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27 March 202023:52

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, March 27, 2020

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Table of contents

  1. Measures to bring back home Russian nationals from abroad
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s telephone conversations
  3. Developments in Syria
  4. Venezuela update
  5. The United States ratchets up its anti-Venezuelan policies
  6. Cuba's contribution to international efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic
  7. 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo postponed
  8. Luis Almagro Lemes’ re-election as OAS Secretary General
  9. Parliamentary elections and constitutional referendum in Guinea
  10. The 60th anniversary of Senegal’s independence

Answers to media questions:

  1. Pandemic in Europe
  2. Developments in Iran
  3. Intra-Afghan talks
  4. Russias aid to Italy

 

 

 

Measures to bring back home Russian nationals from abroad

 

I would like to say “Good afternoon” but it is already evening in Moscow. We had to start the briefing late today, instead of yesterday, because the main issue the Foreign Ministry task force is facing currently is how to resolve the situation and render help to Russian nationals abroad. I would like to begin with this topic. 

As you know, following a meeting of the Presidium of the Russian Government’s Coordination Council to control the spread of the novel coronavirus infection, decisions were taken that were published on March 26. They contain instructions to the Foreign Ministry and other executive agencies that coordinate our work in this area. In particular, the Foreign Ministry was instructed today to submit finalised lists to arrange the evacuation of Russian nationals from abroad. Due to the fact that globally regular air service is being delayed or cancelled, we are completing this work and, as per our respective instructions, a list will be submitted to the Russian agencies to arrange flights in order to evacuate Russian nationals who are willing to come back to Russia. In addition, by March 30 the Foreign Ministry was instructed to provide to the Ministry of Transport, Rospotrebnadzor, the Health Ministry, the Interior Ministry and Aeroflot Airlines information about Russian nationals willing to return to the Russian Federation. This part of the instructions is related to the fact that chartered round-trip flights from Russian airports to foreign countries have been terminated as of today. Exceptions have been made for flights to evacuate Russian citizens.

In this connection, our embassies in the respective countries – the UAE, Oman, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Thailand, the FRG, Kyrgyzstan, Belgium, the USA, the Netherlands, Cuba, Qatar, Ireland, Tajikistan, Armenia, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom, Spain, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Italy, South Korea, Uzbekistan, Iran, Israel, France, China, Japan and Vietnam – have all posted relevant notices for Russian citizens informing them about the termination of chartered and regular flights and for them to prepare for so-called evacuation flights. This work is currently in full swing in those countries. We would like to draw the attention of our citizens in those countries that if they want to return to Russia, they must provide personal information by filling in the respective forms and answering the necessary questions before 2 pm on March 29.

I would also like to pass on an update that was released just an hour ago by the task force, which coordinates the evacuation of Russian nationals from abroad. The procedure for air flights by Russian airlines was considered in view of the Government’s decisions to terminate international air service. The schedule of evacuations is being actively worked on in consultations with our embassies. Also, following today’s meeting of the task force, data was released on the most difficult countries in terms of the number of evacuees and logistics: Indonesia, Thailand and India. Regarding Indonesia, Russian nationals are to be brought back on evacuation flights using Russian airlines within the next week. I want to stress again that this is the result of today’s work and meetings of the task force. As for Thailand, most of the passengers from there have air tickets. Their return will be arranged in accordance with tour agency and air company obligations. A significant number of Russian citizens are scheduled to leave that country by April 1. Also, the issue of evacuating Russian nationals from India was addressed today and has entered the practical stage. These passengers will be transported by regular and chartered flights. The air carriers have also been identified. 

Options are being actively reviewed for evacuating Russians from several Latin American countries – Brazil, Chile, Peru. I can say the logistics are fairly complicated and decisions will be made when drafting a flight plan in close contact with the respective Russian embassies. The issues of evacuating Russians from India, Tunisia, Moldavia, Montenegro, Tanzania, Mauritius, the Seychelles and other countries were also discussed. Thus work is ongoing around the clock. I think this is evidenced by how we have also transformed our traditional afternoon briefing into an evening format.

Another Government instruction, Resolution No. 730-r of March 25, also adjusted our work and the work of Russian missions abroad and air carriers. It is available, and I think many of you have already read it. But I would focus your attention on one key part: a waiver has been introduced allowing entry into Russia by foreign nationals who are family members (spouses, parents, children, adoptive parents, adopted children, foster parents, caretakers) of Russian Federation citizens. Skipping legal details and subtleties, this resolution prevents families with one of the parents or children of non-Russian nationality from being separated and to be united upon their return to Russia during a period when restrictive measures at border crossings are in effect. This is a long-awaited decision, which families who had to experience what separation from loved ones and children means, even for a short time span, are happy to see. They now have this opportunity whereas our diplomatic missions abroad – both embassies and consulates – have the requisite instructions on how to implement this decision and assist those people who are family members. There were incidents when individuals were deplaned or other dramatic moments. We are receiving all applications and are trying to process them promptly. 

There is one more thing I would like to say: our embassies have also received the necessary instructions on assisting Russian nationals who are in distress. First of all, I would like to note that our embassies are operating twenty-four hours a day. The same is true of Consulates General and permanent missions. All their efforts at the present stage are focused on resolving issues related to the stay of Russian citizens on the territories of various countries and who cannot go back to their homeland as of yet. Due to this, many of them are in very dire straits, about which we were made aware after receiving a great number of applications, letters, posts and articles that have already been published and sent.

Our embassies are helping Russian nationals in completing documents. This is one of the most common requests due to the extraordinary situations people have found themselves in. The embassies assist in extending visas where possible and in those countries where authorities have special requirements in this respect. Contact with Russian citizens is maintained on completing documents, and of course, they offer help in solving very many issues.

I am perfectly aware that not all issues can be resolved, however, many problems are being tackled on a case-by-case basis. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that this work is obviously integral to a diplomat’s activity abroad.

However, I would like to stress what many do not contemplate. Russian diplomats are under conditions, which can only be labelled as extraordinary, especially taking into account that many countries have imposed most rigid quarantines while others have declared a state of emergency. In some countries one has to pass through checkpoints to get to airports. In other countries it is impossible altogether due to a curfew, arrangements must be made to congregate people together. All possibilities are being used provided by the status of the diplomat.

Our diplomats are in the priority risk group since they work in airports without special protective gear, they work with large groups of people and continue travelling across the country. Sometimes they spend days without proper conveniences – an airport, a port, a railways station, hospitals, police stations etc. It does not make their work any easier. We are really trying to do our best to help Russian citizens as much as possible. I understand perfectly well that it is impossible to do it completely but we should strive for that, notwithstanding the difficult situation in which Russian tourists, those who worked in those countries and Russian diplomats found themselves in. 

To complete the topic, I would like to draw your attention again to the mandatory quarantine to self-contain for 14 days upon arriving in Russia. Respective notices, reminders, messages are going to Russian citizens via our information resources, our missions abroad and the Foreign Ministry.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s telephone conversations

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s contacts are limited in terms of his trips abroad, but remain event-packed because the number of telephone calls has grown.

Today he spoke with the foreign ministers of the UAE and France. Press releases on these conversations are published on the official website of the Russian Federation’s Foreign Ministry.

A week ago, Sergey Lavrov spoke by telephone with Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi. The two diplomats discussed the situation caused by the pandemic and spoke highly about the state of bilateral cooperation, exchange of experience in fighting the pandemic and measures to stop the spread of the virus. They noted the efficiency of the measures taken by our countries and emphasised the importance of expanding contacts in order to protect the lives and wellbeing of both countries’ citizens.

The ministers stated that against the backdrop of the pandemic, Russia and China continue to boost strategic partnership, share a common approach to global affairs, including the implementation of Moscow and Beijing’s responsibilities as permanent members of the UN in maintaining international peace and security.

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Developments in Syria

 

Overall, we consider the current situation in Syria stable.

The ceasefire, established in Idlib on March 6, seems to hold. The number of violations does not exceed 2-3 cases per day by each side. We continue to work with our Turkish partners on creating the so-called safety corridor along the M4 motorway and restoring traffic on it. On March 23, the second joint Russian-Turkish patrolling of a section of the road was successfully completed.

At the same time, it has to be noted that radical groups remaining near the M4 motorway have been interfering with the work of the Russian and Turkish military in every possible way by staging provocations, creating road obstructions and removing asphalt paving. All this proves again that Idlib is ruled not by moderate opposition forces, as some Western capitals want to present it, but by terrorists operating by violence and bloodshed. This is also proved by the capture of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent offices in Idlib and Ariha by militants on March 14. They looted the offices and detained the staff. UN humanitarian coordinators have condemned the attacks, calling them an inadmissible violation of humanitarian law. We join their call to provide unhindered humanitarian access to civilians in the Idlib de-escalation zone, who have become hostages of terrorist arbitrariness.

In this regard, we hope that our Turkish partners will continue their efforts to separate moderate opposition from extremists and take measures to neutralise the latter. At the same time, it is important to emphasise that the renaming of groups, changing their window dressing, does not change their essence as terrorists. There must be no illusions that we are talking about internationally acknowledged terrorists, regardless of whether they call themselves Al Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra or Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham.

ISIS militants continue their attacks on the east bank of the Euphrates, in areas beyond the control of the Syrian Government. According to our information, in the past few days, between March 20 and 24, ISIS has conducted over 20 terrorist attacks in the governorates Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa and Al-Hasakah, killing 50 people. In this regard, we noted the statement by the US Department of State on March 23, on the anniversary of ISIS defeat in northeast Syria. So, here is a question: which terrorists were defeated by the coalition if the number of ISIS members, according to the American representatives, has remained the same at over 10,000 people. It is obvious that these militants simply went into hiding and now continue their forays.

There is no doubt that the coalition led by the United States decimated, or more accurately, razed to the ground entire cities and communities east of the Euphrates . Thus, Raqqa had a population of 230,000 before the allies started their operation in 2016, leaving only 3,000 by the time it was completed. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there was not a single working clinic left in the city, and the entire civil infrastructure had to be rebuilt from scratch. Let alone the fact that Raqqa still has a huge amount of rubble and unexploded projectiles and landmines.

In 2018, the towns of Hajin and Al-Baghuz suffered the same fate. Their residents had to flee to the al-Hawl refugee camp. The number of people in the camp grew sevenfold in just three months, from 10,000 to 73,000. There is no permanent humanitarian access to the camp, whose residents have lived in atrocious conditions since the exodus from Hajin and Al-Baghuz.

The same can be said about another refugee camp, Rukban, which is located in an area illegally occupied by the United States near Al-Tanf. Due to the joint efforts of the Russian military and the Syrian Government, some 19,000 people were evacuated from the camp. All of them have returned to their homes. However, there are still several thousand people in the camp who cannot leave it because of the militants of the US-sponsored group Jaysh Maghawir al-Thawra. In this regard, I would like to emphasise Russia’s position that the United States as a country that has occupied this area bears full responsibility for the local civilians and providing g them with humanitarian aid.

The spread of the coronavirus in Syria can have the catastrophic consequences, considering the existence of large camps of internally displaced people in areas not controlled by Damascus, like Rukban and al-Hawl. In addition, it is necessary to help the Syrian Government provide everyone with protection and access to medical services.

Russia supports the call by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on the urgent need to review sectoral sanctions that affect healthcare and human rights.

We noted the appeal of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres regarding some countries’ sanctions policy: unilateral sanctions are not a lifeline  at a time when the whole world is facing a major problem, but an additional ‘anchor’ for those who need to stay afloat.

We consider it important that other UN representatives also speak up about the consequences of unilateral sanctions during the coronavirus pandemic.

We share the High Commissioner’s concerns about the spread of the epidemic to Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, whose healthcare systems have been extremely weakened by the unilateral coercive measures, about which we have repeatedly spoken. We believe these concerns equally apply to Syria and Iran. We support the call to the world leaders to show cooperation and solidarity to ensure people’s safety and the implementation of human rights by everyone. We address those countries that are ready to use any pretext to enforce unilateral sanctions to reach their momentary economic and political goals: it is time to set selfish interests aside and fight the global threat together.

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Venezuela update

 

I want to draw your attention again to the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic challenge to humankind makes us approach the existing crises, in particular the regional ones, from an absolutely new perspective. Their resolution, as we have already said, and perhaps the future of our civilisation, in general, will be determined by those who will be able to set aside their ideological convictions and, after giving up selfish interests, will act jointly for the benefit of all peoples in the world.

As for Venezuela, it is becoming increasingly clear who is actually assuming responsibility for that country. The government of Nicolas Maduro, notwithstanding extremely complex economic conditions, has been taking consistent and efficient measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The President of Venezuela monitors this issue personally and regularly informs the public of recent developments and the steps being taken. The government is engaged in proactive contacts with international partners and organisations that are able and prepared (regretfully, unlike the IMF) to stop playing political games and actually help the Venezuelan people.

In this situation, the radical opposition’s criticism of the Government has receded deep into the virtual space. We can hear some irrelevant political slogans, calls to enhance the sanctions pressure against the country and organise some humanitarian aid on conditions that are known only to them. And this is happening at a time when all the forces should be consolidated to help Venezuelans, their own people. We all remember the outcome of the ‘humanitarian breakthrough’ attempt they initiated last February, and the reverberations of the corruption scandal related to that attempt can be heard to this day. Clearly, such actions can in no way help bring the situation in Venezuela back to normal, nor they can relieve international tensions around that country. Now, as never before, there is a great demand for the opposition to give up its petty political ambitions and find a way to jointly search for solution to the existing problems seeking to improve people’s lives and wellbeing.

And we will never tire of repeating our call for immediate lifting of the unilateral and unlawful sanctions, which in the given pandemic environment actually become a tool of genocide. Now, at a time when the Venezuelan economy is stifled by restrictions, it needs urgent assistance; blocking the deliveries of food and medicines and limiting access to state funds in foreign banks endangers thousands of lives. To note: just yesterday Russia, together with like-minded countries, sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asking him to request certain countries to lift their previously imposed unilateral and unlawful sanctions that impede the fight against the coronavirus.

As for Russia, it continues providing assistance to Venezuela, including in improving the epidemiological situation there. The first shipment of 10,000 test systems to diagnose the coronavirus was delivered to Caracas this week. We have received requests for help and they are being considered. 

Once again, we urge the international community to set aside political aspirations and work together. We must pool our efforts in order to tackle this new and highly dangerous challenge.

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The United States ratchets up its anti-Venezuelan policies

 

We were surprised to hear US Attorney General William Barr accuse Venezuelan leadership of direct involvement in international drug trafficking. In line with its design to overthrow the legitimate Venezuelan government (no one is hiding it), the US justice even promised a substantial reward for information leading to the arrest of President Maduro and other Venezuelan senior officials.

Such statements are absurd and outrageous. At a time when the entire world is joining efforts in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, Washington is carrying on its political bullying of a sovereign state.

Despite unprecedented political and economic pressure, President Maduro is taking the necessary steps to counter cross-border spread of the infection. By and large, he is providing practical proof that he has a moral right to be called the country’s sole legitimate leader.

The US Administration, including President Trump himself, has repeatedly mentioned their concern about the Venezuelan people’s future. We believe that now is the time to prove that and to abandon the counterproductive attacks on the government led by President Maduro and allow him to address in full the problems facing the country without being subjected to unlawful external interference.

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Cuba's contribution to international efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic

 

In the context of the current tough confrontation between humanity and the coronavirus pandemic, I would like to focus on the diametrically opposite characteristics of individual members of the international community.

On Wednesday, the Ambassador of the Republic of Cuba to Russia, Gerardo Penalver Portal, held an online news conference at the Russian Federation’s Foreign Ministry. He spoke about the measures taken by his country and the selfless aid provided by the Cubans to other countries. As you may be aware, of the many Caribbean countries, including members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, only Cuba agreed to allow the British cruise ship MS Braemar to dock 40 km from Cuban capital on March 18-19 with five confirmed COVID-19 cases on board and 52 passengers with symptoms of the illness. As a result of this humanitarian operation, over 1,000 passengers and crew members were transported to the UK.

Aware of the risks to its citizens, Havana nonetheless responded to Italy’s call for help and sent 52 doctors to the Lombardy region. In addition, Cuban doctors are working to save lives in Venezuela, Grenada, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts and Nevis, as well as Suriname and Jamaica. The medicines that proved their efficiency, in particular, in China, including the Cuban-made Interferon Alfa 2B, are being delivered to those in need.

However, not everyone is acting so nobly or contributing to this worthy cause. The Island of Freedom is lending a helping hand and showing impressive examples of magnanimity, but there are also those who do not seem to like these efforts. Washington was quick to come up with a response and warned about the alleged "dangers" of cooperating with Cuba in fighting the coronavirus. Clearly, this is part of the information war. All those myths and narratives about an alleged threat coming from Russia and Russia’s aggressive policy are just that – a myth. Now, with Russia providing humanitarian aid to Italy, and Cuba and China providing humanitarian aid to a number of countries, we can see what information aggression really looks like. Reports quoting  unconfirmed sources appeared post-haste in various media to the effect that this assistance was ineffective, unneeded and unnecessary. What stands behind this? It’s politics. They claim that, in fact, the goals have not been achieved or completely different goals had been set. I think all these things have one thing in common: unnamed sources, which exposes the fact that this is nothing but propaganda. When there’s a principled position, some kind of resistance and rejection of certain steps, in particular, in the humanitarian sphere, it makes sense to talk about them without mentioning one’s name. It seems that taking a position and clearly outlining one’s approaches, on the contrary, would be a position worthy of respect. However, a vast amount of material in relation to a number of countries has become available. Russia is no exception with respect to the allegation that the humanitarian aid provided by it is ineffective, which, I think, caused a sense of pity, particularly among Italians. I saw all the statements made by the government of Italy, representatives of the regions and ordinary people who were disgusted to see fake reports and acts of information war.

I will not list all of Washington’s accusations against Cuba prompted by the fact that it is supplying humanitarian aid, because it would be unseemly to go over them again. It is humiliating even for those who are behind them. Clearly, someone has a bad taste in their mouth caused by the gratitude expressed by the British government for saving the people, although this is strange for humanity of the 21st century. As if on a cue coming from the capital, the central US media unanimously decided to ignore this fact, not to mention the assistance provided by the Cubans to their neighbours.

Unfortunately, there are heroes and antiheroes in any situation. We can see them today. It seems that we are really living in a period that has been shown in many films. These days, the phrase "all step out of the shadows" often comes to my mind.

Once again, we urge everyone to come to their senses and to take the side of unity for all of humanity in the face of the impending common threat. We urge those who, in this difficult global situation, are trying to make things looks even worse and are pursuing a policy of aggression and destabilisation to come to senses.

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2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo postponed

 

Russia's stance regarding the decision made by the Japanese Government and the International Olympic Committee to postpone the 2020 Summer Olympics to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic is presented in a statement made by Russian Minister of Sport Oleg Matytsin. Our country and the world accepted this decision with respect and understanding as it meets the interests of the athletes, the coaches, and also the sport fans. The health of humans has always been a universal top priority.  

In this context, speculations on anti-doping issues and statements on the need to ban Russian athletes from the 2021 Olympics appear exceptionally cynical. It would seem that we could put this matter to rest and understand that this is an opportunity for everyone to get a real understanding of the current events to avoid the mistakes of the past. But actually not everyone understands this.

I am speaking about a statement made by USADA CEO Travis Tygart, who admitted that the athletes caught doping could use the current situation to their advantage. By his logic, the period of disqualification for many of them will expire by 2021, and the violators will actually remain unpunished by receiving the right to compete in the Olympic Games in Tokyo. This is just sheer speculation.

Sadly, such hoaxes and false information are spreading rather fast ahead of the end of consideration of the request for arbitration filed by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland, to resolve the dispute related to the non-compliance case against the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA). This looks like yet another attempt to exert pressure on the court.

The US sports community is known to often ignore anti-doping rules and consider them a sort of unnecessary formality. This time, another doping-related scandal emerged when John Gleaves, a 36-year-old US cyclist, was banned for an anti-doping rule violation. Gleaves, an assistant professor at the Department of Kinesiology at California State University who specialises in the history and ethics of doping, also happens to be an expert whose research interest is listed as "doping in sport". But the most paradoxical thing is that Gleaves once served as a member a working group on the prevalence of doping for the World Anti-Doping Agency and worked on an anti-doping advisory board for USA Cycling, and even served in cyclist Lance Armstrong's legal team as an expert witness in the federal government's fraud case against Armstrong.

US mainstream media, while seeking even minor scandals in Russian sports, have totally ignored John Gleaves' case. It looks like US journalists intentionally fail to mention the most blatant situations, including the case over the 'respected anti-doping expert' who happens to be an obnoxious violator.

For our part, we oppose any forms of doping and any manipulations during competitions. We will further support the principles of Olympic values and honesty and transparency of sports competitions, with unacceptability of discrimination and national teams' collective responsibility for law violations by certain individuals.

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Luis Almagro Lemes’ re-election as OAS Secretary General

 

On March 20, the Organisation of American States held the re-election of the Secretary General at its headquarters in Washington. Current Secretary General Luis Almagro Lemes of Uruguay was re-elected by majority vote.

Russia has been enjoying the permanent observer status there for almost three decades now. It has established a useful interaction with the OAS, including in combatting new challenges and threats, such as international terrorism and drugs trafficking. We maintain constructive relations with all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, which are OAS members, and always advocate political and economic stability in that region.

Given this, we could not overlook that for the first time over a long period of time the elections of OAS Secretary General were not a consensus by their nature but revealed serious differences among member states, which is evidenced by the diversity of votes cast for the candidates. In this respect we want to express the hope that during his second tenure Luis Almagro Lemes will assist peaceful and non-confrontational solutions of the western hemisphere problems, which unfortunately abide.

This is the basis that we are ready to use for establishing further relations with the OAS in the spirit of mutual respect.

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Parliamentary elections and constitutional referendum in Guinea

 

Parliamentary elections and a constitutional referendum were held in the Republic of Guinea on March 22. Overall, they took place in an organised manner, but, unfortunately, there were isolated provocations which led to fatalities.

We hope that the Guinean government will take the necessary steps to complete the ballot counting procedure and to sum up the results of the referendum, which will objectively show the will of the people of Guinea who are the only ones to determine their country’s future.

We believe that the decision regarding the membership of the supreme legislative body and the constitutional amendments is a purely internal matter of the Guinean state and, in this regard, we consider unacceptable the attempts at external interference in the electoral process in the Republic of Guinea.

We call upon the political forces of Guinea to show maximum restraint, responsibility, and commitment to mutual compromises in the interests of peace and stability in the friendly nation of the Republic of Guinea.

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The 60th anniversary of Senegal’s independence

 

On April 4, the Republic of Senegal, with which we maintain traditionally friendly relations, will mark the 60th anniversary of state independence. The people of this country have a centuries-old history and original customs and traditions. Senegal today is one of the fastest growing African economies. Of course, given the ongoing processes it’s quite difficult to talk about the growth rates, but they remained at the level of 6 percent to 7 percent. At some point, these territories, which were first accessed by the Portuguese (among the Europeans) in the 15th century, who were later replaced by the French, were a slave trade stronghold. The small island of Goree located several kilometres away from the modern capital of Dakar became notorious all over the world. This "island of the doomed" was a prison for millions of Africans for 300 years. They were taken there from the mainland and awaited their shipment to South and North America. Alas, every third slave died of hunger or from diseases, and many of them perished on that island.The independence movement led by Leopold Sedar Senghor intensified in that country after WWII. He was an outstanding personality, a sociologist and a philosopher, a poet and a doctor of sciences. Alongside a number of other intellectuals of African descent, he developed a concept that preached the originality and intrinsic value of the civilisation of the indigenous African population, which made a special contribution to the history of humankind and human civilisation. In 1960, he became the first president of independent Senegal.

Relying on the traditions of the past, and continuing to demonstrate an enviable domestic political stability, Senegal today is actively modernising its economy and is consistently expanding the number of foreign investors. A modern international airport has been built in Dakar; the construction of high-speed railways and motorways is also underway. The "city of the future" with a romantic name of Diamniadio is being created30 kilometers away from the capital. We would like to heartily congratulate this friendly nation on its national holiday and to wish it continued success in achieving their goals, as well as peace and prosperity.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: The pandemic in Europe is said to have escalated so fast because Europe was not ready for it. Today, as we witness the terrible spread of the virus from West to East, people would like to know how Russia is going to protect its citizens from this epidemic. How will the quarantine announced by President Vladimir Putin be enforced? There are jokes on social media that the Russian President will release tigers and lions onto city streets to enforce the quarantine.

Maria Zakharova: Regarding the measures taken by the Russian authorities to combat the spread of the coronavirus. First, they are regularly supplemented as developments unfold. Second, all information resources provide this information online. It is also necessary to focus both on the decisions of our federal authorities and on the measures announced in the regions, which are extremely important for the people residing in those regions of the Russian Federation. There are also measures related to entering and exiting Russia, and appropriate restrictions have been introduced. I am not going to list them, but instead I direct your attention to the relevant information resources: the sites (run under the auspices of the government), resources and measures that are being taken in our regions.

I was not expecting any humor in your serious question. But the joke you quoted from the internet that Russian President Vladimir Putin will release tigers and lions on the streets is actually funny: not because it couldn’t happen, but because traditionally we set bears loose on the streets – they are more effective.

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Question: Due to sanctions and a shortage of doctors, a terrible situation has taken shape in Iran. The coronavirus has torn through the country. If today the world community does not pay attention to the developments in Iran, then this problem may expand to the whole region in the near future. Russia is Iran’s closest friend. How can Russia help Iran in the fight against the virus and in lifting sanctions so that the international community can help normalise the situation not only in Iran but also in the region as a whole?

Maria Zakharova: International aid to Iran, Russia’s aid to Iran is not just a serious issue but a global regional problem. I think that it can be called a problem on the global agenda, because it was largely artificially created, given the unprecedented pressure exerted on Iran: economic and political pressure, as well as endless statements that go beyond the bounds not only of decency and ethics, but of legality.

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that on March 24, 2020, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had a telephone conversation with his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The summary was posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website (https://www.mid.ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4092057). The ministers discussed issues related to the coronavirus epidemic, praised bilateral cooperation in countering this global challenge and noted Russia’s humanitarian aid to Iran. For his part, Sergey Lavrov emphasised what we have repeatedly spoken about at all levels – Russia strongly urges Washington to immediately lift its inhumane sanctions that are preventing the targeted governments from focusing entirely on fighting the pandemic. This applies first and foremost to Iran.

I would also like to draw attention to the comment made by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov on March 21 (https://www.mid.ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4091467). He also called on the United States to abandon the practice of unilateral sanctions against Iran which suffers from an acute shortage of funds to address urgent health challenges as the coronavirus spreads.

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Question: Following a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Afghanistan, a list of delegation members is being drawn up for talks with the Taliban. It appears that intra-Afghan talks will begin soon. What is Russia expecting from the upcoming talks? Are there plans to hold a meeting of special representatives of Russia, the United States and other countries based on the outcome of the intra-Afghan talks?

Maria Zakharova: First of all, Russia hopes that the intra-Afghan talks will begin soon, as preparations for it are moving ahead with great difficulty. The situation is further complicated by the lack of a single government in Kabul, as well as the unresolved issue of exchanging prisoners. In this regard, we welcome the agreement reached between the Taliban and representatives of Afghanistan to begin the process of releasing Taliban militants in exchange for government military personnel starting March 31.

We believe the intra-Afghan talks themselves will be difficult and lengthy. During these contacts, the parties should agree on a road map for post-conflict Afghanistan. In conjunction with China, the United States and other international partners, Russia will assist the negotiating process, including through the expanded troika meetings, to achieve an agreement as quickly as possible that suits all Afghan parties and results in sustainable peace in the country.

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There was a story online that garnered significant attention. I think that whenever there’s a high-profile story related to Russia’s activities on the foreign policy track, you can always expect a prompt comment from the Foreign Ministry. For some reason, instead, many discussed it among themselves on social media without contacting us. Those who turned to us promptly received the information they sought.

I am referring to Poland allegedly refusing to provide an air corridor for Russian planes with military medical aid heading for Italy. The Polish Embassy denied these allegations. We didn’t confirm them, either. I would like you to know that everyone who turned to us at that point was told that we had no such information. We double-checked and put out quite detailed statements.

Once again, I want to say that Russia did not ask the Polish authorities to provide right of passage for Russian aircraft with humanitarian aid across the territory of Poland. A different route was used to deliver the cargo to Italy. It’s much ado about nothing.

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Question: There have been suggestions in some foreign media that Italy does not need Russia’s help and Russia is once again interfering in another country’s affairs. What do you think about this? Why are they again trying to make Russia look like an aggressor?

Maria Zakharova: First, because it is already a popular trend that does not require any new style rules or study – it is difficult to call it “intellectual,” but some kind of study. Second, because this is real, burning jealousy that a country that is not tied to Italy by any blocs or alliances is developing friendly relations with it against all odds and is ready to offer help during one of the most dramatic moments of recent Italian history, without regard for the political context or views on the development of international relations in Europe, but out of a recognition of how the Italians are suffering and the tragedy the Italian nation is enduring, and an understanding that unfortunately hardly anyone was ready to help Italy when it desperately needed help. Everything that has been said or written can only be looked down upon; not with arrogance but simply with disdain for this whole exercise in futility.

Today people all over the world, on every continent, are living through a difficult moment the likes of which humankind hasn’t seen for decades. At this moment, people are showing the best of themselves, what they are really capable of, but at the same time, unfortunately, some are losing face. This is a moment of truth: a real one, one that comes perhaps only once in life. Everyone will show what they are capable of. Russia could help another nation, feeling for it and understanding the pain of people in another country.

I would also like to add that the Italians’ comments and answers to this question, as I have already quoted, have been perfect. Please note what they have said.

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We continue to provide assistance to Russians abroad who are facing difficulties. The Foreign Ministry Staff operates every day, at nearly all hours of the day, as do our embassies.

Thank you for your attention.

 

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