Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow, April 1, 2021
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming meetings with Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Jeyhun Bayramov and Foreign Minister of Armenia Ara Ayvazyan
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming Republic of India and Islamic Republic of Pakistan visits
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Kazakhstan
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Egypt
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s working visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran
- 25th anniversary of Russia and Belarus Unity Day
- Serious terrorist attack in Mozambique
- Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Bolshaya Igra (The Great Game) talk show
- US State Department’s annual human rights report
- Migration crisis in the United States
- US interference in other countries’ domestic affairs
- The climate agenda promoted by the US administration and Russia’s main priorities in charting the environmental policy
- Appointment of former UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard as Secretary General of Amnesty International
- Former MI6 head Alex Younger’s statements on Western values
- UK Department of Education appoints Free Speech and Academic Freedom Champion
- Canada imposes more sanctions on Russia
- Another historical fake by the Kiev authorities
- Montenegro and North Macedonia join the EU sanctions against Russia
- Decision by Lithuanian Court of Appeals on events of January 13, 1991
- Senegal Independence Day
- Coronavirus update
- Statements by High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell
- Dismantling the monument to Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev in the Czech Republic
- Involving the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and UNESCO in the investigation of cases of desecrating cultural and historical sites in Armenia
- Estonian security services detain human rights activist Sergey Seredenko
- Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda’s statement on Ukraine’s territorial integrity
- Statement by new Polish Ambassador to Russia Krzysztof Krajewski
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meetings with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia
- Update on Russia-Azerbaijan relations
- RT TV channel blocked in Latvia and on YouTube
- Attempts to interfere in electoral processes in Russia
- Brewing humanitarian disaster at the US southern border
- Western officials discredit Russian vaccine Sputnik V
- Statements by US representatives that it is not possible to withdraw troops from Afghanistan
- Proposal by President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani to hold early election in the country
- Russia’s expectations for the Istanbul format talks on Afghanistan
As we have already announced at our previous briefing, on April 2, Moscow will be the venue of a regular meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Commonwealth of Independent States. I would like to just give a reminder that this year Belarus is presiding in the CIS.
The agenda includes matters encompassing the main aspects of intra-CIS cooperation. Those at the meeting will exchange views on topical regional and international subjects and will also discuss prospects for deepening all sorts of collaboration in the organisation’s format, including law enforcement and humanitarian cooperation.
The main event will take place tomorrow. Meetings on the sidelines of the CIS Foreign Ministers Council have begun today. Also on April 1, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold separate meetings with the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Jeyhun Bayramov and Foreign Minister of Armenia Ara Ayvazyan.
During the talks, there are plans to discuss matters of bilateral cooperation, the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, the implementation of the November 9, 2020 and January 11, 2021 agreements between the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia and a number of regional and international issues.
I would like to once again draw the attention of journalists to the fact that these will be separate meetings, due to be held independently of one another, because there were numerous questions asked about this before the briefing.
Press releases will be published following the talks.
On April 5-6, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to New Delhi and will hold talks with his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
The foreign ministers will discuss the current status of bilateral relations, the preparations for the upcoming 2021 summit, including cooperation in battling the COVID-19 pandemic. They will also review key subjects regarding regional and global affairs and will assess approaches towards Russian-Indian cooperation on the international arena, including at such multilateral venues as the UN, BRICS, where New Delhi presides this year, and the SCO.
On April 6-7, 2021, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a visit to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and will hold talks with Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
There are plans to conduct a detailed discussion on the current status of bilateral relations and their development prospects, including opportunities for further strengthening trade, economic and counter-terrorism cooperation. They will conduct an in-depth exchange of views on topical matters concerning the regional and international agenda and will focus on the Afghan problem and cooperation at multilateral venues, including the UN and the SCO.
On April 7-8, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to the Republic of Kazakhstan. On April 8, 2021, he is to hold talks with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan Mukhtar Tleuberdi.
The foreign ministers will discuss a wide range of bilateral cooperation matters and cooperation at integration associations, primarily the EAEU, the CSTO and the CIS. They will be focusing on joint efforts to cope with the consequences of the coronavirus infection, as well as both foreign ministries’ efforts to help accomplish tasks, set by the presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan, to reinstate and expand the entire volume of bilateral interstate ties during the post-COVID period.
The parties will exchange opinions regarding prospects for Eurasian integration and cooperation in the Caspian region. The Ministers will compare their assessments of what is happening in Central Asia in the context of security risks stemming from instability in neighbouring Afghanistan and the activities of radical extremist organisations at the approaches to the region.
On April 12, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit the Arab Republic of Egypt. He will meet with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and will hold talks with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to discuss the development prospects of bilateral cooperation in the political, trade, economic, cultural, humanitarian and other areas, as well as the developments in the Middle East and North Africa.
Russia lays special emphasis on maintaining active cooperation with Egypt, one of the country’s leading partners in the Middle East and North Africa. Bilateral relations have always been based on friendship, respect and consideration for each other’s interests.
In Cairo, Sergey Lavrov will also meet with Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit.
On April 13, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will make a working visit to Tehran at the invitation of Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
The two ministers will discuss the entire range of issues on the bilateral agenda, first of all, its trade and economic part related to the implementation of key joint projects in energy and transport, as well as prospects for boosting cultural and humanitarian ties between Russia and Iran, and further cooperation in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
They will also continue the exchange of opinions on a series of current international issues, including the situation around the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as well as the developments in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and the Persian Gulf region.
The Day of Unity between the Peoples of Russia and Belarus is marked on April 2.
On this day 25 years ago, the Treaty on Establishing the Community of Russia and Belarus was signed, followed by the Treaty on the Creation of the Union State of Russia and Belarus in 1999. These documents outlined the goals of Russia-Belarus cooperation based on the 100 years of common history and friendship between the friendly peoples of our countries.
Twenty-five years ago, Moscow and Minsk decided to create a politically and economically integrated community in order to unite the material and intellectual potential to boost the economy, create equal terms for improving living standards and spiritual development (according to Article 1 of the 1996 Treaty).
The progress in building the Union State is obvious. Many things have become part of everyday life and are self-evident. These are equal rights of the citizens of Russia and Belarus to healthcare, social protection, pensions, education, freedom of movement, residence and freedom of employment.
Our countries efficiently implement important joint initiatives in trade, the economy, defence, culture, research, technology and other areas. In the global arena, we realise initiatives that are important both for the sustainable development of Russia and Belarus, and for the entire global community. Together we face up to the common challenges and threats.
We are ready to work with our Belarusian friends on the entire range of issues on the bilateral agenda in the interests of sustainable development of our two countries.
On March 25, a group of over 100 terrorists affiliated with ISIS attacked Palma in the northern Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique.
Dozens of people were killed, including some foreigners working at a nearby gas project. Many people are missing. According to the Russian Embassy in Maputo, there are no Russians among the victims.
As of March 30, 2021, the Mozambican armed forces and national police regained control of the city. Terrorist raids have been reported in several other regions of Cabo Delgado. Overall, the situation in Mozambique is stable.
We condemn this heinous crime, which claimed the lives of civilians and offer our deep condolences to the victims’ loved ones. We wish a rapid recovery to those who were injured.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave an interview to the Bolshaya Igra (The Great Game) talk show today. The text and video of this is available on the Ministry website. A considerable part of the interview was devoted to modern global realities, including interaction between the biggest international players. It was an interesting and gripping conversation on the current state of international relations.
The US State Department has recently published the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. In our opinion, these reports, which are devoted to the situation in other countries, should instead focus on the developments in the United States itself. A cursory inspection of this large but essentially hollow document, including the chapter on Russia, leaves one with a strong feeling of déjà vu.
Just as all the other annual reports, this one is full of double standards when it comes to human rights practices in other countries, which are cynically divided into “the good” and “the bad” based on their compliance with the US strategic guidelines or the championing of their own views on the way of living and development. The list of “penalised” countries and stereotyped complaints against them is obvious even without reading the report. It is ironic that the US administration has pledged to “stand against human rights abuses wherever they occur, regardless of whether the perpetrators are adversaries or partners.” In my opinion, Washington should first of all deal with such practices at its own agencies, such as the Pentagon and other security agencies, whose activities throughout the world have led to worldwide rather than individual human rights abuses.
We have taken note of the Report on Human Rights Violations in the United States in 2020, released by the Information Office of the State Council of China. This is not a stereotyped paper; it provides facts proving that the US authorities have lost control of the situation in the country. The aggravating factors included the spread of the coronavirus infection, political disorder, interethnic conflicts and social division.
The US authorities do not study the human rights situation in their own country, but the topics of social division and human rights abuses are indeed mentioned in political rhetoric depending when this suits the speakers. But they never take up this problem in international intercourse.
The Chinese report pointed out that “people’s confidence in the American democratic system dropped to the lowest level in 20 years.”
Judging by Washington’s reaction, its superiority complex only grows stronger when the matter concerns human rights standards.
We noted on numerous occasions that the United States and its allies are interfering in the internal affairs of other states increasingly more actively, openly and blatantly. As Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed out in a recent interview, not just the United States but also the West as a whole have lost the ability of using traditional diplomacy and are instead relying almost entirely on sanctions. They are promoting an ideologically-laden agenda aimed at preserving their domination by restraining the development of other countries. This policy runs contrary to the objective trend in international affairs.
Using the protection of human rights as a pretext, the United States and its minions are imposing illegal sanctions, which have little in common with reality and which are damaging human rights in other countries. This is absurd, but it is a vital component of the current US foreign policy.
To help Washington formulate a more objective picture of human rights practices across the world, we suggest that the American side should read the analysis of the human rights situation in the United States in the Russian Foreign Ministry’s annual reports that are available on its website. A great deal of interesting factual material is to be found there.
We once again urge Washington to start tackling its own shortcomings, including in the field of human rights, instead of promoting double standards and mentorship.
Here is a specific example of what we mean when we say that the United States has more important problems than some global reviews of the human rights situation in the world.
The growing migration crisis in the United States on the border with Mexico is about to reach the scale of a humanitarian disaster. This situation requires immediate intervention by the United Nations, other international bodies, human rights NGOs and everybody who sympathises with the suffering of children being held in horrible conditions.
The reality is shocking: almost 18,000 minors are being held in overcrowded deportation detention centres that are not designed for lengthy stays. There is a shortage of funding and resources to provide them with normal accommodation that would be at least slightly similar to human conditions. These children were essentially put in cages with deplorable sanitation and spreading coronavirus. They have to sleep on the floor.
Their parents are literally storming the southern borders of the United States. The number of detainees has already exceeded 100,000. US media estimate that every day, up to 1,000 people cross the border illegally. Almost 50,000 illegal immigrants, including a significant number of criminals and drug mules, entered the country in February and March. Law enforcement agencies expect that the number of refugees at the border will reach 1 million within a year.
We believe that in its treatment of migrants in detention centres, especially minors, Washington is seriously violating its international human rights obligations – not only Article 6 (right to life) and Article 7 (freedom from torture) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights but also the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The conditions in which illegal immigrants are held can be, based on many characteristics, considered as torture and inhumane treatment. This situation certainly deserves attention of respective international supervisory bodies such as the Human Rights Committee and the Committee Against Torture.
We hope that the US media will not only pay close and objective attention to this issue but make it their priority. We know how American society is obsessed with human rights and their protection in other countries. It would be nice if the freedom of speech in the United States served a good cause and benefited the American people as well.
I understand that this issue is less of a concern for the Department of State. Certainly, it is not Alexey Navalny’s leg, which every briefing focuses on. But after all, the lives of 18,000 children are worth some attention.
Let me remind you that the United States remains the only country in the world that is not a member of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a universal instrument on children’s rights protection. Also, the United States has joined neither of the two major agreements on migration control adopted by the United Nations, neither the Global Compact on Refugees nor the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
With its games around the historically sensitive issue of migration in the United States, the new administration seems to have opened Pandora’s box. The humanitarian crisis breaking out in front of the entire world – in a country that is claiming the role of the biggest advocate of democratic values and human rights – is a telling example of how election campaign doublespeak in pursuit of partisan goals and empty promises to take in all those in need have turned into human suffering while authorities remain helpless. Making children hostage to domestic political feuds is shameful and unacceptable.
Now is the time to touch upon US interference in the internal affairs of other states. The United States itself and the current US administration prompted us to do this.
“Interference” is a politically correct term that does not fully reflect the substance of the matter. This is not just about Washington's interference in the internal affairs of other states during various historical periods. This is about blood on the hands of the US administrations.
We have already touched upon US interference in the domestic affairs of other countries. Clearly, most of the US intervention occurred during the Cold War. However, they have things to ponder during this historical period as well.
Back then, in an effort to strengthen their geopolitical positions, ideological opponents in the international arena regularly tried to put in“their” government in a particular country. After WWII ended, the situation with “bloc-based” division in Europe was more or less clear, and the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America became arenas for “action.”
The political motives of the US administrations were often tied in with economic interests. The goal of gaining control over transport corridors, natural resources and minerals, primarily oil and gas, was customarily disguised as “good goals,” such as human rights, the promotion of democracy, security concerns, etc.
Restraining mechanisms, such as the UN, have not always been an effective barrier to stop the attempts made by the White House to redraw the political map of the world.
I’m not going to let the briefing become a “lecture on the international situation,” but I would still like to note a number of facts related to US interference in the internal affairs of other states over the past decades, and the outcomes.
A military coup took place in Chile on September 11, 1973 with the direct support of the United States. As a result, democratically elected President Salvador Allende was toppled and dictator Augusto Pinochet came to power for 17 years. His rule involved executions by firing squads, brutal repressions and a deep split in Chilean society.
The vigorous activities of the US special services “helped” the military government in Guatemala to come to power in 1982. In 1983, there was a military intervention in Grenada. The Americans also financed anti-government militants in Nicaragua in 1984. The fact of open US interference in the internal affairs of this state was confirmed by the ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague on July 27, 1986, as part of the notorious Iran-Contra affair.
The year 1989 was marked by an armed US intervention in Panama. One of the reasons behind it was that the United States was unwilling to comply with the agreement, signed by it in 1977, on transferring control over the Panama Canal to the government of Panama after 20 years (in 1999). President Manuel Noriega was arrested. He has worked closely with the CIA since the 1950s and was one of the main channels for the delivery of illegal weapons, military equipment and funds for the US-backed forces throughout Latin America. Noriega was taken to the United States and convicted of racketeering, drug trafficking and money laundering. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison and served 17 years in a US prison.
According to different sources, anywhere from 515 to several thousand people perished during the US intervention in Panama. After the invasion began, the UN Security Council voted to condemn the US invasion of Panama, but the United States, Great Britain and France used their veto power to block the resolution. The Organisation of American States condemned the US invasion of Panama and demanded the withdrawal of US troops from that state.
Cuba remains a case of Washington's egregious behaviour in the international arena. For more than 60 years now, the Cuban people have been defending their right to their own path of development and repelled direct attacks from Washington against their sovereignty. As you may recall, it all began with an attempted direct invasion of Cuba by US mercenaries in 1961. It went down in history as the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The anti-Cuban blockade imposed by Washington back in 1960 and the subsequent numerous administrative measures to toughen the sanctions regime against Havana, including the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act and the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, to name just a few, were an act of an open economic aggression, despite numerous condemnations of this policy by the international community, including the UN General Assembly.The inclusion by the US Department of State of Cuba in the list of countries supporting terrorism represents an absolutely unscrupulous game of double standards.
Venezuela is a modern-day example of open and cynical US interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. For several years now, we have been witnessing the attempts to topple the legitimate government there by using crippling sanctions, inciting the national armed forces to a military coup and organising a cross-border armed invasion.
In 1992, in Angola, the United States provided funding for a campaign of a “preferred” and “suitable” presidential candidate Jonas Savimbi. However, he lost the race. Before and after the elections, the US provided him with military assistance to fight the legitimate government. As a result of the conflict, 650,000 people died. The official reason for supporting the rebels was to fight the communist government. In 2002, the United States reaped the sought-after benefits for its companies, and Jonas Savimbi was no longer needed. The United States demanded that he stop the hostilities, but he refused. As one US diplomat put it, the problem with the puppets is that they don't always twitch when you pull their strings. As a result, Savimbi was killed in a clash with the government troops.
In 1998, the United States claimed that the Al-Shifa factory in Sudan produced chemical weapons commissioned by terrorist Osama bin Laden. The site came under a cruise missile attack and was later found to be an ordinary pharmaceutical factory that produced 90 percent of malaria medication in Sudan. The missile strike killed tens of thousands of people eventually as there was nothing to treat them with.
The most interesting part is that a journalistic investigation conducted by the New York Times in 1999 discovered that the decision to launch a missile attack on the factory was taken without sufficient grounds. Moreover, the US State Department senior officials actually forced the Assistant Secretary of State to destroy a report compiled by State Department intelligence analysts that showed inconsistency of the arguments in favour of bombing a pharmaceutical factory.
We covered extensively the role of the United States and its satellites in the Balkans in the 1990s-2000s, including at the previous briefing. Without going into details (you are aware of them, they are terrifying), I will say that the goal of the United States was to make the political regimes in the Balkan countries as loyal to Washington as possible. A toolkit was tested and used, which later served as a template for imposing the political will of Washington and its allies in other parts of Europe, including the former Soviet republics. In Yugoslavia, public disgruntlement was fueled and channeled by difficult socioeconomic circumstances in which the country was at that time, and largely due to the notorious “external wall of sanctions” which the West hasn’t lifted despite the existing arrangements following the conclusion of the Dayton Peace Agreement on Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995. The unification of scattered opposition forces and movements was encouraged from outside. As a result, after the uncertain results of a tacky election campaign under direct offhanded pressure coming from the United States and its European supporters, as well as street protests, Slobodan Milosevic was forced to resign.
Iraq. 2003. The official reason for the US invasion of this country (without the UN Security Council’s sanction) was the connection of Saddam Hussein's regime with international terrorism, as well as the CIA information about the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Subsequently, it all turned out to be a lie and a deliberately planned campaign. Colin Powell with a vial that he was holding sitting at a UN Security Council meeting became the symbol of it.
Saddam Hussein was captured by US troops and executed by the verdict of the Iraqi Supreme Court in December 2006. A Shiite-dominated government came to power.
US troops stayed in Iraq for almost nine years. According to Western media, the documented number of civilian casualties from 2003 to 2011 (when the US troops were withdrawn from that country) amounted to 100,000-300,000 people. A number of NGOs give a figure that is several times higher.
Libya. 2011. UN Security Council Resolution No 1973 of March 17, 2011 authorised a military intervention in Libya under the pretext of protecting the local population from dying as a result of suppression of the armed opposition by the Libyan authorities. This enabled NATO, primarily the alliance leaders, to conduct air strikes against the regime that had existed for over 40 years. As a result of the civil war, the leader of the Libyan Jamahiriya Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed in October 2011.
According to the British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, 20,000 people died or were killed on both sides, including civilians. The number of refugees in the conflict area amounted to 180,000.
According to the 2012 UN report, the Sahel region countries - Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Tunisia - were negatively affected by an influx of refugees in the wake of the Libya crisis.
Whenever the Americans deem it possible to suspect, accuse or call someone a name, they should think about their own history. They don’t need to read books, it requires effort. All they need to do is look at their hands.
Official Washington’s return to the Paris Agreement became one of the first foreign policy decisions made by President Joe Biden in January 2021. This step shows the new US administration’s commitment to make a speedy conversion to environmentally friendly patterns and in fact to try and lead the global nature conservation movement.
I would like to remind you that the United States officially withdrew from the Paris Agreement on November 4, 2020, that is, several months before the sensational US return to this multilateral agreement. In our opinion, the Paris Agreement is a reliable international legal foundation for a long-term climate policy. At the same time, we would like to express the hope that Washington’s future policy in this sphere will be more or less predictable and will not be subject to time-serving interests of the American political establishment.
The Russian Federation attaches great importance to environmental protection and is an important party to international processes in this sphere. Moreover, Russia makes a substantial contribution to establishing global nature conservation mechanisms. At the same time, we advocate a depoliticised and responsible, rather than high-sounding, approach to the subject of global climate change. We believe that every state has the right to choose its own green transformation model, depending on national socio-economic development conditions. We regard any attempts to impose artificial environmental standards as counterproductive.
We believe that the subject of nature conservation is one of those areas where Russian and US approaches towards a number of issues on the relevant international agenda may coincide or be similar. Russia has repeatedly stated that cooperation is the only way to tackle the complicated nature conservation challenges we face today. We voice our readiness for equitable dialogue at expert and political levels.
We have noticed reports in the foreign media on the appointment of Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), as Secretary General of Amnesty International, a prominent human rights NGO. We wish Dr Callamard success in her new role and hope that in her duties, she will be guided not by the interests of a specific group of countries but by objective facts and true aspirations of people.
The Russian Federation has always believed that the appointment of new experts to roles in special procedures in HRC are non-politicised and are made in due course, with no specific response from countries required. However, recently, there has been a clear tendency for international human rights NGOs and monitoring mechanisms of intergovernmental human rights bodies to function as communicating vessels: human rights experts simply “flow” from one position to another.
Amnesty International and some of the largest international NGOs are major “suppliers” of workforce for subdivisions of the UN Secretariat and vacancies in UN supervisory bodies, including HRC special procedures.
One of Amnesty International’s former chiefs, Irene Khan, is now HRC Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression. Reverse movements also happen, and the appointment of Agnes Callamard is just one example.
One question seems justified in this respect: what objectivity can we talk about when evaluating the human rights situation in certain countries if “professional critics” of government bodies on behalf of civil society become HRC special rapporteurs? Incidents of influencing such organisations also take place.
We consider this state of affairs as rather problematic, requiring close attention and discussion between governments.
Former Chief of the UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) Alex Younger said: “Our intention is for the Russian state to conclude that, whatever the benefits it thinks it is accruing from this activity, they are not worth the risk. We will do this in our way, according to our laws, and our values. We will be successful nonetheless, and I urge Russia or any other state intent on subverting our way of life not to underestimate our determination and our capabilities, or those of our allies…”
Many people in Britain and the West in general have spoken about the values allegedly underlying their world. But we did not expect a MI6 official to join the chorus. On the other hand, we understand now where these values are created in Britain.
First of all, we would like to know exactly what they mean. What are these values, which London is protecting and defending so courageously? Do they include torture and other grave human rights abuses committed during so-called counterterrorism operations in other countries, including those in which London was directly involved? I am referring to the UK militaries killing civilians in Afghanistan? Are you protecting these values? Your lies regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq we have already talked about today and the “misleading intelligence” for which Tony Blair later had to apologise? I would like to remind you that Mr Blair only apologised for the death of hundreds of thousands of peaceful civilians. Britain, which was one of the leading forces in the illegal and criminal Iraq war, has not offered any material compensation and has not assumed political or any other responsibility for the results of its activities. Is this the value you are protecting? Are the Iraq War documents, with proof of horrible crimes committed by UK military personnel against civilians made public by WikiLeaks, a value you are protecting? This is a bad idea.
Does the UK law intend to do anything about the dozens of out-and-out crooks, some of whom are Russian citizens, who are living tranquilly in the United Kingdom? Are you protecting this value? Many promises have been made, including recently, but in fact the British financial hub has become a global laundry for criminal money from not only Russia but also other countries as well. Are you protecting this value?
I would also like to say a few words about British values in the historical context. Many volumes have been written about London’s crimes committed during the colonial period. We gave considerable attention to this subject during one of our previous briefings. We spoke a lot about that, especially during the April 19, 2018 briefing.
Maybe the British intelligence officer was referring to the value of free speech? Indeed, this is a value that deserves to be protected. Let’s take a look at the situation in this sphere. No, facts show that this is not a valued subject in his home country, and that it is only being cynically exploited. In fact, it has been trampled underfoot. Infringements on the freedom of speech and media plurality are normal practice in the UK. Archival documents show that it has always been like this. During my briefing on February 26, 2021, I spoke about open discrimination against the Russian media outlets during various events, for example, the 2019 Global Conference for Media Freedom which Russian media outlets were not allowed to attend. We recently drew your attention to the publication of the so-called British Files, according to which the British government is financing through intermediaries some news outlets and bloggers in the Russian-language internet. As we could see from the documents, which nobody has contested, the objective is to create conditions for a regime change and to undermine Russia’s domestic and foreign policy. Major British media outlets and several PR companies are involved in this project.
What about the UK’s main strategic partner, whose opinion London holds by, to put it mildly, and with whom it maintains a strategic union? What values underlie this tandem? Let’s take a look at the very recent events, because it would take us several years if we go deeper into history.
I am referring to the election campaign in the country that loves so much to teach others when it comes to human rights and election standards. What should one do about the fact that approximately half of the Americans question the legality of the latest presidential election, according to American agencies? These people, who do not accept the election outcome, who have taken a stand based on what they see, hear and read, and who concluded that the Democrats “stole the election,” these people are being persecuted, expelled from the social media, their accounts are being blocked and they are condemned as “internal terrorists.” Criminal proceedings are initiated against them. Is this value worth protecting?
Judging by what we can see and read, British society has taken a sceptical view of this.
The more they claim that we are planning an attack or are pursuing an aggressive policy regarding Western values, the more questions we will be asking about these values, because we cannot understand what they are.
We have noted a recent decision made by the UK Department of Education to appoint a Free Speech and Academic Freedom Champion at British universities. I thought it was just another special rapporteur or representative on foreign problems. But this is not what it is. The UK is not just facing a problem; it is experiencing a collapse of freedom of speech.
As part of new competence, the relevant UK Government representative will monitor cases of violation of freedom of speech in universities and student unions and fine any entities that restrict students or academics in putting forward their opinions and choosing research areas. The Freedom Champion will also be in charge of reviewing cases of dismissal of academic staff or other sanctions against them, if these sanctions have become a manifestation of infringement on freedom.
This decision is presented as a response to the growing demand from the teaching corps and the expert community, demanding to curb the “left” intellectual culture flourishing in British universities, especially in aggressive forms such as woke culture and cancel culture.
The depressing situation concerning freedom of speech at UK academic institutions has been confirmed by recent sociological research. According to Civitas, the British Institute for the Study of Civil Society, 35 percent of universities in the UK are in the “red” group in terms of freedom of speech, 51 percent, in the “yellow” group and only 14 percent have no censorship.
So overall, it can be said that the fostering of strange values (someone would call them neoliberal, other tend to not qualify them at all) in Britain is beginning to entail consequences that baffle even representatives of their own establishment. The only news that is to some extent reassuring is that London has finally realised the scale of the problem and decided to address its own ambitious task for a change. Let’s see what the result will be.
On the other hand, what does Downing Street expect from British universities when everyone sees how the UK Government treats freedom of speech? Consider the situation with Julian Assange who was persecuted for political reasons. No one was satisfied with his journalistic activities. Everyone clearly sees how freedom of speech is being manipulated, and that the British political establishment directly controls a number of tabloids. What do you expect from academics and students if the Government sets the tone?
Canada imposed another round of sanctions on Russia over Crimea’s reunification with Russia. All this goes to show official Ottawa’s morbid stubbornness as it continues to deny objective reality. There may be only one way to help deal with it. You need to bid farewell to the illusion that the residents of Crimea, who voted to return to their home harbor, can be forced to go back on their historic choice.
The Canadian authorities’ attempts to tell sovereign countries how to live and what values to uphold undermine Canada’s reputation and plunge it into confrontation with an increasing number of significant international players. Russia will not leave Ottawa’s attack unanswered. We are now working on the response.
In this context, we consider the PRC’s decision to impose sanctions on Canadian officials and bodies for interfering in China’s internal affairs fully justified.
It’s ludicrous to see sanctions imposed by a number of Western countries. In particular, by Australia, when it learned about the existence of the Kerch Bridge in 2021. That’s nothing short of comical. I understand that Australia lies far away, but there are media, social networks, communication devices and instant messengers. Taking several years to learn about a major construction project is a bit too much. It’s ridiculous.
On the other hand, why should we be surprised? If they listened to the statements made by Kiev, which said that there would be no bridge, then they probably had a hard time believing that it was actually there. Now, they learned the news.
Yet another fabrication by the Ukrainian peddlers of propaganda came to our attention courtesy of the Foreign Ministry’s office in Simferopol. On March 25, a two-minute video about Crimea’s history was posted on an official Ukrainian Twitter account. The footage included images that have absolutely nothing to do with the peninsula.
The Kiev regime’s propaganda machine has fallen into the same old trap.
On earlier occasions, in their materials about the tragedy of the Crimean Tatar people, they used a photograph showing Nazis shipping Jews from the Lodz ghetto in occupied Poland to a death camp. This is what the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington gloriously did in 2019; in 2020, the Permanent Representative of the United States to the OSCE picked up this affliction from them.
This time, our Kiev colleagues did not disappoint us, either. They took a picture from the Washington, D.C.-based Holocaust Memorial Museum’s archives, adding a caption about the “deportation by the Stalinist regime.”
The fake was exposed and covered by the media, including in Crimea. The perpetrators of the fake video promptly removed it from Twitter.
If this kind of fakes make it into public space, think about what they are saying during the talks, what kind of “reports” are sent to international organisations, and what kind of backstage fables the Kiev regime is coming up with when it describes today’s Crimea.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell announced on March 30 the accession of a number of non-EU states to another round of anti-Russian EU sanctions that Brussels has come up with in the wake of the “Navalny case.”
It is noteworthy that North Macedonia and Montenegro are among the countries whose unfriendly attitude has not surprised us for a long time now.
Both Skopje and, more recently, Podgorica, have been assuring us of their desire to expand and strengthen good relations with Russia. In the case of Montenegro, to restore relations after a long period of degradation. They are talking about their willingness to create a proper environment for that. Along the way, they are trying to somehow clarify the reasons why they “had to” follow the Russophobic western course in stride earlier. They are citing the alleged requirement for the EU membership seekers to follow the EU foreign policy decisions and guidelines. In other words, to mechanically support the actions that had been decided without them.
We are closely watching the attempts of our partners in North Macedonia and Montenegro to determine their policy in relation to Russia. Unfortunately, the “sanctions solidarity” shown by Skopje and Podgorica once again exposed our Balkan colleagues’ inconsistency and dependence.
We remain open to a candid and equal dialogue based on mutual respect and mutual consideration of interests. The consumerist approach and awkward actions designed to fulfill opportunistic goals in favour of alliance with third countries just undermine trust and do nothing to promote bilateral relations with Russia.
We are outraged by the final verdict issued by the Lithuanian Court of Appeals on the trumped up case of events of January 13, 1991. In this case former Soviet servicemen, party and government officials were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment on charges of crimes that they never committed. Among the defendants are Russian citizens, Yury Mel and Gennady Ivanov, who were tried in person and whose punishments were upgraded.
The guilt of all the defendants has not been proven, and neither the presumption of innocence, the prohibition of retroactive application of the law nor the right to a fair trial has been observed. In this respect, I want to ask specialised human rights and international organisations, including those mentioned today, how they regard the reluctance of the Lithuanian authorities to find the real murderers of the victims of the January 13, 1991 tragedy in Vilnius?
This shameful trial took place in a country fighting for the protection of human rights in neighbouring countries. As for its own territory, which is regarded as a “space of democracy,” the authorities, judging by the Lithuanian leadership, feel free to commit any unlawful acts and manipulate justice crudely and cynically for political purposes.
We voice our resolute protest against the violation of the rights of Russian citizen Yury Mel, who has been locked up for over seven years now and who is to spend three more years in a Lithuanian prison. We will assist his defence attorneys in filing appeals to the Supreme Court and in other appeals to international courts. We would like to draw the attention of human rights activists to the use of justice for punitive purposes in Lithuania and to the creation of unbearable conditions of imprisonment for a person known to be innocent and who also suffers from a serious chronic illness.
Will there be any tweets by EU countries’ heads of state on this matter? Maybe there will be a dedicated news conference by special rapporteurs? Will there be worldwide protests against such actions organised by NGOs that are so concerned about human rights? We will see.
We call on the repressive Lithuanian regime to immediately free the wrongly convicted Russian citizen Yury Mel.
These criminal actions by Vilnius will have consequences.
On April 4, the Republic of Senegal will mark 61 years of independence.
Senegal overcame a difficult stage of colonial dependence and slavery in its history. In 1444, members of a Portuguese expedition became the first Europeans to reach the mouth of the Senegal River. Later on, the country came under the control of the Dutch, the British, and then the French. In the middle of the 17th century and in the first half of the 18th century, Senegal became a base for colonising West Africa, and the Island of Gorée became a regional centre for the slave trade.
The Senegalese independence movement originated in 1914-1918. In 1948, national political associations began to form, giving rise to the Senegalese Popular Bloc in 1956, led by Leopold Senghor, who would become the first president of Senegal. On April 4, 1960, Senegal declared independence.
Today Senegal is a dynamically developing country that strives to play an important role in African and international affairs. In 2022, Dakar will assume the chairmanship of the African Union, a continental association.
Russia and Senegal have stable, friendly relations that are progressing steadily. Last year, Senegal became Russia’s largest trade and economic partner in West Africa. We fully share Dakar’s intention to expand the entire range of bilateral cooperation.
We are confident that fruitful bilateral ties will continue to grow stronger in the interests of both nations. We would like to congratulate the people of Senegal on their national holiday and wish them new achievements, peace and prosperity.
We would like to state the disappointing incidence rate of COVID-19 on the global scale. I am talking about global trends now. As of March 31, the total number of those infected reached almost 129 million, and the total number of pandemic victims exceeded 2.8 million.
Amid this alarming development, we would like to once again draw attention to and update our recommendations for Russians planning to travel abroad. The emergency response centre to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in Russia announced that regular flights on a reciprocal basis to Venezuela, Germany, Syria, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Sri Lanka resumed on April 1. On the same date, the number of regular flights to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Cuba and the UAE will increase. From the beginning of the month, international flights will be allowed from the airports of Barnaul, Belgorod, Volgograd, Voronezh, Kaluga, Krasnodar, Lipetsk, Nalchik, Orenburg, Saratov, Sochi, Tyumen and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, while respecting the sanitary and epidemiological requirements.
As any foreign trip today poses health risks, we once again urge people to be extremely cautious and prudent when planning their trip.
If a foreign trip is urgent and necessary, we advise you to review in advance all the information available, in particular on the websites of the Foreign Ministry, embassies, the emergency response centre, and other ministries and departments, as well as to comply with all the requirements and instructions put in place by the authorities of the destination and sometimes transit country, including those related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Question: EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said Russia and China seem to join forces to face the Western world to increase their independence from the West, and that the Chinese-Russian rapprochement is above all based on a rejection of democratic values and an opposition to what they see as interference in their internal affairs. Also in his blog post, Borrell mentions “the often adversarial nature of the relationships and the strategic intent that China and Russia have”, calling for some European “strategic autonomy.” How does the Russian Foreign Ministry assess this statement and, in particular, the “adversarial intent” part?
Maria Zakharova: We interpret these statements and the EU’s political course as a whole as an attempt to distort things beyond recognition. With its latest statements and illegitimate sanctions against Russia and China, the European Union continues its unfriendly policy of alienating itself from its neighbours on the Eurasian continent. The EU is back to the language of the Cold War in the diplomatic discourse, promoting an obsolete bloc-related thinking and deepening the dividing lines. The EU’s attempts to talk to others from a position of strength are very dangerous because they can destabilise international relations. By keeping this up Brussels risks being left on the sidelines of world economic development, as its centre is shifting to Asia.
Unlike the EU and the US, Russia and China are not being friends against anyone. Our relations are a valuable asset as they are, not susceptible to fluctuations in the external environment. We support a truly democratic and fair, multipolar world order based on the fundamental principles of the UN Charter. Proof of this is not only our statements in response to the “nonsense” that we hear from Brussels, but also the doctrinal documents approved many years ago. This is our principled position – worked out, approved, declared and implemented for many years. We believe that interaction between global players should rely on the principles of equality and consideration for each other’s interests. This is what our real “strategic intent” is, not the alleged ones.
We have repeatedly proposed this paradigm of relations to the European Union, stressing our readiness for constructive interaction if Brussels shows reciprocal interest.
Instead, we can see the EU sliding towards a different ideology, inventing new confrontational formulas for relations with other countries. With regard to China, there is the “partner, competitor, rival” parlance. With regard to Russia, they say they should “push back, constrain and engage selectively.” The “phased, proportionate, but also reversible approach” to a more active engagement with Turkey is meant the same way. In our opinion, such novelties do little but mask the carrot and stick policy and are not helping to build a dialogue based on mutual respect, as the one, for example, between Russia and China, or Russia and Turkey.
We call on our colleagues from the European Union to reconsider their approaches. Attempts to close ranks against Russia and China, to integrate into respective Washington’s policy are unlikely to help achieve their declared goal of strategic autonomy the EU so craves. Moreover, this policy hardly meets the interests of ordinary citizens in the EU countries, who are not at all interested in paying for the next round of confrontation in the Euro-Atlantic.
Question: There was an international scandal between Russia and the Czech Republic. One cannot fail to notice the general European trend, where Russian diplomats are in the focus of attention. The scandal has to do with the dismantling of the monument to Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev, who liberated the Czech capital from the Nazis. Due to the scandal, the Czech Republic started to blame Russia for the deterioration of relations between the countries. Czech journalist A. Cerny wrote that “there are too many Russian diplomats in the country and they do nothing to restore relations that are at the ‘freezing point’.” How does the Russian Foreign Ministry view such accusations? Where do things stand with the monument?
Maria Zakharova: You quoted a journalist who asked a rhetorical question: “Are there are too many Russian diplomats in Prague”? I can answer the same way: Are there too many Czech diplomats in Moscow? For his information – such matters are the subject of agreement between the parties, the subject of parity. It is necessary to be objective and honest with your audience and say what those trends can lead to if they become reality.
As for the monument to Marshal Ivan Konev, this is not a scandal. This is a real tragedy for the Czech Republic, the very “Western civilisation” that boasts of its “values.” I can enumerate a number of countries, continents, organisations and persons that are victims of this tragedy. When people forget about their history, rewrite it, it is a tragedy. And an even greater tragedy is that people forget the story of their survival.
The decision of the Prague municipal authorities to dismantle the monument to Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev caused serious damage to Russian-Czech relations. I would like to remind you that by taking this step the Czech side violated the provisions of the 1993 bilateral Treaty on Friendly Relations and Cooperation, which stipulate obligations to preserve military monuments and provide access to them. We have repeatedly drawn Prague’s attention to this.
To find ways to resolve this problem, the Russian side initiated bilateral consultations last summer. Unfortunately, they have not yet taken place, primarily for sanitary and epidemiological reasons. At the same time, we hope that we will be able to come to a mutually acceptable decision on the future of the Konev monument.
Question: Can Russia once again call the attention of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, as well as UNESCO, to investigating the desecration of cultural and historical sites in Armenia and bring the Azerbaijani military, involved in the crimes, to justice?
Maria Zakharova: We stand for respect for cultural and religious sites in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding areas. We reaffirm the importance of organising a UNESCO mission to the region as soon as possible. We also keep in touch with the parties on each specific case.
Question: How would you comment on media reports about the arrest of well-known human rights activist Sergey Seredenko by the Estonian security service on March 3, 2021?
Maria Zakharova: I can make the same statement as the one assessing the mockery of justice with regard to Yury Mel. The three Baltic states have been using punitive justice time and again. This case is a tell-tale episode of the struggle against dissent and the security services’ search for an alleged “Russian connection,” as well as political pressure on members of the large Russian-speaking community.
A person openly defending the interests of ethnic minorities in Estonia, including at international forums and conferences, is being persecuted for his active civic engagement. I would like to ask all EU heads of state and international organisations specialising in human rights matters and defending the freedom of speech: Where are you? Where is your response? Have you written at least one word on social media, and have you posted a photo of this person? We see nothing of the kind.
We are urging the international human rights community to closely monitor compliance with generally accepted norms of international humanitarian law, with regard to human rights activist Sergey Seredenko, who has been arrested in Estonia, considering his age and health.
Question: President of Lithuania Gitanas Nauseda has said that Russian authorities disregard the territorial integrity of Ukraine. What do you think about this position?
Maria Zakharova: For many years, we, upon becoming sovereign states, cherished and protected the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Regarding the situation with Crimea, I would like to remind our Baltic colleagues that the people of Crimea had repeatedly voiced the need to hold a referendum on their own destiny. They acted openly, tried to appeal to Kiev and to use legal and judicial mechanisms to uphold their rights and freedoms.
At that time, not a single spokesperson, official, diplomat or representative of Russian agencies and state organisations doubted the territorial integrity of Ukraine, although they understood the difficulties facing Crimean residents in the 1990s and earlier. There have never been any such instances, nor are there any today.
The year 2014 was preceded by yet another, and not the only, instance of Western states’ interference in Ukrainian affairs. Once again, a government was changed and an unconstitutional coup was staged using protests on Kiev’s Independence Square that launched the relevant processes. Our country certainly has nothing to do with this; on the contrary, the neighbouring Baltic states were involved in these developments.
I would like to recall the role of Baltic diplomats and state officials from Poland, Germany and the United States who directly fashioned and implemented the 2014 processes in Ukraine. Dozens and hundreds of the so-called foreign “specialists” in all fields, including security services and mercenaries, stayed in Ukraine and were involved in implementing Ukraine’s political agenda by posing as the “Ukrainian public” or “consultants.” This was interference in a sovereign state’s affairs.
All the 2014 processes in Ukraine triggered a number of developments. They are a consequence of direct interference by Western countries, namely, the United States and the EU, in Ukrainian affairs. One should not look for culprits in those countries which, certainly, were not responsible for the situation, which always advocated the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine and respected them in fact rather than in word; expanded economic, political and humanitarian relations and used solely legal methods and diplomatic practice for cooperating with sovereign Ukraine. It is impossible to say this about our neighbours, namely, Lithuania itself.
Question: Polish Ambassador to Russia Krzysztof Krajewski has said that Warsaw is open for an equal dialogue with Moscow. Do you see this as a signal for improving bilateral relations?
Maria Zakharova: In his first interview published by the Russian media, the new Polish Ambassador, Krzysztof Krajewski, said Warsaw was open to dialogue and was for normalising relations with Russia. We welcome this attitude from the Polish side. We hope that these words will be backed by actions. If Poland really wants this, and if it acts to promote our relations in this spirit, we will be pleased. However, to see where we stand and where we should begin, we need to analyse the current situation.
The new Polish ambassador explained the problems in our bilateral relations by the poor state of Russia’s relations with the West, which have deteriorated during the past few years. In fact, Russia has different relations with different Western countries. The problems in Moscow-Warsaw relations did not appear yesterday.
For example, an improvement in our relations is hindered by the nationwide campaign underway in Poland to blot out a “false feeling of gratitude” to Soviet liberator soldiers. When speaking in the spirit of Warsaw’s “state historical policy,” Polish officials not only deny the role of the Red Army in the liberation of Europe from the Nazism, but also cynically claim that the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were equally responsible for the start of WWII.
Krzysztof Krajewski also said that Poland respects the memory of the fallen Red Army soldiers. Unfortunately, we often hear about the flagrant acts of vandalism against Soviet graves in Poland, and we have taken note of the shameless campaign to demolish Red Army monuments that has been underway in Poland for the past few years. As many as 446 such monuments have been destroyed in Poland, and although Mr Ambassador said the Russian media reports about the demolition of Soviet graves in Poland were untrue, this has indeed happened. The mausoleums on the common grave of Red Army soldiers were demolished in Trzcianka in 2017 and in Pogorzelica in 2018. In this situation, the relaunch of dialogue within the framework of the Russian-Polish group on the complex issues of common history appears not just difficult but also senseless.
Mr Ambassador also presented a shiny picture of Russian-Polish trade and economic ties. However, Russian statistics have shown a negative trend in bilateral trade during the past few years: bilateral trade decreased by 35 percent in the past two years, and it continues falling. This is the result of Warsaw’s policy of limiting hydrocarbon imports from Russia, anti-Russia sanctions and unfavourable conditions for Russian companies that try to legally enter the Polish market.
One of the very serious factors hindering the normalisation of ties with Poland is its attempts to militarise Eastern Europe with the help of American military capabilities. We regard this as an irresponsible attitude to the current system of military-political stability in Europe. The risks entailed in disturbing the current balance are much greater than the illusory “threat” allegedly posed by Russia, which Ambassador Krajewski inferred.
If it really wants to normalise bilateral relations, Warsaw should not just listen to but respond with practical actions to our calls for dialogue based on international law and mutual respect for each other’s interests. Objectively, there are no insurmountable obstacles to normalising Russian-Polish relations. All the current problems can be settled if there is political will on both sides. However, we do not see that the Polish side has the will for this. If Mr Krajewski really does want to give it a try, we will offer our hand to him.
Question: Which subjects will be the focus of attention at the meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia on the sidelines of the Council of the CIS Foreign Ministers on April 2? Can the Russian Foreign Ministry see a radical difference in the “issues of concern” for Azerbaijan and Armenia on the Karabakh track?
Maria Zakharova: These meeting are going on at the moment, and it is not long to wait. Let’s wait until the statements on their results are published.
Question: April 4 will mark the 29th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and Azerbaijan. Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said of late that Russia and Azerbaijan maintain “relations of trust based on mutual respect.”
2020 was an important year for Russian-Azerbaijani relations in view of reaching a tripartite statement on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. In addition, it was remarkable in terms of vital cooperation in combatting the coronavirus pandemic. How effective does the Foreign Ministry think cooperation with Azerbaijan is in various areas and which of them are given priority? What common challenges requiring a response do you see?
Maria Zakharova: Interviews by Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko to mark the 29th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Azerbaijan and Armenia will be published soon. The interviews contain detailed assessments of bilateral relations as well as the Nagorno-Karabakh agenda.
Question: In the past few days, RT channel has had to deal with unprecedented restrictions on audience access. Latvian officials are blocking RT’s news website in Russian while YouTube has blocked its Arabic channel, which has almost 3 billion views, on far-fetched accusations. Can Russia counter these acts with anything besides formal protests? Are there any instruments that can help to realise our right to this profession and the world population’s right to information diversity?
Maria Zakharova: When we are told that we are encroaching on or trying to spread a destructive influence on certain values in the Western world, it is a matter of values.
On March 31, 2021, Latvia’s National Electronic Media Council blocked access to RT’s Russian-language website as well as ntv.ru, rus24.ru and teledays.net where users can watch Russian television online. All these websites were blacklisted, according to the council’s portal.
Even though the politically-motivated and unlawful treatment of Russian media by officials in the Baltic states is not news to us, this is the first time that not only the channel itself but also its website have been banned in Latvia. To substantiate this measure, the council referred to the Latvian law on electronic media and alleged that this was a case of unlawful distribution of programmes the content of which may violate copyright, have an adverse impact or be directed against Latvia and its citizens. They made up hybrid fake reasoning.
Clearly, this has nothing to do with the actual state of affairs and it is just an excuse to continue the consistent course of eradicating any dissenting views and Russian views, in particular. I am certain Russian media outlets will not be the only targets. It won’t be long before other countries and other media outlets are subjected to similar treatment.
This is a case of cynical violations of the fundamental principles of freedom of speech and pluralism of opinion in the media, along with neglect for the rights of the Russian-speaking population in Latvia, which runs counter to Riga’s political obligations.
The roller of the state machine continues to censor and block unwelcome media outlets that disseminate alternative views. It primarily targets Russian and Russian-language websites and media while also stamping down their own citizens’ right to unhindered access to information.
Let me remind you that in June 2020, Latvia banned the broadcasting of seven RT channels under the pretext of EU sanctions against Rossiya Segodnya Director General Dmitry Kiselev, who has no relation to RT whatsoever.
Once again, we are calling on international organisations and the human rights community to give this matter priority attention and respond to Latvia’s audacious and repressive policy against freedom of speech.
You asked what we can do besides official protests. In addition to releasing statements, we also send constructive appeals to international organisations. What could be an instrumental measure? There should be an absolutely clear understanding that protective measures exist inside our country. You mentioned the blocking of RT’s Arabic channel on YouTube. The channel had more than 500 million subscribers and several billion views – but this did not stop them from blocking it. The channel was later unblocked. Can you guarantee that it will not be blocked again? Neither you nor we or anybody can guarantee this. The American internet giants do whatever they want. How can we respond? First, we can protect our own media space through a legislative framework (which is being developed) and its actual implementation (because often a legislative foundation exists but final implementation is slow). So, we can develop a legislative framework and widely implement it. Second, we can develop our own platforms and resources. Yes, I know that, once you have built up really big assets on a hosting platform or on social media, with hundreds of thousands of subscribers and views, it is a shame to have to part with it. It may be risky to move to a different platform and develop it from scratch. But there is one small nuance that should always be remembered: it may be uncomfortable to move to and develop our own, new platforms because we still remember how great working with the other platforms was. But without our own platforms, we may one day lose everything we built up. And it will be much more painful. In my opinion, these are two possible solutions to this problem.
Question: Our channel is often accused of interfering in different elections and trying to change the way of life or the attitude in different countries. I think that such attempts are being made in Russia as well, including deliberate interference in the election processes. Elections to the State Duma of the Russian Federation will take place this year. Not long ago, there was an interesting event linked with the dispersal of the Municipal Russia congress. The Western press, including official organisations, paid a lot of attention to it. Do you think our Western partners are paying such close attention to the elections in Russia, to influence them or even to directly interfere in them?
Maria Zakharova: Let me recall that there were representatives of NGOs that are considered “objectionable” in Russia among the coordinators of the Municipal Russia forum. They tried to hold this public event in violation of the established sanitary-epidemiological rules. Naturally, law enforcement bodies responded to this gathering. We are seeing around the world how sometimes a truly punitive mechanism can persecute people for their objections to the existing norms rather than their violations. You see how rallies are dispersed in the Netherlands and other EU countries. They are always worried about the situation in Russia but do not notice their own problems.
We have to say that the style and content of these publications testify to the attempts to influence the processes taking place in our country. And these are far from the only ones.
These are basically attempts to implement the objectives set forth in the agitprop instructions on promoting “agents of influence” in Russia. I am referring to the report “Russia Scenarios 2030” by Washington’s Free Russia Foundation in 2019 and the recent opus of the Atlantic Council. These writings consist of a package of fantasies by Russophobic experts and reflect their own vision of “Russia’s future” and ways to bring it closer.
Made-to-order publications like this follow a pattern. Unfortunately, their authors are people who pose as journalists. American journalists are among them. And this is not the only element of interference in our domestic affairs. We will counter such attempts to protect our information space.
Question: Is the Foreign Ministry planning to send a formal notice to international institutions as regards the upcoming humanitarian catastrophe at the US southern border? This has an international dimension and must concern human rights organisations not only in the US but also in the rest of the world.
Maria Zakharova: This is a humanitarian catastrophe. Imagine, there are 18,000 minors alone. As a journalist covering this topic among others, you can imagine the scale of what is going on.
First, as for sending a notice, formal inquiries are not always necessary to send a signal to international organisations. They are bound to know about his situation. It is impossible not to know. This is not a remote part of the world without journalists or communications. This is the border between the US and Mexico. Second, the journalist community is actively covering this problem. Third, the Russian Foreign Ministry did publish an official statement on this issue today. All this supplements the work that international agencies must be doing under their mandate. They have instructions to monitor such situations and focus on them. These 18,000 minors and the conditions they are in present a very serious matter for the international community and the relevant international organisations.
There is also another point. We are perfectly aware that now US representatives and diplomats will rush to the lobbies of international organisations and press the buttons to block any criticism and the desires of international special commissioners, representatives and review institutions to deal with human rights problems in the US. So in this context it is necessary to do everything we can for the US to receive a signal from its closest partners, its strategic allies not to be embarrassed by its own problems. As you know, the resolution of any problem starts with acknowledgement. So, it is necessary to acknowledge it and allow international agencies (government and non-governmental organisations) to join in and use the experience they have accumulated over the years. They conduct international conferences on Syria’s problems and international forums to understand what to do about Libya. They also hold conferences on human rights issues in other countries.
I doubt the US itself will organise a conference to see what is going on at home but I believe they can let others help with this.
Question: After a foreign minister from an EU country said the Sputnik V vaccine was part of Moscow’s “hybrid war,” the president of another European country said it was a “vaccine war of influence” being waged by Russia and China.
However, the facts show that Russia is attacking the virus effectively and that the pandemic is retreating in Russia and is advancing in Europe.
It would seem that Russia’s positive experience should be promoted and that the door should be opened to this effective medication. Instead, the crew on the sinking European Titanic is not thinking about salvation but is instead investigating the origins of the lifeboats and looking for pretexts to avoid using them. The leading role of Russia and China in the creation of vaccines has been declared a weapon in a new war rather than a means of protection. This is like saying that a gas mask is a weapon of aggression.
During WWI when Germany became the world’s first country to use poison gases, Europeans used gas masks invented in Russia, of all places, because their goal was to save lives.
But now the West is doing its best to prevent the use of the Russian vaccine and is trying to discredit it thereby depriving people of protection from the biggest threat currently facing them. Does this mean that the West has a different objective besides protecting people, and that Russia is preventing the West from attaining it?
Is this why Russia’s genial attempt to help is interpreted as Ivan’s meddlesome interference and an attempt to disrupt the sophisticated Western plans?
Maybe we should appeal directly to the people of Europe because this is about saving lives. Such a direct address regarding Russian vaccines could be used to explain many things, which the West is not just deliberately misrepresenting but is using to blame them entirely on Russia. Russia is ready to help all people in the world regardless of their political or any other affiliation. We are all passengers on a huge ship, and it is only together that we can defeat this deadly virus.
There used to be a good phrase, “TASS is authorised to declare.” Maybe the Foreign Ministry should announce that it has been authorised to declare and tell the truth to the people of the world? What do you think?
Maria Zakharova: This is exactly what we are doing, including during our briefings, by publishing a great deal of information and addressing various events – I am referring to the Foreign Ministry leadership, our ambassadors and other diplomats. The Information and Press Department is contributing to these efforts as well.
Let’s start at the beginning. You mentioned the statements some Western officials made about the vaccine. Regrettably, many people, including in Russia, believe that we are exaggerating things, and that well-educated Western officials cannot be so bigoted as to deny the existence of the Russian vaccine and its positive effect and to accuse Russia of waging a vaccine war. This concerns not just Russia but also China.
Today we will certainly discuss the relevant statements made by the heads of EU agencies and some EU leaders. We will show that Western flagships are brazenly using propaganda, unfair competition and politicking, contrary to their own declared precepts, which they are encouraging others to follow as well. I would like to point out once again that these statements are being made at a time when the world should come together, unite and stand up as one to address the current threat to people’s lives and health around the world.
This is what President of France Emmanuel Macron said on March 26, 2021. He did not say this on March 26, 2020, which would have sounded strange but at least understandable. But when this is said on March 26, 2021, it sounds absolutely crazy. Here is what he said: “Europe is the only continent exporting vaccines. It is the only continent with its own strategy and its own diplomacy regarding vaccines.” As for Europe being the only one to have a real strategy regarding vaccines, we see how well it is implementing this strategy in the EU. Its vaccination campaign is a mess, and we are not the ones pointing this out. We are just quoting their citizens, media outlets, doctors, government agencies and experts.
Just consider what he says next: “We are looking at a new type of world war. We are looking in particular at Russian and Chinese attacks and attempts to gain influence through the vaccine.” We do not want to influence anyone through the vaccine. It was you who refused to believe we had a vaccine, and we did not insist. Moreover, the “agents of influence” directly supported by Brussels and partly sponsored from the pockets of Western countries insisted just six months ago that Russia had no vaccine. We heard this. So your concept, which you are imposing on our citizens as well, says no Russian vaccine even exists. If there is no vaccine, what kind of war are you talking about?
Why don’t you get off the fence? Either Russia has no vaccine, or Russia is using its vaccine inappropriately. The answer is obvious – Russia has a vaccine, more than one. And it works. Moreover, we have never kept it secret, never tried to monopolise anything concerning Russia’s vaccine development or production projects.
As the first country to create a vaccine, we immediately offered the world equal and mutually beneficial cooperation in a number of vaccine-related areas. These included joint research, an exchange of experience, and joint production as well as various commercial projects on a legitimate basis.
The problem is you haven’t heard us. But this is often the case with the European Union. As we know, on many issues, the EU is guided by its overseas Big Brother. This was also the case in 2015 when you failed to hear Russia’s call to join forces against ISIS. Some laughed, others turned away, and still others got mad. You are making the same mistake again – you deny reality and try to impose your own agenda under the guise of some values that either do not exist or that you have distorted. And in many respects, it is no longer about imposing your agenda, but about covering up your own inability to cope with the challenges of our time.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian made a shocking statement. He said the Sputnik V vaccine “is more a means of propaganda and aggressive diplomacy than a means of solidarity and health aid.” What are you talking about? There are open vaccination stations around the country. We produce the vaccine jointly with the countries that have expressed an interest in joint production and use of this vaccine. France was interested, and then suddenly changed its mind. So stop saying it is propaganda and aggressive diplomacy just because you missed your chance or did not want to, or could not join the cooperation.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell wrote on his blog on December 29, 2020: “Such narratives are apparently directed at countries where Russia wants to sell its own vaccine, Sputnik V. In the current pandemic, any attempt to instigate such unfounded doubts threatens public health. Terrorist organisations, such as Da’esh, have also used the confusion in the Corona-situation to spread their own propaganda.” Just an outrageous statement. A fake story, something the European Union is rigorously fighting, creating more and more agencies to combat alleged Russian misinformation.
The European Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton: “We have absolutely no need of Sputnik V. Today, we clearly have the capacity to deliver 300 to 350 million doses by the end of June and therefore by July 14... we have the possibility of reaching continent-wide immunity.” He added the Russians were having production problems for Sputnik V, and people had poor access to it, and “the EU should help Russia with production of the vaccine if needed but priority should be given to the Europeans.” This is absurd. Instead of offering us help with vaccine production, the EU should focus on its own vaccination problems. You had a row over access to vaccines; you failed to harmoniously combine your restrictive measures with vaccination and with people’s and businesses’ interests. You are sinking deeper and deeper into your own problems that you are unable to confront, and at the same time, you keep blaming Russia and inventing non-existent facts.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “Russia was offering millions of doses worldwide while not sufficiently progressing in vaccinating its own people.” We offer cooperation in manufacturing millions and millions of doses. Take it or leave it.
Austria is defining its position now. Many countries in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East understood everything a while ago. European Council President Charles Michel said: “We should not let ourselves be misled by China and Russia, both regimes with less desirable values than ours, as they organise very limited but widely publicised operations to supply vaccines to others.” Look at them: whenever they face problems, they immediately start holding up their values. What are these “operations to supply vaccines”? Generally, governments and commercial organisations are addressing us themselves. It is not our embassies that run around to foreign government agencies trying to impose some average quality medication. Our embassies regularly receive proposals to promote cooperation on production or on the purchase of a vaccine. What more is there to discuss?
Christa Wirthumer-Hoche, the head of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and head of the Austrian Medicines and Medical Devices Agency, compared our vaccination to “Russian roulette.” But this is simply obscurantism. We feel ashamed for EU officials and Westerners in general.
I won’t even talk about President of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid; everything there is clear in this respect.
Prime Minister of Lithuania Ingrida Simonyte said on February 5, 2021: “They say Sputnik V is good, but Putin does not want to use it as a medication for the Russian people – he offers it to the world as one more hybrid weapon.” Here’s a proposal for the Prime Minister of Lithuania. Call your ambassador in Russia and ask him to photograph the vaccination process in Russia. There are vaccination centres, outpatient clinics and mobile stations. What are you talking about? Or do your ambassadors misinform you? This could also be the case. After all, you block our channels and our websites. Apparently, you receive your information from the Western media (we know how they can be) or your embassies. Maybe your embassies are on the wrong track?
White House Press Secretary Jennifer Psaki said: “We are concerned about attempts by Russia and China to use vaccines for diplomatic purposes.” As distinct from others, we are using our vaccine for vaccination and nothing else. If there is any other option, let the Department of States share its successes with us. We are using our vaccine only for vaccination purposes. Take my word for it.
I just couldn’t remain silent and abstain from quoting these people because it is necessary to understand this attitude. When you put all these statements together, you understand that, first, they are all written in some strategic information planning centre in the depths of NATO and, second, that they are disseminated through hubs and spokes. Third, I think the words of leaders or official representatives are obviously analysed: did they say the right thing? Then, the EU and NATO distribute all this through their strategic communications in their media and then it returns to an official level in the form of questions. All this information nonsense is continuously spread in every way to create the impression of a new hybrid information war about vaccines and Russia’s “aggressive actions.” Sometimes they claim that we don’t have the vaccine, sometimes they say we have it but are using it as an element of aggression. This is amazing.
We hope the EU’s leaders are fully aware of their responsibility for the lives and health of EU citizens during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and will abstain from such unacceptable, false and unscrupulous statements.
We note that even though all anti-COVID medication developers are temporarily short of production capacity, Russia, as distinct from its Western partners, has not resorted to “vaccine nationalism” that is widespread in the EU. Moreover, Russia is trying to offer access to its vaccine to anyone who would like to have it anywhere in the world. We are not imposing anything on anyone. We are not forcing anyone to do anything; we are open to cooperation. We are willing to supply all interested states with our highly effective and safe vaccines in a non-discriminatory and transparent manner.
I would like to urge our colleagues from various foreign ministries and international organisations to stop covering up their inability to manage their own domestic problems with some aggressive rhetoric against Russia. Stop using lies and faked statements to explain to your citizens why you cannot manage this common disaster and why you are using a whole gamut of unacceptable means and methods, from propaganda and misinformation to political pressure and influence, to avoid responsibility for your many failures.
We are convinced that it is impossible to overcome the coronavirus pandemic and its negative consequences without pooling the efforts of all members of the international community. As we have said many times, the key priority lies in immunising the world population, which is being gradually perceived as a universal public blessing. This is not just the opinion of our specialists. It is based on the analysis of international healthcare organisations and world experts.
We are seeing, and this is very important, that despite the disinformation imposed on them, people in many countries address their governments or Russia directly with a request to supply our vaccines, usually Sputnik V, and to cooperate on the production or distribution of these medications. The public in the EU countries does not like the attempts of the bureaucrats in Brussels to politicise everything related to vaccines and thus delay vaccine availability.
More and more people abroad, as I see online and in the media (except the countries that have already approved Sputnik V) simply demand freedom of choice from their authorities. They want to have access to the Russian vaccine and, most importantly, no more attempts to politicise the issue.
I read a very good phrase in one article. It said: “Real science cannot have national borders. When it is used for peaceful purposes, as a benefit, there must be no borders, especially no artificial borders.”
Question: What can you tell us about the statement by US representatives that it is impossible to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by May 1, as was agreed upon at the talks in Doha?
Maria Zakharova: I understand this is an alarming and complicated issue with implications for human lives, but I must point out the irony. When you say the US promised to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by May 1, I am tempted to ask: What year exactly? I feel this way because they seem to announce a troop withdrawal every year. In other words, every year they make a commitment, make promises and then announce their plans. The last time we heard this statement was a pledge to withdraw troops by May 1 of this year.
We believe that the US is simply being sly with its references to technical difficulties related to the final withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. The US and the Taliban agreed on troop withdrawal deadlines over a year ago. We do not doubt that this amount of time was long enough for the necessary preparations. We believe the real reason for delaying the withdrawal is a concern about the future of the current Afghan authorities. The Americans themselves admit that despite 20 years of NATO military-technical assistance, they are still unable to ensure security on their own. Thus, speaking in the US Senate Armed Services Committee the other day, Special Operations Commander Gen. Richard Clarke emphasised the critical dependence of the Afghan national security forces on foreign military assistance.
We hope Washington will remain committed to the peace agreement signed with the Taliban last year. The agreement specifies a deadline for troop withdrawal.
I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov answered this question yesterday during a Valdai Club session. I will repeat it: “The presence of the United States (in Afghanistan), which they have now announced, will be perpetuated; at least no timeframe for withdrawing the troops has been set which is nothing new, either. The Americans are in charge of their own word, and they can either keep it, or go back on it. First, they announced the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and then changed their minds. They want to stay in Syria as well. They are operating hydrocarbon fields, selling locally produced grain and using the proceeds – the money rightfully owned by the Syrian people – to pay for the separatist actions of some Kurdish organisations and to block the dialogue between the Kurds and Damascus, and they are doing their utmost to prevent this dialogue from ever taking place. At the same time, they are saying ISIS is rearing its head in the territories that are not controlled by the Syrian government. This is some kind of a kingdom of crooked mirrors.”
Mr Lavrov was talking about Syria and Afghanistan together, but I hope you understand the gist of what he said.
Question: What is Russia’s position on the proposal by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to reach a national reconciliation by holding early elections in Afghanistan under the control of the international community?
Maria Zakharova: We think this is primarily a question for the Taliban. We believe the Afghans themselves must be in charge of their peace process. We will be satisfied with any solution that will be acceptable to both warring parties. As far as we know, the Taliban rejected Kabul’s initiative because the elections held by the Afghan authorities in the past were accompanied by scandals and put the country on the verge of a crisis.
Question: What does Russia expect from the Istanbul format talks on Afghanistan? Who will represent Russia?
Maria Zakharova: I think it is too early to discuss a new format. To our knowledge, there will be a single event in support of the Doha talks with certain regional and international Afghan partners, as well as high-ranking delegations from Kabul and the Taliban.
We welcome any initiative that can facilitate the advent of peace in Afghanistan. However, we still don’t know the details of Turkey’s proposals, including the dates, the invitees, the format and other issues. Russia will decide on its representation at the event after receiving all the information.