Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, May 28, 2020
We are continuing our remote briefing sessions wherein we discuss the current international agenda, Russian foreign policy, and answer questions sent in by Russian and foreign journalists.
- Update on the coronavirus situation and assistance for Russian nationals to return home
- Assistance to Russian citizens abroad
- Return of Russian school students from the United States
- US Department of State grant for exposing Russian and Soviet health disinformation
- Josep Borrell's statements on the «end of the American-led system”
- The 23rd Forum of the Potsdam Meetings
- Germany’s effective role in liberating Russian crew members from Tommi Ritscher ship in Nigeria
- Africa Day
- The Washington Post mentions possible resumption of US nuclear tests
- US ends sanctions waivers for projects under the nuclear deal with Iran
- US threats concerning Nord Stream 2
- Cuba launches round-the-clock broadcasting of RT
- Republic Day in Azerbaijan and Russian-Azerbaijani relations
- Tensions between India and Pakistan
- A scandal around the Commission for International Justice and Accountability
This past week the number of COVID-19 cases in the world exceeded 5.5 million. The rate of the coronavirus spreading in different regions of the world, in particular, in Latin America, is cause for concern.
However, the earlier positive developments in European countries are continuing, and the spread of the coronavirus there is losing momentum. Encouraging trends are leading local authorities to relax stay-at-home and other restrictions in a number of countries, and life is gradually getting back on track. Social, education, retail, transport, financial and economic infrastructure are beginning to return to normal operations. There appears to be a trend to declare the opening of national borders. I am talking about the European continent here, in particular, we are hearing these statements from the Schengen area. The goal of stepping up coordination among nations for global international cooperation was reaffirmed during the May 27 telephone conversation between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom. The Russian Foreign Minister reiterated Russia’s support for this organisation in overcoming the pandemic. This was also discussed at the May 26 CSTO Foreign Ministers Council meeting which was held via videoconference. The meeting resulted in the adoption by CSTO foreign ministers of a declaration on solidarity and mutual assistance in fighting the coronavirus. You can read these documents on the Russian Foreign Ministry website.
I would also like to mention that the MFA site has published an article by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for the Chinese newspaper Global Times about the coronavirus situation in the world. This interview provides an assessment of various nations’ approaches to combating the coronavirus and calls for joining efforts to resolve key issues. The interview also expresses the Russian Federation’s position against politicising humanitarian issues and using the pandemic to punish dissenting countries.
I would like to separately address the subject of assistance in bringing Russian nationals home from abroad. Nearly 4,000 people have been repatriated in the past week by Russian airlines in cooperation with the Russian agencies involved in this including the Ministry of Communications, the Transport Ministry, the Federal Agency for Air Transport and Russian embassies under the direct coordination of the Crisis Management Centre. In all, over 20,000 people have been assisted in returning since the introduction of the repatriation algorithm in early April. This number does not include those who travelled home on foreign airlines, which also includes hundreds of Russians who came home with assistance from the Russian state.
I would like to point out that the Russian Foreign Ministry website has a special section with information on repatriation flights, which is collected and updated daily including audio and video materials on completed flights. This section is updated daily.
The flight schedule for the coming week has already been approved. It is being expanded and adjusted in view of the current situation on the ground. Flights have been scheduled to Turkey, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Germany, Paris, London, Delhi, Miami, Seoul, Guangzhou and to Cairo.
In collaboration with the related Russian agencies, we have started to work out new repatriation plans for the most remote points, by connecting regular and repatriation flights. I mean regular flights which are still running in different regions of the world. We are trying to repatriate people with this mixed schedule whereby people go to cities served by Russian repatriation flights.
I would like to point out the Foreign Ministry’s statement issued on May 25 following a meeting of the Government Coordination Council to control the incidence of coronavirus infection in Russia. Let me remind you that that Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin underscored the need to rule out the possibility of another round of importing the coronavirus to Russia. Thus, he warned against planning any sort of international tourist travel for now.
We are getting many inquiries from citizens who had earlier plans to travel abroad for tourism, business or on humanitarian trips. In this connection, we will publish special materials on the Foreign Ministry’s website reviewing different countries’ intentions to lift their lockdowns or simplify their border crossing restrictions since there are many questions. Some easing has already been introduced in the world, I mean easing restrictions due to the epidemiological situation in a certain country. In other countries, plans are only being outlined on relaxing travel restrictions, receiving foreign nationals and the observation process.
As you know, under Russian Government Resolution No. 433, dated April 3, 2020, Russian citizens in a foreign country who are unable to return to the Russian Federation because of the coronavirus infection are given social aid.
As of now, the number of applicants, including family members, who have received support, is over 21,000 (21,283). This figure is adjusted each day and more people continue to receive this aid. The total amount of assistance is over 1.7 billion roubles.
I want to again draw your attention to what we talk about regularly: the difficulties and problems in this area. Many applications were submitted with errors, redundant data, and we had technical difficulties in forwarding them, partly because of incorrectly completed applications. The Ministry’s special working group published a report on the official website on May 22 on considering the complaints and requests from Russian citizens abroad who are unable to return home. https://www.mid.ru/ru/foreign_policy/news//asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4135097
The report explains the procedure for the social benefits in this area and the relevant checkup measures performed not only by the Foreign Ministry, but also by other Russian agencies and competent authorities. It includes an online link to check the status of an application with a special e-form.
Another subject related to the global pandemic and assistance for Russian citizens that has caused broad interest is the return of Russian school students sent to the United States for training via non-government organisations. This subject constantly attracts the media; we are receiving many questions and in this context I want to make a comment using updated information.
At present, 50 students have returned to Russia from the United States, another five will return on upcoming flights, and seven, whom we managed to contact, decided to stay in the United States and wait for the pandemic to pass.
We are identifying underage Russian citizens who have found themselves in a difficult situation abroad without adults. Our Embassy and the Foreign Ministry are also assisting the parents of those children. We will render all possible assistance in resolving this problem. It is under control.
We noted the announcement of a competition published on the US Department of State website. It promised a grant of $250,000 for the best report exposing Russian and Soviet health disinformation campaigns.
It seems to me that relatively speaking, it could be called a grant. I have the impression that the report has already been written. The materials have been paginated and it only remains to find someone to throw it into the public space for a handsome sum.
The grant is supposedly designed for US and foreign non-commercial organisations, institutes and universities as well as commercial agencies. It will be placed via the State Department’s Global Engagement Centre. The head of the centre, Lea Gabrielle, said at hearings in the US Congress on March 5 that the centre’s intentions were to focus on the “Russian information operations ecosystem…”
So, what is expected from those who will write this report? They are supposed to analyse Russian and Soviet health disinformation campaigns under the guidance of the centre’s experts with a view to making them public knowledge. How timely, to recall what happened in the Soviet Union, at this point. Leaving aside common sense and the relevance of studying “Soviet disinformation campaigns” in 2020, we consider the announced competition as a direct order to discredit the Russian Government’s efforts to counter the coronavirus and as a contribution to the global “infodemic” that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres referred to. I would also like to recall that the WHO, UNESCO and other international organisations have urged the countering of disinformation.
We have repeatedly drawn the attention of relevant international organisations and the public at large to the campaign launched by the West, including the US, to discredit the governments of a number of states, and accuse them of disinformation on coronavirus issues. Those involved in this campaign are also engaged in double talk. Declaring the need to counter disinformation campaigns, a number of Western countries are funding and fueling them. It is no longer possible to conceal this.
The coordinated character of such actions aimed against Russia and other countries, has been demonstrated by the simultaneous publication of inauthentic information about this country in the Western media. The relevant Russian departments have already refuted this information.
Regrettably, instead of cooperating with the international community in countering the pandemic, the US and some other Western countries are introducing a new irritant into bilateral relations and the global agenda. We urge Washington to revise its position and renounce negative practices that are only aggravating a global problem. We also call on the US to cooperate with the rest of the world.
We noted a number of recent statements by High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell made via a video link with a meeting of ambassadors and permanent representatives of Germany. The statements were covered by the media. He said that the novel coronavirus turned out to be “a great accelerator of history.” As Mr Borrell said, “Analysts have long talked about the end of the American-led system and the arrival of the Asian century. This is now happening in front of our eyes.” This is an interesting observation from the point of view of what analysts our European partners are referring to.
We did a little analysing ourselves, delved into recent history and looked into which analysts made similar forecasts a couple of years ago. I will note a couple of very interesting quotes.
January 15, 2015. “While the United States and the rest of the so-called historical West are losing the dominant positions they have held for at least five centuries, […] new centres of economic growth, financial power and political influence are emerging in the course of objective historical development […], the United States has resorted, regrettably, to illegitimate methods in an attempt to stop the curtailment of its relative role in global politics.”
March 29, 2017. “…it would certainly be necessary to recognise that the world is different, compared to past centuries when the West was leading.” “It’s a polycentric world. Call it multipolar, call it polycentric, call it more democratic—but it is happening.”
August 24, 2015. “We see the end to a long period of historical, economic, financial and political domination by the West. It lasted hundreds of years. This period involves an intrinsic contradiction, considering the evolution of new centres of power, including in Asia Pacific.” […] “It is probably not easy to admit that one’s domination, which lasted many centuries and was nearly absolute, is coming to an end.”
October 20, 2014. We are dealing not just with the beginning of another historical phase, but, it would seem, with a change of eras.” […] “That's a totally new picture of the world that does not fit into the centuries-old notion of Western dominance in the global economy, finance and politics.”
Who foresaw what our European Union partners are talking about, as indicated by his statements of two, three and five year ago? You won’t believe it, but this is Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The 23rd Forum of the Potsdam Meetings took place on May 25. It was organised by the German-Russian Forum and the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund. This format has long enjoyed a reputation of a major venue for public dialogue between Russia and Germany. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany Heiko Maas – the patrons of the forum since 2019 – sent written greetings to the event’s participants. For the first time the forum was held via videoconference, due to the coronavirus restrictions in Russia and Germany. However, this was not seen as an obstacle to an open and professional dialogue on various important issues on the agenda. The subject of the forum was Germany-Russia-the EU: The Pandemic and Its Influence on Foreign and Security Policies.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s greetings read by Special Presidential Envoy for International Cultural Cooperation Mikhail Shvydkoy emphasise that the coronavirus pandemic is becoming an important incentive to develop unified approaches in foreign and security policies and the global economy, as well as to step up cooperation between countries and international institutions in heading off real, rather than imaginary, threats to humanity. As the minister noted, it was possible for us to transform the pessimistic motto “The world will never be the same again”, which is popular today, into a much more ambitious and forward-looking one: “The world must become a better place.”
In his greetings German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, and afterwards the majority of participants in this remote debate, including prominent politicians, diplomats, experts and public figures from the two countries, supported and elaborated on these points with a focus on the importance of cooperation between Russia and Germany in addressing global and European matters.
As you know, on May 26 the Foreign Ministry’s website published a comment on how three Russian sailors abducted by pirates in Beninese territorial waters were freed on May 23. These sailors were crew members on the Tommi Ritscher container ship: first mate, mechanic supervisor and electrician. In the evening of May 23, with the help of the Russian diplomatic mission in Abuja, they took a charter flight from Lagos to Frankfurt-on-Maine for a subsequent return to Russia.
Today, I would like to note Germany’s important and useful role in liberating the abducted Russian sailors. From the very start and up to the sailors’ liberation, German diplomats maintained continuous close contacts with the Russian diplomatic mission in Abuja. As a result of smooth cooperation, the diplomats of the two countries and representatives of the ship’s owner managed to free our compatriots.
We are grateful to our German partners, including the German Embassy in Abuja, the German Consulate General in Lagos and the German Foreign Ministry in general for their proactive efforts and effective cooperation with our diplomats in resolving such a sensitive and urgent issue. I would like to emphasise that the settlement of this issue was aggravated by travel restrictions due to the pandemic.
Africa Day was marked on May 25. This is an annual holiday symbolising a striving of African nations for peace, independence and unity. This date has acquired special importance in light of the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War, the 75th anniversary of the UN and the 60th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples adopted on December 14, 1960.
Russia’s close and friendly ties with African countries and extensive experience of mutually beneficial cooperation date back to the early 1960s, when the Soviet Union unconditionally supported the striving of the African states to free themselves of the colonial oppression and rendered them substantial practical assistance in shaping the foundations of statehood, developing national economies and training civilian and military personnel. In recent years, African countries have been actively gaining influence in international affairs and playing a bigger role in addressing urgent global political and economic matters.
Last year’s Russia-Africa summit in Sochi and the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum established on the basis of its results has opened up a new page in traditionally friendly Russia-Africa relations and contributed to strengthening mutually beneficial ties in trade, economic, investment, scientific, technological and humanitarian areas. We hope that the mechanism of Russia-Africa partnership established at the summit will allow us to develop cooperation in such a specific area as the efforts to counter the coronavirus infection that has now spread all over the world.
The United States once again seems to be attacking and undermining international security. We have already commented in detail on the US withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty. I would also like to inform you that a multi-page document has been published on the Foreign Ministry website, which contains the answers to the most popular questions that we received over the past week in connection with this very unconstructive US move. It all began with a series of leaks about the intention of the US to announce this. Then the plan was officially announced with a strange motivation cited and Russia blamed again. The document I mentioned contains answers to these and other questions. Apparently we are witnessing a US campaign against international law. In particular, The Washington Post, citing an unnamed source in the US administration, reported that Washington was considering resuming nuclear tests. This sounds like the most ‘welcome’ news the whole world has been waiting for – the resumption of nuclear tests. One would think it is crucial to combine efforts to contain the coronavirus infection, but, unfortunately, Washington seems to be worried about other things.
This bombshell comes after a series of accusations made by US representatives at various levels and on various occasions over the past year citing Russia’s non-compliance with what is known as US zero-yield standard for nuclear testing. The same allegations have been put forth to China – accusations of a lack of transparency in observing the nuclear test ban. The general scheme is clear. It begins with fictitious accusations against others that pave the way for very obvious steps by the US administration. As was previously noted by the Russian side, we do not rule out that Washington is thus preparing public opinion before it actually withdraws from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) – one of the most important nuclear nonproliferation documents.
I would like to once again highlight the fact that this algorithm has worked for the American administration more than once: leaks, planting the required content, articles preparing public opinion for its new steps towards its goal.
Let’s take a small historical journey. The United States has never ratified the CTBT a quarter of a century after it was signed. It is Washington that has the primary responsibility for the Treaty never entering into force.
It looks like the US administration is set on destroying everything achieved in nonproliferation and arms control over the past half century. Washington has withdrawn from the ABM Treaty; terminated participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action concerning the Iranian nuclear programme (and that was not just another multilateral document, but a document internationally legalised through the adoption of UNSC Resolution 2231); destroyed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty; is planning to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty; and there is still no certainty about US plans regarding the extension of the Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, or New Start Treaty.
These actions are clearly disruptive. This US policy is targeting the entire international legal foundation on which international stability and security have been built. Washington’s actions are becoming increasingly dangerous and unpredictable.
Russia does not intend to lift the 1992 nuclear tests ban as long as the moratorium is faithfully observed by other nuclear states parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Russia ratified the Treaty as far back in 2000 and insists that every effort should be made for this document to be enacted.
Since we are talking about international peace and security, and the JCPOA was mentioned, I would like to elaborate on this matter, since there were a lot of questions on the move by the United States to end sanctions waivers for projects carried out as part of the nuclear deal with Iran.
The decision by the United States to end waivers from its unilateral sanctions for a number of projects under the nuclear deal with Iran is yet another demonstration of the US policy of flagrantly violating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and UN Security Council Resolution 2231.
Russia condemns this move. The international community has been making persistent calls to Washington for a long time now to return to compliance with its commitments under these documents.
We see that the US political elite has a visceral hatred of Iran that outweighs legal responsibility vis-à-vis America’s partners or concerns about its reputation on the international stage as a country capable of reaching deals, or the need to strengthen the authority of the UN Security Council.
It seems that Washington really does not know what else can be done to derail the JCPOA and the UN Security Council Resolution that I have mentioned.
The maximum pressure policy adopted by the US administration regarding Iran shows that the US is incapable of finding any sustainable solutions to complex issues and the inefficiency of the means the US establishment has at its disposal. By acting this way, the US is giving up on all of its claims to leadership and puts it into questions even within the Western community of like-minded countries.
Apparently those who crafted this policy did not even bother to think what the US stands to win from preventing projects under the JCPOA from materialising. Let me remind you that the US experts directly contributed to devising and approving the parameters for these projects that were developed in response to the concerns raised by the United States. It turns out that it is the United States that is standing in the way of carrying out the JCPOA’s provisions on nuclear matters and not Iran whose activities are believed to involve “high risks” in the nuclear sphere, according to the US.
Does this mean that Washington now wants Iran to complete the construction of its reactor in Arak on its own? The United States voiced serious concerns about this prospect not that long ago. If the US has suddenly decided that the thresholds and requirements set forth in the JCPOA for Iran are unfair and need to be cancelled, this does not mean that the US had to withdraw from the JCPOA, impose sanctions or take multiple decisions in stark violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231. This includes the decision to end sanctions waivers. We did not find answers to these and other questions in yesterday’s perorations by the US Department of State representatives who commented on Washington’s decisions.
The states parties to the JCPOA maintain contacts on an ongoing basis and at all levels and continue to work on all matters related to ensuring the JCPOA and UN Security Council Resolution 2231 are carried out in a consistent and comprehensive manner. They will now have to review the fallout from the new decisions by the US administration.
In practical terms, the move to revoke the waivers is likely to slow down rather than stop the important projects to reconfigure reactors that are at the core of the 2015 agreements. We call on all bona fide parties to the JCPOA to muster up the necessary political will on this matter.
Speaking of the United States and international law, I just cannot ignore the US threats concerning Nord Stream 2. I am referring to the statements by US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell in an interview with the German newspaper Handelsblatt. The American diplomat threatened new sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. We have come to clearly understand the policy course that American diplomacy is pursuing in Germany. Such statements, which are less than diplomatic, show that, even in these difficult times, there are forces in Washington that continue to gain momentum, intending to dictate to other countries what energy policies they should pursue in complete disregard of international law, market laws, or their partners’ economic interests.
For the next briefing, we will prepare a selection of statements that were made by US officials 10 years ago about how it was inappropriate and illegitimate to make political statements regarding the energy policies of other states.
The Russian side has repeatedly underscored that Nord Stream 2 is a purely economic project aimed at increasing Europe’s energy security, strengthening its economic potential and facilitating its transition to low-emission energy. Apparently, the United States has decided to continue its policy of undermining the competitiveness of European companies, in its own interests, and to aggressively impose US goods on the market, including liquefied natural gas. This policy looks especially cynical while a significant number of countries are struggling to stabilise energy markets, which should also benefit American companies. It is regrettable that Washington is dominated by politicians who are not focused on promoting mutually beneficial international cooperation in the energy sector, but prefer using the energy factor to pursue their anti-Russia policy that, in fact, amounts to an anti-Europe policy because it concerns European energy projects.
There is some good news. I would like to announce and highlight that on May 25, Cuba’s state-owned company Televisión Cubana began broadcasting RT TV channel in Spanish around the clock. We consider it a major step in strengthening strategic partnership between our countries in the information sphere.
I would like to remind you that in 2018, the Russian Ministry of Communications and the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television signed an agreement on media cooperation, which, among other things, called for the expansion of RT broadcasting on the island.
The Russian information resource in Spanish is available on one of the new high-resolution channels, HD-4, included into the broadcasting network of Cuba’s central television.
Aired 24/7, RT will expand the Cuban audience’s scope and access to information. We believe it will enrich and complement the audience’s possibilities to make their own choice among various points of view.
Question: On May 28, Azerbaijan marks the national holiday, Republic Day. How do you assess the current dynamics of bilateral relations?
Maria Zakharova: I would like to take this opportunity to wish our Azerbaijani friends all the best on the occasion of their national holiday, Republic Day. By tradition, Russian officials have sent greetings to the leaders of Azerbaijan, including President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
As for our assessments of the state and outlook for our bilateral relations, Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko made a comment on this subject during the videoconference Russia-Azerbaijan: Horizons of Cooperation, organised by TASS today. I suggest you read up on it on the agency’s website.
Question: Border tension has emerged between India and Pakistan in what is believed to be their biggest outbreak since the 1999 war. India is creating tension with Pakistan and Nepal. What is Russia’s view of the situation in the region?
Maria Zakharova: We are concerned with the tension in relations between India and Pakistan. The situation on the Line of Control between the two countries remains complicated. There are periodic exchanges of fire leading to loss of life, including civilian casualties.
Russia has invariably called on the sides to display restraint. We continue to proceed from the assumption that the settlement of the disputes should be effected by political and diplomatic means on a bilateral basis in keeping with the 1972 Simla Agreement and the 1999 Lahore Declaration.
Russia is interested in New Delhi and Islamabad maintaining neighbourly relations. This would directly strengthen regional stability and security and promote mutually beneficial trade and economic ties.
Question: Please comment on the scandal involving the Commission for International Justice and Accountability.
Maria Zakharova: We noted that the Dutch approaches to various kinds of doubtful NGO’s are increasingly becoming a source of bewilderment as well as disappointment.
Though posing as the “legal capital of the world,” The Hague is actually taking under its wing organisations that engage in unseemly affairs, including dissemination of slander and many other things too, all of this under the banner of defending human rights and “fighting impunity.”
One of the glaring cases in point is the Commission for International Justice and Accountability which is in the business of collecting evidence of alleged military crimes, crimes against humanity and human rights violations committed by Damascus.
Nurtured with European, including Dutch, taxpayers’ money, this organisation, according to an investigation carried out by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), was involved in the falsification of documents, wrongful billing, and profiteering. It would seem that the hard evidence of its corrupt practices, as revealed by the relevant EU authorities, must compel the government to withdraw its support and the Prosecutor’s Office to initiate a full-scale investigation and criminal prosecution of these so-called experts. But this is not the case.
We note that this is not an isolated occasion but just one of many examples illustrating how these pseudo-humanitarian organisations seek to undermine the domestic situation in Syria. Suffice it to recall the exposures made at a news conference at the OPCW headquarters, where the White Helmets were caught out on the staged filming of consequences of the alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma, Syria, which furnished a pretext for the Western coalition – the US, France and the UK – to fire missiles at Syria in violation of international law and the UN Charter.
Both we and experts dealing with this problem cannot but feel concerned with the fact that the so-called “damaging information” incriminating the legitimate Syrian authorities, which the organisations of this sort collect and leek to the media, would later be submitted to the law enforcement agencies and serve as a basis for court action. What judgments can the courts deliver based on this “unbiased and independent” information? This is, of course, an open question.