Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow, October 15, 2020
- Coronavirus update
- Russia's humanitarian assistance to other countries in the coronavirus response effort
- The upcoming talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary General of the Council of Europe Marija Pejcinovic Buric
- UN Security Council session on the Persian Gulf
- Russia elected to the UN Human Rights Council
- EU sanctions on Russian individuals and entities
- German Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas’s interview with RIA Novosti
- Discussion of Navalny’s case at the OPCW Executive Council session
- Russian sailors held captive by pirates in Nigeria released
- Developments in the Kyrgyz Republic
- Humanitarian aid to DPRK
- Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod’s statements following the talks in Moscow on October 9, 2020
- Peace process in Afghanistan
- Norway’s accusations against Russia of alleged involvement in an alleged cyber attack on the Norwegian parliament
- Desecrated Soviet Army monument in Sofia
- Kazan to host 5th BRICS Young Diplomats Forum on October 21-24
- Israel-Lebanon talks on maritime border delimitation
- Interaction with the US on Afghanistan
- Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement
- Disagreements with Turkey regarding Nagorno-Karabakh
- Russia’s stance on settling the situation around Kashmir
- Possible visa-free travel between Iran and Russia for group tours
- Lifting the arms embargo on Iran
The situation with the spread of the novel coronavirus infection around the world is showing no signs of a turnaround. Quite the contrary, most countries are continuing to experience increasing morbidity rates. As of October 15, the total number of infected people exceeds 38.5 million.
Medical facilities are again being put on high alert, and lockdown restriction policies are being tightened in many countries. The autumn surge of COVID-19 has a negative impact not only on the sanitary and epidemiological landscape, but also often determines the general socioeconomic, informational and moral-psychological situation around the country.
In many countries, museums, theatres and cinemas are being closed again; the opening hours of restaurants and transport are being cut; large public, sports and religious events are being canceled; and current anti-epidemic orders are being extended. A number of states are imposing curfews. As a result, a further increase in unemployment has been recorded, a drop in investment activity, as well as a rising number of bankruptcies. This leads to social discontent. There are growing fears that the protracted lockdown may be even more harmful to national economies that have already been hit hard and sent into recession by the spring stage of the pandemic. So one of the central tasks for most states and governments today is to ensure an appropriate balance between the degree of restrictions aimed at protecting people’s health and keeping the key socioeconomic segments afloat.
Russia’s assistance to various states in the context of the spread of the novel coronavirus infection has been repeatedly highlighted at briefings and in other official statements and publications by the Russian Foreign Ministry. Ever since the initial COVID-19 outbreak in the world, our country has been providing humanitarian assistance to many states that have been seriously affected by this dangerous pathogen. Acting under the agreements concluded, as well as on the basis of agreements at the highest and high levels, Russia has been distributing various items of medical equipment, personal protective equipment and virus diagnostic kits such as PCR test kits and reagents, non-contact thermometers, disinfection systems, mobile laboratories, and other products. According to Rospotrebnadzor, Russia has supplied 6,580 test systems for 658,000 tests to more than 30 countries. An important part of this work is sending Russian specialists to the “frontlines” in the hotspots to provide anti-COVID assistance. For example, special teams of Russian doctors have just returned from Uzbekistan, Moldova and Kyrgyzstan.
The experience our doctors have gained in organising medical care is becoming more in demand among our partners. The guidelines developed by the Russian Healthcare Ministry are published on its official website. An interactive training course, Comprehensive Novel Coronavirus Infection COVID-19 Response Programme developed by leading Russian scientists with consideration for WHO recommendations is also available there. Russia has donated educational modules for training medical personnel to the WHO Regional Office in Europe.
Advanced Russian projects to develop safe and effective medicines and vaccines are enjoying considerable interest around the world. A number of foreign states have expressed interest in acquiring them and launching joint production on their territory. Earlier this month, the first 200 dose batch of Sputnik V vaccine was sent to Venezuela for the final stage of joint clinical trials. The Russian Direct Investment Fund is working to promote this vaccine around the world.
In addition to the sanitary and epidemiological work, our humanitarian assistance also includes large-scale logistical, food and consulting assistance (various equipment, essential products, educational services for local medical personnel, etc.), primarily provided to the CIS countries, and Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia continues to receive requests for help.
On October 19, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Secretary General of the Council of Europe Marija Pejcinovic Buric (Croatia) in Moscow as part of her first working visit to Russia since taking office in September 2019.
The meeting will be used to discuss a wide range of issues related to Russia's involvement in the Council of Europe’s multidisciplinary activities and items on the European agenda and to exchange views on the organisation’s priorities and ways to reform it, as well as international efforts in the Strasbourg platform to combat the coronavirus pandemic and deal with the aftereffects. The minister will again draw the Secretary General’s attention to such shameful, for modern Europe, phenomena as the systematic discrimination of ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking residents in Ukraine and the Baltic countries, oppression of the Russian media, and attempts to revise history and glorify Nazi henchmen.
During her stay in Moscow, the Secretary General will also meet with Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko, senior officials from the delegation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Minister of Justice Konstantin Chuichenko, and Commissioner for Human Rights Tatyana Moskalkova. She will also speak at the Foreign Ministry’s MGIMO European Studies Institute.
On October 20, the UN Security Council, chaired by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, will hold a debate (via videoconference) on the subject, “Maintaining international peace and security: A comprehensive overview of the situation in the Persian Gulf.” Representatives of the Gulf countries and a number of regional organisations will also take part in this event.
We look forward to having a candid and constructive discussion without confrontation aimed at identifying inclusive ways to improve the situation in the Gulf region, to reduce existing tensions and to develop confidence-building measures while respecting the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all states in the region.
As you may be aware, Russia is chairing the UN Security Council in October 2020.
During the plenary meeting of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly held on October 13, Russia and 14 other states were elected to the UN Human Rights Council for 2021-2023.
Russia received support from 158 UN member states. We regard the weighty support provided to our country as evidence of wide recognition by the international community of the correct course being pursued by Russia to establish and strengthen a mutually respectful and depoliticised dialogue on the entire spectrum of items on the human rights agenda.
We see promoting constructive state-to-state cooperation in the human rights sphere, strengthening the international regime for observing human rights based on justice and equality in accordance with the goals and principles enshrined in the UN Charter, as our main goal at the UN HRC over the next three years. We want the Council to finally become an effective and efficient tool to promote and protect human rights around the world. Russia will do its best to make sure that the UN HRC’s activities are based on the principles of universality, non-selectivity, objectivity, equal treatment of all categories of human rights and respect for cultural and civilisational diversity.
A very controversial, from the point of view of logic, reaction of the United States has come to our attention. If the US administration does not believe in the UN Human Rights Council as it claims to (the United States has left this body), why then, do the Americans care about the composition of this UN body? Perhaps, the interest is there, but Washington isn’t sure that the United States can muster enough votes to get elected? Perhaps, this is the real reason behind the Americans not participating in the activities of the UN’s main body for human rights? For us, something else is clear: with its provocative statements, Washington has once again demonstrated its unwillingness to act in the human rights field in the spirit of equal cooperation and search for constructive solutions in the interests of all states without exception.
We also find HRC Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard’s remarks unacceptable. She had the nerve to describe Russia and China’s election to the HRC as damaging to the Council's reputation. Clearly, the Special Rapporteur not only once again grossly violated the boundaries of her mandate, but also ignored the principles of objectivity and impartiality that underlie her status as a UN expert. We believe this behaviour is unacceptable and requires the Council’s consideration. The Council should ensure that its subsidiary bodies and mechanisms, such as the institution of special rapporteurs, behave responsibly.
Over the past day, the European Union has produced a series of sanctions decisions against Russian individuals and entities. In addition to the previously announced steps related to the attempted poisoning of Alexey Navalny, the EU announced sanctions over the alleged involvement in destabilising the situation in Libya, including violating the UN arms embargo on Libya.
The European Union’s reasoning behind these decisions does not stand up to scrutiny and is bordering on the absurd. Of course there is no mention of any real evidence. We consider the EU’s attempts to use the authority of the UN to cover up its unseemly political goals as absolutely unacceptable.
We have warned our colleagues in Brussels and other European capitals more than once that the EU’s stubborn intention to hold Russia responsible for Mr Navalny’s alleged poisoning will be the litmus test of our further relations with the EU. Regrettably, our words went unheeded. These steps will not remain unanswered.
Once again, we are calling the European Union to return to the international legal framework, stop dividing countries into worthy and unworthy of the status of geopolitical partner, and choose stable, progressive cooperation instead of escalating confrontation for political purposes.
In an interview with RIA Novosti Russian Information Agency on October 13, 2020, German Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas described the situation with the poisoning of Alexei Navalny as “not being a subject of relations between Russia and Germany.” We regard statements like this as a tactical ploy that serves as a cover for a policy of undermining bilateral relations, which is being pursued by Germany. Let me remind you that it was Berlin that, while blatantly disregarding its obligations under international law to render Russia practical assistance in investigating an incident involving a Russian national, has exploited it to come up with well-known unwarranted accusations against our country, as well as ultimatums and threats, assuming yet again, on its own initiative, the role of a motivator to push through new anti-Russia sanctions in the EU and other multilateral formats.
We unequivocally deny the statements that Heiko Maas has made publicly on more than one occasion about representatives of Russian executive authorities alleging that Navalny poisoned himself. This is a pure lie. Nobody has ever made such a statement. We unambiguously perceive these words by the German Foreign Minister as a provocative move that oversteps the boundaries of propriety.
We cannot regard the German Foreign Minister’s assurances that Berlin is interested in maintaining good or, at least, sound relations between Russia and Germany as sincere. We would like to note that the essence and importance of these relations is linked in public consciousness not solely to geography, as Maas said in his interview, but, to a significant extent, to our common history, which has as crucial chapters as those written in the 20th century alone, including the liberation by the Soviet Union of Germany and the rest of Europe from Nazism, the unprecedented reconciliation of the peoples of our two countries that followed, and Moscow’s decisive role in restoring German unity. The German government is eroding the framework of trust-based relations that took decades to build and the foundation for which was laid by the friendship between the USSR and the GDR, as well as Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik. Today, Berlin is backtracking on both the GDR and Willy Brandt’s political legacy.
Mutual trust has been undermined – and not by Russia’s actions but by the policy that the West has been pursuing in recent years, including moves like NATO’s fast-track expansion, despite pledges to the contrary; providing support for militants in Russia’s Caucasus; providing political cover for Georgia’s revenge-seeking military aggression led by Mikheil Saakashvili in 2008; and the de facto sponsorship of the anti-Russia coup in Ukraine in 2014, to name but a few.
As for Maas’s comments on the current situation in Belarus, we call on the German Foreign Minister to abstain from interference in word and in action in the internal affairs of a country that is our ally. We believe the Belarusians do not need instructions either from Berlin or the capital of any other foreign country, for that matter, to reach a consensus on issues of real public concern. Aggressive intervention by the collective West in the internal processes of third countries invariably leads to the emergence of new hotspots in the world.
The 95th OPCW Executive Council session, held in The Hague on October 9, unleashed a US-prompted politicised discussion of the incident with Russian blogger Alexey Navalny. A group of Euro-Atlantic “community” countries and their satellites attempted to accuse Russia of a crude violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
All this is being done against the backdrop of the OPCW’s non-transparent cooperation with Germany on selecting and analysing bio samples on a Russian citizen. Information on Berlin’s contact with the OPCW was published only ten days after its written inquiry was sent to this organisation when it became clear that the results obtained by German military physicians were confirmed by similar military laboratories in France and Sweden.
Let me remind you that this matter deals with an incident involving a Russian citizen on Russian territory. Russia did all it could to save his life: the plane’s urgent landing in Omsk, the medical aid rendered to him quickly and professionally by Russian doctors, which made it possible to stabilise his condition in two days, and the prompt permit to transfer him for treatment in a German hospital despite a court order to remain in the country in connection with a court trial.
In this context, all insinuations of the Russian authorities’ interest in poisoning Navalny using a chemical nerve agent are inconsistent, to say the least. There is no logic in the allegation, that having ostensibly poisoned the blogger in such a dangerous and specific way, the Russian authorities sent him for the care by chemical experts at the Bundeswehr. This is absurd.
How could German experts find this so-called Novichok agent in the samples? This is a separate issue. German experts claim they have never synthesised substances of this class. Yet, they detected it without fail as we were told. The OPCW laboratories in France and Sweden could be asked the same question.
Berlin’s position is beneath criticism. It prefers a propaganda campaign with loud statements at top level to a civilised dialogue of competent agencies. If they claim to have “the evidence of a poisoning” why don’t they present it to Russia? Moreover, they are not even sharing it with their own allies. Germany’s allies even say this. They admit that they just believe what Berlin tells them. Apparently, this is political block discipline: they were told to believe and they believe. But they have not been shown any evidence or fact-based materials. This is not even mentioned.
Instead, when Russian law-enforcement agencies again and again requested assistance from their German partners, German officials maintained a knowing silence saying: “You poisoned Alexey Navalny, but we won’t give you any evidence and won’t talk to you about it.”
These actions contradict the current legal foundation and practice of Russian-German cooperation. Inquiries by the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office (there were four of them, plus one to France and one to Sweden) have been sent in line with the 1959 European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters. In 2019-2020, Germany promptly replied to 83 Russian requests for legal aid in all. But this time something went wrong.
Russia has never given any reason to doubt its compliance with the CWC. We eliminated fully, and ahead of schedule, all reserves of chemical weapons as well as the relevant technical equipment. Russia supports verification at chemical facilities and maintains international cooperation in the interests of non-proliferation.
In accordance with the procedures at the OPCW where our German partners decided to transfer this issue, they are obliged to cooperate with Russia on implementing the convention. We have sent them an inquiry about this but have received just a formal note instead of a reply.
We are also waiting for replies from Sweden and France to the inquiries we sent to them as regards any facts on Navalny’s poisoning, which they claim to have. We would like to recall that according to the national criminal laws of many countries, the suppression of evidence from law-enforcement bodies that are conducting a pre-investigation check or investigating a crime, qualifies as complicity and holds criminal liability.
The OPCW Technical Secretariat is also required to perform its functions and react to the request of a state-party, Russia in this case, for specific explanations. Considering the situation around Navalny’s poisoning, which is alleged by a number of countries, we sent our proposal to the OPCW Technical Secretariat on October 1 of this year. We asked it to consider the possibility of sending its experts to Russia for cooperation with their Russian colleagues on this issue. This is required to determine the components of a potential crime on the territory of the Russian Federation. We are working to prepare for their visit.
For now, we do not see any willingness on the part of the Western countries to cooperate with Russia. Everything is reduced to the rhetoric that we hear, which is often simply unacceptable. The goal is obvious – to try to accuse Russia of everything without any grounds and create an excuse for introducing new restrictions against us.
We continue to monitor the developments around the Russian sailors who were held captive by pirates and released on October 5. Until recently, they stayed in Calabar, Nigeria. To provide the necessary assistance to our compatriots, a diplomat from the Russian Embassy in Nigeria was sent to Calabar. The Russian missions in Abuja and Yaounde, together with the Nigerian and Equatorial Guinean authorities, as well as representatives of the ship owner, promptly dealt with practical arrangements for organising flights for the sailors, first from Calabar to the capital of Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, and then to Krasnodar on a flight provided by the government of Equatorial Guinea. As of now, the sailors are in Malabo and will fly home today or tomorrow. Their health is satisfactory.
Thus, the dramatic story of Russian sailors held captive by pirates has come to a happy ending. It was very difficult to comment on the developments during the rescue mission due to the numerous nuances; therefore, we redoubled our efforts to try to rescue them. Their release has become possible due to the coordinated efforts by both officials and individuals. For a long time, our embassy in Nigeria, as well as the embassy in Cameroon, which also represents Russia’s interests in Equatorial Guinea, have maintained regular contacts with the foreign ministers of these countries, heads of their law enforcement ministries and agencies, as well as representatives of special services, thus creating the conditions for a safe release of our compatriots from captivity.
I would like to take this opportunity to again draw the attention of our compatriots who are employed at foreign ships that navigation in the Gulf of Guinea is a risky business and can pose a direct threat to the lives and health of ship crews.
Russia continues to monitor the developments in friendly Kyrgyzstan. On October 15, President of the Kyrgyz Republic Sooronbay Jeenbekov made an official statement on stepping down.
We hope for a prompt stabilisation of the situation in the republic and that this process will go in accordance with the Constitution and national law. Russia, as a strategic partner and ally of Kyrgyzstan, has provided and will continue providing all the necessary assistance.
At the decision of the Russian authorities, Russia continues to provide humanitarian aid to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The delivery of 50,000 tonnes of Russian wheat to the DPRK has been completed recently.
Having sincerely thanked Russia for its assistance, our Korean partners said that the humanitarian aid will be sent to the socially important facilities in the districts that were hit by typhoons in August and September 2020.
We hope that Russia’s food assistance will help the friendly Korean people to overcome the aftermath of the natural disasters.
We noted openly confrontational statements by Foreign Minister of Denmark Jeppe Kofod which he made after the talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on October 9, 2020.
Upon Denmark’s request, we agreed to meet our partners halfway with regard to holding talks at the level of foreign ministers. We expected a meaningful discussion of issues that are truly important for bilateral cooperation, as well as international problems. The conversation did follow this course. However, once he returned home, the Danish Foreign Minister decided to use this meeting opportunity exclusively for his own political publicity and made very strange statements.
Not only does this kind of conduct have nothing to do with responsible diplomacy but it also indicates that official Copenhagen has no intention to look for ways to normalise Russia-Denmark relations.
Delegations of official Kabul and the Taliban continue their consultations on the procedures related to the upcoming talks. We have to note that the increase in military activity in Afghanistan last week and the exacerbating military and political situation in the country cannot but cause concerns.
We hope that the Afghan parties will reach a consensus as soon as possible and begin substantive talks in order to stop the violence and achieve nationwide reconciliation.
Our embassy in Norway has already commented on the accusations against Russia made by Foreign Minister of Norway Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide with regard to an alleged cyber attack on the Norwegian parliament last August.
We would like to additionally note the following. Norwegian officials make this kind of statements – with Russia being accused, without proof, of any computer-related incidents of “interference” – on a regular basis. It is perplexing that, despite the existing procedure for investigating such incidents which – and this should be emphasised – is well known to Norway, Oslo has chosen a path of unsubstantiated accusations and is making absolutely no effort to provide any evidence. This can only mean that there is simply no evidence at all. If there was any then perhaps it would be somehow offered or at least described. Apparently, the evidence does not exist. Possibly, the goal is not to get to the bottom of the incident but to find another reason to cast blame on Russia and create a respective climate.
It appears that Oslo, while playing up to the destructive actions of its security services, has decided to further undermine bilateral relations, which are already in a deplorable state through Norway’s fault.
On October 13, the Monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia was once again desecrated. The fact that the inscription made on the monument refers to the Bulgarian tank destroyer brigade of the Waffen-SS, Bulgarians’ shameful chapter in the history of World War II, looks particularly cynical.
We noted prompt action of Sofia’s municipal authorities to remove the damage caused by this act of vandalism. At the same time, we strongly hope that this vagary of local fringe groups will not be ignored by law enforcement and the perpetrators will receive a well-deserved punishment while measures will also be taken to protect the monuments dedicated to the troops that sacrificed their lives to defeat Nazism.
In accordance with the programme of the Russian BRICS chairmanship in 2020, the Russian Foreign Ministry Council of Young Diplomats, jointly with Roscongress Foundation and the Academy of Youth Diplomacy of the Republic of Tatarstan, is holding, on October 21-24, the 5th BRICS Young Diplomats Forum in Kazan.
The event will centre around discussions on the role of young professionals in strengthening diplomatic relations; development of cooperation within the BRICS and BRICS + formats (visas, interregional projects, promotion of tourism and innovation); and digitalisation of diplomatic activities. The forum will end with a roundtable at Innopolis University and the traditional adoption of the outcome document.
The speakers at the forum will include Chairman of the State Council of the Republic of Tatarstan Farid Mukhametshin; Deputy Prime Minister of Tatarstan Leila Fazleyeva; Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department of International Information Security Andrey Krutskikh; Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman, Director of the Information and Press Department Maria Zakharova; Rector of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy Alexander Yakovenko; Foreign Ministry’s Special Envoy Steven Seagal; and Chairman of the Association of Volunteer Centres Artyom Metelev.
On October 16, at 12 noon, an online news conference will be held at TASS, dedicated to the 5th BRICS Young Diplomats Forum.
Question: Yesterday, Lebanon and Israel began talks to delineate and delimitate their sea borders. These talks are more technical than direct, that is, it isn’t about the normalisation of relations between the two countries, given that Israel is still occupying part of Lebanese territory in the south. How is this step viewed in Moscow?
Maria Zakharova: We are closely following the process of the Lebanese-Israeli talks, mediated by the United States, on the delimitation of the border between the two countries. At the initial stage, it is planned to reach an agreement on the maritime border.
The first round of technical consultations took place yesterday at a venue provided by the UN Interim Force in Lebanon command in the village of Naqoura, near the Lebanese-Israeli border. The joint statement of the American mediators and the office of the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, released following the meeting, says it was productive, and the parties agreed to meet again before the end of this month.
I would like to remind you that the subject of their disagreement is some 860 square kilometres in the Mediterranean Sea, which, according to some indications, appears to hold a large amount of offshore natural gas. In this regard, there is a reason why the Israeli delegation to Naqoura was led by the Director General of the Ministry of Energy, and the Lebanese delegation included head of the Lebanese Petroleum Administration.
It is worth mentioning that for a long time, many Western and regional experts offered pessimistic forecasts on this almost unanimously. They unequivocally stated that the Lebanese Hezbollah would never allow such negotiations to begin. It is gratifying that their speculations have not come true. Such pessimistic forecasts have clearly not been realised. Last week, the Hezbollah parliamentary group issued a special statement emphasising that the matter, which relates to Lebanese national sovereignty, is the exclusive prerogative of the Lebanese state.
On the whole, we assess the talks launched in Naqoura as a step in the right direction. Russia invariably supports any efforts that serve to strengthen stability in the Middle East and are acceptable to all directly interested regional countries.
Question: The US presidential election is less than a month away. Can you tell us now about Russia’s opinion of its collaboration with the United States in Afghanistan during the four years of Trump’s presidency?
Maria Zakharova: First of all, it is for Afghanistan to assess this collaboration. We have also stated more than once that such an assessment should be made by a legitimate international body, or more precisely, the UN Security Council, which approved this operation. We have been pointing out for many years – not only under the current US president but also under previous presidents, that it would be a good idea to have an implementation report regarding the mandate so that its effectiveness can be assessed from the viewpoint of international law. I would like to point this out once again.
As for the practical results, we commented on them many times both in global and practical terms. There were different results. Overall, I wouldn’t divide US presidents into those who influenced the developments in Afghanistan in a positive or negative way. Regrettably, there were enough reasons for dramatic events and respective conclusions under all of them. I would like to note once again that we said a lot of times during a period of many years under several US presidents that there should be a report on the implementation of the UNSC mandate.
We have received many questions about Washington’s latest announcement of its intention to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of 2020. I have issued tentative comments regarding this. I would like to note today that the prospects for its implementation are rather vague. There can be various reasons for making such statements, including, possibly, domestic political reasons in the context of the presidential election.
Let’s wait and see what practical actions are made before commenting on them. As I have mentioned during my previous briefing, statements on troop withdrawal have been made under various US presidents, but nearly all of them were ultimately followed by an increase of the contingent. It will be best to judge intentions by actions.
Question: Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan pointed out several times that a settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh depends on the international recognition of the right of Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh] to self-determination. He also noted in his address to the nation he delivered on October 14 that his government would not negotiate a settlement unless the status of Nagorno-Karabakh is defined. What should be done towards this end? What is Russia’s view on a settlement?
Maria Zakharova: I would like to simultaneously answer your question and the question from Pakistani television channel 92 News, which reads that fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan continues despite the ceasefire agreement reached with Russia’s mediation. Why are the sides not doing anything to cease fire?
I would like to remind everyone that on October 9-10 talks were held in Moscow between the foreign ministers of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in the form of consultations at the initiative of President Putin. They went on for nearly 11 hours. One of the topics discussed was a ceasefire verification mechanism, which is mentioned in the second paragraph of the statement issued following the meeting.
Since then, Russian leaders have had several telephone conversations with their partners in Baku and Yerevan, including presidents, foreign and defence ministers and other high-ranking officials.
Our main message is that the military should meet to coordinate a ceasefire verification mechanism. I would like to remind you that yesterday Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke about this in detail in an interview with three Russian radio stations. The transcript is available on the ministry’s website. As far as we are aware, no efforts have been taken towards this. We really do hope that such a mechanism can be launched without delay.
As for a political settlement, we believe that it is possible and necessary. The proposals that have been and are being coordinated in the OSCE Minsk Group are still on the table. Their essence is well known: a staged and gradual withdrawal of the sides’ armed forces from the districts in question with security guarantees, and the maintenance of reliable communications between Armenia and Karabakh until the region’s final status is agreed.
I would like to add that the sides have made a great deal of statements. Many of them were very emotional. This is understandable, but before making any statement you must think whether it actually helps reach your goal. As I have already mentioned, the current goals are to stop the bloodshed, introduce a full ceasefire and launch negotiations. In this context, we repeatedly called on all the sides that are involved in the situation in one way or another – the conflicting sides and those who believe that they have a right to take part in the normalisation process – to do their utmost so that such statements are not just carefully worded but can really serve to attain the goals mentioned before. These goals have been outlined, repeated several times by the Russian authorities more than once and – I would like you to take special note of this – reaffirmed by many international leaders and the heads of international organisations.
Question: Yesterday Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov mentioned differences with Turkey over the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. What are these differences? What can Russia say about the activities of militants from the Middle East who are now fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh? You and other Russian representatives have mentioned this topic many times. Will Russia take practical steps in addition to expressing its concern?
Maria Zakharova: I will begin with the second part of your question. I have already mentioned that efforts are being taken not just by the foreign ministry. Our military experts are working as well to attain the goal which I mentioned today and which Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov broached in detail yesterday.
The Russian leadership has pointed out more than once that the target is to coordinate a ceasefire verification mechanism between the military. It is not just an expression of our concern but practical, concrete and substantive efforts.
As for the first part of your question, the answer to it has already been provided. Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with three radio stations on October 14: “We do not agree with the position that has been voiced by Turkey. We cannot share statements to the effect that there is a military solution to the conflict and that it is acceptable. Regrettably, Turkey has been able to do this, confirming that it will support any actions undertaken by Azerbaijan to solve this conflict, including military ones.” The Foreign Minister explained the difference between Russia’s and Turkey’s positions in a clear, unambiguous and detailed manner. He also added that we are in contact with our Turkish colleagues and that he had several telephone conversations on this matter. The minister pointed out that we are upholding our point of view to the effect that a peaceful settlement is not only possible but is also the only method to ensure a durable solution to this problem.
Question (retranslated from English): Pakistan is calling on India to start a dialogue on a settlement around Kashmir. What is the Russian Federation’s position on this matter?
Maria Zakharova: Our position on a settlement of the Indian-Pakistani disputes, including the Kashmir issue, remains consistent and unchanged. We are convinced that it should be effectuated by political and diplomatic methods on a bilateral basis and in keeping with the 1972 Simla Agreement and the 1999 Lahore Declaration.
We welcome all efforts aimed at a peaceful resolution of the dispute, which has for decades affected not only the bilateral relations between New Delhi and Islamabad, but also the situation in the region as a whole. We are interested in these two biggest South Asian states maintaining neighbourly relations. This would directly strengthen regional stability and security as well as promote mutually beneficial trade and economic ties.
Question: What is your attitude to the possible introduction of a visa-free regime between Iran and Russia for group tourism travel?
Maria Zakharova: The agreement on visa-free group tourism between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran was signed by the foreign ministers of both countries in Moscow on March 28, 2017.
The agreement provides for reciprocal visa-free tourism by citizens of Russia and Iran as members of organised groups numbering from 5 to 50 people for a period of up to 15 days. Under its Article 4.2, the Federal Agency for Tourism (Rostourism) is the coordinating authority responsible for its implementation on the part of Russia.
Currently, Rostourism, jointly with its Iranian partners, is working on a mechanism for implementing the Agreement. We hope that this work will be completed shortly and that the agreement will come into force.
We proceed from the assumption that the decision on starting to apply the agreement will be accepted with account taken of the sanitary and epidemiological situation in Russia and Iran, as well as the restrictions involved in the effort to resist the spread of the COVID-19 infection.
Question: How would you comment on the lifting of the arms embargo introduced against Iran?
Maria Zakharova: As you know, Russia has always advocated a scrupulous compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2231 in all its aspects in strict conformity with the commitments envisaged by this Security Council decision and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) concerning the Iranian nuclear programme. A basic point in this context is to ensure the implementation of provisions on the enforcement and abolition of the temporary restrictions established by the resolution.
Russia has repeatedly pointed out that the requirements contained in UN Security Council Resolution 2231 are not subject to a revision. These include a special procedure for arms and military equipment deliveries to and from Iran. As is common knowledge, the UN Security Council did not introduce any “arms embargo” against Iran in 2015. Tehran has volunteered to assume a number of restrictions, which was done solely in the interests of an early, positive culmination of the JCPOA talks. From the very start, all the parties involved were aware that these restrictions had nothing to do with settlement related to the Iranian nuclear programme. The term of the relevant provisions has expired.
For Russia, Iran is a reliable partner in many spheres of collaboration. We are convinced that the opportunities opening in connection with the expiry of the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, related to military-technical cooperation with Iran will be duly taken into consideration and promptly used on a mutually beneficial basis and for the good of the people of both countries.
The US allegations that it has single-handedly restored all the Security Council sanctions against Iran, which were effective before the signing of the JCPOA in 2015, are not true to fact. We have repeatedly commented on this. The UN Security Council does not share the US opinion, nor has it taken any steps to “re-launch” the former restrictions. The world has refused to be taken in by Washington’s tricks that we characterise as unlawful and even underhanded. Regrettably, this is emerging as Washington’s signature style in international affairs.
We do hope that the US colleagues have kept a measure of reasonableness to acknowledge the reality. International agreements must be observed by all parties involved, including the United States; there should be no attempts to revise them in retrospect or to be confined to implementing only those elements that suit Washington.