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16 December 202019:59

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow, December 16, 2020

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Table of contents

  1. Update on the coronavirus pandemic
  2.  Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's upcoming meeting with the special envoy of the president of the Republic of Korea
  3. Ministerial meeting on the JCPOA as regards Iran’s nuclear programme
  4. Nigerian boarding school attack
  5. Revision of World War II history
  6. Delivering the Eternal Flame
  7. Beijing hosts photo exhibition The Great Patriotic War from Women Photojournalists’ Perspective
  8. Remembrance Day of Journalists Killed in the Line of Duty
  9. Situation with Russian and Russian-speaking journalists in Latvia
  10. Pushkin State Russian Language Institute prepares research on the competitiveness of the Russian language
  11. The deployment of US nuclear weapons in Europe
  12. Update on the International Criminal Court
  13. Interaction with the UN Alliance of Civilisations
  14. Manizha Sangin appointed UN refugee agency’s Goodwill Ambassador
  15. Press tours for foreign journalists in 2020
  16. Sanctions against Akhmat football club
  17. Republic Day in Niger

Answers to media questions:

  1. Prisoner exchange between Azerbaijan and Armenia
  2. OSCE Minsk Group on Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
  3. Ceasefire violations by Azerbaijani army
  4. OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs’ visit to Baku
  5. Statement by Azerbaijani Parliament Deputy Speaker Adil Aliyev on Russian peacekeepers
  6. Impact of Joseph Biden’s victory on Russian and US efforts towards national reconciliation in Afghanistan
  7. Russia’s attitude to US sanctions against Turkey

 

 

 

Update on the coronavirus pandemic

 

Once again, we have to admit that a second wave of the #COVID19 pandemic – or third in some places – continues to rage. This conclusion is confirmed by the disappointing statistics of globally recorded infections – more than 70 million, and over 1.6 million deaths. The pressure on national healthcare systems remains high in many countries, and medical staff is working at its limits. This is what we see if we look at global developments.

In order to reduce the morbidity rate in the run-up to the traditional New Year holidays, the governments of most states, especially in Europe, are tightening quarantine regulations, limiting the activities of the service and entertainment industries and social contact, and prohibiting large public events.

Due to the extremely complex and volatile sanitary and epidemiological situation in the world ̶ and many tourist destinations popular with Russians are no exception  ̶  we want our citizens to keep in mind the existing risks and carefully weigh them when planning foreign trips. In the event you can’t change your foreign travel plans, find out in advance the regulations governing the entry into a particular country, and also follow the applicable rules and requirements, including the PCR tests that are required when crossing borders and boarding planes. Upon arrival, many people are surprised when the host country’s authorities ask them to produce documents they were unaware of, or ask to undergo an additional medical check-up. Once again, please note that each country enforces its own border crossing regulations, which may differ from country to country, in connection with the coronavirus pandemic.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's upcoming meeting with the special envoy of the president of the Republic of Korea

 

On December 17, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will receive Woo Yoon-keun, who is Special Envoy of President of the Republic of Korea Moon Jae-in.

They will discuss bilateral relations, including in the context of the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations, which is marked this year. Particular attention will be paid to expanding trade, economic, investment and cultural cooperation, including interaction in fighting the spread of the coronavirus infection.

It is also planned to exchange views on a number of international issues, primarily, the situation on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia.

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Ministerial meeting on the JCPOA as regards Iran’s nuclear programme

 

On December 21, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to take part in the informal meeting of the foreign ministers of the participant countries in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme. The meeting will be held via videoconference.

We consider the unanimous striving of all partners to work hard on the JCPOA and closely deal at a high level with the resolution of accumulated problems as graphic evidence of their commitment to their obligations.

The participants will hold a detailed exchange of views on the key aspects of the JCPOA’s implementation, including current challenges. The political impulse of the ministers, augmented by the general understanding that this plan has no alternative, will make it possible to set the objectives and create an agenda for further collective efforts towards failsafe implementation of the comprehensive agreements fixed in UN Security Council Resolution 2231.

This year has not been easy for the JCPOA. Owing to well-coordinated efforts, the participants managed to prevent the complete abandonment of “the nuclear deal” and the revision of its key provisions. They resolutely rebuffed US attempts to achieve, contrary to UNSC Resolution 2231, the imposition of an indefinite international arms embargo and relaunch of the earlier cancelled Security Council sanctions as regards Iran.

That said, there are still many complications with implementing the plan. The main problems include US actions that run contrary to its international commitments on Resolution 2231. I am referring to the endless chain of unilateral American sanctions that hurt the Iranian people and hurt lawful international cooperation with Iran and the JCPOA. The United States is crudely violating Security Council decisions. Moreover, it is deliberately trying to create obstacles to implementing the agreement by other countries.

The main goals of the JCPOA participants is to search for effective responses to these challenges and create conditions for the return of the comprehensive agreements into the agreed-upon framework. These issues will be in the focus of attention at the upcoming ministerial meeting.

We hope for productive cooperation with all partners with a view to reaching the lofty goals set during the JCPOA signing and fixed in UNSC Resolution 2231. In accordance with Article 25 of the UN Charter, this is subject to mandatory fulfilment by all states.

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Nigerian boarding school attack

 

Over 300 students have been kidnapped and school guards and police have been injured in the December 12 attack on an all-boys boarding school in the town of Kankara in Nigeria’s north-western Katsina state. The attack was presumably organised by extremists from Boko Haram or the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP).

The Nigerian authorities have closed all schools in Katsina and have launched an operation to find the missing children and neutralise the extremists.

We strongly condemn this latest attack by radicals in Nigeria, which we see as proof of the deteriorating crime situation in the country. We support the measures being taken by the Nigerian Government against bandits and terrorist groups.

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Revision of World War II history

 

Some Western media continue posting materials that call for rethinking, or rather revising the history of World War II.

A vivid example is the recent story aired by the Swiss radio station SRF 4 News, which criticised the Russian Investigative Committee’s investigation into the Nazi genocide of Stalingrad civilians in 1942 ̵1943. The Swiss journalists concluded that Russia remains blind to its own crimes committed during WWII.

This is not the first time that Western journalists have attempted to remove the issue of the colossal damage done to the Soviet people by Nazi occupiers and their allies from satellite states. Unable to reject the fact of the occupiers’ crimes, the Western media are trying to shift the focus by prevaricating and distorting facts and even using outright lies. It has become fashionable in some quarters to claim that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union bore equal responsibility for the outbreak of WWII, to play down the role of the Red Army and the Soviet people in defeating Nazism, and to highlight some equivocal situations with an openly anti-Russia bias. The ultimate goal of this propaganda is clear: to equate the Soviet Union to the Third Reich and in this way to reduce to naught the role played by the Soviet Union, which lost 27 million lives in the fight against Nazism.

Such disinformation campaigns are aimed at revising history and distorting Russia’s image in the eyes of the Western public. While trying to serve their short-term populist interests and goals, the masterminds of such campaigns forget about the irremediable long-term consequences of their activities.

The distortion of the Soviet Union’s role in routing Nazism is putting in question the global essence of WWII and is creating conditions for the public rehabilitation of fascism and Nazism and, consequently, their revival.

The public, journalists and history professionals in the countries where such items are published should analyse the situation to see which movements, views and political parties get the most support and which are gaining momentum. Asking a question and answering it honestly may result in disappointing conclusions. Experiments with rewriting history can lead to a repetition of the events of the mid-20th century on new ground and with new forces. Is Europe ready for this? Does it need this? Where would they search for a vaccine against such historical diseases? I think this is a reason to analyse the current developments in European countries, especially after such publications. The SRF 4 News journalists should remember about Hitler’s invasion plans for Switzerland, Operation Tannenbaum. It was as a result of victory by the anti-Hitler coalition, to which the Soviet Union made a decisive contribution, that those plans did not materialise. On the other hand, the Swiss journalists probably remember about that operation, support the views underlying it and possibly would like to see it implemented. In that case, they should say so openly to themselves and us.

Distorting the real history of WWII and forgetting its lessons is not just a crime against the tens of millions of people who fought against Nazism and died fighting it. This is a time bomb under the current world order threatening all of us, including the West and especially European countries.

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Delivering the Eternal Flame

 

On December 14, 2020, a capsule with an Eternal Flame particle from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow’s Alexander Garden was delivered to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia.  The event marks the end of the Year of Memory and Glory, proclaimed by President of Russia Vladimir Putin. Representatives of the Russian Historical Society and the Russian Military History Society participated in the capsule lighting ceremony, which involved a guard of honour and a brass band.

On December 15, members of the Russian delegation delivered the capsule from Moscow to Belgrade aboard a special Russian Defence Ministry aircraft. The fire was taken to the Eternal Flame sculptural architectural composition near the Memorial to the Liberators of Belgrade. The Memorial’s Eternal Flame was then lit in a formal ceremony, which marked the 75th anniversary of the Great Victory. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attended the event.

A detailed report on this historic event is available on the Foreign Ministry’s website and on our social media accounts. The lighting of the first Eternal Flame in Belgrade highlights the continuation of military brotherhood traditions by Russia and Serbia, which were established during the struggle of Soviet and Yugoslav soldiers against Nazism. These traditions show both countries’ commitment to preserving the historical truth about the role of our peoples in liberating Europe from Nazism.

On May 8, 1967, the Eternal Flame was lit at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier memorial in Moscow’s Alexander Garden.  MOSGAZ employees have kept the flame burning since then. This work involves only the best and most experienced specialists. Unique engineering solutions prevent the Eternal Flame from flickering out and keep it burning in any weather. The wind, snow and rain are unable to put out the sacred flame.

Unique equipment, namely, a torch for lighting the fire on a memorial and a portable fire capsule were used during the official ceremony of delivering part of the Eternal Flame from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier memorial to Belgrade. MOSGAZ specialists designed the torch, and the capsule was first used during the Eternal Flame Relay nationwide event marking the 70th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. At that time, particles of the Eternal Flame were delivered to 26 Russian regions.

Since then, the technology has repeatedly proved its efficiency and safety. In September 2019, MOSGAZ specialists took part in delivering a particle of the Eternal Flame from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. This was the first time when the Eternal Flame was delivered to the capital of a European country that was never a part of the Soviet Union.  The same failsafe technologies were used to deliver particles of the Eternal Flame to Obninsk in the Kaluga Region in 2019 and to Hero City Tula in 2020.

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Beijing hosts photo exhibition The Great Patriotic War from Women Photojournalists’ Perspective

 

On Dec. 13, a photo exhibition The Great Patriotic War from Women Photojournalists’ Perspective, dedicated to 75 years of Victory, opened at the Museum of the War of Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. Most of the unique photos are shown abroad for the first time.

Representatives of the Chinese Foreign Ministry and Beijing’s party and public circles attended the official opening ceremony.  The event won broad public acclaim in China and showed that Russia and China voice common opinions of the events of that period. It also showed our readiness to staunchly oppose any attempts to falsify history and revise the results of World War II.

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Remembrance Day of Journalists Killed in the Line of Duty

 

On December 15, we marked Remembrance Day of Journalists Killed in the Line of Duty. It was established in 1991 by the Union of Journalists of Russia after Russian TV journalist Viktor Nogin and cameraman Gennady Kurennoi were killed in air raids in Yugoslavia. On that day since then, we commemorate the reporters, photojournalists and cameramen who have been killed while performing their professional duties.

According to the UN, some 1,200 journalists have been killed between 2006 and 2019. These tragic figures can be complemented with the members of the press killed not only during hostilities but also in peacetime.

Russia is giving particular attention to the safety of journalists and impunity for crimes committed against them, as well as efforts to put an end to this. We are doing our best to call those who are interfering with the professional activities of media workers to account, monitor crimes committed against them and interact with the OSCE and UNESCO.

There are grounds for serious concern about the safety of journalists in Ukraine. Russia more than once drew international attention to the alarming trends that take the form of open censorship and gross violations of journalists’ rights, up to their physical removal.

No progress has been made to this day in the investigations into the murders of journalists Anatoly Klyan, Anton Voloshin, Igor Kornelyuk, Andrey Stenin, Andrea Rocchelli, Oles Buzina, Sergey Dolgov, Vyachesav Veremiy, Pavel Sheremet and others. Media workers continue to be subjected to physical harassment in Ukraine, actually at the incitement of Kiev, which has long conducted a policy of persecution of journalists and other media workers and the suppression of dissent.

We are concerned about the numerous infringements on the rights of journalists in the Baltic countries. In 2019, the Lithuanian parliament called for blocking local access to the website of Sputnik Lithuania, whose editor-in-chief Marat Kasem was detained and banned from the republic for five years. On January 1, 2020, Sputnik Estonia journalists were forced to stop working for the agency for fear of persecution. The situation in Latvia is alarming as well: the retransmission of seven RT channels has been suspended and the First Baltic Channel has been closed down. In December 2020, Sputnik Bureau journalists in Riga were detained, searched, interrogated and charged with criminal offenses. At the same time, Russian-speaking journalists of the Baltnews outlet were harassed.

On July 30, 2018, Russian journalists Orkhan Dzhemal, Alexander Rastorguyev and Kirill Radchenko were murdered by unidentified persons in the Central African Republic (CAR). The tragedy took place in a non-government controlled region near Sibut, a town 190 kilometres north of the capital city, Bangui, in the zone of years-long conflict between illegal armed groups. Russia’s Investigative Committee has initiated criminal proceedings and is conducting an investigation into the journalists’ murder together with the concerned CAR agencies.

The Khaled Alkhateb Memorial Awards for Best Journalism from a Conflict Zone were awarded for a third time in 2020. The awards were established in memory of Khaled Alkhateb, a 25-year old freelance correspondent of RT Arabic, who was killed in a terrorist air raid in Syria in 2017. Khaled Alkhateb reported on fighting between the Syrian Government forces and terrorists. In 2018, President Vladimir Putin signed an executive order on the posthumous award of the medal For Courage to the journalist. The medal was presented to his family.

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Situation with Russian and Russian-speaking journalists in Latvia

 

We would like to note once again that international human rights organisations remain stubbornly silent on yet another demarche by Latvian authorities against freedom of the press and the Russian language. It appears that their silence is deliberate.

I would like to recall that, on December 3, 2020, the State Security Service of Latvia detained and questioned seven Russian-speaking journalists from Sputnik Latvia and the Baltnews information website. Security officers also searched them and confiscated their office equipment and money and brought criminal charges against the journalists.

Despite our public calls for the situation to be investigated, despite comments involving heads of Russian diplomatic missions at the relevant agencies and international organisations and despite discussion of the matter at the OSCE Permanent Council, we have seen no official assessments of this brazen encroachment on freedom of speech. 

We once again reiterate our call to international organisations specialising in the protection of journalists’ rights and freedom of speech to voice their unbiased assessment of these developments.

The Latvian party’s attempts to justify these developments, one way or another, are not convincing because it is impossible to justify obscurantism. They claim that the prosecution of correspondents writing news stories for Sputnik resources is allegedly linked with the European Union’s unilateral personal restrictions. I would like to recall that these illegitimate restrictions are directed against Rossiya Segodnya Director-General Dmitry Kiselev.

We could only feel ashamed of our Latvian colleagues when they banned the relaying of seven RT channels under the pretext of the very same sanctions against Mr Kiselev who has nothing to do with RT.

Our sources at various international agencies confirm that Russian media outlets broadcasting in foreign languages are highly popular abroad, and that people, including top-level international officials, are becoming more and more interested in them. These broadcasts provide high-quality unbiased and diverse information. One can agree with this or not, but they are the result of professional work. The Western mainstream has its own perceptions of pluralism of opinions. Quite possibly, they can stand the competition only when the authorities of their countries provide “backing vocals” by using such repressive methods against their competitors.

We can see once again how the community of “Western democracies” covers up for their junior partners in unscrupulous affairs. We have repeatedly warned top managers of organisations monitoring human rights violations against this ill-conceived practice. Indeed, this amounts to a real you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours principle. It compromises the very concept of democracy which the West likes to discuss so much in a didactic manner and undermines the authority and prestige of organisations that are supposed to protect democracy.

I have to note that Latvia started encroaching on freedom of speech and eradicating Russian-speaking publications under the European Union’s campaign to fight mythical “misinformation” which, in their opinion, emanates from Russia. Brussels already sees the “Kremlin’s hand” everywhere.

Latvia takes advantage of the unlawful EU sanctions in order to square political accounts with those speaking Russian, which does not have the status of a state-language, and with those voicing dissenting viewpoints. In turn, European organisations remain silent on this score. It turns out that European integration, called on to reconcile European nations, yields diametrically opposite results in this part of the continent. Dissent is being suppressed, and cultural and linguistic diversity disrupted.

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Pushkin State Russian Language Institute prepares research on the competitiveness of the Russian language

 

A very interesting study of the competitiveness of the Russian language has been conducted by the Pushkin State Russian Language Institute. The research is devoted to the global competitiveness of the Russian language and its sustainability in the post-Soviet space.

The study was prompted by the lack of objective, integrated information needed to  adequately assess the changes in the position of the Russian language in general, for a certain period, in a certain country, region and at the global level.

In 2020, Pushkin Institute experts conducted a monitoring and a comparative study of the Russian language and another 11 of the world’s most competitive languages, as well as a comparative study of the position of the Russian language in the post-Soviet countries.

During the research, data such as the functioning of the language in state communications, media, education, science and the internet was systematised for the first time. Experts believe that the study, which was based on accurate, measurable indices, results and facts for specific foreign countries, will be useful in outlining state priorities for language policy.

The study, The Position of the Russian Language in the World, is available on the institute’s website. The link will be given in the text of the briefing.

I mentioned this research not as the ultimate truth, but as a scientific outlook on the topical issue.

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The deployment of US nuclear weapons in Europe

 

We have noted that members of the Parliament of the Netherlands have recently raised the issue of US nuclear free-fall bombs being deployed in the country. According to commentators, Minister of Defence Ank Bijleveld was unable to provide convincing answers to questions, asked in this connection.

One can only sympathise with the Dutch defence minister. On the one hand, the government where she works openly voices its commitment to the goal of attaining a nuclear-free world. On the other hand, it allows the United States to deploy its nuclear weapons in the Netherlands and facilitates the active involvement of the country’s Armed Forces in training sessions with the aim of improving the capacity for their combat use.

We have to recall once again that NATO’s joint nuclear missions involving the Netherlands run counter to fundamental provisions of Articles I and II of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Moreover, non-nuclear countries where nuclear weapons are stored directly violate their respective IAEA Safeguards Agreements.

The current situation regarding US nuclear weapons in Europe causes serious concern in the strategic context and from the standpoint of ensuring the authority of the NPT and its viability, as well as the non-proliferation regime, stipulated by it. This aspect acquires special significance in the context of the upcoming 2021 NPT Review Conference.

We are convinced that there is only one realistic solution to this highly serious problem, and this solution should stipulate the redeployment of all US nuclear weapons to US territory, the elimination from NATO’s European countries of the infrastructure for the storage, servicing and rapid deployment of these weapons, as well as a refusal to conduct exercises and training sessions linked with preparations for the use of nuclear weapons by service personnel of NATO’s non-nuclear countries.

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Update on the International Criminal Court

 

On December 10, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Ms Fatou Bensouda, announced the completion of the preliminary probe into the situation in Ukraine and the potential grounds for launching an official investigation. From the outset, the materials of the Prosecutor’s Office were indicative of a total lack of understanding of reality there in the wake of the anti-constitutional coup in Ukraine. So, these materials feature odious passages about the “occupation” of Crimea and many other insinuations like that. Based on the information received from Kiev, the Prosecutor’s Office decided that the Ukrainian courts themselves can investigate the crimes committed by Ukrainian military and nationalists in southeastern Ukraine.

Clearly, we cannot count on an impartial and professional consideration of the Maidan events in The Hague, bringing to justice the people behind the tragedy in Odessa, or the loss of civilian lives amid the so-called “anti-terrorist operation.”

Another decision by the Prosecutor’s Office made public the day before its statement on the “Ukrainian dossier” looks particularly cynical against this background. On December 9, Ms Bensouda announced she would discontinue looking into the British military’s crimes in Iraq.

In the case report, the Prosecutor’s Office cites evidence of UK national investigation mechanisms’ inadequacy. Despite thousands of pieces of evidence to corroborate the crimes that British investigators had received over the past 10 years or so, the report says that not a single serviceperson had been held accountable. The ICC also effectively acknowledged that the British law enforcement authorities had in many cases ignored the available evidence of crimes and blocked investigations into the role of the command.

The irony is that, in the end, the Prosecutor’s Office, without hesitation, decided to close the Iraq file saying that it should be investigated by the British themselves. At first glance, this doesn’t make any sense. But if we go back to the bitter experience of the ICC’s probe into the situation in Afghanistan, we will recall that it led to the US imposing sanctions on the court staff, including Ms Bensouda. Clearly, The Hague has learned its lesson.

We have repeatedly mentioned the fact that the ICC is inefficient. The latest developments around the Ukrainian and Iraqi files have once again clearly shown that a professional approach is nowhere to be seen and that double standards and the fear of sanctions rule.

Russia does not participate in the Rome Statute of the ICC and does not recognise this court’s jurisdiction. So, we have further confirmation of this body’s insolvency, the activities of which have discredited the very idea of ​​international criminal justice.

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Interaction with the UN Alliance of Civilisations

 

The UN and the UN Alliance of Civilisations (UNAOC), created in 2005, have a special place in promoting dialogue and partnership between cultures, religions and civilisations. From the very beginning, Russia supported the idea of ​​establishing the UNAOC and, at the first stage, joined the implementation effort as a member of the High-level Group under the UN Secretary-General. After the group ended its activities in November 2006, Russia continued as a member of the Group of Friends.

Our representatives take part in the alliance’s activities at all levels, including the global forums and ministerial meetings hosted by the Group of Friends. The most recent 8th Global Forum took place at UN headquarters in New York on November 19-20, 2018. It was attended by a Russian delegation headed by Ambassador-at-Large and Foreign Ministry Special Representative for Interaction with the Alliance of Civilisations, Konstantin Shuvalov.

We are in favour of getting the alliance and its head, High Representative for the UNAOC and UN Under-Secretary-General Miguel Moratinos, involved in all initiatives aimed at reaching agreement between representatives of different religions and cultures. In particular, we support his active participation in preparations for the World Conference of Heads of State, Parliamentarians and Representatives of World Religions on Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue for the Benefit of Peace and Humanity, which is planned to be held in Russia in May 2022. This will be made possible by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and sponsored by the UN. As part of the UN General Assembly’s work on the culture of peace, as well as in the course of approving the draft resolutions under the relevant agenda item of the UN General Assembly, we emphasise the need to take into account the UNAOC’s important role in promoting multiculturalism and ethnic and religious tolerance of states worldwide.

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Manizha Sangin appointed UN refugee agency’s Goodwill Ambassador

 

We appreciate the decision of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in appointing Manizha Sangin, popular singer, musician and public figure, its first Russian Goodwill Ambassador.

We believe that this decision, announced on December 14, the 70th anniversary of the UNHCR, reflects the increasing role of our country in resolving the problems of refugees and displaced persons all over the world.

Among the responsibilities of a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador is promoting awareness of the issues of forced displacement of people, as well as participation in various themed events.

We hope that Manizha Sangin’s activity as the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador will contribute to the implementation of the agency’s goals and objectives.

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Press tours for foreign journalists in 2020

 

As you know, over the past four years, the holding of press tours for foreign journalists to Russian regions has been a calling card of the Information and Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Unfortunately, this year, the coronavirus pandemic has brought restrictions in the implementation of this programme. Nevertheless, trying to accommodate many journalist requests and taking into account the sanitary and epidemiological situation in certain regions, we managed to hold two press tours: one to the Trans-Baikal Territory, and the other to the Sakhalin Region. These tours brought together media representatives, including journalists and videographers from Iceland, China, the Republic of Korea, Syria, Slovenia, Uzbekistan and Ecuador.

Those on the press tours learned the history and traditions of the regions, as well as their tourism, natural and economic potential. They also met with local officials and journalists and talked to their colleagues there.

The trips were followed by interviews with regional heads, the preparation of relevant reports in the foreign media and agreements to exchange work experience and content with regional publications.

Every time, we publish brief reports on the results of the press tours on the Foreign Ministry and its regional representatives’ social media pages. Links to the reports will be published in the text version of this briefing.

In 2021, plans call for holding more press tours, of course, given a favourable sanitary and epidemiological situation. We will take into account the requests of foreign journalists regarding routes and travel programmes, and will provide other assistance. We are ready to meet the interests of both foreign correspondents and the Russian regions. If you want to receive foreign correspondents and you have something to tell them and share your achievements, let us know and we will organise a trip.

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Sanctions against Akhmat football club

 

The Russian Foreign Ministry has expressed its opinion, on numerous occasions, on unilateral sanctions imposed by Washington. Our position has not changed. But this time our American colleagues surpassed themselves and ignored common sense in principle, having included the Akhmat Football Club of the Russian Premier League on the sanctions list. I do not recall a similar situation. Akhmat is the only football club in the world against which US restrictions have been introduced.

Now everyone who is on a US sanctions list has a football club to root for, since they fall under the sanctions.

But there is another dimension, a serious one. We believe UEFA and FIFA, the largest international sports associations, should, within their competence, express their opinions on Washington’s place in the world of football. We hope these international sports associations will have the courage and maturity to make such statements.

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Republic Day in Niger

 

Niger marks Republic Day on December 18.

Our friends, the Nigerien people, have taken a difficult path of struggle to gain national independence and sovereignty. Since the end of the 19th century, France has pursued the seizure of the territories of modern Niger. The actions of the French colonialists have been accompanied by violence and repression against the local people. The final colonisation of Niger was completed in 1922. However, it remained one of the poorest French possessions, receiving only minimal subsidies and assistance from the metropolis. National liberation movements that emerged from time to time were brutally suppressed. Nevertheless, amid persecution and repressions, patriotic forces managed to create their own political party, the Nigerien Democratic Union, in 1951, which proclaimed liberation from colonialists as its primary goal. In 1958, following a referendum, Niger was declared an autonomous republic within the French Community, from which it exited in August 1960, becoming a fully independent state.

Today, the country is moving along the path of building a democratic society and confidently implementing the tasks of socioeconomic development. Niger plays an increasingly active role in political life on the African continent; it cooperates in solving problems of regional security and makes a significant contribution to the collective efforts to combat terrorism in the Sahara-Sahel region.

We would like to congratulate the leadership and the people of Niger, a friendly nation, on one of their main national holidays and wish the citizens of the republic new achievements, peace, prosperity and well-being.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed to an exchange of prisoners based on the all-for-all principle, and this exchange took place with the mediation of Russian peacekeepers. Can this process be considered complete or is it still underway?

Maria Zakharova:  Yesterday, the commander of the Russian peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, Lieutenant General Rustam Muradov, spoke in detail about the all-for-all prisoner exchange between Baku and Yerevan. “In accordance with the trilateral statement by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia of November 9 of this year, an all-for-all prisoner exchange took place. This was preceded by extensive preparatory work carried out by Russian peacekeeping forces with the Azerbaijani and Armenian sides. Twelve people were brought to Baku by the airplane of the Russian aerospace forces and handed over to representatives of the Azerbaijani competent authorities. The Azerbaijani side returned 44 prisoners, who arrived at the Erebuni Airport. Russian peacekeepers will continue to contribute to the strict implementation of the trilateral agreement.”

The prisoner exchange process continues.

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Question: Could you clarify the current functions of the three co-chair countries of the OSCE Minsk Group on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement in the post-conflict period? What tasks will the Group solve at the moment and in the future, given that it was Russia that contributed to the resolution of the conflict? Wouldn’t it be more effective for the three countries – Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia – to solve the emerging issues? Is it any good seeing the work of the Minsk Group as trying to implement the trilateral leaders’ statement of November 9 of this year? Perhaps it could better contribute to addressing the issues that could be resolved later within the framework of this statement? In particular, this was recorded in the statement of the heads of delegations of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries on December 3 of this year following the Ministerial Council in Tirana. It was noted that Azerbaijan and Armenia will have to work out a long-term and sustainable peace agreement and resolve all remaining issues. What specific tasks does the Minsk Group face in this regard?

Maria Zakharova:   I would like to recommend contacting the OSCE Minsk Group.

Given the scope of the statement adopted on November 9 by the leaders of the three states, at this stage, the process of its implementation is underway, on the one hand. On the other hand, the adjustment of all international bodies and organisations is underway that should resolve issues within their powers and competence.

Time is needed to coordinate and institutionalise these processes. That’s what everyone is working on at the moment. The region is facing a great number of problems. They relate to completely different areas: humanitarian issues, the return of refugees, protection of cultural sites, security, mine clearance, and a lot more. At this stage, the process of fine tuning each aspect of the settlement in all their complexity is underway.

It should be understood that the OSCE Minsk Group, as well as other international entities and intermediary organisations (for example, the ICRC), which can play a role in a full-scale settlement, are currently engaged in determining the areas of focus and steps that should be taken.

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Question: On December 12-13, the Azerbaijani army broke the ceasefire in the western part of the Hadrut District. There are wounded on the Armenian side. Isn’t this outbreak aimed at discrediting Russia’s peacekeeping mission, thus questioning the trilateral statement?

Maria Zakharova: Russia is doing everything in its power to achieve lasting and strong peace in the region. We proceed from the fact that both sides in the conflict share the same goals.

Question: As part of their regional visit, the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group arrived in Baku on December 12. President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev said he had not invited them. Does his harsh tone mean that Azerbaijan is trying to discredit the OSCE Minsk Group? Why did Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group Igor Popov not go?

Maria Zakharova: Questions about Azerbaijan’s actions should be addressed to Baku.

Russia was represented in Yerevan and Baku by its Ambassador to Azerbaijan Mikhail Bocharnikov and Acting Charge d’Affaires in Armenia Alexander Sinegubov. I don’t think I should go into detail as to why the Russian delegation was comprised like this. There were reasons for this but no conspiracy at all. Don’t look for deep political subtext there.

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Question: Vice-Speaker of the Azerbaijani Parliament Adil Aliyev said the Russian peacekeepers had no right to protect the villages that Turkish-Azerbaijani troops had tried to seize the day before. “Russia has no right to interfere with the Azeri special services’ antiterrorist operation in Nagorno-Karabakh and will suffer significant losses together with Armenia,” he posted on his Facebook account. Can you comment on these statements?

Maria Zakharova: We have offered our commentaries many times in the context of other statements by different political figures. We proceed from the assumption that all the statements made by parties to the conflict (although I would prefer calling them parties to the settlement process) and other regional and outside players should be aimed at achieving the main goal: lasting peace and a comprehensive settlement. Each and every statement should be viewed in terms of what benefit it can bring or what harm it can do.

A lot of important and very difficult work has been done, and every word must be weighed to understand why it is being uttered.

Everything regarding specific details: authority, situation on the ground, practical duties, and areas of responsibility – all these issues can and must be addressed by the sides on the operating level. We stay in touch with both Baku and Yerevan via existing channels. All issues must be address in this manner.

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Question: President of Russia Vladimir Putin congratulated Joe Biden on winning the election in the United States. Could his victory have a bearing on the two countries’ involvement in the national reconciliation process in Afghanistan?

Maria Zakharova: In recent years the Russian Federation and the US have established a constructive dialogue on the peaceful settlement in Afghanistan. Our special envoys have stayed in touch, and since 2019, together with our Chinese and Pakistani partners, we have set up the format of expanded “troika” that has proven effective in promoting a peaceful settlement in the intra-Afghan conflict.

We hope that once the new US president takes office, the Russian-American contacts for achieving peace in Afghanistan as soon as possible will continue, along with the efforts to neutralise the threats of terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking emanating from that country.

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Question: Greece has been discussing Turkey’s purchase of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems for quite a while. Many people believe that this upsets the balance of forces in the Aegean Sea. So, US sanctions were seen as fair punishment for Ankara. How does Russia view these sanctions? Will Russia respond to them in any way?

Maria Zakharova: Do you think that US sanctions, announced in connection with the S-400 contract, are related to Turkey’s actions in the Mediterranean region?

Question: This is part of Greek public opinion.

Maria Zakharova: Then you are even better informed than the United States who did not link the sanctions with this. We have never read or heard that the US was motivated by this.

The United States has been quite outspoken about this for many years. First, they tried to dissuade Turkey from buying Russian weapons. They later threatened to impose sanctions and tried to pressure Ankara. The United States did its best to prevent Turkey from buying these systems. Washington did not conceal its motives or its steps.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during his December 14, 2020 visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina that the US has been discussing this matter for over a year, and that this situation is not a surprise for Russia. This is yet another example of an arrogant attitude towards international law and the illegitimate unilateral coercive measures that the United States has been using for many decades. This does not enhance US prestige internationally as a responsible participant in the international division of labour, including in the area of military-technological cooperation. This once again highlights America’s inability to stand competition playing by the rules. The United States needs to take additional steps to provide itself with competitive advantages even if these approaches are illegal. This includes unilateral sanctions regarding the defence industry.

Media outlets, weapons, the energy sector: the concept is the same in every area. The purpose is to gain advantages for the United States, its corporations and businesses with these illegal actions.

Mr Lavrov provided a detailed comment on the Mediterranean situation recently. Today, he reiterated his assessment of regional developments while replying to a relevant question.

 

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