4 June 202019:49

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, June 4, 2020

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Table of contents

 

  1. Coronavirus update
  2. Assisting Russian nationals to return home
  3. Delivery of US ventilators to Russia
  4. Termination of the relationship between the United States and the WHO
  5. Update on Syria
  6. Anti-Russia statements by US officials
  7. Developments in Libya
  8. Update on Venezuela
  9. Ukraine’s new attempts to sabotage the resolution of the Donbass conflict
  10. Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) agenda
  11. US attempts to use UN Security Council as a platform to discuss the Hong Kong situation
  12. Mass protests against police brutality in the United States
  13. Developments around Wikileaks founder Julian Assange
  14. Germany’s accusations regarding Russia’s alleged complicity in a 2015 hacker attack on the German Bundestag
  15. Escalating spy fever in the Netherlands
  16. Propaganda of Nazi symbols in the Czech Republic
  17. Foreign Ministry report on the glorification of Nazism, manifestations of neo-Nazism and racism
  18. New Anti-Serb move by the Kosovo authorities
  19. Situation around trilateral negotiations on the construction of the Grand Renaissance hydropower station on the Blue Nile River by the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
  20. World Environment Day under auspices of UNEP

Answers to media questions:

  1. Aggravation of the conflict on the Sino-Indian border
  2. Settlement of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan
  3. Possible resumption of visa-free exchanges on the South Kurile Islands depending on the coronavirus situation
  4. Rules for economic activity in the South Kurile Islands
  5. Ukrainian media reports on a Normandy Four meeting at the foreign minister level
  6. Intention to send US troops to Tunisia to counter Russian presence in the region
 

 

 

Coronavirus update

 

Let’s start with the coronavirus update and developments around the world that have become a familiar topic over the past few months. During the past week, the number of people infected with the new coronavirus in the world exceeded 6.5 million people (6,511,696). A relative slowdown in the overall trend of those infected has been recorded (the increase in confirmed cases over the past 24 hours was approximately 1 percent). This is, I repeat, the global trend. Nevertheless, the overall pandemic situation in various regions is still characterised as ambiguous. A serious outbreak in Latin America and developments in Africa are alarming.

The epidemiological situation in the EU countries looked noticeably more favourable. This is allowing the national authorities to lift quarantine restrictions step-by-step, to relax the border barriers, and to work closely on “relaunching” the economy.

Under today’s conditions of the world community’s joint efforts to battle this dangerous global challenge, it is extremely important to coordinate actions not only at the state and government levels, but also within relevant multilateral agencies.

We highly appreciate the contribution of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to pandemic response, especially where weakened healthcare systems are not ready for an influx of patients. The Red Cross’s representatives work in more than 90 countries around the world, including “hot spots” and remote areas where their experience is now especially needed. Following the announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, this humanitarian organisation, whose mission, according to its statute, is to protect and assist the victims of war and armed violence, has made great efforts to combat the coronavirus. As part of promoting constructive cooperation with the ICRC, our country, in accordance with Russian Government Directive No. 1415-r of May 28, will send a voluntary contribution to its budget in the amount of 500,000 Swiss francs to finance this year’s costs on coronavirus response. We consider this voluntary contribution an important input by Russia to international cooperation in the fight against the pandemic.

In countering the spread of COVID-19, Russia also actively cooperates with its partners in the post-Soviet space. The other day at a special meeting of the CIS Coordinating Council on the Sanitary Protection of Territories, a plan of joint actions by the CIS countries on coronavirus prevention and response was considered. Close contact is maintained in the Eurasian Economic Union format, including through the chief state physicians of the member countries.

I would also like to recall that earlier the Government of the Russian Federation allocated $1 million to the World Health Organisation.

The overall level of Russian contribution to the fight against COVID-19 through international organisations is estimated at more than $30 million.

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Assisting Russian nationals to return home

 

I would like to touch on a theme that has been among the priorities of the Foreign Ministry’s activities for the past three months. Work is ongoing to evacuate our citizens from abroad, those who are unable to do so themselves and need help since the world transport system has come to a halt. Over 26,000 people have come back to Russia since the current algorithm on evacuation by the domestic airlines was initiated. Also, according to the latest data, foreign airlines carried a total of 3,500 Russian nationals. Thus overall we are approaching 30,000 people. In early April, there was approximately the same number of applications requesting evacuation assistance on the public services portal. That was the number we mentioned. Back then around 30,000 people had applied for assistance in returning to Russia.

We are often asked how many more people remain stranded, why evacuation is taking so long, for months now, while there are still many who need help. I would like to say that the number of our citizens who need evacuation varies a lot. It depends on many factors. About 25,000 people applied to Russian diplomatic missions abroad with a request for evacuation by the end of May. The lists are compiled on the public services portal, but the Russian diplomatic missions stay in contact with the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Communications to verify those lists. Obviously, the number of people in need of help will increase after the academic year is over. Those who were abroad for study, even remotely, will apparently still need to come home. At least this is the trend we are monitoring. 

As to the duration of the evacuation process, it depends on the parameters adopted when the algorithm was approved, namely on so-called regional quotas. It was determined that 500 people could arrive in Moscow and 200 in other regions every day.  

We keep expanding the evacuation geography and adjusting the algorithm to actual conditions. In the past week, Russian citizens have come back from Bangkok, Dushanbe, New York, Miami, Bishkek, Seoul, Madrid, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Azur Air’s special flight carried Russians from the Dominican Republic. As a reminder, an evacuation flight from the Dominican Republic was one of the first we carried out but an additional flight appeared to be necessary afterwards. And it was done. Meanwhile, thanks to the professional teamwork of our Embassy in Colombia we also managed to include our compatriots from that country on the same flight. They took a chartered flight arranged especially for them to Caracas where the Azur Air flight departed from. This included 60 Russian nationals and even a cat.   

Among the changes was a pilot flight plan that we tested to carry residents from different federal districts by separate flights from a hub in Russia. Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow was chosen as the hub. A wide-body Boeing 777 landed in Moscow from New York with 330 people on board that we subsequently sent to their regions on special flights – to Rostov-on-Don and Makhachkala (the Southern and North Caucasus federal districts) and also to Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk (Siberian and Ural federal districts). This flight plan makes it possible, among other things, to relieve burden on the quarantine centres in the Moscow Region and to ensure the evacuation of more people from other countries.

And, finally, we are more actively using the connecting flights of foreign air carriers and Russian “evacuation” flights under the approved algorithm. Thanks to the professional, effective and concerted work of several Russian embassies we have evacuated around 60 people from Australia and New Zealand. We intend to offer information on this flight plan to those countries where it is appropriate and will be in demand.

I would also like to note that the implementation of the algorithm and all the steps to increase its efficacy and adjust it to changing international situations is being managed by the Russian Government’s Emergency Response Centre in close cooperation with the Ministries of Communications, Transport, Rosaviatsia (Federal Agency for Air Transport), our law enforcement agencies that are also engaged and helping with the programme, and of course, Rospotrebnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Protection and Welfare). We thank them for their well-coordinated work and around the clock cooperation.

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Delivery of US ventilators to Russia

 

A plane carrying 150 lung ventilators from the United States landed in Moscow today. This second shipment was carried out in keeping with the agreements between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of the United States Donald Trump.

Russia has received a total of 200 ventilators from the United States. They are at the Pirogov National Medical and Surgical Centre, where specialists will decide how to distribute this equipment to Russian medical institutions with due account for the sanitary and epidemiological situation and depending on the real need for them. I would like to remind you that Russia helped the United States at a challenging time for them, and it was agreed that once the United States arranged ventilator production and if the Russian Federation needed the machines, they would agree on such humanitarian supplies. I believe this is a brilliant example of how countries can ensure cooperation and partnership in a very difficult situation.

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Termination of the relationship between the United States and the WHO

 

We have taken note of a statement by President Trump about terminating the United States’ relationship with the World Health Organisation (WHO). We promptly commented on it.

As of now, the US side has failed to give any clarifications regarding the statement by its President. According to the available information, Washington did not send any additional messages to the WHO Secretariat in Geneva either. We will continue to watch the developments closely because this is not only about Twitter statements but also about the withdrawal procedure.

Regrettably, we have to state that such steps undermine the WHO’s performance and divert attention from current priorities. This is happening when the WHO, as recognised by its member countries in the final resolution of the World Health Assembly, should play a key coordinating role in the global community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope that common sense will prevail. Now as never before, we need solidarity and readiness for multilateral cooperation.

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Update on Syria

 

The situation in Syria remains relatively calm.

The ceasefire in the Idlib de-escalation zone is generally being respected, and Russia and Turkey continue to jointly patrol the section of the M-4 motorway there. However, any effort to implement the Additional Protocol of March 5 meets rigid opposition from the militants. On May 27, during a Turkish patrol movement, a terrorist landmine blew up killing one Turkish soldier and injuring another. This is yet further confirmation that terrorists, recognised as such by the UN Security Council, are in control of Idlib.

In this context, we noted a number of publications about reformatting plans for Hayat Tahrir al-Sham – another rebranding of the group in order to present it as political opposition. Over the years, we have repeatedly pointed this out, and would like to reiterate again today: this kind of flirting with terrorists, recognised as such by the UN Security Council, any attempts to subclass them into “ideologically charged” and “non-religious” groups, into bad and good, or toxic and moderate, as you know, have so far meant trouble. We hope that our Turkish partners will fulfill their obligations to neutralise the radical forces that control Idlib.

In the region east of the Euphrates, ISIS terrorists seem to have decided to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic – they have intensified attacks on Kurdish units, and made several successful prison escapes. The situation is exacerbated by the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the absence of sustained access to them. The risk of bringing the infection into the infamous Al-Hawl camp, where about 68,000 people are kept, remains very high. As you know, Al-Hawl is located near the border with Iraq, and Americans continue to cross it to illegally import various goods, violating international laws and quarantine recommendations. If the virus reaches Al-Hawl, the camp will suffer the largest outbreak in the country.

A difficult situation is also being observed in another IDP camp, Rukban, also located in the American occupation zone. Civilians who fled from there say they saw UN humanitarian convoys that never reached the camp. We have talked about this too. According to the refugees, they never received any help, and Rukban turned into a real prison for them. Outside that 55-km zone, arbitrarily established by the United States, the Syrian authorities are helping refugees with support from the Russian military, and people are finally able to return to their homes.

In this regard, I would like to note that, in general, the process of returning Syrians to their homeland has resumed after easing the restrictions on movement imposed over coronavirus concerns. Last week, more than 400 people returned via the border crossings on the Syrian-Lebanese border. In addition, the Syrian government evacuated over 2,000 of its citizens who found themselves abroad during the coronavirus pandemic.

At the same time, it is disappointing that the European Union followed the United States to extend unilateral sanctions against Syria. We have noted more than once that these restrictions cripple the Syrian economy, and worse still, limit the procurement of vital medicine and medical equipment, and humanitarian supplies. The announced exemptions and waivers do not actually work, and are highly bureaucratised, as confirmed by the humanitarian workers based in Syria.

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Anti-Russia statements by US officials

 

I would like to comment on anti-Russia statements by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State on European affairs Matthew Palmer. He made these statements during a video conference organised by the Marshall Fund NGO on May 27.

In effect, the US diplomat who does not take part in a single Russian-US consultative mechanism called into doubt Russia’s compliance with its commitments on international agreements and even warned US allies against establishing cooperation with Moscow.

What did he offer by way of example? For some reason, he referred to the situation in Idlib, Syria. He believes that Damascus is violating the ceasefire at Russia’s prompting. He is either unaware of statements made by his colleague, Special Representative of the US Secretary of State for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey, who has given a positive assessment of the situation in the de-escalation zone, or has not heard about the aggressive inroads by terrorists against Syrian government troops and the Russian Khmeimim airbase. I think American diplomats should clear the air and adopt a common approach (our publications may help them in this respect).

The US official called Russian-Turkish cooperation in Syria a surrogate alliance that is doomed to fail. Particularly surprising are his hints at the unequal character of Russia’s relations with Ankara on this issue and the pressure that Russia is ostensibly exerting on Turkey in the context of Syrian events in energy, trade and tourism. I would like to note that the tangible results of our versatile cooperation with Turkey have been possible because they are based on mutually beneficial and mutually respectful relations – without dictating or lecturing. I think Washington has forgotten the importance of the words “mutually respectful.” It could borrow from our experience by looking at our multifaceted bilateral relations with Turkey.

Washington’s periodic threats to punish Turkey, a NATO member, with sanctions for purchasing Russian S-400 Triumph air defence missiles illustrates the drawbacks of alliances build on a US pattern.

Mr Palmer raised another issue that seems perplexing. He said that Russia’s humanitarian aid to a number of countries during the pandemic has been ostentatious. He claimed that nobody knows what was there in it. We believe Mr Palmer should ask the government and the people of, say, Italy. I think it would be good if he asks the White House as a US diplomat what was in Russia’s humanitarian aid to the US. I am confident that White House officials will share this information with him. There is no reason for them to conceal what was sent by Russia, as humanitarian aid, from a Department of State employee. If they fail to do this, prefer not to do it or can find no time for it, we will be ready to provide this information again because it was published on our website. Incidentally, the media covered this episode. Mr Palmer can ask them, too.

Summing up the analysis of this interview, I would like to understand whether these statements were improvised or were the officially approved recommendations of the US Department of State as regards Russia. I wouldn’t like to think that Washington is using even the current unprecedented humanitarian crisis for new consistent attacks on our country.

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Developments in Libya

 

We have received many questions regarding Libya and there have been numerous reports both in the Russian and foreign media. We were asked to comment on the situation, on fake news and rumours. We regularly comment on everything that relates to fake news of some US media regarding allegedly counterfeit Libyan currency that was ‘printed’ by Russia. All these comments are published on the official website of the Foreign Ministry.

As for the general developments, we are deeply concerned about what is going on in the western part of the country, including the increased number of crimes committed by armed militia that includes militants from Syria, including Jabhat al-Nusra, which was marked as a terrorist organisation by the UN Security Council. The movement now operates under a new brand name, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which is not that new, as we said when covering the developments in Syria. In violation of the humanitarian ceasefire, announced by the Libyan National Army on the occasion of Ramadan and against the backdrop of the pandemic, armed groups are continuing combat operations. Acts of vengeance happened in settlements, felony prisoners and members of terrorist organisations marked as such by the UN, such as Ansar al-Sharia, are breaking out of prisons.

We believe that the ongoing combat operations will lead to a further deepening of the system-wide crisis that threatens Libya and its long suffering people with catastrophic consequences. The conflict can only be settled via an intra-Libyan national dialogue. We again urge the international community to join efforts and help the Libyans to overcome this impasse.

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Update on Venezuela

 

In conditions of an extremely difficult financial and economic situation caused by the unilateral US restrictions, the lawful authorities of Venezuela are purposefully countering the coronavirus pandemic.

On June 1, the Government of Nicolas Maduro and opposition representatives in the National Assembly signed a document to cooperate on countering the pandemic with the participation of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO). The sides determined the main areas for this cooperation. We consider it important that the agreement was reached by the Venezuelans themselves with assistance from the WHO regional office. This again confirms the need for this specialised international organisation and its specific contribution to international relations during the pandemic and to anti-coronavirus efforts.

Having taken their first careful steps towards each other, the Venezuelan parties have demonstrated their understanding of the need to develop cooperation to overcome a common threat. This approach is fully consonant with what we have been urging since the start of the COVID-19 epidemic in Venezuela. These first attempts to build confidence and understanding must be followed by further practical cooperation with a view to resolving urgent economic, social and political problems.     

Most countries share Russia’s view that a peaceful, inclusive dialogue between the Venezuelans is required for normalising the situation. However, there are differences in the approaches to resolving the country’s problems, and some are fundamental.

The first, and probably key difference is the possibility of using force against Venezuela as a sovereign state. Russia strictly complies with the standards of international law and considers even raising this issue unacceptable.

There is another approach that could be reduced to “all options on the table.” Those who think along these lines do not intend to give it up, despite the failure of a number of anti-Venezuela adventures that used force.

It was announced recently that US military units would be transferred to neighbouring Colombia to assist security forces there. They consist of several hundred “military advisers” with a record of service in Afghanistan. They are being sent to Latin America for the first time. It is hard to believe they will perform their stated mission of strengthening security. Their stay in the direct vicinity of Venezuela is a signal that the illegal entry into the country is possible at any time. This is very serious. Head of the US Southern Command Admiral Craig Faller said that apart from countering illegal actions in the region, these troops will be used for promoting certain ideals and values. These words can only be qualified as a concealed threat and provocation.

Second, US administration officials often speak in favour of intra-Venezuelan dialogue but on each occasion they set forth patently unacceptable terms, such as “Maduro must go.” This is the traditional approach in US relations with sovereign states if the Americans don’t like something. Another condition is the demand that Venezuela stop cooperating with Cuba and certain other countries. Assistance for Venezuela may only be rendered by the “right” allies. This is what US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said again recently in the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. This approach, in which one side is always to blame and the other is always right, is not only unconstructive but also self-defeating. The US continually tries to derail any constructive move in the right direction as the Venezuelan sides try to meet each other halfway and look for compromise. Their efforts are immediately sidetracked.

Third, at the last briefing, we spoke in detail about the adverse impact of unilateral restrictions against the economy and the social sphere in Venezuela.

We are paying much attention to this because such restrictions are a striking example of the violation of international law and are now aggravated by the already complicated epidemiological situation in the world. During the pandemic they look cynical and inhumane because they prevent the Venezuelan authorities from making full-scale efforts to supply the population with medication and other facilities needed for countering the coronavirus.

But the sanctions pressure continues. Warnings made by the US administration several days ago are beyond reason. US officials warned governments of all countries against facilitating, in any way, supplies of Iranian fuel to Venezuela. Earlier threats against insurance companies and ship owners are being supplemented by Washington’s attempts to intimidate port managers and ship owners and captains. In addition to the imposed restrictions and aggressive statements, the US Department of Treasury has recently included another four shipping companies that are involved in bringing fuel to Venezuela. Does this mean that such opportunistic objectives justify the means? We certainly denounce this illegal practice. We demand an end to such actions regarding a sovereign state.

Let’s recall that Venezuela’s priority today is to overcome its domestic differences and mistrust. We urge all responsible political forces in Venezuela to conduct an inclusive national dialogue based on democratic principles and in conformity with national law. It is necessary to pool efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. It is time to sign a large-scale humanitarian agreement. We are ready to support a peaceful political decision that is made by the Venezuelans themselves and render constructive assistance in implementing it while fully respecting Venezuela’s sovereignty.

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Ukraine’s new attempts to sabotage the resolution of the Donbass conflict

 

Kiev continues to shy away from fulfilling the Minsk agreements. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine Alexey Reznikov has now joined this interesting game, too. Judging by his status in the Minsk Contact Group, he should be fulfilling this Package of Measures, signed by Ukraine. It is unclear why the Ukrainian representative has confused the Minsk agreements and the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances of 1994 in connection with Ukraine’s joining the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and has suggested convening consultations of its parties. This implies only three parties, the United States, the United Kingdom and Ukraine, without Russia.

We are repeatedly hearing the idea of the Ukrainian representatives to use the Budapest Memorandum to discuss the situation in southeastern Ukraine. There is nothing new in this, although officials, people embodying the state and official representatives directly involved in the negotiating process did not voice such initiatives in the past.

Unlike them, the Deputy Prime Minister knows that the Budapest Memorandum has nothing to do with the domestic Ukrainian conflict in Donbass. Just a reminder that Russia is not responsible for the consequences of the February 2014 coup d’état, perpetrated by nationalists, that disrupted the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

In this connection, we regard statements made by Mr Reznikov as yet another attempt to shy away from the work to resolve the conflict under the Package of Measures, passed in February 2015, to wreck the Minsk and Normandy formats and to replace them by an alternative format without Donetsk and Lugansk.  This is, so to say, an obsession of the Kiev authorities. By burying the Minsk agreements, they want to start everything from scratch. This is probably how they are formulating the task. Is this the so-called Plan B or even C that Kiev has been mentioning so often lately? It would be interesting to hear what France and Germany think on this score because they are also involved in the Normandy format.

We are once again urging the Ukrainian side to stop sabotaging the Minsk agreements and to redirect its energy and creativity into fulfilling its obligations under the Package of Measures and the package of decisions of the Normandy format’s Paris summit.

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Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) agenda

 

On May 29, the Group of Eminent Persons (GEM) to advance the CTBT’s ratification issued a statement (published on the website of the Preparatory Commission of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation, CTBTO PC) in reaction to media reports that senior officials in the United States have discussed the possibility of conducting a demonstration nuclear test explosion. Apparently, the US finds this a good time for one.

GEM thinks however differently. The document, in particular, notes that such a test, would, “if carried out, break the global moratorium on nuclear weapon test explosions and severely undermine the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban (CTBT) regime.”

Members of the GEM believe that “the most effective way to resolve possible concerns about very low-yield nuclear explosions is to bring the treaty into force.” Once it happens, “states have the option to demand intrusive, short-notice on-site inspections to investigate suspicious activities.” This requires ratification by eight more states, including the United States.

To build a more peaceful and secure international environment, the eminent personalities and internationally recognised experts urge the use of diplomacy rather than intimidation — this is how they qualify the US actions. All responsible states are called upon to reiterate their strong support for the CTBT, and to take concrete action to secure its prompt entry into force.

We thoroughly back this statement and we really do hope that Washington will heed the opinions of people who have made a significant personal contribution to the establishment of the nuclear non-proliferation regime and have contributed to the strengthening of international peace and security.

A brief reminder who the GEM members are: former IAEA Director-General Hans Blix;  President of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference Jayantha Dhanapala; former Executive Secretary of the CTBTO PC Wolfgang Hoffmann. The Russian representative of the Group is former Permanent Representative of Russia to International Organisations in Vienna, Head of the Russian delegation at the CTBT negotiations, Ambassador Grigory Berdennikov. It might be a good idea to listen to the experts.

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US attempts to use UN Security Council as a platform to discuss the Hong Kong situation

 

Russia respects China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, considers Hong Kong as China’s internal affair, and calls on all external forces to stop interfering in ties between that country’s government and its Special Administrative Region.

In this regard, the Russian side considers the US and UK initiative to launch a discussion of the Hong Kong situation at the UN Security Council platform on May 29 as unacceptable. Such actions undermine China’s sovereignty and flatly violate the fundamental norms of international law enshrined in the UN Charter, and, as we believe, are solely motivated by an interest  to settle accounts with the foreign political “opponent.” Washington has already done a lot in US-Chinese relations to mess them up.

Once again, I would like to point out that the competence of the UN Security Council is limited to issues directly related to threats to international peace and security. Attempts to extend the agenda of the UN Security Council to stories that go beyond its mandate are counterproductive and fraught with reduced efficiency and weakened authority of that body, which is crucial for the modern system of international relations. 

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Mass protests against police brutality in the United States

 

We continue to follow closely the explosive developments in the United States that followed the murder of an Afro-American man, George Floyd, by police officers in Minneapolis on May 25. I want to underscore that this is how it is qualified in the United States. Mass protests have been going on all over the country for the second week, as it was stated, against “police violence and racial discrimination.” Yesterday a wave of protests swept over 27 states. A curfew has been imposed in 200 cities and more than 20,000 US National Guard personnel have been deployed in addition to the police.

We take note of the actions by US law enforcement agencies during the protests. We all saw from the multitude of TV reports that tear gas and other riot control weapons are used against peaceful protesters, who are being arrested and detained en mass. Even helicopters were engaged in order to intimidate the protesters. A lot of media personnel, including Russian journalists, were injured while covering rallies and protests. We commented on the situation in detail, made statements and representations to the United States and sent a diplomatic note on this matter to the State Department via the Russian Embassy in Washington.

It is our understanding that in stopping pillage and other unlawful actions the authorities should not violate the right of the American people to a peaceful protest.

President Trump’s recent signing of an executive order on Advancing International Religious Freedom looks especially paradoxical against this background. This is a matter of concern for our partners and they monitor the international situation in this field. This executive order states that religious freedom and protection of believers worldwide – and this is especially paradoxical – is a foreign policy priority for the United States. There are plans to budget $50 million for some programmes that promote international religious freedom.

Why am I saying that this looks ridiculous? I would like to believe that before showing their zeal in protecting the rights of the "suppressed" and “dissenters” in other countries, US authorities will start to scrupulously observe democratic standards and ensure the freedoms of their citizens at home. It’s high time for that. I think that our US colleagues should abandon their preaching tonality, which they have stuck to for many years when speaking to other countries, and walk up to a mirror and then describe everything they see there in statements like those that they addressed to many countries.

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Developments around Wikileaks founder Julian Assange

 

We are concerned about the information that Julian Assange’s lawyers cannot get access to him, while the journalist’s health, which was already undermined by many years of imprisonment, continues to deteriorate. At the insistence of his doctors, the journalist had to refrain from attending the hearings on his own case, which took place on May 18. Moreover, we are confused by the judge’s decision to dismiss Assange’s appeal to be released on bail amid the spread of the coronavirus in HM Prison Belmarsh where he is kept. According to the doctors, the journalist is in the risk group due to the lung disease that became aggravated during his many years of imprisonment.

International human rights activists have repeatedly pointed out that a total of 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been violated with regard to Assange. According to United Nations Special Rapporteur Nils Melzer, Assange was subject to psychological torture. I cannot make a firm conclusion, this is not a matter of politics, but of medicine and healthcare, but one way or another Melzer’s opinion has not been contested by qualified experts and is still one of the focal points of many reports and publications regarding the case of Julian Assange. It is obvious (and it has been confirmed by doctors form various countries) that for over six months, Assange has required emergency medical and psychological assistance; in fact, his life is in danger.

Such measures of the British justice regarding Julian Assange seem at least inhumane and rather look like punishment for his professional activity. It is astonishing that such humiliation of human rights is happening in Great Britain, whose government actively advocates human rights and democratic values all over the world.

The Assange case is a blow that the Western judicial system has struck at itself, while the system, as many observers note, is used as a punishment tool against undesirable people for political reasons.

We would like to point out that Great Britain and the Unites States are waging an information campaign against the imprisonment conditions for Paul Whelan, a national of the United States, Great Britain, Ireland and Canada, who has been serving a sentence for espionage in Russia since December 2018. On May 27, 2020, he asked for medical assistance due to an aggravated chronic illness. Already the next day, he had surgery and was provided with the necessary qualified medical aid.

We consider Assange’s imprisonment amid the COVID-19 pandemic absolutely unacceptable. We hope that the British authorities will not allow his health to deteriorate, and show compassion for the journalist. There is a dissonance between the words and actions of our Western partners, including as regards human rights.

We urge the international community and human rights organisations to join efforts to assert the journalist’s legitimate rights.

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Germany’s accusations regarding Russia’s alleged complicity in a 2015 hacker attack on the German Bundestag

 

We resolutely reject Germany’s groundless accusations against Russia concerning the complicity of Russian state agencies in a 2015 hacker attack on the German Bundestag.

For all these years, Berlin has been circulating absolutely groundless speculations relating to an alleged Russian connection in hacking the German Parliament’s computer networks. As usual, they are talking about hacking, a ‘Russian connection’ and ‘Kremlin’s hand’. For all these years, Germany has been regularly exploiting this story as part of an aggressive anti-Russia media campaign, based on subtle hints and leaks quoting so-called “well-informed” anonymous sources in the German state machinery. The “highly likely” system is working. We are witnessing the use of a political approach aiming to persuade the German public to view Russia as an adversary.

Here are the facts, rather than the “highly likely” scenario. Since 2015, the German side has failed to provide any evidence of Russia’s guilt and has also failed to coherently explain on what its anti-Russia accusations hinge. Repeated thunderous statements that no one, except Moscow, could perpetrate this cyber-attack because it is impossible to implement such an attack without using a special state resource are absurd. This amounts to a pseudo-legal position and nonsense. Today, German authorities are quoting certain “reliable evidence” that, according to the German media, was obtained by Berlin from the United States. This is an important aspect. The United States is a well-known supplier of “reliable” facts and evidence. If the German side really has received well-documented evidence of someone’s guilt from Washington, then the Russian side is ready to examine it. There are special mechanisms for exchanging the relevant data. At the same time, Moscow would unequivocally interpret failure to present facts as an unjustified anti-Russia accusation. What can be easier than providing this “reliable evidence?” In any event, we are not asking them to present eyewitnesses.

Until now, Berlin has always failed to adequately respond to the Russian side’s repeated proposals to conduct a detailed discussion of German claims in connection with the hacker attack on the Bundestag during bilateral talks. In this connection, the German side has failed to send out any official messages and to make any inquiries or appeals via diplomatic channels or via the Russian National Coordinating Centre for Computer Incidents. By the way, we notified our German partners about the Centre’s existence and its activities.

Moreover, we are extremely dismayed by Berlin’s position regarding overall Russian-German cooperation in the field of cybersecurity. In 2019-2020, the largest number of cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure facilities was perpetrated from Germany.

In this connection, the Russian National Coordinating Centre for Computer Incidents has sent 75 appeals to German partners, and the Russian side has received replies only in seven cases.

In 2014 and 2018, Berlin unilaterally torpedoed planned high-level inter-departmental Russian-German consultations on information security. It continues to consistently and purposefully shy away from resuming this useful cooperation format under various pretexts. But it would be possible to eliminate all issues, to provide information and to conduct talks under this format.

All these statements considered, we are urging the German authorities to refrain from further escalating the situation and confrontationist rhetoric. We suggest renouncing threats that lead into a blind alley and to channel Russian-German dialogue on cybersecurity into an area of practical cooperation and real work.

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Escalating spy fever in the Netherlands

 

The Netherlands is seeing a new round of spy fever, reviving the Cold War heyday. Recently, the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service issued a fantastic document – an anti-espionage memo called Espionage: How to Recognise and Confront? One gets the impression they have been keeping some waste paper from the old times and have now unpacked it, blown the dust of it and presented it for the attention of a modern audience.

The authors of this brilliant handbook seem to believe that the Netherlands is just about the main target for intelligence for the entire world. That was news. We will keep this in mind. So, international spies, according to this document, are aiming to strip the citizens of the Kingdom of any national achievements they have.

If this is their logic, it looks like the Dutch authorities are brainwashing their citizens, fostering such feelings as uncertainty and fear, encouraging excessive suspicion, and creating an atmosphere of mistrust and sneakiness. A true revival of the heyday of the worst times.

This document clearly supports the continued reports by the official The Hague about the schemes of the Russian, and now also Chinese, intelligence services. In particular, both the General Intelligence Service and the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service wrote about this in their 2019 reports.

It appears that, instead of addressing the real challenges and threats of our time (terrorism, cross-border crime, etc.), the Dutch special services are more concerned with finding some mythical spies and lecturing their own population. Perhaps this straightforward tactic of using completely unacceptable techniques gives them more funding and increase their budgets. Unfortunately, they are strongly supported by many representatives of the Dutch political establishment, who use an external enemy figure – Russia in this case – implanted in public opinion to achieve their own political goals. All this will lead to no good. History knows examples where this meant trouble.

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Propaganda of Nazi symbols in the Czech Republic

 

We have noticed another flagrant action to promote Nazi symbols in the Czech Republic. We are referring to a calendar featuring portraits of the Third Reich leaders released by the Czech publishing house Nase Vojsko (Our Army), which two years ago also got smeared in this kind of indignity selling merchandise with portraits of Nazi leaders. An attempt to republish the well-known book by Adolf Hitler in the Czech Republic also ended in a scandal.

Strangely enough, the Czech authorities are distancing themselves from the situation instead of reacting to such fundamental matters. Moreover, the publishers’ citing the commercial nature of their actions is actually accepted as a valid explanation.

At the same time, the Czech Republic, hiding behind a solidarity position within the EU, refuses to support the annual Russian resolution against the glorification of Nazism on the United Nations platform. This position looks very strange and can hardly be justified.

It is regrettable that all this is happening amid a campaign unleashed in Prague to discredit Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev who greatly contributed to Czechoslovakia’s liberation from the Nazis, along with glorifying the SS minions from the Russian Liberation Army who left their bloody footprints all over Europe. Apparently, some representatives of the Czech authorities began to forget the lessons of history, which, as you all too well know, does not forgive this kind of forgetfulness.

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Foreign Ministry report on the glorification of Nazism, manifestations of neo-Nazism and racism

 

This year marks the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War and in WWII. The decisions made by the Nuremberg Tribunal legitimised their outcome. Confirmed subsequently at the level of the UN General Assembly, these decisions are unequivocal and categorical: the attempt to implement in practice one of the ideological foundations of National Socialism – the racial superiority theory – had led to tens of millions of victims and brought untold suffering to the peoples of the whole world.

Today, unfortunately, the world is witnessing malicious efforts to erase from the memory of living generations the truth about that tragic period of time in the history of mankind. Certain governments are pursuing a deliberate policy to justify and even to glorify Nazi criminals and their accomplices – those who created and put into practice the racial superiority theory, and proclaiming the Nazi collaborators as heroes and participants in national liberation movements.

The new Foreign Ministry report on the glorification of Nazism, the spread of neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary  forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, highlights the increasing manifestations of neo-Nazism in several countries in Europe, the US and Canada, and in some cases with the active encouragement from the official governments.

The full text is available on the Russian Foreign Ministry website at https://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/humanitarian_cooperation/-/asset_publisher/bB3NYd16mBFC/content/id/4145891.

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New Anti-Serb move by the Kosovo authorities

 

As of June 1, Kosovo acting “Prime Minister” Albin Kurti prohibited the import of goods that have no mention of the Republic of Kosovo in the accompanying documents. This decision disrupted the supply of many goods, including some that are vital, from other regions of Serbia.

Belgrade rightfully denies the recognition to this name, referring to international law and UNSC resolution 1244. This anti-Serb discriminatory step by Pristina is also contrary to the agreements reached by the parties during the dialogue mediated by the European Union; it was agreed that the relevant documents should be executed in a status-neutral manner.

We consider this move unacceptable and detrimental to all the residents of Kosovo regardless of their ethnicity, and also contrary to the obligations undertaken with international participation. We urge the patrons of Pristina, above all, Washington and Brussels, to insist on the abolition of the aforementioned destructive orders.

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Situation around trilateral negotiations on the construction of the Grand Renaissance hydropower station on the Blue Nile River by the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

 

We are closely following the negotiation process between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan on the construction of the large hydroelectric dam complex, Grand Renaissance, on the Blue Nile River.

We presume that the entire range of issues regarding the construction of this hydroelectric dam and the water use regime should be coordinated to respect the Nile basin states’ national security interests and the socioeconomic development goals. We do hope that the parties’ declared interest in continuing the search for mutually acceptable solutions will allow them to achieve concrete results in a trilateral format.

In this context, we support the calls made by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of May 19 and by African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat of May 22 to continue efforts towards a political settlement of the remaining differences.

At the same time, we reaffirm our continued position on the importance of resolving this problem through negotiations within the existing frameworks, in compliance with international law and in accordance with the spirit of the Khartoum Declaration of Principles of 2015.

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World Environment Day under auspices of UNEP

 

On June 5 each year it’s World Environment Day. Russia is one of the global leaders in boosting and expanding multilateral environmental cooperation.

I would like to note the important role of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as a central platform for universal cooperation within the framework of a number of environmental conventions and agreements. Universal challenges such as climate change, desertification, conservation of biodiversity, water, forest and other natural resources, scientifically sound regulation of the handling of hazardous chemicals and waste, remain our priorities.

Russia is implementing a package of measures in this field, the most important of which is the Environment National Project aimed at improving the environmental situation in our country.

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Answers to media questions:

Question (retranslated from English): Will you comment on the recent aggravation of the Sino-Indian border conflict in Ladakh? Will the situation in the region deteriorate, or can it be controlled?

Maria Zakharova: We are closely monitoring the developments on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between China and India in Ladakh. We believe that China and India as two responsible members of the international community will be able to find a mutually acceptable method to bring down the tension through the tried and tested bilateral dialogue mechanisms.

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QuestionWould you comment on Russia’s efforts to ensure peace and stability in the region, in particular, a peaceful settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict? Can you say that you remain optimistic regarding this, considering what you mentioned about this earlier?

Maria Zakharova: We stand for a political settlement of this drawn-out crisis through talks. As a neighbour that has a long history of friendship, interaction and cooperation with these two sovereign states, Russia will do everything in its power to make a constructive contribution to this not only as a country but also as a mediator working in the OSCE Minsk Group. Even though we have not seen any radical changes for the better, we still remain optimistic.

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QuestionThe visa-free procedure for visits to the South Kuril Islands has been suspended this year amid the coronavirus pandemic. Could it be resumed this year?

Maria Zakharova: It would be premature to talk about this now, for obvious reasons that are not related to politics. This fully depends on the global epidemiological situation.

You may be aware that strict entry limitations were effective in Japan until recently (I cannot vouch for the situation today, but it was so several days ago at least). I would like to repeat that the situation can change, but this is what we know as of today. These restrictions varied from a ban on entry to a 14-day quarantine. A whole package of measures was taken [in Japan]. There are restrictions in Russia as well, including in the Sakhalin Region. It is hardly possible in these conditions to speak about the timeframe for the resumption of mutual travel by the Russian citizens residing in the South Kurils and Japanese citizens. It is not a political matter; this has to do with the epidemiological situation and the measures taken by all states.

We need to wait until the normalisation of the epidemiological situation and the lifting of all the restrictions. Many of the announced Russian-Japanese events have been suspended because of the pandemic, such as the Year of Russian-Japanese Inter-Regional and Twin City Exchanges, a festival of Russian couture, and interdepartmental ties.

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QuestionKyodo Tsushin has reported that Russia allegedly proposed postponing the intergovernmental consultations on which country’s national legislation should govern joint economic activities in the South Kuril Islands. Has this proposal really been made, and if so, does this point to a change in the position of Russia, which had insisted on using Russian legislation for this purpose?

Maria Zakharova: Hardly has the Russian-Japanese dialogue become more active at different levels when various allegations were made regarding it. I believe we mentioned this several months ago now. It is surprising that a respected agency, Kyodo Tsushin, has fallen victim to this disinformation campaign. Since we are talking about joint economic activities in the South Kurils, which are part of Russia’s Sakhalin Regions, they should proceed in accordance with Russian laws. At the same time, our legislation offers our international partners a wide choice of instruments for developing mutually beneficial partnership, including priority development areas (one of them, the Kurils PDA, is located in the Sakhalin Region) and special economic zones with preferential conditions for businesses.

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Question: The media reported from Kiev the other day that preparations for a new Normandy Format meeting at the level of foreign ministers are underway. How would you assess it? The Foreign Ministry has already denied these reports. Is there any new information on this matter? If not, who can benefit from this fib and how?

Maria Zakharova: We have seen media reports about the Ukrainian side’s proposals to hold a Normandy Four meeting at the level of foreign ministers, but no one has officially contacted us on this matter.

A videoconference involving foreign ministers took place on April 30, with the participants virtually stating the lack of progress in fulfilling decisions of the December 9 Normandy Four leaders’ summit in Paris. Unfortunately, there is no progress today either. But a permanent dialogue within the Minsk Contact Group is underway. We hope that our partners will exert maximum efforts for implementing the decisions of the Paris Summit.

As to who needs these fibs, one should ask those media outlets which circulate them without checking their authenticity, as well as the people making such statements.

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Question: The United States Africa Command (US AFRICOM) has reported its intention to dispatch an auxiliary brigade to Tunisia, so as to counter Russian presence in the region. How can you comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: We have noted that Washington is now purposefully planting information about certain Russian military operations that allegedly threaten the security of North Africa.

This has been going on for a long time and with varying intensity. Today, we are witnessing another upsurge. As always, the US side does not provide any specific examples, facts and data confirming these statements. They do not bother to provide the facts. Understandably, slogans dealing with “Russian expansion” merely serve as an unsophisticated screen for purposefully beefing up the US military formation in the region.

I sincerely advise all those actively following the developments in the Middle East and North Africa to go online and google for similar media leaks about Bashar al-Assad who reportedly relocated with his family to Russia, settled down, abandoned the people of Syria, etc. As you remember, this information was circulated several years ago. Look at who exactly was planting these stories. It will help understand many things. Regrettably, what we are witnessing is an information war and disinformation campaign in its best manifestation.

 

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