Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, January 23, 2020
- Russia’s presidency of the CSTO, the SCO and BRICS in 2020
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen
- Working visit by South Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Awut Deng Acuil
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the joint meeting of the Supervisory Board and the Board of Trustees of the Foreign Ministry’s MGIMO University
- Update on Syria
- White Helmets’ video of alleged efforts to rescue children from a “Russian air attack”
- Developments in Afghanistan and Russia’s assessment on the status of the negotiating process in the light of the contacts between the US and the Taliban and Washington’s charges that Iran supports radical elements in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
- Update on Venezuela
- Bolivia update
- US sanctions against Cuba
- Settlement of the internal Ukrainian conflict
- International Holocaust Remembrance Day and 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp by Soviet troops on January 27
- German Government’s response to September 19, 2019 European Parliament resolution on the importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe
- Dutch Foreign Minister Stephanus Blok’s statements on the MH17 crash
- Pneumonia outbreak in China
- Prospects of BRICS expansion
- Update on North Korean workers
- Events for Year of Folk Arts and Crafts
- Mikhail Gusman’s birthday
- Fight against terrorism in Syria
- Publication by Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun of 1956 documents on Japan’s temporary renunciation of its territorial claims on the Kuril Islands
- Chief of Staff of the US Air Force David Goldfein’s comments on Russian air defences
- US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s remarks on new US strategy directed against its enemies and its possible use against China and Russia
- Turkish press publications citing statements by former Turkish officials on “unrecognised territories” in northern Cyprus
- Territorial dispute between the Cypriots, Greeks and Turkish government on Cyprus economic zone
- Supreme Court in Greece turns down legal complaint regarding Alexander Vinnik’s extradition to France and US
- Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’a anti-Russian article
- Bulgarian Prosecutor Office’s charges against three Russians who allegedly attempted to poison Bulgarian citizens in 2015
I would like to take advantage of the first briefing this year to remind you that beginning January 1, 2020, the Russian Federation officially holds the presidency of important international organisations and interstate associations like BRICS, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
Russian President Vladimir Putin has identified the priority objectives of Russia’s presidency of each of the above institutions. You can learn more about them and get the latest updates regularly as the relevant sections will be updated on the following official websites covering Russia’s presidency of BRICS, the CSTO and the SCO: www.brics-russia2020.ru, www.cstorussia2020.mid.ru, www.sco-russia2020.ru. You will also find there up-to-date information on the various events, on the documents that are approved at the meetings and on the achievements.
On January 24, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will receive UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen. The forthcoming consultations are expected to focus on the range of issues related to the Syrian settlement process, including the situation on the ground, and efforts to provide humanitarian aid to those who need it and to help refugees and internally displaced people return home. In addition, plans include an in-depth discussion on the status of the Constitutional Committee in the context of the efforts to help it ensure sustainable activity and to promote a direct intra-Syrian dialogue without external interference, as provided for by UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
On January 27, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the opening ceremony of the 28th International Educational Christmas Readings. As per tradition, the readings will be held at the State Kremlin Palace.
The annual International Educational Christmas Readings is a public and church event in education, culture, community service and spiritual and moral enlightenment.
The upcoming forum, the theme of which is “The Great Victory: Heritage and inheritors,” will be one of the first in a number of government, public and church activities marking the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War.
The opening ceremony will bring together many guests and participants, including Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, representatives of government agencies and public organisations, hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church and other local churches, educators, scientists, cultural workers, and many guests from abroad.
On January 27-29, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of South Sudan Awut Deng Acuil will make a working visit to Moscow.
On January 28, she will have talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, during which the parties will discuss the state of friendly Russian-South Sudanese relations in the political, trade, economic, humanitarian and other areas and prospects for their further development. The foreign ministers will have a detailed exchange of opinions on key issues on the international and regional agendas, with a focus on preventing and resolving crises in Africa and combatting international terrorism.
They are also expected to discuss the situation in South Sudan, where the process of a peaceful settlement of the domestic military-political conflict is underway.
On January 28, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will chair a joint meeting of the Supervisory Board and the Board of Trustees of the Foreign Ministry’s MGIMO University. Mr Lavrov heads these important boards that ensure the successful performance of MGIMO University.
A discussion of the strategic plan for MGIMO development in 2020-2025 is expected to be the main issue on the agenda. The strategy is designed to consolidate the university’s position in conditions of the ongoing globalisation of education and the labour market, as well as accelerated updates in information, knowledge and competences.
On the whole, the situation in Syria has stabilised considerably. Peaceful life is returning to the country. Its economy and social life is being restored. It is necessary to support this positive trend, especially against the backdrop of the complicated regional situation.
Hotbeds of tensions still persist in the territories that are not controlled by the Syrian Government, notably in Idlib, some districts on the eastern bank of the Euphrates and around Al-Tanf.
In Idlib, the Russian and Turkish militaries made another attempt to establish a ceasefire in early January. However, the radical groups ignored this attempt again and continued shelling Syrian troops positions and nearby residential areas. They have been launching up to 60 attacks a day. Thus, on January 16, the militants shelled residential districts of Aleppo with multiple rocket launchers, killing seven and wounding 18 civilians. Dozens of Syrian military personnel were killed or wounded. Under the circumstances, government troops are compelled to react to these aggressive acts of terrorism. They are conducting limited operations to neutralise terrorist activities and reduce the threat emanating from Idlib.
Three humanitarian corridors have been created to help civilians leave the de-escalation zone. About 1,500 people have used them since January 13. Regrettably, the terrorists are impeding the evacuation of civilians and they are shelling checkpoints. This is further confirmation of what we have said more than once: the Idlib problem will not be resolved as long as it is controlled by terrorists that have been identified as such by the UN Security Council.
The situation on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River has improved, largely owing to the implementation of the Russian-Turkish memorandum of October 22, 2019. Russian and Turkish military regularly patrol the agreed upon sections of the border in Kobani and Qamishli. In addition, the Russian military are working hard to restore destroyed infrastructure (water and electricity supply facilities, elevators and bridge crossings). They are rendering medical aid to civilians and supplying them with food and the basic necessities.
Russian experience makes it clear that there is every opportunity for the delivery of humanitarian relief to northeast Syria from the interior regions of the country in coordination with the Syrian government, as is required by the main principles of rendering humanitarian aid. Now that Damascus has retaken control of over 90 percent of the national territory, it is no longer necessary to maintain the cross-border mechanism in the form that was established in 2014. I would like to emphasise again that this mechanism was created as an emergency and temporary measure that must be brought in line with the standards of international humanitarian law and the real situation on the ground.
The situation in the US-occupied 55 km zone around Al-Tanf and the Rukban refugee camp in this territory remains complicated. The UN plan on the evacuation of the remaining residents of the camp has been delayed for the fifth month because of the refusal of Washington and the militants under its control to provide the required security guarantees.
We believe that the illegal US occupation is the real reason for the wretched plight of the camp’s residents. Humanitarian convoys will not solve this problem, particularly because this relief simply does reach them and is misappropriated by the militants. Importantly, the refugees do receive necessary humanitarian and medical assistance when they leave Al-Tanf for government-controlled territories.
Despite local hotbeds of tensions, we continue working to promote the political settlement of the Syrian crisis. We attach much importance to the work of the Constitutional Committee. As I noted earlier, the issues related to this committee will be discussed in detail at Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen on January 24.
In addition, we believe it is very important at this stage to step up international efforts to provide Syria with humanitarian aid without politicisation or discrimination. We think this will create conditions for the voluntary, safe and proper return of refugees. In all, about 760,000 refugees and over 1.3 million IDPs have returned home since the beginning of the operation of the Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria on September 30, 2015. Of this number, some 530,000 refugees have returned since the middle of July 2018.
We received a request from the Izvestia Multimedia Information Centre to comment on a recent video by the White Helmets, something presented as an operation to rescue children from an air attack by Russian warplanes on the village of Kafar Taal near Aleppo.
We consider the recent material released by the White Helmets, a sham humanitarian organisation, to be another cynical provocation aimed at discrediting Russia’s efforts to counter terrorism in Syria.
Notably, planted stories like this one, which these pseudo-rescuers use to gain the media spotlight, are, in our view, nothing else than odious materials. The weaker the position of the terrorists in Syria, primarily in the remaining terrorist stronghold in Idlib province, the more often these materials tend to appear – an almost daily occurrence recently. Other information, which the Syrian Government has made public at the UN more than once, on the regular attempts by the White Helmets to stage-manage new shows of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, this in collaboration with terrorist groups, including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. These efforts are designed to create a grim information background and direct, through manipulation and juggling the facts, another wave of criticism at what Russia and the Syrian Government are doing in the region, while disregarding the obvious progress in the political settlement process. I am referring to the Constitutional Committee, which was created and has started its activities.
Russia has repeatedly provided public evidence of stable ties existing between the White Helmets and terrorists groups, of crimes committed by this pseudo-humanitarian organisation and their involvement in stage-managed chemical attacks. We spoke about this in detail recently at the UN in New York. Investigations conducted by independent foreign and Russian experts have corroborated this information.
Those who sponsor the White Helmets are not baffled by these newly discovered facts. This new stage-managed video directly shows that they still tend to use humanitarian activity as a cover and employ this organisation, while providing an information smokescreen for terrorist crimes and creating additional obstacles to Syria’s return to a peaceful life.
Developments in Afghanistan and Russia’s assessment on the status of the negotiating process in the light of the contacts between the US and the Taliban and Washington’s charges that Iran supports radical elements in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Tensions are running high in Afghanistan. The armed opposition, as represented by the Taliban movement, has brought no less than half of the country’s territory under their control. This situation is being used by international terrorist groups, primarily ISIS, to increase their activity. We are still concerned about their consistent efforts to organise a bridgehead in northern Afghanistan in order to destabilise the situation in the neighbouring Central Asian countries. A graphic illustration of these intentions was the recent attack by ISIS militants on a border post in Tajikistan. We also see that after official Kabul’s statements about the defeat of the ISIS militants in the east of the country, they are once again becoming more active in that region. So, the threats of extremism and terrorism, as well as of drug-trafficking, which is linked to the first two threats, coming from Afghanistan still exist.
In this situation, Russia welcomes the resumption of talks between the United States and the Taliban in Qatar after their suspension last December. We believe that if the United States and the Taliban reach an agreement shortly, an intra-Afghan peace process could be initiated. In our opinion, the necessary conditions for this exist now.
As for the recent accusations of support for radicals in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan levelled by the United States at Teheran, we believe these have not been substantiated at this point and do not help to create a positive atmosphere for achieving a sustainable settlement in Afghanistan.
An array of diverse and important events have occurred in Venezuela recently. Regrettably, these events combined did not bring the conflicting political forces to a joint constructive search for compromise agreements to normalise the domestic political situation.
The obvious need for negotiations as a way to resolve the existing contradictions in Venezuela can be seen in the progress of the so called “roundtable of national dialogue” between Nicolas Maduro’s government and the so-called moderate opposition. However, disregarding that, radical politicians, whose popular support continues to decline, have not ceased their provocative actions and continue to demand more support from their foreign patrons.
After the new parliament leaders were elected on January 5, the former speaker of the National Assembly defied the loss of his post and arranged an alternative gathering of his proxies who reconfirmed his authority, after which, he swore himself in. The illusion of this duality of power, now also in the National Assembly, which is aggressively promoted by the opposition, in fact, just paralyses this important legislative body, something that obviously affects the overall situation
Washington’s sanctions pressure on Caracas and its officials, which runs counter to international law, also hinders the search for solutions to the intra-Venezuelan conflict. In the latest development, the US Treasury has blacklisted the elected speaker of the National Assembly Luis Parra and the deputies who stood up for him. This punishment can only be reversed if they disavow their decision and support Juan Guaido instead, according to Washington. This is a most “impressive” interpretation of democracy, indeed.
The US sanctions policy against Venezuela and its people, which has gone beyond all imaginable limits of counter-productiveness and anti-humanity, while international law has long been forgotten and dismissed, does nothing but aggravate the socioeconomic crisis and boost emigration to neighbouring countries. We are not the only ones who see the disastrous results of US policy: the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, admitted recently that US economic restrictions were having an extremely negative effect on the situation in Venezuela. I am referring to his words not so much to highlight the situation in Venezuela – it is obvious – as to point out that even the EU (which is unusual) is drifting away from its earlier position of “cold” non-interference and disregard for the humanitarian problems and is beginning to acknowledge the facts. Stating facts that are contrary to the view of their Big Brother in Washington makes the change in the EU’s position clear.
By the way, we have noted a somewhat shifting rhetoric from US administration officials on Venezuela. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement of January 9 publicly confirmed a refusal to use force and did not rule out the possibility of talks with the Maduro government. These are appropriate words which we would like to see reinforced with action. However, the situation is the opposite now: recently the US Southern Command announced a joint drill with the Colombian army in that country, while the US Treasury announced sanctions against 15 Venezuelan aircraft.
Russia’s cooperation with Venezuela is aimed, among other things, at preventing these hostile actions from inflicting irreparable damage on the sovereignty and independence of this state and at minimising the suffering of ordinary Venezuelans. We are focusing on joint economic projects, many of which have a humanitarian component and target the improvement of the socioeconomic situation in the country and the wellbeing of its citizens. Last year, we mentioned the Russian supply of vital drugs like insulin. I would like to add that in late 2019 Russia sent 1.5 million doses of flu vaccine and is set to supply 3 million doses annually in 2020-2022.
Nevertheless, our detractors continue to look for a hidden agenda. Failing to find it, they resort to the time-honoured method of fraudulent information plants and fakes with a main objective to undermine trust-based relations between Russia and Venezuela and to build up a toxic atmosphere around Russia’s presence in Latin America. One such “sagacious” analytical conclusion was presented by Bloomberg stating that Russia had allegedly waited for the change of guard at the Venezuelan Parliament before making a decision on expert assistance to Caracas in the financial area. I want to reiterate that Russia and Venezuela’s cooperation is proceeding in all areas in the spirit of pragmatic mutually-beneficial partnership without imposing any conditions, especially of political nature, which is in stark contrast to the favoured tactics of the so-called “friends of Venezuelan democracy.”
Regardless of a historical period or the political situation, we are unfortunately facing attempts to distort Russia’s conceptual approach and practical steps in the global arena, to present it as a guilty party, to blame it for someone else’s mistakes and errors. The situation in Venezuela is no exception. The man posing as the country’s “acting president” stated in an interview with the Spanish newspaper La Razon that his team “will insist on the use of pressure mechanisms, both diplomatic and backroom, against Russia” so as to make it give up supporting Nicolas Maduro. And this was said by the man whose representatives, figuratively speaking, are running after Russian delegations to find accidental encounters so as to report them to the media. This looks more like the global provocative behaviour of people who are totally unaware of what good upbringing is and who have only a vague notion of modern international relations.
Now that a Venezuelan opposition delegation is touring Europe, we would like to remind our responsible partners, especially our European partners, of the urgent need to reconvene intra-Venezuelan talks with the broadest possible spectrum of political forces. Under the current conditions, Venezuela and its people are badly in need of a peaceful, political-diplomatic resolution to the domestic conflict, a resolution that is initiated by the Venezuelan themselves via an inclusive dialogue, while honouring national legislation and international law. This is the kind of resolution that the world community must support.
The situation in Bolivia remains tense. The tenure of the previous head of state and members of parliament has formally expired today. To fill in the legal vacuum caused by the cancellation of the October 20 voting returns, the country’s Constitutional Court decided to extend the mandate of the interim president and members of parliament until the candidates who will win the upcoming May 3 general election take their oath of office.
The Russian side respects the sovereignty of Bolivia and does not comment on this decision. At the same time, we cannot but note that a substantial share of the country’s population opposing the incumbent government perceives this decision as politically controversial, to say the least. The risk of tensions flaring up once again persists. This, as well as the danger of reverting to the risky practice of involving the armed forces in the suppression of peaceful manifestations cannot but cause concern.
We believe that only the fastest possible establishment of legitimate institutions of state authority following a democratic and transparent election held with the participation of all political forces without any discrimination can return that country to normal life. It goes without saying that the incumbent leaders have a special responsibility for a peaceful transition process that would pave the way for a fair, open and democratic election. The international community has every right to expect them to implement effective measures for facilitating the election process and guaranteeing the constitutional rights of all Bolivian citizens.
We consider any interference by foreign states in the election process to be unacceptable. This is also unacceptable as a matter of principle with regard to countries that are ready to groundlessly accuse others of similar actions and which act openly in the interests of political forces wielding power in another country. We would like to recall that no one has abolished the sovereignty of Bolivia, although many have already tried to influence it.
We would also like to reaffirm the fact that we perceive the incumbent leaders of Bolivia as purely interim; they assumed office because the situation in their country exceeded the constitutional framework. With due consideration for this, the authorities bear special responsibility for the decisions they make, including those on foreign policy matters, and for fulfilling their country’s international obligations.
This fully applies to unfailing compliance with the universal requirements of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, namely, the immunity of diplomatic missions and their properties. We share the recommendations on this score that are contained in the report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of December 10, 2019.
Unfortunately, the disputes that have taken shape in relations between Bolivia and a number of the continent’s states introduce an additional element of disagreements between countries of Latin America, a region that has traditionally prioritised the concept of unity in diversity. We hope that, by acting in line with mutual respect and norms of international law, they will be able to resolve the emergent bilateral disagreements.
Russia sees a peaceful Bolivia as an important economic partner and a respected political player in the Latin America/Caribbean region. We are convinced that all citizens of that country also need a stable Bolivia.
Yet another package of sanctions that Washington has introduced against Havana proves that the US is consciously disregarding one of the basic principles of the modern world order, human rights protection, as it seeks to “strangulate” the Cuban economy. The ban on US chartered flights (as of March 11 of this year) that follows the ban on regular flights to all airports in Cuba except Havana (imposed on December 10, 2019) is yet more proof that the illegal unilateral measures are hitting ordinary citizens both in Cuba and the United States, who are being brazenly denied their inalienable right to freedom of movement. In 2019, for example, the island was visited by 552,000 Americans, including Cuban Americans. Today, US-based citizens will be unable to visit their families in Cuba. To reiterate: the reason for this is not a natural calamity, or the deterioration of the humanitarian situation, or a political crisis, or a terrorist threat, or a pandemic, but entirely the self-indulgence of the people in Washington, who have chosen precisely this method to influence Havana’s policy.
Besides this, the White House continues to violate international law, including the UN Charter, by putting into effect exterritorial Title III of the Helms-Burton Act and restrictions against carrier companies doing business with Havana. This involves, among other things, numerous visa and financial restraints as well as constant pressure brought to bear on Cuban doctors with contracts outside Cuba. All of this is causing condemnation and rejection in the greater part of the international community. Let me remind you that this was confirmed by the UN General Assembly vote on November 7, 2019, when an anti-blockade resolution was introduced (187 pros, 3 cons, with 2 abstentions).
For our part, we are categorically against these steps. We are solidarising with the people of Cuba, our strategic partner and ally, in that this unlawful blockade should be immediately lifted.
We continue to monitor the settlement process in Donbass and the situation in the rest of Ukraine. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov provided our views on this process at a recent news conference. We would like to say the following on this subject, considering that we received relevant questions.
We welcomed the improvements that took place in the settlement process in 2019 in the context of the preparations for and the holding of the Normandy format meeting in Paris. Kiev had to implement the decisions taken at the previous meetings, which included committing the Steinmeier Formula to paper and disengaging forces in three areas – Stanitsa Luganskaya, Zolotoye and Petrovskoye.
New steps in the right direction were made after the Paris summit. On December 29, Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk exchanged detainees. Shooting decreased on the contact line, and there were completely silent days during the New Year and Christmas holidays. The Verkhovna Rada extended the law on the special status of Donbass for another year, even though it has not become effective yet. During the Contact Group’s meetings on December 18 and January 16, first Donetsk and Lugansk, and then Kiev presented their proposals regarding new disengagement areas.
Taken together, this shows that real, concrete and positive results are possible when there is political goodwill and a responsible approach. We hope that the Ukrainian authorities will demonstrate such goodwill more often. Regrettably, so far there are problems with that.
For example, the disengagement of forces in Zolotoye and Petrovskoye has not been completed or verified. The Ukrainian side has not dismantled fortifications or cleared mine fields. Moreover, the self-defence forces and the OSCE SMM had reported the return of the Ukrainian troops and military hardware, which is alarming.
The law on the special status of Donbass has been extended for another year, although the Minsk agreements stipulate its unlimited duration, but the Verkhovna Rada seems unwilling to do this. The law should also incorporate the Steinmeier Formula, and the Ukrainian Constitution should include guarantees of compliance with the special status of Donbass.
We were also surprised by Kiev’s ambivalent attitude to decentralisation amendments, which were submitted to the Verkhovna Rada twice and revoked as many times. In fact, these amendments do not stipulate decentralisation but a reform of the country’s administrative structure and the strengthening of the central authorities. They do not even mention Donbass. I would like to remind everyone that under the Minsk agreements, Kiev should discuss the future of Donbass and its status, decentralisation and the constitutional reform through a direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk.
In this context, we are alarmed by the calls made in Kiev, including by Foreign Minister Vadim Pristaiko, to rethink the Minsk agreements. We hope it was his personal opinion and that he knows that the participants in the Normandy format meeting in Paris, including President Vladimir Zelensky, have reaffirmed the lack of alternatives to the Minsk Package. We hope that the Ukrainian authorities will focus on the consistent implementation of all of its provisions in the coming period.
To conclude, I would like to say how regretful it is that the Western media and international organisations avoid visiting Donetsk and Lugansk. The OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama, who visited Donbass on January 20-21, paid no attention to the invitations sent him to visit the two self-proclaimed republics. I would like to point out once again that it is impossible to form an objective view on the developments or take successful actions towards a settlement without direct contacts with the parties to the conflict.
I would also like to urge the media once again, because we have done this more than once, that they should periodically, regularly or continuously cover the developments on the ground. And they should do this not only from the Kiev-controlled territory but they should also travel to the other side, because up until now they have been publishing a great deal of information that is unreliable, to put it mildly, or completely false. Their reports mention Donbass many times, yet these media have no cameras and do not send correspondents or delegations there.
As you know, the President of the Russian Federation is in Israel and spoke at the dedication of the Memorial Candle monument to the defenders and residents of besieged Leningrad during World War II. The President said that January 27, 1944 closed one of the most dramatic and heroic pages in the history of the Second World War: the siege of Leningrad was finally lifted. His remarks are available on the official Kremlin website.
I would like to say a few words about January 27, 1945, when Soviet troops liberated the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau where millions of people were brutally tortured and killed. Allow me to remind you that in 2005, the UN designated that day International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Russia was a co-sponsor of the relevant UN General Assembly resolution.
Unfortunately, we have to admit that many states, including those that call themselves model democracies, show shameful tendencies such as glorification of the Nazis and their minions and the rewriting of the history of World War II. We are witnessing a criminal war on monuments – we used to say it was ‘unscrupulous’ or ‘unworthy,’ but it is probably time we stop using diplomatic language, and speak bluntly. Monuments commemorating the Red Army soldiers who gave their lives for the liberation of Europe from Nazism are being destroyed and desecrated in a number of European Union member states, in particular Poland.
Russia is strongly opposed to the falsification of history and the creeping rehabilitation of Nazism. In this regard, our country annually submits to the UN General Assembly a draft resolution on combatting glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Once again, this resolution was adopted on December 18, 2019 at the plenary meeting of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly. The document was approved by an impressive majority of 133 votes, with 52 abstentions, and 2 votes against it. The total number of its sponsors for the first time reached 62.
Furthermore, over the past few years, Russia as the main sponsor has been initiating the inclusion in the text of a clause condemning any attempt to deny the Holocaust.
We have noted the reluctance of the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany to give a public assessment of the European Parliament’s September 19 resolution. The document adopted is openly revisionist from the perspective of historical truth; the sponsors seem to be trying to plant the false idea in Western public opinion that WWII allegedly started because of the August 23, 1939 non-aggression treaty between Germany and the Soviet Union, deliberately omitting the preceding political and diplomatic steps of individual countries, primarily the 1938 Munich deal, which entailed the dismemberment of sovereign Czechoslovakia and certain participants’ tacit consent to the Hitlerite Anschluss of Austria. Meanwhile, those events in many respects led to the broad tragic consequences – something we have repeatedly talked about.
In November 2019, in response to a relevant request from the Left party opposition members in the Bundestag, officials in Berlin said that they were not authorised to comment on European Parliament resolutions. At the same time, the vast majority of the 96 German members in the European Parliament had voted for the adoption of that document, including all representatives of the CDU/CSU bloc, as well as all but one representative of the SPD – the parties comprising the German government coalition. All right, they might not be authorised to comment on the European Parliament’s decisions, but they could and should have commented on the political approach and stance pursued by the ruling party and the elite.
Given this circumstance, as well as the special sensitivity of the topic of the Second World War in German history, the German Government’s disengagement from the discussion of the resolution is puzzling. The German authorities have failed to find proper words of condemnation for particular clauses in the resolution, or just did not consider it necessary to distance themselves from them publicly.
We consistently and resolutely oppose the tendency to rewrite global history and use it in opportunistic political interests increasingly shown by certain political groups in Europe. We urge our partners to follow suit and adopt this approach to be able to learn lessons from history for the sake of strengthening Europe’s present-day stability and security.
We cannot overlook the media statements by Foreign Minister of the Netherlands Stephanus Blok in connection with the January 8, 2020 air disaster near Tehran. He drew far-fetched parallels between the downing of the Ukrainian passenger airliner, Flight PS752, and the Malaysian Boeing MH17 that crashed in Ukraine in July 2014. We understand that this is also part of a campaign because all questions addressed to us, including by the British media, also tended to link the two.
The leading Dutch diplomat took advantage (very inappropriately, as we see it) of the tragedy in Iran that had its own causes and specifics to launch another series of attacks on Russia and advertise The Hague’s threadbare subjective approaches to the MH17 accident.
Citing the PS752 crash, he urged Russia to provide what he called “satisfactory” replies to the Joint Investigation Team’s questions. Please note the term “satisfactory.” What he possibly means is that Russia’s replies should confirm rather than refute the JIT’s conclusions – not answers to questions per se but what they consider to be the right answers.
Undaunted by the lack of proven facts, Mr Blok is putting into circulation what he terms as his “personal feelings.” In his view, the Russian foreign minister feels out of his element at the mere mention of MH17. Therefore, he claims, it would be better if the Russians admitted their guilt and agreed to pay compensations to the families of the victims, thus relieving the tensions. This is a strong approach, to be sure! I have just one question to ask: What other revelations can we expect from the Dutch physiognomists?
In the past, there were rainmaking rituals. Feelings like “they should admit their guilt and provide satisfactory answers” have nothing to do with justice.
On the other hand, there is nothing new in the Dutch kingdom. The subjective assessments prevail.
At the same time, no one doubts that objectively the investigation conducted by the Netherlands is facing serious problems. We have repeatedly said as much and provided a number of proofs that overturn the JIT’s version. I am referring, among other things, to a full-scale experiment carried out by Almaz-Antey, the primary radar data that rule out any possibility of a missile being launched from the area identified by the JIT, and the Russian Defence Ministry’s confirmation that the missile, which the JIT believes shot down the Malaysian liner, was a piece of Ukrainian property. We have repeatedly informed the Netherlands and the Dutch public about the existence of this evidence, including as part of comments and statements by the Russian Foreign Ministry and a reply by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office to grievances with regard to the “Tsemakh case.” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke about all this at his January 17 news conference dedicated to Russian diplomacy’s performance in 2019.
Moreover, ever new facts are disclosed in the Netherlands, which show that the Dutch government agencies were not characterised by a good-faith, non-opportunistic and impartial approach to air disaster investigations even before the MH17 tragedy. It was a shock (rather than a joy or a surprise) for us to learn from press publications how the Dutch Safety Board had distorted the causes of a Turkish Airlines plane crash near Amsterdam in 2009. As we understand, this was done to please Boeing, an American company. Why did I say that we were shocked? Because there must be a red line. After all, we are talking about the efforts of not just officials but governments and professionals, who are trusted by people and must reveal the truth. Honestly speaking, it takes your breath away to read stories about how, in reality, the Netherlands investigated the tragedy. Throughout all these years, it appears, we have been dealing with people who have much to hide. What is the likelihood that the same is not happening today, given the results and the oddities that we notice in the proceedings and that we are turning the spotlight on? This is a big question. What does the Ukrainian Boeing crash in Iran or the Malaysian Boeing tragedy several years ago have to do with this? What is the connection? There is no connection at all! All of this, in an odd sequence, is being fed to readers and the public. This seems impossible. But this is being done by officials, by the government, rather than by people who are not members of investigation teams or government agencies and who write novels or invent new conspiracy theories. To tell the truth, this makes one uneasy.
I would like to say on top of what has been said that it is, in the first place, unacceptable and just mean in relation to the families and friends of the victims to cash in on the tragedy in Iran so as to promote politically biased charges against Russia. Mr Blok’s peremptory demand that Russia accept the blame for the MH17 crash in Ukraine just because Iran has shot down a Ukrainian aircraft is irrelevant, unacceptable and illogical. The Dutch minister forgets the key difference between the two incidents: the Russian evidence in the “MH17 case” proves that the accusations against Russia are totally unfounded. Mr Blok is also neglecting the facts that clearly implicate Ukraine which failed to close its airspace over the conflict zone despite concerns expressed by the Netherlands Parliament.
Due to the outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus, denoted 2019-nCoV, that causes pneumonia, we would like to comment as follows.
The virus has mainly affected Wuhan (Hubei province), Beijing, Guangdong province, and there is a possibility that it will spread further. The first case of the new coronavirus was identified in Hong Kong. The patient with the first diagnosis was a tourist from Wuhan.
As of the morning of January 23, the number of confirmed cases had reached 600 and 17 people had already died. China is taking the appropriate precautions to stop the disease from spreading. In particular, the transit service with Wuhan has been suspended; the local airport has been closed; trains and the city transport system are not running. Tourist activity has been put on hold.
Russia’s Federal Supervision Service for Consumer Protection and Welfare, in coordination with Russian diplomatic missions in China, is monitoring the situation closely and enforcing quarantine control at ports of entry and in border areas.
On our part, we recommend that Russian nationals consider the situation when planning trips and travelling to foreign countries (there have been reports of isolated cases in the United States, South Korea, Japan and Thailand), take the necessary precautions, maintain personal hygiene and follow the updates that we regularly post on the Foreign Ministry’s websites and the Foreign Assistant mobile app that is available for all platforms.
The Russian Embassy in Beijing, whose consular district covers the Hubei province with its capital, Wuhan, has requested information about Russian nationals currently in the region from competent Chinese authorities.
We appreciate the continued interest in cooperation with BRICS from other emerging markets and developing economies. There were questions regarding its possible expansion as well. Overall, we welcome this interest in the association’s work. At the same time, it is understood that an expansion requires a carefully weighted and delicate approach. At this point, this is not an issue on the BRICS agenda. It seems it is not the right time at the moment to accept new members.
The BRICS five is still a young multinational association. Right now, it focuses mainly on increasing the efficiency and strengthening the five-side mechanisms of strategic partnership. Another important field of work is establishing solid international links with external partners and like-minded associates from different continents who share our ambition to reinforce multi-lateral approaches to global issues. For this purpose, we have launched such formats as BRICS Outreach and BRICS Plus. This said, the BRICS five is building a consistent dialogue not only with certain developing countries and states with dynamic emerging economies but also with their integration unions. The main goal of this cooperation is to produce collective responses to the widest range of current international challenges for sustainable development and long-term economic growth. This serves as a foundation for BRICS to become one of the pillars of the renewed global architecture of multilateral cooperation.
During Russia’s BRICS presidency this year, we intend to continue the consistent course for strengthening the existing BRICS institutions, further building of an external circle of the five’s friends and allies, including through active promotion of the dialogue with the states that have dynamically developing economies and their associations in the Outreach and BRICS Plus format, a dialogue that has proven itself rather effective.
The Russian Federation strictly complies with the international sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including UN Security Council Resolution 2397, under which (Clause 8) all DPRK nationals earning income in the member states’ jurisdictions should be repatriated to the DPRK by December 22, 2019.
The majority of North Korean workers have already left Russia. The remaining approximately 1,000 North Koreans can no longer be regarded as employed due to the fact that their work permits have expired and they are no longer earning any income in Russia. The DPRK is taking measures to help organise their return back home. This could not be done before December 22, 2019 because there are only two flights a week out of Russia run by a North Korean airline and there are a limited amount of trains as well. We are strictly complying with all our commitments.
This year’s highlight will be on folk arts and crafts. It has been declared the Year of Folk Arts and Crafts in Russia. A number of interesting events have been planned which we intend to contribute to.
I would like to draw your attention to a topic we have been discussing regularly. Efforts have been made and will be continued to be made to promote Russian food and Russian folk arts and crafts. We will use briefings and other events held at the Foreign Ministry’s Press Centre to provide more information about our possibilities and traditions in this regard. These events will be part of the Year of Folk Arts and Crafts, which has been declared in Russia in 2020 in accordance with a Government directive and within the framework of the State Cultural Policy Strategy until 2030.
We will hold presentations and exhibitions at the ministry’s Press Centre together with the Russian Folk Arts and Crafts Association, the Gastronomic Map of Russia federal project and the representative offices of the Russian regions in Moscow. We will send out invitations to these events. Keep an eye on our announcements.
Moreover, I would like to invite the local folk art producers that are not members of the association to take part in these events. Please write to us, and we will be delighted to help you and to tell international enthusiasts all about you via the media.
Another interesting and positive event early this year was the birthday of outstanding journalist Mikhail Gusman, which several countries are celebrating today. I would like to wish him a happy birthday as well. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has sent birthday wishes to Mikhail Gusman, and I would like to do the same on behalf of the Information and Press Department.
Mikhail Gusman has made a unique contribution to journalism, especially foreign affairs journalism, as well as to people-to-people diplomacy.
We would like to once again wish him a happy birthday and all the very best. We will do the same in person later.
Question: Since 2015, Russia has been successfully providing support to Syria in its fight against terrorism and supplying humanitarian aid to help the country rebuild its economy. We keep receiving detailed information from you during the briefings and from the Defence Ministry. We are aware of what’s happening in the country. As you said today, 90 percent of the country was liberated. Commenting on the terms for withdrawing US troops from Syria, Deputy Commander of the US-led military coalition to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS) Alex Grynkewich recently said that the Syrian government would not be able to provide effective command in fighting terrorism. What’s your take on this statement and Syria’s ability to wage war on terrorism?
Maria Zakharova: Syria encountered international terrorism with a magnitude and global reach that was previously unheard of, not only in Syria itself but in any other state in the region. Syria and a number of other countries of the Middle East and North Africa, and the entire world have witnessed an attack on a sovereign state, a region and, by and large, the whole world, not just by a terrorist organisation, a cell or individual terrorists, but a new type of terrorist organisation that had declared itself a state. Its goals and objectives were so horrible and global that, I think (and many experts agree), no one had any antidote to them initially.
This was exactly what President Putin said when addressing the international community from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly in 2015 when he urged everyone to unite in fighting this threat in the way they did during World War II. This indicated an unprecedented level of threat from terrorists not only for one state, nation or region, but the world in general.
Back then, Russia’s call was not duly appreciated, was not even heard or understood. So, Russia began to act as it knew it should, which brought results.
I think that it’s not up to the Western coalition to speculate on whether Syria is capable or incapable of fighting this threat. This threat had to be confronted by all the countries, collectively, which we have repeatedly mentioned, and it is what we called for and – most importantly – what we were willing to do.
Question: The Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun published documents dating from 1956, according to which Japan temporarily gave up territorial claims to the Kuril Islands. Can you comment on this find? Will it affect the relations between our countries?
Maria Zakharova: An intensive dialogue is underway with Japan in accordance with the agreement reached at the highest level in Singapore in November 2018. It was dedicated to expediting talks on a peace treaty on the basis of the Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration of 1956. As is known, this document contains provisions on ending the state of war and restoring diplomatic relations.
As Russia’s representatives have repeatedly pointed out, significant differences in the parties’ positions remain unresolved. We presume that the starting point for overcoming them is Japan's recognition in full of the outcomes of World War II in the peace treaty, including the sovereignty of our country over the southern Kuril Islands, as the spirit and the letter of the declaration clearly indicate.
I would like to note that at some point the declaration ended up being unfulfilled because Japan made unreasonable claims regarding the southern Kuril Islands thus violating it.
Clearly, resolving the peace treaty problem will require lengthy and painstaking joint work to comprehensively develop Russian-Japanese relations in all areas in order to take them to the new level.
Question: In the run-up to the Defender 2020 military exercise, General David L. Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, said the Russian air defence system resembled Swiss cheese and was all riddled with holes. The Americans allegedly know all these holes and, if necessary, they can penetrate them.
Maria Zakharova: This is what mice think when they see a piece of cheese, and they end up in a mousetrap instead.
Question: According to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a new US strategy directed against America’s enemies is unfolding after the killing of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds special weapons and tactics force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. This new strategy can also be used against China and Russia. Is he threatening that similar killings of Chinese and Russian officials or military officers are possible? Can you comment on this?
Maria Zakharova: This statement hinges on a very strange logic which remains outside the context of any law, be it national legislation or international law. The United States should decide whether it is acting in line with certain legal norms or according to the might-is-right principle, implying that a weapons-toting country can dictate its terms.
We have provided our assessments regarding the assassination of Qassem Soleimani. They are reflected in the Foreign Ministry’s statements of early January. We said that the world was facing a previously unknown situation (at least, we are talking about the last few decades) when a state acting as a sovereign and democratic UN member state that did not withdraw from any fundamental UN documents, primarily the UN Charter, deliberately murdered a state official of another sovereign state which is also democratic and which is also committed to the relevant fundamental international agreements.
We said this situation was creating a new reality, and we interpret it in a different way from Mike Pompeo. In our opinion, this does not open a new page, but this pushes the world towards even greater instability and the danger of plunging into a completely bottomless pit of confrontation and total loss of mutual trust. These actions do not open up any alternative options.
There were some other statements. This morning, I saw statements by US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook who claims that Iranian officials who have replaced Qassem Soleimani may suffer the same fate at the hands of Washington, if they continue killing Americans.
They are already making such statements. I repeat, we consider them to be unacceptable, they remain outside the law. Representatives of sovereign states simply have no right to make such statements because they carry a direct threat.
Certainly, there are many examples of states or their representatives conducting illegal, wrongful and unlawful actions in line with direct or indirect orders or without any orders at all. Unfortunately, this happens. The world is not perfect. But this calls for relevant evidence that should lead towards lawful investigative activities. These can be internal procedural actions or international investigative teams. However, in this particular case, everything was resolved without a trial and investigation, let alone any evidence. We have repeatedly heard numerous statements by US diplomats and representatives of the State Department and other agencies that there was nothing specific indicating Qassem Soleimani’s direct involvement in any actions that he wanted to perpetrate and that would threaten the United States. Consequently, this amounts to completely unproven measures that could be interpreted as direct threats or those directly escalating into aggressive actions and that remain outside the legal framework.
Question: The Turkish media yesterday cited former Turkey officials who know, or presume to know that Russia allegedly plans to recognise the “unrecognised” territory in northern Cyprus or even to demand a military base there. The Russian Embassy has already declared these reports to be untrue. Would you care to add anything in this regard?
Maria Zakharova: I would like to say that we have prepared comments based on the opinion of our experts, and that we planned to publish special comments on this topic in the fake news section.
Since you have brought this up, I can tell you that we have taken note of this information. As far as we are aware, it was only published in the Cypriot media. According to it, a retired Turkish official alleged that Russia could make a deal with Ankara regarding its recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and even demand a naval base in the northern part of the island, allegedly for the protection of its economic interests. We will certainly post our comments regarding this information in the fake news section.
Russia has always adhered to a position of principle regarding a settlement in Cyprus, advocating a solution based on the respective UN Security Council resolutions on a bi-communal and bi-zonal federal Cyprus. We continue to advocate our position at international venues, including in favour of upholding the current mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP).
I would like to point out that the above allegation was likely orchestrated by those who are doing their best to sour Russia’s relations with Cyprus. At the same time, attempts have been made to torpedo Russia’s business projects, force our regional partners to abandon mutually beneficial cooperation and do direct damage to the fabric of bilateral relations.
We hope that those who have initiated this scandal will refrain from fostering strife in the Eastern Mediterranean and will instead rely on international law to help maintain security and stability that are critical conditions for a normal life in that fragile region.
As you know, we promptly respond to such news by providing our official position to lay such fake news bare. However, I wonder why the Euro-Atlantic agencies designed to combat disinformation are sitting on their hands. NATO and the EU have established special committees, commissions and other bodies. There are many of them. Why aren’t they combating this disinformation? Why do they pretend not to notice it? It is their space and a zone of control of the organisations headquartered in EU capitals. We provide all the necessary information. I have no doubt, I’m sorry to say, that we won’t get any reaction from them this time again, even though it could be a real feast. This is simply incredible. Millions of euros are invested and have been spent to set up organisations fighting disinformation in Europe. But what is the result? Have they at least created a mechanism of response to such fakes? Something does not add up here.
Question: I have a question that is of concern to Cypriots, Greeks, Egyptians and people from many other nations. You probably heard about the aggressive acts and provocations by the Turkish Government, which has violated Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone and threatened to do this with regard to Greece. The Turkish Government claims that islands cannot have a shelf or an exclusive economic zone. We would like you to comment on the practical actions or on compliance with the Law of the Sea.
Maria Zakharova: I would be delighted to comment on this. I believe you pointed out correctly that I should not focus on theory, which you know very well as it is, but rather talk about the practical aspects of the matter. I will request information regarding this, and we will forward it to you. It will include both a theoretical part and case studies connected with your question.
Question: I have a question about a recent decision made by the Greek Supreme Court. According to the media, the court has overruled a complaint made by Russian citizen Alexander Vinnik’s lawyers regarding a decision to extradite him to France and the United States. Could you comment on the situation?
Maria Zakharova: The Russian Embassy in Athens maintains direct contacts with Alexander Vinnik, his family and certainly his lawyers. They are also in contact with the Greek law enforcement agencies.
On the subject of legalities, we really do hope that a legal decision will completely take into account the legitimate interests of the Russian citizen.
Question: Good afternoon. I would like to ask you about a rather interesting interpretation of history presented by the European Union, probably, with a certain amount of US assistance. Notably, this implies the odious article by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki where he equates your predecessors, the Soviet Foreign Ministry, with the Third Reich’s war criminals, including Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Josef Goebbels and others. This is very serious. This is not a conversation at a pub somewhere in Brussels or Munich. This statement has been made by the country’s official who heads the government of a respected and sufficiently large European Union state. I believe that a new stage of history’s falsification has begun. How would do you combat this?
Maria Zakharova: First of all, this amounts to lies. This is direct lies, rather than misinformation and fake news. The article mentioned by you contains many such falsehoods. This is not the only mendacious thesis voiced by Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki. We replied fairly quickly to this text, although, to be honest, we could not even think that we would face such lies on the part of a statesman, an official representative of the state, the head of the government. I can say that this is not the only example. It shows the approach of some members of the Polish political elite and a considerable part of leaders in Warsaw who have chosen the subject of history for addressing a number of tasks. Of course, reviewing history comes first for them. Catering to one’s own political interests is the second thing. And I believe that catering to others’ interests is the third thing.
You have said that this is very serious. Yes, this is indeed very serious because everything written in the article by Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki abolishes the decisions made by the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal. If one accepts what is written in this publication, then this completely runs counter to the results of the Nuremberg Tribunal. In principle, this is beyond the boundaries of law. Who and, most importantly, on what grounds could have done this, remains a big question.
Another important thing is that this is not the only statement that has been made by a Polish official. This is not a one-off. According to our information, some time ago, in fact over the past few weeks or so, a decision was adopted in Poland to launch a large-scale disinformation campaign against Russia regarding the history of WWII, or in our case, the Great Patriotic War. They prepared and approved a package of classical disinformation measures. One decision provided for preparing and publishing information such as has been posted by Politico. I have questions to that media resource as well. Either its staff don’t know where Warsaw is located, what the Red Army was and when WWII was waged, which means that they are completely ignorant people, or they have posted complete lies. Writing that the Red Army did not liberate Warsaw, even though dozens of history papers have been written about this and collections of documents chronicling that event have been published, amounts not simply to providing the platform for disinformation but taking part in it too.
As I said, we will respond to each attack made by Polish or any other representatives. The most important thing is that we will continue to wholeheartedly uphold our position and we will do this ever more actively. Our position is very simple: the historical truth about WWII and the Great Patriotic War is inviolable. The foundations of this approach were formulated during the Nuremberg Trials and in the documents based on their outcome.
Question: The Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office has charged three Russian citizens with attempting to poison Bulgarian citizens with organophosphates in 2015. The Bulgarian prosecutors said European arrest warrants had been issued for these Russians. Does the Russian Foreign Ministry know their names? Do you have any details?
Maria Zakharova: I am sure that the Russian Embassy in Bulgaria is monitoring these developments. I will request additional information. For now, I can only tell you that such cases are the responsibility of the law enforcement agencies. This does not mean that you should place an enquiry with them, but that the countries investigating such cases should cooperate with the law enforcement bodies of the countries whose citizens have been charged with or are suspected of breaking the law.