Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, March 19, 2020
The vast majority of foreign trips, visits or talks by the Foreign Ministry’s top- and mid-level officials, have either been cancelled or postponed.
The Foreign Ministry has focused its efforts on the main goal – assisting Russian citizens abroad with returning home.
I would like to reiterate what we have discussed. The other day, the Foreign Ministry has established a coordinating headquarters, managed by Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov, to coordinate its own work and to maintain cooperation with the interested federal executive bodies to help those Russian citizens abroad who wish to return to the Russian Federation during the spread of the coronavirus. The headquarters includes representatives from the Foreign Ministry’s territorial and functional departments. On-duty representatives from our departments are continuously in contact with the headquarters. The Crisis Management Cenre Department (CMCD) has the main responsibility for fulfilling these assignments. It will coordinate the work of the Foreign Ministry and our embassies and communications with our citizens.
The CMCD has a 24/7 multi-channel hotline. The telephone numbers are listed in the Foreign Ministry’s statement published on March 17. Duty officers receive and process messages from Russian citizens who find themselves in a predicament abroad in connection with the restrictions imposed by foreign countries for countering the spread of the coronavirus. In less than two days on high alert, the CMCD hotline has received over 6,000 telephone calls, as well as over 5,000 messages and calls through messengers. We are planning to increase our communication capacity because of the increasing number of calls. The Foreign Ministry and the CMCD websites have a section called, “Registration for Russian citizens wishing to return home.”
https://sos.midhelp.ru/users/login This page has a special e-registration form which provides for citizen’s identification and providing his/her contact information. The emergency telephone numbers for our foreign missions are also published on these websites.
In cooperation with the foreign missions, the Foreign Ministry and its coordinating headquarters are working to organise the return of Russian citizens from abroad as soon as possible, if they so desire. Lists of those who want to return home are being compiled. Currently, the CMCD has contact information on 5,500 Russian citizens. Our diplomats abroad are cooperating with the authorities in the host countries to receive permits for passing through their air space and resolve other related issues. In some case, they are helping people with accommodation and are taking them to departure areas whenever possible. They are also providing other assistance under the circumstances. That said, we know that we must do even more because everyone is in a very difficult situation.
We are working to bring people home from many countries. As of today, Aeroflot, S7, and other airlines have flown several hundred people to Russia from Montenegro, Uzbekistan, Latvia and Slovenia. We are planning ways to bring people back from the Philippines, Chile, Morocco, Peru and other Latin American countries. Considering the number of Russian citizens, the Canary Islands remain a problem. Aeroflot continues to fly to the capitals of 17 states to bring our citizens home to Russia.
I would also like to say that the increasing restrictions, primarily in the European countries, including the EU closing of its external borders and the imposition of bans on crossing national borders inside the Schengen zone, the suspension of movement inside a number of states, the large-scale cancellation of flights and the shutdown of land borders has turned a large number of our citizens into de facto hostages in many countries. In some places this can be explained by forced measures, whereas in others, a negative influence on resolving logistical issues is exerted sooner due to political considerations, or the sluggishness of the local authorities.
Importantly, the imposed additional quarantine restrictions have put many tourist routes, which are popular with our people, in semi-suspended and semi-siege conditions.
Many Russian citizens are still unable to return home, and some are being forced out of hotels practically into the street. This is also due to local quarantines. Many migration and visa difficulties are arising. The Foreign Ministry and our foreign missions are doing all they can to resolve these problems. I can assure you that we are working around the clock. Again, we will do everything we can to resolve these outstanding issues.
I would like to once again draw your attention to the fact that all contact telephone numbers are published on the Foreign Ministry website. It is extremely important for those who are abroad and want to return home to stay in contact with the Russian missions abroad. This is necessary to receive information on the status of resolving the issues of return flights.
I would like to mention that our diplomats are working hard to cooperate with the authorities and the governments in the host countries. This is required for receiving the necessary registration details, for helping people to gather for repatriation and for receiving permits for return flights clearance.
We would like to emphasise that in his statement of March 14, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin advised Russian citizens to postpone or cancel any type of foreign trip. This recommendation is most urgent because every hour we hear more about new quarantine requirements, restrictions on movement, or cancelled or suspended flights in the majority of the world’s countries. It is simply impossible to predict what national authorities will do to resolve their domestic problems. It is also impossible to predict whether the situation with logistics abroad will improve soon. So we are repeating the recommendation made by the Prime Minister. We would like to advise against waiting until the end of a tour or a recreational activity, not to mention avoiding the purchase of new trips abroad for reduced prices or looking for other ways to travel abroad.
We have a paradoxical situation, for example, in the Philippines where over a hundred Russian citizens are waiting for a resolution to their departure problems. We have some information that tours to that country are still being sold. And unbelievably, these tours are still being purchased. This applies not only to the Philippines but also to a number of other destinations that are attractive to our citizens. This may become an absolutely imprudent decision that could lead to extremely serious consequences, including the impossibility of leaving the country later.
We are informing our people about their departure status via our embassies, websites and accounts. I mentioned some problem locations, but I will repeat them again so that people understand that they are not forgotten and that these questions are being addressed. These places include Latin America, Montenegro (the situation began to improve last evening but there are still problems), the Dominican Republic (logistics are a bit simpler and we hope to resolve the problems soon), Egypt, the Philippines, and the CIS states, for instance, Moldova. These are the most problem-prone places. We will continue to promptly update you with incoming information.
We have taken note of the March 16 declaration on the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol made by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell Fontelles on behalf of the Union ahead of the 6th anniversary of the reunification of Crimea and Sevastopol with Russia.
In fact, this declaration is simply a repetition of complaints to Russia. It looks like a jigsaw puzzle hastily compiled out of old statements.
It is regrettable that the new Brussels authorities continue to entertain the illusions about the events that took place six years ago, refusing to take a sober look at the situation. They are simply ignoring the realities.
We view the EU comments as unfriendly. We believe it inadmissible that they address the matter of Russia’s territorial integrity within its current borders. The EU is doing itself no favours by demeaning the importance of the historical referendum held on March 16, 2014, when the Crimeans voted for reunification with their fatherland. It is yet another of the numerous facts showing our EU partners’ waning commitment to the universally recognised standards of democracy and human rights. If the EU really wants and also considers that it is important to talk about human rights, we can discuss respect for human rights and declarations on the example of the fight against the coronavirus infection. It looks as if many countries have forgotten about this. This is no time for honing democratic spears with dusty Crimean stones.
It is regrettable that the EU, which has proclaimed the goal of strategic autonomy, has proved unable to make an independent analysis of the facts about life in Crimea. Instead, it is repeating obscure insinuations about the deterioration of human rights and environmental conditions in Crimea, which, we presume, have been compiled with Ukraine’s assistance. Environmental challenges are a global issue. They receive priority attention in Russia, but the EU doesn’t seem to be aware of this.
We consider as totally absurd the allegation that Russia is “changing the demographic structure of the population by transferring its own civilian population to the peninsula.” They are forgetting that Article 27 of the Constitution declares the right of Russian citizens to free travel and free choice of place of stay or residence. The compilers of the declaration overlooked the statistics which shows that last year some 10,000 (9,674) people from post-Soviet countries, nearly 80 percent (7,734) of them from Ukraine, permanently settled in Crimea. The number of Ukrainians who have taken permanent residence on the peninsula increased by 17 percent in 2019.
Another biased statement in the declaration concerns the open provocation staged by Ukrainian warships in the Kerch Strait in November 2018. It is a fact that it was planned ahead of the presidential election on direct orders from Petro Poroshenko.
They are preparing a new provocation now, a march to Crimea scheduled for May 3. Its organisers from the so-called Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People plan on breaking through to the peninsula across the state border of Russia. We call on you to prevent this.
While fanning tension over Crimea, the EU continues its inhumane practice of denying visas to Crimeans, which runs contrary to the key international standards in the field of human rights and several fundamental documents of the European Union itself. I know that the time is not right for talking about visas now, at a time when the EU has closed its internal space and many EU members have closed their national borders in violation of the fundamental rules and principles of the Union. But we know that the Crimean people were openly discriminated back when EU visas were issued to other people freely.
The Declaration’s appeal to “UN Member States” to join the EU sanctions, which are designed to worsen living conditions for the Crimeans, sounds especially indecent at a time when the international community should be teaming up and fighting the coronavirus infection together.
We call on the EU to start listening to the people of Crimea. I would like to say that a special statement on the 6th anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia was posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website yesterday. I invite everyone to read it. It is time to recognise the democratic choice made by the people of Crimea and Sevastopol and to take note of the positive changes that have taken place there since their reunification with Russia. By the way, many unbiased social and political representatives from Western countries have done this. The anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia is a good reason for this, rather than for playing along with Kiev by throwing new accusations at Russia.
We cannot ignore the EU Council’s March 13 decision to extend the restrictions on a number of Russian natural and legal persons for another six months. Of course, this is a disaster for the outward image as well as the self-image of EU institutions. The world is trying to keep afloat, pool its efforts and find points of contact in realising the consequences of current events. The expanded and extended restrictions will not result in any benefits for EU residents and are simply not smart. We have expressed our position many times. I will repeat that we consider the continuing expansion of these black lists to be unfriendly steps that limit the lawful rights of our citizens without grounds for doing so. We will definitely respond to this in kind.
As you know, on January 28 of this year the EU Council introduced unlawful unilateral restrictions on another seven Russian citizens. Let me recall that all of them are representatives of top officials and elected bodies, and of government bodies and election commissions in Crimea and Sevastopol. At that time we said that we regard this step by the EU as yet another abortive attempt to “punish” Crimeans for their free choice to reunite with Russia in March 2014. We warned the EU countries against using the instrument of unilateral sanctions, which is at variance with international law. Regrettably, our arguments have been ignored. I can speak about all this and repeat it but I would like to draw the attention of our European colleagues and partners to only one point. Do you realise at all what is happening in international politics? Do you know that at present the main goal of all sensible political forces, experts and politological communities is to find a proper and effective way out of the current situation? Why adopt something that will tie your hands in the future when you will deal with your own problems?
I would like to say that Russia has decided to expand its list (regrettably, we were forced to) of EU countries’ and institutions’ representatives that are to be denied entry into the Russian Federation. This is an issue of parity. Let me repeat that this is not our choice but we must respond. These restrictions are being introduced under Federal Law No. 114-FZ on the Procedure for Exit from the Russian Federation and Entry into the Russian Federation of August 15, 1996.
Let me repeat that today the world’s biggest question is how to counter the spread of the coronavirus, and more importantly, the consequences of the virus, something almost every country in the world is facing. What lessons can be learned? What answers will humankind have for future generations? But this is apparently not a big enough issue for the EU.
I would also like to say that in principle, the situation with the coronavirus pandemic is a real test of humanity, including in international affairs. This is a test of our, yours and ours, ability to remain human in the hardest times. I mean not only the ability and readiness of each individual, but of countries too, to act responsibly and in solidarity when we face new global challenges that defy national borders.
Regretfully, in some cases solidarity is replaced by national or ideological motives and self-serving considerations of the forces and countries that claim world hegemony and exclusivity. At the very moment when the states presenting themselves as world leaders have the opportunity to display their leadership and show a worthy example of economic support, a worthy example of how one can counter the new challenge internally and externally, they are reluctant to use this opportunity for some reason. It seems that everything we have been hearing for so many years about their world leadership, about their additional functions that those countries assumed, which in their view entitle them to disregard rules and laws, all of that has turned out to be just illusion, a myth, a mirage.
I would say that the situation is quite the contrary. Their selfish interests make them forget about human rights and ignore the interests of other people, of ordinary people.
I cannot but note an absolutely outrageous case of Venezuela and its relations with the IMF. As everyone knows, the IMF has raised substantial funds (up to $1 trillion) to help countries deal with the coronavirus outbreak. Caracas submitted a $5 billion application signed by President Nicolas Maduro to the IMF Managing Director. And now the IMF representative says that the Fund “is not in a position to consider this request [...] There is no clarity on recognition at this time” regarding the Venezuelan government among some of the IMF member states.
For over a year or even several years we have been constantly hearing statements of concern about human rights and about the actions of the international community for the benefit of ordinary people in Venezuela. And so, just a couple of months ago the people of Venezuela requested help when they needed it, like a multitude of other countries.
I wanted to draw your attention again to the fact that all this is happening against the background of continuing US officials’ statements on their intention to further toughen sanctions against Venezuela. They are even discussing the possibility of a naval blockade. This seems unthinkable to us.
Who is going to be affected by this policy? The ordinary people, the ordinary Venezuelans. This is typical hypocrisy.
Global challenges call for global and non-politicalised responses. We have noted that in response to Nicolas Maduro’s appeal to South American neighbours to forget political differences, at least for some time, and establish interaction to prevent the spread of the infection across the borders, some first contacts have been made in the form of videoconferences. This is a good sign, although it is clearly insufficient. Expert coordination by the Pan-American Health Organisation, however important it can be, cannot reduce the importance of coordination at an interstate level. The coronavirus is unimpressed by countries’ political differences and their views on democracy. Discussions on these subjects can well be postponed until the lives and health of tens of thousands of Venezuelans, Columbians and citizens of other countries are saved.
We have regularly informed you about developments in Syria. I would like to say that today’s comment will be rather brief. At the same time, there are developments that must be mentioned.
We have noticed that US politicians have intensified their contacts with a Syria-based pseudo-humanitarian organisation known as White Helmets. It seems important to emphasise this fact, because these contacts normally end up causing big problems for the region, such as provocations and incendiary actions. On March 17, US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun received the head of this organisation, Raed Al Saleh, this despite the State Department’s coronavirus-related restrictions on contacts with foreigners. On March 11, Saleh was invited to address the Senate. On March 3, US Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey and US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft had contacts with White Helmets representatives on the Turkish-Syrian border. A good, fruity PR move it was!
These meetings took place against the background of yet another irresponsible anti-Russia propaganda campaign that Washington launched in connection with the developments in the Idlib de-escalation zone (IDZ). Let me remind you that the zone is controlled by the terrorists from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. The stunning fact is that the White Helmets, who pose as a strictly humanitarian organisation, are again in the centre of Western information manipulations aimed at distorting the real state of affairs in Idlib. The main goal of these manipulations is to discredit the antiterrorist efforts of the Syrian Government and to hold Damascus and its allies responsible for the humanitarian situation in Northwestern Syria. To appear even more persuasive, but as usual lacking any proof, the campaigners put the “hero rescuers” themselves on the list of the “innocent victims” of the “Syrian regime,” Moscow and Tehran.
One has the impression that Washington is so outraged by the mere thought that the Russian-Turkish agreements on the IDZ may after all become implemented that it is ready to use any pretext to foster anti-Russia hysteria and undermine political settlement in Syria. Under these circumstances, the White Helmets, to whom the Americans have promised continued financial, political and organisational support, have no other option than to strictly follow their sponsors’ instructions and fulfill their political order. Now it is clear to everyone who and why established White Helmets and what quarters continue to support this organisation, whose main aim is to shape a false information environment and facilitate outside interference in Syria’s internal affairs for the benefit of the geopolitical interests of their customers.
I would like to add that if these activities and the renewed contacts with the White Helmets mean that the United States is trying to fill the vacuum of its foreign policy, then this is something we have been accustomed to. It is another matter that their contacts with the Western patrons are invariably followed by tragic events in the region. Putatively, they are given direct instructions as to how they should conduct subversive activities as well as fresh sponsor support, and so on.
As of today, the Baltic countries’ biggest Russian-language media outlet, the First Baltic Channel, is discontinuing the production and, accordingly, the airing of its own shows. Let me remind you that for several years, Latvia’s only non-governmental television news service broadcast the Latvian Time show and two authorial programmes, Offscreen and Five Kopecks. Latvian Time was one of the most popular news programmes with Latvian Russian speakers. There were no grievances about its information content.
This forced decision by the Baltic Media Alliance owner is a result of unprecedented pressure and actual harassment of the company by Riga and Tallinn. Let me remind you that on February 4, the Latvian State Security Service, acting together with the Estonian Security Police, searched the premises of the media holding.
The Latvian authorities followed the same scenario as their Estonian colleagues in the case of the Sputnik Agency bureau in Tallinn. They went on with the policy intended to cleanse the information space from alternative information sources through the imposition of political censorship, a policy that the Baltic countries have pursued on a systemic basis for a long time.
We regard this as a Latvian and Estonian aggression against the fundamental principles of freedom of speech and a targeted campaign to oust the Russian-language media from the information space, and discrimination of Russian speakers.
Along with the consistent process of squeezing out the Russian language from the education system, Latvia promotes legislative amendments prescribing an artificial increase in cable content in the official languages of the European Union and restricting the proportion of Russian programmes to 20 percent of the total volume of broadcasting. They are planning to do this by increasing the cost of the packages that include Russian channels.
We also noted that the attack on the First Baltic Channel was launched ahead of the elections to the Riga Duma scheduled for April 25. The ballot was postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak. In this context, the campaign against the media holding looks like an attempt by the local authorities to deprive the parties representing the interests of Russian speakers of their main media platform.
We regard the situation, where the ruling circles, engrossed in implementing their political interests, violate the fundamental principles of international law, principles that are actively propagated by Brussels, as absolutely unacceptable. What is at stake are democratic freedoms.
We call on the related international organisations and human rights NGOs to react. They have time to focus on a response. There are no forums and workshops sponsored by the OSCE. Visits have been postponed as well. They can afford to collect the online material and publish a clear-cut and extensive response. Everyone has gone online and, accordingly, we count on a full-scale reaction from the OSCE and its Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Desir.
On March 20, the Republic of Tunisia is marking Independence Day, its national holiday. On March 20, 1956, Habib Bourguiba, the leader of the Tunisian liberation movement and the French government signed a protocol annulling the French protectorate regime, and Tunisia became a sovereign state. That same year, the Soviet Union and Tunisia established diplomatic relations.
Today, Tunisia is Russia’s important partner in North Africa. Trade and economic relations between our countries are developing rapidly. Of course, I would like to say a few words about Tunisian resorts, but, in my opinion, it would be somewhat out of place to advertise them today. I believe that we will speak about them separately after the global situation improves.
We congratulate the people of Tunisia on their national holiday, and we wish them well-being and prosperity.
March 21 marks the 30th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Namibia. Europeans started developing its territory in the mid-19th century. In 1878, the United Kingdom established control over Walvis Bay and its vicinity. In the 1890s, Germany established its protectorate over the remaining territory of what is now Namibia. Named German South West Africa, the protectorate remained in force for 30 years. Between 1904 and 1907, the native population revolted against the German colonial administration. While suppressing the revolt, the Germans killed about 65,000 members of the Herero tribe or up to 80 percent of their population, and 10,000 members of the Nama tribe (50 percent).
In 1915, during the initial phase of WWI, South African forces commanded by the British military occupied this German colony. Five years later, the League of Nations gave the Union of South Africa, the Republic of South Africa since 1961, a mandate to administer this territory. In 1964, after the League of Nations ceased to exist, the government of South Africa was unable to incorporate South West Africa or to obtain a new UN mandate. However, Pretoria continued to retain control over this territory. In 1960, Namibian patriotic forces established the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) that began to fight for the country’s independence. The UN recognised this struggle as legitimate. The UN Council for South West Africa was established in 1967 and it was renamed the UN Council for Namibia in 1968.
It may be symbolic, but the current 30th anniversary of this state’s independence coincides with another important date, the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Russian-Namibian diplomatic relations. This highlights solid bonds of friendship and solidarity between our countries. It should be recalled that Russia was among the first countries to extend a helping hand to the Namibian nation during the struggle for independence and self-determination. In the 1960s-1980s, the Soviet Union provided military, financial, information and organisational support. The country’s nationals were trained at the 165th centre for training foreign military personnel in Crimea. Namibia received special-purpose equipment, vehicles, small arms and ammunition as well as uniforms, petroleum, oil and lubricants.
Namibia held the first presidential and parliamentary elections in November 1989, and the leading SWAPO political party won. The Republic of Namibia proclaimed independence on March 21, 1990.
We congratulate our friends from this country on their national holiday and on the memorable date, the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our countries. We sincerely wish further well-being as well as prosperity to the Namibian nation.
Question: How could you comment on the situation concerning Russian sailors arrested in Greece?
Maria Zakharova: The Foreign Ministry is closely monitoring the developments following the arrest of Russian citizens in Greek waters on charges of facilitating the transport of illegal migrants. We are keeping in touch with their families and generally coordinating the consular support for them.
The Russian Embassy monitors the observance of all rights and legal interests of detained and convicted Russian citizens as stipulated by international and Greek legislation. Embassy staff members make every effort to contact the arrested Russians, keep their families in Russia informed, provide advisory assistance within their competence, and monitor the conditions of their detention, arrange consular visits to prisons in Athens and Nafplio, provide, if necessary, official statements certifying they have no criminal record in Russia, supply the Russian citizens with names of Greek lawyers known to the Embassy and reference materials on the procedure for extradition of persons convicted abroad to serve their sentence in the Russian Federation.
We were asked to provide information on specific steps we are taking, and that is why I am giving so many details. It seemed important to me to share this.
One more piece if good news came during the briefing. My colleagues report that as a result of the efforts by the Foreign Ministry and the Russian Embassy in Montenegro, an S7 aircraft left Podgorica with 176 people on board. We will continue to monitor the developments and provide the necessary assistance.
Question: Is the Information and Press Department considering the possibility of requesting a waiver for foreign correspondents in regard to the ban on crossing the Russian border during the quarantine? Many of us, based in Moscow, also cover events in the CIS countries or neighbouring regions. We do not work for one company, but do an important job – hopefully – for the public opinion in our countries.
Answer: No, the Foreign Ministry does not intend to treat foreign journalists as a separate category, or exempt them from directives issued by the Government of the Russian Federation. This decision was made for a compelling reason: to reduce losses from the spread of the coronavirus infection as far as possible. We do not see this as Russia’s business only – it is our country’s contribution to the joint efforts to contain this pandemic. You need to understand this.
Answering the journalist’s question about correspondents based in Moscow who also cover events in the CIS countries and cite this as a reason to be exempt to the border restrictions – this thesis does not work. The CIS countries have also introduced measures restricting the arrival of people from other countries, whether they are journalists, tourists, even people with work visas, etc. Moreover, there is simply no transport service between some of the CIS countries: it is impossible to travel in or out, not only because of visa restrictions, but because of the lack of logistics. Flights are grounded, motorways are closed, trains and other services are cancelled. You just need to put up with it as a temporary measure and use the internet and the telephone. This is not about any one-sided measures Russia has taken outside the global context. These are the recommendations that we see, read and hear from international organisations such as the World Health Organisation. The exchange of data, the experience of the countries that are struggling to contain the COVID-19 infection, also show the effectiveness of such actions. Unfortunately, we must also do this and accept it as a given.
For our part, we are ready to help by providing information, if necessary. Our embassies are open and can provide data on various countries. Feel free to contact them.
Question: The Russian citizens who cannot leave the Canaries claim that the Aeroflot flight scheduled for Friday will take aboard only Aeroflot passengers. There are also 250 passengers of S7 Airlines there and those who had tickets for foreign airline flights. Is the Foreign Ministry aware of this? Are you planning any measures to return the other Russian citizens home?
Maria Zakharova: Yes, the Foreign Ministry is aware of this. The Russian Embassy in Madrid has a complete list of the Russian citizens staying on Tenerife who have tickets and have registered for the flight, as well as those who have tickets but have not registered for their flights because they have been cancelled or delayed. The Russian Embassy in Madrid has notified Moscow and the concerned agencies about this, and has given the number of citizens [waiting for their flights]. This subject is being actively coordinated by several agencies.
This is not the only problem at present. We also need to decide how to resettle tourists who had to leave their hotels for various reasons.
Our embassy has informed us that this resettlement problem has been largely solved. Our tourists on Tenerife have been offered places where they can live for the time being.
However, we know that we need to resolve this problem. The concerned agencies in Moscow have all the necessary information.
Question: Can you comment on the media reports regarding the Kiev City Council’s decision to terminate the agreement with Russia on the lease of land in Kiev?
Maria Zakharova: As far as we know, this decision by the Kiev authorities has not yet been published. Neither have we received any official notifications from the Ukrainian side. It is impossible to comment on a text that we do not have at our disposal. We are monitoring this situation. We will issue a comment as soon as we have official information.
Question: Can you comment on the decision by the so-called Kosovo government to close the border to everyone excluding “Kosovo citizens” ostensibly as part of the effort to combat the coronavirus infection, considering the existing ties between central Serbia and the northern regions of Kosovo populated by Serbs?
Maria Zakharova: We believe that this decision has endangered the delivery of supplies, including medicine, to the north of the Autonomous Province of Kosovo. Of course, the complicated epidemiological situation calls for taking relevant measures. However, it must not be used as a pretext for disrupting the region’s logistical ties with central Serbia, which took years to develop. It is absolutely inhumane to raise artificial obstacles to medical deliveries, including those sent to the healthcare facilities in Kosovska Mitrovica.
Life supplies to people on both sides of the administrative line were seen as the key priority during the signing of the 2013 and 2015 Agreements on the establishment of the Association/Community of Serb Majority Municipalities in Kosovo within the framework of the EU-led talks between Belgrade and Pristina. The Kosovar authorities signed these documents but have been sabotaging their implementation for the past few years. We view the new decisions taken by the Kosovo side, which are presented as part of the efforts against the coronavirus infection, as the latest abuse [of the agreements] for a purely political purpose.
Question: Dozens of Chinese citizens have been detained in Moscow over the past few months for violating the self-isolation regime after returning from China and deported from Russia, and another few dozen are waiting to be deported. Is the Foreign Ministry aware of this? Do you not regard these measures as excessive?
Maria Zakharova: Under Russian law, foreigners who violate the quarantine requirements can be deported.
As for the Foreign Ministry, we are monitoring the situation regarding the Chinese citizens and the citizens of other countries. I can cite numerous examples of foreigners encountering serious problems because of these measures, which have been introduced not only in Russia but also in the majority of other countries. We are essentially dealing with this problem online. We are cooperating with the Chinese side when it comes to this matter in the spirit of our friendly bilateral relations.
Question: The EU has adopted a document accusing Moscow of launching a disinformation campaign aimed at exaggerating the real threat of the coronavirus in the West. How would you comment on these allegations?
Maria Zakharova: I think the allegations that Russia is spreading disinformation and fake news about the coronavirus in Europe and the world are perfect examples of disinformation and fake news. By the way, we don’t even have to prove anything here. We can simply take advantage of the presumption of innocence. Any charges must be backed by evidence. If there is no evidence, then no charges can be pressed or used to conduct such an aggressive media campaign. We will comment on this matter, although the Russian President’s Press Service has provided a comment on March 18.
I would like to add that this is not the first time EU representatives are trying to explain away their real domestic problems as Moscow’s scheming. Let me remind you that earlier they blamed Russia for the migration crisis that hit the EU. According to the EU, Russia was also responsible for Brexit and the upsurge of Euroscepticism. And how could the Catalan separatism movement have ever emerged without the Kremlin’s involvement? We were accused of all these and many other things. Therefore, I believe that EU accusations of spreading disinformation about the coronavirus have come too late. They should have declared on the first day that Moscow was a priori responsible for everything, without waiting for the painful consequences of this crisis for the EU countries.
To be serious, we believe that this is an absolutely immoral attempt to camouflage the EU’s problems in combating the new infection using groundless anti-Russia statements. Instead of pooling efforts to fight the new global challenge in the EU and in collaboration with Russia, which is the EU’s partner and neighbour and a European country, they are making such reports and planting stories in order to divert the attention of their own people. All of this is deplorable and damaging to the European Union’s reputation. Our experts believe that the word “reputation” is appropriate here, but I disagree. To my mind, many EU bureaucrats lost their reputation long ago.
We suggest that our colleagues in Brussels stop using memes about an alleged Russian threat and focus on providing real assistance to Italy, Spain and other EU member countries that are the hardest hit by the coronavirus infection in this highly complicated situation. There is another element to the current absurd situation: Italy, which has fallen victim (in every meaning of this word) to the coronavirus, is reaching out to others for help, including Russia. It is disgraceful for Brussels to do this even as that country is asking Moscow for support and assistance.
Question: Reports say that Russia provided China and Iran with medical protective gear as part of the coronavirus response assistance. The virus is also now spreading in Afghanistan. Given that country’s difficult financial situation, is there a chance that Russia will be able to provide medical assistance to Afghanistan in the event of a major outbreak?
Maria Zakharova: I would like to note that Afghanistan, China or Iran are not the only countries seeking Russia’s or other countries’ help. All countries are trying to use good, friendly ties, channels of cooperation and interaction to deal with their challenges. They are acting as all states that want to help their own people would act.
Again, Russia is no exception here, being the country to which others turn for help. There are many such requests on various issues and aspects of preventing the spread of the coronavirus infection. All the decisions are considered and then taken at the national crisis centre that we are frequently mentioning. Each request coming from a country is considered in an interdepartmental format, and then a decision is made at the centre.
Question: Concerning amendments to the Constitution that forbid officials and deputies to have dual citizenship, a number of experts note that 40 percent of students admitted to full-time programmes at MGIMO University (the main school, the alma mater producing diplomatic personnel in Russia) have a second or even third citizenship due to their influential parents. They are citizens of Britain, Switzerland, France, the US or Israel. Does the Foreign Ministry acknowledge this problem? Are any steps being taken to discourage this practice among Russian diplomats?
Maria Zakharova: I would not focus so much on recent amendments to the Constitution. We have been guided by this rule and motivation for many years – we are members of the civil service and cannot have any other citizenship than Russian. This is part of our contractual obligations arising from the Russian law. This is what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been sticking to for a long time now. This has always been taken into account when hiring workers, including interns, from among MGIMO students, and not only MGIMO, who would like to join the Ministry in the future.
Now I would like to get back to MGIMO University – as a reminder, if you want to use idioms, MGIMO is the “alma mater” that nurtures professionals not only for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but also for the flagships of Russian and foreign businesses, for various fields – economics, jurisprudence, and the media. MGIMO has produced quite a few outstanding journalists, we need to remember this.
I hope you are aware that every year MGIMO University turns out hundreds of graduates, hundreds of trained specialists who cannot all join the Foreign Ministry. Many of them are business-career-minded, or have a tendency to creative professions. Even during their student life they are fond of science and many other things and following that road after graduation. So I would say that for many years, we have definitely complied with the Russian law requiring government officials to have Russian citizenship only (not a recommendation, but a rule, a law). At the same time, the university provides an opportunity (as part of its curriculum) to train specialists for a variety of fields. Actually, for all fields ranging from jurisprudence and economics to creativity and journalism. I would also like to remind you that MGIMO trains foreign students in huge numbers. This is also part of the university’s policy and the Foreign Ministry’s policy towards its subordinate educational institution. I do not see any problem here.