Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow, September 11, 2020
- Coronavirus update
- Assisting with the repatriation of Russian nationals
- Repatriation Flights section on the Foreign Ministry website
- Russian humanitarian aid to the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe
- Donating Russian mobile microbiology laboratories to the Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with member of the State Council and Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's consultations with IGAD Executive Secretary Workneh Gebeyehu
- Single voting day on September 13
- Upcoming UN General Assembly session
- US sanctions against Russia
- Extension of the EU’s anti-Russia sanctions
- Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek’s statement on the outlook for Russian-Czech consultations
- NGOs and the Judges of the ECHR 2009-2019 report by the European Centre for Law and Justice
- Russian seamen from the Curacao Trader return home
- Statement by spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Liz Throssell on fresh water supplies in Crimea
- Discrimination against the Russian language and Russian-speaking citizens’ rights in Ukraine
- Meeting of the Russian-French Council for Security Cooperation
- On the situation on the border between India and China
The overall situation around the spread of the coronavirus infection in the world remains hard to predict and complicated. The number of cases has increased by almost two million over the past week and exceeded 28 million since the beginning of the pandemic. Multiple repeated outbreaks have been recorded in the countries and regions where the epidemiological situation seemed to be stabilising. Young people, who are less likely to observe the restrictions that are still in place, are the main age group contributing to the growing incidence rate.
During his briefings, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus particularly focused on the general vaccination, calling it a “global public good” and spoke against the vaccine denial promoted by some countries. He believes that vaccination is necessary. He called investing in public healthcare systems “the foundation of social, economic and political stability” meaning that we need to find an optimal balance between guaranteeing sanitary safety and cushioning the damage caused by the pandemic to the world economy, trade and simply links between people. The measures being taken to counter the pandemic will be in place around the world for the foreseeable future. Therefore, it is necessary to work together to find algorithms and formulas that would allow us to gradually resume international travel, as well as trade, cultural, humanitarian, educational, youth, sport and other exchanges between countries.
I would like to say a few words about what we have been doing all this time. Namely, we have been assisting Russian nationals (and, by the way, not only them but also nationals of the CIS and other countries – but mainly, Russians), helping them to return home from all over the world. We continue to arrange designated flights (we used to call them repatriation flights and this term is still in use although they have mainly become targeted flights now). Despite the repatriation campaign which has been going on for a long period of time, these flights continue to be in great demand, judging from the statistics. On average, 5,000 people return to Russia every week and the total number of the returnees is now around 309,000.
It is not the first time we have specifically commented on the completed repatriation flights from China. On September 6, an Aeroflot flight from Shanghai to Moscow carried 314 passengers (278 Russian nationals and 36 citizens of Belarus, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Ukraine). On September 7, 98 people, including two Chinese citizens, returned to Russia onboard an S7 flight from Shanghai to Vladivostok. Finally, on September 9, an IrAero flight from Manchuria to Irkutsk carried 95 people, including 32 foreign nationals.
This month flights have also been scheduled from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, France, Germany Israel, Italy, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, South Korea, Spain, Tajikistan, the United States and Uzbekistan.
I would like to remind you that as of now, regular flights have resumed between Russia and the following countries: Egypt, the Republic of Maldives, Switzerland, Tanzania, Turkey, the UAE and the United Kingdom.
Once again, please note that the entry to the Russian Federation for foreign nationals is still regulated by Government Directive No. 635-r of March 16, 2020. To clarify the entry requirements, please review the directive or contact a Russian diplomatic office in your current location.
Considering the fact that this matter has attracted a lot of attention, we launched a special convenient and informative section on the Foreign Ministry website titled Repatriation Flights (https://www.mid.ru/vyvoznye-rejsy-2).
In addition to the statistics on the number of repatriation flights and people who have returned home, this section contains photo and video content by representatives of our diplomatic missions and passengers of these flights serving as informative first-hand accounts of how it happened (there were some dramatic moments but overall it was a success).
On September 5 and 6, as part of Russia’s help for African countries to counter the spread of the coronavirus infection, the Russian Emergencies Ministry carried out an emergency delivery of humanitarian aid to the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe. Personal protective equipment, diagnostic kits, medical devices and disinfectants with a total weight of about 25 tonnes (about 8.3 tonnes for each country) were donated to our partners free of charge.
Taking part in the welcoming ceremonies were President of the Central African Republic Faustin-Archange Touadéra in Bangui; Jean-Claude Gakosso, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Congolese Nationals Abroad of the Republic of the Congo in Brazzaville; and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Zimbabwe David Musabayana in Harare.
The countries’ high representatives expressed their deep gratitude to Russia for its extensive, important and very timely contribution to strengthening the potential of their national healthcare systems suffering increased load due to the pandemic and reaffirmed their intention to further promote cooperation with Russia in various areas.
On September 3, a ceremony was held in Kinshasa to hand over the second consignment of Russian material and technical assistance: two mobile microbiology laboratories sent by the Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare (Rospotrebnadzor) as part of its assistance to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to counter Ebola. The mobile laboratories based on the GAZ-33088 automobile can be driven over any terrain and are equipped with cutting-edge equipment for express diagnostics of infectious diseases. Using them, Congolese doctors will be able to help people living in the most remote areas of the country. Moreover, these laboratories are multifunctional and can be used not only to combat Ebola but also COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Russia plans to organise training for DRC specialists on how to use them soon.
In May, the Congolese Healthcare Ministry received over 28,000 units of expendable laboratory supplies and over 8,000 units of personal protective equipment, including respirators, overalls, masks with filters, gloves and other medical equipment from Rospotrebnadzor.
On September 11, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with member of the State Council and Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China Wang Yi, who arrived in Moscow to take part in the Meeting of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of SCO Member States.
During their talks, the ministers are expected to discuss ways to further develop Russian-Chinese relations of comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation as well as Russia’s and China’s joint efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic and a range of current issues on the bilateral agenda.
The ministers will also compare their approaches to international security and global strategic stability. They are expected to focus on the results of the meeting of the SCO Foreign Ministers’ Council held the day before and other international issues.
On September 16, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will have a meeting with Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Workneh Gebeyehu, who will be in Russia on a working visit on September 15-16.
It is expected that a substantive discussion of the situation in East Africa will be held as well as an exchange of views on a number of items on the international and regional agenda. Special attention will be paid to resolving conflict situations in the Horn of Africa. It is also planned to touch upon bilateral cooperation between Russia and the IGAD in the humanitarian sphere and personnel training in light of the Russia-Africa Summit outcomes (Sochi, October 23-24, 2019).
IGAD includes eight East African countries, namely, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda, and was founded in March 1996 on the basis of the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development, which has been in existence since 1986. The goals of IGAD are to promote peace, security and stability, regional cooperation, economic integration and development of its member states.
This year, in accordance with the decision of the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation, the Foreign Ministry’s foreign missions will take part in additional elections of a State Duma deputy in the Nizhnekamsk single-mandate constituency No. 28 (Republic of Tatarstan), to which Russian citizens residing in the Kingdom of Spain are assigned.
Two ballot stations - No. 8114 at the Russian Embassy in Madrid and No. 8117 at the Russian Consulate General in Barcelona - have been created. Ballot station commissions have been formed and are carrying out the necessary preparations. Particular attention is being paid to ensuring sanitary safety at the ballot stations amid the pandemic and complying with the requirements imposed by the host country. Of course, the experience of conducting similar activities amid the COVID-19 epidemic will be used.
Russian citizens residing in Spain are encouraged to take part in voting on September 13.
The 75th session of the UN General Assembly - the main event of the year in international political life - will open in New York on September 15.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the original plans and most of the GA session will be held remotely. First of all, this applies to the high-level week, which will be held on September 22-29. We hope that these changes will not affect the status and importance of the upcoming discussions.
The UN was created based on the outcome of WWII - the worst tragedy in the history of humanity - primarily with the goal of preventing a new global conflict. Over 75 years of its existence, the UN was unable to prevent all crises, but it coped with its main task and made it possible to avoid WWIII by becoming a genuine “safety net” of international relations.
In this regard, we are firmly convinced that the 75th session of the General Assembly should focus on further strengthening the central coordinating role of the UN in international politics and consolidating the efforts seeking to form a multipolar world based on the fundamental international legal norms laid down in the UN Charter.
During the session, the Russian delegation will focus on promoting our country’s top priorities, including the search for political and diplomatic solutions to conflicts, strengthening the architecture of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, preventing militarisation of outer space and forming universal rules of conduct in the information space. In light of the 75th anniversary of Victory, we focus on upholding the principle of unacceptability of distorting history.
As a founding state of the UN and a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia will continue to contribute to enhancing its authority as an uncontested and universal platform for finding collective responses to existing challenges and threats. We are willing to undertake the corresponding efforts in conjunction with everyone who puts the principles of mutually beneficial cooperation and collective good above fleeting and self-serving interests.
The sanctions conveyor run by the Obama and Trump administrations over the past decade has churned out a new product. Three more Russian citizens have been added to the sanctions list “for attempting to influence the US electoral process.”
The latest decision only shows the intention to continue making unsubstantiated accusations against Russians of committing some adverse actions, the responsibility for which the US authorities lay on the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA). They also repeat the old annoying allegations about some efforts to “undermine confidence in US democratic processes.”
We would like to remind our American colleagues that the Russian Federation has not interfered, is not interfering and does not intend to interfere in the electoral processes in the United States or any other country. We invited the Americans more than once to discuss and settle all these problems in a calm and de-politicised manner through a dialogue based on mutual respect. They have not replied.
Washington’s latest actions show its intention to continue damaging bilateral relations. This is regrettable. On the other hand, this seems to be the deliberate choice of those who are responsible for shaping the US policy towards Russia.
We would like to tell these people that this will not produce the desired effect, whereas the slim hope for stabilisation in bilateral relations is becoming increasingly slimmer.
We have taken note of the EU Council decision of September 10 to renew sanctions targeting people and entities in connection with their alleged involvement in the 2014 developments in Ukraine for another six months, until March 15, 2021.
We see this as yet another missed opportunity to get out of the deadlock into which the EU pushed itself in 2014 when it linked the possible development of ties with Russia to the situation in Ukraine. The renewal of the EU sanctions is in keeping with the destructive line of the Brussels officials and EU bodies to continue making accusations against Russia. Instead of looking for common ground as Russia has proposed, which would strengthen the European countries’ positions in the modern highly competitive world, the EU continues to act out of inertia, renewing the old and inventing new restrictions against Russian people and entities.
We urge the EU to abandon its policy of unilateral sanctions, which contradict the norms and spirit of international law.
The recent statement by the head of the Czech Foreign Ministry, Tomas Petricek, that the Czech side intends to treat the organisation of the planned consultations with Russia on current bilateral matters as dependent on “Alexey Navalny's condition” came as a surprise.
I would like to remind you that Prague has been stating its interest in consultations with Moscow for several months (we have commented on this more than once). At the same time, the country is taking steps with regard to Russia that hardly contribute to building a healthy and constructive dialogue. Now the Czech Foreign Ministry is starting to set conditions for a conversation with us – such as the situation in Belarus, or the situation involving a Russian citizen. What does all that have to do with bilateral interaction? The answer is simple: nothing whatsoever.
For our part, we reaffirm our readiness to sit down at the negotiating table as quickly as possible and discuss the entire range of problems in our bilateral affairs, created, I stress, by the Czech side.
It is regrettable that Prague is trying to disguise its own reluctance to start an open and professional conversation as Russia’s alleged unwillingness to “resume communication.” That is a rather primitive move.
As we already noted, the NGOs and the Judges of the ECHR 2009-2019 report released by the European Centre for Law and Justice, a Strasbourg-based non-governmental organisation, contains evidence of NGOs’ influence on the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), its judges and the decisions it makes.
This report aroused our particular interest: the Russian Federation has repeatedly drawn the attention of its colleagues in the Council of Europe to the practice of large Western human rights organisations and foundations exerting hidden but obvious influence on the ECHR, analysed in this document.
At first glance, the shortcomings cited in the report are minor technicalities: the absence of clear requirements for the recusal of judges who have connections with NGOs interested in the outcome of the case; non-disclosure by the applicants and their representatives of information about their connections with NGOs funding the complaint; some ECHR members having no judicial experience. However, these aspects directly affect the quality, impartiality and fairness of the decisions made by the Court.
Russia has always advocated a strong and non-politicised European Court. We believe that all parties need to consider the existing flaws in its operation as part of the effort to reform it; this should make it possible to correct and, ultimately, to minimise the political bias in its practice.
We believe that our colleagues from the Council of Europe Secretariat and the Organisation’s member states should study this report, which can certainly provide valuable food for thought in the context of the ongoing reform of the ECHR.
We consider it important to use the objective conclusions found in the report in the practical work to improve the entire ECHR system’s performance.
On September 8, seven Russian seamen kidnapped on July 17 in a pirate attack on the ship Curacao Trader in the Gulf of Guinea returned home. This has become possible thanks to the joint efforts of Russian diplomats, the Nigerian authorities and the ship owner’s representative. The seamen are in satisfactory health. We express our gratitude to all those who helped free the seamen from captivity and return them to Russia.
At the same time, we regret to note that pirate attacks continue in the Gulf of Guinea. Two Russians were abducted in an attack on the refrigerator ship Water Phoenix, owned by Seatrade Groningen, a Dutch company. All the necessary measures to free the Russian seamen have been engaged.
It is the Foreign Ministry’s duty to remind everyone that pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea are becoming increasingly frequent, thus requiring enhanced security measures when navigating in this part of the Atlantic.
We view Ukraine’s decision to deprive people in Crimea of fresh water as collective punishment for the free and deliberate choice they made in March 2014. It has to be noted that the water stoppage imposed by Kiev is ruinous not only for the peninsula, but also for Ukraine’s southern regions. After its reunification with Russia, the Republic of Crimea has been able to gradually get used to living in these conditions and maintained momentum in its economic and social development, while the neighbouring Kherson region in Ukraine had to face environmental, as well as sanitary and epidemiological threats. This illustrates yet again that the Kiev regime is ready to engage in any undertaking, no matter how risky, for the sake of its Russophobic zeal, even if acting at the expense of its own national interests or the interests of its citizens.
The Russian Federation has gone to great lengths to ensure that the human rights of its people are fully and effectively respected. We should not forget that until recently people in Crimea received 85 percent of their fresh water from a channel linking the peninsula to the Dnieper River. But in 2014, Kiev unilaterally stopped water supplies through this channel.
Water is a finite natural resource that is critical for the quality of life and health of the population. The right to fresh water is essential for respecting the dignity of the human person. It is inseparable from other human rights, including the right to life, sanitation, food and health in general.
Ukraine is a party to a number of international human rights treaties, which means that it assumed voluntary commitments to respect, defend and ensure the human rights set forth in these instruments, including the rights I just mentioned.
Therefore, Kiev’s deliberate move to halt water deliveries to Crimea qualifies as a violation by Ukraine of its human rights obligations set forth in the following provisions:
– Article 6 (right to life) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
– Article 11 (adequate food, freedom from hunger, equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need) and Article 12 (highest attainable standard of physical and mental health) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
– Article 6 (the child’s right to life and health) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child;
– Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In Article 1, torture is defined as “any act by which … suffering … is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as … punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed … or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind…” Article 2 specifies that “no exceptional circumstances … may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
Moreover, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights noted in its general comment: “To comply with their international obligations in relation to the right to water, States parties have to respect the enjoyment of the right in other countries. International cooperation requires States parties to refrain from actions that interfere, directly or indirectly, with the enjoyment of the right to water in other countries. Any activities undertaken within the State party’s jurisdiction should not deprive another country of the ability to realise the right to water for persons in its jurisdiction.”
We feel compelled to state that the situation in Ukraine with regard to the rights of the Russian-speaking population continues to degrade.
On September 1, secondary schools in Ukraine offering the curriculum in Russian had to switch to the Ukrainian language as part of Kiev’s all-out Ukrainisation policy, while schools teaching in EU member state languages benefited from an extension until 2023.
In early September, a court in Odessa finally ruled that Russian no longer enjoys the status of a regional language in the Odessa Region, despite the local authorities’ efforts to defend the language spoken by most residents in that region of Ukraine.
We have repeatedly called the international community’s attention to Kiev’s policy of forcible Ukrainisation and gross discrimination against the Russian language in violation of the country’s Constitution and its international obligations. As a reminder, international human rights bodies, including the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, have recommended that the Ukrainian side make appropriate changes to the legislation to ensure the linguistic rights of the ethnic communities living in Ukraine. However, officials in Kiev have not paid heed.
Just as well, they have ignored the attempts by certain political forces inside the country to rectify the situation. Their appeals to the Constitutional Court, as well as proposed bills aimed at protecting linguistic diversity, have been unsuccessful.
Moreover, the Ukrainian government’s crackdown on the Russian language has by now crossed all reasonable limits and gone as far as punitive action against their own citizens. On August 21 in Kherson, the Ukrainian Security Service arrested Tatyana Kuzmich, a teacher of the Russian language and literature with a PhD, an author of textbooks, and a prominent social activist. The respected Russian teacher was sent to a pre-trial detention centre on an obviously trumped-up charge of treason. But the main “crime” she is actually being incriminated in is working to preserve and promote the Russian language in Ukraine, along with a visit to Crimea. These two actions are sufficient grounds for someone to end up behind bars in present-day Ukraine.
Rossotrudnichestvo (Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Cultural Cooperation) has appealed to the UN HRC and the OSCE to shed light on this highly unacceptable situation.
For our part, we urge our European partners and international human rights agencies to give an appropriate assessment of this fact and to help induce Kiev to respect the rights of the Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine.
Question: According to media reports, a meeting of the Russian-French Security Cooperation Council has been postponed. Is that so?
Maria Zakharova: Yes, the French side has notified us about its decision to postpone a meeting of the Russian-French Security Cooperation Council, scheduled for September 14 in Paris, until a later date, citing “certain circumstances.” Both countries’ Foreign and Defence Ministers were to have attended the meeting.
The Russian-French Security Cooperation Council, involving Foreign and Defence Ministers, an important format of bilateral cooperation with our French partners, was established in 2002 on the initiative of President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of France Jacques Chirac. Russian and French Foreign and Defence Ministers held the latest round of consultations on September 9, 2019 in Moscow.
Preparations for the Council’s upcoming meeting continued for several weeks and are still underway in the format of bilateral Working Groups, approved by Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron during the June 26 videoconference.
The day before yesterday, Paris hosted a meeting of the Inter-Departmental Strategic Dialogue on Cyber-Security. Today, Russian and French inter-departmental delegations are also discussing new challenges and threats in Paris. Also today, Moscow is hosting a meeting of the Working Group on Libya. Another round of Russian-French consultations on Syria is scheduled for September 17.
We will discuss the dates for the Council’s meeting once again after we make sure that, paraphrasing our French colleagues, “the appropriate circumstances” exist, including the readiness of the French side to discuss all matters directly influencing the state of security in Europe and adjacent regions at the level of ministers.
Question: The situation on the border between India and China has worsened recently, and the two countries are accusing each other of escalating the situation. To some extent, Russia has a role to play in reconciling the parties. What is Russia doing to resolve the situation?
Maria Zakharova: We continue to monitor the developments on the Line of Actual Control between China and India. We hope that as responsible members of the international community, these states will be able to find mutually acceptable peaceful options for defusing tensions as soon as possible. We respect the desire of Beijing and New Delhi to act independently on this matter without the interference of other countries, using well-functioning multi-level mechanisms of bilateral dialogue for this purpose.