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28 January 202119:50

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow, January 28, 2021

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Table of contents

  1. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Ahmed Maiteeq, Deputy Prime Minister of the Libyan Government of National Accord
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Foreign Minister of Sweden Ann Linde
  3. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Ayman Safadi
  4. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell
  5. The UN assessment mission to Nagorno-Karabakh
  6. Statements by Western politicians on protests in Russia
  7. Situation with Russian media outlets abroad
  8. Violation of Russian citizens’ rights abroad
  9. Return of underage Russian national to Russia
  10. The 77th anniversary of the complete lifting of the siege of Leningrad
  11. International Holocaust Remembrance Day
  12. Munich court ruling on case of Erfurt sports physician Mark Schmidt
  13. E-visas
  14. Sri Lanka Independence Day

Answers to media questions:

  1. Developments around the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement process
  2. Germany’s interference in Russia’s internal affairs
  3. Statement by the  Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan on the 31st anniversary of January 19-20, 1990, events
  4. Developments around Ukraine conflict
  5. US Embassy’s incitement to participate in illegal protests
 

 

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Ahmed Maiteeq, Deputy Prime Minister of the Libyan Government of National Accord

 

On January 29, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Ahmed Maiteeq, Deputy Prime Minister of the Libyan Government of National Accord.

Mr Lavrov and Mr Maiteeq will discuss the prospects for Libyan settlement and the development of bilateral cooperation.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Foreign Minister of Sweden Ann Linde 

 

On February 2, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks in Moscow with Foreign Minister of Sweden Ann Linde who will arrive in Russia as the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office. 

They will discuss a broad range of issues pertaining to OSCE activities, security in the Baltic Sea and in the north of Europe, cooperation in the Arctic and key issues of bilateral relations. 

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Ayman Safadi

 

On February 3, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Ayman Safadi.

The ministers will have an in-depth exchange of views on current issues on the international and regional agendas and will discuss further promotion of bilateral cooperation in various areas.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell

 

On February 5, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell. During the meeting, a range of issues and outlook on Russia-EU relations will be discussed.

An extensive exchange of views on important items on the international agenda, including the Western Balkans region, the Middle East and North Africa, and the CIS space will take place. Prospects for implementing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme, further stabilisation of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, security issues in Europe and other matters of mutual interest will be discussed.

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The UN assessment mission to Nagorno-Karabakh

 

With the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh becoming more stable, comprehensive humanitarian aid has become a priority.

In addition to the efforts undertaken by Baku and Yerevan and assistance coming from other countries, primarily Russia, we believe the involvement of specialised international agencies will be beneficial as well. Currently, the International Committee of the Red Cross is working in Nagorno-Karabakh and contiguous areas. With regard to specialised UN agencies, the UN senior officials remain in contact with Azerbaijan and Armenia and continue to discuss the modalities of sending an integrated assessment mission to Nagorno-Karabakh. We also took note of the efforts by the UN country teams undertaken directly in Azerbaijan and Armenia. We support UN cooperation with Baku and Yerevan on all aspects of humanitarian aid.

In turn, Russia is making a significant contribution to improving the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. With assistance from Russian specialists and peacekeepers, over 51,400 refugees have returned to their homes since November 14, 2020; Armenia and Azerbaijan have transferred 1,532 bodies to each other; about 750 hectares of terrain and more than 230 km of roads have been cleared of mines, almost 24,000 explosive hazards have been defused; the power supply system has been completely restored, and about 1,300 people have received medical help.

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Statements by Western politicians on protests in Russia 

 

We have noted the well-orchestrated, almost synchronous and very similar statements by Western politicians on the unlawful actions in this country and other domestic Russian issues.

Many politicians, primarily Western officials, practiced their beautiful literary writing skills, but their phrases were all very similar. Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde wrote: “A healthy and vibrant opposition should be welcomed.” It must have an opportunity to freely criticise the authorities, she added. Foreign Minister of New Zealand Nanaia Mahuta said: “Civil society and political opposition must be able to operate freely – these are essential elements of democratic societies.” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said that what happened merely confirms the feeling of the last few years that Russia is moving away from the community of democratic states. There were many others. I will repeat that all of this was well orchestrated. I didn’t even mention statements by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas who really outdid himself.

In a recent statement, the Group of Seven foreign ministers demanded that Russia free those who were detained for implementing their right to free assembly on January 23, 2021. We have already published our answer to this on the Foreign Ministry’s website.

It is strange to hear these statements from countries where the police do not hesitate to use riot control weapons (batons, teargas, water jets and rubber bullets) against civilians that turn out for democratic protests, whether a demonstration by the yellow vests or a storm on the Capitol, not to mention the numerous clashes where local task forces scatter representatives of civil society that protest against coronavirus restrictions in most of the Old World countries.

In their own countries our Western partners explain forced restrictions of civil rights and freedoms by the need to ensure “national security interests” whereas in Russia they call the same actions “suppression of peaceful protests.”

Based on various estimates, about 14,000 rubber bullets were fired at protesters and about 2,500 people were injured during the yellow vest actions in France in 2018-2019. Over 12,000 people were detained, the majority of which were put behind bars. And this was in France alone.

Berlin should be reminded of their sharp, almost aggressive reaction to protests in Germany, including the breach of police lines at the Bundestag building by coronavirus sceptics in Berlin in August 2020. These protest actions were unanimously and resolutely denounced by the German political establishment, including the top national leaders. President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called them “repulsive.” Spokesman for the German Government Steffen Seibert pointed to “an abuse of the right to demonstrate.” Many German politicians made statements like this.

German law enforcement bodies cracked down (as in subsequent similar cases) on demonstrators by using teargas and detaining about 300 people. All these videos are accessible and can be watched if you so wish.

Or take the Netherlands. They devote more attention to Russia than to any other county. Speaking about riots in the Netherlands on Sunday, Acting Prime Minister Mark Rutte said: “This has nothing to do with protest, this is criminal violence and we will treat it as such.” So, what happened? Thousands of people came out into the streets demanding that the government alleviate its tough measures on countering the COVID-19 pandemic (almost a total lockdown) and cancel the night curfew. What was the outcome? Robbed shops, burned cars and bike barricades. The police took tough riot control measures by resorting to batons, teargas and water jets to scatter the protesters. As a result, over 250 people were detained and a major investigation was launched to identify those involved in the protests.

Why don’t the Western bloc (NATO and the EU) countries condemn each other? Why hasn’t the Group of Seven issued a single statement in response to the events in the Netherlands, Germany and France? Have you heard anything? I haven’t. I haven’t heard or read anything. Why? Because there are no such statements. They never criticize each other, they never even comment. However, there are comments by the Dutch authorities. Thus, Minister of Justice and Security of the Netherlands Ferdinand Grapperhaus said: “Shocking images of riots, looting and arson are circulating. This has nothing to do with demonstrating against the coronavirus measures. This is simply criminal behaviour.” He was not alone in crudely denouncing the right of his compatriots to rallies and protests. Eindhoven was the hardest hit by the riots. “My city is crying, and so am I,” Eindhoven Mayor John Jorritsma told reporters on Sunday night. He described the rioters as “the scum of the earth,” adding: “I am afraid that if we continue down this path, we’re on our way to civil war.”

The scattering of peaceful demonstrations counts only to the east of the EU. This is stunning hypocrisy!

I suggest that our Western partners, who are so concerned about democracy in Russia, might want to focus on their own problems. We have said this many times – behind closed doors in the past and now for the record. Resolve your own problems – you have amassed a lot of them. Take care of your own citizens and the preservation of democracy at home. It is better to cooperate than to criticise. There are a great many areas for potential cooperation, and lots of problems.

If you are so concerned about freedom of expression, show due attention and respect for this tenet by observing the rights of Russian journalists abroad.

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Situation with Russian media outlets abroad

 

Here are just a few examples of what Russian journalists came across in their relations with Western authorities in 2020:

1. In January 2020, an employee of the TASS press centre was detained in Milan Airport by border guards. The Financial Guard militarised police force interrogated him and reviewed the contents of his mobile.

2. In February 2020, a media crimes investigation board of the Ankara Prosecutor’s Office detained Sputnik Turkey employees.

The board officials said, citing the laws regulating media activities that prohibit the publication of information that could damage the country’s territorial integrity, interrogated the journalists and searched Sputnik Turkey offices, confiscating computers, communication devices and USB memory sticks. The journalists were released several hours later.

3. In October 2020, FBI officers interrogated the spouse of former head of the Rossiya Segodnya representative office in Washington.

They inquired about the reasons for her husband’s trips and activities during his term at the office. In the end, she was offered the opportunity to become a permanent resident of the United States. She rejected the offer.

4. In October 2020, a journalist at the Rossiya Segodnya representative office in Washington had a telephone conversation with a member of a US security service who identified himself as an FBI agent from Baltimore.

The officer inquired about the journalist’s personal ties with Russians living in the United States and their relations with Russian authorities and the Russkiy Mir Foundation, and asked other impertinent questions.

5. In October 2020, US security services detained a RT special correspondent twice, at his entry into and exit from the United States. They asked about the reasons for his visit and confiscated the journalist’s personal belongings and electronic devices for inspection.

6. In December 2020, US security services organised a provocation against TASS employees in New York. Two FBI agents visited the company flats of the bureau head and photojournalist, asking them about the events attended by the chair of the Russian Community Council of the USA. The US security services are giving a lot of negative attention to the council, which exceeds the framework of interaction with civil society.

7. In December 2020, the Latvian State Security Service (VDD) detained several freelance correspondents of Sputnik Latvia, who are Latvian citizens, within the framework of criminal cases opened against them for violation of the EU sanctions. We have commented on this subject in detail and have proved convincingly that these accusations are unsubstantiated.

VDD officers interrogated the journalists and searched their flats, confiscating their computers, communication devices and USB memory sticks. The journalists were released after signing a recognisance not to leave and a pledge not to disclose the essence of the interrogations. This is democracy at its best.

There are many more such examples of what Russian media workers come across while performing their professional duties outside Russia. We would like to remind our colleagues that they should act more consistently when upholding the freedom of speech. The freedom of speech is an indivisible notion to which double standards cannot be applied. The cases I have mentioned are more than just evidence of double standards; they are proof of direct pressure and persecution of Russian journalists. Moreover, nobody as much as pretends that the reason for the complaints is the journalists’ professional activities.

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Violation of Russian citizens’ rights abroad

 

I would like to touch upon the protection of Russian citizens’ rights abroad, not only that of journalists, but also Russians citizens in general, which is one of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s priorities. Dealing with incidents involving the detention of Russian citizens or politically motivated harassment is becoming routine in our work.

The Baltic states’ authorities and special services use various methods to put pressure on civil society activists, human rights champions and journalists expressing different points of view on those countries’ domestic and foreign policies and history. Their pressure toolkit includes summoning people for ‘preventive conversations,’ using socioeconomic pressure with the involvement of banking institutions (freezing accounts, denial of banking services, and much more), smear campaigns in the media, as well as criminal prosecution. Lithuania has built an entire system of measures and methods to put pressure on dissenters. Former members of the Lithuanian SSR military and security services are also being persecuted there along with civil society activists, human rights champions and journalists opposing Russophobia and the glorification of Nazi accomplices.

There have been indicative cases involving Russian citizens – Colonel Yury Mel who was convicted on politicised charges in connection with the January 13, 1991 events at Vilnius television centre, and Konstantin Nikulin, former member of Riga OMON police unit of the Soviet Interior Ministry, unreasonably accused of premeditated murder of seven and attempted murder of one person at the Medininkai customs post unilaterally established by Lithuania on July 31, 1991.

We cannot help noting the unacceptable practice of arresting Russian citizens in third countries at the request of US law enforcement agencies. There have been over 50 such cases since 2008. We are in fact dealing with an illegal extraterritorial application of American law against Russian citizens here. Once in the hands of US law enforcement, Russian citizens usually suffer biased attitude from the investigating authorities and courts. They use a whole arsenal of measures and methods of pressure, including psychological pressure applied to Russian citizens. They use various methods, including direct threats, to persuade them to plead guilty and make a deal with the investigators, despite the far-fetched charges, and if they refuse, they are sentenced to long prison terms. American penitentiaries often deny Russian prisoners appropriate medical care, including those suffering from chronic conditions. We are actually aware of this like no one else because we have to resolve a lot of medical issues hands on every day at the request of Russian citizens in prison, in particular, in the United States. We respond to their direct requests, as well as requests that come through their relatives and lawyers.

The cases against Konstantin Yaroshenko, Roman Seleznev, Viktor Bout, and also Maria Butina (who has returned to Russia and shared what she experienced during that period) are eloquent examples. By the way, Butina released a book, and I advise everyone to read it. Everything is described there the way it was.

Another case worth mentioning involves Russian citizen Alexander Vinnik who was detained in 2017 in Greece at the request of the US authorities on money laundering charges.

On January 23, 2020, Vinnik was extradited to France by the Greek Justice Minister’s decision. The French courts rejected the petitions by Vinnik's lawyers to put their client under house arrest, and on December 7, 2020, the French court incarcerated the Russian for five years.

The Canadian authorities and courts often regard all our citizens and compatriots as second-rate people and often show a biased attitude towards the defendants of Russian origins. One example is the story of Lyudmila Ilyina, a geographer from Moscow who was falsely convicted of murdering her Canadian husband in 1995 (she spent ten years in a maximum security prison). She presented her memories of that time in a book, Russian means guilty. It tells a lot about democracy Canadian-style.

For its part, the the Russian Foreign Ministry is taking all possible diplomatic steps to protect the rights of Russian citizens imprisoned abroad. Such cases are under close review by our diplomatic missions and, if necessary, are brought up for discussion at the highest level. Our diplomats are providing consular support to arrested Russians within their scope of competence, insisting on unconditional observance of their legal rights and interests, and exploring possibilities for changing their restraining orders within the existing legal framework and for transferring them to their homeland.

The Russian Foreign Ministry reports on the global human rights situation regularly reflect the issue of observing Russian citizens’ rights. The country sections of this document, published on the Ministry website, list specific cases of violation of the rights of Russian citizens and compatriots, including high-profile cases of politically motivated persecution by the authorities of the respective states.

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Return of underage Russian national to Russia

 

I would like to tell you about a case that illustrates the Foreign Ministry’s efforts to defend the interests of Russian nationals and to protect their rights.

The incident happened in the United States, in Texas. A court ruled to restrict a Russian national’s parental rights and her daughter, born in 2019, was temporarily placed in foster care of a local family. The mother was given one year to meet parental fitness criteria. Restoration of the woman’s parental rights was unlikely for a number of reasons and there was a risk that this minor would be transferred to a children’s home in Texas where there would be no guarantee that she would be adopted in the future. Officers of the Russian Consulate General in Houston managed to locate the child’s relatives in Russia. The girl’s great-grandmother in Moscow was willing to become her legal guardian.

The diplomats promptly contacted the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and the Moscow Department of Social Protection. They also helped with obtaining necessary approvals and also drawing up the required documents as well as finding and establishing contacts with a local attorney specialising in family law.  

On November 10, 2020, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services officially notified the Consulate General that it does not object to recognising the Russian national’s great-grandmother as her legal guardian and the girl’s subsequent move to Russia; however, according to the department’s internal policy, the child had to be brought to her new place of residence personally – that is, Texas social workers had to fly with this minor to Moscow. Since foreign nationals are restricted from crossing the Russian border due to the pandemic, the consular officers found a faster solution and suggested considering the child’s great-grandmother’s travel to the United States. This  was approved.

Officers of the Consulate General and their colleagues from the Russian Foreign Ministry helped with the necessary travel documents. Moreover, on December 23, 2020, following a petition by our ministry, the US diplomatic mission issued a visa for the woman and we are very grateful for this.

On January 14, 2021, the court of Texas issued its final verdict in the case of the young Russian national and recognised the great-grandmother as her legal guardian. On the same day, the social workers officially transferred the girl into the Russian woman’s custody. On January 20, 2021, the reunited family visited the Russian Consulate General in Houston to meet the diplomats who fought for their reunification and thanked the staff and senior officers of the Russian Foreign Ministry for their help and assistance. On January 21, 2021, they safely returned home.

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 The 77th anniversary of the complete lifting of the siege of Leningrad

 

January 27 marked Military Glory Day, Day of Complete Liberation of Leningrad from Nazi Siege. On this day in 1944, the soldiers of the Leningrad Front, the Volkhov Front and the 2nd  Baltic Front drove Nazi troops out of the city and liberated almost the entire Leningrad Region. The siege of Leningrad, which lasted almost 900 days, was lifted.

In the evening of January 27, 1944, a 324-gun salute thundered through the sky over Leningrad. The people of Leningrad gathered in the streets, squares and the Neva River embankments, which had recently been targets of artillery fire, and greeted their liberators. One after another, 24 historic salvos were fired from the guns placed on the Field of Mars and the banks of the Neva River, as well as the guns on the ships of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet. Each time, thousands of “hurrays” blended in with the roar of guns into a single solemn salute. The majestic spectacle could be seen far from Leningrad. The Leningrad Front soldiers also saw its glow.

January 27, 1944 was one of the happiest days in the lives of hundreds of thousands of the city residents and one of the most mournful as well, since almost every Leningrad resident had lost family or friends.

The Battle of Leningrad was the longest and bloodiest of the Great Patriotic War and WWII. Anything from 1.5 to 2 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives during the battle and the siege, of which at least 800,000 civilians starved to death during the first winter of 1941-1942.

The enemy documents show that the cutting off of food supplies to Leningrad was part of the siege plan. The famine was part of the Nazi military operation. Only 3 percent of the Leningrad residents died from bombing and shelling. Most of them died of hunger.

The role of the defenders and the people of Leningrad in achieving victory over Nazism was truly enormous. The city interdicted the nearly 300,000-strong Nazi force of the Army Group North which was especially important in the late summer and autumn of 1941, when the enemy focused on taking Moscow and was in dire need of additional resources. The heroic defence of Leningrad also helped maintain control over the most important railway connecting Murmansk and the mainland, which was used to deliver cargo under Lend-Lease.

The feat of the Leningrad residents was depicted in a vast number of books and material, including collections of documents and memoirs. The works of fiction show emotions and experiences of that time. Almost 400 books were published in the Soviet Union between 1945 and 1991, and over 200 editions were released in the post-Soviet period. In 1965, the city was among the first to be awarded the title of Hero City for heroism and courage shown by the people of Leningrad during the siege.

On the 77th anniversary of the complete liberation of Leningrad, President Vladimir Putin laid a wreath at the Hero City Leningrad memorial in the Alexander Garden. The head of state also visited the Victory Museum on Poklonnaya Gora and took part in launching an online project “Feat of the People: Unconquered Leningrad” which is available at victorymuseum.ru.  It is an amazing online project. I encourage you to visit it.

The unique display preserves the memory of the entire generation of the Soviet people who contributed to the Great Victory and gives everyone an opportunity to immortalise the memory of their ancestors. This is one of the key projects of Memory and Glory Year.

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International Holocaust Remembrance Day

 

The Second World War brought infinite sufferings to hundreds of millions of people all over the world. The Holocaust was one of its most tragic pages.

Seventy-six years ago, on January 27, 1945, Soviet troops liberated the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau (Oswiecim) where millions of people had been brutally tortured and killed. At the decision of the UN in 2005, this day was proclaimed International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Russia was the co-author of the relevant UN General Assembly resolution.

Today, certain states are trying to rewrite history and force the current generation to forget about the heroic deeds of Soviet soldiers who liberated the world from Nazism. Often they even try to elevate this to the level of a state ideology and present those on the side of evil as heroes.

Russia firmly rejects the attempts to rewrite history and the creeping rehabilitation of Nazism. In this regard, every year Russia submits a draft resolution to the General Assembly on combatting the glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Once again, the resolution was adopted on December 16, 2020, at a plenary meeting of the 75th Session of the UN General Assembly. This document was approved by an impressive majority of votes: 130 countries voted for it, two countries (the US and Ukraine) traditionally voted against it and 51 countries, including members of the European Union, abstained.

At the same time, for the past several years and at the initiative of Russia as the main author and with the support of other co-authors, clauses on the unacceptability of any attempts to deny the Holocaust have been included in the document. Our common duty is to remember the heroism of Soviet soldiers and honour the memory of all victims of Nazism.  

Yesterday, on January 27, 2021, the Russian Permanent Mission to the UN sent UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres a message notifying him of the widespread glorification of Nazi accomplices in Ukraine with a request that it be distributed as an official document of the UN Security Council and the General Assembly.

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Munich court ruling on case of Erfurt sports physician Mark Schmidt

 

We have noted a decision made by a German court convicting Mark Schmidt, head of a sports medicine clinic in Erfurt, and sentencing him to four years and 10 months in prison for distributing illegal drugs and performing illegal blood transfusions, a procedure known as blood doping. Mark Schmidt masterminded an international doping ring for athletes from a number of countries. The German law enforcement authorities have established that such violations took place at numerous international sporting events. The scale of the doping scandal involving Schmidt’s activities has shown that Germany is home to an organised criminal business catering to elite sports. It is an alarming signal exposing an unfavourable state of affairs in one of the leading sports countries in Europe.

Moscow strongly condemns the application and use of prohibited drugs and methods by athletes. Consistently upholding the principles of honest and fair sports without any political agenda or discrimination, we call for broad international cooperation and unification of efforts to fight doping in sports.

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E-visas

 

Pursuant to the Federal Law No. 305-FZ of July 31, 2020, starting as of January 1, 2021, the interested federal executive bodies have ensured the technical set-up for the launch of a system for issuing unified electronic visas, which have replaced electronic visas for entry into certain regions of the Russian Federation, a practice introduced earlier as a pilot project.

At the same time, we note that the issuance of digital visas (including unified electronic visas) was suspended on March 18, 2020, as a temporary measure under clause 5 of the Russian Government directive No. 635-r of March 16, 2020.

The response centre to prevent the importation and spread of the novel coronavirus infection in the Russian Federation will decide when to resume the practice based on the epidemiological situation in the world and the lifting of restrictions on entry into the Russian Federation.

I would like to highlight this topic because we have had a lot of questions in this regard.

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Sri Lanka Independence Day

 

On February 4, the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka marks Independence Day.

The friendly people of Sri Lanka have come a long way in the fight first against Portugal, then Dutch and British colonisers. The island nation gained freedom in 1948 after more than a century of British colonial rule.

Modern Sri Lanka enjoys well-deserved respect in the world as a sovereign, democratic, and socially oriented state. Its citizens are rightfully proud not only of their ancient history, but also of their great achievements in the field of economic development.

Russian-Sri Lankan bilateral ties have invariably remained constructive since they were established. We maintain political contacts, including at the highest and high levels, and cooperate productively on the international arena, at the UN and other multilateral platforms. Russia has traditionally been an important trading partner of Sri Lanka and one of the largest importers of Ceylon tea. The island’s sights and resorts traditionally attract a large number of Russian tourists. Naturally, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the situation.

All the very best to our Sri Lankan friends on their most important public holiday. Wishing you happiness, peace and prosperity.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: Sergey Lavrov said the following about Nagorno-Karabakh during a recent big news conference: “During our contacts with our colleagues, President Putin and I promoted the need to continue to consider this matter [the return of Armenian POWs – Ed.] in order to bring it to a closure based on the “all for all” principle.” How far has this issue progressed?

Maria Zakharova: Efforts to ensure the exchange of POWs and other detainees are ongoing in accordance with the trilateral statement issued by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia on November 9, 2020 and the agreements reached between them at their summit meeting in Moscow on January 11, 2021. The Russian side is providing assistance with this matter, including with the help of its peacekeeping force deployed along the contact line in Nagorno-Karabakh.

As President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed out, the best solution would be an exchange based on the “all for all” principle.

Question: Russia proposed making the Karabakh Humanitarian Response Centre an international agency with the participation of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke about this during his talks with his Armenian colleague. How far has this issue progressed?

Can you tell us when the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs plan to visit the region and what the visit’s agenda will be?

Maria Zakharova: All matters related to the provision of humanitarian assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent regions residents are a competence of the Russian Emergencies Ministry. Our experts have been working in the region within the framework of the humanitarian mission since November 2020. The priorities of the combined group include medical care to the locals, mine clearing and patrolling the area to prevent and clear up emergencies in unfavourable weather conditions. The Emergencies Ministry and other Russian bodies are working in close contact with the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides, including when it comes to the activities of the international humanitarian response centre. You can request more information from the Emergencies Ministry.

As for a visit by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs and its agenda, such a visit is indeed being planned. The timeframe for the trip has not been decided yet. Its details should be coordinated with all sides.

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Question: The Foreign Ministry has issued a protest to the United States over the encouragement of young people to participate in rallies in support of Alexey Navalny. Despite the absurdity and unsubstantiated nature of the allegation that the blogger was “highly likely” poisoned with a Novichok chemical warfare agent, Germany is also interfering in Russia’s internal affairs and is circulating ungrounded accusations. The thinking public has found an explanation for the campaign about the “poisoning” of the blogger, they believe it is targeting the Nord Stream 2 project. Do you agree? Is Germany shooting itself in the foot? Will a protest to Germany be issued for interfering in the internal affairs of Russia?

Maria Zakharova: It is Germany that should speak about its own strategic interests. I would not like to act as its foreign ministry’s press secretary on this or any other matter. I believe that German representatives can themselves formulate their national interests, including in the sphere of energy. Russia has been expressing its interest in developing comprehensive, equal and mutually beneficial energy cooperation for a long time and openly, including cooperation with its European colleagues and, more precisely, with Germany, and has been doing its best towards this end. Therefore, with regard to how the German side’s statements resonate with its national interests and the interests of the people I suggest that you ask them.

As for the statements which Russia regards as interference in its internal affairs, I have already responded comprehensively today to all those who proclaimed certain slogans regarding our country. I would like to repeat once again what we have said openly during bilateral contact and publicly. First, our Western partners have more than enough problems of their own and plenty to do in their own countries. Second, nobody has invalidated the documents that all countries have signed, including the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. As for the activities of foreign diplomats in Russia, they must act within the framework of the proclaimed priority objectives of their mission in Russia. No state has announced its refusal to adhere to the UN Charter, in particular the provisions on respect for the sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states. These principles are still effective.

Regarding the statements made by the German side, in particular Mr Heiko Maas and other German officials, many of them are puzzling. We will notify the German Foreign Ministry soon about the unacceptability of such statements.

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Question: On January 20, 2021, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry issued a statement posted on its official website in connection with the 31st anniversary of the events of January 19-20, 1990. In that statement, they described the Soviet government’s actions as a crime against humanity, and insisted the initiators and executors should be called to account. It appears that the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry blames the Soviet Union (and Russia as its legal successor) for Black January and the deaths of almost 150 people and even insists on Russia being held accountable. What is Russia’s assessment of that statement?

Maria Zakharova: I do not consider this statement in this way. Russia and other countries can have different interpretations of historical events. At the same time, you are well aware of our relations with Azerbaijan at this stage as well as the official positions of the sides. This does not mean that we cannot have different views on historical events.

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Question: On December 14, 2020, Turkey and Ukraine signed an agreement on technology transfer and the production of corvettes and drones. The Ukrainian side believes the cooperation agreement will help increase the combat power of the Ukrainian Navy in the Black Sea-Azov Sea region. How does Russia feel about such rapprochement and military cooperation between Turkey and Ukraine? Does this rapprochement pose a threat to the region, given that the Ukrainian armed forces continue to shell Donbass?

Maria Zakharova: The Russian side has always insisted that each state has the right to develop bilateral cooperation unless it runs contrary to any legislation, and this position has not changed.

As for Ukraine, we know this very well. We cannot avoid reading new reports every day on the situation in Donbass in connection with the internal conflict in Ukraine. Each state has the right to develop bilateral relations in any area, but one must bear in mind that unfortunately, this conflict has not been resolved and it would be a good idea to first take into consideration how military-technical cooperation projects could affect this situation. We certainly cannot allow this. Not after so many lives have been lost in this bloody conflict, after so much effort, including international effort, has been put into helping Ukraine resolve this terrible problem. Those efforts cannot just be wiped away.

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Question: I would like to ask you about the Foreign Ministry’s note of protest to the US Embassy in Moscow over a statement posted on its official website regarding the January 23 rallies. The note was in English and addressed to US citizens residing in Russia. I analysed the traffic of the US Embassy’s website and saw that it has around 8,000 visitors a day, 30 percent of them in the United States and 70 percent in the rest of the world. Russia is not even in the top traffic group.

At the same time, that statement was posted on your Facebook account and the Foreign Ministry’s official account. You personally received 3,100 likes.

Why does the Foreign Ministry believe that Russian citizens would rather read news on the US Embassy’s website than on your Facebook account? Would anyone have noticed the statement had you not mentioned it?

Maria Zakharova: This is an assessment of my post and my comment, not of the item on the US Embassy’s website.

Speaking about the traffic, you are unlikely to have the technology necessary to assess it. You probably looked at public information. To make a more thorough analysis, you would need to analyse more than just public information and to get the help of IT experts in order to find out in which countries the visits were made. Modern technology can allow websites to be visited without the country where the visit was made being identified.

When you cite statistics, you should add that you are referring to public information. But, knowing about the existence of the technology that I have mentioned, you should have looked for additional information to make a thorough analysis.

You looked at the traffic of the US Embassy’s website. Incidentally, many media outlets reported on the item, that is where I saw it. I do not regularly monitor the website of the US Embassy in Russia, and I am not a subscriber. I only monitor newsfeeds. Information from the US Embassy’s website was reported by the media, bloggers and social networks. Have you seen these statistics?  If not, please take a look now; you will find it interesting.

You inferred that we promoted that story. This is not so. As I have already said, we found it in the news. Moreover, journalists asked us for comment. Saying that attracting attention to the problem is aggravating it is like saying that fire engines must not approach a fire because they have fuel tanks.

This could be our American colleagues’ idea of camouflaging information so as to be able to later accuse us of circulating it.

When we see a problem, we speak about it openly, trying to draw public attention to it. We have a right to do so.

We appreciate their concern for American citizens. We also try to raise our citizens’ safety awareness by warning them about emergencies, terrorist attacks and other incidents. Many things that take place in the world should be given special attention. We have a Foreign Assistant mobile app for publishing useful information, including about protest rallies around the world, but this is not what the US Embassy did.

There is a bigger problem which we pointed out to American diplomats in our note of protest. It concerns the activities of American internet monopolies that circulate fake news. They moderate the online information space at their own discretion, but they do not delete fake news, even those reports that have been officially debunked.

I would like to remind everyone that it is the American side that keeps saying that social media is full of fake news, bots and hackers. We can also see that American online platforms (social media and video hosting services) are actively involved in these activities. They have appointed themselves as moderators, blocking accounts at will, whether it be the accounts of the US President or of public figures and journalists, without court rulings or any reliance on laws, not even US laws, let alone international commitments, and without decisions being made by the professional organisations.

In the past, the blame was laid at the door of administrators, but we know now that even the managers of American IT giants are engaged in censoring their own cyberspace. On the one hand, they have usurped the right to moderate content for political reasons, allegedly because of fake news and security threats, even though there is no threat at all in the information posted by many platforms, for example, Tsargrad. On the other hand, they do not delete obviously fake news and encouragement to take part in illegal protest rallies, even though they have a global reach and operate in the Russian area of jurisdiction or the areas of other sovereign countries. The issue has grown into a full-blown problem.

I would like to draw your attention to the Federation Council Statement in connection with violations of the principle of freedom of speech by global American Internet companies and the Foreign Ministry statement in support of our senators, which were published yesterday. We will use diplomatic channels to bring these statements, first of all the Federation Council Statement, to the attention of parliaments and the law-making authorities of all countries. We will also circulate it as an official document of the UN General Assembly.

I would like to repeat that a note of protest has been presented to American diplomats accredited in Moscow.

It is an old problem. It has loomed large only recently, although IT experts and those who specialise in the boundary issues of information and new technology, international information security and the freedom of speech have been speaking and writing about this problem for a long time. How will American social media giants operate in the future, considering, first, that they have monopolised the market and, second, their close ties with security services in the United States and EU countries (all of us remember the hearings to which their managers were summoned and the sanctions applied to them)? Actually, Western countries themselves have been “moderating” these managers and their corporations for years. On the other hand, they completely disregard the internal legislation of the other sovereign states. This is a problem that must be resolved one way or another.

 

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