Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, December 12, 2019
- Exhibition on the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Grenada
- Official visit by Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada Colindres to the Russian Federation
- Presentation of Vitaly Churkin memoirs
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to meet with the Arab states’ ambassadors
- Update on Syria
- Update on Iraq
- Developments in and around Venezuela
- The NATO summit in London
- The outcome of the 24th Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention
- Russia’s election to UNESCO bodies
- Update on the Julian Assange case
- Russia’s Sputnik News Agency in Estonia
- Update on those injured in the tour bus accident in the Dominican Republic
- New tensions between Belgrade and Pristina due to representation of 1999 events in Racak
- The 27th Ladya Winter Fairy-Tale event
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Azerbaijan
- Azerbaijan-Armenia foreign ministers’ talks on the sidelines of the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting
- Case of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin
- E-visas for foreigners visiting St Petersburg and the Leningrad Region
- Russia-Pakistan relations
- Russian athletes banned from major international sporting events
- Sergey Lavrov’s US trip: Talks on cooperation regarding reconciliation in Afghanistan
- US Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s legislative initiative
- Possible US sanctions against Turkey over Russian S-400 systems purchase
- Ukraine’s preparations to amend the Minsk Agreements
- Dutch accusations regarding Malaysian Boeing disaster
Senior Foreign Ministry officials today attended the opening ceremony of an exhibition of archival material devoted to the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Grenada. Members of the diplomatic corps accredited to Russia, public figures, politicians, academic and cultural circles, as well as journalists were invited to attend the event.
The exhibition will include documents and photographs tracing the history of our country’s relations with Grenada, which began with the Joint Communique on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations and the Exchange of Diplomatic Missions between the Soviet Union and Grenada, signed on September 7, 1979.
Our relations are based on the solid traditions of friendship, solidarity and mutually beneficial cooperation. Grenada is a promising partner in the Caribbean region not only in the bilateral format, but also within the framework of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Committed to the principles of multilateralism and respect for international law, we are constructively interacting at the UN. We are actively coordinating promising joint projects in the fields of trade, the economy, investment, science and technology. Ties between our civil societies are growing ever stronger, and the annual Russia-Caribbean media forum held in Grenada is a vital part of this.
On December 12-13, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Nicaragua Denis Moncada Colindres will pay a working visit to Moscow. A joint statement will be released after his meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on December 13.
The two ministers will consider the current state of bilateral partnership and political dialogue as well as the prospects for their development and ways to expand cooperation in various areas, improve the legal framework, and enhance cooperation in the international arena.
Nicaragua, Russia's strategic partner in Latin America, has come under open pressure from outside forces trying to dictate their will to the country’s freedom-loving people. In solidarity with the Nicaraguan leaders, we strongly condemn any form of foreign interference and sanctions pressure on a sovereign state.
The visit is timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. To mark this date, an exhibit of archival materials and video chronicles will open in the media centre at Zaryadye Park at 17.00 on December 13, as well as a photo exhibit by Russian photographer Sergey Kovalchuk, called Nicaragua Today.
Lost In Translation, a book of memoirs by Vitaly Churkin, will be presented at the Foreign Ministry Reception House on December 13. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to have read the book early thanks to the diplomat’s family. Vitaly Churkin had worked on it for several years before his untimely death. The event, to be attended by the diplomat’s widow, Irina Churkina, will be opened by Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov.
Vitaly Churkin had a unique professional career path from translator to Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. He worked effectively on the American track, greatly contributed to the creation of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s information service, served as Deputy Foreign Minister, was involved in the settlement of the Balkan crisis as Special Presidential Envoy, served as the Russian Ambassador to Belgium and Canada, and led difficult negotiations on cooperation in the Arctic.
The chapter on Churkin’s work as Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN will be of great interest to readers. During his service in this position, international affairs went through a series of crises – the 2008 events in the South Caucasus, the foreign intervention in Libya, the civil war in Syria, the internal conflict in Ukraine, and Crimea’s reunification with Russia. He was personally involved in coordinating many historic documents; and so his stance began to be associated with the stance of our country at the UN.
It is especially remarkable how his book reflects a diplomat’s evolution, his growth as a professional and as a person in general, from someone just starting his career and life, analysing the current developments through the prism of historical changes in Russia and growing through his experiences in working abroad. Anyone interested in the study of international relations will find this book fascinating and useful.
On December 16, in Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with the ambassadors of the Arab countries and the representative of the League of Arab States to Russia.
There will be a substantive exchange of views on a wide range of international and regional matters, including the political settlement of crises in Syria, Libya and Yemen, and normalisation of the situation in the Gulf zone.
Prospects for further development of friendly ties and diverse cooperation between Russia and the Arab states in bilateral and collective formats will be discussed as well.
The most difficult situation in Syria remains in the areas that are beyond the control of the Syrian government, primarily the Idlib de-escalation zone and the eastern bank of the Euphrates River.
We continue to implement the memorandum of October 22 focusing on the area east of the Euphrates River in conjunction with Ankara. The work is two-pronged and seeks to prevent a resumption of hostilities and improve the humanitarian situation. To resolve the first problem, the Kurdish units were withdrawn from the border with Turkey, regular joint patrols were established, a demilitarised zone was created along the perimeter of the Operation Peace Spring, and a Russian-Turkish coordination centre is now operational. On the humanitarian track, Russian specialists are providing medical help to civilians (about 3,000 patients), distributing food packages to the needy (totaling about 5 tonnes) and restoring water and power supply sites.
In this regard, we noted the UN OCHA report on the situation in the Al-Hawl refugee camp in northeastern Syria which, as you are aware, we are closely monitoring. The UN representatives noted a stabilisation of the situation in the camp, which was achieved largely due to the efforts of the Syrian government. The humanitarian organisations working in the regions east of the Euphrates River quickly restored the minimally required level of medical support at Al-Hawl and are now establishing sustainable humanitarian access to the camp. Currently, it is home to about 69,000 people, and several hundred IDPs have already returned to their homes in the areas controlled by the Syrian authorities.
The situation in Idlib remains difficult. Terrorists continue to shell nearby areas, endangering the civilians inside and outside the de-escalation zone. Every day, we record about 40 attacks. For example, on December 4, jihadists fired at a fitness club in Tel Rifaat (Aleppo Governorate), eight children were killed and 13 injured. A day earlier, as a result of another incident in the south of Aleppo, a 6-year-old boy died, and his mother and two brothers were badly wounded. We must once again point out that the Idlib problem will not be resolved as long as the terrorists “rule the roost” there.
The 14th international meeting on Syria in the Astana format ended in Nur-Sultan yesterday (a joint statement by Russia, Turkey and Iran was posted on the Foreign Ministry website). The dynamics of this format clearly show its relevance and effectiveness. The Astana format brought together not only the three guarantor countries (Russia, Iran and Turkey), but also the Syrian parties (the government and armed opposition), the UN and Syria’s Arab neighbours (Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq). The participants discussed in detail the situation on the ground in Syria, fighting terrorism, addressing pressing humanitarian problems, assisting in returning refugees, strengthening confidence-building measures, including the release of forcibly detained individuals and advancing the political settlement process. These topics will continue to be monitored by the participants of this format.
On November 21, the Syrian authorities, through mediation by the Russian military, released 120 prisoners, which is an important humanitarian gesture.
Syria continues to restore economic and sociopolitical ties with its Arab neighbours. Syria will resume its citrus fruit exports to Iraq soon via land transport through the recently re-opened Abu Kamal border crossing.
Senior officials from the Union of Journalists of Syria took part in a meeting of the Arab Union of Journalists in Riyadh. According to local commentators, this trip to Saudi Arabia was the first in recent years for the Syrian officials.
A delegation of Syrian parliament members took part in a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, in Rome, dedicated to fighting international terrorism.
In mid-December, Syria’s private airline, Cham Wings Airlines will resume flights to Western Europe, which were interrupted in 2012. Service to Berlin will be offered twice a week from Damascus International Airport. Next year, service to Dusseldorf will resume.
Mass protests have been continuing in Baghdad and a number of Iraq’s Shia provinces since early October. At the outset these protests were driven by socioeconomic slogans and were peaceful. However, at a certain point they took on a political dimension, and in some parts of the country, including the capital, government facilities and political party offices have come under attack. This has led to clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement, leaving about 400 people dead and over 15,000 wounded, according to various sources.
Measures to stabilise the situation taken by the Iraqi government and Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi have done little to calm the social tension. As a result, the prime minister announced his intention to resign. On December 1, the Iraqi parliament accepted his resignation with the understanding that the cabinet will stay on as a caretaker government.
The country’s president is currently engaged in proactive consultations with the main parliamentary groups to agree on a new cabinet head. We hope they will be able to reach consensus within the timeframe as set forth in Iraq’s constitution in order to avoid a power vacuum and avert an escalation of the political crisis within the country.
As far as Russia is concerned, we support initiatives by the Iraqi authorities to promote a nation-wide inclusive dialogue taking into consideration the interests of all ethnic and religious groups within the country and socioeconomic reforms.
We call on all political forces in Iraq to exercise restraint and once again reaffirm that only the people of Iraq can resolve issues on the national agenda in keeping with the law and without outside interference.
We hope that the Iraqi people, after all the suffering they have gone through, will not become hostage once again to political posturing and outside ambitions, while Iraq will not be used by outside forces as an arena for settling scores.
We regularly provide detailed comments on the political developments in Venezuela. While the situation there remains complicated, a glimmer of hope has emerged that a political solution will be found. This is largely due to the efforts of the national dialogue roundtable that serves as a platform for meaningful talks that are becoming increasingly inclusive.
One of the central questions on the agenda is to determine how the electoral process will unfold moving forward. Once these modalities are coordinated, Venezuela will be able to hold a parliamentary election next year under the country’s constitution, with respect for democratic principles and norms.
We noted that people and politicians in Venezuela, including within the opposition, are increasingly opposed to confrontation. According to a recent opinion poll, 67 percent of Venezuelans are ready to vote in an election, and 72 percent oppose the idea of boycotting the vote. This is a positive trend. We expect it to be maintained.
Unfortunately, Washington has no intention of giving up on its policy to remove the legitimate government of Venezuela from power. Despite a somewhat softer rhetoric, the US persists in its attempts to destabilise Venezuela from within and continues to expand its illegal sanctions. It is obvious that the unilateral restrictions imposed by the White House have not brought the anti-government forces any closer to power, while seriously worsening the economic and humanitarian situation in the country. Businesses can more or less adapt to living under sanctions, but civilians, especially people facing hardship, low-income households, people who are sick or children, find the current situation extremely challenging. The restrictive measures imposed by the United States are clearly inhumane.
On December 3-4, a NATO summit was held in London (according to some of its members, the alliance is brain dead) dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the organisation.
Seemingly, the anniversary would be a good occasion to take a critical look at achievements, to think about consistency in NATO’s goals and objectives in the current geopolitical situation, to make sense of relations with the key partners, neighbours and other parties, and to reflect on the future. But, as you know, thinking is only possible when there’s something to think with.
Instead of looking in earnest for answers to real questions faced by all countries of the world and, most importantly – something that has already become obvious even to the average person – which are impossible to cope with on an individual basis, the alliance again brought to the fore a fictitious Russian threat, although other regions in the world received their fair share of accusations as well. A list compiled in London features the Russian threat before international terrorism, illegal migration or cyber threats. This only leads to more questions about NATO’s health.
The policy adopted at summits in Wales, Warsaw and Brussels to step up tensions and ensure NATO’s dominance in all operational spheres – land, water, air, cyberspace, and now outer space – is being followed through on. All the issues regarding traditional spheres of operation have been resolved, so now they will be dealing with outer space. As we understood it, the Allies said “yes” to US demands to increase military spending, which already accounts for more than half of the world’s defence spending and is more than 20 times higher than Russia’s defence budget. The alliance is considering the possibility of moving beyond its geographical area of responsibility as a “rising China” is now in the focus of its attention. NATO's involvement in ICT and innovation technology is expanding.
With regard to Russia, the Alliance stubbornly continues to operate under blueprints dating back to the 1960s. This is about a “double approach” according to the “deterrence plus dialogue” formula. In terms of deterrence, NATO has always been overly enthusiastic. Plans are being implemented to increase combat readiness and to deploy more troops near Russia’s borders. The scope and the number of provocative exercises and maneuvers are on the rise.
But things are much worse when it comes to holding a dialogue. Practical cooperation, including between the militaries, has been frozen for five years and not on Russia’s initiative. From London, we heard the same old words about “security threats” from the east. Talking in terms of a willingness to normalise relations “only if Russia changes its behaviour” and not doing anything to de-escalate military and political tensions is not only pointless, it is dangerous.
Listening to NATO countries confirming their commitment to maintaining and strengthening arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation leaves a sense of pure propaganda. Interestingly, reservations about the need for mandatory consideration for the “prevailing security environment” followed immediately. Apparently, this was required to justify actions that clearly are at odds with the system of treaties in this area or that explicitly undermine it.
Covering its connivance with Washington’s scrapping of the INF Treaty, the Alliance continues to spread unproven accusations against Russia and to avoid meeting Russia halfway in its efforts to maintain predictability and restraint in the missile area. The European countries’ acquiescence to this destructive US approach only encourages Washington’s purported plans to deploy intermediate- and shorter-range missiles, which is fraught with the obvious risk of destabilising the situation and an arms race in Europe and other regions.
It is noteworthy that, unlike previous documents of this kind, the declaration of the leaders of the NATO countries does not contain a call to extend the New START Treaty. This was clearly done under pressure from the United States, which systematically creates uncertainty around this matter and refuses to respond to Russia's proposals to come to an agreement as soon as possible and renew the treaty. Clearly, terminating the New START Treaty would deal a fatal blow to the nuclear missile control architecture which we stated more than once. We have gone beyond political statements and offered factual materials on this subject.
At the same time, NATO made sure to reaffirm its status as a “nuclear alliance.” Thus, the NATO practice of “joint nuclear missions,” which include training non-nuclear countries in handling and using US nuclear weapons deployed in Europe, was perpetuated, which blatantly violates NPT central provisions, which the Alliance continues to ignore.
The London summit gave the leaders of the NATO countries an opportunity, once again, to swear allegiance to “transatlantic unity” in such a strange manner. This was predictable amid reports of growing contradictions within the Alliance itself. Of course, these contradictions are exclusively NATO’s internal affair. But for us, any attempt to iron them out on an anti-Russian basis is untenable. Contributing to destabilisation amid an already difficult global environment is apparently the most important goal.
As you may be aware, it was decided at the London summit to launch a “thinking process” on the strategic development of NATO. We hope that it involves, among other things, a more balanced and objective analysis of the current state of affairs and prospects for normalising Russia-NATO relations. We believe this meets Europe’s security interests. The path to this lies through rejecting confrontation and searching for ways to jointly overcome the crisis. For our part, we are ready for this. Unlike the Alliance, we have the tools for a thinking process, and we are willing to share them. We hope that NATO will come to realise this, specifically, the fact that maintaining a normal dialogue will add credibility to the North Atlantic space which it needs so much, in particular, with regard to the complex priority issues in this space, such as strategic stability, security and overcoming new threats and challenges.
In late November, the 24th Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was held in The Hague. The Russian government delegation took part in it, and Russia’s Permanent Representative to the OPCW, Alexander Shulgin, delivered remarks posted on the official site of the Russian Foreign Ministry which you can view.
The conference focused on an overview of the results of work on a wide range of issues on the current agenda of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, including the elimination of the remaining stockpiles of chemical weapons, the discussion of the so-called “Syria dossier” and other current activities of this international body.
A key moment was the approval by consensus of additions to the Schedules of the Annex on Chemicals to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which include four families of new toxic chemicals, including the Novichok nerve agents made infamous by the West and developed and studied in a number of NATO and EU countries. The approval of the decisions based on the proposals from Russia as well as the three Western countries (the United States, Canada and the Netherlands) was preceded by sustained and difficult work on agreeing the technical parameters of these complementary initiatives, and the participants put much effort into finding compromises and mutually acceptable solutions. The very fact of their approval by consensus is evidence that we are still capable of reaching an agreement. I mean the members of this organisation when I say “we.” We can reach an agreement when it comes to real steps on enhancing chemical weapons non-proliferation, even despite the apparent confrontation at the organisation due to the exorbitant politicisation by the Western nations of a totally contrived Syrian “chemical dossier,” the Skripal case concocted by the UK, and the illegitimate vesting of the OPCW Technical Secretariat with attribution functions to identify parties responsible for the use of chemical weapons, contrary to the CWC provisions and the exclusive powers of the UN Security Council.
However, there was another case of politicisation in the OPCW activities, which was the decision of the Conference on the 2020 organisation’s budget with veiled funding of the “attribution mechanism,” which we believe was illegitimately set up within the OPCW Technical Secretariat. Russia and about a third of the CWC member states did not associate themselves with this decision by voting against, abstaining, or merely leaving the session hall.
The 24th Session was held in a tense and oftentimes confrontational atmosphere and proved to be another example of how dead set our Western opponents are to continue to turn the OPCW into a tool for pursuing their geopolitical plans in the Middle East and beyond. All that is being done instead of making joint efforts to maintain the authority of this specialised and, in essence, technical organisation and enhancing the integrity of the Convention itself.
It is remarkable in this connection that even against that controversial background Russia’s initiated joint statement by 24 countries on countering “chemical terrorism” was adopted. This kind of document is yet again proof of the need for collective efforts in combating the manifestations and relapses of chemical terrorism, while extremist groups and pseudo-humanitarian NGOs like the White Helmets allied with them continue to carry out terrorist attacks and provocations with toxic chemical and full-fledged chemical war gases in Syria.
During the regular elections held in Paris on November 20-21 as part of the 40th session of the UNESCO General Conference, Russia was re-elected to the UNESCO Executive Board, the Intergovernmental Bioethics Committee, the Coordinating Council of the Man and Biosphere Programme, the Intergovernmental Council of the International Hydrological Programme and the Intergovernmental Council of the Comprehensive strategy for the Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme for the next four years (2019-2023), as well as elected to the Governing Board of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). In addition, during the 22nd session of the General Assembly of States Parties of the 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage held on November 27 on the sidelines of the General Conference, Russia was accepted as a member of the World Heritage Committee.
The election of Permanent Delegate of the Russian Federation to UNESCO Alexander Kuznetsov as a Deputy Chair of the Executive Board from the second electoral group (Eastern Europe) at the board’s 208th session on November 29 was an acknowledgement of Russia’s significant contribution to the activities of UNESCO.
Russia thanks the delegations that supported its candidacy. It reaffirms its strict adherence to the universal ideals and values of UNESCO and calls on all interested countries to further promote constructive cooperation at this leading intergovernmental cultural organisation based on mutual trust, respect and consensus intrinsic to it.
Reports of WikiLeaks website founder Julian Assange’s health deteriorating are cause for concern. He is currently being held in the Belmarsh High-Security Prison in the UK. The cruel treatment of the journalist has already become a topic of discussion at the Second Chamber of the States General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Human rights activists regularly cite facts that show that being severely ill, partly due to the conditions of incarceration which was provoked with political resources, Julian Assange has no access to medical aid, he is not given proper nutrition and is constantly subjected to cruel psychological torture. This has been noted by, among others, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer. He visited the journalist with a team of two independent medical experts in May of this year. In his statement, Nils Melzer points out with alarm that “in addition to physical ailments, Mr Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma.”
The Human Rights Council’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, UN Special Rapporteurs on the right to privacy and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution and many others also call for complying with international rights obligations with regard to Julian Assange. This indicates that the international community is speaking almost in one voice. Regardless of whether these mechanisms are official UN agencies or consultative forums, whether these representatives express the point of view of civic society or the stance a specific country, all of them agree that it is a cruel reprisal against a person who does real journalism. Perhaps this journalism in a new form was presented to the world community decades ago, but nevertheless, this is the new journalism we have heard so much about. So, what we are witnessing is a real political crackdown with the use of the most horrendous enforcement actions.
Many organisations, as I said, are calling for observing international human rights obligations with regard to Julian Assange. Recently doctors from the UK and a number of other countries published an open letter to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel asking to transfer him to any medical centre for an urgent expert medical examination by qualified doctors. Over 60 doctors who signed the letter state that in the absence of urgent assessment and treatment Mr Assange could die in prison and that they “have serious concerns about Mr Assange’s fitness to stand trial in February 2020.”
Nevertheless, official London is obviously ignoring the risks to the life and health of a journalist who has been detained for many years, and who was thrown into prison and is being kept under the same conditions as the most dangerous criminals.
Julian Assange’s situation is clearly a violation of the applicable laws, regulations and standards that govern and guarantee freedom of the media and journalist safety by the Western world, and the UK in particular, which claims to be a paragon of democratic standards. This is an example of how the policy of “double standards” looks like in real life – abhorrent. The states that lecture and admonish others on human rights and freedom of expression are completely oblivious of the “values” they promote when it comes to their own interests.
However sad this might be, at present the question is how far the British and their partners are ready to go in their desire to not just take revenge on the journalist but in fact to do away with him. And all this for the mere fact that he was professionally pursuing his job as a journalist.
Russia’s Sputnik News Agency in Estonia has found itself in a critical situation, as it has come under unprecedented administrative pressure from the Estonian authorities.
Apparently, the Estonian security police ordered all banks in the country to suspend any transaction related to Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency. Sputnik, and the legal entities, in particular, banks, that provide services to the agency, have already received notices to this effect. This means that the agency will not be able to remit salaries to 80 percent of its employees, make office lease payments or pay for utility bills. Neither will it be able to pay for any goods or services it may need – it will have to almost completely suspend operations.
In addition, the authorities are bringing pressure to bear on the lessor, having put nothing short of an ultimatum to it: the company, which owns the premises has been warned by the security police about the possibility of tough measures being taken against it if it continues fulfilling its obligations under the contract with Russia’s “propaganda media outlet, on which the European Union has imposed sanctions.” What is this harassment about? It is impossible to grasp what the Estonian security police have conjured up. This is the peculiarity of the Estonian information environment, I mean journalists are being taken care of by security police.
Official Tallinn is openly persecuting the information agency, using administrative leverage to block its operations. By using these frankly punitive measures, the Estonian authorities have rushed headlong into a campaign to discriminate against the media in the Baltic states, in particular, media outlets having links with Russia. These countries have imposed a broadcast ban on Russian produced and Russian-language television channels, and have blocked access to websites that are linked to Russia. They are also engaged in banishing journalists from the country.
I would like to note that each time we are told that only journalists who have breached certain rules, visa requirements or accreditation rules are banished from the country. Once again, to be clear, we have for many years been unable to obtain from the European Union Delegation to Russia the list of rules – and the list of countries, which are members of this association – under which journalists can work in and enter these countries. What could be easier than that, one might think. Available on our Foreign Ministry website are a full list of relevant requirements and rules, the procedure for obtaining a visa and accreditation requirements. Everything is transparent. It would be even easier if we did not have these requirements at all, as one would like it, but anyway these requirements have not changed – they are clear and available. We are always ready to consult or provide logistical assistance to anyone in having their documents processed.
However, we have tried but failed to obtain a clear list like ours, or requirements from the European Union – since authorities in Tallinn claim the Russian media “are under EU sanctions.” Their answers are numbing, for example, they say they have no list like this or that it is extremely difficult to hand it over to us and also that each EU member country establishes its own entry rules. Fine, establish your rules, but then you have to lay them out and make them available, so that everyone can understand what a journalist needs to do to enter an EU country and work there, so that no questions arise.
All these repressive measures are a flagrant violation of the fundamental principles of international law that safeguard the freedom of expressing one’s opinion and equal access to information. It is bewildering that such severe measures against the media are taken in countries that include themselves among European democracies, and they are doing this under the banner of democracy.
I would like to note that Russia delivers on its international commitments and creates conditions for foreign media to work unhindered in our country.
We are calling on the relevant international agencies, primarily, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and non-governmental human rights organisations to respond to this situation.
We regularly inform you about Russian tourists facing difficult times when such cases draw wide attention or when our reaction is required. Specifically, I mean the bus accident in the Dominican Republic on November 26. We had many reports, and we provided our comments. I want to say a couple of words.
We can see positive changes: to date, most of the patients have left Dominican medical facilities and returned home. Ten people are still in hospital, and the issue of evacuating them back to Russia is being decided. Our diplomats, working hand in glove with the top officials of the relevant Dominican ministries, continue to coordinate medical assistance to the Russians hurt in the accident.
I also want to say a few words of appreciation for the invaluable help and sincere human sympathy displayed in such tragic circumstances by the Dominican side. There is a saying: “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” This is the case. This simple truth has a special meaning here because we are talking about what’s most important – saving human lives. Thanks to the prompt and very efficient response from Dominican authorities and local emergency services, the injured received timely skilled assistance and were taken to the best hospitals of Santo Domingo and Higuey. Minister of Public Health Dr Rafael Sanchez Cardenas visited the injured.
Special thanks, of course, to our fellow Russians living in the Dominican Republic who in the first hours after the tragedy offered their help – from translation assistance to blood donations. Thank you very much.
We resolutely condemn the Kosovo court’s verdict of deputy Ivan Todosijevic from the Serbian List for his words that the Racak events in January 1999 were falsified (the village of Racak is located in Serbia, Kosovo Autonomous Region). We believe this decision to be further proof of anti-Serbian repression, methodically applied by the Kosovo authorities.
According to Pristina’s version, Serbian security forces allegedly massacred Kosovo Albanians there, when in fact it was a cynical provocation used by the West to initiate NATO’s aggression against Yugoslavia.
It is known that the investigation carried out by a group of international experts did not result in an unambiguous conclusion. Originally there were numerous inconsistencies, while abundant evidence showed that a clash between security officers and local militants took place in the village.
Now the Kosovo Albanian authorities use this story to promote their own version of events that took place in the region in the late 1990s and forced its separation from Serbia. At the same time Pristina tries to settle grievances with its political opponents among the local Serbs, which is a manifestation of a struggle and an outbreak of a real war against those who think differently.
I recently found out that next year in Russia will be the Year of Artisan Crafts. Perhaps you know that we regularly support Russian manufacturers, including at our media events and do so with pleasure. We will take this into account. We will probably dedicate several displays to this next year at the Foreign Ministry Press Centre in order to present our culture and traditions to foreign journalists among others.
We have, on many occasions, discussed various events promoting Russian culture, traditions and crafts as well as the culture of our regions, various peoples and ethnic groups living in Russia. I would like to invite you, foreign correspondents working in Russia, to the 27th Ladya Winter Fairy-Tale event. It is held on December 11–15 at the Expocentre Central Exhibition Complex (which is not far from the Foreign Ministry). The Russian regions’ 49 displays will present crafts by skilled artists, artisans and creative studios. There are many events on the programme, from forums (an educational forum) to workshops.
A special section will be dedicated to an exhibit on the Great Patriotic War as seen by artists and craftsmen of Russia.
Details are available at the official website https://nkhp.ru/ .
Question: I would like to ask you about Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s recent visit to Azerbaijan. There were other trips after that. However, I would like to ask you about the atmosphere at the talks, which you also attended. Is the Foreign Ministry satisfied with their outcome?
Maria Zakharova: I think this is unfair with regard to other visits and trips, considering that the visit to Azerbaijan was covered in detail at the news conference held in Baku. Not that I don’t want to speak about this, but everything has been covered before. As usual during such visits, the atmosphere varied from constructive to marvellous. I would like to repeat that I don’t think we need to speak about this again since all the possible assessments have been made. All the related materials are available on the Foreign Ministry’s website.
Question: The foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia held talks on the sidelines of the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Bratislava. They have agreed to meet again. However, the talks were obviously very difficult, because after them the foreign ministers made opposing statements with regard to their positions on the settlement process. Can you comment on this trend?
Maria Zakharova: I wouldn’t say that we registered any incompatibility or inability of the sides to continue their dialogue. I believe the sides did not discuss this. It is obvious that they hold different positions, because otherwise they would not need to hold talks. As an international mediator, Russia will do its utmost to promote this dialogue so as to settle this drawn-out conflict. We will do everything we can for the dialogue to proceed constructively, so that the sides find mutually acceptable solutions.
Question: Is it possible, in the light of the above, that the tactics of the peacemaking process will change? That is, is it possible that the sides, acting under the guidance of the co-chairs, will start taking smaller steps regarding confidence-building measures, humanitarian aspects, and so on, since their positions are so widely different? They have marked absolutely opposing red lines. Can the mediators change the tactic to try to bring them closer together more slowly but persistently?
Maria Zakharova: It is not a question of maybe; it is what we are already doing. You probably know about the instances of dialogue and interaction that have brought about mutual understanding despite the difference in the sides’ positions and the red lines, as you said. One of them concerns the exchange of journalists, which is a good example. The mediators acted very constructively in this case. It is not a question of changing the tactics, but making more active use of the existing mechanisms the mediators have at their disposal.
Question: I have a question about the case of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin. Russia has expelled two members of the [German] Embassy today.
Maria Zakharova: No, we haven’t yet expelled two members of the Embassy staff. The German ambassador has been summoned to the Ministry, where he was notified about the response measures and told who must leave Russia within seven days.
Question: President Vladimir Putin commented on this case. He said three days ago that an extradition request had been made. But the German Ministry of Justice said they had never received such a request. What can you say about this?
Maria Zakharova: I have requested additional information from law enforcement. In fact, I urge you to start by putting questions to the law enforcement agencies that are in charge of such cases. I have learned that this man was on the wanted list. As for the details of the investigative procedure and the addition of information about it to the databases, please ask the law enforcement bodies. I would like to say once again that according to my information, which I checked with law enforcement yesterday, this man was on the wanted list. I believe that interaction between the concerned agencies and departments of Germany and Russia should not proceed in the public space but at the level of working contacts. They have the mechanisms and opportunities for dealing with such matters. Regrettably, this case has become a public matter, which is not helpful at all.
Question: This year, foreigners visiting St Petersburg and the Leningrad Region started to be issued with e-visas. But, according to some media reports, dozens of tourists were reportedly stopped by border officers at Pulkovo International Airport and deported because they had incorrectly filled out the application form on the Foreign Ministry website. How is the system operating now? Are there any shortcomings and how are they ironed out?
Maria Zakharova: We said this decision was made earlier than planned. To the best of my knowledge, the system was to have started operating at a later date, but it was decided to launch the new system already in 2019; and this is exactly what was done. We have already pointed out that, alas, the system is not flawless because, considering the difference in spelling the difficult names and surnames of foreigners, they face some problems that they are unable to quickly resolve on their own. The online system has already been updated with a ‘help’ section and more information will be added bit by bit. It’s no secret that we receive masses of critical remarks. I would like to say once again that the system is being speedily set right. A week ago, I spoke with people overseeing this project at the Foreign Ministry, experts and specialists who assured me that everything was being done to put the relevant changes in place before the year is out. Of course, we are addressing the situation, sometimes using even hands-on management, because this often implies humanitarian cases. We are staying closely in touch with the Russian state agencies that are also involved in this project, such as border Services and Federal Security Service representatives and others.
I would like to say once again that, if tourists wishing to enter Russia via the above-mentioned method using e-visas have any questions [during the time when the online service is still being updated], then they can always get in touch with Russian embassies or contact them online. Our social media networks have the appropriate websites, including online platforms of the Consular Department where experts quickly reply to all questions; the entire mechanism of communications is open and readily accessible. I would like to note once again that we should not overlook the fact that the system needs to be improved, and this is what we are doing today.
Question: Russian Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov visited Pakistan yesterday and attended a meeting of the Russian-Pakistani Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation. What do you think about top-level contacts and the development of relations between our countries?
Maria Zakharova: We have a high opinion of the talks and the work of the delegation headed by Denis Manturov in Pakistan. As you well know, the Foreign Ministry coordinates this country’s multi-vector foreign policy activities, and it has contributed to the preparatory process. This is not some outsider agency, it is part of our executive branch; therefore it would be somewhat incorrect to provide some independent assessment because this is part of the Russian Government. We can state that dialogue between our countries continues to develop very constructively, and relations in various fields are also expanding dynamically. We will provide more detailed information on the results of this visit, and we will brief you on this matter using the relevant resources.
Question: Recently, there appeared new reports in the media saying that Russian athletes will be banned from competing in major sports events. This is more like a Cold War than sports. Are athletes from other countries so “white and fluffy?”
Maria Zakharova: Regrettably, politicising sports is nothing new. This has been going on for decades. Masses of major international sports events – the Olympic Games, world and European championships, and others –have been politicised in some way or another for a long time now. Political and information campaigns are launched; in parallel, these are accompanied and lavishly seasoned with scandals, so-called exposures, and the like in a number of areas. It is for this reason that an international organisation affiliated with the UN has repeatedly urged everyone to refrain from politicising sports. Today I read comments that included a reference to RUSADA and its head; it said that the Russian Foreign Ministry, its representatives and its top management were not quite clear about the real situation, that they were misled and issuing wrong comments, etc. We do not comment on the situation instead of the related agency, the Ministry of Sport. It provides a competent expert assessment of the state of affairs in Russian sports in a number of areas. But as a foreign policy agency we are also involved in international activities aimed at reducing the politicisation of sports and preventing it from being increased. This is our direct mission and we record that this country has been a target of numerous political campaigns for years now. So, what is so wrong with our assessment?
Take 2014, when no one yet exploited the subject of doping in the current context. Can we say that the theme of the Winter Olympics in Sochi was not politicised? Look at the front covers of Western magazines, newspaper publications, or web accounts of the leading media and Western mainstream journalists. What they said was a carbon copy of the political assessments regarding the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. It looks like no one so much as bothered to invent something new. Let me repeat: this was happening when the issue of doping was not even being mentioned in the current context.
We are totally against such campaigns, be they targeted or global, and we are conducting this work at international venues. This is not just a Russian initiative that no one supports. I am referring to a broad international front that opposes the politicisation and use of political resources in the sphere of sports.
Another highly important point is that Russian officials at all levels – sports functionaries, the executive and legislative authorities, and the President of the Russian Federation – have never concealed the fact that we have problems in the area of sports. But the thing is that these problems exist in the athletic communities of all without exception world countries. It is for this reason that doping is an international problem and relevant international organisations are developing resolutions and measures to fight doping. This work has been pursued for quite a while at the global level. It is a big question why this effort is being focused on Russia. We said as much at a briefing in late November. The same was reiterated by the Russian foreign minister at his recent news conference and in media interviews.
We are conscious of the fact that Russia has been the focus of these political campaigns for years. Honestly speaking, I do not even know anyone who could deny this. If a problem exists in all countries, but just one of them is picked as a target, this must surely have something to do with politics. We can find no other explanation. A lot of analysis and media stories have been devoted to this.
I think the Winter Olympics in Sochi was an acid test in this sense.
Quite likely, if our “partners” failed to run this politicised campaign against the Sochi Games, they would have helped themselves today and we would have no reason to say that these campaigns are a fixture as far as Russia is concerned. I think that avarice has prevailed: it dawned on no one that they just could have refrained from doing this so as to strip us of an argument to the effect that they are politically biased against Russia and this is an ingrained trait, as our recollections of the past events convincingly prove.
Question: Many political analysts believe that banning Russia from international sports games for four years is an act of hybrid war on one of its frontlines. While the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry are holding up well in this war, often at the cost of lives of their personnel and diplomats, the Ministry of Sport, for some reason, timidly threw in the towel after WADA’s strike, and our athletes are starting to look where else to make money. Perhaps the Foreign Ministry could give some advice on how to hold our country’s ground? It looks like regaining Russia’s positions in the world will again cost lives of our troops in Syria and diplomats while our athletes will have to find other sources of income.
Maria Zakharova: I cannot follow the logic in your question. How did you bridge Syria and sports? This is a questionable connection, in my opinion.
I have just commented on this matter at length. Once again, the competent ministries are dealing with all the problems and achievements that happen in sports for us. We are responsible for foreign affairs and regularly comment on our efforts in this area. Nobody is going to drop this work.
Question: Was cooperation in achieving peace in Afghanistan discussed during Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s US visit?
Maria Zakharova: I can tell you that Afghanistan was discussed as part of the global agenda. Of course, I cannot give you any more details. It was a negotiation, after all. Right now I cannot share anything with you besides this comment.
We monitor the efforts and the talks between Washington and the Taliban, and we talk about them regularly.
Question: The United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations passed a bill that obliges the Secretary of State to look into whether Russia is a state sponsor of terrorism. What do you think about this legislative initiative in light of Minister Lavrov’s recent visit to Washington?
Maria Zakharova: I don’t link this decision to Mr Lavrov’s Washington visit.
Minister Lavrov held talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and had a meeting with US President Donald Trump. Everything that is happening in the Senate and in Congress in the context of Russia is living its own strange life. It is hard to explain it or understand its logic, and it is a Russophobic policy of the people pursuing their own opportunistic political goals. We are well aware that Russia has become one of the key discussion points in the presidential and other election campaigns across the United States. We have repeatedly expressed our regret and opposition to such approaches. They are clearly not helpful when it comes to developing our bilateral relations. If the same approach is chosen as the highlight of future election campaigns, be it a presidential or any other campaign, we will have a similar response, which is zero tolerance and regret, because the strike is at the bilateral relations that are already in poor shape. But, as we see it, a number of US politicians cannot come up with different talking points. They are not concerned with other issues, with those missed opportunities and the advantages that they are wasting while embarking on massive anti-Russian campaigns and imposing a Russophobic agenda on the American people. The missed opportunities are enormous. As they say, just counting them brings tears to your eyes.
If financiers and economists – the real experts and not just some people who are promoting a short-term low-grade political product – were given access to the American media, newspapers, magazines and television programmes, they would be able to tell the American people, who make the products that drive America’s prosperity, how much they have lost to the actions of the people in politics who are tearing up the canvas of the Russia-US relations. The facts and figures will be horrendous. I think an American voter would be interested to know how much the United States could gain, including for themselves.
Question: What does the Foreign Ministry think about the possible introduction of US sanctions against Turkey due to its purchase of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia?
Maria Zakharova: We have repeatedly stated our position on this matter. Relations between two sovereign states do not require a commentary from a third state. While analysing various statements made during these debates, we realised that they were targeted at Russia. Therefore we have repeatedly said that we consider such polemics to be unacceptable because they amount to pressure. There are other examples when Washington exerted similar pressure on a number of other states, not only Turkey, not only S-400 and issues linked with Russia.
In the past few years, and we are talking about a long period, not just a year or two, but decades, Washington has been using a sanctions policy in cases when it needs to serve its own interests, and the negotiating process is either insufficient or there aren’t enough resources to use the existing legal methods to achieve the goals that have been set and that reflect its national interests. We have repeatedly commented on this. The policy of sanctions pressure and intimidation are unacceptable in the present system of coordinates underlying international relations. All our comments on this matter remain relevant today.
Question: Alexey Reznikov, Kiev’s representative in the working group on political matters of the Trilateral Contact Group, has said that Ukraine will draft amendments to the Minsk agreements in the run-up to the next Normandy Format summit.
Maria Zakharova: I haven’t seen these statements. Can you say honestly that such statements exist? I hope that you are mistaken, because if the Ukrainian delegation, which has barely returned from Paris, is already starting to think about going back there and holding a new Normandy Format summit, and if it is again talking about making changes to the Minsk agreements, then this can only cause surprise, rather than regret. I hope that this statement was either misquoted or that this is not Kiev’s official position. I think, when they came to Paris, Ukrainian representatives clearly heard the position of the international community, in this case it was within the framework of the Normandy Format. This position is that it is imperative to unfailingly comply with and implement a sequence of actions formalised by the Minsk agreements. They may have expected to hear something else, but this is what they heard: there is no alternative to the Minsk agreements, they must be fulfilled, and the sequence of actions listed in them is correct. In principle, we said the same thing at all levels before the Normandy Format meeting, but sometimes people prefer to hear this in person, when they meet eye to eye. Well, this is exactly what was done. So I would like to hope that after returning to Kiev they did not forget what they heard in Paris.
Question: The Dutch Prosecutor’s Office has accused Russia of refusing to arrest Vladimir Tsemakh, suspected of being implicated in the MH17 disaster. What is your comment on these Dutch statements?
Maria Zakharova: It is not just statements by official representatives of the Netherlands – MPs, executive authorities and politicians – it is an entire global information campaign in the media. We have to read so many stories on this issue that we have made a digest and are planning to publish it. But I understand why you asked this question: in fact, there are too many statements and publications of this sort made in the Netherlands. We will certainly publish our digest, but I could go through the main points now. In reply to all accusations and strange publications that have been appearing in the Netherlands for rather a long time (I am referring specifically to a recent statement by the Prosecutor’s Office to the effect that Russia has failed to grant its request on the temporary detention of Vladimir Tsemakh, who, let me remind you, is a citizen of Ukraine), I would like to say the following.
The MH17 disaster was a great tragedy. The Russian Federation is highly interested in establishing its true causes. We have regularly said as much and made appropriate statements. But there were not only statements but also practical steps. From day one, Russia cooperated with the investigation and continues to do so today.
In this connection, we are perplexed by the Prosecutor’s Office statements, which, naturally, did the rounds in the media and were complemented with so-called “analysis.” The Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation has provided a well-argued and detailed legal evaluation to these in its official reply to the statement by its Dutch counterpart. To summarise it, the general conclusion is this: the Dutch side’s grievances are ungrounded; it has itself failed to comply with a number of requirements, both technical and basic, of the European Convention on Extradition. This is why the Prosecutor General’s Office of Russia had to ask clarification questions. Further correspondence showed that the Russian law enforcement agencies had good reason to being doubtful: the arrest warrant was verbal and issued in writing only after Russia’s counter inquiry; as it transpired – I am citing the Russian law enforcement agencies now – this was done ex post facto. I would like to say that we are talking about the agencies that focus, entirely and exclusively, on legal matters. Incidentally, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Netherlands has not put Mr Tsemakh on a wanted list, nor has he been entered in the Interpol database as a wanted person. If the Russian authorities had taken the Dutch prosecutor’s inquiry in earnest, they would have themselves breached Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It concerns the right to liberty and security of person. Russian laws in this sphere would have been breached as well.
For our part, we would like to express incredulity at these attacks against Russia for a number of reasons. I would like to remind you that the exchange of detainees was a humanitarian action that resulted from almost three years of efforts within the framework of the Minsk Process. Approved by the UN Security Council Resolution 2202, the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements includes an exchange of detainees on the “all for all” principle.
Russia remains committed to UN Security Council Resolution 2166. We have been cooperating with the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) led by the Dutch Public Prosecution Service, which are investigating the circumstances of the MH17 incident, since the very first day. Moscow has taken a responsible attitude to all the requests it receives from the Dutch agencies involved. Much has been accomplished in this respect. You know about this, but I would like to remind you that, in addition to all the information we provided, we have also submitted declassified data regarding Russian hardware and the results of the simulated explosion experiment conducted by the Almaz-Antey concern, as well as the initial radar data and documents. All this material and these documents have confirmed that the missile that was used to shoot down the Malaysian Boeing belonged to Ukraine.
As for whether this information is taken into account, we can see this from the initial results of the investigation. It is obvious that a selective approach to information is preventing the investigation team from making any progress; they are just going around in circles. The so-called achievements announced at the JIT news conference on July 19 are questionable, as we have said at different levels, and have been criticised by the experts and representatives of several countries. It looks as if the Dutch Public Prosecution Service, seeking to cover up its flops, is using the situation to accuse Russia of a negligent attitude to cooperation when it comes to answering requests for legal assistance. It also looks as if they would like to shift the blame for the slow and inefficient investigation onto Russia. We are surprised that the Dutch side is doing this. I would like to ask the Dutch Public Prosecution Service what they think about their international obligations. This is not an idle matter, and we want answers, including to the questions I will speak about later.
I would like to draw your attention to the Dutch prosecution service’s strange reaction to the extradition request. We would not have aired this question in public if not for the accusations made to us. I would like to cite an outrageous case when the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office’s requests for the extradition of a person believed to be guilty of serious crimes were denied under far-fetched pretexts, to put it mildly. Make your own decisions. I will not provide the names, for obvious reasons, but the Dutch prosecutors know them. It was established with hard facts that the person in question was guilty of 73 instances of large-scale fraud. The Dutch side refused to extradite that person. You know why? For humanitarian reasons and a change in personal circumstances. The Dutch side refused to identify these personal circumstances, citing the law on the protection of personal data. It later transpired that this person was granted refugee status by an Interpol member state.
Here is yet another example. We asked the Netherlands for the extradition of a person who was charged with large-scale drug trafficking (the amount in question was more than 28 kg). Three years later, our request was denied, as usual, for humanitarian reasons. What was the real reason in this case? The suspect was placed in a mental facility. What happened to him after that? The next year he was spotted in Spain and then in 2017 in Israel.
What cooperation are we talking about if the Netherlands is acting like this? It would be inappropriate to complain about Russia’s alleged prevarication. The Netherlands’ inadequate reaction is understandable. What will the investigation team show the court in March 2020? The situation is obscure. They don’t have any convincing proof. It looks like they are trying to use any opportunity to regain the public’s attention. The latest pretext is Vladimir Tsemakh.
I would like to remind you that the Dutch prosecution service has overlooked, or is probably hushing up, the fact that the Ukrainian law enforcement agencies widely use prohibited methods with regard to detained persons. There is plenty of evidence on this. Here is a vital detail. Speaking about this particular person, Vladimir Tsemakh, his health was shattered after the SBU prison. You should remember the operation conducted by the Ukrainian special services to detain him. It was done in the interest of the investigation, which is supervised by the Dutch prosecution service. The man’s life was in direct danger, because the SBU staff beat him up and tranquilised him during the arrest. The cover-up for that special operation was a mortar attack at the contact line as the result of which one person was killed and another seriously wounded.
Numerous publications and statements made by the individuals who claim to be experts or to be otherwise involved ask why Russia placed Tsemakh on the list of persons to be exchanged with Kiev. I think we have explained everything. It was a correct decision, because the SBU has again put Tsemakh on the wanted list and wants to see him in prison again. Would the Netherlands extradite the man to the Ukrainian colleagues? It is a rhetorical question. The practical question is whether the investigation team really wants him to testify. I would like to remind you that Dutch prosecutors had interrogated him. They had spoken with him when he was in a Ukrainian prison. As we can now conclude, they used physical and psychological pressure against him. Those who interrogated him can be qualified as accomplices in the crime against this man. It is for this reason that Tsemakh is not eager to communicate directly with Dutch, Australian or, for that matter, Ukrainian investigators. However, it has been reported in the public domain that he is willing to testify in order to help establish the truth. This approach to acquiring testimony, including in the Netherlands, makes one doubt their commitment to the provisions of UNSC Resolution 2166 regarding a full, thorough and independent international investigation into the tragedy. A great number of materials has been published on this score.