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4 February 202121:26

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow, February 4, 2021

187-04-02-2021

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Table of contents

  1. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming meeting with Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto
  2. Diplomats’ Day
  3. Comments by the ‘collective West’ on socio-political situation in Russia
  4. Persecution of participants in January mass protests in the United States
  5. Update on US citizens Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed
  6. Syria update
  7. Update on Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to resolve the situation around the Iranian nuclear programme
  8. Results of Iran-Eurasia Economic Diplomacy conference
  9. The role of the US military in the Kosovo conflict
  10. Long-term consequences of NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia
  11. British media publications on London’s weapons deliveries to countries covered by UK sanctions or embargo regime
  12. Acquittal of Ukrainian citizen Vitaly Markiv, charged with killing a Russian journalist and an Italian press photographer in the Donetsk Region in 2014
  13. Ukrainian sanctions against Nicaragua for opening an Honorary Consulate in Crimea
  14. Ban on three opposition channels in Ukraine
  15. US officials’ statements on New START
  16. Termination of retransmission of Russian television channels in Latvia
  17. The launch of Sputnik Meedia
  18. Events commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz
  19. Joint article by the Lithuanian and Japanese foreign ministers
  20. New cases of vandalising and dismantling Soviet monuments in Poland
  21. Yalta (Crimea) Conference anniversary
  22. Marking Grenada’s Independence Day

Answers to media questions:

  1. Clement Beaune, French Secretary of State for European Affairs, on abandoning Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline
  2. The fate of historical landmarks in Nagorno-Karabakh
  3. The situation in Libya and the Central African Republic
  4. Foreign diplomats at Alexey Navalny’s trial
  5. Appointment of Eleonora Mitrofanova as Russian Ambassador to Bulgaria
  6. The election in Palestine and the prospects for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement

 

 

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming meeting with Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto

 

On February 15, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be in St Petersburg for talks with Foreign Minister of Finland Pekka Haavisto, who will be in Russia on a working visit. 

The two officials plan to discuss bilateral cooperation issues, including the schedule for upcoming political meetings, cooperation in trade, the economy, culture, education and healthcare, and the agenda for the regional cooperation formats in the Baltics and northern Europe, including the agenda for Russia’s two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council, which will begin in May. They will also discuss important international issues.

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Diplomats’ Day

 

On February 10, Russia observes Diplomats’ Day, a day of professional recognition instituted by executive order of the President of the Russian Federation on October 31, 2002.

The date commemorates February 10, 1549, the earliest mention in official chronicles of Russia’s first state agency for foreign affairs – the Ambassadorial Department (or Posolsky Prikaz in Russian).

Today, the Foreign Ministry of Russia is guided by the Concept of Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation as endorsed by the President of Russia on November 30, 2016. In accordance with this programme, doctrinal document, Russian foreign policy is aimed at ensuring the country’s national security, sovereignty and territorial integrity, creating favourable conditions for sustainable economic growth, strengthening international peace and stability, enhancing the role of the UN, and developing bilateral and multilateral relations of mutually advantageous and equitable partnership with foreign states. The key principles of Russian foreign policy have remained unchanged: independence, openness, predictability, pragmatism, a multi-directional approach, and the upholding of national interests.

By tradition, we are planning a series of events for this date. Unfortunately, this year they will be reduced in scope and some of them will be held online due to the coronavirus restrictions.

On February 10, wreaths will be laid at the memorial plaques in the Foreign Ministry building for the names of our colleagues who perished on the fronts of the Great Patriotic War and while performing their professional duties during peacetime, as well as at the monuments of prominent Soviet and Russian diplomats at the Novodevichy Convent cemetery. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other diplomats will lay flowers at the monument to Yevgeny Primakov.

An exhibit devoted to the activities of deputy foreign ministers who left an important mark in the history of domestic foreign policy and diplomacy will be displayed in the lobby of the ministry’s central building. The birth anniversaries of these diplomats are being marked this year: Vasily Kuznetsov, Yakov Malik, Vladimir Semyonov, Vladimir Vinogradov, Igor Zemskov, Mikhail Kapitsa and Yuly Kvitsinsky.

We publish materials on the history of the Russian diplomatic service on our online resources. On the eve of Diplomats’ Day we are paying our respects to our late colleagues, and we remember them. We are also planning to publish a series of articles on outstanding Russian diplomats as part of our project #InMemoryofDiplomats.

Themed events will be held at Russian embassies and consulates abroad. Some of our foreign offices have adopted a creative approach to this commemorative date and are working on full multimedia projects in cooperation with their media partners. Thus, the Russian Embassy in Uzbekistan and the Russian language edition of Novosti Uzbekistana (Uzbekistan News) have launched a number of publications entitled “Russian Diplomacy: Personalities, Stories, and Facts.” You can read about this on the ministry’s website and on our social media pages.

As in previous years, on the eve of this day, many Russian ambassadors will give interviews to the media and describe the fine points of present-day diplomacy. This is linked with the current situation – international relations are going through a fairly difficult period. Many new processes have been introduced due to the pandemic. It is understandable that the profession of diplomat is more in demand in these uneasy circumstances than ever before.

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Comments by the ‘collective West’ on socio-political situation in Russia

 

We have noted the recent comments made by the so-called collective West, with the United States playing the role of the lead singer and conductor of the ‘choir.’ The heads of state and foreign ministers of NATO and EU countries have also made statements on the socio-political situation in Russia.

This is a coordinated information campaign. Its goal is a global attempt to contain Russia and interfere in its internal affairs. This is nothing new though. Russia is far from being the only country targeted by its Western partners. They are just worried about anyone who might be able to compete with them, in one way or another. They are unable to accept rivalry normally, in a healthy legal context. For our Western partners, it is a pain in the neck because it runs contrary to their doctrinal principle of their exclusiveness – they alone can tell everyone what to do and how democracy should work. We are well aware of this; we have been there many times already. They are just having another bout.

As I have mentioned, the United States plays a leading role. We will have a separate talk with them. The UK, Germany, and France have also picked up the tune, replicating the string of groundless accusations against us, and distorting facts when describing events happening in Russia. Let me underscore that we are talking about interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state here. This is how we interpret these statements. One gets the impression that the Western officialdom is refusing to see what has been happening in recent days and months in the EU or the US. They are deliberately diverting the international community’s attention from the situation in their own countries, focusing on their version of developments in Russia instead.

Allow me to remind you of some recent events in those countries – riots, violent clashes between protesters and the police, the use of all possible methods and means of suppressing protests, including firearms as in the United States some time ago. There is the never ending escalation in the level of violence, as we note. This is what our partners need to pay attention to – the situation in their own countries, and not try to rock Russia’s boat.

This pseudo-concern over the situation in Russia will not help resolve any EU or NATO countries citizens’ problems, in particular France. Statements made by Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian are beyond any diplomatic propriety. I could give you a piece of good advice: try putting the energy that goes into criticising our country into achieving some peaceful purposes, such as addressing problems more relevant for citizens of your countries. We will raise the entire scope of issues (the unacceptable statements, pseudo-assessments, and distortion of facts) at Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell who will be arriving in Russia tomorrow. As a reminder – it is a planned visit.

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Persecution of participants in January mass protests in the United States

 

We are deeply concerned about the ongoing persecution campaign against participants in the so-called storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, and against anybody at all who does not agree with the results of the latest presidential election. US officials and an obedient media have labelled them “domestic terrorists.” By the way, did the ambassadors of EU countries or EU representatives in the US react in any way? Did they express concern about Washington’s rhetoric regarding its own citizens? No? Too bad.

The FBI has reportedly opened more than 400 criminal cases and applied for more than 500 search warrants and subpoenas for suspects; it has also brought charges against and detained around 200 people. Only several dozen defendants have been released on bail or placed under house arrest. The others are being subjected to harsh pressure, with members of their family and social circle being coerced into giving a “convenient” testimony. Moreover, people who have not even been officially charged are losing their jobs; they are being banned from social media and publicly ostracised.

Among other things, there is a question about the objectivity of the law enforcement agencies because they are essentially acting under orders and in line with the narrative of the current administration who declared the events of January 6, 2021 a riot and everybody who was near the US Congress on that day all but plunderers. Whereas in fact, the majority of those people were ordinary citizens concerned about the situation in their own country. These were 74 million voters who voted for their president and defended their views. I am using the same words that Washington has used with respect to our country.

Their protest will not just go away. You cannot just sweep discontent under the rug. Even the rhetoric that the United States allows itself to use with respect to Russia will not help distract public attention from the country’s own problems. They will have to be dealt with. US citizens deserve to be treated according to the law and in line with Washington’s international obligations. In this context, we have every reason to express concern and demand that basic human rights be observed. US officials are constantly and hypocritically taking care of these rights when it comes to other countries; and yet, they have no scruples in ignoring them at home. Why don’t you deal with your own problems? There are plenty of them and they need to be solved.

We intend to continue monitoring this issue and have a serious talk with Washington.

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Update on US citizens Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed

 

We noticed the coordinated propaganda campaign which was, again, ordered by Washington, in the US and other Western media concerning Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed who are said to have been “wrongfully convicted” in Russia. Complaints by the men’s relatives about the ill treatment of Mr Whelan and Mr Reed are being circulated in the media. There have been unsubstantiated claims that Mr Whelan (who was caught red-handed and charged with espionage) is being denied due medical care. He is alleged to have fallen ill in the penal colony and to have a high fever but no help has been provided.

I should remind you that we heard these kind of rants before and, like before, there is no evidence to support such allegations. Every time Mr Whelan visits a doctor’s surgery with symptoms of an ailment he receives help and is offered several optional treatments. I can assure you that his condition is satisfactory.

Since the United States is so concerned about the state of human rights and their citizens, it would be helpful if they practiced the same approach with respect to the citizens of other countries imprisoned in the United States, primarily Russia. These individuals include Konstantin Yaroshenko, Viktor Bout and many others. They do need help and usually receive it only after multiple requests by Russian embassies and consular services.

Overall, the insinuations concerning Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed seem to be rooted in an ingenious plan to serve them up as political victims but that is not going to work. If this is the actual purpose of this information campaign, it is a failed plan. Both are convicted for a reason, on serious criminal charges, and will serve their sentences. It would be nice to see more objectivity on behalf of the US media. Perhaps it is time they gave their audiences the real picture.

We advise our American counterparts against even trying to exert any pressure on Russia in order to get unilateral concessions. As we have repeatedly stated previously, communicating with us in this manner is futile.

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Syria update

 

On January 25-29, 2021, Geneva was the venue of the fifth meeting of the Syrian Constitutional Committee’s Drafting Commission. Under earlier agreements, the pro-government and opposition delegations started discussing the Fundamental Law’s subject matter. The latter delegation actively involved civil society’s “independent” representatives.

In the run-up and during the latest round, jointly with our Astana format partners we urged the Syrian parties to conduct a constructive dialogue in the interests of merging the positions and charting a common perception of their country’s future constitution. We hope that the intra-Syrian consultations in Geneva, with the effective assistance of Geir Pedersen, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, will continue in the near future. At the same time, we believe that the attainment of substantial progress on the constitutional track will facilitate the fastest possible comprehensive and sustainable stabilisation of the situation in Syria in full compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and decisions of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.

The ceasefire is being observed in most of the Syrian regions. A tense situation persists in the Idlib zone where terrorist groups still rule supreme. ISIS militants continue to stage attacks in the Syrian Desert in eastern Syria. Syrian government forces and the Russian Aerospace Forces launch retaliatory strikes against ISIS caches and strongholds. Undercover ISIS fighters have also become more active on the opposite bank of the Euphrates River, controlled by the self-proclaimed Kurdish administration, with US military support.

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Update on Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to resolve the situation around the Iranian nuclear programme

 

So far, there have been no substantial changes making it possible to resume the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to resolve the situation around the Iranian nuclear programme under the initially coordinated framework.

In this connection, numerous hopes are being placed on the administration of US President Joe Biden. Washington has sent out certain messages highlighting its principled readiness to rejoin the “nuclear deal.” However, we are now merely watching the United States and Iran exchanging mutual claims on who should be the first to meet the other party halfway.

Tehran has repeatedly voiced its readiness to once again fulfill all JCPOA provisions in full measure, following the complete restoration of the lost balance of interests. So far, the Iranian party continues to expand its nuclear activities, including the expansion of uranium enrichment capacities in Fordow, Natanz and Isfahan, as proved by the latest reports by the IAEA Director General. However, we should heed the fact that the IAEA closely oversees all the projects, being implemented by Iran at the already-mentioned facilities; nor do these projects transcend Tehran’s obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).    

We believe that the consistent and complete fulfilment of the agreements by all countries that drafted and signed them, including the United States and Iran, are an essential condition for saving the “nuclear deal.” We are ready to closely cooperate with all parties to the JCPOA for the sake of achieving this goal, and we are also ready to cooperate constructively with the new US administration in this field.

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Results of Iran-Eurasia Economic Diplomacy conference

 

On January 27, Iran hosted the Iran-Eurasia Economic Diplomacy forum sponsored by the Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture. The event was attended by high-ranking representatives of relevant agencies, businesses and the local expert community, as well as ambassadors of the EAEU member states.

We appreciate the results of the meeting organised by our Iranian friends. We believe it showed Iran's interest in further strengthening its partnership with the EAEU, including in potentially moving from the interim agreement on a free trade area between Iran and the EAEU to a permanent one.

Our countries have significant trade, economic, investment, and science and technology potential for mutually beneficial cooperation. We hope that a full liberalisation of trade will help to build up mutual turnover.

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The role of the US military in the Kosovo conflict

 

We were impressed by US Ambassador to Kosovo Philip S. Kosnett’s revelations, in an interview with the Kosovar online newspaper Gazetablic.com on January 26, on the true role of the US in military action in Yugoslavia during the active phase of the conflict in the late 1990s. His comment that US soldiers did not fight and die to create Greater Serbia or Greater Albania in the Balkans cannot be interpreted otherwise.

Such utterances lead to the logical conclusion that the bloodshed in Kosovo was not the result of some turn of events or Belgrade’s policies after all, as the West is still trying to present it, but were provoked externally with the purpose of an illegal seizure of part of Serbia’s territory. The operation had been planned by Western special services and implemented with their direct combat, material and expert support. Essentially, this is an important piece of evidence that leaves no room for the myth of Washington and its allies’ good intentions in the Balkans.

It is impossible to miss the obvious contradiction between the US ambassador’s confessions and the official Western version that the US and its NATO accomplices limited themselves to an air operation against Yugoslavia, cynically nicknamed Merciful Angel, and that the Alliance allegedly suffered no human losses at that time. It now appears that the situation was quite different. We are waiting for an explanation.

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Long-term consequences of NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia

 

In Serbia, the first individual lawsuit against NATO has been filed seeking compensation for health damage caused by the Alliance’s use of depleted uranium during its 1999 bomb attacks. Lawyers are now compiling more than 2,000 lawsuits for Serbs and Albanians seeking compensation on similar grounds. More than 20 years after the Alliance's aggression in Yugoslavia, the incidence of major health problems including cancer in the affected areas in southern Serbia are still well above the national average.

NATO has left more such ‘traces’ from its other ‘humanitarian’ missions. After the bombing in northern Libya, the background radiation was several times higher than the permitted level – the distinctive signature of NATO ‘humanitarian workers.’ Causing serious and lasting damage to the natural environment and human health, in direct violation of international humanitarian law, has become a well-established practice in NATO member states.

NATO members talk a lot about threats to European security, although in reality, the main threat is their irresponsible actions that lead to an escalation of tensions and have on one occasion caused an environmental disaster in the centre of Europe. They not only used radioactive ammunition in Yugoslavia. They targeted specific enterprises, and their hits led to the spill of tonnes of toxic and carcinogenic chemical agents in surrounding lands and rivers, including the Danube.

Unfortunately, no one has been punished for these crimes so far. This, again, fits perfectly with the norm of the Western mainstream – never admit or recognise mistakes. Is Yugoslavia the only example? Take Iraq, Libya and many other places on the planet. They come, destroy and go, without apologising or being punished. And then they lecture others on what they should do and what freedom is. This looks like a kind of erosion of responsibility within the Alliance, which is dominated by permissiveness because no one ever gets punished.

The NATO member countries are apparently wary of setting a precedent for paying compensations to victims. That is why NATO has consistently denied any connection between the spread of malignant tumours and leukaemia and the massive use of depleted uranium in southern Serbia, claiming any such connection between those facts is unfounded. Even several hundred NATO troops from the Kosovo Force (KFOR) have suffered from the long-term consequences of the aggression against Yugoslavia. This is confirmed, for example, by a number of verdicts from Italian courts on cases filed by representatives of the Italian Armed Forces who were in KFOR in 1999 and later came down with cancer.

Young Serbs have not seen NATO’s aggression. But they continue to be affected, in one way or another, by its long-term consequences. That is why it is so important for that country to continue to carefully document and systematise the evidence of NATO’s crimes in Yugoslavia, based on a scientific study of all the details. Perhaps the aforementioned lawsuits against NATO and the interdepartmental commission established in 2018 by the Serbian parliament will help establish the truth and lead to punishment of those guilty, so that this can never happen again.

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British media publications on London’s weapons deliveries to countries covered by UK sanctions or embargo regime

 

We have noted a recent publication in The Guardian citing the results of a survey carried out by the British NGO Action on Armed Violence. It points out that from January 2015 to June 2020, Her Majesty’s Government approved contracts for the delivery of weapons and military equipment to 58 out of the 73 countries “blacklisted” by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Trade. According to the publication, the UK Foreign Office lists some recipient countries among human rights violators.

Likewise, another British NGO called Campaign against Arms Trade has posted information noting that, in 2018-2020, representatives from 130 states completed military training courses in the UK. London regularly accuses at least 15 of these states of human rights violations, and eight of them are covered by an arms embargo.

In our opinion, all this once again confirms the fact that Her Majesty’s Government uses a policy of double standards in interstate relations. On the one hand, London loudly talks about its leading role in the international human rights movement and demands that the culprits either be brought to account or face sanctions. On the other hand, London is ready to overlook the misdeeds of its “partners” whenever it finds this profitable, and whenever money is paid for this. Consequently, human rights sell well for a good price.

We believe that it is possible to interpret the mentioned examples as an openly cynical use of the human rights file by the UK. This undermines the UK’s reputation as a champion of justice and human rights. By reading a list of recipient countries, it becomes possible to confirm the UK’s unseemly role in inciting intra-state conflicts in various parts of the world; these conflicts cause numerous civilian casualties. This hypocritical policy of Her Majesty’s Government deserves to be discussed, and it also deserves all-out censure on the part of London’s foreign partners and the international human rights community.

In this connection, we once again urge the UK to renounce the use of the human rights file for political and propaganda purposes. We advise London to, at long last, decide what is more important: human rights that have been encroached upon or the interests of the UK’s military-industrial lobby. What is the price of the UK’s honour and dignity?

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Acquittal of Ukrainian citizen Vitaly Markiv, charged with killing a Russian journalist and an Italian press photographer in the Donetsk Region in 2014

 

We have noted the publication by the Italian press of a resolutive part of a verdict by the Milan Court of Appeals. On November 3, 2020, the Milan Court of Appeals overturned a verdict by the Pavia Court of the First Instance with regard to Ukrainian/Italian citizen Vitaly Markiv, a member of the Ukrainian National Guard. On July 12, 2019, the Pavia Court found Vitaly Markiv guilty of killing a Russian citizen, journalist and interpreter Andrey Mironov and press photographer Andrea Rocchelli in 2014 in the Donetsk Region of Ukraine and sentenced him to 24 years in prison.

This situation evokes dismay. A year ago, an Italian court found Vitaly Markiv guilty of committing a horrendous crime, namely, killing two unarmed and absolutely innocent people, in Ukraine. The Appeals Court in Milan, another Italian city, located 90 kilometres from Pavia whose court passed the initial verdict, ruled that the Ukrainian citizen was not guilty and acquitted him, citing insufficient evidence.

Media outlets have written a lot about court proceedings and amazing events in the courtroom and the courtroom antics of Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. This man’s hands are smeared with the blood of thousands of Donbass residents and Ukrainian service personnel who fired at civilians on his orders. Ukrainian nationalists walked around the court building and shouted extremist slogans, as if they were standing in Kiev’s Maidan Square, rather than in one of Europe’s most civilised cities. 

We don’t want to make any groundless claims, but it appears that the Milan Court of Appeals that was probably prompted by certain representatives of Italian authorities sacrificed its position of principle and completely revised the decision of the Pavia Court of the First Instance. It ignored quite a bit of irrefutable evidence based on a six-year investigation and eyewitness affidavits. If so, the not very irreproachable reputation of the Italian justice system has received another blow. The feelings of Andrea Rocchelli’s relatives, as well as those of most reasonable Italians, have also been insulted. They expected the court to make an equitable decision in the interests of Italian citizens and punish the killer.

This trial has great significance for Russia because it implies punishment for a person guilty of killing Russian citizen Andrey Mironov. Unfortunately, the court devoted practically no attention to all the circumstances.

The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation is investigating a criminal case, as regards events in southeastern Ukraine. Under this case, Vitaly Markiv has been charged with committing a crime listed in Article 105.2 of the Russian Federation’s Criminal Code (Killing Two or More Persons with Aggravating Circumstances). An international arrest warrant in absentia has been issued for the Ukrainian citizen. We are confident that justice will prevail.

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Ukrainian sanctions against Nicaragua for opening an Honorary Consulate in Crimea

 

The Ukrainian authorities have imposed sanctions on Nicaragua for appointing an honorary consul in the Republic of Crimea. This is really ridiculous, considering that Ukraine and Nicaragua ceased to be official trade partners in 2017 and so there is no reason for the sanctions. This was obviously an act of desperation.

I would like to say once again that the Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol are the constituent entities of the Russian Federation. The opening of foreign countries’ consular offices on the territory of Russia is a matter of Russia’s bilateral relations with these countries that has no connection to any third parties, including Ukraine. We urge the Ukrainian authorities to stop interfering in and not to attempt to influence bilateral ties between states that have no relation to Ukraine.

Kiev has expressed solidarity with Western decisions on so many issues that there is something in common in this instance as well, namely, our recommendation to get on with solving their own problems and leave Nicaragua alone.

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Ban on three opposition channels in Ukraine

 

Unprecedented events have taken place in Ukraine in the past few days. There are reasons for describing them as unprecedented. On the one hand, there were many similar events, but on the other hand, the Kiev authorities’ latest moves stand out in terms of their destructive effect on the democratic processes, which, although they are limited to written and oral statements, have at least been proclaimed. They concern democracy, the freedom of expression and journalists’ rights.

The Kiev authorities have once again demonstrated their total disregard for Ukraine’s obligation to protect fundamental human rights.

Why have I described these moves as unprecedented? The previous Kiev regime never declared its commitment to democratic values as desperately and convincingly as the current one. During the past years, many people came to believe President Zelensky’s sincerity when he said that people must not be prohibited from speaking their native language and that television channels must not be banned. It turned out that he was not so much sincere as artistic.

On February 2, 2021, three local TV channels, 112 Ukraine, NewsOne and Zik, which represent the opinion of opposition-minded people, were taken off the air by a presidential executive order. The order put into effect the decision of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine “On the application of personal special economic and other restrictive measures (sanctions)” against Deputy Taras Kozak (Opposition Platform – For Life party), who officially owns the above media resources. The three channels have been stopped from broadcasting and their telecommunications and radio frequency licences have been cancelled. The right of millions of Ukrainian citizens to freedom of information has been restricted. Moreover, the authorities plan to ensure that their streaming on the YouTube platform is banned as well. This is a flagrant infringement on the freedom of speech. Putting it bluntly, the Kiev authorities are doing their best to hoodwink the people.

More than once, we have raised the issue of Kiev’s unacceptable treatment of Russian media outlets, internet resources, printed materials and even children’s books, which have been prohibited under the guise of resisting an imaginary Russian threat and alleged propaganda. This time Kiev’s repressive actions have gone too far and can no longer be stopped. They have banned Ukrainian information resources because of their stand, which does not suit the ruling elite.

We believe that the banning of three Ukrainian media resources with a large audience by a presidential executive order is a glaring example of political censorship and unfair competition, which runs counter to Ukrainian laws and Kiev’s international commitment to protect the freedom of speech.

We remember that during his election campaign Vladimir Zelensky spoke about respect for the principles of language diversity and freedom of speech. Despite these promises, Ukraine continues sliding down towards a totalitarian system of government and enforced Ukrainisation. I would like to remind you about what Vladimir Zelensky said barely 18 months ago, during his visit to the Rovno Region in September 2019: “I really respect each channel, including NewsOne. I’ve never closed a single channel in my life. I don’t have the right to do so, I don’t have the powers. I personally value freedom of speech.”

We have repeatedly drawn the attention of relevant international organisations to the continuing degradation of the situation with freedom of speech and pluralism of opinions in Ukraine. We felt like they didn’t believe what we were saying then. But now what is stopping international specialised agencies from making appropriate comments on the matter?

Members of the foreign media are expelled from Ukraine for no reason at all or under far-fetched pretexts. Illegal arrests and the detention of journalists continue unabated. The most striking examples (not the only ones) include the detention of the head of the RIA Novosti-Ukraine portal Kirill Vyshinsky, which lasted more than a year, on charges of high treason as part of a fabricated criminal case. The 2014 murders of Russian journalists Andrey Stenin, Anton Voloshin, Igor Kornelyuk and Anatoly Klyan remain uninvestigated.

The Kiev authorities have long been pursuing a policy of systematic repression with regard to media members and pressure on unwanted information sources. Ukraine’s national legislation is being reformed to this end. The draft laws On the Media and On Combating Disinformation are under review. They envisage a number of major restrictions on the media, which will, in fact, establish state censorship. The draft laws explicitly instruct the media to put a negative slant on the Russian state’s activities. Plans are in place to legislate a ban on “popularising and promoting the authorities of an aggressor state,” as well as on justifying or denying armed aggression and annexation of Ukraine’s territory and violation of its territorial integrity and sovereignty. Thus, the long process of eradicating alternative thoughts is coming to an end and total censorship is about to be introduced.

The functioning of the extremist website Myrotvorets in Ukraine is unacceptable. The media (by the way, no one in Ukraine has denied that the above channels are media) are being closed. This is being done in a purposefully rude and harsh manner, and yet Myrotvorets, which promotes utterly extremist ideology, continues to operate. As you may recall, this online resource openly publishes the personal data of the journalists who cover events from the “wrong side” of history (as Kiev regards it).

The fact that the “Ukrainian democracy” proponents remain silent on this subject is surprising, since they are usually very much present in the information field. It remains unclear whether this is a sign of approval of the Kiev regime’s anti-democratic actions or just bewilderment.

The US Embassy to Ukraine came up with an unusually extravagant statement saying that “The United States supports Ukraine’s efforts yesterday to counter Russia’s malign influence, in line with Ukrainian law, in defense of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. We must all work together to prevent disinformation from being deployed as a weapon in an information war against sovereign states.” We would like to remind Washington and other fact-recognition-challenged figures in the United States that these are Ukrainian, not Russian channels. Those with impaired memory should be reminded of a comment by State Department Spokesperson Ned Price on February 3, 2021: “The United States condemns media censorship anywhere in the world… [which] is the hallmark of dictatorships. … We condemn blocking, harassment, and other tactics to stifle independent media voices, including the recent shuttering of VPItv”. There is Ned Price and the US State Department, and then there is the US Embassy to Ukraine – are they two different entities now, or do they still have something in common? The statements by US diplomats can’t be that contradictory in the first days of February. Or did something go wrong?

The statement by the Kiev-based US Embassy was made on behalf of the very country that positions itself as an epitome of democracy, and has, by the way, signed key international legal documents in the sphere of freedom of speech such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Copenhagen (1990) and Moscow (1991) documents of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE (now the OSCE).

We would like to note once again that the United States and Ukraine are the only countries in the world that vote every year at the UN General Assembly against the resolution “Combating the glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”. Why Ukraine is doing so is clear. Washington explains its vote against this resolution by its unwillingness to “put limits on freedom of speech.”

The US Embassy to Ukraine is speaking of the need “to prevent disinformation from being deployed as a weapon in an information war against sovereign states,” despite the fact that Washington has subjugated the leading global social media and video hosting platforms’ activities to its political interests, just because they are American. The US-based digital platforms account for most of disinformation spread around the globe. How has Washington fought or how does it plan to fight its own internet monopolies? By no means. Disinformation is being disseminated on social media located on US-based digital platforms, and their servers are located in the United States as well. Recently, their senior executives, with the acquiescence of the US elites, have come to the point where they coordinate the blocking, under far-fetched pretexts, of sources of information that their curators find objectionable, all the way to the official accounts of the US President. And these people talk to us about disinformation and ways to fight it? First, start doing it yourself. The United States is all about full-blown censorship, the total absence of legal frameworks for internet platforms, and endless violations by the US internet giants of the laws and jurisdictions of sovereign states.

Back to Ukraine, we hope that the relevant international entities, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Director-General of UNESCO, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and the OSCE ODIHR, will not turn a blind eye to this blatant violation of freedom of speech, will give it a proper assessment and take the necessary measures to force the Ukrainian authorities to comply with their own laws and international obligations.

I’m not sure that a bevy of diplomats from EU countries will line up in front of these organisations demanding that justice be restored and calling on Ukraine to comply with its own laws and international commitments in the sphere of freedom of speech. They are busy dealing with other states and problems. However, we, for our part, will definitely send relevant documents to these organisations.

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US officials’ statements on New START

 

We have noted the statements made by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on February 3 that “the United States has assessed the Russian Federation to be in compliance with its New START Treaty obligations every year since the treaty entered into force in 2011.”

Just a few months ago now, on December 8, 2020, the US President's Special Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea said: “Russia is a serial arms control violator. <...> They cannot be trusted when it comes to arms control.<...> We find this deeply troubling. In keeping with this dangerous way of thinking, Russia is building up and modernizing an arsenal of thousands of nuclear warheads that are completely unconstrained by the New START treaty.”

There are more and more contradictions. The crisis is evident.

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Termination of retransmission of Russian television channels in Latvia

 

Ukraine is not the only country that has problems with the media and freedom of speech. Now, Tet, the largest cable operator in Latvia, has announced that as of February 1 it stopped broadcasting a number of Russian television channels. These are Channel One, NTV Mir, Ren TV Baltija, Kinokomedija and Kinomiks. In fact, the Latvian government that controls Tet with 51 percent of the shares continues the destructive policy line to oust Russian content from the local media landscape. This is an exact attack on freedom of speech.

The operator explained its move citing “uncertainty about the copyright representation of those television channels and concerns about non-compliance with the EU sanctions regime.” Amazing reasons. And totally unclear, for that matter.

This is far from the first example of unfriendly steps taken by the Latvian government, including, among other things, a discriminatory approach to the Russian and Russian-language media. The previous victims of information repression in Riga were seven television channels of the RT media holding, as well as freelance correspondents writing for Sputnik and Baltnews now struggling with criminal prosecution. Next in line is the RTR-Planeta television channel. After repeated temporary blockages, the Latvian authorities intend to finally ban it.

We are reporting open suppression of freedom of speech in Latvia under the guise of the illegitimate EU sanctions. If the Latvian Ambassador to Moscow has sent a diplomat to “defend” the rights of one particular person, maybe other Latvian diplomats will also bother to take care of the rights of millions of people in their own country, defend the freedom of speech, and prevent another violation of Riga's international obligations?

We call on the European Commission, as well as the relevant bodies of UNESCO, OSCE and the Council of Europe, which are monitoring the situation regarding freedom of the media around the world, to properly respond to the events in Latvia.

In this regard, we note with gratitude the efforts made by OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Teresa Ribeiro who publicly commented on Russian concerns about the infringement of the rights of Russian and Russian-speaking journalists in the Baltics. According to her press release, she promptly met with the Permanent Representatives of Latvia and Estonia to the OSCE and urged them to respect the rights of all journalists to freely report on any matters of public interest, and also pointed out the need to comply with their countries’ international obligations in this area.

We hope that those countries, including Latvia, will heed such calls.

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The launch of Sputnik Meedia

 

There is also good news. In the Baltics, where the authorities, while declaring support for the high standards of democratic rights and freedoms in other countries, continue efforts to eradicate any dissent, journalists are holding their own in their battle against information dictate.

We are delighted to welcome the launch of a new independent information resource, Sputnik Meedia. The backbone of its team consists of the former journalists of Sputnik Estonia, which was forced to cease operating on January 1, 2020, under the authorities’ pressure and intimidation involving threats of criminal persecution. Sputnik Meedia is not connected to the media holding Rossiya Segodnya and is funded by independent sources. This new information resource will provide alternative news content while carrying on the tradition of promoting good-neighbourly relations, according to its own information.

We admire the courage and fortitude of the journalists who, when faced with an orchestrated provocation, have demonstrated their resolve to continue protecting the freedom of speech and to speak the truth in the Baltic countries despite unprecedented pressure put on them, doing this where it really counts. We would like to wish them every success and, of course, open-mindedness in this difficult undertaking.

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Events commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz

 

On January 27, 2021, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum held online events to commemorate the 76th anniversary of the liberation of that Nazi death camp. We have taken note of the fact that only the Russian Ambassador to Poland and the Israeli Charge d’Affaires mentioned in their video addresses that the camp had been liberated by the Red Army. This is why.

The Polish President avoided speaking about this, and the new items on that event published in the Polish media, if they mentioned it at all, said that on January 27, 1945 the Red Army “occupied” the camp. It did not liberate the inmates, did not bring peace or save lives, but “occupied” the camp.

The fact that Poland continues to demonstrate a selective attitude to historical memory, and sometimes historical amnesia, preferring instead to keep silent about or distort disagreeable WWII events, cannot change the truth that it was the Red Army that made the decisive contribution to routing Nazi Germany and to liberating Europe from the Nazi yoke. However hard Warsaw would like to forget this, we will not allow this to happen.

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Joint article by the Lithuanian and Japanese foreign ministers

 

On January 27, 2021, The Jerusalem Post in Israel published an article by the foreign ministers of Lithuania and Japan about Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese consul in Kaunas. He provided thousands of Jewish refugees with visas, and received Israel’s honorary title Righteous Among the Nations. The Japanese Orthodox Church also reveres Chiune Sugihara as a locally venerated saint and righteous man.

We regret to note that the foreign ministers of Lithuania and Japan used this worthy occasion, namely, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marked every January 27, to promote a distorted perception of World War II events and to accuse the Soviet Union of “occupying” Poland and the three Baltic countries in 1939-1940. The Embassy of Russia in Tokyo has already provided a detailed comment in Japanese and Russian. We expect The Jerusalem Post to publish the English version of the comment.

I would like to add on my behalf that Japanese diplomacy has allowed itself to be dragged into Lithuania’s political games, which have the ultimate aim of revising the outcomes of World War II and the decisions of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. By voicing groundless accusations, today’s Vilnius and some other European capitals want to blame the Soviet Union for unleashing World War II.

The situation with Lithuania is clear: Its current policy aims to divert the international community’s attention from the ongoing glorification of Lithuanian collaborators and Nazi accomplices, guilty of exterminating Lithuania’s Jewish community (over 200,000 people). At the same time, Tokyo’s historical “myopia” is astonishing. During the events in Europe, Japan was openly attacking China and brutally suppressing any form of resistance. Suffice it to recall the Nanjing massacre. Japan also tried to test the strength of Soviet and Mongolian borders. 

This selective attitude to giving the background of Chiune Sugihara’s story is rather disturbing. We would like to warn our colleagues from the Japanese Foreign Ministry that further solidarity with Lithuanian historical revisionism may become an irritant in our bilateral relations.  

We will certainly discuss Jewish refugees’ transit via the Soviet Union and the role of the Soviet People’s Commissariat (Ministry) of Foreign Affairs in this episode once again. We are confident that you will be interested.

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New cases of vandalising and dismantling Soviet monuments in Poland

 

Contrary to the civilised world’s customary principles of honouring the memory of fallen soldiers and in violation of the 1994 Russian-Polish inter-governmental agreement on burial sites and memorials honouring the victims of war and repressions, Poland continues its assault on the Soviet memorial heritage, as part of a strategy to rewrite history.

This time, monuments honouring Soviet soldiers-liberators have been desecrated in Ogrodzieniec and Rzeczyn. The monument in Ogrodzieniec was covered with black paint and writing, the memorial plaques were removed, and its five-pointed star knocked off. In Rzeczyn, a monument honouring Soviet and Polish paratroopers who landed and perished there in September 1944 was drastically “reconstructed”. In effect, this Soviet-era memorial ceases to exist: a Catholic cross has replaced its previous elements, and an entirely different memorial plaque has been installed in place of the dedication to the paratroopers.

These acts of vandalism came to light during our inventory of Soviet-era memorials in Poland. The country’s authorities do not even consider it necessary to inform us about such incidents, although they are required to do so by the inter-governmental agreement. In turn, Polish media outlets deliberately hush up this subject. Consequently, a campaign to falsify history is picking up momentum in Poland.

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Yalta (Crimea) Conference anniversary

 

On February 4, 1945, or 76 years ago, the Yalta Conference (also known as the Crimea Conference) opened as the second of the three meetings between the leaders of the countries in the anti-Hitler coalition. For a week, USSR Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars Joseph Stalin, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill discussed the major issues of the future world order at Livadia Palace.

Crucial issues pertaining to military strategies and politics were agreed upon during the conference, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Soviet diplomacy. These issues included the terms of Germany’s unconditional surrender, war reparations, a speedy termination of the war in the Far East, developing a permanent mechanism for consultations between the foreign ministers of the three powers in the form of regular meetings, etc.

The leaders gave special priority to the issue of establishing a universal international organisation (the future United Nations) in charge of maintaining peace and security after the war. It was decided to convene a United Nations conference in San Francisco to draft the organisation’s charter. The rule of unanimity was established for the permanent members of the UN Security Council – the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain, France and China – on all the vital decisions concerning the preservation of peace, including all military and economic enforcement measures.

The Yalta Conference in 1945 became one of the milestones in World War II and a prime example of successful cooperation between the Allied powers. The decisions produced by the conference were a valuable contribution to the triumphant end of the war and the post-war settlement. For a long time, they served as the basis of the security system in Europe and the world. The Crimea Conference participants managed to rise above their differences and put aside secondary issues for the sake of one main goal, defeating their common enemy and achieving a common victory. They were united by the understanding that evil has to be resisted tooth and nail, in the spirit of genuine solidarity, mutual respect and trust. So many things have changed since then and are lost today.

Unfortunately, there are currently plenty of people who support revising history and would rather associate the Yalta agreements with the split of Europe and bloc-based confrontation during the post-war period. They prefer to distort the true meaning and significance of those decisions while ignoring their specific historical context.

Elements of the post-war settlement defined in Yalta and Potsdam play a pivotal role to this day, when the world has entered a complicated and, in many ways, game-changing phase of its development. A new polycentric international system is emerging in world politics. Life is insistently calling on us to draw a line under the policy of confrontation and to restore trust in the military and political area in order to concentrate on a positive agenda in European and global politics according to the imperatives and challenges of our time.

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Marking Grenada’s Independence Day

 

Grenada, one of the youngest Latin American states, established in 1974, is marking Independence Day on February 7.   

This country is an outstanding example of consistent constructive work in keeping with genuine independence. Its history is full of dramatic events, including political upheavals, social crises and even foreign invasions. Today, it is an example of domestic stability and balanced foreign policy. The country is committed to the principles of multilateral relations and international law, including such norms as equality, mutual respect and consideration for the interests of other states.

We appreciate the Grenadians’ well-thought-out approaches towards many fundamental problems of our time. We are united by a common perception of global processes, the practice of constructive cooperation at multilateral venues and prospects for partnership in the Caribbean region, including bilateral partnership and that in the format of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). It is of symbolic significance that Grenada became the first country in the Caribbean to open its embassy in Moscow. In 2017-2019, it was the venue for two international forums called Russia/Eurasia–Caribbean: A New Dawn, organised in cooperation with the Bering-Bellingshausen Institute and the Roscongress Foundation. 

Our countries build their relations on the traditions of friendship, solidarity and mutually beneficial cooperation. We are developing trade and economic, investment, educational and science and technological projects that we expect to expand still further following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has sent greetings to his counterpart, Foreign Minister of Grenada Peter David. I would also like to congratulate the people of this wonderful country on behalf of the Ministry and to wish them peace, well-being and prosperity.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: In an interview with the France Inter radio station, Clement Beaune, French Minister of State for European Affairs, said that Germany should abandon the Nord Stream 2 project, due to the situation with blogger Alexey Navalny. He explained that this measure was necessary because the EU’s sanctions policy had proved powerless against Russia. We have always said that we have great doubts about the project in this context, he noted.

What does the Russian Foreign Ministry think about this statement? Could this call be regarded as an example of unfair competition? And will Russia respond to this?

Maria Zakharova: We saw this France Inter interview with Clement Beaune on February 1, 2021 when he mentioned the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project as another hypothetical restrictive measure with regard to Russia.

Construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is a purely commercial project and is intended to facilitate sustainable deliveries of Russian natural gas to European countries at competitive prices and via the shortest route in compliance with environmental standards. We believe that this approach meets, above all, the interests of European partners, including France, in view of the objective of making European Union member countries’ economies “greener”.

We were interested to note discourses by Clement Beaune, French Minister of State for European Affairs, that new anti-Russia sanctions could be introduced, but this would not be enough to force Russia to modify its position on matters of principle. We agree completely with this. Attempts to wrest any concessions from Russia through pressure, sanctions, illegal stop lists, etc. have no future and are counter-productive.  We believe that sanctions-based confrontation results in major losses above all for European economic operators.

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Question: Churches and historical landmarks on the Azerbaijan-controlled territory of Nagorno-Karabakh are under threat. What can you tell us about Baku’s refusal to let UNESCO representatives visit the place to personally assess legacy issues?

Maria Zakharova: To my knowledge, talks are now underway to organise a preliminary UNESCO mission to Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent regions in Azerbaijan. We hope that this visit will take place soon. It would promote mutual trust in the region and help resolve the issues you mentioned.

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Question: What can you tell us about the current developments in the CAR in the context of the election and Western interference (including the traditional interests of France)?

What do you know about the current situation in Libya, including the progress and prospects for peace talks, and the situation on the ground, and the conflict between Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar? Do you think it is right for Turkey to play an increasing role in these events?

Maria Zakharova: The Foreign Ministry described the situation in Libya in detail on January 29, following the meeting between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ahmed Maiteeq, Vice Chairman of the Presidential Council and Deputy Prime Minister of the Libyan Government of National Accord. We published a press release on it.  

During meetings with our Libyan colleagues we stated that the ceasefire, which has lasted a half-year, has created favourable conditions for progress in the Libyan political process. We confirmed the need for further work on forming integral government bodies for a transitional period as part of a forum for a consensus-based Libyan political dialogue. We emphasised the importance of intensifying international efforts to take Libya out of this protracted political crisis through a leading UN role and in accordance with the decision of the Berlin International Conference and UN Security Council Resolution 2510.

We urge all participants that are involved in this situation or around it in different ways to cooperate along these lines.

As for the Central African Republic (CAR), we are concerned about the precarious situation in the area of security, which has been substantially aggravated on the eve of the general election that took place on December 27, 2020.

Owing to the assistance of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and Bangui’s international partners, including Russia, CAR authorities did managed to ensure proper conditions for the election and prevent a worst case scenario by intervening in attempts by illegal armed groups to seize the capital of the CAR Bangui, the groups that had withdrawn from the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the CAR of February 6, 2019.

Unfortunately, the violence did not abate after the general election results were announced. In January, commandos from the Coalition of Patriots for Change attacked a number of areas near Bangui, but these attacks were successfully repelled. Armed groups still periodically attack residential areas, army posts, the UN Mission staff, humanitarian convoys and civilians (for the most part, in the northwest and southeast districts of the country). Seven peacekeepers have lost their lives since the aggravation of the situation in the CAR in December.

The hostilities launched by the illegal armed units are negatively affecting the state’s normal economic activities. They continue controlling a substantial part of the country, levying illegal exaction on the local population and small businesses. The road to Cameroon remains paralysed. Many lorries delivering goods and food to Bangui and other CAR areas are stranded at the border with Cameroon.

We note a sharp degradation in the already complicated socioeconomic and humanitarian situation. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, over 200,000 Central Africans have become internally displaced persons or have had to leave the country after the burst of violence since the end of 2020. In the estimate of UN agencies, over half of the CAR population (2.8 million people) will need humanitarian aid and protection in 2021.

As you know, in response to a request by the Central African authorities, Russia has sent an additional 300 instructors to the CAR to train military personnel in the National Army that were in charge of security on the eve of and during the general election, as well as four Mi-8 helicopters with maintenance engineers and technicians. Considering the wishes of Bangui, and the continuing clashes between the CAR regular troops and commandos, Russia has decided to keep this group in the country for the time being. Meanwhile, these helicopters have been withdrawn from the CAR. 

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Question: What were foreign diplomats, including diplomats from Bulgaria, doing at the Navalny hearing? We sent an inquiry directly to the Bulgarian Embassy but received no reply. Perhaps you know something about why the Bulgarian diplomats wasted petrol?

Maria Zakharova: It would be helpful to wait for an explanation from the embassies that sent their diplomats to the hearing. It seems logical. If they sent their representatives it would be good to know why. Since we did not hear any comments or get any explanations from them, we perceived it as a political move. It was not a one-off event but part of a global attempt to interfere in Russia’s sovereign affairs.

As far as the presence of foreign diplomats at the court hearing is concerned, the manner in which it was done and the fact that all of them were scared by the attention they had attracted to themselves and the fact that they refused to answer media questions (about why they had come and what their stance was on the matter), Russia considered that a political act. As a matter of fact, it resembled a diplomatic flash mob.

Question: Will the Foreign Ministry formally summon the ambassadors, specifically, the Bulgarian ambassador, or will it make do with a statement on Facebook?

Maria Zakharova: Tomorrow we will raise this issue with Mr Josep Borrell, absolutely.

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Question: Eleonora Mitrofanova was appointed the Russian Ambassador to Bulgaria. Would it be right to assume that Ambassador Anatoly Makarov’s policy was marked by alleged multiple exposures of Russian spies working in the Russian Embassy? Would it be right to assume that Anatoly Makarov failed?

Maria Zakharova: If certain countries have an acute case of spy mania, it has nothing to do with Russian ambassadors. There are traditional methods of resolving complicated situations, including by expelling diplomats. I will not give anything away if I say that the countries of the “collective West” also expel each other’s diplomats – but they do it in a civilised manner as it was practiced in the past. When it is done with fanfare and publicly, with media leaks and scandals, it is a political act. Therefore, all this has nothing to do with the productive and responsible work of Russian ambassador Anatoly Makarov. He worked honestly and selflessly to develop Russia-Bulgaria relations.

As far as Eleonora Mitrofanova is concerned, she is a brilliant diplomat and an experienced negotiator with a versatile personality. I hope you will be lucky enough to interview her one day. It is a great honour to have a conversation with such a person.

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Question: Will you please comment on the decision to hold elections in Palestine and the outlook for a Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement?

Is it true that the Israeli ambassador has been summoned to the Foreign Ministry of Serbia? Can you comment on the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Kosovo?

Maria Zakharova: Russia welcomed the decision of President of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas to hold several elections in the spring and summer, including elections for the Legislative Council in May, the president in July, and the Palestinian National Council in August. We believe that this will help mend the split in Palestinian society and, in the longer term, launch a sustainable Palestinian-Israeli negotiating process.

We support the ongoing efforts of our Egyptian partners to restore Palestinian unity. We hope for success at the next round of the intra-Palestinian consultations in Cairo scheduled for February 8. For our part, we would like to reaffirm Russia’s fundamental readiness to help strengthen the unification trend, including by organising another round of intra-Palestinian meetings in Moscow as soon as the epidemiological situation allows. The leaders of Fatah, Hamas and other Palestinian parties and movements have expressed an interest in attending this event.

In our opinion, a lasting and comprehensive settlement in the Middle East can only be achieved and the package of final status issues can only be resolved within the framework of direct Palestinian-Israeli talks. A major role in this belongs to the Middle East Quartet of international mediators, a unique legitimate mechanism supporting the peace process, which has been approved in UN Security Council resolutions.

As for the establishment of diplomatic ties between Israel and Kosovo, we would like to say the following without commenting on the events and circumstances that have led to this result.

This decision of the Israeli authorities and Pristina runs contrary to the goal of finding a balanced compromise solution to the Kosovo problem based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244, a unique element of international law. The unscrupulous disregard of the Kosovo Albanian authorities for the potential consequences of their actions, and not only for the Balkans, is strengthening the nationalist forces in Kosovo. These forces believe that they do not have to comply with the commitments regarding a settlement and are disdainfully ignoring the interests of the other parties involved.

This destructive policy of the Pristina authorities, which have been trying to legalise their quasi-state in any way possible, is raising serious concerns over the future of the negotiating process, which Pristina has attempted to reduce to ultimatums, making unrealistic demands of Belgrade and invoking agreements with the Western sponsors of Kosovo’s “independence.”

As for whether the Israeli ambassador has been summoned to the Foreign Ministry of Serbia, you should ask the Serbian ministry about this and about Serbia’s dialogue with Israel. The matter concerns two sovereign states and their diplomatic relations and practices.

 

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