Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, April 2, 2020
- Bringing Russian citizens home from abroad
- Humanitarian aid as part of common efforts against the coronavirus infection
- Russia’s aid to Italy in countering the spread of the coronavirus
- Response to misleading article in Italy’s La Stampa newspaper on Russian humanitarian cargo with masks for Abruzzo region allegedly detained in Russia
- Developments in and around Venezuela
- Human Rights Watch’s criticism of the “incredibly harsh conditions” of detainees in Russian pretrial prisons due to the lack of adequate medical care amid the coronavirus pandemic
- Statements by EU Ambassador to Russia Markus Ederer
- The Netherlands’ admission of civilian deaths in bombing of Iraq in 2015
- Europe’s first deal with Iran via INSTEX
- Facebook ban of Serbian news group
- Mechanism for funding embassies during the pandemic and rendering help to compatriots
- Organising memorial events to mark the 80th anniversary of the Katyn tragedy
- Ceasefire violations on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border
Fulfilling the decisions by the Presidium of the Government Coordination Council to control the incidence of the novel coronavirus infection and the Emergency Response Centre to prevent the importation and spread of the new coronavirus infection on the territory of the Russian Federation, the Foreign Ministry is facilitating the return of Russian citizens from foreign countries. In close coordination with the Ministry of Transport and Rosaviatsiya (Federal Air Transport Agency), and using the full potential of Russia’s foreign missions, the Foreign Ministry is organising the return of Russian citizens from foreign countries. In the process, the Foreign Ministry is being guided by decisions made in an interdepartmental format with consideration for the changing situation.
Further measures are of interest to many people that are now abroad and are still unable to return home but are in need: they have no money, cannot pay for accommodation, and have no means of communication. I would like to explain the measures and decisions that have been adopted, are being developed and that will be carried out.
Following a regular meeting of the Presidium of the Coordination Council on March 30, the Foreign Ministry has been instructed to provide access to information on Russian citizens who want to return home to the Ministry of Communications, the Social Insurance Fund and the working group of the State Council on countering the spread of the coronavirus. This information includes mobile telephone numbers that are required for preliminary SMS information on the need to fill out an e-form on the Government Services’ single portal. The Finance Ministry has also been instructed to provide the Foreign Ministry with 2020 federal budget allocations for the support of Russian citizens that are unable to return to the Russian Federation, need material assistance and have no housing in the country of their stay.
At present, Russian Foreign Ministry’s overseas agencies are providing aid to citizens exclusively within the scope of their capabilities. We believe that global systemic aid will be available soon based on the decisions made under the aegis of our Government.
I would also like to remind all those who are returning now, have returned or will return to the Russia Federation via the airports in Moscow and who live in Moscow, the Moscow Region or other regions, that you are required to follow the restrictions established in each region for preventing the spread of the coronavirus infection. I am referring to the 14-day period of self-isolation at home, if they live in Moscow or the Moscow Region. I would like to draw your attention, once again, to the fact that each region of the Russian Federation has adopted relevant decisions that must be carried out by all those who return home.
I also want to say that these days all responsible participants in international relations are aware of the new threat and new reality, which requires pooling all resources, capabilities and efforts to lead the world out of this difficult situation.
Countries of the world have been rendering each other much needed assistance. We would like to thank China for sending a relief consignment to Russia. On April 1, medical devices provided by the Chinese Government on a gratuitous basis were delivered by a Russian Aerospace Forces plane from Beijing to Moscow. The humanitarian aid has been sent, and relevant explanations have already been given on its contents.
I would like to note that we are also responding to requests coming to us in this difficult time.
As you know, Russian-US cooperation to combat the spread of the coronavirus infection is proceeding on the basis of understandings reached by the presidents of the two countries during their telephone conversation on March 30.
Under the agreement, a shipment of medical equipment was delivered to the United States by a Russian Defence Ministry cargo plane. Relevant explanations have been offered in response to questions put to the Russian side by US and Russian media.
I would like to answer all these questions again. Half of the shipment’s cost was paid by the Russian Direct Investment Fund and the other half by the US side. As you all know, the Russian Direct Investment Fund plays a major role in Russian-American business cooperation and supports US businesses in Russia.
At the present moment, and I believe this warrants heightened attention, Russia can help fight a common threat. I would like to underscore that this is a common threat, as everybody agrees now. At the most acute stage of China’s fight against the spread of the coronavirus epidemic, Moscow was one of the first to come to the aid of its Chinese friends. Now we are getting assistance from Beijing. Currently the United States is redirecting its manufacturers to make items needed to contain the coronavirus pandemic. We are sure that, if need be, they will be able to assist Russia later, if required.
Of course, we took note of the statement by the US State Department regarding the importance of joint efforts in fighting the coronavirus. Specifically, it reads that “both countries have provided humanitarian assistance to each other in times of crisis in the past and will no doubt do so again in the future. This is a time to work together to overcome a common enemy that threatens the lives of all of us.” We fully share this approach. Now is the time to work together!
The Italian nation welcomed Russia’s aid. The Russian Federation provides humanitarian aid to counter the spread of the coronavirus, and it has nothing to do with a political agenda.
The decision to send large-scale aid to the Apennines was made following the March 21 telephone conversation between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Italy Giuseppe Conte, when the latter asked the Russian president for assistance.
The fact that Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and Chief of Staff of the Italian Armed Forces Enzo Vecciarelli met the first planes of the Russian Aerospace Forces at Pratica di Mare Airport on March 22 shows the gratitude of the Italian authorities for Russia’s aid. The Italians welcomed Russia’s aid warmheartedly. You have seen those pictures. The Russian Foreign Ministry and diplomatic missions receive dozens of letters of gratitude, hundreds and even thousands of messages from ordinary people and various Italian public organisations. People living in Bergamo welcomed the Russian column with applause and the Russian anthem. The entire world has seen these pictures.
Russia’s aid to Italy is very specific and practical. I will not list all the contents of the humanitarian cargo sent there; everything has already been distributed and widely commented online by official representatives of the agencies who worked to send this cargo. In general, I can say that in addition to the humanitarian shipment, civil and military specialists and special equipment are working there; the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade also sends aid to Italy. We will elaborate on this topic on our social media accounts.
I would also like to mention another thing. These are examples of civilised humanitarian cooperation, of mutual help, which are the best evidence of what humankind has acquired over these years. However, there is the other side of the coin: the attempts to distort the true aim of this aid. All the mechanisms of propaganda and information war are being used to diminish the importance of these humanitarian efforts or simply distort them. Everything is used, including fake news and disinformation. Of course, all of this will never be able to diminish the importance of cooperation between countries and their mutual help, or stop the sincere and noble impulse of countries, nations and heads of state which offer a helping hand during this difficult period for all humankind, when it is necessary. I believe we should follow these honorable examples; there should be more of them. We must support each other in this difficult period for humankind.
The Italian newspaper La Stampa has distinguished itself with a number of articles that directly misrepresent Russia’s humanitarian aid to Italy. La Stampa recently published another fake news story in order to distort Russia’s actions in connection with the sanitary-epidemiological crisis in Italy.
Referring to dubious sources (if any), the outlet reported completely inaccurate information on a shipment from Russia that had allegedly been sequestered.
Of course, we responded at the Russian Embassy level and will continue to respond.
We have managed to identify the intermediary – Giosar LTD, registered in London, whose representative flatly refused to provide any information on the transaction mentioned in the article, or to answer any questions on the location, the cost and nature of the cargo, or on the specific sender or recipient.
After we cut through the haze, it turned out that this was a purely commercial transaction that some foreign intermediaries tried to carry out through a non-transparent scheme. At the same time, Russian authorities were not informed in advance about this shipment and had nothing to do with it. But all of this is described by La Stampa in the context of Russia’s humanitarian efforts.
I think it has become clear to many that some traders, out of their greed for profit, are apparently trying to take advantage of the problems, and in this case, the tragedy in Italy.
We will continue to counter this kind of misinformation toughly and regularly.
The global situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is helping to peel away the husk to reveal what matters most: our world is really small and interdependent. This is why humanity in relations between people and between countries as well as solidarity in the face of a common threat are vital today.
This view is what motivated Russia’s proposal at the extraordinary G20 summit on March 26 to establish so-called green corridors free from trade wars and sanctions to exchange supplies of medicine, food, equipment and technologies. Ideally we should also introduce a common moratorium on restrictions on essential goods and financial transactions to purchase them. Why? The answer is obvious: to give humankind a chance at life, at a new life, a life built on truly humanistic values. President of Russia Vladimir Putin stressed that this was a matter of life and death for people; a humanitarian issue that must be free from any political husk.
Other global leaders echoed Russia, in particular, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and President of Argentina Alberto Fernandez. We are promoting a corresponding initiative at the UN together with a group of like-minded countries.
Venezuela is among the countries where sanctions must be lifted, especially in this tough situation. I would like to stress once again that this situation is tough for all countries without exceptions. Many powerful international figures speak about this publically, including UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Hilal Elver. Even a group of American senators asked US President Donald Trump to suspend sanctions on the import of essential goods to Venezuela.
Important figures in the Venezuelan opposition also spoke in favour of this. Fighting the coronavirus is a unifying factor for a majority of the leading political forces in Caracas and the entire Venezuelan nation.
Unfortunately, we can see that a whole range of political groups in different countries are still guided by the logic of fleeting political interests, trying to use the difficult conditions in the world and the epidemiological situation in Venezuela, in particular, to achieve their political ends. These political forces intend to really crush the country and its people, because the idea of a coup to topple the legitimately elected President Nicolas Maduro still lives in some Western minds.
We are against blocking IMF aid to Caracas; and we condemn the fact that the US has put the head of a sovereign state on a wanted list based on a fabricated drug trafficking charge. At the same time, as if in mockery, Washington has announced its improvised “settlement” plan based on establishing some transitional government in Venezuela. For example, today we have received information that the largest “antidrug” operation in 30 years involving the US Navy has been launched in Latin America.
In this context the words of the US State Department representatives sound completely absurd.
A commonplace truth must be repeated, as we have already said many times. Only the Venezuelans as a sovereign nation have the right to determine their future based on their own laws, without destructive interference from outside the country. I would like to remind those who have forgotten: this is a cornerstone of democracy in international relations.
If we analyse the absurd American plan in the current context of the pandemic, there is no humanity or democracy in it.
Unfortunately, a whole panoply of political forces are trying to advance their agenda in a situation where every day counts to prevent the uncontrollable spread of this infection. We believe that in this situation aggravated by foreign sanctions the Venezuelan leadership headed by Nicolas Maduro is acting quite effectively.
Next, at a time when the world has in fact introduced a moratorium on all significant political and public events, it was suggested that some schedule for national elections in Venezuela be developed and approved with an emphasis on the re-election of the president. We believe that all thoughts must be, above all, about the Venezuelans and ways to help the country overcome this pandemic. We can talk about the unrealistic US plans for Venezuela for a long time, but I think we have said enough. We will continue to monitor this.
We noticed the Human Rights Watch’s article claiming that Russian detainees allegedly suffer from incredibly harsh conditions in custody due to the lack of proper medical care.
I would like to emphasise that the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia, together with the relevant sanitary and epidemiological departments, is taking the necessary measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. We believe that using the developments in any countries in a political context today is inappropriate and unworthy.
As for Human Rights Watch, the situation in their home country requires much more attention than the situation in our country. It would be worthwhile to pay attention to the situation in prisons and not only there, where this NGO has the opportunity to fully use its response potential based on real facts. They have such an opportunity in the United States.
I think the NGO is aware of the fact that 1.5 million people are kept in US prisons as of 2017. There are also Russian citizens among them. It would be good if Human Rights Watch drew attention at this difficult time to the fact that there are Russian citizens who have been kept in US prisons for many years and who really need medical care because they are in poor health, including due to the illegal actions of local authorities. There is such a problem, and we are talking about it. Therefore, Human Rights Watch has every opportunity to use its resources to this effect.
For a long time, we have been urging Washington to free Konstantin Yaroshenko, Viktor Bout, Bogdana Osipova, Roman Seleznev and many others. Over a week ago, on March 24, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sent US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo another message on this subject, calling for humanity amid the real danger to their health. It would be nice if our efforts, given the vigilance of Human Rights Watch, would be supported by the actions of this non-governmental organisation.
We have taken note of the surprising comment on Russia’s aid to Italy by EU Ambassador to Russia Markus Ederer.
Having properly thanked Russia for its assistance to friendly Italy, Mr Ederer repeated the groundless words of those who are in charge of propaganda in the EU. They are accusing Russia of a disinformation campaign. This is inexcusable behavior. If the EU Delegation to Russia has questions or facts showing clear informational errors, incongruities or even disinformation, we are always ready to reply and discuss materials like this. You have not submitted such materials because they do not exist. It is you who are involved in disinformation efforts. It is a shame to engage in this behaviour during these hard times for the entire humanity, including the EU.
The news coming from the Netherlands provides an opportunity to revisit the bombing of Hawija (Iraq) by the Dutch Air Force in June 2015. The Foreign Ministry released an assessment of this event last December but at that time The Hague stubbornly rejected any involvement in killing several dozen civilians.
Apparently, under pressure from the public and certain MPs, Dutch Defence Minister Ank Bijleveld finally admitted that 70 civilians were killed during this operation by the Dutch Air Force. She tried to offer an excuse for this. She said that nobody in the Netherlands knew about the real scale of the accident until recently because the United States did not present the final figures on the victims of the air attack.
This is an interesting story. Having been pinned to the wall by hard facts, The Hague suddenly decided who was to blame, notably, the United States. Meanwhile, in the last five years, the Dutch authorities have tried to teach everyone how to observe human rights, to ensure information openness, to counter disinformation, how to sentence criminals to a fair punishment and put them behind bars. Sort it out! Five years were not enough to discover the fate of the people who were simply bombed and killed in a foreign country. Someone ordered this, and not by mistake. Someone gave an order and 70 innocent people were killed. These 70 civilian deaths have been counted in the total statistics of the anti-ISIS coalition since April 2017.
The conclusion is simple. The Dutch authorities were fully aware of the consequences of this operation by the Dutch Air Force and simply concealed the fact of mass killing of Iraqi civilians from the Dutch public. Keep this in mind when these authorities tell you the so-called truth next time.
The delivery of medical supplies to Iran has been reported in the media. This is the first such shipment through a new mechanism, the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), that the EU established in 2019.Of course, we can only welcome the progress with INSTEX that facilitates normal business transactions and lawful trade and economic cooperation with Iran despite US sanctions. In fact, we did so while INSTEX was still being developed. At the same time, there is no getting around the fact that the preparations, some of which were really needed and others were more like tilting at windmills, took almost a year, with the first news of the upcoming transactions dating to June 2019.
We understand that effective tools to offset the impact of illegal unilateral US sanctions is a new, labour-intensive undertaking for the European Union. Still, it has yielded some results. What needs to happen now is further efforts in this area. The procedures already established need to be improved and stepped up. If INSEX is to be a success, it needs to include US-sanctioned goods and non-EU countries that are Iran’s major trade partners. Then, INSTEX will be a fully fledged tool, fulfilling expectation as a powerful element of the global response to sanctions.
We will comment and provide information on later developments. The need for such tools usually becomes especially apparent in times of challenge such as the coronavirus pandemic. Unilateral sanctions in times like these are unacceptable, cynical and immoral.
It has come to our attention that Facebook has blocked the account of Vostok.rs, a Serbian news group that is known for publishing stories from the Russian media.
The reason is unclear. Officially, the ban was due to a violation of the “community standards,” but it was imposed after the publication of materials about the anniversary of the NATO aggression against Yugoslavia in 1999, which begs the question of whether it was indeed a coincidence.
It seems that an administrator or staff member responsible for moderation and censorship of social media, including Facebook, did not like being reminded about the tragic events that took place 20 years ago and the unsavory role played by the countries complicit in the aggression against a sovereign nation. The ban was introduced silently, taking advantage of the fact that everyone’s attention is now focused on the coronavirus and combatting the pandemic.
It is of course another violation of the freedom of speech, an act of political censorship with a clear anti-Russian subtext. Even in times of severe hardships when humanity is fighting a common enemy, which is the pandemic, some politically biased parties, including the media, resort to dirty tricks by censoring news, even though the times demand a different kind of action.
Question: It was decided that embassies must use their own budgets to help Russian citizens in difficult situations. How will the embassies be compensated for these costs considering that it is impossible to send additional funds to some countries due to the sanctions, and that diplomatic post will not be delivered? What is the plan for embassy operations?
Maria Zakharova: I am starting with this because it is the main issue on the Foreign Ministry’s agenda today: how to help Russian citizens. I have also said that efforts are underway in two areas: to bring Russians home and to develop systematic measures (the Government is working on this; and the Foreign Ministry will implement it). Again, that’s global systematic measures to help those abroad who desperately need money.
First, all of these measures will be carried out online. Once this mechanism is developed in detail (this should happen in a couple of days), our embassies will be given corresponding instructions. So far, the foreign missions are using their own capacities to help those in need with logistics, paperwork, transfers to airports and help with accommodation. There are examples of informal, personal responses: diplomats at some embassies sympathise with certain people and help them with their own money. This is a good example, because now they are mostly working within a given situation instead of simply implementing instructions.
We are often told that it is impossible to reach the Foreign Ministry on the telephone. The peak load is about 200 calls per minute: no institution has that kind of capacity. The number of calls can reach 10,000–15,000 daily. I would like to note that in some countries the number of people wanting to return home is a hundred times more than the number of diplomatic mission employees, who still have to answer phone calls and messages. They still need to do the practical work: fill out the paperwork for flights, update lists and send them (because they are constantly changing with new people and the people that leave), prepare these lists based on the quotas; prepare documents for people (letters on visa extensions and requests for copies – any paperwork); and logistics. All this while trying to take so many calls and messages.
Question: At what stage is the organisation of commemorative events to mark the 10th anniversary of the crash of the Tu-154M aircraft carrying Polish leadership, and the 80th anniversary of the Katyn massacre? Has been there a concrete request from the Polish side? Will the Polish delegation visit given the current situation?
Maria Zakharova: The Polish party filed a formal request for assistance in organising a visit by the delegation of the Republic of Poland led by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to Smolensk and Katyn on April 10, 2020, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the presidential plane crash and the 80th anniversary of the Katyn events.
We are working on this issue in close contact with our Polish partners with regard to the global development of the COVID-19 situation.
Question: At 7 pm on March 30, Azerbaijan again violated the ceasefire regime. They shelled Armenia’s Tavush Province, wounding Armenian military personnel and a child who is now in the ICU. How can you comment on it?
Maria Zakharova: According to our information, there have been cases of ceasefire violation on the border. Attacks are being made on civil facilities and personal automobiles. There are wounded people, including civilians.
We urge the parties to show restraint, refrain from using force and come back to the negotiating table as soon as the objective conditions allow it.
We will continue to hold briefings, answer questions and provide prompt comments on the website of the Foreign Ministry and on its social network accounts. Our priority is to assist Russian citizens who are currently abroad. The Ministry’s central and foreign offices have devoted all efforts to this purpose. I want our citizens to know this.