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22 April 202121:03

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow,April 22, 2021

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Table of contents

  1. Upcoming talks between Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister of the Republic of Honduras Lisandro Rosales Banegas
  2. Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the State of Palestine Riyad al-Maliki
  3. Update on Ukraine
  4. Ukrainian extremist rally at the Russian Embassy in Kiev
  5. Developments in Belarus
  6. Developments in the Republic of Chad
  7. New legislative initiatives in the UK
  8. Russia joins International Organisation for Migration (IOM)
  9. Russia’s re-election to UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs and International Narcotics Control Board
  10. Return of another group of Russian minors from Syria
  11. NATO’s decision to end its mission in Afghanistan
  12. Intermediate results of JCPOA talks in Vienna
  13. Joint statement on the US Rewards for Justice Programme by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Negative Impact of Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
  14. Personal data privacy scandal in the Netherlands
  15. Poland closes Russian language centres
  16. Poland demolishes Red Army monument in Leszno
  17. Our foreign partners’ requests to supply Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine
  18. Russia-Italy cooperation to combat COVID-19

Answers to media questions:

  1. Western countries’ unfriendly steps towards Russia
  2. Ukraine’s demands concerning NATO membership
  3. Military personnel and civilians held prisoner in Azerbaijan
  4. Statements by the President of Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani Armed Forces’ military activity in Nagorno-Karabakh
  5. Preparations for the summit between President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden
  6. E-visa issuance procedure for entering Russia
  7. E-visa as an instrument of people’s diplomacy
  8. Ways to promote a settlement in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of foreign troops
  9. Anti-Russia information campaign by Western countries
  10. Czech Foreign Minister and Interior Minister’s call for EU and NATO partners to expel Russian diplomats
  11. Opening Russia’s border with Bulgaria
  12. Reaction to the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the Czech Republic
  13. Preserving relations with the Western public

 

 

 

Czech diplomats decided to perform a manoeuvre. After hearing our statement yesterday that the conversation would continue at the Russian Foreign Ministry, with the Czech Ambassador to Russia, they decided to speak with the Russian Ambassador in Prague before this meeting. Well, as long as Prague does not go into nosedive as it performs this manoeuvre.

 

Upcoming talks between Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister of the Republic of Honduras Lisandro Rosales Banegas

 

On April 25-27, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Honduras Lisandro Rosales Banegas will be in Russia on a working visit.

On April 26, the foreign ministers of the two countries will meet for talks to discuss prospects for promoting the political dialogue between Russia and Honduras, expanding cooperation in various fields and strengthening the legal framework of bilateral relations, as well as exchange views on current issues on the international and regional agendas.   

Special attention will be given to the efforts to check the spread of COVID-19.

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Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the State of Palestine Riyad al-Maliki

 

On May 4, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the State of Palestine Riyad al-Maliki will arrive in Moscow on a working visit. He is expected to meet with Sergey Lavrov for talks.

The two foreign ministers will review current aspects of the Middle East and international agendas with a focus on restoring Palestinian national unity on the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s political platform and setting the stage for Palestine and Israel to resume talks. We regard the two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli issue based on generally accepted international law as an indispensable step to achieving the comprehensive and lasting stabilisation of the situation in the Middle East. 

There will also be a thorough discussion of the prospects for stepping up international efforts to support the Middle East peace process. The two officials will review in detail efforts being made by the Quartet of international mediators and ways of implementing the Russian proposal for working out the parameters of a ministerial meeting to be held by the four mediators and inviting some Arab counties to take part in its work.

There will be an exchange of views on how to improve the socioeconomic and humanitarian situation in Palestine with an emphasis on providing assistance to Palestine in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. The two ministers will thoroughly discuss practical aspects of further strengthening the traditionally friendly ties between Russia and Palestine, including steps to facilitate trade and cooperation in the economy, education, culture and other areas.

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Update on Ukraine

 

Ukraine’s actions to destabilise the situation in Donbass continue to be a source of concern. Ukraine’s armed forces have not reduced the intensity of the shelling of civilian residential areas, which includes the suburbs in Donetsk. They are actively using weapons banned by the Minsk agreements, including large caliber mortars and artillery.

Kiev continues moving troops and equipment to the region. Ukraine’s Security Service units were put on high alert and statements were made about “large-scale anti-terrorist exercises.” These are alarming signals. All of us remember how the “Maidan authorities” launched an operation to suppress the opponents of the Kiev coup seven years ago under the pretext of fighting some invented terrorists. This operation quickly developed into an armed conflict the consequences of which have not been overcome to this day.

At the same time, trying to build up their presence at the Russian border, the United States and other NATO countries continue their provocations in the air space and water area of the Black Sea. On Wednesday, the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations approved the Ukraine Security Partnership Act that provides for an increase in annual military aid to Ukraine, including supplies of lethal weapons. Since 2014, Washington has granted Ukraine military aid valued at almost $2 billion.

To sidetrack the public’s attention in Ukraine from the deteriorating socioeconomic situation and mounting political turbulence, as well as to justify aggressive military plans, Kiev is conducting a vigorous disinformation campaign designed to portray Russia as the enemy. One example is a statement by a number of Verkhovna Rada deputies, from the Servant of the People pro-presidential parliamentary party, with an appeal to sever diplomatic relations with Russia, call out reserves and deploy NATO troops, including missile units, in Ukraine. President Vladimir Zelensky instantly replied to this by announcing a total mobilisation. It is impossible to understand how this can stop the decline in living standards, and the rapid de-industrialisation and depopulation of Ukraine. Apparently, the gist of all these actions is to save the steadily declining ratings of President Zelensky and his party. This is not a new trick. It has been repeatedly used in recent history. Those who doubt that this trick is being used and want to know how it is used can watch the film, “Wag the Dog.” It is possible to learn a lot from this movie.

Here is another example of Ukraine’s activities. President Zelensky urgently submitted a bill to the Verkhovna Rada on eliminating the District Administrative Court of Kiev. This court is known for passing independent and objective verdicts. Thus, it overturned a Kiev State Council resolution on renaming Moscow Prospekt to Bandera Prospekt, banned celebrating the birthdays of militants from the organisation of Ukrainian nationalists known as the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), and abrogated the illegal privatisation of Privatbank, to offer a few examples. Indicatively, G7 ambassadors applauded, on their Twitter accounts, President Zelensky’s actions, which are aimed at eliminating a judicial system that is independent of the West. It is predictable that as soon as Ukraine acquires a sovereign, independent government oriented towards national interests, it would stop hearing praises from the G7 and NATO. This would indicate that Ukraine has started to recover.

The results of the recent meetings in the Normandy format and the Contact Group look deplorable against the backdrop of the strictly populist activities of the Ukrainian leaders. On April 19, a video conference with the advisors to the Normandy Four leaders produced no results. Moscow prepared specific proposals on ensuring a ceasefire in the armed conflict zone for this meeting but all of them were blocked by Ukraine. The German and French representatives basically expressed solidarity with Ukraine. Instead of specific decisions, they suggested a no-address draft statement on a commitment to a ceasefire.

The Contact Group’s subgroup on security held an extraordinary meeting on April 20 at the initiative of Donetsk, with support from Lugansk, against the backdrop of the mounting number of victims among Donbass civilians. Three civilians were killed in a month there. The participants reached an agreement on some items but Kiev blocked the majority of substantial issues. It is doing all it can to avoid direct contact with Donetsk and Lugansk.

We urge Kiev to immediately stop the military escalation in Donbass, discontinue its attempts to feign a negotiating process, and start to responsibly implement its commitments to a domestic Ukrainian settlement under the Minsk Package of Measures, for which there is no alternative.

We are “happy” to hear complaints from Kiev’s diplomats and officials about Moscow “not answering” telephone calls. They explain that this attitude is preventing them from proceeding, but based on the situation in Ukraine and, in particular, Donbass, they need to be calling Donetsk and Lugansk. This would be a timely, correct and effective move.

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Ukrainian extremist rally at the Russian Embassy in Kiev

 

In the evening of April 20, Ukrainian extremists staged yet another anti-Russia outrage at the Russian Embassy in Kiev. This time it was organised by the Agency for Democracy and Information Freedom. Its representatives blocked the central entrance to the Russian diplomatic mission, held up offensive posters and used a laser to project obscene language on the embassy facade. This is democracy and freedom Ukrainian style.

A large group of the National Guard that was dispatched to the area refrained from doing anything to stop the rally.

The Russian Embassy sent a note of protest to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry demanding that Ukraine honour its commitments under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, carry out a thorough investigation of the incident, hold the organisers and participants of that provocation accountable, and take measures to prevent a repetition of such events in the future.

We regard such extremist provocations as inexcusable and urge the Ukrainian leadership to stop pandering to their organisers and to ensure proper conditions for the functioning of Russian establishments. Alternatively, an organisation with a more true-to-life name – Leave Democracy Alone – could be used for such events.

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Developments in Belarus

 

We believe that the current political situation in Belarus is stable, by and large. The calls made by the Belarusian opposition in emigration to step up protests have not received large-scale public support. It appears that most Belarusians are getting tired of street disorders interfering with everyday life and are becoming aware of its destructive effect on national development.

We are closely monitoring the nascent constitutional reform and modernisation of the republic’s political structure. We believe that a broad-based public dialogue is the only way to national accord and that only the Belarusian people and their legitimate representatives, rather than the self-appointed “leaders of democratic forces” and their western curators, have a right to choose their country’s future.

We have already made public our views on the recently exposed plot against the Belarusian leadership. Russia’s FSB and Belarusian KGB conducted a joint operation during which Alexander Feduta, a Belarusian citizen and political analyst, and lawyer Yury Zenkovich, a dual citizen of Belarus and the United States, were apprehended red-handed in Moscow on April 13. According to the FSB, they were planning a military coup in Belarus and the assassination of Alexander Lukashenko and his family. A footage of their conversation has been shown on television and posted online. Anyone can watch it to decide if the accusations against these individuals are substantiated or not.

The case is being investigated by the FSB of Russia, and therefore we are not in a position to disclose any other details or make conclusions about the alleged involvement of US authorities in the events that can be described as an act of state terrorism. On the other hand, it appears unlikely that an operation of this scale could have been planned without the knowledge of US intelligence agencies. It is a fact that the persons involved had consultations in Western capitals.

The detained persons have been transported to Belarus. A criminal case has been opened against them under the article on conspiracy or other actions undertaken with the purpose of seizing state power.

On April 21, an exhaustive comment on these developments was made by President Vladimir Putin during his Address to the Federal Assembly. He pointed out that this is beyond any limits. I would like to repeat what the Russian President has said for the champions of government change in Belarus, those who have been trying to cynically justify such plans. Vladimir Putin said the following: “What if there had been a real attempt at a coup d’état in Belarus? How many people would have been hurt? What would have become of Belarus?”.

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Developments in the Republic of Chad

 

On April 11, 2021, members of the large armed opposition group Front for Change and Concord in Chad left their rear bases in Libya and started moving towards Ndjamena, the capital of Chad. Government forces intercepted them, neutralised over 300 militants, captured about 150 people and destroyed a considerable amount of equipment. Some of the rebels retreated towards the border with Niger.

According to the available information, President of the Republic of Chad Idriss Deby Itno arrived at the scene of battle in order to personally supervise the counter-terrorist operation. He was severely wounded during armed clashes and died from the wounds on April 20, 2021.

In this situation, members of the Transitional Military Council that consists of fifteen high-ranking representatives of Chad’s law enforcement and security agencies assumed control of the state. Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, the son of the deceased President, was appointed the Council’s Chairman, and Divisional General Djimadoum Tiraina, formerly the country’s Defence Minister, became the Deputy Chairman. The Council has issued a statement saying that an 18-month transitional period shall be established in the country for ceding power to a civilian Cabinet of Ministers and holding general elections. The country’s Government and Parliament have been disbanded, a curfew has been imposed, and Chad’s land and air borders have been closed.

Today, the situation in Ndjamena remains mostly calm, with military authorities controlling it. Reinforced government units have been deployed in the capital.

The Russian Embassy to Chad is taking all necessary action to ensure the safety of Russian citizens staying in the country.

The Foreign Ministry advises Russian citizens to refrain from travelling to the Republic of Chad, unless it is absolutely necessary, until the complete normalisation of the situation in the country and the provision of reliable security guarantees.

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New legislative initiatives in the UK

 

We have noted the publications announcing a number of upcoming legislative initiatives of the UK government aimed at countering the hostile activities of foreign states – primarily, Russia and China.

Of particular interest with regards to this is the act regulating the work of foreign agents, which includes the requirement for all individuals and legal entities working on behalf of foreign countries in Britain to register their presence. Failure to do so will be a criminal offence and will entail deportation. The publications note that London plans to use the experience of its allies, primarily the United States, in this matter.

It is alarming that the drafting of new laws in the UK is accompanied by vehement anti-Russian rhetoric. We interpret this as the British political elites’ tendency to continue the policy of artificially peddling the threat of mythical ‘Russian interference’ to suit their unscrupulous interests. Allow me to remind you that so far, London has not presented any single piece of proof of such accusations against the Russian Federation.

It seems that the British side is trying to keep afloat this long obsolete and far-fetched topic to justify the restrictive measures against Russian and Russian-speaking journalists, the media, as well as our citizens living and working in the UK.

We call on the human rights community to thoroughly examine the new legislation for compliance with international legal norms and the UK’s obligations. We hope that London will avoid spy mania in the Cold War spirit and will not subject bona fide citizens and journalists to unreasonable persecution on the grounds of some imaginary ties with our country.

It's funny that it was actually London that criticised Russia harsher than others for the foreign agents laws Russia adopted and implemented. But there is one subtle detail. Russia has developed that package of laws in response to the US's application of its archaic foreign agents legislation targeting the Russian media and media outlets affiliated with Russia in one way or another. Had it not been for such moves against Russian citizens, journalists working for our media, and American citizens hired by companies associated with the Russian media, Russia would not have developed such an impressive package.

When those laws were being drafted, we made it quite clear that this was a deterrent response to US action. What makes London pass such bills? Perhaps the United States has applied its foreign agent law to the BBC, at least once? It is sponsored, supported and funded by the British government – is it not the definition of a foreign agent? Yet, there is no hint of anything like that happening to the BBC. Why, then, would London develop foreign agents bills similar to those they slammed Russia for? We will keep this topic under review, as a very important and relevant subject.

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Russia joins International Organisation for Migration (IOM)

 

On April 5, 2021, President Vladimir Putin signed the Federal Law On Adopting the Constitution of the International Organisation for Migration by the Russian Federation. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin handed an official note about it to IOM Director General Antonio Vitorino in Geneva on April 19. Thus, our country has become a full member of the organisation.

The International Organisation for Migration is a related organisation of the United Nations and is the largest intergovernmental agency that specialises in migration issues. IOM comprises 174 member states. As a coordinator for the UN Network for Migration that consists of 38 agencies, IOM is actively involved in the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2018. The Global Compact establishes the framework for long-term multilateral international cooperation on migration.

The Russian Federation has cooperated with IOM since 1992 in the capacity of an observer state. Over the past years, migration processes have gained greater importance, which is also relevant for Russia as it is one of the major states in terms of the number of migrants. This issue to a great extent determined our country’s interest in joining IOM.

We praise IOM’s activity and its accumulated experience in dealing with various issues on the migration agenda. As a full member, Russia will be able to take its interaction with the organisation to a new level. We are going to use this platform in full to boost constructive international cooperation related to migration, searching for optimal solutions to migration problems, including based on the exchange of experience in this area, and familiarising the global community with Russian developments on efficiently managing migration processes.

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Russia’s re-election to UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs and International Narcotics Control Board

 

On April 20, 2021, during a meeting of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Russian Federation was re-elected to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs for 2022-2025. This confirms Russia’s leading position and authority in international anti-drug cooperation. Our country is going to continue to facilitate the policy-forming role of the commission, as well as preserve the existing global regime of drug control based on the three relevant UN conventions.

This vote has continued the uninterrupted Russia’s work in the commission, of which Russia has been a member since its establishment. 

In a stiff competition with five vacant seats for 22 experts, a Russian representative, Galina Korchagina, deputy director for research at the Serbsky Federal Medical Research Centre of Psychiatry and Narcology at the Russian Healthcare Ministry, has been elected for another five-year term to the International Narcotics Control Board. Her extensive professional experience and objectivity will allow her to continue making a significant contribution to the activity of the key international agency for the oversight of compliance with interstate treaties related to drug control.

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Return of another group of Russian minors from Syria

 

On April 19, 2021, a special Russian Defence Ministry flight brought another group of 44 children from Syria to Moscow. The youngsters were taken from shelters in Damascus and refugee camps on territories not yet controlled by the Government of Syria. This mission was accomplished under the relevant instruction of the President of the Russian Federation, following a regular trip to Syria made by Presidential Commissioner for Children's Rights Anna Kuznetsova. This comes as the first such humanitarian operation in 2021 and as the ninth operation since December 2018. This and other operations are part of the efforts to repatriate Russian children from armed conflict zones.

The Foreign Ministry and the Russian Embassy in Damascus continue to work energetically and to facilitate the fastest possible repatriation of all underage Russians from Syria. These children were brought to Syria through the fault of their parents, involved in international terrorist activities. As of today, 196 youngsters have been repatriated to the Russian Federation from refugee camps and temporary places of residence in Syria.

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NATO’s decision to end its mission in Afghanistan

 

International media space is devoting substantial attention to ending NATO’s mission in Afghanistan. This topic was on the agenda for many years. As you remember, US presidents either withdrew or built up contingents there. We are now witnessing another stage of monitoring what is taking place.

We have noted NATO’s decision to withdraw its contingent from Afghanistan; this decision was announced following a similar statement made by Washington.

As we understand, the 20-year presence of NATO troops is ending in Afghanistan. Launched under the slogan of fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban movement sheltering it, the military campaign evolved into state development efforts in this particular Asian country. Western analysts admit that the Alliance’s Afghan mission can be described as abortive. Although experts and journalists are entitled to their own opinion, we would like other analysts also to make their assessments. It would be important to hear a report about long-term efforts by the relevant contingents at the UN Security Council that had issued the relevant mandate.   

According to the most modest estimates, after two decades of confrontation, the Taliban control over 50 percent of the country’s territory and continue armed struggle with the government of Afghanistan. According to UN data, despite Al Qaeda’s diminished potential, this terrorist organisation still has its cells in 11 Afghan provinces. In conditions of NATO’s military presence, Afghanistan accommodates ISIS, a new global terrorist threat that now has around 4,000 militants in the country. They regularly perpetrate terrorist attacks, including those carried out in Kabul. 

A deplorable situation has taken shape in the sphere of drug fighting. During NATO’s presence in Afghanistan, the area under opium poppy plantations has expanded more than 20-fold, to reach 163,000 ha in 2019. Afghanistan accounts for over 80 percent of the global opiates market. According to UN data, 24 out of the country’s 34 provinces produce narcotic drugs.

Despite multi-billion injections that exceed US allocations for postwar European economic rehabilitation under the Marshall Plan, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan remains one of the poorest Asian countries, with one of the highest worldwide corruption levels; and at least 33 percent of the country’s economically active population is unemployed.

Billions of dollars, allocated for training the personnel of Afghan law enforcement agencies, have been squandered. Ten years into the infamous campaign, the United States was forced to admit that there is no military solution to the Afghan problems. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed or crippled during this period of time. Many of them became victims of indiscriminate NATO attacks that the Alliance cynically describes as collateral damage (this is what they call people!), and tens of thousands more were forced to flee Afghanistan in search of a peaceful life. So far, Afghans comprise one of the largest refugee groups seeking asylum in Europe.

While leaving the country, the United States and other NATO members promised to continue supporting Afghan law enforcement and security agencies. It is a big question whether they will manage to accomplish this because, over a period of the past 20 years, the Alliance has failed to establish combat-ready local law enforcement agencies capable of independently defending the country and maintaining law and order there.

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Intermediate results of JCPOA talks in Vienna

 

On the whole, we are satisfied with the efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme, which are being held between the current JCPOA signatories and the United States. Back in January, Russia submitted to its partners the proposals on the modalities of returning the nuclear deal into the coordinated framework. Many of our ideas were accepted and are being used during the discussions.

The aim of the talks is to relaunch the implementation of the JCPOA in keeping with the approved parameters and timeframe as soon as possible. We would like to point out that all the countries involved, including Washington and Tehran, are resolved to attain a positive result, to restore the balance of interests within the framework of the JCPOA and to create conditions for the sustainable implementation of the comprehensive agreements reached in 2015. Our American colleagues do not dispute the fact, by and large, that the gross violations of the JCPOA and UN Security Council Resolution 2231 by the previous US administration must be mended, at long last, to create conditions for Iran to resume compliance with the obligations it has suspended in response to Washington’s violation of the nuclear deal provisions.

The possibility of revising the comprehensive agreements reached in 2015 is not on the agenda. We regard this as proof that there is no alternative to the JCPOA. We believe that the conditions for relaunching the JCPOA in full measure are set out in the plan itself.  We are convinced that the shortest path to the noble goals, which had been formulated before the JCPOA was coordinated and approved, lies through the strict implementation of these obligations by all parties. Russia has been acting in this manner, all along urging the other partners to follow suit.

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Joint statement on the US Rewards for Justice Programme by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Negative Impact of Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

 

We have read the joint statement on the US Rewards for Justice Programme issued by Alena Douhan, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Negative Impact of Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights, and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

We share the view that was expressed in the statement that this programme is not aligned with the international standards of the protection and encouragement of human rights.

First, the offers of money for information on people who have not been charged with any crimes run contrary to the fundamental legal principle – the presumption of innocence stipulated in Clause 1 of Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and Clause 2 of Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966). In this context, there are no clear legal grounds for the collection of information about the persons who are innocent, legally speaking, who, in the absence of due process, are actually deprived of legal guarantees, including the right to defence.

Second, the United States is using this programme for arbitrary and unlawful interference with these persons’ privacy and family, which is prohibited in Clause 1 of Article 17 of the 1966 Covenant, as well as for infringing on the right to dignity and reputation of the individuals who are designated as criminals without a fair trial.

Third, the programme also offers money to foreign individuals whom the United States claims are “involved with terrorism” if they cooperate with US authorities. Moreover, the offers of money come with threats to impose sanctions on these individuals if they don’t cooperate with the US Government’s demands. This runs contrary to one of the fundamental international standards of fair trial, the right not to testify against oneself, which is sealed in Clause 3 (g) of Article 14 of the 1966 Covenant. Furthermore, the programme actually allows US law enforcers to shift the task of proving guilt to these individuals.

We fully agree with the conclusions made by UN human rights experts that the United States should review its Rewards for Justice Programme in order to ensure that its activities are aligned with international law.

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Personal data privacy scandal in the Netherlands

 

This story of double standards and skilful juggling of facts is not new given what the collective West is doing in their “struggle to uphold the norms of democracy and human rights.” This has become almost proverbial. We regularly hear criticism about alleged violations in Russia. However, when it comes to the situation at home, for some reason, the Western watchdogs of democratic norms, laws and principles are failing to watch them carefully enough.

The Netherlands, which has recently arrogated to itself the role of a human rights arbiter, is now manifesting the same kind of unusual selective myopia. We have witnessed more than once how The Hague does not see any violations against their own citizens. Here is one new and highly interesting confirmation.

Dutch journalists have recently revealed that the Office of the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism of the Netherlands has been illegally collecting and distributing confidential information about civilians, including leaders of political organisations, activists and religious figures, for years. They even wrote weekly reports on some of the subjects for scrutiny, which the office then shared not only with their colleagues in other security agencies, but also with foreign special services. Moreover, all this secret activity was carried out at the request of the government.

And what do you think? Did the perpetrators apologise or were they punished? Not at all. The authorities dismissed the public outcry with a promise to create a stronger legal basis for the functioning of the agency that was at fault. The country’s government did not seem to see the unauthorised collection of information about its citizens as reprehensible.

But the story did not end there. One of the officials, whose name repeatedly popped up in the investigation, was extremely displeased with the media criticism. So he decided to express his displeasure in a way that is highly atypical for a country that advocates freedom of speech. He wrote an angry post on social media in which he described his emotions and threatened the publication that he would find and punish those who “leaked sensitive information.” However, even so, despite direct threats, the case against him boiled down to a disciplinary investigation.

Such incidents are highly indicative. It is time the Netherlands got closer to reality and addressed their own problems before lecturing, criticising and accusing others.

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Poland closes Russian language centres

 

Two months ago, we expressed regret over the closure of the Centre of Russian Language and Culture at the Krakow Pedagogical University, established in 2008 at the initiative of the Russkiy Mir Foundation. Yet, Poland has not only failed to reverse that unmotivated decision, but has continued the destructive practice of ousting the Russian language and culture. To date, the actions of the Polish side have led to the actual closure of two more Russian centres, in Wroclaw (at the Institute of Slavic Philology of the University of Wroclaw, established in 2014) and Slupsk (Public City Library, 2009). The centres were shut down even though their underlying cooperation agreements with Russkiy Mir Foundation were automatically extended for another five years in 2019. The political motives behind these moves are obvious.

We sincerely regret these steps taken by the Polish side. In our opinion, this decision made by the Polish authorities will negatively affect the right of the Russian-speaking population in Poland to preserve their language, culture and identity, and will restrict access to the necessary educational materials for students studying Russian. It would seem the humanitarian component of Russian-Polish interaction is more important than ever now that relations are strained and the political dialogue is de facto frozen, through Warsaw’s efforts, and bilateral cooperation is curtailed in many areas. However, as we can see, here the Polish side’s efforts pursue the same goal – to further complicate the opportunities for interaction between the peoples of our countries.

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Poland demolishes Red Army monument in Leszno

 

The Polish authorities, in their bid to erase any memory of the glorious pages of the Red Army’s liberation mission, crucial for the Poles’ survival and liberation from Nazi plague, are continuing their campaign for a systematic destruction of Soviet memorial sites. The alleged reason for this is “decommunisation.”

A monument of gratitude to the Red Army, which expelled the Nazis from the town in September 1944, was dismantled in Leszno, Podkarpackie Voivodeship. The monument was erected in 1945 next to the burial place of Soviet soldiers, whose remains were later exhumed and transferred to the cemetery in Baligrod.

This egregious case provides yet more evidence of the policy of historical cynicism pursued by the Polish authorities and their campaign to destroy the Soviet war memorial legacy, contrary to their international obligations.

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Our foreign partners’ requests to supply Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine

 

The epidemiological situation in the world remains alarming. All the Foreign Ministry’s recommendations concerning the difficulties, unpredictability and risks related of foreign trips remain in force. Please, read these recommendations carefully before deciding to travel abroad.

Many countries, including in Europe, have been hit by the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are also experiencing difficulties with the vaccination campaign (to put it mildly, because the vaccination campaigns in many EU countries are actually a complete failure). In this regard, the measures being taken are chaotic, disorganised and largely contradictory. These countries have been forced to tighten restrictions again and again.

Since the very beginning of the corona crisis, Russia has been consistently speaking out in favour of building multilateral cooperation to combat the pandemic and insisting that this purely humanitarian issue must not be politicised. In this context, our country has unfailingly demonstrated a responsible approach and solidarity towards its partners and especially towards the countries that have been worst hit by the pandemic.

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine has already proved its efficiency and safety, including against most contagious strains of the virus. The vaccine is currently registered in 60 countries, including some EU countries. We are exploring the possibility of participating in international initiatives to supply Sputnik V to the most affected countries. We have always stressed at all levels that we are open and ready to cooperate and have professional exchanges with our foreign partners on the prevention of and vaccination against COVID-19.

That being said, it is perplexing to hear official statements from some European capitals that are trying to politicise Russian vaccine exports. In some of these countries, it gets to the point of political battles that often lead to crises. For example, according to French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, the Russian vaccine is nothing more than a “propaganda tool.” French President Emmanuel Macron even thought it was appropriate to speak about “a new type of world war” and attempts to use the vaccines to exert influence. I don’t know, maybe France is using the vaccines to exert influence? It is never late to admit it. Who is he talking about? Not us, certainly. We would like to point out to our French and other foreign partners that Russia is not imposing its vaccine on anybody. Political speculations are absolutely unacceptable when people’s health and wellbeing are at stake.

Meanwhile, Russia is receiving more appeals from local officials, public figures and ordinary citizens abroad asking to supply the Russian vaccine. It is as if France and other countries who accuse us of politicising this issue, of waging a vaccine war, are not aware of appeals from dozens of heads of state who are asking our country to supply the vaccine and want to know when it will arrive. They are asking us to speed things up, offering cooperation and offering to produce our vaccine on their territory as a joint effort. 

Recently, Mayor of Nice Christian Estrosi sent a letter to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a request for assistance with supplying the Russian vaccine to this major French city. Why is it common practice in France to ignore such facts and endlessly make up more myths? We have received similar local requests from other EU member states. We believe it means that their public does not agree with the restrictions imposed by their governments on international cooperation against the COVID-19 pandemic. So who is doing the politicising and what is being politicised? Who started a war and with whom? I can tell you honestly: the war was started by those who are prohibiting or opposing the supplies of our vaccine. If people in these countries cannot be provided with the sufficient amount of their vaccines and it is possible to supply ours (Russia has not denied anybody its cooperation) but the governments or political figures are prohibiting or blocking this cooperation, it is a war against their own people. Perhaps this is what Emmanuel Macron meant when he spoke about a new type of war? As you know, we no longer listen to the endless accusations against us without responding to them.

We reaffirm our principled readiness for genuine cooperation in this area. Obviously, a lot depends on the decision of the European Medicines Agency, which is now considering Russia’s Sputnik V application. It is a paradox. People have been using this vaccine for months. It has been administered publicly. There is a queue of countries wishing to be able to use it outside of Russia. Many foreign citizens are asking to get vaccinated (you know it yourself; it is not a made-up story but it is based on facts), they get inoculated and writing about it in the media. Still, the European Medicines Agency is not moving forward.

We expect that our vaccine will be treated objectively and purely on the scientific basis. We hope that it will. The majority of scientists are confidently assuring the public that it is successful and prompt vaccination, regardless of where the vaccine comes from, that will allow the global community to overcome this crisis of an unprecedented scale.

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Russia-Italy cooperation to combat COVID-19

 

Russia and Italy continue to successfully and consistently develop their cooperation to counter the coronavirus pandemic.

During a videoconference on April 13, organised with the support of the Russian Embassy in Rome, a memorandum of understanding in the area of scientific cooperation and exchange of materials and knowledge was signed between the Gamaleya National Centre of Epidemiology and Microbiology and the Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases. The memorandum was initiated by the Italian institute, which published, last February, an expert opinion reaffirming the conclusions made by The Lancet, a highly respected medical journal, concerning high efficiency of the Russian vaccine. In addition to the two leading research centres, the Health and Social Integration Directorate of the Lazio Region and the Russian Direct Investment Fund also put their signatures under the document.

The memorandum provides for exchange of scientific data, biological materials and expert delegations. The parties agreed that during the first stage, their joint research will be focused on studying the efficiency of Sputnik V against the new strains of the coronavirus detected by the Italian institute in the Apennines. They will also explore the possibility of administering the Russian vaccine as the second dose to persons who already received a different vaccine as the first dose.

The Italian party expressed readiness to host a delegation from the Gamaleya Centre in the near future in order to start working together.

At a time when confrontational approaches and sometimes simply dishonest and illegal competition on behalf of certain states are undermining the efficiency of international efforts to counter the COVID-19 pandemic, this and similar initiatives aimed at developing fundamental scientific cooperation between Russia and Italy are much-needed and timely.

We are certain that tackling this new global challenge is only possible through broad international cooperation in healthcare for the purpose of developing and producing vaccines and improving the existing COVID-19 medications.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: We have recently witnessed active unfriendly actions by Western countries against Russia, in the form of sanctions, the expulsion of diplomats, accusations, and espionage scandals. Do you believe it is a deliberately planned campaign? If so, who may be interested in it and why?

Maria Zakharova: President Vladimir Putin answered your question yesterday. He used many allegories, including from world literature. We have also spoken about this directly, without any allegories. We can clearly see a containment policy started by the West with respect to Russia, for a number of reasons: our country is developing and embracing a clear and transparent approach to international relations. These international relations must be based on international law and the main principles of the UN Charter, as well as a policy of peace that is intended to protect national interests in all areas.

“How can we not contain such a country?” our Western partners thought a while ago and decided to take action. I think it was a blunder on their part, even though they tried various methods. Initially they planned to isolate our country, but their plan failed. I remember very well that, as soon as the concept of isolating Russia was declared, many people, including in our country, started asking questions: “Who will come to Russia now? Who will you be talking to? Of course, now major countries and economies will never come to Russia or engage in any talks with you.” Several years went by. We have been visited by so many officials here in Moscow. Representatives from all over the world have attended so many forums hosted by Russia. So what happened to this isolation policy? It failed. It didn’t work. It was absurd to even start it against Russia.

There has been more to this containment policy: unlawful unilateral sanctions, stop lists, the persecution of Russian nationals, and what not. Now, we have reached a new stage. Russian diplomats are being expelled and accused of all kinds of nonsense, with no grounds or facts whatsoever. We have been there before. It is a seasonal thing for the West. Something happens in the political nature of these countries which causes this flare-up. No big deal, we will survive this time, too. Except that they are not damaging us but our bilateral relations. Bilateral relations are not just relations between governments and political parties. These are relations between people. People are always the main beneficiaries of bilateral relations. They are always the first to take a hit. Who stands behind this? We call them the “collective West.” Who is running the show? We all know it is the United States. They are not even hiding it. On the contrary, they are proud of it, calling it American exceptionalism and dominance, a special messianic role. There is no messianic role or domination. The United States is good at destroying things but not at creating, let alone overcoming global problems. We have seen multiple examples of that.

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Question: Why, in your opinion, is Ukraine demanding NATO membership? There have been strange statements made. Recently, the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany said that Germany should become a key player in supporting Ukraine’s bid to join NATO.

Maria Zakharova: What makes you think that if the Ukrainian regime is acting strangely, its statements should not be strange? It is normal. Their actions and statements are both strange.

Kiev’s redoubled efforts that we have seen recently are definitely related to the upcoming NATO summit. Ukraine hopes to receive a Membership Action Plan (MAP). For a number of reasons, not all members of the alliance support this initiative. That is why the Ukrainian government, its diplomats and politicians demand, almost in terms of ultimatum, that NATO countries agree to provide them with this plan and are collecting signatures under some declaration that was written by Kiev for this purpose. All escalations are aimed at this goal. The current tensions on the contact line in Donbass have been provoked by Kiev for the same purpose of receiving the Membership Action Plan.

As is known, the objective to join NATO was fixed in the Ukrainian Constitution in 2019 towards the end of Petr Poroshenko’s term as president. We are confident that this decision is a mistake. It will not facilitate Ukraine’s stability or the settlement of the Donbass conflict. Even more so, it will not help strengthen pan-European security. Quite the opposite, it contradicts all these factors I just mentioned.

Unfortunately, Kiev follows faulty logic. To score points with the West, the Kiev regime does everything in its power to break off relations with its closest neighbours, Russia and Belarus, and withdraws from CIS treaties that are beneficial for Ukraine. But they do not care. Ruining everything is what they are good at.

President Vladimir Zelensky says that NATO membership will bring an end to the war in the country’s east, and receiving the MAP will be a signal to Russia. The current cooperation between Kiev and NATO, including seven military exercises with NATO members that are planned to be held on Ukraine’s territory this year, is openly anti-Russian. Alexei Arestovich, advisor to the Ukrainian delegation in the Contact Group, has frankly admitted that the goal of the upcoming Defender Europe exercise, which will also take place on Ukraine’s territory, “is to practice for war with Russia.”

For our part, we never tire of warning our Western partners against anti-Russian policy and against appeasing the aggressive intentions of the current Kiev regime. The path to a settlement and the end of the war in Ukraine does not lie in joining NATO. The only way is to adhere to the Minsk Agreements, consolidate society around a constructive agenda and eliminate nationalist ideology. These are just some ideas; there could be more. They can go in a different order. In my opinion, this is indeed the path to the settlement of the crisis and the end of the war in Ukraine.

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Question: Despite the ceasefire concluded with Russia’s mediation, Azerbaijan continues to hold captive not only members of the military, but also civilians. In particular, the elderly spouses Avtandilyans, 85 and 75 years old, were taken prisoner while returning to their native village in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) in a taxi because they believed in the ceasefire. Worse than this, there is a new theme park in Azerbaijan where they mock dummies of Armenian soldiers and the helmets of the dead. What is the Russian Foreign Ministry’s attitude to such actions of Baku and how can such actions affect the peace process? Aren’t they undermining Russia’s peacekeeping role? Has Moscow raised this so-called park issue in its contacts with Baku? What they are doing there is a fascist-style act.

Maria Zakharova: Russia is making vigorous mediation efforts to eliminate one of the most powerful irritants in relations between Baku and Yerevan. We strongly support the all-for-all prisoner exchange formula. Such a step would create a favourable atmosphere for moving forward on a number of important matters.

As far as the park is concerned, we are counting on Baku and Yerevan to take more practical steps aimed at normalising relations, not at creating new dividing lines. A huge price has been paid, and that price was people’s lives. This tragic circumstance, which at the same time gives us some hope for the future, should be used for peaceful and constructive purposes – not exploited to further aggravate the situation, create dividing lines, or new irritants. This is indeed difficult, especially after an armed conflict. It is hard to move on, including psychologically. Many are discontent with the outcome; some still want to fight; others want revenge. But will creating new irritants contribute to reconciliation and a return to peace? The obvious answer is, no.

We believe the most important task at this stage is to strengthen confidence-building measures between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and to form a positive economic agenda that can provide the conditions for the sustainable future development of the South Caucasus. This would meet the interests of all our partners in the region.

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Question: President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev recently said that if Armenia refused to green-light the Zangezur Corridor project (across the Syunik region of Armenia), Azerbaijan would resolve the matter by force. What is your assessment of the military aggression threat against the sovereign territory of Armenia issued by the President of Azerbaijan?

Maria Zakharova: We call on both parties to refrain from revanchist and militaristic rhetoric, which could once again put the region on the brink of war. We strongly believe that the statements and practical steps by Baku and Yerevan should be in line with the trilateral agreements signed by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia on November 9, 2020 and January 11, 2021. This concerns, among other things, unblocking economic and transport links in the region.

Question: On April 20, the Azerbaijani armed forces fired at Stepanakert and several villages in the Askeran region, grossly violating the November 9, 2020 trilateral agreement between the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. The roof of a residential building in Stepanakert was damaged by the shooting. How do you assess Azerbaijan’s provocative actions aimed at creating an atmosphere of fear in Artsakh and undermining Russia’s peacekeeping mission?

Maria Zakharova: I have just commented on this. What I said is also an answer to this question.

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Question: I would like to start with Russian-US relations. A number of Russian experts believe that the role of traditional diplomacy has now gone to securocrats. After all, the preparations for the summit of President of Russia Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden are conducted (or at least the discussion of its possibility) by the people from the power agencies along the Nikolay Patrushev-Jake Sullivan line rather than diplomats who are no longer in their work places. Do you think this is an exception to the rule or a new trend in building relations not only with the United States but also with other Western countries? 

Maria Zakharova: I cannot agree with this assessment for a whole number of reasons either in theory or in practice or apropos of this particular case. Summits are prepared by the Executive Office of the head of state. Each department makes its contribution to the preparations for this event within the level of its competence.

I would like to emphasise that as distinct from American securocrats as you call them, the US Department of State does not yet have a complete staff of top- and mid-tier executives. This is still work in progress. Security officials do not have such problems (this is only a sketch of the overall US political landscape).

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Question: In his Address to the Federal Assembly yesterday, President of Russia Vladimir Putin said that when the pandemic is over, as a hospitable country Russia will try to broaden its practice of issuing e-visas for those who want to visit our country. To what extent will this require changes in work of the consular service? Will the Foreign Ministry have to do additional work or is everything already in place for this?

Maria Zakharova: Both yes and no. The consular service is being continuously upgraded and new technology is being introduced. This is not the case in the US (I am giving this example just in the context of our discussion of bilateral relations). Many visa-processing procedures in Russia have become outdated, including those that are still topical with the Americans, for instance a personal interview (even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic) and complicated transport logistics. Russian visas are issued without a personal interview unless there are some special circumstances. The Americans drag these procedures out — a personal interview, personal presence, etc. Naturally, the consular service, in particular our consular service, is being upgraded. It is becoming more dynamic to meet the modern requirements. This is life. At any rate, this was the case before the pandemic. This was the main development vector. It is being furnished with new technological capacities and is becoming more user-friendly and dynamic.

We have already issued electronic visas. This is not something new for us. There were some problems initially when this practice was launched. But this always happens because any new practice requires a trial period where it is used in practice rather than just theoretically. We soon overcame these shortcomings. At present, we live under the COVID restrictions but proceed from what President of Russia Vladimir Putin has said.

You asked me whether the role of diplomats is receding and then you switched to consular issues. I wonder how you managed to merge the two issues and make it very comfortable for me to answer your questions in one go, using the example of American diplomats again.

They directly link the number and staffing of the diplomatic and consular community, in particular, in Russia with the issue of visas. They are saying that their visa issuance technology, approvals with other departments and the sending of materials to them requires many employees, many diplomats. The Americans make the number of diplomats all-important. When they dragged out the entire procedure of issuing visas to Russians beyond any limits (now it takes up to nine months or more to get a visa), they explained this by the reduction in their staff. This is not exactly so. It is up to the Embassy or the centre to redistribute the functions within the Embassy. It is obviously not a matter for the Russian authorities. If they remove people from the consular service and send them elsewhere, this is their own decision. It has nothing to do with the Russian authorities. Another point is more important. They link the number of diplomats directly with the visa issuance service. This answers your question about whether the role of diplomacy is in decline or remains the same. The consular sector is just one example. In reality, there are many more.

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Question: Should Russia’s intention to make electronic visas for “ordinary” and “non-political” tourists more accessible be considered as a retaliatory move to the attempts to whip up political tensions? In other words, is Russia trying to introduce “people’s diplomacy” of sorts and attract citizens of countries whose politicians do not want to treat Russia as equal?

Maria Zakharova: That is a philosophical question. One can respond with actions to certain actions. You do not have to agree with them, or accept them, they can contradict your beliefs, but you can see certain logic in them. Sometimes it is hard to find any logic in the actions of the West. Look at what is going on in Prague and what the Czech political establishment is doing now. They issue contradicting statements every hour and a half.

The question is not that we respond with actions to such actions. This is a different matter. Russia really is a friendly, peaceful country that has never been an initiator of world wars or global turmoil. Russia is a beautiful, hospitable country; many people don’t know what it is like or get a wrong image from foreign media. We want to show everything we have and make tourists see what Russia really is, what its achievements are; we want them to see its amazing cities and people, and what we do and how we live.

Do you remember when the conversation about electronic visas began? It began with the FIFA World Cup. When football lovers, tourists and fans came to Russia despite spooky stories about Russia in Western media, they were shocked by the difference between what they had read and what they actually saw. They saw that our country is truly interesting, wonderful and spectacular. Recall how many people wanted to stay here longer and extended their visas and how many of them wanted to return. It was at that time that discussions began on the need to take relevant efforts.

Another paradox is that many foreign correspondents living in Russia write radically anti-Russia articles. But I see how much they enjoy their life here and how reluctant they are to terminate their contracts. It is a real tragedy for many of them, and many try to find another job just to stay here. At the same time, I have always wanted to ask them why they write all this nonsense and create a negative image of our country.

I think the point here is not about our response to something, but about the desire to show what we really are and give people an opportunity to decide for themselves.

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Question: The pullout from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, promised by US President Joe Biden, will significantly change the balance of power in the region. What ways of achieving peace in Afghanistan does Russia see in this situation?

Maria Zakharova: I have already commented on this in detail, but I would like to add that the only possible way to achieve peace in Afghanistan is to launch direct, meaningful intra-Afghan talks on national reconciliation. We hope that Kabul and the Taliban will refrain from escalating violence in the months remaining before September 11 but will use this time to the best advantage for reaching agreements on key issues on the agenda for resolving the conflict, including agreeing a ceasefire, completing the prisoner exchange and forming an inclusive government.

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Question: NATO’s targeted anti-Russia information campaign, the situation with the Czech Republic and previously, with the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Bulgaria, suggest that an anti-Russia information campaign has been unleashed, and that campaign has its own masterminds and goals. By the way, Bulgaria was the first country to receive NATO’s step-by-step instructions in this regard. How does Russia assess the attempt, by its Western partners, to artificially create a diplomatic confrontation between Russia and the West using Europe? If we recall White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s promise to apply counteraction and containment measures against Russia, do you think what we are witnessing is part of such measures to divert the international community’s attention from the increase in US military activity, attempts to disrupt Nord Stream 2 and the ousting of the Rosatom corporation from the Czech Republic? What can be done to curb this information campaign and preserve the Russian-European dialogue?

Maria Zakharova: This is not a question for Russia. We strongly and clearly advocate the primacy, maintenance and development of normal relations. There may be various gradations, and there may be problems, but we are building any kind of relationships with our partners on the basis of international law. This kind of non-ideology-based approach provides the best opportunity to maintain one’s own stance and defend national interests, and even compete without overstepping the legal framework or upsetting the global balance that we all need to preserve.

Therefore, this is not a question for us. We know how to build our relations with the world – on the basis of international law, as well as respect for and implementation of the fundamental principles of the UN Charter. We are perfectly confident that we will not allow any country to encroach on our sovereignty or undermine it. We are ready to interact and resolve complex issues. We can handle the fact that our partners think differently and see things differently, but at the same time, we have made it clear that there are red lines (as President of Russia Vladimir Putin put it in his Address to the Federal Assembly yesterday). He also said that no one can cross them. We remain a peace-loving state, but we have put up with things for too long. Now we are responding without any romantic vibe, counting on anyone’s prudence. We respond, on the one hand, as we should within the international legal framework; on the other hand, we respond in line with the traditions of diplomacy; and thirdly, we respond as is best for us. But at the same time, we adhere to a truly peaceful and cooperative approach.

As for what our Western partners are doing, concerning the Czech Republic, we can state that Prague has embarked on the path of ruining relations. A response will not be long in coming.

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Question: Please comment on Czech Minister of Internal and Foreign Affairs Jan Hamacek’s call to EU and NATO countries to expel Russian diplomats in solidarity with Prague? How will the Russian Federation respond to this?

Maria Zakharova: This call to action is not addressed to us. We respond to actions that are taken with respect to Russia. This call is not directed towards us and there is no point in responding. They appeal to each other for support every day. Following this absurd logic, they have gone to the limit of disrespect for their own citizens. They don’t care one bit about their own citizens who favour cooperation and want to resolve their problems, in part, with a contribution from the international community, including Russia. They are ignoring the needs of their own people, and I think this is the limit of how far they can go; they cannot move any further. They are stuck in this rabid Russophobia. They think it will allow them to move forward in the dialogue with their own people. Meanwhile, their citizens keep asking them questions: when will they get out of the crisis?  When will they be vaccinated? When will their economic and social problems start to be resolved? But those in charge believe that by inventing more Russophobic tricks, they will be able to sidetrack their compatriots from their own pressing issues.

I would like to draw your attention, once again, to yesterday’s Address by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. Not just most of it, but almost all of it was devoted to domestic issues and internal development; how to live and overcome the consequences of the pandemic, how to move forward and develop further, how to resolve our problems and plan our tasks, how to map out goals and carry out all this. This is what interests us. We do not interfere in their domestic affairs and are not going to lecture anyone. We are focused on our own development. Of course, we do not live in a vacuum. We want to, and we know how to, build friendly, equitable relations between nations with consideration for their interests and needs. In doing so, we proceed from international law.

But look at the position of our Western partners. They reduce the discussion of their domestic problems to a minimum but talk at length about others, giving them instructions on how to live. In the process, they use endless myths and fake stories about a non-existent threat that ostensibly prevents them from making the most of it. They would have had a much better life if it weren’t for notorious Russian influence and the invented and trite “hand of the Kremlin.” They would have vaccines and no economic or migration problems. Apparently, they wouldn’t have racism, either.  They would have fewer negative issues with more positive progress all around. But the problem is that Moscow is getting in the way. They cannot keep living in this paradigm; it’s an ideological impasse, and this is clear to everyone.

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Question: Will Russia open its borders with Bulgaria for the approaching summer tourism season?

Maria Zakharova: At this point the emergency response centre is making decisions on resuming air traffic, opening borders and changing the rules for crossing them. These decisions are based on interdepartmental approval. Naturally, the centre is primarily guided by the epidemiological situation both at home and abroad.

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Question: I have a follow-up question regarding our response to the recent Czech decision to expel the diplomats. Will our response mirror this action? Can this imply the expulsion of all embassy staff?

Maria Zakharova: Our response is coming soon.

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Question: It would be important to prevent the exacerbation of relations with some former socialist countries to avoid destroying our good ties with ordinary people. Is it possible to provide some moral comfort to those who are adamantly against these kinds of anti-Russian actions and who act in support of our country?

Maria Zakharova: We have a good expression: “We must live according to our conscience.” If you live according to your conscience, even the most difficult trials cannot destroy you. They make you even stronger or simply help you survive the difficult moments that everyone has in life. I am well aware that this isn’t the easiest approach, but I think this is the right way to go. If you ask for my personal advice, this is it.

I think this is indeed moral support for those who are watching these actions by the Western states, which border on madness. They are destroying both bilateral and multilateral relations because these relations are no longer just bilateral.

I fully agree that many achievements, of which the Western countries are also proud, have been made owing to bilateral relations and not without the support of other countries, Russia included.

I am not talking about World War II and the role of our country in liberating Europe from Nazism. I am not talking about the recovery of a vast number of European countries and the material support in many diverse areas in the postwar period. Much has also been done in recent history thanks to our cooperation, support and genuine solidarity in difficult periods, such as the struggle against terrorism, cooperation on vaccines, and many other things. Russia was the first country to develop a vaccine. We extended our hand to Europe for cooperation, information exchange and joint work on the vaccine. This was a truly humanistic move.

 

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