Briefing by Deputy Director of the Foreign Ministry Information and Press Department Alexander Bikantov, Moscow, August 5, 2021
- Anniversary of the events in August 2008 in the South Caucasus
- Update on Afghanistan
- Russian hackers’ alleged involvement in “malicious activity” in the United States
- French Foreign Ministry’s assessments of neo-Nazi groups’ activities in Ukraine
- Havana Syndrome affecting American diplomats in Vienna
- The Russian-American Pacific Partnership 26th annual meeting
- 12th International Economic Summit Russia – the Islamic World: Kazan Summit 2021
- Press tour to Amur Region
- International Youth Forum of Russian Compatriots Abroad, 20.20
- Songs of Unity – Songs of Victory concert in Madrid
- ODIHR's refusal to participate in observing parliamentary elections in Russia
- Diplomatic exchanges between Russia and the United States
- Plans of 10 African and Asian countries to withdraw recognition of Kosovo
- Russia's relations with Turkmenistan in the context of developments in Afghanistan
- Vladimir Zelensky's statement
- Azerbaijan’s possible accession to the CSTO in observer status
- Russian Foreign Ministry’s interaction with Lithuania on repatriation of migrants
- Cultural and historical heritage of Nagorno-Karabakh
- Armed incidents in certain sections of Armenian-Azerbaijani border
- Sentencing of Armenian prisoners of war
- Deploying mobile border posts of the Russian Federal Security Service’s Border Service along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border
- US President Joe Biden’s statement about Russian economy
- State of partnership between BRICS countries
- Work with compatriots
Thirteen years have passed since the Mikheil Saakashvili regime launched an armed aggression against the people of South Ossetia and against the Russian peacekeepers from the Joint Peacekeeping Forces (JPKF) that were maintaining peace in the zone of conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia. As we all remember, in the early hours of August 8, 2008, under orders from the President of Georgia, the armed forces of Georgia began shelling residential areas in South Ossetia, followed by an offensive with tanks and aviation support. A report by the EU-established Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia, published in 2009, recorded the deliberate character of Saakashvili’s thoroughly planned actions.
Russia saved the people of South Ossetia from destruction. It first stopped the Georgian invasion by launching a peace enforcement operation against the aggressor, and then ensured the security of the citizens of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by recognising both republics’ sovereignty and independence on August 26, 2008.
Today, Russia continues to successfully develop allied cooperation with the Republic of South Ossetia and the Republic of Abkhazia in various areas. It is based on a solid contractual foundation that consists of a package of bilateral interstate and interdepartmental treaties and agreements.
Russia’s cooperation with these republics has long become a stabilising factor in the South Caucasus. The constructive participation of our countries in the International Geneva Discussions on Security and Stability in the South Caucasus is aimed at consolidating the geopolitical realities that have taken shape in the region. This dialogue format is primarily aimed at signing a legally binding agreement on the non-use of force between Georgia on the one side, and Abkhazia and South Ossetia, on the other. This measure is designed to become a reliable guarantee in preventing Georgian military ventures in the future. The adoption of the said document is particularly urgent considering Tbilisi’s course at expedited Euro-Atlantic integration and its involvement in US and NATO plans on “deterring” Moscow.
Russia has never put a sign of equality between the Saakashvili regime and the people of Georgia. We are ready to restore relations between our states to the extent that Georgia is. We hope common sense will prevail in Tbilisi and our partners will start developing relations with their neighbours with consideration for the balance of interests.
This also applies to Tbilisi’s outside “curators.” It is time they gave up their unrealistic attempts to “reintegrate” Abkhazia and South Ossetia into Georgia. Instead of promoting this notion, which is out of synch with reality, as was the case in a recent joint statement by a number of Western countries following the UN Security Council session on the anniversary of the August 2008 events, they should encourage Tbilisi to establish and maintain an equitable and mutually respectful dialogue with Sukhum and Tskhinval.
The situation in Afghanistan is degrading. This is largely due to US and NATO delays in following through on a complete troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. As a result, the Taliban has become markedly more active throughout the country. During a summer offensive, the Taliban established control over 80-100 new provinces. In early August, it made many raids in the suburbs of big provincial centres in the west of the country (Herat, Kandahar and Lashkargah).
Afghanistan’s law-enforcement agencies are unable to respond to the onslaught of the Taliban and the combat capability of regular units remains minimal. Army personnel flee en masse to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The people’s militia units, established in the provinces, are not sufficient, either.
Nevertheless, the Taliban does not have the resources to seize and hold large cities, including the country’s capital Kabul. Their offensive is gradually losing momentum. Government troops have reestablished control over the provinces of Balkh, Kapisa, Ghazni, Parwan and Herat.
Against this background, we continue to encourage all parties in Afghanistan to hold substantive peace talks. In this context, Russia’s Special Presidential Representative on Afghanistan and Director of the Foreign Ministry’s Second Asia Department Zamir Kabulov is planning to take part in a regular meeting of the Russia-US-China-Pakistan expanded Troika in Doha on August 11 of this year.
We have noted a new round of far-fetched accusations against Russia concerning alleged hacker attacks. I am referring to reports on the so-called investigation by the California company RiskIQ. Surprisingly those “investigators” seem to have no information as to who has been attacked and how. This is quite in line with the “highly likely” argument we are so familiar with, used to describe Russia’s “interference” in all processes that have ever occurred in the West. Even though representatives of the Biden administration have tirelessly repeated that they do not link any attacks on critical US infrastructure with the Russian government, journalists and private entities continue to mechanically play anti-Russia rhetoric in defiance of their country’s leaders. I would like to wish that the American press will hit on some new, interesting and relevant stories – the imaginary Russian cyber threat narrative has clearly exhausted itself.
In this context, it is gratifying that US-Russian dedicated contacts on information security are being implemented by professionals, not journalists from these publications. Bilateral expert consultations are now underway following the agreements our leaders reached during the June 16 Geneva summit. We hope that this format will help us achieve practical results in restoring a full-scale interagency dialogue with the United States in the spirit of the statement made by President of Russia Vladimir Putin on September 25, 2020. We are deeply convinced that the normalisation of US-Russian cooperation on this track fully meets the interests of both parties.
We noticed a recently published response by France’s Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs to a request from French Senator Nathalie Goulet who personally visited Kiev and was shocked by the rampant neo-Nazism and the dominance of Nazi ideology that has become part of modern Ukrainian reality.
Unfortunately, Paris opted to gloss over the problem rather than give a fair assessment of these dangerous phenomena, something now obvious not only in France, but throughout Europe. Trying to minimise or rather dismiss them, the French Foreign Ministry said the level of popularity and influence of neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine does not exceed average European indicators.
This statement is just strange. It is difficult to imagine processions commemorating the SS Division Charlemagne of French volunteers marching across French cities, the division’s merchandise on offer, or French people glorifying the Vichy government. Unfortunately, in Ukraine, such manifestations have become the new normal.
The French diplomats’ optimistic assertion that “small groups” of violent extremists have virtually disappeared from Ukraine is not true either. Alas, it’s anything but. Ukraine is now a place for the open glorification and heroisation of Nazi criminals, happening before the eyes of the whole world. Radical nationalist ideology is becoming the basis for education for the younger generation. The inhuman crimes committed by extremist groups are not investigated and remain unpunished. The “small groups” of violent extremists mentioned by the French Foreign Ministry, who have tarnished themselves with war crimes in Donbass, are integrating into the Ukrainian military and security forces.
We are sure that our colleagues at Le Quai d’Orsay have not forgotten the history of the Nazi occupation of France. They definitely remember the heroism of the Resistance fighters and Charles de Gaulle’s liberation mission. We hope that France, which declares a commitment to human rights, will not turn a blind eye to what is happening in Ukraine, will not excuse the nationalist groups operating there and will give a principled assessment of all neo-Nazi manifestations in the common European space.
We have noted that reports on the so-called Havana Syndrome affecting American diplomats have again surfaced in the American media. The New Yorker magazine reports that about 20 staffers at the US diplomatic mission in the Austrian capital are allegedly complaining of permanent headaches, dizziness and the inability to concentrate.
Similar stories have been planted from time to time in the media during the past five years. The first such story dates back to 2016 when US diplomats in Havana reported similar symptoms and their colleagues at the Canadian Embassy in Havana also complained. However, the Canadians soon changed their mind after the investigation they conducted jointly with the Cubans showed that the causes were the Caribbean cicada and the fumigation that had been used against mosquitoes.
Nevertheless, Washington continues, with a persistence that is worthy of a better cause, to feed misleading sensationalism to the media on Russia’s involvement in efforts to maliciously effect their diplomats with anything, from sound waves to radio and “energy-producing” waves. This time the US diplomatic mission in Austria happens to be in the spotlight. Stories about attacks, the nature of which is not yet clear even to Western intelligence services, are told with anguish.
By and large, the Russophobic propaganda machine continues to churn out fake stories. We sympathise with our colleagues and wish them good health. We believe that citing malaise to kick off speculation giving rise to anti-Russia sentiments is immoral and mean spirited. The invented stories on psy-rays are beyond common sense. Clearly, the Western tabloids’ love of conspiracy theories is ineradicable. We would recommend that quality media outlets avoid this shaky ground, otherwise they will soon begin accusing Russia of controlling solar eclipses and snowfall.
Unhealthy fantasies like this have no limits, and there is no limit to them in the offing if Washington propagandists continue to pursue this approach.
On July 27-30 the Russian-American Pacific Partnership (RAPP) held its 26th annual meeting, via videoconference. The forum, established in 1995, brought together officials, experts and businesspeople from the Russian Far East and the western US.
This year RAPP was focused on a wide range of issues, including cooperation in trade and investment, energy and energy efficiency, transport, tourism, climate and culture. Extra attention was given to the development of the Arctic with an emphasis on the economic potential and environmental challenges of the polar region. The participants stressed that additional opportunities for cooperation in shipping will become available with the ice melting in the Bering Strait.
Presentations on the investment climate in Russia’s Far East regions as well as on the development of direct air and sea traffic between the two countries across the Pacific evoked great interest from the participants. Maintaining the region’s ethnographic legacy was also an important subject in the discussion. The parties reached a preliminary understanding on resuming the Beringia Days annual festivals of indigenous peoples, after the epidemiologic situation improves.
As before, the forum proceeded in a very friendly environment. It confirms one more time the mutual need for a unique platform like RAPP and the interests of both parties in resolving the specific practical goals that are important for the peoples of both countries. For our part, we will continue to render support to the organisers and participants of the Russian-American Pacific Partnership.
On July 28-30, 2021, one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in the Volga Region and all of Russia, Kazan, hosted the 12th International Economic Summit Russia – the Islamic World: Kazan Summit 2021.
It brought together representatives from Russian and international organisations, government authorities, leading investors and businesspeople, including top managers from Russian and foreign companies. The summit was held as part of the Group of Strategic Vision “Russia-Islamic World,” chaired by President of the Republic of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov.
It included themed meetings on economic and financial cooperation between Russia and Muslim countries, investment projects in the fields of medicine, environment protection and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Halal industry production and “decent fashion” products.
The International Mechanical Engineering Cluster Forum was held for the first time on the sidelines of the summit, with an emphasis on sharing experience in industry digitalisation, as well as forums for young entrepreneurs and young diplomats from the countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
As part of the event, a panel discussion “Information cooperation between Russia and the Muslim countries” was held, attended by representatives from the Strategic Vision Group, the Russian Foreign Ministry, leading Russian media – RT Channel, TASS, Rossiya Segodnya, as well as the Association of Foreign Correspondents in Russia.
During the session, the current issues of media interaction between Russia and the Muslim countries were discussed, important agreements were reached on intensifying information support for cooperation between Russia and the Islamic world, stimulating contacts between the parties’ media outlets, coordinating steps on important multilateral platforms and forums regarding freedom of speech, the rights of journalists, access to information, overcoming the digital divide and other similar issues.
During the summit, the Russian Foreign Ministry offered a targeted press tour of Kazan for foreign journalists accredited in Moscow but representing the media of the Eastern countries.
In general, the 12th International Economic Summit Russia – the Islamic World: Kazan Summit 2021 was successful and became another clear demonstration of the priority of the Islamic vector of Russia’s foreign policy.
Today, I would like to diverge from the usual agenda and announce another press tour for foreign correspondents arranged by the Russian Foreign Ministry.
The tour is scheduled for August 10 to 13 in the Amur River region and will be distinct from the previous tours to Russia’s regions.
Specifically, journalists will visit the Vostochny Cosmodrome, where they will be able to obtain extensive information from Roskosmos officials and the heads of the Launch Service. This will be a unique opportunity to evaluate our country’s scientific and technological potential based on a rapidly developing economic branch, i.e., the aerospace industry.
In addition to the tourism and economic highlights of the region, emphasis will be placed on concrete examples of successful Russian-Chinese cross-border cooperation. The tour includes a visit to the border bridge across the Amur River at Blagoveshchensk (Russia) – Heihe (China).
A meeting with Amur Region Governor Vasily Orlov and the local media are also on the itinerary.
We call on the journalists and technical staff of the foreign media offices to more actively participate in these events, which are organised especially for you. And we are ready to consider any suggestion both in terms of the programme or the routing.
On July 30, the Alexander Solzhenitsyn Centre of Russian Émigré Studies in Moscow hosted the grand opening of the International Youth Forum of Russian Compatriots Abroad, 20.20, which will continue through August 6 at several venues in Moscow, Samara and Volgograd. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sent greetings to the participants in the event, in which he noted the solidarity and optimism of the young people in the Russian diaspora, as well as their active civic engagement, including efforts to preserve common historical memory.
The forum, initiated by young compatriots, is supported by the Government Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad. The event was organised by the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs and the Youth Resource Centre federal state budgetary institution.
As is common today, the forum is held in a hybrid offline/online format. Nevertheless, over 85 young representatives from 50 countries are attending in person. During the Moscow segment of the event, participants met with members of the Interdepartmental Council for Youth Affairs under the Government Commission, attended business meetings, and discussed the prospects for the work of the Community of Young Compatriots. Even with the dense programme, young representatives from the foreign community still found time to exchange experience and establish contact with Russian youth – their peers from different regions of the country.
The cultural and awareness programme included visits to the Russian capital’s most popular landmarks and Great Patriotic War memorials. On August 6, they will take a tour of the landmark historical and memorial complexes in Volgograd, including the Battle of Stalingrad museum-reserve. This trip is especially symbolic because this year marks the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War.
On July 25, Turetsky Choir and SOPRANO, two music groups directed by People’s Artist of Russia Mikhail Turetsky, gave a concert in front of the Royal Palace in Madrid as part of the Songs of Victory musical marathon, designed to preserve the memory of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War.
The concert was attended by Spanish government representatives, politicians and public activists, members of the diplomatic corps accredited in Spain, Spanish culture and art workers and of course, Russian compatriots.
The Turetsky Choir and SOPRANO concert, with the themed Songs of Unity – Songs of Victory, was a bright event in the cultural life of the Spanish capital and helped expose a large audience to Russian culture through the universal language of music.
Question: What can you say about the ODIHR’s refusal to take part in monitoring the parliamentary elections in Russia?
Alexander Bikantov: In his letter to the Chairperson of the Russian Central Election Commission, Ella Pamfilova, the OSCE’s ODIHR Director Matteo Mecacci reported that the ODIHR refused to take part in monitoring the elections to the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation in September 2021.
Russia sent invitations to its foreign partners to take part in monitoring the elections in advance and in full conformity with our commitments in the OSCE. In addition to the ODIHR, other international organisations and agencies engaged in election monitoring received invitations.
The ODIHR said that it determines the parameters of monitoring elections independently (such as the timeframe of monitoring, the number of observers and the working procedure) in accordance with its methodology, which has not been endorsed by the OSCE members. In doing so, it is basically excluding the possibility for coordinating these issues with Russia as the receiving side.
Formally, the ODIHR’s grievances were triggered by the collective decision of the Russian authorities to restrict the total number of foreign observers in the State Duma elections in September 2021 due to the coronavirus infection. Obviously, this measure is inevitable and is connected with the development of the epidemiological situation in Russia and the world in general.
We would like to emphasise that this decision did not discriminate against the ODIHR; it concerned all foreign observers. Importantly, of all the invited international organisations, the ODIHR received the opportunity to send the largest observer mission.
We express regret over the ODIHR’s decision not to send observers to Russia to monitor the elections. We are also disappointed by its apparent indifference to our efforts to counter the spread of the coronavirus infection. In its recent report on the results of work in Russia, the ODIHR Election Assessment Mission refused to record that the strength of the observer mission must be based on the situation with the coronavirus pandemic.
We cannot accept Mr Mecacci’s argument to the effect that the independent and credible monitoring of elections depends on the number of observers. Russia was prepared to receive an ODIHR delegation that would be no smaller than the delegation sent to monitor the elections in the United States last year.
This once again points to the long overdue need to move the ODIHR’s monitoring activities to a firm non-discriminatory foundation that can be agreed upon by all OSCE member states. Russia has repeatedly suggested drafting clear procedures for establishing and determining the goals of monitoring missions. The only agreed-upon requirement today is an invitation for foreign observers to monitor the elections, and Russia fully complies with this.
Since the ODIHR has backed away from monitoring the State Duma elections in September 2021, its further statements, assessments or comments on organising the elections will not be worth considering or taken into account.
We are certain that other foreign observes will be willing to fill the ODIHR’s quota.
Question: The Department of State has refuted the words of the Russian Ambassador to the United States on the far-fetched reasons for expelling Russian diplomats and declared that it is not striving to escalate tensions. What can you tell us about the situation in diplomatic exchange? Do you see any possibility of change for the better?
Alexander Bikantov: Commenting on the current sad state of relations between our diplomatic missions, the US Department of State traditionally exaggerates its own problems. It does not mention that Washington is to blame for the unprecedented deterioration of bilateral relations.
It was not Russia that initiated this mechanism for the expulsion of diplomats or the imposition of various restrictions on them. This policy compelled us to take response measures by way of reciprocity. This was not our choice.
Starting in 2016, the US seized six Russian diplomatic properties in the United States in violation of international and national law, denying our Embassy in Washington even the opportunity to visit them to evaluate the technical condition or the communications status of the buildings.
In addition to what was essentially a hostile takeover, more restrictions were imposed, including a three-year limit on the stay of Russian foreign office staff in the US. At the request of the American media, that are not well versed in the nuances of the situation, the Russian Ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Antonov, described in detail how the State Department was expelling our diplomats and technical personnel from the country through visa manipulation.
Indicatively, visas for 60 employees at the Russian Embassy and two consulates-general in New York and Houston expired, but nothing is done to process the documents to extend them. Including family members, this concerns about 150 people. Another 24 Russian foreign office employees, that the State Department ordered to leave the US before September 3, were compelled to end their mission and leave for home. The main point is that the Americans do not make any effort to fulfil their part of even smallest understandings that the sides managed to reach so as not to further downgrade their fragile bilateral ties. Russia is open to dialogue and is ready to consider US concerns, in part, to promptly issue visas for new staff at the US diplomatic mission in Moscow, who will be sent to replace the positions formerly held by Russian citizens and citizens of third countries that were hired on the spot.
However, constructive work is only possible if it is based on reciprocity without any attempt to gain unilateral advantage for oneself. We hope that Washington will eventually be guided by common sense rather than illusions of a dangerous zero sum game that is fraught with a new cycle of confrontation.
Question: According to a media report, 10 African and Asian countries plan to revoke their recognition of Kosovo. Are Russian diplomats aware of this initiative? What role does Russia assign to itself in the Kosovo settlement process?
Alexander Bikantov: Russia’s position on the Kosovo issue is well known: we want Belgrade and Pristina to agree on a viable and mutually acceptable solution based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244. It must comply with international law and be approved by the UN Security Council because of its importance in the efforts to ensure international peace and security. We will only agree to a decision that suits the Serbs. We intend to firmly pursue this policy in the future.
On September 4, 2020, the parties met in Washington to formalise their obligations, including the moratorium on Pristina’s efforts to promote itself as a candidate for membership in international organisations and the suspension of Belgrade’s contact with other countries to have them revoke their recognition of Kosovo’s “independence.” The Serbian authorities are delivering on their part of the deal. If some members of the international community are going to revise their earlier ill-considered decision to recognise Kosovo’s legal status, that is their sovereign choice, which, undoubtedly, is the result of the sound analysis of the situation, including Pristina’s behaviour.
We expect the Western participants in the process to take an unbiased and rigorous approach to appraising how Kosovo Albanian leaders are implementing the measures agreed on, given their selective approach to their own obligations, that have remained on paper for years, the way it happened to the agreement to establish a community of Serbian municipalities in Kosovo. Pristina has been obstructing this process since 2013 while there has been no clear reaction to this behaviour from Brussels.
Question: How are Russia’s relations with Turkmenistan unfolding against the backdrop of what we are seeing in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s expansion? Turkmenistan shares a 804-kilometre border with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and is not a CSTO member nor a full CIS member, as you are well aware of.
Alexander Bikantov: I have already presented the Foreign Ministry’s assessment of the developments taking place in Afghanistan. We have a positive view of the cooperation between Russia and Turkmenistan and their efforts to bring about a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan. Special Presidential Representative for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov discussed the matter concerning Afghanistan and the prospects of national reconciliation in the country during consultations held with Deputy Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan Vepa Khadzhiyev by video link on November 27, 2020, as did Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during his meeting in Moscow with Turkmenistan’s Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov on April 1, 2021.
The escalation of the situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan was at the top of the agenda during the fourth meeting of foreign ministers from Central Asia and Russia held on July 16, 2021in Tashkent, which resulted in the adoption of a joint statement on the developments in Afghanistan.
In addition to this, Turkmenistan is taking part in the Moscow-format consultations on Afghanistan, which includes all countries neighbouring Afghanistan, the key regional powers, as well as the United States. We believe the Moscow format to be one of the most promising mechanisms for achieving a settlement in Afghanistan, alongside the expanded troika formed by Russia, the United States, the People’s Republic of China, and Pakistan.
Moreover, we have been maintaining trust-based bilateral security dialogue with Turkmenistan, enabling the representatives of the relevant agencies of the two countries to exchange assessments on common threats and challenges.
As for cooperation within the CIS, Ashgabat contributes as an observer to the work of CIS structures dedicated to security and the promotion of cooperation among law enforcement agencies.
Question: President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky has said that returning Crimea is only a matter of time. “This is my land, not theirs. They will not be there for long, and this is not where their future generations will grow up. Their children are not there, and they will not be there to die for our land. This will never be Russian territory.” President of Russia Vladimir Putin has said repeatedly that Crimea’s status is a done deal. Still, representatives of the Kiev authorities continue speculating on this matter. What does the Russian Foreign Ministry think about Vladimir Zelensky’s statement? Is this a provocation targeting the domestic audience, an act of political aggression or a threat to Russia’s territorial integrity?
Alexander Bikantov: You were right to note that Crimea’s status is a done deal. Should we even bother to assess a statement made by foreign officials on a topic that does not even exist? It simply makes no sense.
Question: There are discussions in the media about Azerbaijan's possible accession to the CSTO as an observer state. Is Azerbaijan actually in talks with the organisation? Or is this some misinformation?
Alexander Bikantov: The CSTO member states are pursuing a policy of greater openness, including in information, and expanding the organisation’s external ties. They have adopted documents that provide for the possibility of interested countries joining the CSTO as partners or observers. Such decisions are made by consensus. Azerbaijan has not submitted an official application for joining yet.
We hope that expanding equal and constructive cooperation with other states and international organisations will help increase trust and strengthen security in the territory that is the organisation’s sphere of responsibility.
Question: Lithuania’s Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Mantas Adomenas said there were Russians among the migrants crossing the border from Belarus. Is the Russian Foreign Ministry in contact with the Lithuanian side on repatriating those migrants?
Alexander Bikantov: According to the available information, there may be Russian citizens among the migrants in Lithuania. The information is currently being verified. If confirmed, the Russians are to be repatriated in strict accordance with the May 25, 2006 Agreement between the Russian Federation and the European Community on readmission.
Question: Baku is obstructing Armenian clergy and pilgrims’ access to Dadivank. This violates the agreement reached through Russian peacekeepers’ mediation about believers being allowed to enter the Dadivank monastery and perform church ceremonies there. On November 14, 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and stressed the importance of ensuring the safety and unimpeded operation of Christian churches and monasteries in the parts of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone now controlled by Azerbaijan. Contrary to this, Azerbaijan continues to destroy the Armenian Christian heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh, and even interferes with holding church services in Dadivank. How do you assess Azerbaijan’s actions?
Alexander Bikantov: Russia always places an emphasis on preserving the cultural and historical heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent regions. We are confident that it is an important humanitarian matter that we regularly raise in our contacts with officials from Baku and Yerevan. Russian peacekeepers accompany groups of pilgrims visiting the Dadivank, Amaras and Gandzasar monasteries.
We strongly support dispatching a UNESCO mission to the region as soon as possible, which could give a qualified assessment of the state of affairs on the spot. The problem is also on the radar of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.
Question: On July 28, 2021, Azerbaijan launched an attack on the border with Armenia, in the section from Sotk to Verin Shorzha. This was done ahead of the upcoming talks in Moscow. Three Armenian soldiers were killed and four wounded. The Azerbaijani armed forces were firing in the direction of the villages of Sotk, Kut, Azat, Norabak, Nerkin Shorzha, and Verin Shorzha in the Gegharkunik Province, thereby violating [the ceasefire agreement] and endangering the peaceful life of local civilians. How do you assess the fact that Azerbaijan is intentionally causing an escalation in a situation where its forces have been illegally stationed on Armenia’s sovereign territory since May 12 and its leaders make territorial and historical claims? What is your view of Azerbaijan’s military operations directed against peace and security in the region?
Alexander Bikantov: Russia is seriously concerned over armed incidents in certain sections on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, which have become more frequent in recent time. What is causing particular concern is that these incidents involve loss of life on both sides.
Regrettably, border tensions have not subsided despite the steps that have been undertaken. We call on all sides to avoid any actions fraught with the further deterioration of the situation. All emerging problems should only be addressed by peaceful political and diplomatic methods.
Russia is ready to continue to contribute actively to normalising the situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, including by implementing de-escalation measures and launching a joint border delimitation and demarcation effort. These efforts, along with unblocking economic and transport ties in the region and encouraging community-to-community dialogue, will help the South Caucasus become a zone of stability, security and prosperity in keeping with the Statements of the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia of November 9, 2020 and January 11, 2021.
Question: Trials of Armenian POWs continue in Baku. Azerbaijan’s criminal persecution of Armenian prisoners on charges of illegal border crossing is a violation of the 3rd Geneva Convention. How do you assess the fact that Baku continues violating the tripartite statement and is illegally sentencing Armenian soldiers to prison rather than returning them to their country?
Alexander Bikantov: We have repeatedly commented on this problem. The Russian position in this regard is well known and has not changed. We have been monitoring the issue. The defence ministries of both countries are continuously in contact. Just recently, on August 2, 2021, Commander of the Russian peacekeeping force in Nagorno-Karabakh Rustam Muradov held several working meetings with representatives of Azerbaijan. For more detailed information on the agreements that have been reached, we would advise you to inquire at the Defence Ministry of Russia.
Question: On August 3, Russian Ambassador to the Republic of Armenia Sergey Kopyrkin gave an interview with the Public Television of Armenia, in which he commented on Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s initiative to deploy Russian border posts along the entire perimeter of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border He said that this idea had been partially implemented in the Syunik Province. As for other problematic stretches of the border, he said, I quote: “Russia is ready to take the relevant steps, but this is an issue that requires a discussion in the trilateral format.” Does this mean that the deployment of Russian border guards along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border on Armenia’s territory needs to be authorised by Azerbaijan and that this initiative cannot be implemented in the case of its negative response?
Alexander Bikantov: Deploying mobile border posts along the border is within the purview of the Border Service of the Federal Security Service of Russia.
For our part, we have repeatedly commented on the situation on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Let me stress again the fact that Russia is paying priority attention to this problem and continues its active mediation efforts aimed at settling this border dispute. At the same time, it should be noted that one of the problems involved in deploying border guards along the border is the lack of international legal formalisation, which is exacerbated by the dearth of mutual trust between the sides. We think that a sustainable de-escalation on the border can only be guaranteed by the immediate start of border delimitation between Azerbaijan and Armenia, followed by border demarcation. Russia favours an early start in this process.
Question: What do you think about US President Joe Biden’s statement about the Russian economy? What impact can the US rhetoric of the past few days have on the agreements reached during the latest meeting of the Russian and US presidents in June this year?
Alexander Bikantov: The US President Joe Biden’s statement about the Russian economy, which allegedly “has nuclear weapons and oil wells and nothing else,” is based on an erroneous and distorted presumption, just as the claim previously made by another Democratic US President, Barack Obama, about the Russian economy being “in tatters.”
Objective reality, which Washington is refusing to accept, points in the opposite direction. A comfortable position of US hegemony is receding into the past against the backdrop of the strengthening of geopolitical positions of Russia and China.
We would like to hope that the US intelligence community, for which President Biden has made his statement, will provide objective and unbiased information to their head of state. This is critically important for one of the nuclear superpowers to make responsible decisions.
The aggressive Russophobic rhetoric of the members of the US political community, regardless of their political affiliation, is further poisoning the already tense atmosphere in our bilateral relations, contrary to the generally positive results of the recent top-level meeting in Geneva.
Nevertheless, we hope that common sense will prevail in Washington, and the war of words will give way to serious efforts to do away with abundant negative elements in our bilateral relations, which have accumulated through no fault of Russia.
Question: Are the sanctions and pressure being put on Russia affecting partner relations between the BRICS states?
Alexander Bikantov: I believe that we have already developed herd immunity against such sanctions pressure. We continue to work on building up cooperation between these five countries, primarily in the economy. Statistics speak for themselves: during the first five months of 2021, Russia’s trade with BRICS countries increased by 26.7 percent year on year, up to nearly $57 billion.
Our group rejects international communication at the level of illegal, coercive measures adopted contrary to UN Security Council decisions. We regard such measures as elements of unfair competition designed to hinder the development in the egoistical geopolitical interests of some states. They appear to be part of the collective West’s policy of building a “rules-based international order,” under which the fundamental norms of international law can be violated, including through interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
The use of such underhanded methods is short-sighted, at the very least. And the efficiency of these instruments is questionable. In addition, this is hindering global growth and curtailing the possibilities of the countries that adopt such unsubstantiated sanctions.
Question: The other day, the European External Action Service announced a tender for the organisation of a series of EU Study Days in Ukraine, designed to “expand the scope of pro-European knowledgeable young people.” This project has a large programme with a broad range of events and activities. Does this mean that the so-called collective West is launching an offensive in the fight for young people?
Alexander Bikantov: We will analyse the initiatives of our European colleagues you have just mentioned with regard to the planned educational projects in Ukraine designed to expand the scope of pro-European knowledgeable young people.
We believe that interaction with young people is extremely important. The Foreign Minister of Russia and other senior ministry officials regularly address various youth forums. We are trying to use a language which young people understand when speaking about important matters on the international agenda, such as the preservation of historical memory, climate change and paramount human values. During the past few years, the Foreign Ministry has been using various digital technologies, online platforms and social networks for this purpose. We are ready not just to help young people find their bearings in global politics, but we are also learning about new ideas and trends from them, listening and taking into account the opinions of our young compatriots.
In this connection, we are paying particular attention to interaction with the associations of our compatriots. Today we mentioned the International Youth Forum of Russian Compatriots Abroad 20.20, which opened in Moscow in late July. We will continue to provide all-round assistance to such formats and to develop direct contacts between members of young organisations in Russia and other countries.
Our plans include a targeted media tour of the Russian regions for the compatriots’ media outlets. We would be delighted to invite you to join us.