Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow, October 29, 2020
- Update on the coronavirus
- Vietnam’s humanitarian aid to Russia for countering the coronavirus pandemic
- Events involving Foreign Ministry officials
- Update on Nagorno-Karabakh
- Developments in Kyrgyzstan
- Response to Vladimir Putin’s statement on additional steps to de-escalate the situation in Europe after the termination of the INF Treaty
- The upcoming entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
- Statements by the US on deploying hypersonic weapons and missiles in Europe to contain Russia
- NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s interview with Norwegian media
- Anti-Russia statements by the Danish Foreign Ministry
- Kiev's continuing course to toughen censorship of Russian printed products
- Inaction of US law enforcement following attack on Russian journalists in Philadelphia
- Signing by Russian President Vladimir Putin of the Federal Law On Ratification of the European Convention on the Abolition of Legalisation of Documents Executed by Diplomatic Agents or Consular Officers
- First meeting of the Joint Commission on Implementing the Agreement on Trade and Economic Cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Union and China
- Independence anniversaries of Antigua and Barbuda and the Commonwealth of Dominica
- Allegations of Russian interference in Spain-Catalonia relations
- Russia’s attitude to incidents with civilians in hostility zone of Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict
- Russia’s position on Turkish support to one of the sides in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict
- Russian-US relations in the past four years
- Future relations with US
- Possibility of improving relations with US under next presidency
- Prospects of the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan
In the past two months, the dynamics of the spread of the novel coronavirus infection in the world has been disappointing. Despite the efforts of epidemiologists, national governments and the entire international community, progress in countering the COVID-19 pandemic witnessed in the summer has been slowing. Information on the total daily growth of incidence rates in the world points to an escalation of the pandemic. These rates exceed by two or three times the figures for the spring. According to the WHO, record daily increases of over 465,000 infected cases have been recorded against the backdrop of daily climbing averages of 350,000. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases has exceeded 44 million, of which, about 25 percent were in October. The pandemic has taken over 1 million lives. More than half of all cases have been recorded in the US, India and Brazil. Last week, a record growth in the number of infected people took place in France, Britain, Belgium, Italy and Spain. This list could be continued. The whole of Europe has found itself in a red zone. The situation is not improving in Latin America and a number of Asian countries.
According to WHO Director-General Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the pandemic has now reached a critical period, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. Most medical experts, including those from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) believe that the situation in most countries will only get worse in the next few months. Under the circumstances, national governments are compelled to continue toughening quarantine and other restrictive measures, with an emphasis on those that have been used and will not hurt the economy, which was already strongly hit by the first wave of the pandemic.
The epidemiological situation around a number of foreign resorts that are popular with Russian tourists is developing as part of the global trend, although local authorities are making strong efforts to control the spread of the virus. We believe that the situation in these tourist locations remains unstable. It could become more dramatic at any time as has happened in some regions in the world.
Following Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin’s Directive No. 2649-r of October 14, 2020, air traffic has resumed with Serbia and Cuba on a reciprocal basis. Air traffic with Japan will be restored on November 1. We again urge our people to thoroughly consider all the implications of making a decision on foreign travel and to avoid unjustified risk.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Government of Vietnam, and a number of its ministries, departments and municipalities have given Russia several consignments of protective masks (about a million) and sanitary and hygienic products in the spirit of friendship and comprehensive strategic partnership. Most consignments have been sent to Vladivostok and will be administered by the Emergencies Ministry Department for the Primorye Territory. Russia is considering accepting 500 artificial lung ventilators assembled in Vietnam under license from one of the leading producers of medical equipment. We would like to express our sincere gratitude to our Vietnamese partners for their aid and support.
Fulfilling the agreements reached at the top and high levels, Russia and Vietnam are developing close cooperation on countering the spread of the new coronavirus between the authorised departments and organisations. They continue effective cooperation based on the Joint Russian-Vietnam Tropical Research and Technology Center (Tropical Centre). Its members exchange specialists and increase contacts between relevant research institutions. A group of Russian virologists worked in Vietnam from February to May of this year. The mobile laboratory for the diagnosis of dangerous viral infections, sent to Vietnamese scientists earlier, has been operating with success.
The Russian presidency of the UN Security Council ends this week. Overall, it can be described as fruitful and fulfilling. We will update you on its results later.
Today, the UN Security Council will hold an open debate, Women, Peace and Security. The event will be chaired by Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzya. Let me remind you that this year we are marking the 20th anniversary of the approval of relevant UN Security Council Resolution No. 1325 on this topic.
Tomorrow, on Friday, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko will meet with Director-General for Foreign Policy Madalena Fischer from the Portuguese Foreign Ministry. We will post more information on this event on our ministry’s website.
We are still receiving quite a few questions on developments in Nagorno-Karabakh. At the previous briefing, I commented in detail on a series of events relating to this issue. Unfortunately, tensions are still running high in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, and the two sides are still pitted against each other in a military standoff.
Under these circumstances, we continue to work energetically both separately and in the OSCE Minsk Group to secure the de-escalation of the conflict as soon as possible and the restart of the negotiating process.
President Vladimir Putin speaks regularly by telephone with the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia. The situation regarding Nagorno-Karabakh was discussed by Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their talks on October 27, and when Sergey Lavrov talked with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on October 27 and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on October 28. Sergey Lavrov touched on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue in his interview with Athens-Macedonian News Agency on October 26.
The press releases on the outcome of the latest talks convey the basic idea. I will repeat the main thing. We are deeply concerned over the ongoing hostilities and the ever-increasing involvement of foreign mercenaries from the Middle East in clashes. The economic and public costs incurred so far by the parties to the conflict have notably increased. We believe there is no alternative to a peaceful solution to this problem and the resumption of talks promoted by the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.
As you know, on October 23, 2020, the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia met separately with the US Secretary of State and the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group in Washington. After the meetings, the two parties reaffirmed their intention to resume the humanitarian truce from 8 am on October 26 this year. Unfortunately, yet another attempt of the international community to put an end to the hostilities within the stipulated timeframe has proved a failure.
It was agreed that the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia will meet yet again with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group in Geneva on October 30 this year to discuss what steps they can take next.
Russia continues to monitor developments in Kyrgyzstan, a friendly nation. We are satisfied to note that at the moment the situation is stabilising there.
We hope that the new leadership will do everything possible to consolidate the situation within the bounds of law and continue the course for strategic partnership and alliance with Russia, as well as comply with the agreements reached earlier in the political, military, economic, cultural and other spheres of bilateral cooperation, and within the EAEU, CSTO, CIS and SCO.
On October 26, President of Russia Vladimir Putin made a statement on additional steps to de-escalate tensions. He reaffirmed our call to NATO to announce a moratorium on the deployment of ground-based intermediate- and shorter-range missiles, similar to the one announced by Russia earlier. Several options of reciprocal verification measures were proposed in order to remove existing concerns in this sphere.
In this context, it is noteworthy how hastily some European NATO countries reject Russia’s proposals without even looking at the details. It is difficult to see Europe’s position as anything other than evidence that it does not want to search together for a mutually acceptable solution to the missile crisis, for which the US and its NATO allies, unconditionally supporting Washington, bear full responsibility.
We would like to note particularly that, in his statement, the Russian President suggested considering specific reciprocal verification measures that would directly help to ease the concerns of both Russia and NATO. We would like to hope that the leaders of NATO member states will be able to analyse Russia’s initiative without bias. We hope for a constructive response. Russia remains open to equal and constructive work to minimise the negative consequences of terminating the INF Treaty through the fault of the US, to restore trust, and strengthen international and regional security.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) will enter into force on January 22, 2021, having recently obtained the required number of ratifications. These developments around this ambiguous document are highly regrettable.
In fact, this treaty was drafted without the involvement of Russia as well as other nuclear powers. The reasons why we did not take part in its drafting are well known.
First, we do not see any legal void in the nuclear disarmament framework. It has to be noted that the TPNW was drafted without taking into consideration the fundamental principles set forth in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). It is our belief that these principles should be followed consistently and must not be distorted.
Second, we strongly believe that any agreements on a serious matter like nuclear disarmament can be achieved only based on the consensus among all stakeholders, including recognised nuclear powers under the NPT.
Third, the conceptual framework of the TPNW negotiating process were unacceptable for us, since the strategic context was essentially ignored, while the topic of eliminating nuclear weapons was discussed in isolation from the current international security environment.
We respect the views of those who advocate renouncing nuclear weapons. Russia reaffirms its unwavering commitment to the noble cause of building a world free from nuclear weapons. However, we do not share the approaches for achieving this aim by artificially fast tracking nuclear disarmament without the necessary preparations. For these reasons, we believe efforts to draft and promote the TPNW to be misguided.
We do not see any opportunity for the TPNW to make a meaningful contribution to limiting and reducing nuclear weapons. Moreover, it is clear to us that this treaty will give rise to new disagreements and alienation among states. It could cause irreparable damage to the NPT and its nuclear non-proliferation framework.
We strongly believe that only consensus-based solutions to reinforce international security and stability and improve the security for all states without exception can ensure progress towards achieving nuclear disarmament. It is clear that the TPNW does not meet these criteria. Russia will not support, sign or ratify this Treaty. It will not be binding for the Russian Federation. We do not believe that it sets any new standards or norms or helps develop common international law.
Just as before, Russia stands ready to meaningfully contribute to relieving the world from the threat related to nuclear weapons. In this context, we remain committed to keeping up individual and collective efforts within the NPT framework for further implementing the objectives and goals related to nuclear disarmament while ensuring equal and indivisible security for all.
We have taken note of the statements made on October 28 by National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, Robert C. O'Brien, at an event organised by the Hudson Institute, a D.C. based NGO. He said that the United States is ready to deploy hypersonic weapons and missiles in Europe in order to contain Russia.
Considering the statements US politicians venture to make, we would advise the US political elites to contain themselves, rather than Russia.
We are deeply and sincerely perplexed by the way the United States perseveres in setting the stage for a new missile crisis in Europe.
The words about deploying missiles in Europe are especially cynical considering the October 26, 2020 statement by the President of Russia, in which he not only reaffirmed our country’s commitment to a moratorium on deploying intermediate and shorter-range ground-based missiles in Europe, but also suggested a number of practical ideas to NATO countries, which includes the United States, on mutual verifications in order to remove the existing concerns regarding missiles.
We call on Washington and its allies to take a careful look at Russia’s initiative and offer a constructive response.
We have explained on a number of occasions that deploying missile systems that were previously banned would be an extremely risky and destabilising step to take. It is for this reason that Russia unilaterally declared a moratorium on deploying these weapons in the regions where the corresponding US-made systems are not deployed. We remain fully committed to honouring this pledge.
We strongly believe that the actions as suggested by Robert C. O'Brien will do nothing to strengthen security for the United States and its allies. The only thing Washington may succeed in containing through this method are the attempts by Europeans to act independently by trying to work with Russia constructively on security and stability matters. It seems that this is precisely the objective Washington is currently pursuing.
We are certain that in this context working together to find a mutually acceptable way to resolve this issue through political and diplomatic means would be the only reasonable and justified solution. Russia remains open to equitable and constructive efforts to restore trust, and reinforce international security and strategic stability.
We have taken note of the interview of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg published by Norwegian media following the October 22-23 meetings of NATO Defence Ministers, held via videoconference.
Regrettably, there is nothing new or positive in it. He once again mentioned that NATO must counter the “threat from the East,” the largest of which is, obviously, Russia. According to Mr Stoltenberg, this means they should adopt new sanctions, build up military arsenals and hold more military exercises, buy new missile and air defence systems, strengthen civil defence and protect infrastructure.
The bloc continues using the myth about the “Russian threat” to justify the increase of its already bloated military potential instead of responding to real challenges.
The NATO Secretary General also mentioned outer space, which was declared “an operational domain for NATO,” alongside air, land, sea and cyberspace, at the NATO summit in London in 2019.
Jens Stoltenberg claims that the bloc has no space militarisation plans, but we have serious doubts about this. Until now, the bloc’s activities in any operational domain were only guided by the logic of achieving military superiority. This policy is fraught with triggering an arms race and aggravating confrontation. Every possible effort must be taken to keep outer space free for peaceful international cooperation and to create reliable legal mechanisms to prevent its militarisation.
It is regrettable that public anti-Russia rhetoric has become traditional in Denmark. Proof of this is a recent statement issued by the Danish Foreign Ministry in support of the charges brought by the US Department of Justice against Russian security services for alleged involvement in the NotPetya cyberattack in 2017.
Meanwhile, the Danish side is avoiding any substantive discussion of mutual concerns during bilateral contacts and has not responded to Russia’s numerous proposals on working together to find joint solutions in the field of cybersecurity.
The unsubstantiated statements on bringing those responsible for the attacks to justice in order to keep cyberspace free and open, as well as the uncorroborated allegations regarding the involvement of Russian citizens in cyberattacks are adding new negative elements to bilateral relations, which have already seriously deteriorated in the past few years through Copenhagen’s fault.
The other day, the Ukrainian State Committee on Television and Radio Broadcasting launched another anti-Russian campaign imposing a ban on the import of a number of children's educational books published in Russia into Ukraine. According to the Ukrainian regulator, they contain propaganda of the "aggressor state" and the communist regime. Among them were such children's books as "Transport" and "Why the sky is blue." The Ukrainian authorities found a manifestation of the totalitarian ideology in them.
The decision of the State Committee on Television and Radio Broadcasting notes that since May 2017, when the resolution of the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers on regulating the import of printed materials from the “aggressor state” came into effect, there have been 4,162 refusals to issue permits for the import of printed products from Russia. Since March 2019, by the decision of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine on additional sanctions against Russian individuals and legal entities, the State Committee on Television and Radio Broadcasting has suspended 11,894 previously issued permits for the import of Russian printed products.
This data confirms what we have been talking about for a long time – Ukraine is waging a war on the Russian language and violating the rights of millions of its Russian-speaking citizens. They are simply denied access to research, journalism, fiction and children's literature, films, TV programmes, and education in Russian. Tours of Russian performers, musicians and other cultural figures are prohibited.
Unfortunately, international human rights agencies have not provided an adequate response to this forced Ukrainisation, which makes the Ukrainian authorities feel that they can act with impunity and continue to ignore human rights standards. I would like to repeat once again: this is not even about violating the rights of national minorities, but about the rights of millions of Russian-speaking people, including ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Armenians, Jews and numerous representatives of other nationalities.
We call on the international community not to turn a blind eye to the legal anarchy in Ukraine and urge Kiev to comply with its obligations in the human rights field, including ensuring the legal rights and freedoms of the country’s Russian-speaking citizens.
The news about Russian journalists that came from the United States today is truly unique, and not in a good way. We are outraged by the blatant inaction of the US law enforcement officials with regard to the attack on Channel One crew correspondents in Philadelphia on October 28, 2020. While filming practically in the centre of the city, Russian journalists found themselves surrounded by a crowd of looters and had to defend themselves. Despite the resistance they put up, they still lost their equipment and received injuries.
No law enforcement officers happened to be around, either at the moment of the attack or later. There was no assistance on their part, even when the injured journalists applied directly to the nearest police patrol, who simply refused to go to the scene. Officers at the local police department the Russians later asked for assistance could not offer anything they could help the attack victims with either.
This level of impunity for crimes against journalists sounds like a chronicle from a warzone and does not at all fit in with the image of a democratic values champion the United States is trying to project on the international arena. After this story, I, frankly, had a question for Barack Obama’s former Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. Which country was it that you described as ‘wild’? I realise I am not going to get an answer to this or I will get an answer in a very specific style. Perhaps I can answer this question myself: over the past decades you have become good at hiding problems in your country while blaming other countries for everything.
The inaction of American law enforcement is especially cynical as it happened shortly before the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. The United States, a member of the Group of Friends on the Safety of Journalists in New York, should have joined the relevant joint statement on this occasion. Let me remind you that this day is marked on November 2.
We demand that Washington thoroughly investigate all violent incidents against representatives of the Russian media.
Another incident, which occurred on October 27 at a New York airport and involved an RT correspondent, is equally outrageous. In this case, unlike Philadelphia, American law enforcement officers took their time with conducting a detailed interrogation of the Russian journalist. They did not even bother to hide that the main reason for their provocative actions was his Russian citizenship, as well as his job.
Such actions on the part of security services of the world’s ‘most democratic’ country, as it claims to be, evoke outrage and profound disappointment with the use of intimidation, pressure and harassment of journalists and discrimination against Russian citizens on the grounds of nationality. We regard these actions by the United States as a direct obstruction of free and independent media and restriction of freedom of expression, which runs counter to the international obligations of the United States.
This whole situation needs to be sorted out and harmonised in a broader sense. The police should enforce order and protect journalists from illegal and unauthorised actions, not interrogate journalists doing their jobs.
Signing by Russian President Vladimir Putin of the Federal Law On Ratification of the European Convention on the Abolition of Legalisation of Documents Executed by Diplomatic Agents or Consular Officers
On October 27, 2020, the Russian President signed the Federal Law On Ratification of the European Convention on the Abolition of Legalisation of Documents Executed by Diplomatic Agents or Consular Officers.
The Convention provides for a simplified procedure for accepting documents issued by the embassies and consulates of the signatory states. The Contracting Parties to the Convention shall exempt from legalisation documents executed by diplomatic agents or consular officers.
This European Convention was signed by the Russian Federation on January 22, 2016. According to Paragraph 3, Article 6 of the Convention, it will take effect in Russia three months after the date of the deposit of its instrument of ratification with the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, who is the depository of European agreements.
The Convention was signed by 24 countries, including the UK, Germany, France and Turkey. About a million and a half Russians live in the countries which have signed the Convention.
The simplified procedure for accepting documents specified in the European Convention will also apply to the citizens of the signatory states who submit documents which have been issued to them by the diplomatic missions or consulates of these countries to Russian organisations.
Members of the Joint Commission on Implementing the Agreement on Trade and Economic Cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Union and its member states, on the one hand, and the People’s Republic of China, on the other hand, signed in May 2018, held their first meeting on October 28, 2020. The agreement entered into force in October 2019.
The creation of this format heralds an entirely new stage of involving the Eurasian Economic Union in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. I would like to recall that this work has been consistently conducted for the past five years under an agreement between the leaders of our countries. China is a leading trade partner and an important source of investment for most EAEU member states. It accounts for about 20 percent of the Union’s overall foreign trade.
Our common desire to establish a territory of equitable and mutually beneficial cooperation in Eurasia makes work to combine and implement integration initiatives particularly topical. Today, the parties have high hopes of stronger regional integration as an effective method for overcoming the economic consequences of the novel COVID-19 pandemic.
China supports the initiative of establishing the Great Eurasian Partnership, voiced by the President of Russia Vladimir Putin. The merging of EAEU development plans and the Belt and Road Initiative strategy is called on to create a solid regulatory and project foundation for this.
Following the meeting, the parties approved the regulations of the Joint Commission and agreed to draft a road map for merging mutual plans, coordinated a concept for the operation of their connectivity junctions and charted ways of restoring trade and key spheres of industry cooperation, including exports of environmentally friendly agricultural produce to the PRC, the development of transport and logistics infrastructure, digitalisation, “smart” technologies and customs regulation cooperation. The parties agreed to support each other within the WTO and other multilateral mechanisms, so as to be able to counter the protectionism of third countries and to protect the interests of EAEU and Chinese companies.
Chinese colleagues suggested holding the second meeting of the Joint Commission in 2021 in Beijing.
I would like to add that, prior to the meeting, on October 26-27, the Eurasian Economic Commission and the Chinese Ministry of Commerce held a large-scale videoforum Coupling the Eurasian Economic Union and the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. Those attending the Forum’s ministerial and expert sessions discussed ways of strengthening diverse cooperation with China. The Forum aroused great interest among the representatives of the business circles and the expert community.
Prior to celebrating independence anniversaries of Antigua and Barbuda (November 1, 1981) and the Commonwealth of Dominica (November 3, 1978), we would like to congratulate these Caribbean countries.
Many people associate these states with the image of exotic tropical islands. Without underestimating their tourist merits, I would like to emphasise another aspect: Although our countries are located thousands of kilometres apart, Russia and these Caribbean states have been voicing a common spirit and striving to defend their sovereignty and national interests for a long time now. Today, it is hard to find this extent of genuine independence even in countries with a much longer history.
We are happy that the peoples of these countries are our sincere friends in the region, and that they are open to expanded constructive cooperation, based on mutual respect and equality, in the bilateral format and at multilateral venues.
I would like to use this opportunity to congratulate, on behalf of the Ministry, the peoples of these countries and their governments on these occasions and to express best wishes, peace and prosperity.
Question: There were reports yesterday about Russia's alleged interference in Spanish-Catalan relations. The Spanish side's investigation says the Kremlin is suspected of misinformation and destabilisation activities. Moreover, it says a telephone conversation was intercepted, where a Russian representative supposedly offered the Catalan president 10,000 soldiers and full repayment of their debt. Now this case is being considered in court. What comments would you like to make on these statements?
Maria Zakharova: We have been asked similar questions from other media outlets, including the Spanish TVE channel.
We noticed the news published the day before by a number of the Spanish media with reference to one of the Spanish investigators, who is involved in the court proceedings over certain events concerning the so-called Catalan referendum in 2017. These stories mention alleged evidence of Russian interference in that process to assist the separatist forces.
These accusations, which are quite off the scale in their absurdity, target “a certain group of Russian citizens” who were allegedly willing to provide Catalonia with financial and even military assistance in 2017 if that autonomous community declared independence from Spain. This case is built solely on the testimony of the separatist forces’ representatives interrogated. As we all understand, those people are always ready to go to any length and make even the most incredible and reckless statements if that could help internationalise the case and draw the maximum attention of the international community to their confrontation with the Spanish state. Their motivation is quite clear. Mentioning Russia in this context is probably the best fit into the anti-Russia propaganda fanned in the West in recent years; that should definitely sound plausible.
We are taking this calmly. What does surprise and bewilder us though is some Spanish media’s eagerness to believe in such fakes and to disseminate them, grave as a judge, knowing that the accusations against Russia are false and unsubstantiated, neglecting objective facts. Such actions lead nowhere except to damaging Russian-Spanish relations.
I would also like to highlight the statements made by the Russian side, including by the Russian Foreign Ministry, in the years when those events took place. It is the Russian Federation’s official position, which was not simply declared, but duly implemented.
Question: Barda, a peaceful city in Azerbaijan, located far from the hostilities zone, was attacked yesterday. More than 20 people died, and 70 were injured. How would you comment on this situation from the international law perspective? This is a violation of the Geneva Convention and a war crime.
What goal is Armenia pursuing, shelling peaceful cities in Azerbaijan, which don’t even have any military facilities?
Maria Zakharova: We are extremely concerned about civilians on both sides dying in this conflict. Ever since it began, we have tried to achieve an early ceasefire and bring the situation back on a political and diplomatic track.
As I have already mentioned during today's briefing, representatives of Azerbaijan and Armenia will meet with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group in Geneva tomorrow.
The agenda of the meeting will include international humanitarian law issues, including the implementation of the Moscow agreements reached on October 10 (ceasefire, exchange of prisoners and bodies).
Question: Yesterday, according to latest reports, Turkish F-16s attacked civilian infrastructure facilities in Artsakh, hitting a maternity hospital and a school. Turkey is openly declaring its support for Azerbaijan, including military support. Keeping in mind the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, are there any grounds in international law for imposing an international embargo on military supplies to Turkey? This would obviate the possibility of weapons, military equipment and manpower penetrating into the conflict zone in Nagorno-Karabakh so that the parties can resume talks. What is Russia’s attitude to this option?
Maria Zakharova: We have already given an answer to this question. I can repeat it by quoting Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s recent interview: “We call on all outside players to do their best to prevent the further unfolding of the military scenario, cool the parties’ emotions, and step up work to create conditions for a re-launch of the peace process.” We are making every effort (I spoke about this earlier today) to switch the situation onto a political, diplomatic and peaceful track.
Question: Are you satisfied with how Russian-US relations have been developing over the past four years?
Maria Zakharova: It is a funny question but we will try to answer it in all seriousness. There is no unequivocal assessment of the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency regarding Russian-US relations. On the one hand, we saw his desire to improve our bilateral relations; he has established a decent dialogue with President Vladimir Putin and certain agreements have been reached. Unfortunately, a substantial obstacle to normalising our collaboration is the fact that relations with Russia have become hostage to domestic political squabbles in the United States. Certain forces have ceaselessly exploited Russophobic allegations to cast aspersions on their rivals and score political points. Of course, all of this has been impeding normal cooperation.
For our part, we made attempts to change something and induce our US partners to start a constructive dialogue. But Washington often refused to get in touch even on issues that, if resolved, would be highly beneficial for the United States itself.
There have been some positive achievements, of course. A political dialogue was maintained at the high and highest levels, including on strategic stability matters. There was a rather intense coordination, albeit not without problems, on regional crisis settlement. Specifically, the defence agencies were in direct contact. A case in point is the successful deconflicting record in Syria, of which we have regularly informed you. I regret that the CNN ran few reports on this. Contacts continued between businesses, public organisations, scientific and educational institutions. Regrettably, much of the positive work was overshadowed by the anti-Russia hysteria that has engulfed America, and its scope is growing as the presidential elections draw nearer.
Question: How anxious are you about the possible deterioration of bilateral relations regardless of who becomes the next US President?
Maria Zakharova: We take a realistic view on the prospects of interaction in the current situation and have no unrealistic expectations. Washington’s current policy is openly anti-Russia: more sanctions are adopted against us, which is a crying example of Washington’s “unfair play” in a bid to ensure unjustified competitive advantages in the global economy, and other unfriendly measures are being taken, such as attempts to block the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. We are seriously concerned about the developments in the military-political sphere, where US actions have long become destructive. I am referring to the deployment of BMD systems, the termination of the INF Treaty and the continued uncertainty with regard to the extension of the New START Treaty.
Nevertheless, we hope that common sense will gradually prevail after the election and that Washington will eventually become aware that the policy of promoting anti-Russia myths is only fuelling political heat and the atmosphere of mistrust in the US society itself rather than doing harm to us.
We also hope that our American colleagues will come to see that the complicated modern problems, from arms control and the settlement of regional crises to the novel coronavirus pandemic, can only be settled by joining or at least aligning the efforts and potential of the leading global players. In this sense, sustainable and predictable cooperation between Russia and the United States as responsible guarantors of international stability and security would be in their mutual interests and would meet the requirements of the international community as a whole.
Question: Can Russia and the United States repair their relations during the next presidency, or have they been irreparably ruined?
Maria Zakharova: Of course, the adoption of new anti-Russia measures and Washington’s openly Russophobic rhetoric and unfriendly moves have seriously damaged bilateral relations, which were in a deplorable state even before the Trump administration assumed office. I believe that CNN is well aware of this. But back then CNN did not appear worried. Given these anti-Russia sentiments of the Washington establishment, it is entirely possible that new attempts could be taken to bury bilateral relations once and for all.
However, we would like to hope that when passions cool down after the election, the US side will show readiness or at least interest in improving our relationship.
We pointed out on numerous occasions that we are ready to cover our part of the road towards normalising bilateral relations with the United States, provided of course it shows similar readiness. We are open for full-scale cooperation, but we also hope our partners understand that such cooperation should be based on the principles of equality and respect for each other’s national interests.
I would like to reiterate that we are ready for dialogue and joint work with whoever wins the presidential race, regardless of his party affiliation. If the situation takes a positive turn, I believe that we will have an opportunity to do something practical already in the near future, to make headway in the search for mutually acceptable solutions to the current problems on both the bilateral and international agenda.
Question: US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad declared that he was disappointed at the Afghan sides being unprepared for reconciliation, given the persisting level of violence in the country. In his opinion, the chance for a political settlement may be lost.
In the past, Russia repeatedly organised intra-Afghan talks on its territory. What steps can Russia take, if the Qatar talks end without achieving a result?
Maria Zakharova: Your question contains a certain implication that the intra-Afghan peace process launched in the capital of Qatar is doomed to fail. For the time being, let us refrain from wordings of this kind. Despite the loss of momentum in reaching a consensus on procedural matters between the Kabul and Taliban delegations, we hope that the sides will display flexibility and move on to substantive talks, thereby breaking the impasse.
But it is true that at the start of intra-Afghan dialogue Russia repeatedly provided a venue for meetings between Afghanistan’s different political forces and the Taliban for them to discuss how to resolve the situation and achieve peace in Afghanistan. The meetings that took place in Moscow in 2019 invigorated the peaceful settlement process in Afghanistan, with participants in those events noting the extreme importance of our efforts to assist national reconciliation.
We do not rule out a future possibility of organising intra-Afghan talks in Russia, if we receive such a request from both parties.