Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, February 20, 2020
- Foreign Minister of Tajikistan Sirojiddin Muhriddin’s official visit to Russia
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s trip to Geneva
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Prime Minister and Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Edi Rama
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with member of Fatah Central Committee Hussain Sheikh
- Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn’s visit to the Russian Federation
- Update on Russian citizens aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship
- Developments at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons regarding the chemical incidents in Syria
- The EU’s plans to launch a new military operation to oversee compliance with the UN weapons embargo on Libya
- The announcement of the final presidential election results in Afghanistan
- Shelling in Donbass
- The sixth anniversary of the armed coup d’etat in Ukraine
- Statements by UK Permanent Representative to the UN Karen Pierce regarding Russian humanitarian aid to Donbass
- Representation of five permanent Security Council members in UN Secretariat
- Developments in the case of Russian citizen Alexander Vinnik
- Le Monde delays refuting false information about the Russian Foreign Ministry
- Norway’s refusal to hold bilateral consultations on problem aspects of Russian economic and research activity on Spitsbergen Archipelago
- New sanctions against Russia imposed by the United States
- Temporary ban on entry to Russia for citizens of China
- Update on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
- Sovereign foreign policy
- The Taliban’s peace deal with the United States
- Amendment to Article 79 of the Russian Constitution proposed by President Vladimir Putin
- Sergey Lavrov’s possible visit to Japan
- Support of the Three Seas Initiative by the United States
- Russia−Turkey talks
- The Hague Court of Appeal ruling
- Update on Sputnik Estonia
- Demands of the United States
On February 24–25, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Tajikistan Sirojiddin Muhriddin will be in Moscow on an official visit at the invitation of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
During the talks, the ministers will discuss current issues on the international agenda and review bilateral cooperation based on the principles of strategic partnership and alliance, with a focus on the implementation of agreements reached during President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon’s official visit to Moscow in April 2019.
They will devote particular attention to the promotion of trade, economic and cultural cooperation, as well as the two countries’ coordination within the CIS, CSTO and SCO.
The ministers will compare their assessments on the current state of regional security, developments in Afghanistan and counterterrorism and antidrug collaboration.
They also plan to sign the 2020 cooperation programme between the two countries’ foreign ministries as part of the visit.
On February 24-25, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov plans to travel to Geneva, Switzerland, to take part in the high-level segment of the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council and speak at the Conference on Disarmament.
The minister is expected to have a meeting with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, as well as several bilateral meetings with foreign colleagues.
Mr Lavrov will also hold a traditional working breakfast with the heads of leading international organisations located in Geneva.
On February 26, in Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with Prime Minister and Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Albania and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Edi Rama.
The officials are expected to have a comprehensive discussion of current European and regional matters, as well as the OSCE’s current activities and plans for 2020.
They will also discuss issues related to bilateral relations.
On February 27, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will receive Hussain Sheikh, a member of the Fatah Central Committee.
Expanded consultations with Deputy Foreign Minister, Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa Mikhail Bogdanov will be held on the same day.
The upcoming meetings will be devoted to discussing the progress on the Middle East peace process.
On February 28, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg Jean Asselborn will pay a working visit to Moscow. He has a meeting planned with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
During the meeting, the two officials will consider aspects of bilateral cooperation, which is developing steadily and embraces a range of areas from the economy and investment to culture, science and education.
They will also discuss international issues, including European affairs and global security and stability, as well as key regional topics.
As we have been reporting, including through our overseas agencies, our priority at the moment is to establish and maintain contact with Russian citizens abroad in countries where the virus has been found and is being fought and in others where no cases have yet been identified, but one way or another, we are making an effort to keep in touch. As always, I ask you to go to the official accounts of our foreign missions, as well as to their websites, and their telephone hotlines to monitor the status of those traveling abroad. In this regard, I would not like to reiterate the content from the accounts of our embassies and social media, but will specifically update you on the situation with the Russian citizens who are now on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
We are closely following the measures taken by the government of Japan to control the spread of the coronavirus among the passengers and crew of the cruise ship. As we understand it, the situation is far from optimistic. Over the 14 days of quarantine, the number of infected people has increased 60-fold. Today alone, the coronavirus was diagnosed in another 79 passengers bringing the total number of cases to 621. Unfortunately, two patients have died. This information has already been published in the media.
The Russian Embassy in Japan has kept in touch with the Russians on board the ship from the first days of the quarantine (there are 24 Russians aboard). One of our compatriots, diagnosed with coronavirus, was hospitalised to a specialised medical institution in Okazaki (Aichi Prefecture). Given the high risk of infection, his wife was also sent there. We are in touch with them and with the attending physicians. According to incoming reports, two more Russians have tested positive for COVID19 and will be hospitalised soon.
As you know, on February 19 and 20, the Japanese authorities cleared six Russians and issued them certificates for having passed the 14-day quarantine, COVID19-negative. They have been put up in hotels with the Russian Embassy’s assistance.
The Russian Embassy in Japan continues to keep in touch with the Russian passengers on the ship in this difficult situation, and is ready to provide any necessary assistance in resolving consular and visa issues.
I would like to use this opportunity, while speaking with reporters today, to ask Russian citizens to not hesitate to contact our embassies. I repeat – we have telephone hotlines, accounts on social media, and websites with all the contact information that they need. If they need any help or support, or if they have questions, we have information available that can help them in this difficult situation. Once again, please be aware of our mobile app, Overseas Assistant. Please, do not just be aware of it, but use it.
As you know, on February 7, the Foreign Ministry’s website published the comment on a briefing in the OPCW on revealing confidential information during the drafting of a report by its Fact-Finding Mission on the alleged use of chlorine in the Syrian city of Douma on April 7, 2018. I would like to talk about this again, with some new points.
We were surprised by the format of this event, when Director-General of the OPCW Technical Secretariat Mr Fernando Arias Gonzalez was allotted only 15 minutes to speak on the substance of the matter, after which representatives of the Chemical Weapons Convention States Parties were invited to ask questions – and there were a lot of questions – but only in written form, although the audience was ready for a verbal discussion. There was nothing resembling a dialogue.
I would like to say that the event was announced as devoted to a particular subject and to be held in a corresponding format that implied communication.
The inept approach used to demonstrate the Technical Secretariat’s point of view and assessments regarding this absolutely scandalous matter, not to mention the ban on media and NGO representatives’ attendance, is simply astonishing. And we see this happening at a specialised international organisation that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013, mainly for successfully carrying out the major international operation to remove chemical weapon components from Syria, with support from Russia, China, the US, Norway, Denmark and several other states, and to destroy them later at chemical facilities in Great Britain, Finland and Germany as well as aboard the MV Cape Ray, a US cargo ship.
Unfortunately, since the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons was successfully completed through a joint effort at the end of 2015, the situation has changed drastically. Today, thanks to former OPCW experts who care about the organisation’s reputation and the integrity of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the politically biased falsification of the reports by the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission, unprecedented in its cynicism and scale, has become public knowledge. The conclusions on the resonant chemical provocation in Douma that accused Damascus of using chemical weapons, were a striking example of the manipulations used to justify the missile strike on Syria by the US, Great Britain and France, when in fact the White Helmets pseudo-humanitarian NGO and special services of some foreign countries sponsoring it were behind this provocation. It seems that the national affiliation of these special services is quite clear, since the same provocative scenario with the use of toxic chemicals and warfare poison gases is repeated again and again since 2013–2014, followed by either sanctions or missile strikes. This happened in Eastern Ghouta, Khan Shaykhun, Al-Lataminah, Saraqib and during other similar incidents.
All of this can be confirmed with reliable facts. In particular, numerous independent experts, specialists, public figures, politicians and media representatives speak about this. In fact, we see that representatives of different social groups share the same point of view, which is rare in today’s world. As I have already said, these are experts who worked directly for the OPCW and formed their own opinion based on documents, evidence, witness testimonies and their own analysis. Their position is shared by the media and representatives of the countries directly involved in the investigation either at their own initiative or due to accusations or imposed sanctions. They went as far as sending a joint appeal to the CWC States Parties and the UN Secretary-General personally, as the convention’s depositary, calling them to sort out the situation and adopt immediate measures to restore trust in the OPCW. We hope that this appeal will be heeded and that justice will prevail, by which I don’t mean an abstract concept of justice, but a very specific one – legal justice. Apart from political assessment, a legal evaluation must be given to everything that we have seen happening at the OPCW (and to which there is testimony and witnesses) in recent years. We strongly hope that those behind these falsifications at the OPCW will stop their dirty and provocative scheming.
We have noted the comments on the European Union considering plans to replace the current EU Naval Force-Mediterranean Operation Sophia with a new military operation to oversee compliance with a UN weapons embargo on Libya, made by High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell following the meeting of the EU Council for Foreign Affairs on February 17. As we understand it, the EU is contemplating this action but they have not taken a final decision as yet.
We believe that when developing a new operation or, at least, when discussing its format, the European Union and all those who are working on this, will be committed to coordinating these [plans] with the UN Security Council. No actions should be taken that could be seen as a failure to honour the exclusive rights of this supreme body to maintain international peace and global security. I would like to remind you that, in the context of Libya, several countries and political forces have already ignored the decisions that are binding on them, as well as UN Security Council recommendations. We are still seeing the consequences of this.
In this connection, there is information that needs to be clarified. According to officials, Brussels believes that the existing UN mandate for Operation Sophia is allegedly enough to replace the operation with another mission and there is no need to ask for a new mandate. We remember 2011, when the NATO countries and their allies outrageously distorted the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 and used armed force against a sovereign state, Libya, the result of which was a destroyed country and an exacerbated migration crisis in Europe.
It would be appropriate to remind you of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s words both during the preparations for and at the Berlin Conference on a settlement in Libya of January 19 this year that no national or regional mechanisms can be used to achieve a settlement in Libya based on the wish of a specific country or a group of countries. To repeat, we are still seeing the consequences of this kind of approach.
We believe that by coordinating its efforts with the UN Security Council, our European colleagues will be able to arrive at the needed decision. It is important that by doing so they will ensure compliance with international law, including the rights that belong to the UN Security Council.
On February 18, the Afghanistan Independent Election Commission announced the final results of the presidential election, naming incumbent President Ashraf Ghani as the winner of the election.
We noted that Ashraf Ghani’s key rival in the presidential campaign – Chief Executive of the Unity Government Abdullah Abdullah – did not recognise the results announced by the Election Commission and announced the creation of a parallel government. There is information that other presidential contenders may support this position.
Russia is concerned about the controversy around the results of the presidential election in Afghanistan, which could further worsen the political situation in the country. All this could have a negative impact on the launch of an inter-Afghan peace process.
We urge all of the country’s political forces to find an effective solution to the current situation, that will meet the interests of the Afghan people and help them establish lasting peace in Afghanistan.
We are deeply concerned over the reports on hostilities along the line of contact in Donbass.
According to Lugansk representatives at the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC) on ceasefire and stabilisation in southeastern Ukraine, the situation sharply deteriorated near the disengagement line in Zolotoye on February 18. The Ukrainian army launched intensive fire from various mortar systems. The attack was repelled by the Lugansk People’s Republic militia.
Indicatively, this provocation occurred ahead of the UNSC meeting on the fifth anniversary of the Minsk agreements. Let me remind you that the meeting was summoned upon the initiative of the Russian Federation.
We expect this incident to be considered at the next meeting of the Contact Group in Minsk on February 26.
Tomorrow, February 21, is the sixth anniversary of the armed coup in Ukraine.
Six years ago we all witnessed the tragic events in the centre of Kiev. Those tragic events were not caused by an emergency or a natural disaster. They had been provoked many years earlier by external forces, the Western nations. There were numerous attempts to stage a coup d’etat. Sometimes legal instruments were employed to this effect when the legislation was distorted but at least referred to one way or another. Six years ago they discarded the law in principle since there was an urgency to reshape the political landscape in Ukraine.
It culminated in a bloody coup that shook Ukraine to its core, led to Crimea’s exit and the still ongoing armed conflict in Donbass. The country faced a large-scale system-wide crisis. Let me reiterate, it was provoked and actively supported by Western nations, primarily the United States. All subsequent developments in Ukraine can only be described as endless political chaos, legal nihilism, and a rampage of ultra nationalism. Active attempts were being made concurrently to distort the truth even about these events, to hide real facts behind groundless allegations. However, you know that the truth always prevails and facts are stubborn things. All that just cannot be concealed. Sooner or later everything comes to light.
At the end of last year Ukraine was rocked by a scandal over materials published by former Justice Minister Elena Lukash referring to the falsified list of Maidan victims, the heroes of the so-called “heavenly hundred.” It appears that the list included people who died not from gunshot wounds during the unrest but from health problems, and not in Kiev but elsewhere. This is just one detail.
Recently, Michael Caputo’s documentary The Ukraine Hoax: Impeachment, Biden Cash, Mass Murder was released in the United States. It gives a detailed account of the people who stood behind the “revolution of dignity” as well as behind the scenes. Ukraine has already banned screening the film and sharing it on social media in Ukraine. Try to get a chance to watch it, break the information blockade.
The same thing happened with other films and documents that tell us about the unknown pages of Maidan. For example, the Italian film, The Hidden Truth about Ukraine, about Georgian snipers, and Oliver Stone’s Ukraine on Fire.
An unbiased investigation of all the circumstances of the February 2014 tragic events could shed light on those sad developments. But those who came to power by overthrowing Ukraine’s legitimate president Viktor Yanukovych had to conceal a lot of things. They immediately started to destroy evidence and invent myths about a “popular uprising” and so on. There were those who did not agree and were unhappy, there were gross political mistakes in various areas but the fact is that it was a constitutional coup, a military operation that was staged by well-trained and armed people. They did not look like “angry housewives” or underpaid workers or retirees. Those people looked like commandos who had been trained in special camps for years, and that’s who they were. They knew how to equip themselves, dress and behave accordingly in the street, which means conduct combat operations. Look at the footage made at the time and compare them with peaceful rallies. I think, there is a difference.
Earlier, on February 21, 2014, the so-called “Maidan victors”, mediated by Germany, France and Poland, had barely signed an agreement with Viktor Yanukovych when they “trampled” on that document, a fact that we repeatedly highlighted and brought to the attention of our foreign partners, who, in fact, stood behind that coup.
Meanwhile, compliance with the document could have opened up an opportunity for a peaceful resolution of the situation and allowed Ukraine to overcome the crisis. The so-called opposition opted for confrontation and violence rather than looking for a compromise and forming the government of national unity (this is exactly what was promised to people and declared during talks with foreign partners). Why do I say the “so-called opposition?” Because later, when they seized power, it became obvious who was funding them. Actually, nobody was trying to hide it, I think they were even proud of the fact that those countries and governments had brought them to power. This was not domestic opposition. They were people who were paid and hired to stage a state coup d’etat in a sovereign state.
All that was happening with a tacit approval from the European guarantor nations of the above agreement, who did not even bother to rein in the so-called “revolutionaries.” Why should they be reined in? They were doing exactly what they had been commissioned and paid to do. As a result, such “peacemaking” initiatives of the West, as they were called, led to terrible consequences for Ukraine. They are well known.
A more detailed assessment regarding this matter will be posted on the Foreign Ministry’s official website.
We have taken note of what Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the UN Karen Pierce said during a recent UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine. She said, in part, that Russia “does nothing to ensure the safe delivery of international humanitarian aid so desperately needed by many of the communities” in Donbass. Knowing that her statement was being broadcast and the whole world could be listening, the UK representative said once again that Russia should “focus on facilitating the safe delivery of international aid.” Remember the Skripal case? That was nothing! They lie even when their lies cannot fool anyone, because there are not just facts but tens and hundreds of hours of recordings showing Russia not only delivering but also collecting humanitarian aid. I can tell you this as a Muscovite. I think that you have seen it as well. By the way, I have seen it during my trips to other Russian cities as well. As for Moscow, there have been tents around the city for several years, where people could donate things for humanitarian aid. They have donated not only money but also clothes, toys, books and household appliances the Donbass people needed. Yet speaking at the UN Security Council, the UK representative urged Russia to ensure the safe delivery of humanitarian aid and claimed that we are doing nothing towards this end.
At the same time, she demanded that Russia “immediately cease the practice of sending uninspected ‘humanitarian convoys’ across the border” to south-eastern Ukraine. This is surreal.
Frankly, I cannot believe that this was said, but it was indeed. Something is rotten in the United Kingdom. I would like to recount facts not only for our British colleagues but for all British people. They should know what rigmarole their official representatives spread at meetings.
I would like to say once again that Russia was the first country to send humanitarian aid to Donbass. It took place at a time when the Ukrainian armed forces waged active military operations. To believe the UK press, The Guardian, for example, those big white trucks were carrying tanks and weapons rather than humanitarian aid from Russia. I remember all these publications. I remember how people posted alarmist stuff in the social media, demanding that something be done to stop the delivery of tanks disguised as humanitarian aid. I remember seeing the photos of those white trucks that allegedly carried tanks. No, they were delivering humanitarian aid, which had been properly inspected, and then people unloaded clothes, medication and everything else that is called humanitarian aid from these trucks.
Since August 2014, Russia’s Emergencies Ministry has delivered over 85,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Donbass. Once again, it included food, medication, children’s toys and toiletries. Information about this is freely available. At some stage – I believe we reported this every week – we posted information and photos about this in the social media. As I said before, people stood on the streets for days collecting donations for humanitarian aid. Ask civil society organisations and the NGOs, and they will tell you. But it appears that London does not want to know this; on the contrary, it wants to distort facts.
As for Karen Pierce’s invitation to Russia to focus on facilitating the safe delivery of international aid to Donbass, I would like to redirect her impassionate speech to Britain and its representatives and to other Western countries. We invite them to convince the current Kiev authorities to lift the economic, food and transport blockade of south-eastern Ukraine. What have you done towards this? Have you talked with anyone? Have you raised these issues in your talks with the previous disastrous president or with the incumbent one, who still holds promise? When did you raise these problems officially? People in Donbass have lived in a total blockade for years. Moreover, this has been reported in international documents which you have recognised.
To conclude, I would like to say that the practical actions the Western countries could take to lift the blockade would really make life easier for the people of Donbass, who have endured so much suffering.
Incidentally, as we discuss the UN and the falsifications that our Western friends indulge in, I would like to draw your attention to a publication in The Times. I am referring to a comment by Andrew Foxall that contains insinuations in the UN context. It repeats the entire list of hackneyed grievances against our country. Among other things, the Director of the Russia and Eurasia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society categorically accuses Russia of trying to undermine international law enforcement cooperation through steps such as putting “its people” in influential posts at international organisations. I would like to say that this topic has also turned up in other media outlets, but since we are on the subject of The Times, I would like to respond publicly. Actually, we have not seen such a high-key blend of accusations and falsification for a long time. It will be interesting to know – since this article has been released – how far from the truth the writers were when they ventured to publish this nonsense.
I will not go into much detail and I hope that the authors of future publications will be able to study the facts in-depth. I will just offer a brief awareness lecture for The Times on the real representation of the permanent members of the UN Security Council in the global organisation’s bodies.
As a reminder, a national of any state that is a member of the United Nations can have a job at the UN Secretariat. At the same time, a significant proportion of these posts is quota-based, and the quotas are largely based on the countries’ contributions to the organisation’s budget and, of course, on their populations. This system is aimed at ensuring its balanced operation, with its member states’ views taken into account as much as possible. This was not Russia’s invention. It was a joint decision that has worked for everyone for many years. Let's take a closer look at the situation.
Here are some basic facts.
The United States is the biggest contributor to the UN budget and accordingly accounts for more than one-third of the top and senior posts at the UN Secretariat. The total number of Americans serving there, excluding its special institutions and programmes, is 2,546; 116 in leadership positions.
The second place in terms of financial contributions belongs to China. However, its citizens are represented far more modestly: 572 Chinese, and only 21 of them in high posts.
Now, about the Russians: they hold 565 posts of various ranks, and only 19 of them serve in senior positions at the UN Secretariat.
At the same time, the British, who are so concerned about the Russian presence at the UN, have 846 jobs at the Secretariat, including 53 leadership positions.
So, based on the generally accepted UN classification – not some random expert’s ideas – Russia, along with the United States and China, are underrepresented on the UN bodies. What does this mean? It means they are not fully using their quotas in taking positions there. Incidentally, the UK, along with France, belongs to the overrepresented category. The United Kingdom is entitled to 114 positions funded from the UN regular budget, but the UK has exceeded this limit by sending 126 representatives to the UN. We, in turn, must express predictable concern over this overrepresentation situation, because it suggests that the service of citizens of some states is financed at the expense of funds allocated by other countries. This is actually why the allocation of UN representation quotas is contribution-based.
In general, there is a noticeable pro-Western tilt in the UN personnel policy. To date, 59 of the 156 top-level secretariat posts are held by representatives of leading Western countries, who, at times, are vigorously lobbying for opportunistic interests. We used to say “their national interests,” but we can narrow this concept down now because with certain countries, it is not really about their national interests – they are either still undecided about those or have chosen to get away from it all. They are upholding the political interests of the current leadership, which can even differ radically from their declared national interests of some three to five years ago.
The current ruling coalition often uses discriminatory approaches to shut candidates from underrepresented countries from the competitive selection. Furthermore, as you know, the United States, abusing its position as the host country of the UN headquarters, arbitrarily denies visas to members of foreign delegations, in particular Russian ones, which is a gross violation of the UN Charter and the UN Central Services Location Agreement.
It is not surprising that in the present favourable situation, the Western powers fear any changes in the current balance of power, and are using unscrupulous methods to promote their own interests, while forgetting that the main purpose of any international organisation is to form a unifying, rather than competitive agenda.
Considering many questions, the fallout produced by this incident and sometimes cynicism that seems astonishing even today, we continue to publicly comment on this case.
On February 17, a French court rejected the defence counsels’ appeal to change his detention to house arrest. Trial proceedings also evoked dismay: the lawyers were not allowed to speak in private with their client, and the judge interrupted Mr Vinnik’s speech by saying that all this was of no interest.
The lawyers and relatives of Mr Vinnik spoke about their impressions of the “most humane court in the world” at a news conference in Paris on February 18. I strongly advise you to watch this news conference.
The Russian Embassy in Paris maintains permanent contacts with our compatriot and his representatives and provides the required consular assistance.
On February 6, the Russian Embassy in Paris delivered a letter from the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Information and Press Department refuting false information published by the daily to Le Monde Editorial Director Jerome Fenoglio.
We are following this case very closely. In doing this, we are motivated by France, which has launched a crusade against fake news, the falsification of information and inauthentic facts. We are very closely following various events organised by the French leaders, all statements being made by President of France Emmanuel Macron and his appeals addressed to all of us to fight fake news. That is why, bearing in mind Paris’ invitation to engage in joint work, we sent the relevant documents to Le Monde immediately after noticing the publication of false information by the daily.
Exactly two weeks have passed. We have been told that the editorial director still has not found the time to deal with this. Unfortunately, Le Monde readers have been misled by the publication of false information for two weeks. We insistently ask Mr Fenoglio to find the time to read our letter and give us the opportunity to respond and put an end to the situation where French readers’ are adversely affected by the dissemination of false information.
I promise you that we will certainly follow how Le Monde responds to our call to publish the truth.
On February 12, we received a reply from Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Soreide to a message from Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in connection with the 100th anniversary of the 1920 Spitsbergen Treaty.
Unfortunately, the Norwegian side did not react with understanding to the Russian proposal on holding bilateral consultations to discuss problem aspects of Russian economic and research activity on the archipelago. On the whole, some assertions made in the message, as well as recent statements by representatives of the Norwegian leadership in the context of the Treaty’s 100th anniversary, differ completely with our interpretation of this document. We should bear in mind that Spitsbergen was classified as no man’s land until 1920 and Norway assumed sovereignty over the archipelago in line with certain terms. Over the past few years, Oslo has been violating the Treaty’s provisions that specify Norway’s obligations in this connection.
We cannot accept this approach. As we have repeatedly stated, there is no question of sovereignty over Spitsbergen (by the way, I have read such opinions in many materials); rather there is a need to search for ways of resolving specific difficulties facing Russian operators on the archipelago.. Unfortunately, the number of such problems continues to increase because of the Norwegian side’s counterproductive position, and these problems are becoming increasingly complicated.
Oslo’s policy of limiting the Russian presence on the Spitsbergen Archipelago damages bilateral relations. We don’t understand the persistent reluctance of Norwegian authorities to search for constructive ways of overcoming this negativity. This line cannot facilitate our positive cooperation.
Question: New sanctions against Russia were announced yesterday, specifically, against a Rosneft subsidiary, under the pretext of Russia’s cooperation with Venezuela. Is it possible to consider, in the framework of the UN Security Council, introducing legal redress against the countries imposing illegal sanctions? Specifically, when sanctions are imposed on such countries as Venezuela, Cuba, Iran and Syria.
Maria Zakharova: I would like to draw your attention to the comment published on the Foreign Ministry website following the anti-Russian steps of the United States that you have mentioned, in particular, with regard to one of Rosneft’s subsidiaries. You know our stance regarding sanctions, it is not a secret. We always stress that Russia is strongly against the unilateral restrictive measures which the United States uses, in its pursuit of global hegemony, to bend the entire world to its own will, contrary to international law and its obligations. These sanctions have not affected and will not be able to affect Russia’s course in international affairs, including on the cooperation with the legitimate powers of Venezuela, Syria, Iran or any other country that may be affected or the cooperation with which may be affected by similar unilateral restrictions.
It is not uncommon that when US officials use their administrative leverage, in addition to geopolitical goals, they simply want to create advantages for US companies that cannot sustain honest competition from private companies, including Russian producers in the global market. We believe the current steps can be characterised as such.
The destructive sanctions policy of the United States is increasingly undermining the freedom of global trade which the United States at once time supported. The country declares it on paper but de facto it is pursuing the opposite course of action and implementing a policy that is inconsistent with its own declarations and statements and that is creating even bigger international tensions.
We have also repeatedly stated that Washington should finally realise that it will not achieve anything by putting economic and military pressure on Russia. It is a delusion. The only thing Washington is able to do is to aggravate the crisis in the bilateral relations.
As concerns your proposal to use UN mechanisms, we are already using them. We are discussing these issues in competent committees, at the UN General Assembly and during our contacts with senior officials of the UN Secretariat. Certainly, I will ask our experts and specialists if there is a specialised body in the UN that could be additionally involved.
Question: The temporary ban on citizens of China entering Russia is taking effect today. Are there plans to impose similar restrictions or bans on citizens of other countries – specifically, Japan where the situation with the coronavirus, as you noted today, has grown considerably worse recently?
Maria Zakharova: I would like to point out that all the action that the Russian Federation is taking to prevent this epidemic from spreading, including at the international level, are not politicised. This is a very important aspect and I hope you will mention it in your reports. These measures are not based on political considerations. It is solely a matter of safety, healthcare and assessment by our experts that are members of the competent control centre under the auspices of the Russian Government, a matter of the current situation and the steps that need to be taken. I can tell you one thing: we are analysing the situation on a daily basis, information comes from various sources and experts are studying it from the perspective of healthcare, medicine and, respectively, security in this context but not based on any political considerations. Politically, we are expressing full support for the countries, mainly China, that are involved in this unprecedented fight against this epidemic. We have spoken about this repeatedly, at all levels. Decisions are being taken based on the statements that I have already mentioned. As soon as we receive relevant information, we will be taking necessary steps.
This is not an issue for the Russian Foreign Ministry to handle. These decisions are to be made by a separate body, a body that is not political. They are being taken in the course of the control centre’s operation and following its meetings. The control centre includes representatives of various agencies, the priority being given to representatives of the agencies responsible for healthcare.
Question: Iran is honouring its obligations under the JCPOA, as the IAEA has confirmed. Despite a striving to demonstrate their independence, European countries, in particular Germany, France and Great Britain, are acting like America’s vassals. Do you see any positive or negative changes in the Western position?
Maria Zakharova: The logic of vassals does gain the upper hand on some matters, but not in this case. I do not agree with you, because the countries you mentioned held the fort for a long time. They tried to steer an independent policy. We must admit this. When the US refused to honour its obligations – I cannot say that it withdrew from the agreement, because withdrawal should proceed in accordance with a certain mechanism – when the US refused to recognise the JCPOA, the other signatories reaffirmed their commitment to the document.
Neither must we forget that an attempt was made to create individual implementation mechanisms that had not been stipulated in the document. There should have been a financial body to oversee the payments.
It is for you to judge these countries’ activities. As for me, I can only say that their efforts could have been more vigorous, especially considering their energetic activities regarding other matters where such energy is not even needed. It is obvious to me that until recently these countries tried to steer their own line and to speak in their own voice on this matter, even if they cannot be fully independent. Of course, it is difficult to resist the United States' pressure. A decision to stop speaking independently on this matter was not taken overnight. These countries took one step back after another from their sovereign line in international affairs.
I cannot speak on their behalf. But I can provide our assessment of their actions. They tried quite actively to save that agreement. You can see this in their public statements and in what was said at the meetings held on this topic. But this became increasingly difficult to do, because the United States maintained pressure and their immunity to keep up their independent position even on this particular matter was undermined. Why? Because as soon as a state starts to deviate from a sovereign foreign policy in the national interests on the international stage, it becomes more difficult to uphold its sovereignty in practical matters. In fact, it becomes impossible. I suggest that you take your question to them.
Question: The INSTEX mechanism [for trade with Iran] was created more than a year ago, yet it has not implemented a single deal. Does it exist at all?
Maria Zakharova: I have no information about its shutdown.
Question: US President Donald Trump plans to visit India in a few days. What does Russia think about the US President’s plans?
Maria Zakharova: A visit by the head of state to a sovereign state is a matter of their bilateral relations. We believe that sovereign states are free to develop bilateral relations and to implement their foreign policy and international plans if these do not contradict international law and do not pose any threat.
This particular example is a case of two sovereign states implementing their relations. I believe that the only thing we can comment upon, if necessary, is the results of the upcoming visit. We will monitor the visit and wait for the results, and we will certainly comment on them if they are relevant to the regional or international agenda.
We are committed to the right of each sovereign state to pursue its own foreign policy and to maintain contacts with other sovereign states within the framework of international law.
Question: What could you say about the Taliban’s “peace deal” with the United States? What do you think will happen after the United States and its allies leave this region?
Maria Zakharova: The results, even tentative results of the Taliban’s contacts with US representatives have not yet been summed up.
Believe me, I don’t have any facts regarding the withdrawal of the US contingent from Afghanistan that you don’t know. In this case, I’m quoting facts that all of you know: the facts linked with the US past and the statements made by the leaders of that country on the withdrawal of its troops.
One cannot rely on Washington’s statements of intentions. This is pointless and inexpedient. All US statements on troop withdrawals were changed in short- or medium-term perspective as regards the numbers of withdrawn troops, dates of withdrawal or the fact of withdrawal as such. This is why it is useless to rely on such statements. The United States has a national tradition – to change its statements all the time. Therefore, it will be necessary to look at the results of agreements if they are reached after all, and draw relevant conclusions from that.
Question: There was a one-person protest in front of the Foreign Ministry building today organised by a national liberation movement that is upholding national sovereignty. Its poster emphasised the need to establish a priority of the Constitution over decisions of international organisations. It was linked with the amendment to Article 79 of Russia’s Constitution, which was proposed by President Vladimir Putin. According to his proposal, the decisions of international bodies based on Russia’s international agreements and their interpretations should not be carried out in this country if they contradict the Constitution. Do you think this norm will help the Foreign Ministry to better defend the interests of the country, its people and assets abroad?
Maria Zakharova: In our work we are always guided by the correspondence of the Russian legislation, primarily, the Constitution and its ensuing legal framework to the signed international agreements. Not a single delegation or a representative of the country will assume responsibility for signing an agreement that directly violates Russian legislation.
There were attempts to do this in the 1990s on several issues but later everything returned to normal and national interests based on national legislation, first and foremost, the Constitution, indeed became a guiding light for all activities at home and abroad. Of course, there was a sad moment in our history. The more memoirs are published and documents declassified, the more interesting things we learn. Let me repeat that we have not had any problems like this since a certain moment – the adoption of the foreign policy concept, the assertion, recording and implementation of our national interests. All decisions are made in strict compliance with our Constitution and legislation.
As for the amendments that are now being drafted, specialists in international law are taking part in this process in cooperation with other experts. I would like to draw your attention to Sergey Lavrov’s comment on this issue.
Question: At their latest meeting, Foreign Minister of Japan Toshimitsu Motegi invited Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to visit Japan. When will this visit take place?
Maria Zakharova: For the time being, I cannot say anything definite about the schedule that would include this visit. I will let you know as soon as I get this information.
Question: How does the Foreign Ministry react to the US support for the Three Seas Initiative? Is it seen as an attempt to establish an anti-Russia alliance in East European countries?
Maria Zakharova: I will find out.
Question: Judging by the Turkish statements, they are not satisfied with the outcome of the Russian-Turkish talks held in Moscow and Ankara. President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued an ultimatum demanding that Syrian forces withdraw within 10 days from the areas it had recently occupied. A similar warning had been issued previously to Russia. Are there plans to send a Russian delegation to Ankara again?
Maria Zakharova: We maintain daily contacts with our Turkish partners on a number of issues at the level of our foreign and defence ministries. There are no gaps in these contacts. As you know, Russia has an embassy in Turkey which has an embassy in Russia; our military experts maintain regular contact on the ground and the foreign ministers also speak with one another by phone. Of course, there is also the public space, which is being used to analyse the other side’s statements.
Mutual visits by delegations are made whenever necessary, and this can happen at any time or be postponed until later. We will announce them after the dates have been arranged. I believe this is of secondary importance compared to the fact that we keep up the contact.
In the event of any complications on the ground we prefer to use diplomatic channels, whereas some countries consider it admissible to make all kinds of statements. In our opinion, in such cases it is better to make use of the available expert channels which have huge potential.
As for demanding that the Syrian Government or Syrian forces do anything in Syria, the first thing to remember is that Syria is a sovereign state. The Syrian armed forces are operating on their own land. This must be the basic principle. Of course, the Syrian army is interacting with military personnel from Russia and other countries, yet the international community must never forget the basic principle I have mentioned. Such statements should be made through special channels, which will be more effective.
Question: The Hague Court of Appeal has reinstated a $50 billion award for former Yukos shareholders. Should we raise the alarm regarding the possible seizure of Russian property abroad?
Maria Zakharova: We raised the political alarm long ago and not only over this matter. As you know, Russia has stated more than once that the Hague Court of Appeal does not have the power to hear this case, and its decision is politically motivated and has been adopted in violation of the legal procedure. We have announced that we will appeal against it at the Supreme Court of the Netherlands. Our lawyers are analysing the means of giving a practical form to our concerns.
Question: I have a question about Sputnik Estonia. President Vladimir Putin said at the news conference in December 2019 that Russia would not assist those who want to drive our countries and our peoples apart. Two months have passed. I don’t think that Sputnik’s problem has been settled. I believe that the situation has deteriorated for Sputnik and Russia. In this connection, does the Russian Foreign Ministry intend to use its right to take “mirror” actions against Estonian journalists?
Maria Zakharova: First of all, we will not take similar actions; we will act differently.
Second, Estonia’s policy in this sphere is a policy of total discrimination and violation of all its commitments. We have said so when commenting on such actions, and we will continue to say this at international venues. There is something else I would like to say. Regrettably, the current policies of Estonia, Ukraine and a number of other Western countries, as we say, are creating a vital evidentiary basis of political involvement and the political contract these countries are implementing. There must be an explanation for each individual case and action. When media outlets are persecuted, the first question is why. Did they publish unreliable information, engage in subversive activities incompatible with the status of journalists or reporters, or violate the law and migration or visa regimes? In this particular case, nothing of the kind and nothing even close to the above happened, absolutely not. Nevertheless, a number of countries have taken symmetric actions. It is a ruse that is easy to see through. Taken together, this is the evidentiary basis of a political contract these countries are implementing. Why do I say “evidentiary basis”? Because one day we may use it. The more they behave like this, the more evidence they will provide on the ground, evidence which will ultimately be turned against them. With this, I would like to conclude my answer to your question.
Question: In one of its tweets the US Embassy in Russia draws the attention of the Russian leaders to the persecution of the followers of Jehovah's Witnesses, and urges them to respect the constitutional right to the freedom of religion. Could you explain why this religious organisation is considered extremist and is banned in Russia?
Maria Zakharova: I can explain this not from a political point of view but draw your attention to the legal aspects of this decision. There are no political motives behind it. Any department will quote legal grounds as an answer to your question. You said the US Embassy demands respect… But in order to demand something, it is first necessary to fulfil something.
The United States has long given up on international law and some other areas by conducting activities that are incompatible with the status of a law-based state. It is enough to mention illegal arrests, detention in solitary confinement for three months without indictment, pressure on the media, harassment of countries and peoples and use of human rights issues for political purposes. Remember what happened at the Munich Security Conference – a real unmotivated “crusade” against China. What can the Americans demand after this?
What can they demand? They should repent and repent what they have done. To begin with, they should explain to the international community what was done in the past few years as regards individuals – Maria Butina, Viktor Bout, Konstantin Yaroshenko and dozens of other people, as well as entire countries and nations. Take just the anti-Russia campaign! How does it tally with law? And now they are concerned whether certain actions are justified or not. It is not appropriate for the United States to raise legal issues. It has discredited itself. I am referring not to some specific political movement in the US or a certain administration but to the state as a whole. It has completely left the legal field. I have not even mentioned acts of aggression against other countries. Millions of civilians were killed. Probably tens of millions became refugees as a result of acts of US aggression against other countries, which lasted for decades. And now the embassy tweets some demands.
The US executive and other government bodies must observe elementary norms of law. I understand that there is always a desire (that is part of US policy) to protect the whole world and demand implementation of lofty ideals. I think it is necessary to be specific. Maria Butina spent over three months (117 days) in solitary confinement. I understand this is not about defence of civilisation against an attack by aliens but simply about the life of a specific person. What about the protection of her rights and freedoms? Where is the humanity here? Where is freedom, including freedom of religion? It is wrong to turn propaganda tricks into indictment. They made a tweet and we will reply today.
Question: Did the Chinese Government respond to Russia’s decision to impose travel restrictions on Chinese nationals?
Maria Zakharova: If you go online you will see that the Chinese Foreign Ministry held a briefing like we do. A similar question was asked there and Official Spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry Geng Shuang has already given an answer to it. I do not want to repeat it.