaterinburg, Krasnodar, Mineralnye Vody, Rostov-on-Don and Samara.
Advise your colleagues in Moscow to buy a ticket for one of these flights to Crimea. They will arrive there and get their own unbiased impression of life there and will tell you how to visit Crimea.
To be sure, you can’t put a price on the truth, but in this case it does have a price. It is not so high, just the cost of an air ticket from Moscow to Simferopol. German diplomats, allow yourselves this luxury, buy a ticket and stop using international venues for spreading obvious lies about Crimea.
Documents were published on February 4, 2021, that may have been produced by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
It follows from them that London supports, through intermediaries, the work of the so-called independent news publications, in particular, Meduza and Mediazona, and has established a secret network of influential bloggers in the Russian segment of the social media to create conditions for regime change in Russia and undermine Russian influence in the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. There are a lot of materials and we are studying them now. We are surprised that we have not heard any response from the British, who are so fond of discussing problems of other countries and endlessly lecture others.
We would like to hear some initial response from the UK. They may deny everything. This is possible. But they should be more active somehow, considering their media activity in other areas.
At the EU summit in November 2017, Theresa May, who was prime minister at the time, announced the plans to assign the status of a hostile state to Russia and promised to spend over 100 million pounds sterling on countering the alleged threat of Kremlin disinformation throughout the world. Now we have received documented evidence on how this programme works.
It follows from these leaks that British media such as the BBC and Reuters are taking part in this multi-million operation. Our British colleagues are working through intermediaries like PR offices, Zinc Network and Albany, the veterans of Britain’s secret information operations abroad. These subcontractors include the Bellingcat project, a notorious scandalous group of British propaganda support.
The range of services by the above subcontractors includes promoting content, expanding the readership and adjusting the editorial policy of Meduza and Mediazona. We would also like to hear the response of these organisations as well. We will take it into account. We haven’t seen it so far. It follows from the published documents that they are even given long-term projects and taught to use latest mind control technology.
Incidentally, in July 2019, London hosted the Global Conference for Media Freedom, which RT and Sputnik were not allowed to attend. A Russian representative was also barred from it. He was simply denied a visa. RT and Sputnik were not allowed to take part due to what was described as their active role in spreading disinformation. Of all people, the British should keep quiet about this. Our representatives were not issued visas. That said, Meduza CEO Galina Timchenko was among the participants of this event.
This is not the first time the world has learned about the British involvement in such information operations. For example, in October 2020, Anonymous published information on the PR training of the Syrian opposition by structures affiliated with the British government.
As for the anti-Russia information campaign, it amounts to large-scale and systematic efforts of the British authorities not just to demonise our country in the world arena – this stage is apparently over – but also at rocking the internal political situation.
The response of the internet giants, the Western monopolies, is indicative. A large detailed article by journalist Aaron Maté in the GrayZone on this issue got a special label from Twitter to the effect that the materials presented in it “may have been obtained through hacking”. Indicatively, the Western mainstream press has been prudently silent about this extremely interesting information. Are Bellingcat’s materials accompanied by the same label in the social media? Or do they deem it unnecessary to ask Bellingcat how it received its materials, by hacking or in some other way? All of you have simply disgraced yourselves against the backdrop of this undisguised propaganda, the use of different funding resources via Western governments, involvement of NGOs, PR agencies and the media. The media and the resources that present themselves as the media are playing an obviously unseemly, disgusting and unlawful role in today’s media sphere.
The most fantastic thing is that there has been no response despite these materials and articles by real journalists that provide responsible coverage of these issues. This is because they realise that they should wait a bit, be patient and this issue will probably disappear by itself. After all, they don’t fund this topic and this is why you don’t get it in push notifications on your phones. So, there is no point in making comments on it so as not to attract attention. Britain will not draw attention to it but we will because you were caught red-handed.
As we now understand, this uncovered mass of information (let me remind you that we are just beginning to study it because there are too many materials) is just the tip of the iceberg. Let me repeat that we are waiting for Britain’s response. It must follow. If there is none, this will show that Britain has misrepresented itself as a state that respects independent journalism and freedom of speech and ostensibly counters fakes, black PR and interference in the affairs of sovereign states.
We understand the value of all those international forums organised under the auspices of the UK supposedly for the purpose of protecting freedom of speech. We understand what is the main idea and the main message of these forums. If we don’t hear a sensible response, we will know for sure that the independence of the British media is paid for fairly well.
We will study these materials and wait for a response.
I would not be surprised if part of the funds that I mentioned in the previous section were spent on promoting the topic that at one time simply swept over the Western information community. I mean the “attempted coup” in Montenegro and Russia's alleged participation in it.
On February 5, 2021, the Court of Appeal of Montenegro took a decision overturning the guilty verdict of the High Court in Podgorica on the case of the “attempted coup d'état” in 2016 against 13 convicts (including two Russian citizens). As noted, there was no proof of corpus delicti or the fact that a crime was committed.
We consider the decision as further confirmation of the absurdity of the allegations of Russia’s involvement in attempts to organise any illegal activities in Montenegro. The Russian side consistently and categorically denied such accusations, emphasising their unfounded, groundless and clearly made-to-order nature.
We count on the objectivity and impartiality of Montenegrin justice when this case is re-examined.
Everyone remembers that fantastic information campaign, how skillfully and deftly words were combined, how facts were intertwined with lies, and how a feeling of absolute, one hundred percent confidence in Russia's involvement in those events was created. What will these authors write now? Or will they just forget that they have ever written on this topic?
We noted reports about Twitter removing 100 accounts originating in Russia. The microblogs are said to have been allegedly involved in so-called “Russian information campaigns.” Two fake (according to the social network) account networks were allegedly connected to the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Headquarters and the Internet Research Agency. Even some specific figures and statistics of those accounts were reported.
This is not the first wave of account blocking that has affected Russian accounts. It is telling that the Twitter accounts from Western countries do not become targets of such “punitive operations” even though the information they publish may be blatant lies sometimes.
Once again, assumptions and unsubstantiated insinuations were presented as grounds for blocking the accounts. The rationale presented in Twitter’s own report is absurd: the suspended accounts allegedly “amplified narratives that were aligned with the Russian government,” “focused on undermining faith in the NATO alliance” and were linked to “influence efforts targeting the United States and the European Union.” This is unspeakable because if accounts get blocked under the pretext of undermining faith in NATO, then why hasn’t Twitter removed French President Emmanuel Macron’s account since he posted comments about the brain death of NATO? Could it be because that is not considered undermining faith but rather a statement of facts? As concerns influence on the United States and the EU, anything could be qualified as such, for example, music (not to mention political content which is being used however social networks see fit); but there are also humanitarian aspects such as information about vaccines. This information should probably be removed as well because information about vaccines and the pandemic is having a great influence on both the United States and the EU. It lets people find out about the vaccine and different options, buy it in bulk and sign supply contracts.
What is the principle behind account removal? These are not principles but rather complete ignorance or simply laziness about inventing far-fetched excuses. As a matter of fact, the owners of the blocked accounts are, apparently, guilty of not marching in lockstep with the Western mainstream but simply expressing an opinion that is different from the only view that is right.
As concerns faith in NATO, it is being undermined by facts. Our Serbian partners, in particular, could reveal a lot of interesting details after they fell victim to the alliance’s cynical aggression in 1999. A host of other countries have first-hand experience of dealing with NATO and its members, including losing their own civilians.
The Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) has already requested that the social network hand over the list of blocked accounts, explain the reasons for their removal and present at least some evidence. Twitter claims that it removed anonymous accounts although facts suggest otherwise. For example, even the official Russian- and English-language accounts of the Valdai International Discussion Club were caught in the mass purge. Are they anonymous? It is a global brand and an acclaimed platform. Valdai Club forums are attended by prominent international relations experts and world-renowned people. The club meetings take place all over the world. The club’s publications are a source for analysis and research by experts in different countries. How can Twitter explain this?
The accounts of the Valdai International Discussion Club, whose events are often attended by President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as well as reputable political scientists, economists and scientists from all over the world, were blocked back in September 2020. It is absolutely impossible to understand why Twitter moderators decided that the Valdai Club media are involved in some disruptive information campaigns – and there has been no explanation to this very day. This unsubstantiated decision was surprising even to the seemingly non-judgmental experts of the Internet Observatory at Stanford University, which cooperates with digital platforms as part of its partnership programmes. Even they, the people who remain non-judgmental and uninvolved and rather try to be above this battle, could not wrap their heads around the social network’s motivation behind the removal of the Valdai Club account.
Regardless of whether the Valdai Club incident was an AI algorithm error or a conscious unfriendly act, the practice of arbitrary and extralegal removals based on completely non-transparent criteria is unacceptable. It undermines trust in social media as a place for free expression and exchange of opinions.
Once again, we have to state that Twitter is sweepingly going downhill and turning from an independent discussion platform into a tool of global digital dictate in the hands of the Western establishment. The senior management of this company must take action in order to preserve its independence, objectivity and information sovereignty.
Unilateral restrictive measures have begun to occupy an increasingly significant place among EU’s diplomatic instruments. They continue to be actively applied despite the fact that they are illegitimate under international law, meaningless and counterproductive in terms of their effect on the politics of sovereign states. The newly introduced restrictions against representatives of some branches of government in Venezuela are a fresh example of this.
It is notable that at international venues, including in their contacts with us, our EU colleagues consistently advocate a search for an intra-Venezuelan solution to the problems on the basis of an inclusive dialogue, and repeat it like a mantra. For example, this position was reflected in a recent statement by the EU-led International Contact Group on Venezuela. The statement was wonderful but the deeds run counter to these messages and words.
The EU’s actions completely contradict such statements. The Government of Venezuela has actually been declared an “outcast” in advance. There are attempts to suppress it by illegitimate restrictions and to force it to accept one decision or another. In other words, while it claims to support the establishment of an intra-Venezuelan dialogue, in actual fact the EU has consistently torpedoed it. This is classic: to state its support for intra-Venezuelan dialogue on political settlement and at the same time to impose unilateral sanctions with respect to a certain political group, or to say that nationalism is inacceptable and is an evil, including in the 21st century, while at the same time to support public figures in some countries who act from the positions of nationalism and under the guise of caring for their destiny impose sanctions against a state that denounces nationalism in general and those public figures in particular.
This prompts a question: has the EU actually forgotten how to engage in an equal and mutually respectful dialogue within the framework of universally adopted rules and international law, and without any attempts to interfere in its partners’ internal affairs?
We would like to stress once again that the only way out of the political crisis in Venezuela is through a peaceful, inclusive dialogue between Venezuelans, without any destructive interference from outside.
Based on this, we are prepared to assist in the search for a settlement in that country, including in contact with other international players, such as the EU.
Based on this, we are prepared to speed up work in this area.
We have noted the decision of the US Department of Justice to deport 95-year-old Nazi criminal Friedrich Karl Berger to Germany. We welcome this decision.
According to existing information, Friedrich Berger is receiving a pension from Germany, including for his service during the war. Upon his arrival in Germany, he was questioned but not detained. According to a series of media citing the German prosecutor’s office, the case against the Nazi was dismissed due to the absence of evidence.
On our part, we plan to work persistently to make sure that the German authorities clarify the situation with Friedrich Berger and file charges against him.
There is no statute of limitations on the atrocities committed by Nazi executioners and their accomplices. This is our principled stance. This is important to remember, especially in the year of the 75th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials.
We hope that the positive example of zero tolerance to Hitler’s former accomplices shown by the US justice will be an example to the government and courts of Canada which have been delaying a decision on former SS member Helmut Oberlander. As we said before, it is unacceptable that Nazi criminals leave this life unpunished, as it happened with Vladimir Katriuk, an executioner who took part in the Khatyn massacre in Byelorussia.
On February 24, 2021, another act of vandalism was committed against the Soviet monument to liberators in Jekabpils, Latvia. The 76-mm gun was stolen from the memorial under the cover of darkness. The heroes memorialised there were from Bashkiria, Orenburg and Byelorussia: Guard Artillery Maj. Gen. Sergey Kupriyanov, Guard Colonel Gavriil Sharikalov and Guard Colonel Sakhabutdin Gazeyev.
The Russian Embassy in Riga promptly responded to this barbarian act and sent a note of protest to the Foreign Ministry of the Republic of Latvia. It demanded that the Latvian authorities take all the necessary measures to investigate this crime, bring the perpetrators to account and restore the monument in accordance with the Russia-Latvia intergovernmental agreement on the status of Latvian military graves in the Russian Federation and Russian graves in the Republic of Latvia of December 18, 2007. This yet another outrageous event has caused a public outcry among our compatriots and was widely covered by the media.
Many journalists, as well as our compatriots, noted that the monument is protected by the Russia-Latvia agreement of 1994 on the social protection of Russian military pensioners who live in Latvia. According to Article 13 of this agreement, Riga is supposed to maintain, care for and preserve memorials and mass graves of soldiers on its territory. The Latvian Foreign Ministry earlier said that it would comply with this agreement. Dmitry Yermolayev has written an interesting article on the subject for Sputnik Latvia.
While it supports individuals who insult veterans in Russia, Latvia also allows vandalism against WWII memorials on its territory. However, they will not be able to hide these revanchist incidents from the global community. People in Latvia see what is happening and condemn it. We will monitor Latvia’s compliance with its obligations.
In connection with the international media reports of some Western officials’ calls to Belgrade and Pristina to accelerate movement towards a certain comprehensive settlement, we would like to reaffirm our positions of principle to achieving a viable and mutually beneficial settlement of the Kosovo problem.
We believe that this settlement must be based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and international law and must be approved by the UN Security Council.
We regard any attempt to accelerate the so-called ultimate normalisation between Belgrade and Pristina and to set an arbitrary timeframe as destructive. It is more important to coordinate a viable plan that will also be accepted by society.
We support the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue aimed at a settlement of the Kosovo problem under the guidance of the EU, which must fulfil the mediation function it has been assigned by the UN General Assembly scrupulously and without bias. Efforts must be taken to implement the decisions coordinated by the sides, first of all, on the establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo, which Pristina has been sabotaging since 2013. We hope that EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajcak will ensure progress in the settlement of this fundamental matter. The dialogue will skid unless the agreements achieved are implemented.
We are worried about the increasingly radical rhetoric used by Kosovo Albanians after the Self-Determination Movement won the early parliamentary election. The movement’s leader, Albin Kurti, has said openly that talks with Belgrade were the least of his priorities and that his agenda included the possibility of Kosovo’s unification with Albania. We do not see any reaction of the Kosovo Albanians’ Western sponsors to these provocations, which can undermine the already fragile regional stability in the Balkans.
We call on all the concerned partiers to act in a responsible manner based on international law and to look for compromises that will ensure lasting peace and progressive development of all countries and nations in Southeast Europe.
We continue to monitor the developments related to the Middle East settlement within the framework of our regional agenda. In mid-February, the special representatives of the Middle East Quartet comprising Russia, the United States, the UN and the EU held a videoconference. Russia was represented by Special Representative of the Foreign Minister on the Middle East Peace Process Vladimir Safronkov. This mechanism has been operating regularly since last summer at Russia’s initiative, with the member states’ representatives holding monthly meetings. We believe that the stimulation of consolidated international efforts is necessary in the interests of a lasting peace process in the Middle East.
During the last meeting of the Quartet’s co-chairs, the Russian delegate pointed out that it is essential to create conditions for the resumption without delay of direct Palestinian-Israeli talks under the guidance of the international quartet of intermediaries with a view to coordinating the fundamental aspects of the final status based on the generally accepted norms of international law and the principle of two states, Palestine and Israel, living together in peace and security. Our partners support this approach.
I would like to note that Russia’s efforts towards a Middle East settlement are not limited to the quartet only. We are also holding active bilateral consultations with both the Palestinians and the Israelis, as well as with the main international and regional players. We support the efforts by the Palestinian political movements towards restoring their unity on the PLO platform. As part of our support to improving the socioeconomic situation on the West Bank, Russia attended the February 23 meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which discussed assistance to Palestinians.
The Convention on Psychotropic Substances, which was signed 50 years ago on February 21, is one of the pillars of the international legal framework in combating illegal drugs. We intend to continue to strictly comply with its provisions, and this intention has been sealed in the Russian State Antidrug Policy Strategy until 2030, which was approved in November 2020.
This is especially important in light of some countries’ attempts to undermine the international drug control system by legalising some kinds of drugs and psychotropic substances. Russia and like-minded countries strongly condemn such aspirations and are acting resolutely, including on the international stage, for the consolidation of international efforts against the global drug threat.
On February 23, 2021, at the request of Kiev, the UN Assembly held its plenary meeting on the situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, under the agenda of the 75th UN General Assembly Session.
Regarding Germany, we have commented on the situation. I would like to focus on Ukraine and Sergey Kyslytsya, the Permanent Representative of Ukraine, whom we have come to know through his scandalous and largely inadequate statements. In his remarks, he voiced a number of trite accusations with regard to Russia and distorted real facts and events in the context of the March 2014 Crimea-Russia reunification following a free referendum involving the peninsula’s population. You know, there can be different assessments. Diplomats are supposed to exchange these assessments and to find common ground, rather than distort facts. This is unacceptable. Disagreements in political approaches should not be presented as “distortions,” and distorted facts should not be passed for some principled approach. This is exactly what the Ukrainian delegation is doing at the UN. The permanent representative of Ukraine did not hesitate to repeat a well-known set of insinuations regarding the situation in Donbass.
We are constantly drawing the attention of Western partners to the fact that virtually no Western media outlets work in Donbass. They write stories, cover the Minsk Agreements, publish material, but they don’t actually work there. Therefore it would be appropriate to recheck all the statements made by Ukrainian representatives on Donbass. Representatives of Western media outlets should be advised or inspired to visit Donbass and to film real-life developments taking shape there.
Sergey Kyslytsya claimed that, unlike Kiev, Moscow was not fulfilling the Minsk Agreements. In his remarks, the Russian representative refuted these allegations and bolstered the Russian position with irrefutable evidence as well as facts.
Indicatively, only 32 out of 193 member states attended the event. Obviously, many of them were present on directions from Washington and Brussels and voiced the relevant approaches towards this matter. Judging by an extremely low interest in this event, Ukraine’s striving to incite anti-Russia moods at the UN and retain this item on the General Assembly’s agenda is the only real reason for holding the meeting.
By spreading more fake news at international organisations, you will reduce interest in such events still further.
It is disappointing that Kiev prefers to voice politically motivated rhetoric, occasionally substituting the truth with open lies, instead of conducting direct constructive dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk under the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements in order to establish lasting peace in eastern Ukraine.
On February 23, 2021, the first batch of railway carriages, manufactured at an enterprise of Russia’s Transmashholding shareholding company in Dunakeszi, Hungary, arrived in Egypt’s Alexandria seaport. Earlier, Egypt received carriages, manufactured at the Tver Railway Carriages Factory, also part of Transmashholding. Signed in 2018, the contract between the Russian-Hungarian consortium Transmashholding-Hungary Kft. and Egyptian National Railways stipulates the delivery of 1,300 train carriages to Egypt until October 2023. This highlights complicated but highly constructive cooperation between various countries and even continents.
An official ceremony marking the event involved Egypt’s Minister of Transport Kamel el-Wazir, Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto and Georgy Borisenko, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Arab Republic of Egypt. The officials praised the implementation of the trilateral contract.
In 2021 we are marking a “double” anniversary in the Russia-ASEAN dialogue ̵ 30 years of Russia’s relations with the association and the 25th anniversary of Russia’s full-fledged partnership, which was granted strategic status in 2018. Our partnership has been developing progressively over this period of time and we are working on the expansion of our practical cooperation, including in such fields as combatting new challenges and threats, security of information and communication technologies, knowledge-intensive industries and the building of smart cities.
The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in the Field of Disaster Management between ASEAN and Russia by Russian Federation Minister of Civil Defence, Emergencies and Disaster Relief Yevgeny Zynychev and Secretary-General of ASEAN Dato Lim Jock Hoi on February 19 is a graphic example of the dynamics when it comes to the fostering of relations between Russia and the 10 ASEAN member states.
The MoU has created an organisational and legal framework for building up Russia-ASEAN cooperation in the field of emergency response, including that of the monitoring and prevention of threats, the exchange of cutting-edge technology, specialist training and assistance in cases of emergency. The adoption of such a memorandum will promote interaction between such specialised organisations as the Russian National Crisis Management Centre and the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management.
The Declaration on Strategic Partnership between the Russian Federation and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was signed in Hanoi on March 1, 2001. This proved to be a good example of the Russian and Vietnamese peoples’ wish to progressively strengthen their intergovernmental relations based on many years of friendship and mutually advantageous cooperation. The adoption of this historic document was a natural result of decades-long fruitful collaboration between our countries in a variety of fields and showed their determination to expand bilateral ties in the new historical conditions on the basis of their rich experience of interaction accumulated over the previous period of time.
Over the past 20 years Russian-Vietnamese strategic partnership has achieved impressive results. Political dialog at the top and high levels has become regular. Our cooperation in the trade, economic, military, military-technical, scientific, technological and humanitarian spheres has got an additional impetus. Exchanges in interparliamentary and interparty fields as well as inter-regional contacts have become more active. We have developed new cooperation mechanisms enabling more efficient interaction in trying to find ways of solving pressing issues concerning bilateral affairs and close coordination on the international arena. It is indicative that our strategic partnership became comprehensive by mutual consent in 2012.
The spirit of solidarity and unchanging mutual support, typical of Russian-Vietnamese relations, was most vividly manifested during the spread of the novel coronavirus infection. Russia and Vietnam have been rendering each other the necessary consultative, methodological and other assistance, and their specialised institutions are engaged in a dialogue on a whole range of matters in fighting COVID-19 and are constantly exchanging experience in combating this dangerous disease.
Today, notwithstanding a complex situation in the region and the world, increased turbulence and radical changes in the entire system of international relations, the all-round strategic partnership between Russia and Vietnam based on many years of experience of fruitful cooperation remains an important part of Russian foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region.
We welcome the decision of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to appoint Natalia Vodianova, a well-known Russian public figure, philanthropist and also a very beautiful woman, to be its goodwill ambassador.
The UNFPA was set up by the UN Secretary-General in 1967. Its main job is to help developing countries in family planning, maternal mortality prevention, monitoring and analysis of demographic trends as well as assistance to governments in organising population programmes and financial support for their implementation.
A UNFPA goodwill ambassador’s duties include actively drawing the attention of the public to the problems of women’s health and combatting harmful practices affecting the health of women and girls, as well as the participation in the relevant specialised fora.
We believe that this decision will favourably influence the dynamics of our cooperation with the fund, which is actively growing.
Answers to media questions:
Question: I would like to move northward now, if I may, because the Northern Sea Route will be opening soon. It is very important for people, for travel, trade and resources. The north is becoming more important. There are three states in the North Atlantic: Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. Iceland gained independence from the Danish Kingdom in 1944 because in the spring of 1940 Hitler occupied Copenhagen. But Greenland and the Faroe Islands still lack sovereignty; opponents believe it is a remnant of Danish imperialism. Iceland held a referendum in 1944, in which 98 percent of the people voted for an exit from the Danish crown. What is Russia’s stance with regard to the possible independence of those two states, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, which currently operate under Danish law, police, currency, etc?
Maria Zakharova: Greenland and the Faroe Islands are autonomous territories within the Kingdom of Denmark. This is where we stand while interacting with them.
As for trade ties, Nuuk and Torshavn have not joined any of the EU anti-Russia sanctions, so our cooperation is based on pragmatism and a constructive approach. Mutually beneficial projects are being implemented in fishing and aquaculture, and there is a mutual interest in establishing cooperation in wood processing, construction, culture, education and sports.
In October 2020, Russia appointed an honorary consul in Nuuk. We are sure this will give an additional impetus to Russian-Greenlandic cooperation.
Question: On February 15, the Azerbaijan side, without any comment, banned search and rescue operations to retrieve the bodies of dead service personnel and civilians in the territories that are now under Azerbaijani control. Since Russian peacekeepers are negotiating with the Azerbaijani side, does the Russian side know when the search operations will be resumed?
Maria Zakharova: We would recommend you to address this question to representatives of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh. The peacekeepers are aware of the situation on the ground, and are assisting the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides in the search and rescue work and the exchange of prisoners of war. According to available data, from November 13, 2020 to the present, 1,684 bodies have been transferred – 1,374 to the Armenian side, 310 to the Azerbaijani side.
Question: Rallies began in Armenia after the country’s General Staff made a statement demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. How do you assess the latest events in Armenia?
Maria Zakharova: As an internal affair of Armenia. Russian officials made quite a few statements about this yesterday, both through the Foreign Ministry and through the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin. Contacts took place at various levels. And this has been reaffirmed.
Question: President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev said during a news conference that Azerbaijan had handed over all prisoners of war to Armenia, and that only saboteurs were being held, so any speculation by Armenia or other countries was inappropriate. However, according to the Armenian side, there are about 300 more people held in Azerbaijan. What is your response to this statement?
Maria Zakharova: It would be better to direct this question to our peacekeepers who are assisting the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides on the spot in their search and rescue operations and the exchange of prisoners of war; they are involved in this work every day. Therefore, for my part, I can turn to my colleagues to clarify this information. But in any case, first of all, this is their area of responsibility and competence.
Question: Our colleagues from various media report that a number of journalists, individuals, and tourists, including representatives of charitable and international organisations cannot enter Artsakh, because, according to them, Russian peacekeepers are not letting them in, referring to Azerbaijan’s position on this matter.
Do the Russian peacekeepers have the authority to decide who enters Artsakh and who is denied entry?
Maria Zakharova: Here is something we all need to ask ourselves – what is it we want? Do we want to develop tourism in Artsakh right now? Is this the main task? Or do we want to achieve a sustainable peace, the return of refugees and a normal life? As we understand it, the latter option is today’s priority – a sustainable peace, people’s return to their homes and bringing life back to normal, including a gradual resolution of the remaining issues, of which there are a lot. Russian peacekeepers are busy with this priority. Among other things, they are indeed considering specific cases involving admission, non-admission, and related problems, together with the parties. But again, for all the parties that signed the relevant agreement in 2020, and for anyone who sees themselves as contributing to the resolution of the situation and is in contact with the parties and international organisations, the main priority is to ensure sustainable peace, people’s return and normal life in this territory.
Everything else will be settled after this main task is achieved. But this task is multi-component and complex. I think you know this better than me. There are a lot of provocations, and there are many difficult situations outside the framework of any clear legal regulation that need to be addressed. You know very well how long and difficult this conflict has been. We all agree that journalists should be allowed to work everywhere, in all parts of the world, and tourists should be free to travel, but there are certain realities on the ground. This is the main priority on which we must all concentrate.
Thank you for providing a list of specific cases. We'll hand it over to our experts involved in this and will see what we can do. But again, nothing should distract us from this main task. Otherwise we will simply disrupt its implementation. This cannot be allowed. Everyone has paid too dear a price for it. Therefore, with all due respect to people interested in local sights and beauty (just to expand their own horizons), they should also remember the most important priority.