Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, April 9, 2020
- Russian nationals who wish to return home during the coronavirus pandemic
- US insinuations about Russia spreading disinformation
- Statement by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Washington's plans to reconsider its financial contribution to the WHO
- UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s call for global ceasefire against the backdrop of the spread of coronavirus
- Syria update
- OPCW Investigation and Identification Team releases report (the so-called Syrian Chemical Dossier)
- Arab coalition’s ceasefire declaration in Yemen
- Afghanistan update
- Venezuela update
- Document by UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine on investigation into 2013-2014 Maidan events
- Dismantling of the monument to Marshal Konev in Prague
- Act of vandalism against a war grave of Soviet soldiers in Dobrich citypark
- CNN report on Russia’s alleged interference in US election through Ghana-based organisations
- Publication in Italy’s La Stampa newspaper
- US lobbying the interests of their pharmaceutical companies
- US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement on possible troop withdrawal from Afghanistan
- US observing the Cuba embargo regime during the pandemic
- March 31 Nagorno-Karabakh elections
- Russian Imperial Movement activities
- Tentative schedule of bilateral inspections under the New START Treaty and a meeting of the Bilateral Consultative Commission
The working schedule of the Foreign Ministry is currently completely focused on Russian nationals abroad. The work is underway in two areas:
1. Assisting those who want to return home,
2. Providing financial, logistics and other aid to those who will stay abroad.
I usually answer questions at the end of the briefing, but it this case let us make a break from tradition. I collected the most important questions we have received in relation to the situation with the Russian nationals who are currently abroad and who need assistance in these difficult times.
1. What measures is the Foreign Ministry taking?
2. How many Russian nationals are waiting for flights home?
3. What problems are there with assisting those who want to return?
4. Why is assistance with returning home not available to everyone?
5. When will the process be completed?
6. Is it necessary to pay for the tickets to get home or is each case considered separately?
7. What country has the largest number of our citizens at the moment?
8. From the point of view of the epidemiological situation, what should the people who have the means to stay abroad do: should they stay in quarantine abroad or should they return?
9. What is the mechanism of keeping people informed and providing them with financial aid?
10. Why does nobody answer the phones at the embassies/consulates and why are there inconsistencies in the official information?
These are the main questions I would like to answer now.
Speaking of the situation in the world against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate at which the coronavirus spread remain high last week. As many as 180 countries have already been affected. The number of people infected with coronavirus abroad also keeps growing.
Now, let us get down to the questions.
On Monday, April 6, the Russian Federation resumed flights to bring Russian nationals home from foreign countries (http://government.ru/news/39403/), as it was announced earlier by Tatyana Golikova, head of the emergency response centre to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in Russia (http://government.ru/docs/39376/).
I would like to remind you that in order for us to collect information about Russian nationals who wish to return home and the information about the issues faced by Russian nationals who are currently abroad, it was necessary for these people to submit an application via the Government Services portal. This information is being collected and processed in accordance with our country’s current legislation on personal data; its processing is being done by the Ministry of Communications and Mass Media, and those state agencies that are involved in this process in accordance with the law. (https://www.gosuslugi.ru/395103/1).
Considering that one of the questions we received was about why information is sometimes inconsistent, we urge our citizens to use the information they receive on the Government Services portal. There is a lot of information in the media and various websites. I would like to reiterate that the Government Services website is the main source of information about the planned flights and the actions one should take if the flight was confirmed and they receive check-in information.
Those who planned to come back to Russia but were unable to do so due to the suspension of air services are getting financial support based on the submitted information for the duration of their stay abroad until they can return home to Russia or until air services are resumed I would like to make this quite clear with our colleagues,journalists, that this is not financial support from the Foreign Ministry but from the Government of the Russian Federation. There is much talk about the fact that these are funds from the Foreign Ministry. It is the Government that has allocated this money which in the first place will go to cover the accommodation of our citizens abroad since not all of them can afford to do this by themselves. Some people really do need emergency help.
There are reports of about some 25,500 citizens filing such applications, 24,000 of them have already been processed. Payments started being paid to about 4,000 people who are getting money on a daily basis until they return home to Russia or until regular flights resume. The Foreign Ministry’s commission today will also consider a significant number of financial aid applications. We presume that up to 2,000 of them will be approved by tomorrow. Please recall that the Russian Government allocated a respective sum to the Foreign Ministry for this. The directive is posted on the site of the Russian Government. The money is transferred to the bank accounts registered via the Government Services website within 48 hours after the application has been submitted. This deadline is related to the work of the Foreign Ministry’s commission on public appeals.
Under the Russian Government’s April 3 Resolution No.433, citizens who have return tickets from March 16 to May 31 are eligible to get financial support of 2,400 roubles per person per day. Children under the age of 14 are entitled to 1,600 roubles per day. Those without tickets for that period can get help in accordance with the Government resolution on rendering aid to destitute citizens abroad.
I would like to pay attention to the principles which were previously published on the site of the Russian Ministry of Transport and which serve as guidelines for the Rosaviation task force which coordinates the carriage of Russian citizens by air from foreign countries to the Russian Federation.
At present, Russians who left Russia after January 1, 2020 are entitled to evacuation flights. There were flights for which Russian citizens checked in at the Government Services website and planned to take but were unable to. It was largely due to the fact that they entered foreign countries prior to January 1, 2020. Correspondingly, applications from those who have been to the country of stay (as a permanent resident or a citizen of that country) will be reviewed but the priority is being given to those who went abroad after January 1, 2020.
Everyone who left Russia after January 1, 2020, must register at the Government Services website. I have to say this once again so that it is highlighted. This information is used to compile lists for evacuation flights.
Many media outlets and citizens have lingering questions as to why the lists were initially compiled by embassies, the Foreign Ministry and then, as one of the outlets wrote, “the authority went to the Communications Ministry.” This is a liberal journalistic interpretation. It is not the authority but changes in the algorithm of assisting the evacuation. This is the reason why citizen registration was started on the Government Services portal to get not only material but also evacuation logistics support at the current stage.
The main focus is on the epidemiological situation in our country when decisions are being made and evacuation flights are organised, which is the key thing. Work is ongoing with the regions. Evacuation flights are being organised in line with the capacities of the region or the city for the incoming flight. Respectively, the flight is arranged under the same principles. It is crucial to understand that citizens of the Russian Federation are not only those who are abroad but also those who are inside the country. We must take into account the interests of everybody. In this connection, in the context of the epidemiologic situation in the country, the algorithm of the related work has been changed. It was dictated by the changing situation. This work is now proceeding via the Government Services website.
This scheme is not something static; it should be adapted to the changing situation, given the vast number of unknown conditions at the moment, including:
1. the situation in the country where people currently are, the emergency regime, lockdown measures, restrictions on domestic travel, and the issues related to arriving at the gathering location;
2. compiling lists for flights with regard to their destinations - a specific region or a city - and the opportunities for nationals, who apply for a flight, for staying in these regions and cities.
This is truly team work that involves several Russian ministries and departments as well as heads of aviation companies. Those include the Ministry of Transport, the Federal Agency for Air Transport (Rosaviatsiya), the Foreign Ministry, the Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare (Rospotrebnadzor), and airlines' representatives. This job is being conducted 24/7 and coordinated by the emergency centre, with the involvement of our embassies abroad. These efforts will be most efficient only if we have an understanding of the current situation in a certain country as well as proper consideration of the humanitarian aspect and the developments in these states.
We have considered faults and big problems that have arisen regarding a number of the flights over a period of the last two days, and greater efforts will be made to coordinate this job.
At the moment, the developed algorithm allows for providing necessary conditions aimed to curb the spread of COVID-19 in our country and securing interests of the nationals both abroad and in Russia.
The Russian nationals who are going to return home should consider paying for their flights, as it has already been mentioned. One of the most asked questions is how the payment will be made. This has been repeatedly announced following a meeting of the working group, with the information available on the Ministry of Transport and Rosaviatsiya's websites. Additional information is also available via the Government Services website. First of all, I would like to draw your attention to the reports being posted as press releases following the recent two or three meetings of the working group.
I would like to say once again, in case a Russian national has an unused ticket for a flight with a foreign airline, they should be ready to pay 200 euro per person when traveling from a location in Europe and 400 euro when traveling from further away locations (due to the global logistic crisis resulting from mass cancelations of flights by foreign airlines worldwide and thus causing the impossibility to return to Russia). Discounts are available for children. With foreign airlines, a passenger can then settle issues related to getting compensation for any cancelled flights individually, including if required by legal action.
As regards Russian nationals who have an unused ticket for a flight with a Russian airline, a decision has been taken to give them free flights based on these tickets. Russian companies will carry out mutual settlement payments at a later date.
Flight schedules are being developed with account of so called quantitative quotas, with 500 passengers accepted daily in Moscow and 200 people accepted by regional airports: https://www.mintrans.ru/press-center/news/9491These corresponding decisions have already been posted on the websites of the related Russian departments.
One of the key questions that I mentioned and want to answer is the question about the number of people aboard the planes that take them home. I already said that the logistics and organisation of flights is a complex issue: there are time restrictions (the date when the passenger left Russia), the issue of accommodation and flight destination. At the same time, the most important aspect of the algorithm being used in these cases is to take every precaution to prevent another wave of the epidemic in Russia.
There are both problematic examples and very successful ones. I want to speak about one of them. It was a flight from Bangkok to Moscow; it arrived on April 7 and the plane was full: all 402 seats were occupied but the number of passengers was even bigger: 418 including small children who travelled on their parents’ lap. This is one of the most successful examples. We will be guided by such examples.
When I say ‘we’ I mean that we are working as one team under the auspices of the Government and the emergency response centre and in close contact with all of our colleagues from these agencies.
I want to emphasise that these measures are based on relevant resolutions, instructions and conclusions. They are open, transparent and available for study so that members of the public will see what is being done and what decisions guide the measures, as well as for the media that are closely monitoring this work.
Everyone is experiencing difficulties now: those who got stranded on the islands that seemed like paradise just a short while ago, but also those working round the clock to figure out how to get them home. But all these hardships cannot be compared to the efforts of doctors, medical personnel, nurses, and everyone who is working in hospitals and medical facilities to help the people who have contracted the virus. It is a very difficult time for them. As for us, we just need to be patient. I am not saying that this patience must be endless. I want to assure you that everything possible is being done to tackle this enormous threat which is new for the whole world. This is a challenge and we have accepted it.
On one hand, this is just lofty rhetoric, but at the same time it is concrete, meticulous and continuous work of several agencies and a huge number of personnel.
I would like to speak about our embassies separately and answer the question why it is not always possible to reach them. There are tens of thousands of calls per day. This is one answer. But it does not mean that the embassies can be relieved of this work.
I would also like to urge all our compatriots who are arriving in Russia to take a responsible approach to their health and the health of others, to self-isolate or be quarantined upon arrival for 14 days. Please note that it this case you need to be guided by the regulations adopted by your region.
Another question we received was about whether the people who have the opportunity to remain abroad should be quarantined there or return home. You need to make this decision based on the information that only you have. There is no common solution that applies to everyone. But you need to realise that any movement, any travel is an additional burden because there is a large number of infected people abroad. This is not an instruction. It is information for each concrete person to consider. If you are able to take care of your health now while staying abroad, maybe it would be a good decision. I will reiterate that any travel, any movement outside will create an additional load, as medical personnel call it. But each person must answer this question for himself given all the factors and circumstances.
There is some good news. Several hours ago today, an aircraft carrying 120 Russian nationals left Rome. They will stay in Moscow and the Moscow Region. It is a result of joint work. I would like to thank the regions that did what they could to ensure a comfortable arrival for people who have already been quarantined in the receiving country for two weeks. This work was underway all night. People were exhausted because their flights by foreign carriers were postponed about five times.
We never cease to be amazed by the western countries' cynicism in using the coronavirus in their information war.
We are perplexed and surprised to see attempts made by certain US media and top officials to accuse Russia of conducting an alleged "disinformation campaign" against the United States in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. We addressed the US Department of State specifically to demand factual evidence that could prove such claims, given the fact that they were made by officials as well. We received neither reasonable explanations nor facts on this issue. It turns out that the Americans are spreading false information themselves.
We are observing the way the internet's US segment users are actively promoting various conspiracy theories claiming the virus could be man-made – and naturally, blaming Russia and other countries. Obviously, attempts are being made to hammer this idea into people's minds and spread it as if it was part of some information attack. We have information that clearly proves US government structures are coordinating these attempts.
Amidst the current global efforts to tackle the pandemic, with 1.5 million confirmed cases including 400,000 in the United States, these accusations against Russia are not only groundless but they are also unscrupulous. It is true that many Americans are scared and they write different things online – yet, fuelling speculations and playing on people's fears for political ends is unacceptable and dangerous.
Russia is actively engaged in joint efforts to counter the pandemic and curb its consequences. We understand that the humankind can cope with this challenge, which is unprecedented in the contemporary world, only through collective efforts. This is what is crystal clear now. We are doing much in our country and making every effort to provide assistance to other states, including the United States.
We deem these attempts to fabricate such accusations against Russia as further efforts to pursue a misguided anti-Russia practices favoured by certain political circles in the Washington establishment. They are not concerned about the current global needs during these trying times, including what the United States needs, with its immense number of the infected people and deaths. We express solidarity with the American people during this tough period and urge responsible US politicians to give their objective assessment of these insinuations.
We noted a statement by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Washington's plans to reconsider its financial contribution to the World Health Organisation (WHO). US President Donald Trump has also made statements in this regard.
We deem this stance as ineffective and such statement as inappropriate and counterproductive amidst the increasing global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. It should be noted that the final statement by the G20 online summit, as well as the recent consensus-adopted resolution by the UN General Assembly on global solidarity in tackling the coronavirus, acknowledge the WHO's crucial coordinating role in curbing the spread of COVID-19. The United States previously supported the above documents, and such an abrupt change in its stance is perplexing. Why support everything adopted recently and then start blaming the WHO for everything?
We support a call by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom to avoid politicising the situation with the pandemic. We are confident that COVID-19 is a challenge to the entire international community, and stepping up the struggle against it is possible only through coordinated efforts by all nations.
In this connection, I would like to recall that Russia has made a decision to allocate significant funding to support the WHO efforts in battling the coronavirus pandemic. Additional decisions may follow. We urge all countries that can do it to follow suit.
On March 23, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on parties to the regional armed conflicts to immediately cease hostilities, establish a ceasefire and a humanitarian pause against the backdrop of the rapid spread of the coronavirus throughout the world. The Foreign Ministry supported the call by publishing a respective statement.
The parties to conflicts in many countries have heeded the UN Secretary-General’s appeal in the past two weeks in the context of the deteriorating global pandemic. The intensity of the hostilities is reported to have decreased in Cameroon, Columbia, Myanmar, Sudan, South Sudan and the Philippines.
The situation in Syria is becoming more stable. Russian-Turkish agreements on Idlib are being implemented.
There is a certain trend toward normalisation in Afghanistan where interaction is being stepped up by Kabul and the Taliban on a peaceful settlement despite a high level of violence.
However, intensive fighting continues in a number of countries while in some cases the pandemic serves as a pretext for new aggressive belligerent moves.
Thus, the Ukrainian army continues mass shelling of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics which causes civilian casualties.
Washington’s decision to launch a military operation on curbing drug trafficking in Latin America which is accompanied with a military build-up around Venezuela, can result in utterly unpredictable and negative consequences under the current circumstances.
Unfortunately, the intensity of hostilities in Yemen is not subsiding. The “Arabian coalition” and Houthis exchanged air strikes in March.
We are alarmed to see over the past few days the escalation of the intra-Lybian conflict, including in the context of ratcheted-up military activities by the forces loyal to the Government of National Accord.
We expect that Guterres’s call will be heeded by the parties to all armed conflicts. Otherwise the international community faces the risk of a humanitarian catastrophe of a global dimension. Meanwhile, we hold that the counter-terrorist efforts should be continued whatever the case might be.
Overall, we believe that the situation on the ground is stable. The spread of the coronavirus is currently the main threat for the entire world, as well as for Syria too. However, the territories that are not controlled by Damascus, i.e., in Idlib, Al-Tanf and in the country’s northeast, cause special concern.
The implementation of the Additional Protocol signed by Russia and Turkey on March 5, 2020, continues in the Idlib de-escalation zone. The ceasefire regime that has been introduced is being observed, in general, although fighters persist in their attempts to derail our efforts. In particular, they are doing everything to prevent Russia and Turkey from undertaking joint patrols within the security corridor that runs along the M4 main road. This proves yet again that terrorists, as designated by the UN Security Council, hold sway in Idlib. They are committed to perpetuating bloodshed and violence. Therefore, it would be unacceptable to use the ceasefire regime as a pretext for whitewashing these terrorists or shielding them from legitimate counter-terrorist efforts.
Areas east of the Euphrates and around Al-Tanf are facing the most challenging and potentially explosive situation in terms of the coronavirus outbreak. Let me remind you that these are precisely the parts of Syria that were illegally occupied by the United States and its allies. There is no humanitarian access to these regions. According to the United Nations, these areas are still highly infested with landmines and unexploded ordnances with only two hospitals and four first aid stations in operation. These territories are home to a number of potential infection outbreak zones, which could pose the greatest threat, including overcrowded prisons with over 10,000 imprisoned ISIS fighters, as well as IDPs camps with about 67,000 living in the Al-Hawl camp alone.
Rukban is another infamous camp for IDPs within the 55-kilometre safety zone arbitrarily established by the United States around Al-Tanf. With the support from the Russian military, the Syrian authorities have evacuated and relocated over 19,000 refugees between March and July 2019. However, in August 2019 the operation to dismantle the camp stalled after illegal armed groups controlled by the United States refused to grant security guarantees to UN staff members who joined the effort to evacuate people. As a result, some 12,000 people became Rukban’s hostages. Fighters use them to blackmail the international community by asking for humanitarian aid and then appropriating it.
There is no doubt about the causes of the current dire situation in these parts of Syria. It results from the massive presence of terrorists, recognised as such by the UN Security Council, as well as the illegal presence of the United States and its allies. They are the ones responsible for what is taking place in the territories under their control.
Against the backdrop of these challenges, working together to prevent and neutralise the threat we are all facing has special importance. Russia supports the call made by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and other UN officials for lifting or easing the unilateral sanctions against Syria. In this context, we call on the relevant international organisations as well as the financial institutions such as the World Bank to reject the calamitous practice of politicising humanitarian efforts and help vulnerable countries, such as Syria, to deliver every necessary assistance to their populations in the heat of the coronavirus outbreak without discrimination or preconditions.
Established by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as a result of targeted political and legal manipulations by Western countries, the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) that is responsible for identifying the perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons released, on April 8, the findings of its first, pilot report on the three alleged chemical incidents in the Syrian village of Ltamenah on March 24, 25 and 30, 2017. The main conclusion in this document, apparently drafted under political pressure from Western countries, is that “there are reasonable grounds to believe” that in all three instances, chemical weapons were used by the Syrian Arab Air Force, and the relevant orders had come directly from its command. It is an outrage to see a statement of this kind in a document released by an international organisation following an investigation that took several years. What have you been up to in the OPCW, if two years after the investigated events you are saying “there are reasonable grounds to believe”? Since you went as far as to release a report, you have to go all the way, and if you make any assertions, you must show the facts.
It was difficult to expect anything else from an entity imposed by a narrow circle of “interested” states upon a purely technical body like the OPCW. They insisted on the creation of the IIT contrary to the fundamental provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the generally recognised tenets of international law. The IIT’s “mandate,” as we have repeatedly noted, infringes upon the exclusive authority of the UN Security Council, as enshrined in the UN Charter.
The experts recruited for the IIT, mainly from Western countries, have carried out an impressive amount of work, as the OPCW Technical Secretariat senior executives stated in their “presentation” of the report. They produced an 80-page document, predictably based on the already known and quite dubious “insights” of the OPCW Fact Finding Mission to investigate chemical incidents in Syria. It also includes the noticeable “signature” of the former OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism, which completely discredited itself with its anti-Assad bias.
The authors of the report, and consequently the leaders of the OPCW Technical Secretariat, have thus become accomplices in the consistent violation of the basic principles and procedures of objective and unbiased investigations stipulated in the CWC, which requires the mandatory dispatch of experts directly to the sites of alleged incidents. When experts are working on the ground and collect evidence, the reports they produce do not refer to any “reasonable grounds to believe.” This is what this problem is all about. The information gathered by the IIT mostly came from anti-government armed groups and pseudo-humanitarian NGOs affiliated with them, including the notorious White Helmets.
We have also noted that the report contains references to data from certain secret services – apparently from the same states obsessed with regime change in Damascus. How can an international organisation rely on data from secret services? Every country has structures of this kind. If an international body relies on data from secret services, it might just be worth telling us which countries they represent. This would make many things much clearer. There is no other word for it but misinformation. One example is the attempt to find a link between two incidents in Ltamenah involving aerial bombs allegedly charged with sarin and the Syrian Air Force’s actions in the same area – the Su-22 front-line bombers departing from Shayrat airbase, previously attacked by American missiles in an illegal and misguided act of aggression. They motivated that attack, carried out in violation of the UN Charter, with Syria’s use of aviation over the nearby town of Khan Shaykhun on April 4, 2017. We have repeatedly pointed out that the Su-22 military aircraft flying across Khan Shaykhun simply could not have delivered a conventional payload to the opposite suburb several kilometres away, as was alleged. The rules of ballistics and the laws of physics cannot be overruled. No matter how serious your document is, it has to go beyond political considerations and be based on scientific data. By the way, at some point the American military also recognised this, albeit through gritted teeth, when they published the data of their own objective control.
Russian experts will carefully study the IIT’s pilot report and give it a comprehensive, fact-based analysis. We have no doubt that numerous international independent experts will do the same, those who have repeatedly proved the questionable nature of the never-ending accusations against the Syrian authorities of using toxic chemicals and high-grade chemical warfare agents. The scandalous story with the OPCW Technical Secretariat falsifying an investigation report of a high-profile incident in the Syrian city of Douma on April 7, 2018, which turned out to be yet another staged provocation by the White Helmets, was as good a proof as the IIT report that all those “attributors” actually have nothing else to offer but lies and falsifications. They are guided by political interests, while relegating to the background considerations of legality, international law and statutory instructions issued to experts, who derive their mandate from the relevant international organisations. This is confirmed by the lightning-speed approval of the IIT report by Washington and some other Western capitals where anti-Syrian findings had been “programmed” in advance, as reality has shown.
Late at night on April 8, the command of the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia that supports President of the Republic of Yemen Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi announced that as of 12 noon today, April 9, it will unilaterally stop all combat operations. The ceasefire in Yemen will be in force over a period of the next two weeks and may be extended.
Arab coalition spokesperson Turki al-Maliki said in a statement that the decision was made in response to the recent call made by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to introduce a humanitarian ceasefire in Yemen, which would facilitate the necessary measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus infection in the country.
It was noted that the leadership of the coalition also intended to support the initiative of UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths who suggested organising talks between representatives of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, the Ansar Allah Houthi movement and the Arab coalition under the auspices of the UN to discuss a lasting ceasefire and the launch of a comprehensive political process in Yemen.
Moscow praises the decision of the Arab coalition. We hope that all parties to the Yemen crisis will appreciate the UN’s efforts aimed at de-escalating the conflict and the beginning of inclusive talks. We believe that the participants in this dialogue will be finally able to start a constructive discussion of the important matters of the termination of the lingering armed confrontation and the establishment of peaceful life in Yemen.
The situation is Afghanistan remains unstable despite the deal signed by the US and the Taliban in Doha on February 29 on the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country and the creation of conditions to start a peace process. The parties to the conflict continue hostilities resulting in the deaths of civilians.
We are especially concerned over the lasting internal political crisis in Kabul due to which an inclusive government of Afghanistan that would be accepted by the Afghan people and recognised by the international community was not formed. The direct result of it was the delay of the direct intra-Afghan peace talks due to the lack of agreements between the acting Afghan authorities and the Taliban on prisoner exchange. The world hopes that these talks, which should consider the interests of all strata of the Afghan society, will bring a comprehensive settlement of the Afghan problem.
Once again, we urge all interested political forces of Afghanistan to use every possibility to settle the internal political conflicts and remove all obstacles to the peaceful dialogue.
Going back to the situation in Venezuela. The country and its legitimate government are fighting the coronavirus pandemic along with the rest of the world. Quarantine was introduced pre-emptively. Despite tough inhumane US sanctions, the sick rate and mortality is fairly low compared to other Latin American countries, according to the dry statistics of the Pan American Health Organisation.
Venezuela is not facing this challenge alone. Cuba and China are providing assistance. This week Russia sent another batch of diagnostic kits.
Regrettably, we note that not everyone is ready to follow the principles of solidarity and humanity. At our last briefing we gave a detailed assessment of the US Administration’s actions and statements designed to step up pressure on Caracas, including military pressure.
Despite objective limitations brought about by sanitary epidemiological conditions, we consistently put forward the Russian point of view to our partners in Europe, Latin America and Asia last week, and we received positive feedback from many of them.
I think we are on the same wavelength with them on major issues.
First. Venezuela’s problems should be resolved peacefully and by Venezuela itself through dialogue between different political forces inside the country. The solution must not be imposed from outside.
This applies to the entire situation. It is even more true now that we are facing the pandemic.
Given this, we believe that the US State Department’s initiative on the “democratisation” of Venezuela must have been drafted in a different era. If viewed in conjunction with other recent steps taken by Washington – open persecution of the Venezuelan leaders on the absurd charges of every sin imaginable, the start of large-scale US Navy manoeuvres near the Venezuelan coast, etc. – the ideas voiced by the United States look more like an ultimatum to the legitimate authorities of an independent sovereign state than a move towards national accord. After looking into the US initiative, we do not think it deserves a serious response.
Second. Despite that, we see a unique opportunity emerging in Venezuela for launching a truly nationwide dialogue. The country has a unifying agenda – fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important to get rid of any divisive political ambitions and join efforts in countering a truly global threat. This is a universal recipe now, by the way.
We call on all responsible Venezuelans to do that. We support the position taken on this issue by President Maduro and those opposition members who place the interests of people’s safety and health above all, even if they disagree with the Government’s policies.
Third. We urge the external actors – both in Latin America and outside it – to support this process, to move away from ideological dogmas and stereotypes, and to prioritise the ideas of solidarity and cooperation. We address the same appeal to the heads of the leading international agencies and organisations involved in rendering assistance.
One more remark. We have heard from Washington recently that they are ready to discuss the Venezuela agenda with us as well. I would like to say to the US diplomats, looking straight into the camera, that we are not avoiding such contacts. But this does not mean that we are ready to alter our principled policy and our position on these developments, including on the ruinous effect of the unilateral US sanctions, which are viewed as absolutely inhumane, on the socioeconomic situation in Venezuela.
We have noted a briefing note, Accountability for Killings and Violent Deaths During the Maidan Protests, by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), whose summary was made public on March 12 during the presentation of the mission's report on the human rights situation in Ukraine between November 16, 2019 and February 15, 2020.
In particular, the HRMMU concluded that the prosecution of criminal cases over the Maidan events is hindered by a number of persisting ailments related to the Ukrainian law enforcement system, such as shortcomings in investigative procedure, lack of resources for forensic examination, and others. It was also noted that “the fact that a number of senior police officers suspected of committing crimes against Maidan protestors retained their positions had a chilling effect on their subordinates. The resulting reluctance of police officers to testify about police involvement in the killings ... poses a serious challenge to identifying the perpetrators” as well as to learning the truth about actual events that took place during those tragic days – and this is what the world is eager to know. It was particularly emphasised that the law on the prevention of prosecution and punishment of individuals who took part in “peaceful protest actions,” adopted by the Verkhovna Rada on February 21, 2014, largely complicates the “prosecution of protestors for crimes they committed during the Maidan protests, including the killing of law enforcement officers.”
The HRMMU recommended that the Ukrainian Government ensure an independent and impartial investigation into all acts of killing; amend the procedure of in absentia prosecution in a way that it would envisage a full retrial after the perpetrator has been located; repeal the amnesty law, and ensure the appearance for trial of the defendants who were released pending trial.
I would like to remind you why this is so important and relevant. These events took place back in 2013-2014 – yet, they triggered the subsequent events that happened during that period in Ukraine and in Europe, as well as the domestic conflict in Ukraine, which, sadly, grew into its active hot phase. The public opinion was also formed largely on the basis of the media interpretation of the events. Isn't it time to finally find out what actually happened? The more time passes, the more difficult it will be to determine the truth – and this is crucially important.
Kiev has made no clear response to the UN Mission's document. The unit to investigate crimes committed during mass protests in 2013-2014, which was set up at the State Bureau of Investigations, released only a press statement that briefly mentioned that the document has been reviewed.
This provides further evidence that Kiev is unwilling to shed light on this “Revolution of Dignity” and its backstage events, and will make every effort to prevent the truth from being made public – but we would like their plans to fail. This is all done despite the fact that a year ago those who were seeking power promised to Ukrainian votes that an objective investigation will be conducted into the events that had the most dramatic consequences for the country.
Of course, everyone is concerned about different things at the moment, and we are perfectly aware of this. Yet, this issue should not be ignored or overlooked; facts must be made known and inscribed in history.
I cannot but touch on an issue that has caused a great stir among the Russian public. The municipal authorities of the Prague-6 district took an unprecedented and barbaric step by dismantling the monument to Marshal of the Soviet Union Ivan Konev erected at the initiative of Prague residents in 1980. Marshal Konev was the commander of the 1st Ukrainian Front, which liberated the Czech capital from Nazi occupation in May 1945. What makes this act of political vandalism so outrageous is that it was committed ahead of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, which was finished in the European theatre with the Red Army’s operation in Prague.
The inability of the central government to call municipal officials to order and to stop malicious activity that violates the country’s international obligations is perplexing.
The crime committed in Prague can become a long-term irritant in our bilateral relations and undoubtedly will not go unanswered. I want to clarify that when I said “crime” now, it was a political assessment. But I have no doubt that the action will also be assessed similarly in legal terms. As for the response, we told the Czech Ambassador in Moscow about it and urged Prague to observe the provisions on military memorials of the bilateral Agreement on Friendly Relations and Cooperation of 1993 and to stop provocations.
Another act of vandalism, now against a war grave of Soviet soldiers in the city park in Dobrich. The Russian Embassy in Bulgaria expressed its indignation over that sacrilegious action. It was not just a memorial site but a war grave of Soviet soldiers in a city park. This travesty against the memory of the servicemen who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of Europe and the entire world from the Nazi plague is simply monstrous.
It is not correct to speak and connect our appraisal with an anniversary. It is not so important as a matter of principle which year we are talking about: an anniversary year or not. You just cannot insult the memory of the people who voluntarily sacrificed their lives for the humankind to have a future.
We expect the city authorities to take necessary measures to restore the monuments, to prevent such acts in the future and to bring those who committed this crime to justice.
There is yet another bit of unbelievable news. I totally understand that we are going through tough times at the moment – and I am eager to amuse you by sharing yet another “gem” of research by CNN about Russia’s alleged interference in the US election process. Apparently, this is the only issue we are currently concerned about. This time, it is about the alleged use of some NGOs, registered in a foreign country, by serious Russian entities. To cut a long story short, according to a report by CNN, under-cover Russian trolls may have been active in the Republic of Ghana, sowing discord among African-American voters in the United States.
This is far from being the first – and the last – case of highly far-fetched pseudo reports devoid of common sense, but highly amusing. There is a reason behind all this. Such provocative false stories are targeted at a certain kind of audience, and their authors are paid handsomely by the paymasters. It is not difficult to identify these people. This is today’s reality, it should be clear to everyone.
Russia’ position on Moscow’s alleged interference in the US election – previous, current and future altogether – has been stated thoroughly and clearly by the Russian President and the Russian Foreign Minister. There is nothing I can add to this. I wonder whether such “research” made by one of the major international media companies is still relevant during these tough times, when the entire world, including the Americans, is trying so hard to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Why should one engage in inventing ludicrous threats and set them against real and global threats, and mix them all up together? This is what I just cannot understand. If this is being done to distract public attention from urgent problems, then you would better find topics that are more optimistic. I can recommend a couple of them to CNN right now – for instance, a story could be made on how good democratic and liberal values are in the US today amid the current efforts to battle COVID-19. This could be an excellent report. Colleagues, you can approach me for ideas anytime.
Question: The Italian newspaper La Stampa has published an article saying that the Russian aid is useless. How would you comment on it?
Maria Zakharova: We have already said what we think about these or similar articles in La Stampa. We wish Italians good health and prosperity, and we hope that they overcome these difficult times. We hope that they see better times, when we will be able to come to Italy and they will be able to visit Russia. We love you very much, dear Italians. We know your culture and love your cuisine. Please do not pay attention to these provocative articles. Please know that Russians love you and for this, not some other, reason sent you that aid. This is all that I want to say about La Stampa. I hope they will hear me.
Question: There is information that the Americans are trying to use pressure in their attempts to lobby for their producers of medical goods that can be used in coronavirus treatment in Europe. Would you comment on it?
Maria Zakharova: We can confirm this information. The US officials do not hesitate to put pressure on their European partners when it comes to the business interests of American companies, be it the sale of energy, technology, arms or medical devices. For instance, Lithuania is now a target of this political pressure. They are trying to make Vilnius purchase diagnostic test kits and protective gear for the coronavirus that are produced by the American company Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., despite the company’s failure to abide by the contract it had with Lithuania this year. We are not surprised by this approach and believe that you should not be surprised either. Cynicism has become the norm. Washington is ready to take advantage of the tragedy that many world countries are facing now (I provided you with some facts today), while defying the basic principles of international cooperation, as well as the feeling of solidarity with their smaller allies in the North Atlantic Alliance.
Question: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned the government of Afghanistan that if it refuses to make a deal with the Taliban, Washington may withdraw US troops from the country. What can you say about it?
Maria Zakharova: We can say the following: some media have reported that Washington threatened the acting Afghan authorities with the pullout of its troops if they continue to hinder the launch of direct intra-Afghan peace talks. It seems that they are talking about Kabul’s refusal to abide by the requirements of the US-Taliban agreement signed in Doha on February 29, 2020, which included the release of 5,000 Taliban members and 1,000 Afghan military personnel before the beginning of the talks. We can neither confirm nor deny this information, but it again means that there is a need to promptly remove all obstacles to the inclusive peace process, and Russia has repeatedly urged all political forces in Afghanistan to do so. We are repeating our call.
Question: The United States is receiving humanitarian aid from Russia and China and at the same time doing everything it can to prevent this aid from reaching Cuba. This has already happened. Humanitarian cargo was not delivered to Cuba because Washington threatened to impose sanctions on the chartered transport company. During the past year, the US has introduced over 300 restrictions against Cuba. What do you think about this?
Maria Zakharova: We have to say again that in this complicated period when the whole world is countering the coronavirus pandemic, some states are displaying their typical egotism and complete rejection of humanism and humanitarian values instead of promoting international solidarity and cooperation.
At a time when Cuba is helping other countries by sending doctors to Italy, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador and other states in the Caribbean, it is being denied medical equipment that is so badly needed. This is beyond understanding. Due to the US embargo introduced almost 60 years ago, Havana cannot receive humanitarian supplies (2 million face masks, 400,000 express tests and 104 lung ventilators) that were prepared by Chinese philanthropist and founder of the Alibaba Group Jack Ma for 24 Latin American and Caribbean countries, including Cuba. This businessman prepared this large humanitarian cargo and wanted to deliver it. But politics interfered. The chartered American transport company refused to deliver it to Cuba. This fact is yet further evidence of the criminal character of the unilateral sanctions in general and the US sanctions in particular that are affecting the life and health of millions of people, depriving them of the right to assistance in such difficult conditions in their countries.
I would also like to note that all this is taking place at a time when the world community and the World Health Organisation (WHO) that we have mentioned several times, are urging support for the states that have been hit hard by the pandemic and for the renunciation of trade wars and unilateral sanctions taken in circumvention of the UN Security Council in order to provide immediate access to food and medications. Regrettably, not all countries are listening to our appeals.
I remember how former US President Barack Obama visited Cuba with entrepreneurs and talked about the need to be friends with Cuba. Where is this lobbying now? We know that the Democrats are very good at international lobbying in America. Why not show love for Cuba and bring bilateral relations to a new level in this specific situation. Why don’t they work for the removal of these unilateral sanctions in their legislative bodies in this situation (and we know how the Americans lobby for their laws when they want to). I understand that it is easier to fight Russian trolls. It is possible to count them endlessly and allocate money for this. But there is a specific task for American lobbyists. Resolve it, help people in the region to which you are paying so much attention. Or is this not written in the Monroe Doctrine?
We urge them again to correctly correlate their own geopolitical ideas with the real needs of millions of people.
Question: This question is about the election in Nagorno-Karabakh on March 31.
On March 31, the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh held a so-called “presidential election” at a time when the whole world is countering the coronavirus pandemic. The second round of “the election” is schedules for April 14. What is the Foreign Ministry’s response to this “election”?
Maria Zakharova: A statement was released by the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group on the election that took place in Nagorno-Karabakh on March 31. The OSCE Minsk Group for the settlement of this conflict includes Russia, the United States and France. You can read this statement on the official OSCE website (www.osce.org).
We believe the election is necessary for the normal life of the population. At the same time, the Russian Federation does not recognise Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state. Its status must be determined through political talks. This is what the OSCE Minsk Group is trying to do (the entire package of issues).
That said, we don’t believe further steps in the process of a peaceful settlement depend on this event in any way.
This is what I have to say in this context. Let me emphasise that this was not my initiative but simply a reply to your question.
Question: Can you comment on media reports that President Donald Trump’s administration intends to designate the nationalist Russian Imperial Movement in Russia as a terrorist group? The US authorities plan to announce that the movement and three of its supposed leaders are advocating ideas of white supremacy.
Maria Zakharova: We read this statement by the US Department of State. Apparently, the Americans have been working hard on this for a long time since there are no other items on the agenda. They want to include this group and its leaders on a national terrorist list. Since Washington has not substantiated its decision with convincing and detailed information, we have the impression that it was made primarily for propaganda purposes and has little to do with cooperation in countering international terrorism. There is another argument that points to this. The US is reluctant to use the well-established mechanisms for a bilateral counterterrorism dialogue and cooperation between secret services, in this case. Considering the Russophobia of the US establishment (or at least part of it) it is no surprise that the Department of State is designating the Russian Imperial Movement – also known as RIM – as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. This little-known group received the status of the first foreign terrorist group of white supremacy advocates, and will be punished by restrictions.
I would like to suggest that US officials pay more attention to the situation in their own country. In this case, the slogan “Let the whole world wait” is highly topical. International human rights champions have sounded an alarm over the spread of neo-Nazi ideas in the United States for several years now. There are no legal bans on this in the US. They have noted the growing manifestations of racism, xenophobia, ethnic and religious intolerance. The authorities are turning a blind eye to this. Every year Washington and Kiev vote against broadly supported Russia-initiated UN General Assembly draft resolution on fighting the glorification of Nazism, which has already received global support.
The Ku Klux Klan and over a thousand other misanthropic organisations are openly operating in the US. Moreover, their number has increased by one third since 2014. The number of murders and violent hate crimes is growing. The detailed and, in fact, shocking statistics provided by human rights NGOs and the UN Human Rights Council are quoted in the American section of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s report on the human rights situation in individual countries, which was published on February 7 of this year.
For our part, we have been urging our US colleagues for many years to conduct a constructive dialogue, like equal partners, in order to prevent manifestations of extremism and xenophobia. We are also motivated to engage in the most effective cooperation to fight international terrorism. However, we have long wondered what prompts the US to include certain organisations on its black lists. As is known, Washington refused to blacklist ISIS for a long time. But it seems to me that this group was worth paying attention to. Maybe, Washington hoped that this organisation would be useful for fighting the lawful authorities of Syria. They had relevant experience in Afghanistan – they know how to establish, lure and use terrorist groups. However, the mistakes of the past are not dogma, Washington doesn’t seem to analyse them. Meanwhile, these “lured-in” organisations can turn and strike at their founders if they are extremist or terrorist groups.
We believe there is no room for double standards in countering terrorism but, regrettably, US policy is built on them.
I would like to thank The Financial Times for this question. You are welcome to ask more questions.
Question: When will bilateral inspections under New START begin, and when is a meeting of the bilateral consultative commission expected to take place in 2020? Is it possible they will be postponed due to the coronavirus epidemic?
Maria Zakharova: Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov has already commented on this.
Specifically, he said: “The decision to suspend inspections under New START, as well as the decision to postpone the bilateral consultative commission meeting that was scheduled for the second half of March, was made upon agreement by the parties. The corresponding agreements were fully formalised, and were political in nature. Once the situation normalises, regular institutional activities will resume.
The regular meeting of the bilateral consultative commission is scheduled for the autumn. It will be the last meeting if the treaty is not extended.
I would like to use this opportunity to remind the US administration of the need to finally get down to extending the New START treaty.”