18 December 201917:51

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, December 18, 2019

2620-18-12-2019

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Table of contents

  1. Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi’s visit to Russia
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic and Speaker of the National Council of the Slovak Republic Angrej Danko
  3. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Walid Muallem
  4. The 30th anniversary of Russia-EU relations
  5. Opinion of the Law Supporting the Functioning of the Ukrainian Langauge as State Language adopted by the Venice Commission
  6. Recent incidents with Russian journalists in Ukraine
  7. Update on Venezuela 
  8. The United States promotes a thesis on Russia’s "negative" role in Libyan settlement
  9. Provocative statements by former Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO Wesley Clark on Russia’s role in the Balkans
  10. Developments in India

Answers to media questions:

  1. All-for-all prisoner exchange between Azerbaijan and Armenia
  2. UN programme to provide help for the most hard-hit Syrian provinces
  3. Turkish President’s proposal to recognise the genocide of American Indians 
  4. External interference in Latin America
  5. Detainment of Japanese fishing boats at Yuzhno-Kurilsk
  6. Release of “Russian interference” report in UK 
  7. Case of Alexander Korshunov 
  8. European Parliament resolution on Russia’s actions against Lithuanian judges, prosecutors and investigators involved in investigating January 13, 1991 events in Vilnius
  9. Montenegro: Law on freedom of religion or beliefs and legal status of religious communities 
  10. Proposed US sanctions against Turkey over Russian S-400 systems
  11. Ban on Russian journalists’ entry into Ukraine

 

 

 

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi’s visit to Russia

 

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi will be in Russia from December 17 to December 20. The 15th meeting of the Russian-Japanese Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Affairs co-chaired by Minister of Economic Development Maxim Oreshkin and Foreign Minister of Japan Toshimitsu  Motegi is scheduled for today, December 18. The ministers will focus on trade and economic cooperation.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Foreign Minister Motegi will take place tomorrow, December 19, and will focus on bilateral relations, including the peace treaty, establishing joint economic activities with Japan in the southern Kuril Islands and interaction in international affairs. In addition, the meeting will be used to discuss important issues on the global and regional agendas.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic and Speaker of the National Council of the Slovak Republic Angrej Danko

 

On December 20, Moscow will host Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic and Speaker of the National Council of the Slovak Republic Andrej Danko.

The participants will discuss current issues of bilateral relations and the international agenda.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Walid Muallem

 

On December 23, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Syrian Arab Republic Walid Muallem who will be in Moscow for the 12th meeting of the Permanent Russian-Syrian Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation (IGC) as the chairman of the Syrian side.

The participants will exchange views on a variety of important international and regional issues, primarily, the current situation in Syria and related matters, including the Constitutional Committee in Geneva, the post-conflict rebuilding of the country and promoting the return of Syrian refugees. They will focus on promoting bilateral relations between the two countries, including in trade, the economy and culture.

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The 30th anniversary of Russia-EU relations

 

Thirty years ago the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community, and the USSR signed an agreement on trade and commercial and economic cooperation which was the starting point of official relations between Russia and the European Union.

These relations are currently going through uneasy times. We are nevertheless optimistic and look to the future of these relations. We maintain hope that inherently European judgment and pragmatism, understanding the lack of alternatives to mutually beneficial cooperation in a modern multi-polar, highly competitive and unsafe world will prevail.

I would like to draw your attention to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s article entitled “’Neighbours in Europe.’ Russia and the EU – Thirty Years of Relations,” published today by Rossiyskaya Gazeta. The article analyses the interaction of relations in difficult periods and prospects for developing relations between Russia and the European Union. We hope that this material will be helpful for everyone including our EU colleagues, all those who sincerely want our Eurasian continent, from Lisbon to Vladivostok, to remain peaceful, safe and prosperous. 

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Opinion of the Law Supporting the Functioning of the Ukrainian Langauge as State Language adopted by the Venice Commission

 

On December 6-7 of this year, the European Commission for Democracy through Law (The Venice Commission – VC) approved a draft opinion on the Ukrainian Law on Supporting the Functioning of the Ukrainian Language as the State Language.

It expresses a generally critical assessment of the legislation. The commission’s experts stress that many provisions of the law contradict Ukraine’s international legal obligations.

In particular, criticism was directed at provisions that stipulate double discrimination against the Russian language (against the background of preferential treatment of the official EU languages) in public and political life, education and culture. Thus, requirements that scientific papers shall be published only in Ukrainian, English and other official EU languages, are deemed by the Venice Commission as unjustified and representing a violation of the freedom of expression. The ban on holding cultural and entertainment events in Russian is similarly criticised.

The VC was also critical of the introduction of the post of the Commissioner for the Protection of the State Language as well as a complaint mechanism of administrative fines stating that it is unclear on which legal basis the Commissioner would impose sanctions in case of non-compliance with the State language standards.  

The VC experts underscored that Ukraine’s language policy is a source of ongoing tension which hinders peace and concord. In this context, it is recommended that Kiev review the law on the state language in terms of its compliance with Ukraine’s international obligations, and also to repeal the differential treatment of   the languages of national minorities which are official languages of the EU and the languages of national minorities which are not official languages of the EU; to consider repealing the mechanism of compliance and sanctions set forth in the Law or at least to limit it, and also to prepare the Law on Minorities that would provide for the interests of all groups of the population

While noting the objectivity of the opinion of Venice Commission experts, we hope that the Ukrainian authorities will heed the view of this respected international European body.

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Recent incidents with Russian journalists in Ukraine

 

Recently we noted that cases of denying Russian journalists entry into Ukraine have become more frequent.

Over the last ten days, the Ukrainian authorities denied NTV reporters entry into the country three times. The journalists allegedly did not confirm the purpose of their visit in two of the cases, and in the other case the journalist was refused entry because she visited Crimea in 2016.

In addition, on December 13, a Zvezda television channel crew was arrested before their departure from Kiev. The journalists were fined for allegedly illegally filming at passport control on December 11, and several days later they were banned from visiting Ukraine for three years.

It is noteworthy that all these incidents took place after President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky publicly invited Russian journalists to Ukraine, during the news conference following the Normandy Four summit in Paris on December 9, to observe and cover the developments there. Before this news conference, we had heard many interesting things from Kiev over the last months. We heard President Zelensky persuading everyone (on cameras) that he was “not a dupe.” We looked up this word. It can be defined as “a fool,” “an amateur” or “a victim of deception.” We want to believe that this is really so, that the president in his current capacity will keep his promise and ensure that journalists have free access to Ukrainian territory as he said; all the more so as it was his initiative. In this case, if we are talking about December 9, these were not requests from Russian journalists but the president’s reproach to them, which can be put this way: Russian journalists know how to talk from a studio and discuss Ukraine from abroad, and now they have to come and see how things really are. As soon as he said this, Russian journalists decided to accept this invitation. You know how this ends, I have just told you.

We understand that it is not easy for President Zelensky to keep his word considering the situation in Ukraine. This is why we call on specialised international bodies and NGOs, plus OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir, as well as other international institutions, to help Mr Zelensky with this.

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Update on Venezuela 

 

Regarding Venezuela, we have repeatedly pointed at the counterproductive and inhuman nature of the unilateral sanctions imposed on this country. We have stressed that such restrictions affect the social and humanitarian situation, create an artificial shortage of food and medicines. This fact cannot be argued with references to political goals and tasks set by the nations that impose such restrictions.

For our part, we are making every effort to support our friends, the Venezuelan people, during this very difficult time. In this context we have very good and constructive news. The first shipment of 200,000 packages of insulin medication manufactured by the Russian company Geropharm was delivered to Venezuela last week. This is not a single delivery. Over 5 million packages of this medication are to be delivered in 2019-2020 which will make it possible to provide this vital and essential drug to over 400,000 Venezuelan residents with diabetes. The deliveries will be made on a monthly basis while in the future the list of medications will be expanded.

Moreover, in addition to medical products, Geropharm plans to assist in training qualified personnel for Venezuela’s healthcare system and to transfer the technology of packing and packaging insulin. We view this as an example of constructive bilateral cooperation in improving the humanitarian situation in Venezuela.

Unfortunately, such good news is oftentimes shaded by Washington’s threats of using force against the legitimate government of Venezuela. Recently, US State Department Special Representative Elliott Abrams said once again that the US administration has not ruled out the possibility of intervention in Venezuela and other military options. Washington appears unable to come up with anything new in these situations; a crisis of the genre, so to say. There is an alternative: help restore what you were arduously trying to destroy a couple of years ago.

We are convinced that those resorting to this kind of leverage will simply continue to paint themselves into a corner that will be hard to escape from without losing face. The developments in recent months have shown the complete failure of the “Juan Guaido” project, who, in addition to high-profile corruption scandal, also continues a policy of provocation. It was revealed recently that his party members planned to attack two military garrisons in Venezuela’s Sucre State so as to seize the arsenals and to further provoke military clashes. I think Washington should be asked the following questions: is this a democratic opposition? And, can this sort of opposition be considered democratic? The Western expert community has introduced the term “proportionality.” How proportionate is this activity? How does all that meet the high standards of democracy? 

We believe it is time for the opponents of Caracas to admit reality – Venezuela has only one head of state, President Nicolas Maduro, and that compromise solutions can only be found through a dialogue that will yield real results.

We reaffirm our willingness to facilitate intra-Venezuelan talks of the kind and amount needed by the parties. We invariably stand with international law, UN Charter goals and principles, including non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.

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The United States promotes a thesis on Russia’s "negative" role in Libyan settlement

 

We remain focused on the situation in Libya which was discussed by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington. Russia's position remains unchanged: we stand for stopping hostilities and conducting an inclusive political intra-Libyan dialogue, which is the only viable way to resolve this conflict. In this context, Russia is ready to make a weighty contribution as it maintains contact with all current Libyan political forces.

However, mixed signals continue to come from Washington. Secretary Pompeo said the United States is ready to work with Russia on a Libyan settlement. At the same time, we were strongly bewildered (although this word does not accurately reflect the substance of what’s going on when it comes to the United States) when we heard Capitol Hill mention it was drafting yet another bill titled “The Libya Stabilisation Act,” which provides for sanctions against Moscow for Russia’s imaginary military presence in Libya. As can be seen from the text, they plan to accuse Russia - just think about this - of a "military intervention" that has become the main destabilising factor in the country. I wonder how US lawmakers describe the illegal US Armed Forces presence in Syria or the reckless actions of the previous administration, in particular, in Libya, to their voters.

Unfortunately, these aggressive, groundless and illogical steps have long since become common place among US representatives. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed this extensively during a news conference and an interview. He said we are used to them and know how to respond. Let's take this specific example and find out what, apart from promoting Russophobia, stands behind the US lawmakers’ moves, and what or who shapes their thinking on matters in which, by definition, they are not in a position to have a complete picture due to the lack of related knowledge and expertise. In this case, as is usually the case with the United States, the so-called expert community comes to the rescue. Normally, it is expected to provide an objective evaluation, because these people use grants which finance their support, focus on a subject, and have experience in specific areas. Let's take a closer look at who shapes lawmakers’ opinions in the United States, in particular, on Libya. 

With the above bill in mind, the recent call to “blunt Russia's adventurism” in Libya and oppose its negative role sounds logical. It is the key message of a report compiled by a Ben Fishman, an authoritative Middle East expert, according to the US media. We read his biography. Indeed, he is quite involved in these processes. Just a quick look at his biography is enough to understand how biased he is. According to his official biography posted on the Washington Institute for Near East Policy website, he served as Director for Libya at the US National Security Council during President Obama’s second term, where he literally "supported the Libyan revolution." That is, Russia’s adventurism is being analysed by someone who was directly involved in forming and implementing Washington’s openly aggressive, absolutely unprincipled and, by the way, pseudoscientific policy that was aimed at toppling objectionable political regimes during the "Arab spring." And he did the same in Libya. This includes everything that is now happening in the region, in Libya and the neighbouring countries, including the immigration fallout that hit Europe, something Italy is well aware of. This is all the work of the person who then justified and implemented this concept, and today, is taking advantage of his status as an expert, who is forming public opinion in the United States aimed at identifying the guilty. This line of thinking is nothing short of fantastic.

The Libya crisis has in many ways become a catalyst for an unprecedented immigration wave, which is mentioned every year at a conference that takes place in Rome and focuses on the problems of the region. It provoked a surge in terrorist activity in North Africa. This is what adventurism is all about. We are well aware of who stood behind this reckless campaign. This list includes not just countries, but individuals as well.

Such statements, which mislead domestic audiences and society in general and are designed to shift the focus from their own fundamental mistakes, are the actual adventurism. Unfortunately, there are more examples like this, and we can cite dozens of them. We encounter similar messages in the United States in the context of discussing different international tracks. Hence, the deep misunderstanding that hinders overcoming existing difficulties in bilateral relations. We have repeatedly stated our willingness to restore various dialogue formats both through official channels and between corresponding experts, but we have not seen the United States do anything to meet us halfway. We hope the situation will change.

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Provocative statements by former Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO Wesley Clark on Russia’s role in the Balkans

 

We have noted what former Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO Wesley Clark said in an interview with US media. This is a person who the Balkan countries know very well. He believes Russia is using the Balkans and trying to maintain its positions practically by bribing local politicians. Is this serious? Who said this? Don’t blame us for what you do.

Wesley Clark would be better off telling us how he was rewarded by Kosovars for separating them from Serbia. This would be interesting. In particular, the retired American military officer is a senior executive at Envidity, a Canadian energy company that received the right from Pristina to develop minerals on almost a third of Kosovo territory (above all the enormous amounts of lignite). He is also connected with Geominerali, a firm that removes scrap metal from the region. I think the topic of bonuses, wages and income is for you. It is an interesting story to investigate. Speaking of connections and shaping public opinion by people who have direct financial and economic interests in the region.

Isn’t this why orders were given to bomb the region, to receive lucrative contracts later? This is a good question. I think it is important to at least try to answer it. This is why when there is talk about some self-serving interests, we must look at those I mentioned above. Later, reasons are found to justify the aggressive interference in sovereign Yugoslavia’s internal affairs, to accuse anyone of playing dirty or breaking laws. Here is an example. This is a fact.

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Developments in India

 

Recently riots and protests have broken out in the Indian states of Assam, West Bengal, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Mizoram against amendments to the country’s citizenship law, which unfortunately resulted in injuries and deaths among civilians as well as disrupted surface and air transport, communications and internet service.

Russian nationals currently in India or planning to visit the country soon are advised to be vigilant and cautious, avoid crowds and refrain from visiting areas controlled by protestors. We recommend following updates on these developments on the Foreign Ministry’s media resources and on the Foreign Assistant mobile app.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: Azerbaijan has said recently that Armenia was unfortunately refusing to exchange prisoners on the principle of “all for all.” Several months ago, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow was calling for this exchange format. Why do you think there are problems on this issue? Does Moscow still support this principle?

Maria Zakharova: We have spoken about this many times. The prisoner exchange is a constant topic on the agenda of the talks. In particular, the meeting between the Azerbaijani, Armenian and Russian foreign ministers with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group held in April was dedicated to this matter. The parties in the meeting agreed to take mutual measures to allow the prisoners’ families to see them. As you know, in June an Azerbaijani national, Elvin Arifoglu, and an Armenian national, Zaven Karapetyan, returned home with the support of the Red Cross. We welcome this breakthrough and regard it as the first step to helping the prisoners. I can say that work is also underway regarding other prisoners. If an agreement is reached, we, of course, will support it.

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Question: We are receiving contradictory information. On one hand, the Russian government allocates money from the federal budget to implement the UN programme to aid the most damaged Syrian provinces. On the other hand, several foreign media outlets, citing their sources at the UN, are saying the Russian Permanent Mission at the UN is threatening to block the adoption of the 2020 budget to show its disagreement with the methods the UN wants to use to investigate military crimes in Syria. Would you comment on Russia’s position on this?

Maria Zakharova: We provide humanitarian aid directly to Syria and via corresponding mechanisms at the UN, but at the same time, we have a position on the issue you have raised. I don’t see any contradictions here.

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Question: Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan proposed recognising the genocide of the American Indians in the United States. How do you see this initiative? Will we join it?

Maria Zakharova: If you quote or cite a statement, it must be complete. This was about the Turkey’s reaction to the relevant actions of US lawmakers. I believe each state has the right to a foreign policy, a negotiating process, and consideration for its interests. This applies to any country in the world. If you want to remember what the immigrants did to the American Indians when having arrived in the future US, we are ready to supply you with reference materials and share them with the public. We will definitely do that.

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Question: Let me ask you a theoretical and futuristic question. Recent events that have occurred in Latin America, especially in Bolivia, show external interference. Unsuccessful attempts were made in Venezuela. Is there a possibility that this intervention will be the subject of discussion in the UN General Assembly, so that measures might be taken against these countries? Because this is already becoming a proven practice.

Maria Zakharova: I believe that the question you asked is relevant, including for foreign policy and the position of states in the region. You know our position on upholding the principles of non-interference and protecting the principles of the UN Charter. We reaffirm this, including in our approaches to the development of general and specialised UN General Assembly resolutions. We are trying to charge the text of the relevant UN General Assembly resolutions with precisely these approaches. But, if the region’s countries form an approach or a position on introducing an appropriate resolution for consideration by the General Assembly that would really protect, as you just said, the region from endless attempts to intervene from the outside, reincarnating the concepts of managing the region from the outside, using the region’s resources illegally without taking into account the sovereignty and national interests of this state, I mean a return to colonialism in one way or another – even an updated and modernised colonialism.

If the region’s states consider developing or elaborating such an initiative within the UN General Assembly, I think many would be interested in this and would take part in it. Since your question is theoretical and about the future, as you said, I am responding in the same vein.

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Question: There is Far Eastern news related to the impoundment of Japanese fishing vessels at Yuzhno-Kurilsk. Please explain what charges are being presented to the Japanese side, how are the Japanese sailors fairing, what are the conditions of their detention, and when will they head home?

Maria Zakharova: In fact, what you are talking about did take place. According to the Border Service of the FSB of Russia and a Foreign Ministry representative in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Russian border guards inspected, on December 17, some Japanese vessels that were fishing for octopus in the area of the South Kurils based on the 1998 Agreement on Certain Issues of Cooperation in the Fisheries and discovered that the actual catch on five of these was at variance with the entries in their fishing logs. Given the weather conditions, these vessels were brought to the port of Yuzhno-Kurilsk for further investigation. I can list, if you wish, the names of these ships. I am referring to Harumi Maru No.53, Seise Maru No.62, Ootomo Maru No.38, Umitaka Maru No.55, and Fumi Maru № 53. I hope I said nothing that ran counter to the reality, given that all the names were transcribed in Russian.

To start with, I can say that their total catch exceeds [the quota] by several tons.

Guided by humanitarian considerations, the Russian border guards provided all the crew members with enough packed meals to last for three days. The possibilities are being looked into of delivering from Japan additional provisions, such as food, fuel and clothing, as well as medicine for the sailors who need it. The thing is that two crews have members suffering from serious ailments. I will not name them, but these aspects are being taken into account as well. There are plans to deliver the required medicine.

Please note that the Agreement has been in effect for 2 decades and each year its implementation is darkened by violations of this kind.

We call on the Japanese side to take the due and effective measures to enforce compliance with the Agreement and the understandings that have been reached.

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Question: After Boris Johnson and his party’s double-digit victory in the early UK elections, the newly elected PM approved the publication of a report about so-called “Russian meddling.” According to the Sunday Times, the report may mention nine Russian businessmen, who sponsored the Tories. How do you estimate these British actions? Does Russia have any expectations about bilateral relations with the United Kingdom after the just ended elections?

Maria Zakharova: The report has been drawn up by government agencies. We are talking here about a sovereign state. They can prepare and publish anything they like; this is entirely within their jurisdiction. It is common knowledge that a great many stories that the UK media constantly refer to, as well as press leaks are generating a wave of speculations. We always say that either we use sources and facts that can be confirmed, or this must not be done in principle – I mean references to some piecemeal information. This is raising a wave of what everyone is now fighting against, that is, misinformation and fake news. And, in general, all of this looks very much like information and propaganda campaigns. We have always welcomed the publication of facts.

This was a general commentary. In this case, we are talking about a decision that will be taken by a sovereign state.              

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Question: What expectations does Russia voice on the Alexander Korshunov case?

Maria Zakharova: Moscow’s obvious expectations boil down to the following simple fact: The entire case and all related developments should proceed completely in line with the law. We have already voiced these expectations, and we have discussed them openly and also via the relevant channels. We hope very much that the examination of this case will not violate legal proceedings.

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Question: Russia is an Interpol member state. How can you explain the fact that you did not know that the Russian citizen was wanted by Interpol?

Maria Zakharova: I don’t deal with matters to do with Interpol. All I can say is, who made this statement and why.

Question: The European Parliament recently passed a resolution denouncing “illegal actions” by the Russia "against Lithuanian judges, prosecutors and investigators involved in investigating or judging the ‘13th of January  case’  about the  tragic events of 13 January, 1991  in Vilnius” and urged EU member states and Interpol to ignore all Russian inquiries on this subject. What comments can the Foreign Ministry make about this?

Maria Zakharova: You know that we are trying to distance ourselves from comments regarding the European Parliament’s activities. Speaking of the gist of this matter, rather than external involvement, I can point out the Russian side’s all-round approach.

It is common knowledge that, in July 2018, the Russian Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against officials of the Prosecutor-General’s Office of the Republic of Lithuania and a national court in connection with the criminal prosecution of a priori innocent persons under the so-called the “13th of January case” that was fabricated by Vilnius.

We have always commented on the prosecution of Yury Mel, Gennady Ivanov and other members of the Soviet Armed Forces. Vilnius prosecutes them in violation of the norms of international law in the area of human rights. This means that such crimes that they have been charged with were absent in Soviet legislation as well as in Lithuanian legislation up to 2010. This is exactly what runs counter to the fundamental principle implying that there is no punishment without a crime and the unacceptability of retroaction for criminal law. Unfortunately, the actions of modern Lithuania as a state ran counter to fundamental legal principles. It should be recalled that this state did not exist during the so-called “Vilnius events” of January 1991. The international community, including European states whose members of parliament voted for this European Parliament resolution, officially recognised Lithuania only in September 1991. Unfortunately, this did not confuse them in any way. Therefore, it would be absurd to talk about any interference in domestic Lithuanian affairs because, in January 1991, Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union, and all events in Vilnius were therefore a domestic Soviet affair. And an accusation implying an aggression sounds even more fantastic, resembling some kind of a novel. It turns out that the Soviet Union had attacked itself.

At the same time, it is important to note that the Russian investigation does not influence the discharge of various functions by Lithuanian persons involved to the case; nor does it limit their rights and freedoms. We can call this aspect an exception in our public assessments of actions of European Parliament members. At the same time, instead of becoming really involved in the legalisation of politically motivated persecutions of Russian citizens in Lithuania and trying to put pressure on the Russian justice system and urging their respective states to violate their international obligations, they ought to pay more attention to the protection of such fundamental European values as human rights and the rule of law.

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Question: As is common knowledge, the draft Law on the Freedom of Religion or Belief and the Legal Status of Religious Communities in Montenegro is to be submitted to the Parliament on December 24. The bill has received a mixed reaction in the country. Can you comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: The case in point is a sovereign state’s law. This is a prerogative of Montenegro and its people. We are categorically against any interference in internal affairs.

If we turn to the essence of what is going to be discussed, this, as we understand it, could affect the interests of the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral of the Serbian Orthodox Church, including its property rights to religious facilities. If we consider this aspect of the issue, it goes beyond national boundaries and concerns the unity and cohesion of the Orthodox World and the problem of preserving its mainstays that have taken shape over the centuries.

We are convinced that it is necessary to strictly respect the legitimate rights of the canonical Orthodox churches. Disdain for their opinion and the artificial creation of conditions for splitting the believers is fraught with great problems. I would like to stress that we have always commented on this topic with much delicacy and respect for the fundamental principles and norms of international legal acts, given that religious communities, etc., are involved.

This topic has been politicised to the extreme in recent years by a number of persons representing the executive authorities of Western states. We have to comment on it from the point of view of how representatives of the executive authorities (and not only them but also official spokespersons for a number of states) meddle in religious affairs (and do it in a gross manner), rather than offer our own assessment of the problem of Orthodoxy or other faiths.

Incidentally, this is precisely what is happening in the religious life in Ukraine, where the well-known events have virtually rocked the world Orthodox community and affected the life of both society as a whole and specific people in particular. I think this is a sad example. To my mind, it is in everyone’s interests to avoid recurrences of this sort.

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Question: What is Russia’s view on the US draft sanctions over Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 systems, as approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee?

Maria Zakharova: We are against any sanctions that have failed to be verified and legalised by the relevant structures of the UN Security Council. From our point of view, unilateral sanctions are illegitimate. The sanctions pressure brought to bear on various countries contradict the norms of international relations enshrined in a great number of international bilateral legal documents and the basic instruments that serve as a foundation for international organisations.

We are categorically against any sanction pressure and the use of sanction tools, whether it be through the financial system, the economy, or the humanitarian sphere, in addressing contradictions and problems in relations with other states.

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Question: The first words uttered by Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky about Russian journalists are at odds with the facts. Can we expect the Ukrainian side to disregard other agreements reached at the Normandy Four meeting? Is the Foreign Ministry ready to appeal against the entry ban, via diplomatic channels?

Maria Zakharova: Diplomatic channels are not for appealing against someone’s decisions. They are used to convey a point of view, an attitude, or requests.

In this case, we are talking about the fact that this sphere – regarding allowing or disallowing journalists to enter Ukraine – is not regulated by any laws effective in that state. This is a paradox, but it exists. I am referring to the instruction issued by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) that entitles the authorities to simply ban people from entering Ukraine’s national territory.

Every state has a procedure regulating the entry and activities of foreign journalists, a procedure that is legitimate, approved, elaborated, enshrined in and based on some law. For example, there are states that journalists can enter without a visa, permission, formal documents, or just any formalities whatsoever. Incidentally, if you ask me, Ukraine always used to be such a state, but then something happened to it on its way to European values and it actually took to segregating journalists without any legal right.

How can we appeal against what was originally outside the legal framework and is now practiced by fiat? Ukraine has a problem complying with its international commitments. This is why we are acting through international organisations, which, in turn, must – here it will be appropriate to use your term – appeal and demand that Kiev honour what it has signed and shared for years – the relevant agreements, resolutions, and instruments – doing that as a nation and a state entity, rather than in private.      

 

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