Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Kerch, May 16, 2018
- Mongolian Foreign Minister Damdin Tsogtbaatar’s working visit to Russia
- Acting Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador Maria Fernanda Espinosa
- Developments in Syria
- Washington filibusters criminal prosecution of ISIS militants captured by the coalition in Syria
- Progress in the investigation of the alleged use of chemical weapons in the town of Douma
- Developments in the Palestinian territories
- Situation on the Korean Peninsula
- Situation in Indonesia following a series of terrorist attacks in Surabaya
- UK’s new Fusion Doctrine and its implementation with regard to Skripal case
- New leaks and inconsistencies in British media regarding the Skripal case
- Denied access to Sergey and Yulia Skripals
- Freedom of expression in Ukraine
- Situation around Nord crew
- Anti-Semitism in Ukraine
- Second Russian round of the Fort Ross Dialogue held in Novgorod
- The 2018 St. Petersburg International Economic Forum
- Foreign journalists’ accreditation and 2018 FIFA World Cup City Press Centres
- Crimean Bridge
- The Crimean Bridge myths
- Victory Day celebration in foreign countries
- Events timed to the 100th birth anniversary of Lev Mendelevich
From replies to questions:
Situation in Ukraine
Situation in Crimea
Diplomacy as a profession
Situation in Ukraine
Possible reply to Western sanctions against Russia
US reaction to developments in Gaza
Situation with the crew of the Russian vessel Nord
Cooperation agreement between Yevpatoria and Marignane
Good afternoon, colleagues.
Today we are starting our unusual briefing in the city of Kerch, Crimea. I’d like to say that I have just crossed the Crimean Bridge along with the first fortunate few who did. We met at night to get a place in the first motor column because the number of those wanting to cross the bridge was enormous. This turned out to be a real holiday. This is surprising. People of many different ages came with children and congratulated each other on this special day. There were pensioners, bikers and youngsters, and people who had direct links with Anapa, Kerch, Crimea and Russia. This is a surprising structure, a large-scale construction. It is stunning, the effort to build it and how quickly it was done.
We will talk about this Crimean marvel a bit later. I would like to start with our traditional subject – the schedule of the Foreign Ministry’s senior officials.
Mongolian Foreign Minister Damdin Tsogtbaatar is paying a working visit to Russia today and tomorrow. This is the Foreign Minister’s first official trip to Russia after the formation of the new Government of Mongolia in October 2017.
The Mongolian Foreign Minister plans to conduct talks with the Russian Foreign Ministry. The sides will discuss the state of and prospects for further promoting Russian-Mongolian relations by implementing the medium-term programme for the development of strategic partnership between the two countries, which was signed during Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Ulaanbaatar in April 2016.
The officials will exchange views on pressing regional and global issues, and key areas of bilateral cooperation at leading multilateral venues, including the UN, the SCO and the ASEAN Regional Forum on Security, to name a few.
On May 17, Acting Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador Maria Fernanda Espinosa.
I would like to remind you that Ecuador is Russia’s longtime friend and reliable strategic partner in Latin America. The two countries’ relations are based on respect and mutual sympathy, a high degree of mutual understanding, and the proximity of approaches to a wide range of international issues. The two officials plan to discuss important current issues of bilateral trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation, with an emphasis on expanding the contractual and legal framework of bilateral relations.
They will also invest time in discussing international issues. Russia and Ecuador are brought together by the commonality of views on key issues on the global agenda. We consistently advocate the formation of a more equitable democratic world order based on the supremacy of international law with the central role of the UN, and a coordinated search for responses to today’s challenges and threats.
Further, they will exchange views on the situation in some countries in South America and the Caribbean.
We will keep you informed about any additional events on the schedule of the Foreign Ministry's senior officials as usual.
In the past period, the situation in Syria has remained complicated. In Damascus, an operation has continued to liberate its southern districts and suburbs from ISIS militants. At the same time, the Syrian government has fully taken the districts of Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahm under control.
Simultaneously, the Free Syrian Army evacuated its fighters and members of their families from the eastern and southeastern suburbs of Damascus.
Government forces and the Palestinian militia, supported by air cover and artillery, continued to fight illegal armed groups in the Yarmouk refugee camp. In response, the terrorists fired several mortar rounds at residential areas in the northeast of the camp, injuring several dozen civilians. Over the past week, the area held by illegal armed groups in Yarmuk has been significantly reduced.
About 65,000 previously evacuated residents have returned to their homes in Eastern Ghouta.
In the province of Deir-ez-Zor, the Syrian Government army developed an offensive against ISIS positions; the terrorists suffered considerable losses in manpower and hardware. The Syrian military reported a cleanup of around 1,500 square km.
Several residents in the Daraa province were injured as a result of mortar shelling by the militants of the Free Syrian Army.
In the east of the country, a large-scale operation to destroy ISIS groups is underway. The goal is to completely defeat the terrorists based in the deserted hard-to-reach areas of Syria, who intensified attacks on government forces in the Euphrates area and the province of Homs.
We noted the US administration’s silence with regard to the situation surrounding several thousand foreign terrorists captured by the US-led coalition and the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces in the Trans-Euphrates region. The allegation that it is impossible to coordinate extradition procedures and the legal assistance parameters with the countries of origin of the militants looks completely unconvincing.
It appears that this legal vacuum was created intentionally. It is designed to hide the real goal which is to relieve the militants of accountability. Interestingly, despite clear evidence of involvement in terrorism, charges have not been brought, and investigative actions are not being carried out.
According to our data, the issue is about 2,000−3,000 militants, mostly from Europe, Arab countries and the CIS. The “preventive measures” boil down to limiting their freedom of movement. At the same time, they are provided with three meals a day, medical services, and access to exercise equipment.
In light of President Trump’s promise to pull out from Syria “very soon,” there are high risks of the “caliphate” re-appearing in the Trans-Euphrates region as was the case in Iraq when ISIS was actually created there in 2011 after US troops withdrew from that country.
By avoiding a criminal prosecution of these militants, the US administration is essentially covering up their criminal activities. In this regard, we would like to draw everyone’s attention to the need to implement the principle of inevitability of punishment of the captured terrorists for their crimes in accordance with the “extradite or prosecute” approach. We believe it is absolutely unacceptable to use the goals of combating terrorism in order to promote double standards for geopolitical purposes.
At the request of the Syrian authorities, the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) in Syria continues to analyse the circumstances around the chemical agent incident in the town of Douma on April 7 staged by the White Helmets.
With Damascus and the Russian military police providing adequate levels of safety, the FFM specialists visited Douma several times while in Syria to examine the places indicated by the OPCW experts. As prescribed by the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (CWC) and OPCW regulations, they independently took samples for the presence of toxic agents, interviewed witnesses, and carried out a number of other special activities.
The samples and other pieces of physical evidence were taken to The Hague for lab tests which will take two to three weeks. The final results of the FFM work in the Douma will be available no earlier than in late May, when the Mission Report will be published.
In fact, for the first time since its inception, the FFM has carried out its work as it was requested by Russia and Syria−- directly on the site of the alleged incident, rather than remotely. We expect that the investigation will result in detailed and professionally verified findings, which will help restore the actual events in Douma on April 7 and confirm the inconsistency of any far-fetched and unproven allegations against Damascus, which were used as a pretext for the illegal military action by the United States, Britain and France in gross violation of the UN Charter.
We plan to continue to pursue depoliticised and objective investigations into all cases of “chemical” terrorism in Syria without exception in strict compliance with the CWC’s high standards.
On May 14, massive protests of Palestinians timed with the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem took place in the Gaza Strip and a number of areas in the West Bank. As a result of the Israeli Army’s actions to suppress these protests on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, 59 Palestinians were killed and hundreds wounded.
In all, over 100 demonstrators have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the start of Palestinian protests on March 30.
A general strike was announced in Palestine on Nakba Day, the catastrophe that befell the Palestinians during the events of 1947−1948. The risks of further violence are very high.
Moscow is extremely concerned over this dangerous escalation. We express our sincere condolences to the families and friends of the Palestinians who lost their lives and wish a speedy recovery to the wounded. We reaffirm the right of the Palestinians to peaceful protest and condemn the use of armed force against civilians. We urge all parties to show restraint and avoid taking steps that will heighten tensions.
We have stated more than once that to stop the cycle of violence it is necessary to work towards organising meaningful and productive talks as soon as possible, based on the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and the UN General Assembly and the Arab Peace Initiative. We believe the role of the international community is to help the Palestinians and Israelis move towards this goal with a view to establishing just and lasting peace that meets the genuine interests of both sides. It is counterproductive to take dubious unilateral steps that complicate efforts to create the conditions for a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem.
In this context we would like to confirm that Russia’s position on Jerusalem remains unchanged: the city should become the capital of the two independent states – Palestine and Israel – and be open to followers of all three monotheistic religions. The concrete parametres of Jerusalem’s final status should be agreed during direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. We will continue to advocate this approach in our work with Palestinians and Israelis, as well as with other international partners in different collective formats, including the Middle East Quartet of international mediators.
We note a trend towards decreasing tension around the Korean Peninsula. We welcome the decision to hold the ceremony of dismantling a North Korean nuclear test site, which will be attended by journalists from Russia and a number of other countries, and an agreement to hold a meeting between US President Donald Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore on July 12.
We hope that these events will be successful and will reinforce the positive dynamics of settling the problems in the sub-region. We firmly believe that their long-tern and mutually acceptable solution is only possible through multilateral consultations on establishing a reliable mechanism of peace and security on the Korean Peninsula. We are working with all of our partners in order to launch such talks.
A series of terrorist attacks hit Indonesia. On May 13, terrorist attacks struck three Christian churches in Surabaya, East Java province, whereby 14 people died, including the bombers, and 43 people were wounded.
On the evening of the same day two more bombs exploded in apartment blocks close to a police station in Sidoarjo outside Surabaya. Three people, all presumed to be terrorists, died.
On the morning of May 14, two suicide bombers on motorcycles detonated explosives on the territory of the Surabaya police headquarters claiming 10 lives including four police officers.
Since May 14, the government declared the highest level of terrorist threat in Jakarta and also in the provinces of Banten, East Java and Riau. Increased security measures are taken in popular resorts, including Bali.
The Russian Embassy in Jakarta advises Russian citizens in Indonesia to stay alert, and to avoid crowded places and religious sites.
There have been no reports of Russian victims in the terrorist attacks.
Russia will not simply observe the so-called Skripal case and comment on it. We are going to do everything we can to make sure that this case, which has been so badly muddled by the British government, becomes more transparent and to dispel the fog that London has enshrouded it in.
We have taken note of the UK Prime Minister's national security adviser Sir Mark Sedwill's comments to the Commons Defence Committee at its session on May 1 concerning the so-called Fusion Doctrine adopted by the government earlier this year.
Judging by the information at our disposal, the doctrine manifests “a comprehensive new approach to national security”. In fact, it means that all government agencies and, moreover, all businesses, the media and entire civil society are called on to rally to the cause.
Thus, an attempt is made to take a considerable part of UK's social and political life “under the umbrella” of national security, justifying any steps in any area whatsoever, from counterterrorism to trade relations.
No need to search far for examples of what this means in practice. None other than Sir Mark Sedwill described London's actions following the Salisbury incident as an example of the new policy: the decision to adopt anti-Russian measures was made in a short time on the basis of British intelligence data, before the police investigation was concluded. Western allies were being “conditioned” in parallel. That is, British officials have now confirmed what we said before: all decisions were taken in the absence of any proof from even a basic investigation and were intended by the official London to serve as what it regarded as an efficient deterrent for the future.
Clearly, the Fusion Doctrine increases the risk of rash decisions, which can undermine Britain's image, complicate international relations and lead to conflicts. The absurd accusations against Russia over the March 4 Salisbury incident are a perfect illustration to that effect.
All of the above, and the cornucopia of propaganda and misinformation that followed the Salisbury incident, lead us to say with confidence that the doctrine dubbed Fusion would be more aptly named the Confusion Doctrine.
We continue to pay close attention to new developments in the Skripal case.
On May 3, after a rather prolonged spell of silence on the subject in the British media, The Times came out with a lengthy piece on what the Skripals did on the day of the alleged poisoning. Without dwelling on its details, I can just point out that the new account of events contains a fresh version of how DS Nick Bailey got injured. He is now supposed to have come into contact with the alleged nerve agent while inspecting the Skripals' home, rather than at the scene of the incident. There are many other inconsistencies with earlier versions of the story.
This is not a case of journalistic incompetence. Mutually exclusive accounts of the incident are more likely the result of the British authorities' deliberate effort to mislead the public by repeatedly inserting new “facts” regarding the poisoning into the media space. This is being done in carefully measured doses in order to keep the subject of the Salisbury incident alive, while also giving the public time to forget the previous fragmentary and contradictory accounts of the incident.
We also note that on May 1, the UK Prime Minister's national security adviser Sir Mark Sedwill, in response to a direct question from the Defence Select Committee of the House of Commons, admitted that the perpetrators of the Skripals' poisoning had not yet been identified. Thus, Russia was, as a matter of principle, blamed for the incident in the absence of any understanding as to who, if anyone, had committed the crime. One can say (and is in fact led to understand) that the British keep on circulating ungrounded accusations against Russia on the strength of pure guesswork.
To repeat, all this fortifies our opinion that the British authorities are uninterested in finding out the true motives for the Salisbury crime and in identifying the perpetrators.
As no convincing evidence to the contrary has been presented to the Russian side so far, we consider the attempt on our fellow citizens' lives as a major political provocation, while the burden of proof in this story is on none other than the British side.
Britain continues denying consular access to Russian citizens Sergey and Yulia Skripals. We are being told that Yulia Skripal does not want to talk to the Russian Embassy in Britain. Consular access to Sergey Skripal was denied on the grounds that he is a British citizen. The British authorities insist on the need to receive consent from the Russian citizens to communication with consular officials.
However, this argument cannot be accepted. The issue of a citizen’s communication with his consul is regulated by the 1965 Consular Convention between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Article 36 reads: “A consular officer shall be entitled, within the consular district, to communicate with, interview and advise a National of the sending State and may render him every assistance…” This article does not mention the need to receive the National’s consent for consul visit.
In other words, such communication is not only the right of a citizen but also the right of the consul of the sending State. Russia’s rights are being crudely violated by Britain who has repeatedly interpreted international legal standards from its own point of view on the principles of political expediency.
As for the British authorities’ reference to Sergey Skripal’s British citizenship, we cannot accept this either for the following reason: in accordance with Article 30 of the bilateral Consular Convention, “the term ‘National’ shall, for the purposes of this Part, mean any person whom the sending State recognises as its National…” Mr Skripal has not been deprived of his Russian citizenship and, as we understand it, has not given it up of his free will. He remains a Russian citizen and has every right to communicate with Russian consuls, just as Russia has every right to communicate with him. As far as we know, Britain adheres to the same position when discussing its consular cases with “dual citizens,” for instance, in Iran.
Considering the circumstances, it is important for us to be convinced of the wellbeing of our citizens. We are not satisfied with the statements by British officials to the effect that Sergey and Yulia Skripals are allegedly reluctant to communicate with us and that they reject medical examination with the participation of Russian specialists. This information cannot be verified in any way. How can we and the international public be convinced that this is really their own free will?
We will continue to demand to be granted the opportunity for personal communication with the Skripals through our embassy in London. If they do not require our assistance, let the British officials allow them to say this personally. Under the current conditions, we are forced to qualify this situation as forcible detention and even the abduction of our two citizens by the British authorities. These actions by Britain are a serious violation of our bilateral treaties.
Recently, the British authorities denied a visa to the Skripals’ relative Viktoria Skripal. Representatives of the British consular service said that “the issue will be meticulously reviewed” if she applies for a visa again. This is underhanded hypocrisy once again. Viktoria applied for a visa a second time and was denied it virtually without grounds. This completely contradicts the statements made by British officials earlier.
We have to add that our Embassy receives only replies with no real answers to the questions being asked.
We will monitor this issue and promptly comment on any new information.
Let us turn to the topic of the outrageous treatment by Ukrainian authorities of Russian media and journalists from other countries, including Ukraine.
The Foreign Ministry wishes to make a strong protest against the raid of Rossiya Segodnya by the Ukrainian security forces, and has promptly responded to the incident by releasing a comment and a statement to this effect. We called on international organisations to condemn these actions by Ukraine in a clear and unambiguous manner and demand that the journalist be released, while other journalists must not face enforcement actions of this kind. Russia will do everything to secure the release of its citizen, as well as to prevent similar actions from being taken against Russian nationals or media.
I would like to say, and this will not be a secret for any of you, especially since we meet here in Crimea, that journalism in Ukraine is going through a real crisis. Local authorities persist in their efforts to suppress any dissent and restrain the freedom of expression whenever it comes into conflict with Ukraine’s official line. Attacks and intimidation have become a prevalent attitude toward the journalist community. Political murders of media workers have become a norm, and any opinions, statements or comments that differ from the official line or nationalist rhetoric are cut short and followed by repressive action. Nevertheless, the West stubbornly turns a blind eye to the facts, nurturing the idea that the human rights situation in the “liberated and democratic” Ukraine has been improving with the change in leadership. But these are all lies, and everyone knows it, especially journalists, even though Ukraine continues to move up the ranks in the press freedom rankings. Specifically, Ukraine moved up 20 positions in the ranking by the Reporters Without Borders between 2014 and 2018. Still, Ukraine persists with its truly repressive policy towards the media. I would like to note that this ranking is based on a number of indicators, including the diversity and independence of the media, the working conditions for journalists, self-censorship and legal protections. To be honest, it remains unclear how those who compile the rankings were able to see the slightest progress in these indicators.
We have raised this subject time and again at the Foreign Ministry briefings, as well as at international venues. Ukraine went even further. After a recent propaganda workshop that was presented as a UN event, participants invited by the Ukrainian delegation tried to intimidate Russia’s representative who fended off all anti-Russia attacks and countered all this propagandist rhetoric. Unacceptable things were said, including threats of violence and physical attacks. All this was taking place on the margins of the UN, the very organisation tasked with ensuring international peace and stability. It is perplexing that people invited to what was announced as a seminar on information matters included veterans of Kiev’s anti-terrorist operation and snipers who shared their views on today’s challenges in the field of information.
Today, I would like to highlight a number of repressive steps by Kiev against Russian journalists who covered developments in Ukraine. Let me remind you that on May 9, the Security Service of Ukraine detained and deported special correspondents from Rossiya and Channel One television networks Valentina Solovyova and Olga Yuryeva, who were working on reports about Victory Day celebrations in Kiev, and banned them from entering Ukraine for the next three years.
As usual, the Ukrainian authorities explained their actions against journalists by saying that the footage the two journalists made “was to be used to discredit Ukraine in the eyes of the international community and to spread disinformation among the population.” If similar actions were undertaken against US, German or British journalists in other countries, how would their governments respond? Would they treat it as a violation of media freedoms? Would this elicit the same muted response?
The fact that personal data of the special correspondents of the Russian television networks instantly surfaced on the ill-famed Myrotvorets website is a matter of grave concern, since it publishes, in violation of all international norms personal data of people whom the website’s owners and moderators view as “terrorist accomplices.”
Kiev undertook these illegal actions against Russian journalists as Ukrainian nationalists continue to pressure the local media. On the same day, several dozen right-wing radicals from the National Corps and the National Guard blocked the offices of Inter television network threatening to set them on fire. Again, the Western mainstream did not respond in any way. These illegal actions were caused by an announcement of a Victory Day concert broadcast on the eve of the events. In the announcement, the presenter said that streets in Ukraine were being renamed after “Nazi criminals.” Many organisations and social network users voiced their disagreement with this statement. Quite predictably, the Kiev radicals did not fail to respond to the television network’s attempts to oppose the glorification of Nazi collaborators ahead of Victory Day, with the usual connivance from the Ukrainian security forces.
Foreign journalists whose opinion differs from the official line were also ill-treated by the Kiev authorities. For instance, on May 2 Yan Rychetský from Parlamentní Listy, a Czech media outlet, who was preparing a report on the anniversary of the 2014 Odessa tragedy, was denied entry to Ukraine, with the explanation that he was under a five-year travel ban. Ukraine clearly continues to do everything in order to cover the masterminds and executors of this heinous crime, and conceal what actually happened there.
We took note of the selective approach by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, who condemned the threats professed by radicals against Ukraine’s Inter television network, while leaving Kiev’s May 9 crackdown against Russian journalists unnoticed. His response to the arrest and intimidation of Rossiya Segodnya journalists by Ukrainian security forces was hardly convincing.
The Foreign Ministry is appalled at the blatant violation of the rights of journalists in Ukraine. Once again, we call on Ukraine to stop its arbitrary enforcement practices against Russian journalists under the far-fetched pretext of fighting propaganda. We also call on the representatives of international bodies, and our colleagues among foreign ministry spokespersons to try to persuade the Ukrainian government in every possible way to stop this outrage against journalists not only from Russian, but also from foreign and Ukrainian media. They really need international assistance.Back to top
No major changes have been reported concerning the situation around the crew of the Russian fishing vessel Nord. On May 8, the Kherson Region Court of Appeals rejected a lawyers’ complaint regarding the form of detention for Captain Vladimir Gorbenko.
As is known, two crew members managed to get out of Ukraine on April 19. The other seven crew members, whom Ukrainian border guards prevented from leaving under a far-fetched pretext, remain in Ukraine. The Russian Embassy in Kiev has provided lodging and sustenance to them. Russian consular employees maintain regular contact with them. Our lawyers continue working on their case. We will continue to demand that they are allowed to return back home as soon as possible.
I would like to say that I will present not only Russian views on the developments in Ukraine and the actions of Ukrainian officials. I would like you to take note of media reports citing the openly nationalist and anti-Semitic social media posts by Vasily Marushchinets from the Ukrainian Consulate General in Hamburg. Regrettably, this is not an exception. We have been talking about this for years, trying to draw international attention to this rhetoric, including public but mostly covert statements, which essentially constitute the mentality of the current Ukrainian authorities.
In particular, the media published screenshots from some of this diplomat’s social media posts. I have no right to cite everything he said in these posts on this floor, but just a few quotations will be enough. They range from “Glory to Ukraine, death to anti-fascists” and “Being a fascist is an honour.” I have no right to cite the other statements in public because their nationalist tenor is beyond the law.
This is shocking. But a closer analysis of the situation shows that the comment regarding the rise of anti-Semitism, made by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry several days before that, is fully in keeping with the actions of the Ukrainian authorities. It says, in part, that “anti-Semitic provocations are often inspired by the Kremlin regime, which is using hybrid aggression instruments in an attempt to rock the political situation in Ukraine and cast the shadow of anti-Semitism on Ukraine.” This is shocking, but it is also in keeping with the logic of actions and the mentality of the Ukrainian authorities, because they claim that Russia is responsible for everything that can be blamed on Kiev. Instead of analysing and acting to mitigate the consequences of everything really illegal that is happening in Ukraine, Kiev blames it on “Moscow’s policies” and “Kremlin’s interference.”
We hope that this outrageous incident will not be used once again to blame Russia, but will lead to a serious investigation by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and will attract the scrutiny of the international community.
The next meeting of the Russian-US Fort Ross Dialogue of socio-political, business and academic communities will be held in Novgorod the Great on May 21-22. The meeting is sponsored by the Foreign Ministry’s Interdepartmental Working Group on Preserving Russian Historical and Cultural Heritage in the United States and co-sponsored by Transneft, Sovcomflot, Chevron, the Novgorod Region government, the Federal Archival Agency, the State Archive of the Russian Federation, the Russian International Affairs Council, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the American NGO Fort Ross Conservancy, as well as other Russian and US organisations.
The Fort Ross Dialogue was for the first time held semi-annually last year: in California in autumn and in Russia in spring. The first Russian round was held in Pskov and Izborsk in May 2017. This non-governmental platform continued to develop despite problems in Russian-US relations, which is evidence that people in Russia and the United States want to communicate and interact. The upcoming forum will focus on looking for new opportunities to strengthen bilateral ties in various spheres.
Like the previous dialogue meetings, the conference in Novgorod the Great has a busy agenda. On the first day, the participants will discuss prospects for cooperation between Russian and US museums and archives and the role of academic and cultural facilities in promoting understanding between our peoples. They will focus on exchanging experience in the use of modern technology at archives and museums. The programme of the second day includes discussions on cooperation in energy and long-term development trends in the information and communication sphere.
The potential speakers include Foreign Ministry and other federal agency leaders, the Novgorod Region Governor, diplomats working at the US Embassy in Moscow as well as prominent experts and respected members of the Russian and US academic and museum communities.
We invite Russian and international media to cover this event. You can apply for accreditation through Tatyana Solovyeva (telephone +7 (916) 573-2803, email firstname.lastname@example.org).
On May 24-26, 2018, St. Petersburg will host the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) at the city’s EXPOFORUM Convention and Exhibition Centre.
As you know, an unprecedentedly complicated situation is now shaping up in the world, and standard rules of the game no longer apply. The current international situation is marked by military conflicts, unilateral sanctions and trade wars, caused by strange and far-fetched political considerations. In this context, we are expecting an extremely detailed and interesting discussion during the Forum. The highlight will be a plenary session involving President of Russia Vladimir Putin, President of France Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde.
Against the backdrop of this complicated global situation, the main theme of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum is Building an Economy of Trust. Trust between countries and between business partners, people’s trust in the state, in new technologies and towards each other – all this will make it possible to overcome the artificially created restrictions in the global economy and politics and to develop a powerful incentive for global economic growth. An economy of trust is possible if countries cooperate in a trustful way. It can come about if they build upon their relations through the creation of incentives to encourage the development of business and human capital, by sharing and exchanging experience in the use of cutting-edge technology in the economy and for charitable and philanthropic purposes.
Japan and France will act as Forum guests.
Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe will head the Japanese delegation. The Japanese national exhibition pavilion, due to be installed at the Forum, will host thematic events for investors and business leaders. A meeting of representatives of Russian and Japanese business circles is to be held. The Japanese side intends to take an active part in the Forum’s business and cultural programme, timed to coincide with the beginning of overlapping Russia-Japan years.
President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron will head the French delegation. France will also install its national pavilion at the venue. The French pavilion is to host the Russia-France business dialogue and a session of the Trianon Dialogue stipulating cooperation between civil societies. Events marking the 200th birthday anniversary of famous French choreographer, ballet dancer and educator Marius Petipa will be an important part of the cultural programme.
There are plans to hold separate meetings between representatives of the Russian business community and their colleagues from the United States, India, Italy, Finland and African countries.
Discussions of the Forum’s business programme will focus on the following four topics: The Global Economy in an Era of Change, Harnessing Russia’s Growth Potential, Technology for Leadership, Human Capital in the Digital Economy.
Thematic business breakfasts will involve representatives of pharmaceutical companies and the IT industry. As usual, Sberbank will also hold a breakfast for Forum participants.
The Forum will host events in the Conversations about the Future format.
Members of the Business G20 regional consultative council will meet on the SPIEF sidelines. A forum of small and medium-sized businesses and a session of The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue international forum are also scheduled to take place. Participants in the latter event will discuss the Arctic’s potential and the Northern Sea Route as the driving force of economic growth.
The Forum is to host various events connected with young people, including the International Youth Economic Forum. Its participants will discuss contemporary challenges with international and Russian business leaders. There will also be the gala award ceremony for the winners of the all-Russian competition of projects of young authors and educational projects for the socioeconomic development of Russian territories, Russia is My Country.
In addition, Forum participants and guests will be able to attend a series of exhibitions highlighting the investment potential of Russian regions and their current projects, as well as corporate technologies, products and solutions for the development of regional business.
Another major event to be held in our country is the FIFA World Cup. I would like to say that the Russian Foreign Ministry website provides all the details on the accreditation of foreign correspondents who wish to attend and report on this major sports event. Detailed information and links will be included in the transcript of today’s briefing. Please, make note of it.
Official rights holders (television, radio, mobile and online broadcasting companies who hold the rights to broadcast World Cup matches) as well as media representatives accredited with FIFA or the Local Organising Committee will be able to obtain visas from Russian consulates abroad based on their accreditation confirmation letters. Upon arrival in Russia, they will receive badges at FIFA accreditation centres and the Local Organising Committee.
This type of accreditation grants journalists the right to access all World Cup facilities and events as well as the right to conduct professional activity across Russia throughout the tournament.
Those journalists who have no FIFA accreditation, as well as freelance journalists and bloggers will not be left behind. They can get accreditation at City Press Centres located in every host city (Kaliningrad, Kazan, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Saransk, Sochi, St Petersburg, Volgograd and Yekaterinburg). Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency is the official press centre operator.
All foreign journalists who have accreditation with City Press Centre and medical insurance must apply for regular double-entry business visas, even if their countries have visa-free agreements with Russia. This provision does not apply to the citizens of the CIS states, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Those media representatives who already have media visas and accreditation with the Russian Foreign Ministry will be able to apply for accreditation online and collect their badges to be able to work at the City Press Centres. Those who are not accredited with the Foreign Ministry but are accredited with a City Press Centre can engage in their professional activity in 17 Russian regions (the regions where the eleven host cities are located and the six regions where training camps for national teams are located: the Chechen Republic, Kaluga, Leningrad, Moscow and Voronezh regions and the Stavropol Territory).
The Moscow Press Centre will open on June 4, 2018, and the press centres in other host cities will open on June 13, 2018.
Journalists can collect their City Press Centre badges at Rossiya Segodnya accreditation centre (4 Zubovsky Boulevard, Moscow) starting from May 15, at the Moscow Press Centre starting from June 4, and at all the other press centres starting from June 13.
More information about accreditation is available on the Foreign Ministry website (see ‘Press Centre 2018’ banner) and at https://footballcitymediacenter.ru/.
City Press Centre programmes include news conferences, briefings, video linkups, guided tours and workshops for journalists. Importantly, each press centre will have its region’s presentation area, where all visitors will be able to learn about local history, culture and achievements. World Cup matches will be broadcast live.
Go to our website, read the information carefully and open the links to the City Press Centres and other World Cup organising bodies.
The Foreign Ministry accreditation procedure for foreign journalists is fully described on the ministry’s website in the Press Service/Assistance for Journalists section (https://www.mid.ru/press_service/journalist_help/reglament). Tel.: +7 (499) 244-20-87. Email: email@example.com.
I would like to draw your attention once again to the Crimean Bridge. You can see it behind me. This is a textbook phenomenon: while I have no way of telling that it is actually there, the bridge is really behind me. I am saying this because this is what we have been hearing from Western journalists, political observers and experts for several years. They were saying that there was no bridge or that it would not and could not be built. We always have to take what we read in the media with a pinch of salt, since had we believed what Western and, unfortunately, Ukrainian media were reporting, today there would have been a big surprise in store for us. Instead, we were consistent in releasing comments to dispel all the disinformation as it emerged. Today, I can share with you the story of this monumental construction project and its culmination. I will give a few examples of the widespread disinformation regarding this bridge.
Today’s briefing is held at a special location. It provides a somewhat distant view of the Crimean Bridge that was inaugurated in a ceremony held yesterday, May 15.
The construction of the Crimean Bridge started in February 2016. The bridge has two sections: a motorway and a railway. They run parallel to each other and were constructed at the same time. I saw this today as I drove down the motorway section, the railway is still under construction. This scale of the structure is thrilling. You can see the cars with flags on the bridge behind me. These cars are from the vehicle convoy that drove across the bridge today.
The bridge is 19 kilometres long and is designed to carry up to 40,000 cars and 47 trains in each direction per day, which amounts to 14,000 passengers and 13 million tonnes of cargo per year. It opened to car and bus traffic six months earlier than the date given in the government contract, and lorries will be allowed on the bridge from this autumn. The railway section is expected to open in 2019.
The Crimean Bridge is a long-desired and much needed infrastructure project. This is the longest bridge in Russia and Europe. It was built at a record-breaking pace, overcoming extremely complex geological, seismic and also international and political challenges. You can hardly imagine the intensity of the pressure and the efforts at disinformation (and all this continues, as I will tell you later).
More than 10,000 people from across Russia helped build the bridge, including experienced construction workers who were involved in landmark projects like the Baikal-Amur Railway, infrastructure for APEC Leaders’ Meeting in Vladivostok, the Kazan Universiade and the Sochi Olympics.
The official name for the bridge over the Kerch Strait was chosen in 2017. It is called the Crimean Bridge. As I drove across the bridge today in a convoy, I saw people with Russian and Crimean flags congratulating each other and crying out that this was a victory, something they had dreamed about for so long. This was all very sincere and you could not help being moved.
Before construction began, mine clearance experts and archaeologists examined the area. This message is not so much for Russian journalists as it is for our Western colleagues. Hundreds of explosive ordnances left since the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 were discovered and disposed of. More than a million archaeological artefacts were found. The construction project helped archaeologists discover an artefact that may be unique.
Of course, the fact that a complex project of this kind was completed matters greatly not only for Crimea residents, but also for all Russians, for all of us. Thousands of Russians and foreigners will be able to travel to Crimea by car or train, and logistics will be improved. We are looking forward to sharing the experience we gained during this project with our foreign partners. Once again, we invite all foreign guests to visit Crimea. We are glad that it has now become even easier than before.
It is an ambitious and impressive project. Like any other ambitious and impressive project, it generated myths and legends from the initial stage, even before its implementation began but already at the planning stage, when we only discussed it. Regrettably, these are negative myths and legends. Crimeans and all other people in Russia regarded this project with open pride, optimism and hope for its early implementation, whereas many Western, primarily Ukrainian, media outlets did their best to discredit this project. There have been information attacks and fake news planted by officials, politicians, the media and the public. Regrettably, this campaign was so regular, ridiculous and absurd in Ukraine and some European countries that the press service of the Crimean Bridge added a hashtag for such publications, #CrimeanBridgeMyths, on its accounts in Facebook and other social media accounts. These information phantoms were dispelled immediately by experts as well as the time itself. As we stand near this huge bridge now and see hundreds of vehicles drive across it, I suggest recalling the most ridiculous of these fakes.
Hardly had we announced the launch of this project when Ukraine assured that it cannot be implemented. In April 2016, the Ukrainian online resource Svobodnaya Pressa (Free Press) decided that the most convincing action against this project would be to offer “expert” conclusions and opinions by local politicians. The chief critic was Lenur Islyamov, a co-organiser of Crimea’s blockade and a self-proclaimed expert on marine ecosystems, who claimed that the meters-deep silt and ice on the Sea of Azov, as well as strong winds, would prevent the implementation of the project. Ukrainian politician Roman Bessmertny wrote: “There will be no bridge… It will take the Russians many decades to drive in the piles alone.” Deputy Infrastructure Minister of Ukraine Vladimir Omelyan looked at our budget and concluded: “Let’s be realistic: there is not enough money in the Russian budget.” He alleged that our budget was getting smaller by the day and that he would therefore not count on any megaprojects. These are hard facts, but now they have accused us of misinformation and propaganda, using this as a reason for breaking into the premises of journalists who work for Russian media outlets or are Russian citizens.
Contrary to the forecasts of these pseudo-experts in engineering and construction, the project was taking shape before their very eyes. Something had to be done about this, including by the Ukrainian establishment. And so they started planting fakes. The campaign was led by the Ukrainian media, while the West took up, reprinted and amplified these fake news reports. In August 2017, BBC published a sceptical item describing the project as “controversial.” As the project progressed, they invented other myths. According to one, the 256th of the almost 600 piles, the one located right in the middle of the Kerch Strait, cracked in two places, and that the cracks were clearly visible on photographs.
Another myth says that the builders failed to align the metal spans of the motorway bridge at the Nasyp-Farvater part of the bridge. Another alleged problem with the bridge was the catastrophic heating of the metal structure, which was presumably settled through the emergency redirection of electricity from Siberian hydroelectric power plants.
Another tidal wave of fake information was reported in late summer 2017, when the motorway and railway arches were installed. Every other Ukrainian politician and blogger claimed “expertly” that one of the piles sagged down by one metre and another by 1.5 metres under the weight of the railway arch. “Nobody knows what to do.” This is what the news I am quoting said.
The project steadily advanced despite the numerous attempts by the press to declare it dead. What they needed was an all-out propaganda effort, a smear campaign. It was then that they decided to aim their best shot at what seemed as the most vulnerable spot. In September 2017, Versia, a Ukrainian online title, published an article saying that the bridge did not exist, while photos from the construction site were quality fakes created at Mosfilm studios. It was alleged that the bridge was actually a clay model, while the railway arch was a hologram. I am not making this up. This is what the media reported in a country that accuses Russia of engaging in propaganda. They also questioned the vivid colours on the photos published by the press service of the bridge construction site. The last thing these journalists suggested was supposed to be a killer argument. They wrote that “Ukrainian military swimmers have long stopped Russia in its feeble attempts to drive in the piles by bombing” the construction site. This quote was also taken from the Ukrainian media.
The bridge is here, and it has opened to traffic. I tried it out, and I recommend all of you to do the same. Do not listen or read all this nonsense.
In October 2017, Dialog, a Ukrainian online title, wrote that the bridge will have to be disassembled under a court verdict that was allegedly handed out in Russia. Ukraineworld, an English-language Ukrainian news website, reported that the construction caused irreparable harm to the ecosystem of the Black and Azov seas, while UNIAN news agency reported on its vulnerability in military terms, suggesting that it could be bombed from the air, as well as from the sea. I have a proposal for UNIAN: maybe before you think about ways of bombing a bridge, you can think about Ukrainian cities and what could be done to them? This fantasy is not on me. It is on UNIAN. But Russian infrastructure sites should not necessarily be a starting point for these fantasies, and since you are a Ukrainian media outlet, you could focus on your own country.
Here is a recent example provided once again by the Ukrainian media. In April, the media reported extensively on statements made by Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yury Lutsenko on the arrest of a Russian vessel that allegedly extracted sand, quite illegally, for the bridge construction in the Black Sea’s Karkinit Bay.
It is noteworthy that while the Ukrainian media seem to have opted for falsifying facts about the construction of the bridge, the Western media focused on expressing their scepticism regarding the project. They counted everything: the money Russia has, and the money that Ukraine lacks, they calculated losses for the Ukrainian economy and the difficulties for ships of a certain size to sail under the bridge. In November 2017, a long article about the Crimean Bridge was published: Putin’s Bridge to Crimea May Carry More Symbolism Than Traffic. It appeared in The New York Times, by the way. In this piece the reader was bombarded with all kinds of doubts about the bridge, from the idea that the entire project was impossible to the allegation that not a single company wanted to become a contractor. In January of the same year, the Atlantic Council, a US think tank, shared its expert views on the project and its viability. They believe that the bridge will not stand for too long after its construction and could come apart at any moment. This is what was said.
It is impossible to account for the tonnes of fakes, photo montages, insinuations and bogus stories regarding the Crimean Bridge. It is not my intention to list them all. Let me warn you that there will be quite a few reports of this kind on the Crimean Bridge, other projects and Russia in general. Their stream continued yesterday and today. The US Department of State said that the bridge impedes navigation. In what way? I tried to imagine how it could create any obstacles, I called experts, I looked at the map, and I asked myself this question. And then it got to me what my colleagues from the US Department of State meant. Of course, the only thing this bridge can prevent is the passage of the US 6th fleet so that it can be deployed off the coast of Belarus (as the US Department of State said a few years ago). It is true that the bridge would be an obstacle for navigation of this kind. In all other ways, the bridge will only facilitate cooperation, ties as well as economic development.
We announced wide Victory Day celebration abroad and talked about the Foreign Ministry’s efforts to facilitate the celebration of this holiday in various countries. Today, we can review the results.
Traditionally, Victory Day has been widely celebrated in various countries. Year after year, the memory of the war heroes is carried on by our compatriots, representatives of Russian foreign missions and citizens of other countries who remember the contribution of the Soviet people to liberating the world from Nazism. This is a heart-to-heart celebration, and every part of it takes on special meaning.
Our foreign missions held commemorative, memorial, protocol and cultural events, including receptions, ceremonial meetings, meetings with war veterans, ceremonies at the monuments and memorials to Soviet soldiers and a variety of public functions with the participation of our compatriots.
WWII veterans living abroad, residents of besieged Leningrad and young prisoners of Nazi concentration camps received personal greetings from the Russian President.
Special focus went to improving Russian (Soviet) military burial sites located in foreign states. Several social and patriotic functions took place, including the St George Ribbon Drive and rally drives, such as Victory Roads to Berlin, sporting events, the Sobibor film screening and field kitchens. The Turetsky Choir performed in Ashdod, Berlin, Vienna, Ljubljana, Minsk and Paris.
On May 9, a traditional military parade took place on Red Square in Moscow attended by foreign diplomats and representatives of international organisations accredited in Moscow. Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu and President of the Republic of Serbia Alexandar Vucic, as well as other representatives of foreign countries, attended the parade and also took part in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Alexandrovsky Garden and the Immortal Regiment procession.
I would like to talk about this procession separately. From year to year, the Immortal Regiment is becoming more than a march in memory of the Great Victory, but also a new form of self-organisation for the Russian people and all those who honour and respect the service of the Red Army soldier. This year, the drive brought together a record number of participants both in Russia and abroad. Three times more people – about a million – took part in the Immortal Regiment procession, which is comparable to the number of participants in Moscow. The geographic scope of the activities expanded. The procession took place on all continents in 90 states and over 350 cities and towns. From Japan to the United States, millions of our compatriots carried portraits of their ancestors who gave their lives for peace. In many countries, local residents joined our Russian compatriots. For the first time, this year the march was held in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Trebinje), Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh), Cambodia (Sihanoukville), the Netherlands (Amsterdam), Syria (Damascus), Thailand (Phuket), the Philippines (Cebu Island), Chile (Santiago), Switzerland (Geneva), Croatia and Antarctica at the Novolazarevskaya Station of the 63rd Russian Antarctic Expedition.
In Syria, the march took on special significance, got enriched and acquired a national dimension. For the citizens of this country, the loss of the loved ones who gave their lives for their country is not only a tribute to historical memory, but, unfortunately, a harsh reality and part of everyday life. Symbolically, the Syrians honour those who died for their Motherland on May 6.
So, the march participants in Latakia and Aleppo carried portraits of WWII heroes and the Syrian army soldiers who laid down their lives fighting terrorism in recent years. Of course, this is not the original meaning of this drive, but how can we not understand the Syrians? Syrian participants also carried portraits of Russian soldiers who died in Syria. For them, they are also part of the Immortal Regiment, and their memory is immortalised in the history of the country.
In Croatia, the march was held for the first time on May 8, the day Zagreb was liberated from the Nazis. Its participants came from different cities of the country. The procession in Zagreb was called “Immortal Partisan Unit” as a tribute to the Yugoslav partisans who fought heroically for victory on Croatian land.
This was not the first time the march was held in the capital of Spain. In 2018, it brought together about 2,000 people. For the fourth time, the Immortal Regiment went through the streets of Lisbon, Portugal. About 100 people, this year under pouring rain, formed a festive column in central Rome. Another 300 activists gathered on the grounds of the Russian Embassy in Tokyo. This was the second time the action has taken place in Japan. In Toronto, Canada, two marches took place involving about 8,000 people. The drive grew on the people in Brazil as well. It caused keen interest among the local public and the media. In the United States, an Immortal Regiment march was held in 28 cities.
In the post-Soviet republics, the Immortal Regiment march has also became a national tradition. Belarus widely commemorated those who died in WWII. The most widely attended Immortal Regiment march of 9,000 people was held on May 9 in Brest. Despite the fact that in recent weeks Armenia has been absorbed in its domestic political developments as it builds a road to the future, it has not forgotten the past and Victory Day, either. In Yerevan, the Immortal Regiment column was led by President Sargsyan. Tens of thousands of people took part in the Immortal Regiment procession in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Numerous Immortal Regiment marches in Moldova were truly popular and demonstrated the Moldovans’ unity in their appreciation of the Great Victory. Marches were also held in the Georgian cities of Tbilisi, Batumi and Gori.
The Immortal Regiment marches were held in the UK, Israel, Germany, Turkey, Namibia, Angola, Egypt and Lebanon. Mentioning all the countries where this march was held would last longer than the time allocated for this briefing.
Young people took part in these events around the world, which is particularly important in light of preserving the memory of the war and the decisive contribution of our country to the victory over Nazism. These marches have become a powerful consolidating force that can bring together the younger and older generations of our compatriots in this difficult situation.
In some countries, this event did not take the form of a march but was held in Russian Science and Culture Centres, in Russian communities and clubs, or during the wreath laying ceremonies at Russian military cemeteries. The reasons for this include a complicated security situation or the laws and peculiar traditions of the countries of residence. Holding these marches in some countries was complicated by a state of emergency or a ban on rallies. In the overwhelming majority of cases, these marches were coordinated with the authorities, which pledged to protect the safety of the marchers. Local officials in many countries took part in these commemoration events.
Regrettably, the festive mood was spoiled in some countries, where certain forces attempted to prevent people from celebrating. The Latvian authorities again tried to hinder Victory Day celebrations by creating a negative information background or refusing to help people with organisational matters. Nevertheless, 15,000 people took part in the Immortal Regiment march in Riga. Although May 9 is a workday in Latvia, over 150,000 people of the 700,000-strong Riga population gathered at the monument to the liberators of Riga and Latvia from the Nazi invaders. By tradition, the Eternal Flame moved in a symbolic relay from Daugavpils in Latvia to Vilnius in Lithuania and Tallinn in Estonia and then back to Riga, Latvia. These facts and figures speak more boldly about the people’s shared memory than all the statements made by anti-Russia politicians.
Certain forces in Poland attempted to undermine the importance of this event. Only 300 people marched with the Immortal Regiment there to commemorate their relatives who fought Nazis arms in hand, home front workers, employees of Russian foreign facilities and their families, our colleagues from other embassies, citizens of the former Soviet republics, and active members of veterans’ organisations. However, this did not prevent some “activists” from writing online that it was a fake event which people were forced to attend. I was driving towards the bridge today when a young man asked me to step out of the car to make a video for his friend. I asked him why, and he replied that his friend does not believe that it was not an orchestrated action or that anyone can drive across the bridge to communicate with others. I had to help that young man make a video to show him that we are simple people rather than a crowd forced to do this on orders from above. The first to arrive formed a column. I did not go to bed that night. I drove to the bridge at 3 in the morning so that I would be able to cross it in time for the briefing. An enormous number of people wanted to be the first to cross the bridge. Similar fake news and lies are circulated about the Immortal Regiment marches, claiming that people are ordered to take part in them. Who needs to do this? People just want to take part in these events.
It is regrettable that similar falsehoods were planted by Ukrainian radicals in a bid to diminish their own forefathers’ heroism.
Despite the opposition of the authorities and radicals, a record number of people took part in the Immortal Regiment marches in Ukraine this year. As you know, the symbols that are traditional for this holiday – the St George ribbon and red banners – are prohibited in Ukraine. Violators can be sentenced to up to five years in prison. Yet the people take part in street marches to commemorate their forefathers and to show the local Nazis that they do not fear them. Witnesses describe the Immortal Regiment march in Kiev as one kilometre of heroism. Over 50,000 people marched from Arsenalnaya metro station to the Eternal Flame holding black-and-white photographs of those whose victory, heroism and honour the current Ukrainian authorities want to steal from them. The prohibited St George ribbons were on view in central Kiev on May 9, when people sang Soviet-era songs. They were hindered, abused and even attacked, yet they continued on their way. The march lasted the whole day. It pained me to see that people had to fight for a space where they could commemorate their fathers and grandfathers. I know that restrictive actions were taken against those who sang the songs of their choice, wore St George ribbons, and held up the photographs of their forefathers. This is disgusting.
The Victory Day event in Odessa developed into a confrontation between the participants and the Right Sector. There were not many of the latter, but they walked in front of the marchers, filming them. They did the same to a Russian diplomat at the UN, filming his responses to the propaganda attacks by the Ukrainian delegation. They later post these photographs online and complement them with threats.
The column was sometimes prevented from moving forward. The people chanted: Fascism will not pass, Odessa is a hero city, Bandera thugs, get out of Odessa, Donbass, we are with you, Odessa is a Russian city, and even hailed the president of Russia. Several people were detained for the latter offence. According to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, 460,000 took part in May 9 celebrations across Ukraine.
The organisers of Victory Day celebrations in some countries offered unusual events. In addition to traditional events, the employees of Russian embassies, Russian compatriots and students from schools with tuition in Russian took part in a national competition on the history of the Great Patriotic War, contests, photo exhibits and themed parties. Courage Lessons were held at the Russian embassy schools to tell the students about the Great Patriotic War. Russian offices abroad worked closely with the Russian Orthodox Church, which held commemoration services to honour war heroes in many countries.
I would like to express our gratitude to those countries and city authorities where these events were held. It was hard work involving the assistance of our foreign partners and colleagues, which was needed to coordinate the place and time of the events, concerts, exhibits and to make other arrangements. We are grateful to all these countries, their officials and agencies, as well as city mayors for the flawless organisation of these events. Special thanks go to people in the United States who did their best to ensure that the Turetsky Choir reached the UN building on time. Their performance hung by a thread because of traffic and emergencies, yet it happened thanks to constructive assistance from US migration authorities. We greatly appreciate this. It is yet another example of cooperation to the benefit of our countries’ people.
The Russian foreign policy service holds sacred its centuries-old traditions and remembers our outstanding diplomats and their invaluable contribution to protecting and promoting national interests in the international arena.
This year marks the centenary of the birth of prominent Soviet diplomat Lev Mendelevich who left a strong impact on the history of domestic foreign policy. He had many merits to his credit – he took part in settling the Cuban missile crisis, drafting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and multilateral talks in the framework of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He played a key role in establishing and consolidating a system of foreign policy forecasts, analysis and planning. Combining the qualities of a unique professional and a responsive and reliable man, Mendelevich justifiably acquired a reputation as one of the best experts on a broad range of international issues.
The ministry is planning to hold a number of events aimed at perpetuating his unique creative and professional legacy. Thus, the August issue of the magazine International Affairs will carry an essay on his biography and in September the Foreign Ministry will host a memorial event that will be attended by the ministry’s senior officials, veterans of the diplomatic service and employees of the departments where he worked or which he headed. At the same time, the exposition of archive documents and materials on the main milestones of his professional career and life will be held in the ministry’s lobby.
Question: Yesterday Kiev again showed who is who. Judging by everything, such actions will continue in the future. Don’t you think that apart from statements denouncing such actions, it is necessary to take measures that will prevent a repetition? Isn’t it time to act tougher and stop incanting the words “The Crimea is ours?” There is no doubt about this, but one gets the impression that each time we repeat these words we are trying to convince ourselves that it is true.
Maria Zakharova: Statements are not just words. These are statements by officials that are subsequently put on paper and sent to international agencies and our partners. This is part of international law because this is Russia’s position on key issues that are reflected in many provisions regulating freedom of speech. This is part of diplomatic and political work that produces results. That said, nobody is ruling out other methods of analysing the situation. As soon as the information on all the details of this blatant excess as regards the Rossiya Segodnya news agency appeared yesterday, and this happens every time when our journalists are detained, the competent agencies became involved. This is not limited to the efforts by the Foreign Ministry, statements by the Presidential Executive Office or comments by the Presidential Press Secretary. The entire Russian Government is involved in this. I can assure you of this.
As you understand, not everything can be said in the open, not all of this work is carried out in public, but everything that is linked with the protection of the interests of Russian journalists is monitored by the Russian leadership. This is the first point. Secondly, all necessary measures are elaborated on each case. It seems to me that it is simply impossible to reproach Russia for lack of attention and reluctance to settle such issues. There are no facts to support this. The most effective measures will be taken in this recent case.
Question: The Iron Curtain that is about to descend over Russia and Crimea is in some ways even denser than it was in 1948. In today’s environment, when politicians and business people have turned a blind eye to many things, especially the interests of the people of Crimea, could it be that the time has come to use soft power by relying on journalists and their networking ties? You could work with the Union of Journalists of Russia, the International Federation of Journalists, and reach out to our compatriots living abroad. Unfortunately, the regional press seems to be losing interest in what is happening here, compared to 2014 and 2015.
Maria Zakharova: Do not trust these myths. Someone wants this to be a reality, but this is not the way things are. If someone is after it and tries to invent this Iron Curtain, our task is to dispel these myths. I talked about the myths related to the Crimean Bridge today. This is also part of this so-called Iron Curtain that is descending over us. But the bridge is here, and today we can laugh at these silly publications together. The same applies to all the rest.
As for reaching out to non-governmental institutions and soft power, the Foreign Ministry is proactive in these efforts. We now invite Crimean journalists to travel with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and cover his visits. There were some problems from the outset, since many countries refused to grant visas to people from the Crimea. But we are working on it. A group of Crimean journalists comes to Moscow to cover the Minister’s foreign visits. Isn’t this a specific example of how we can break through this virtual Iron Curtain?
As for raising awareness of the issues the Crimea is facing, I cannot accept this reproach. I come here regularly. One year ago we spent five hours at the media centre in Simferopol holding press conferences, giving interviews, talking to each other and making plans, including with the television station Millet. This project is currently being implemented. My colleagues are doing the same. There can never be too much constructive criticism. So I take your words as a call for action.
I am ready to discuss with you further steps in this area. We had contacts with the Union of Crimean Journalists. We are ready to review and implement all your proposals. Many of the things we outlined two years ago are gradually materialising, such as enabling Crimean journalists to be present at international events, which has not come easily at all. At the same time, many countries grant visas and provide access to the fighters from Kiev’s counter-terrorism operation, so-called veterans and snipers. These people attend media workshops without hiding that they are active snipers. They manage to get US visas. A simple internet search explains how they get their visas. It turns out that they are funded by US grants. Just imagine: people living in peace in their own country go to get sniper training in order to shoot at their own country and their own compatriots, and all this is funded by the United States. After that they come to the United States, and go to the UN to give a talk on issues of the information space. This is the height of cynicism. And, in fact, it is our job to show and explain everything that is going on. When we raised this, the UN issued a very clear response saying that these events were not related in any way with the UN Committee on Information, and that it was all organised by Ukrainian diplomats, who were thus exposed. We are ready to hear and discuss any proposals.
Question: We know how hard it is to be a diplomat these days. Graduates from our school, who studied and are now studying at the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University), keep us informed. What should be the focus for our school’s graduates aspiring to become diplomats and international journalists?
Maria Zakharova: It has never been easy, working as a diplomat. We know many examples of tragic deaths of diplomats, both historical and more recent ones – remember our colleagues who were brutally killed in Iraq (I recently read that their murderers were sentenced to death). It has always been that way. It is the kind of profession that appears to be easy, with lots of socialising, attending dinner parties and receptions. The truth is, it is challenging political work which is supposed to go unnoticed and appear plain and simple. But it always entails risks – when unexpected events happen in various countries, a dormant conflict becomes hot, and blood is shed. Diplomats are held hostage or represent their countries on the front line.
This profession has always been hard, challenging, and, at times, highly dangerous. I would like to invite you all to the Russian Foreign Ministry lobby, where there is a special memorial plaque commemorating our colleagues who gave their lives, were killed, died in the line of duty. To our great regret, the last names on that plaque were added just recently.
Students at MGIMO University should pay special attention to equally important things – knowledge of your country’s history, the history of international relations, knowledge of foreign languages and details about the country whose language the students are studying. The ability to communicate, conduct a dialogue and harmonise things that appear to be mutually exclusive, while keeping in mind that a diplomat’s main mission is to defend national interests, is no less important.
Question: In January, I went to Kiev to see my friends. At the airport, many people with Russian passports were asked to step aside and were issued a three-year re-entry ban in Ukraine for “travel to Crimea.” They themselves have no clue where the Ukrainians get this information, or how it spreads. I am glad that the bridge has opened to traffic, and people can now come here without providing any preliminary information. What are the people whose relatives live in Ukraine to do? Can they be helped in any way so that they can visit the graves of their relatives?
Maria Zakharova: A lot of strange things are now happening in Ukraine. We are perfectly aware of the roots of what is happening, which are deeply related to the coups that took place in Ukraine. This is political manipulation. The incumbent elite must stay in power at all costs which is becoming increasingly difficult given the events unfolding in the country. They have to constantly stimulate public opinion and gain support by promoting the image of an enemy, writing everything off to that enemy and blaming Russia for all of Ukraine’s troubles, setbacks and failures as they claim that Russia allegedly conducts some kind of subversive activities in Ukraine.
The arrest and the disgusting search and detention of Rossiya Segodnya reporters was immediately portrayed as suppression of espionage and high treason. To back up their claims, they said they found Russian passports and some Russian awards. This begs the question: have these security officers ever tried to force their way into the government and search its members for their green cards, foreign passports or awards issued by other states? I think they would make a lot of exciting discoveries. Yesterday, they laid out money, bills, some Euros and dollars in a theatrical manner (I saw the photos), apparently, to build a case for high treason. If you lay out the money owned by at least one member of the Ukrainian government, a bed will not be big enough to hold it, perhaps not even the entire country. Why don’t the security people wonder who in Ukraine is really involved in treason and who is working for other states? After all, it's ironic that a journalist who does his job and says so openly, cannot go about doing it, despite the fact that Ukraine repeatedly states its adherence to these very values. At the same time, there are people with dual citizenship and citizenship of only foreign countries among members of the Ukrainian Cabinet and the political elite who enjoy access to national secrets and sensitive information. No one seems to have an issue with that, which is absurd and ironic.
Of course, we are doing our best to make sure that what the Kiev authorities are doing, pushing their people to a conflict, is not seen to completion. This is a tall order, because they are using increasingly sophisticated techniques. Today, I cited several examples. I didn’t make them up. These are the links to some materials, in particular, the Crimean Bridge, which can be found online. They have a date and a link to the original media publication. This is what they did. All of that is being done, including at the behest of the government. We are doing our best to make sure that the provocative activities of the Ukrainian authorities do not end in disaster, as planned.
I feel bad for the people. You are right; they simply cannot get there. Since you asked this question, I’d be remiss not to mention it. All the more so as I received many questions on this matter. I was shocked by what happened in the city of Krivoy Rog, where on May 9 its residents held a ceremony in honour of WWII heroes. At some point, there was a song titled Bring Back the Memory. Yes, I wrote this song. I have a co-author, Maral Yakshiyeva. Maxim Fadeyev did the arrangement, and Nargiz sang it onstage. We did not withhold this information. I'm not sure people knew this. They just liked the song and the lyrics. Why? Because again, our peoples are close in spirit and culture, and the way they feel about the world. I was surprised to find out later that the lady who was in charge of this event was fired. The worst part is that I can’t even offer her words of support, because it will simply lead to reprisals against her. I am with you when you said that you feel bad for the people.
Question: First, I congratulate everyone on an event that is remarkable not only for Crimean residents but also for all of Russia – the opening of the Crimean bridge, and also on the recent Victory Day. On a humorous note, I would like to congratulate everyone on being listed on the scandalously infamous site Mirotverets.
Maria Zakharova: I have been listed there for a long time, and so have my deputies. We got used to it. We have written a lot of letters to the OSCE, and sent diplomatic notes to the US because at some point the site was hosted by US servers. No response whatsoever.
Question: I read your post about singer Yulia Samoylova, about the harassment she experienced. I was also moved by that, I wrote about it. This person represented the country at a contest. This happens to everyone – some get through to the finals, others do not. Do you think that in reality this harassment was due to the fact that Yulia Samoylova constantly emphasises her patriotic position?
The State Duma is currently considering a draft law on the responsibility that should be borne by those in Russia who comply with the West’s sanctions. Should some of our organisations be brought to account, those that ignore Crimea?
Maria Zakharova: Let me say the words that may seem trivial but are crucial for me. I categorically reject any harassment in any form. I believe that a society with values, culture, history and people that are dedicated to them, should not allow harassment. I also hold a view of our country that does not accept harassment on a national scale. This position has been made public a number of times. We do not support any sanctions policy, any sanctions actions aimed at cornering a country. There are legal tools, the UNSC which is the only body entitled to make a legal decision on imposing sanctions, or pressure on a certain state in view of a certain situation. This decision is taken on legitimate grounds following the consideration of respective documents and materials. Harassment is unacceptable in any form – personal or on an international scale. This is not our way and not our method. Criticism – for sure, analysis – yes, but without crossing the lines that erase the border between a human and an animal.
Regarding the fact that Crimea has disappeared from view (I have to talk about this for the second time), the bridge is there, the parameters of the bridge, the amount of labour-hours and labour units, resources, finances and political will contributed to the project are unprecedented in our country’s recent history. It is a different matter that not everything comes out perfect at once – this is a normal process. We are perfectly aware of what a long road Crimea has travelled to integrate into Russian society in every way – political, constitutional, economic, financial and social. We accept this as a goal, but I think we should have a reasonable view of the issues since so much is being done.
Question: US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has recently accused Russia of abusing its right of veto at the UN Security Council. But on Tuesday the United States blocked a resolution to promote an independent investigation of the latest events in the Gaza Strip. Washington has laid all the blame for the death of protesters on Hamas. What can you say about this US reaction to the developments in Gaza?
Maria Zakharova: I have already spoken about Russia’s attitude to this problem. I believe I have really said quite a lot about this.
As for why Russia is accused and why a situation is provoked when we have to veto [UNSC] decisions, it is a political game. The tension was fanned in the same way before the Iraq war. The United States has been acting impudently and aggressively and has used all the available pressure mechanisms to push the UNSC towards approving an appropriate resolution allowing the use of force against Iraq. The United States later repeated this many times over once again. It was clear that Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, as well as France, which was very active at the time, were firmly against that scenario and they set out their position clearly. Why did the United State continue to introduce the same proposals again and again if these proposals were vetoed again and again or not even added to the agenda, which resulted in the negative outcome for these use-of-force resolutions? This is a mystery for those who know little about international affairs or the working procedure at the UN and its Security Council. Why do this if you know that your resolution will be vetoed anyway? Wouldn’t it be better to stop proposing such a resolution?
In 2006 or 2007, my American colleague, the then press secretary of the US Representative Office to the United Nations, said an interesting thing during an interview on our joint visit to Chicago. When I said that there were no legal grounds for the campaign against Iraq, he proposed counting the number of times the United States moved this subject for discussion.
First of all, the United States believes that the number of times a resolution has been proposed for discussion can be considered a sufficient international legal basis for the approval of a military scenario. Secondly, it is an additional argument for discrediting Russia’s policy and for accusing us of being unconstructive and of blocking all the [good] decisions at the UN Security Council. This is part of the political game.
Regrettably, this is a game which is not only affecting the Middle Eastern process or the Syrian settlement. It is damaging not only Russia and other countries but primarily the UN, because this is eroding its foundations and the prestige of its unique mechanism, the Security Council.
I would like to remind you that the right of veto was proposed by American representatives when the United Nations Organisation was only just taking shape. It should be said that it was a far-sighted US proposal. This mechanism is what prevents the world from sliding into a deplorable state of rubberstamping documents and decisions under pressure of any one group. In the American vocabulary it is called the system of checks and balances, only on the global scale. It served us well in the case of Iraq, when the use of veto and the position of many countries prevented the UN from giving a legal backing to an absolutely shameful campaign. The UN and the international community did not provide a formal approval for the invasion of Iraq. This has not only saved the UN face but the organisation itself, because nobody would have condoned the murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians if it were committed with a UN mandate. Everyone would have wondered what kind of an organisation would permit such violence together with such a massive tragedy.
Question: You have already mentioned the crew of Russia’s Nord fishing vessel. Five of its sailors remain in Ukraine, and two others have returned back to Kerch. It is common knowledge that the majority of Crimean residents have dual citizenship. The website of the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General’s Office notes that the Nord’s sailors wishing to return to Crimea should show their Ukrainian passports and cross the border under Ukrainian legislation. Does Russia want them to stay in Ukraine as Russian citizens, or do the sailors themselves want to say that they are citizens of the Russian Federation and to stay in Ukraine all the same?
Maria Zakharova: I would prefer not to go into details of all these developments because our main task is to ensure the return of the sailors and to make sure they stay well. The example of many other persons, arrested in Ukraine, shows that Ukrainian law enforcement agencies deal harshly with those who are linked with the Russian Federation, one way or another.
Senior Foreign Ministry officials are monitoring the situation, and all the required experts have also been involved. I can assure you that, just like in other situations, this matter is being resolved. Let’s not go into details today because this might harm these people.
Question: On Monday, Yevpatoria authorities and their colleagues from Marignane, France, signed a cooperation agreement. Yesterday, official Paris, including your colleagues from the French Foreign Ministry, said the agreement runs counter to international law. What would you like to say about this assessment?
Maria Zakharova: The funniest thing is that we are hearing this from the French side that recently joined the air strikes against the territory of the sovereign state of Syria without the consent of Damascus or the approval of any UN Security Council resolution.
It is simply rather strange that Paris can decide in this particular case what meets international law, and what does not. Crimea exists, although many people deny this fact, they don’t want to see the bridge and the people of Crimea, nor do they want to see local developments, how various problems are being addressed, and what problems remain. Unfortunately, the Western community receives information from mythical NGO reports whose representatives have not even once set foot there. So our task is to provide authentic information. For these purposes, we, including the Foreign Ministry, organise trips for delegations from various countries, including those mentioned by you. We would very much like NGOs, civil society, the business community, human rights activists together with representatives of various national legislatures to come here and see local developments for themselves.
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If there are no more questions, I would like to end this briefing and to invite you all to Crimea. The weather is simply wonderful, the sea and the bridge are magnificent. Welcome to Crimea!