Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa Mikhail Bogdanov’s interview with Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, published on June 9, 2020
Question: What is the Foreign Ministry’s opinion on the recent plans announced by Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu to annex Palestinian territories? What is Moscow’s reaction to this?
Mikhail Bogdanov: It is possible that the new Israeli coalition government may start acting on these statements very soon, extending Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank.
We believe that such action would have extremely adverse consequences. We agree with the assessments and warnings against this which are reflected in the Arab League’s recent decisions regarding this matter.
In our opinion, the annexation of some Palestinian territories by Israel would preclude the implementation of the two-state solution and would most likely provoke a new round of violence in Palestine and further aggravate the already high discontent in Arab quarters.
Russia reaffirms its position of principle in support of the two-state solution to the Palestinian problem based on the universally recognised norms of international law. At the same time, efforts must be redoubled to promote an early relaunch of direct UN-led Israeli-Palestinian talks so as to settle all the questions related to a final status agreement and a comprehensive peace settlement based on UN resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.
We are convinced that the restoration of Palestinian unity on the political platform of the Palestine Liberation Organisation is a vital precondition for the launch of a full-scale peace process. I would like to point out the concerted efforts of the Egyptian authorities in this sphere.
Question: Let us talk about Libya. Can you comment on the current developments there? Is it true, as the US Department of State reported citing its sources, that Russia has encouraged the Wagner military group to join in the hostilities on the side of the Libyan National Army of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar? Is there a chance that the efforts being taken to overcome the crisis will succeed? What is your view of Egypt’s role in this process?
Mikhail Bogdanov: The reports by some Western sources, including the US Department of State, about the alleged presence of Wagner Group personnel in Libya and their involvement in hostilities on the side of Haftar’s LNA are mostly based on fabricated data, and are aimed at discrediting Russia’s policy in Libya. These reports are often based on information from unreliable sources that are interested in supporting Haftar’s adversaries. A great number of such “facts” cannot be proved. Many of the statements, especially those that directly concern the above mentioned Russian citizens, are unsubstantiated. The people who are allegedly fighting in Libya have not even left Russia. It is notable that these lists have been copy-pasted from the ill-famed Ukrainian database Mirotvorets.
Many mistakes or deliberate falsifications have been made with regard to military equipment. For example, equipment that was delivered to Libya long ago has been presented as recent Russian deliveries.
Special mention should be made about the story that Syrian fighters are allegedly being transported to western Libya to help the LNA. The above mentioned publications portray these mercenaries connected with terrorist organisations as LNA soldiers.
Regrettably, the implementation of the decisions adopted at the Berlin Conference on Libya has been suspended for an indefinite period because of the coronavirus pandemic. The attempts to hold multilateral teleconferences will not help much with this. The worst part is that the intra-Libyan talks have been suspended on all the military, political and economic tracks. In this context, I believe that a new UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya should be approved without delay after the resignation from the post of Ghassan Salame, a Lebanese academic.
Egypt is one of our main partners and allies when it comes to assisting the Libyan settlement. We closely coordinated our positions on this subject with our Egyptian colleagues before the Berlin Conference. Our countries are also in regular contact on the Libyan issue at the highest level.
Question: What is your opinion of the current stage of Russian-Egyptian ties? What about the El Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant project and the resumption of flights and Russian tourism? How have the problems created by the coronavirus pandemic affected these spheres?
Mikhail Bogdanov: Russia and Egypt maintain strategic ties, which continued to develop despite the pandemic. Our countries are maintaining an intensive political dialogue and close ties between various agencies. In October 2019, President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of the Arab Republic of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi chaired the first ever Russia-Africa Summit held in Sochi. Our countries are actively collaborating at the UN and other international organisations.
Egypt is Russia’s largest trade and economic partner in the Arab world and in Africa. Our bilateral trade equalled $6.2 billion in 2019, which amounts to nearly one-third of Russia’s trade with African countries. We are implementing major joint projects in Egypt. One of the largest of them is the construction of the El Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant. As of today, we have created the legal framework for this project, and work is taking place regarding the design of the facility plus the site for construction is being prepared. Everything is proceeding according to schedule.
Russia is wholeheartedly interested in the resumption of full-scale flights to and from Egypt and the related revitalisation of tourism ties. Before the tragedy with the Russian passenger plane over the Sinai Peninsula in 2015, nearly 3 million Russian tourists were taking holidays in Egypt every year.
Over the past few years, Russia and Egypt have done a great deal to investigate the reasons for the crash and to enhance air security. Regrettably, the pandemic has changed our plans. Nevertheless, I am sure that we will ultimately resume charter flights to resort cities in Egypt.
We appreciate the current level of multifaceted Russian-Egyptian cooperation and are interested in strengthening it.
Question: Can the planned events and celebrations within the Year of Humanitarian Cooperation between Russia and Egypt be shifted from 2020 to 2021?
Mikhail Bogdanov: As you know, 2020 was declared the Year of Humanitarian Cooperation between Russia and Egypt. However, due to the spread of the novel coronavirus infections, an agreement has been reached with Egypt to shift the events planned for the year to the fourth quarter of 2020 and to 2021.
Question: How would you assess the attempts of certain Western (and, in particular, American) groups to rewrite history and distort the role of the Soviet Union and the Soviet people in the victory over Nazism?
Mikhail Bogdanov: Consistently countering any manifestations of neo-Nazism, aggressive nationalism or xenophobia, as well as any attempts to revise the results of WWII is a priority of Russia's foreign policy.
Unfortunately, the current tendencies to revise history are alarming. We have been seeing this cynical “historical aggression” for years, unleashed by certain groups abroad. Undoubtedly, this is being done for political and opportunistic purposes – they are launching campaigns to rewrite history and demonise the Soviet Union’s and the Red Army’s actions before World War II, during the war and after it ended. Certain countries’ attacks on the monuments and memorials erected earlier as a tribute to those who fought against Nazism and fascism look especially cynical.
Moreover, some countries are unveiling monuments commemorating local Nazi accomplices as a “replacement.” Such attempts are no less than blasphemy against the heroic deeds of those who fought in the anti-Hitler coalition armed forces.
We are confident that all countries, as heirs of the Great Victory, have a duty to preserve the truth about the events of that period of time that happened in the European, Asian and African theatres of war, paying tribute to those who sacrificed their lives for the triumph of the ideals of humanity. It is our responsibility to succeeding generations, as, according to the UN Charter, we have committed to save them from “the scourge of war.”
In line with our efforts at the United Nations to combat the glorification of Nazism and the distortion of history, Russia annually submits to the UN General Assembly the resolution on combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
This document, in particular, condemns the ongoing attempts to justify and glorify members of the Nazi movement, including former members of the SS and Waffen-SS, organisations recognised as criminal by the ruling of the Nuremberg Trials, as well as the holding of public demonstrations in their honour and the increased number of parliament seats occupied by representatives of extremist, racist and xenophobic parties.
The resolution notes that the indulgence of the cynical logic of those glorifying Nazism has led to a war on monuments erected in remembrance of the fighters against this evil during WWII, while at the same time declaring those who fought against the anti-Hitler coalition, collaborated with the Nazis and committed war crimes and crimes against humanity as heroes and equating them with members of the national liberation movements. A number of provisions of this document directly indicate that it is unacceptable to desecrate or demolish monuments erected in remembrance of those who liberated their countries, which is of particular importance for our effort to counter such actions in European countries.
The Russian initiative invariably enjoys broad support of UN member states, which confirms the relevance of the problems it addresses. This resolution was again adopted at a plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly on December 18, 2019, co-sponsored by a record number of states, 61 in addition to Russia. As many as 133 members voted in support of this document, and 52 abstained. Only two countries voted against it – the US and Ukraine. This pattern is not surprising: most European Union member states that abstained, let alone the two that opposed it, have seen recurring attempts to rewrite history and demonise fighters against Nazism in recent years.
I would like to note that our efforts in the important area of countering the falsification of history are not limited to this. Because the 74th session of the UN General Assembly coincides with the 75th anniversary of the Victory in WWII, Russia, together with a number of CIS member states and China, has proposed an additional item for the agenda of the current session of the UN General Assembly, “The 75th anniversary of the end of WWII,” which provides an opportunity for a specific discussion, at the UN platform, of the global historical significance of the Victory in WWII, its contribution to the formation of the UN, and the importance of preserving our common history.