Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow, August 19, 2021
- The closing stage of the International track, Leaders of Russia contest
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s working visit to Hungary
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s working visit to Austria
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s working visit to the Italian Republic
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming speeches at Primakov Gymnasium and at a meeting with students and teaching staff of MGIMO University
- Upcoming 76th session of the UN General Assembly
- Update on Afghanistan
- Opportunities for evacuating Afghan citizens wishing to leave their country
- Media reports on Russian submarines spotted off the Irish coast
- Situation around BBC Moscow correspondent Sarah Rainsford
- The United States and NATO continue to build up military infrastructure near Russia’s borders
- Returning the note of protest to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry
- Monuments to Nazi collaborators in Canada
- US Embassy’s manipulation of the Trevor Reed case
- The anniversary of the signing of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact
- 80th anniversary of Arctic Convoys
- Earthquake in Haiti
- Developments in Ethiopia
- Eastern Economic Forum
- Nagorno-Karabakh settlement update
- Russia’s assessment of the situation in Afghanistan
- A surge of Russophobia in Central Asian countries
- Assessment of Ashraf Ghani's actions
- Facilitating the procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship
The opening ceremony for the final stage of the Leaders of Russia competition International track will he held on August 21.
The Leaders of Russia competition for managers has been held under instructions from the President of the Russian Federation since 2017.
The goal of the International track is to bring in highly skilled professionals from all over the world, to show openness and the advantages offered by our country to a significant number of people from other countries, as well as Russia’s interest in supporting Russian-speaking people living abroad. This year, this track has brought together over 10,000 applicants from 150 countries. Most of foreign contestants are citizens of countries that are closely related to Russia through historical, cultural or family ties. The track awards include a grant for education in the amount of 1 million rubles, the opportunity to obtain Russian citizenship or a residence permit in the Russian Federation.
As many as 179 participants from 29 countries who won the highest number of points during the distance phase of the competition were invited to participate in the track finals. Within its framework, the participants will undergo a comprehensive assessment of their professional and managerial skills as they work on assignments that simulate real-life managerial situations in order to assess their level of competence.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will address the participants. His video address will be offered to the participants and also be available on our websites.
On August 24, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to Budapest at the invitation of the Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto.
Plans include continuing the discussion of pressing bilateral issues with an emphasis on implementing the agreements that were previously reached by President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban and exchanging views on international matters, including dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic of the novel coronavirus infection, Russia’s relations with the EU and NATO, and the situation in Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will address a meeting of Hungarian ambassadors and permanent representatives to international organisations.
On August 25-26, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to Vienna for a discussion with Federal Chancellor of the Republic of Austria Sebastian Kurz, talks with Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs Alexander Schallenberg, and meetings with activists and participants of the Russian-Austrian Public Forum “Sochi Dialogue,” as well as members of the Austrian business community. A visit to the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is also included in the programme.
Plans include a discussion of key items on the bilateral agenda, in particular, the prospects and main areas for promoting trade, economic, cultural, education and scientific and people-to-people relations with an emphasis on implementing previously reached agreements, as well as the most pressing items on the international agenda.
On August 26-27, Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to the Italian Republic.
He will have talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy Luigi Di Maio, as well as meet with Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
The parties will conduct a thorough exchange of views on current issues on the international and regional agendas, including interaction in the G20 and other international formats, relations with the EU and NATO, developments in Ukraine and Afghanistan, settlements in Libya and Syria, and the state of affairs in the Mediterranean region.
The state of bilateral relations and prospects for their further development in the political, trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian fields will also be discussed.
On September 1, as per tradition, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit this higher education institution, which is subordinate to the Foreign Ministry, and meet with first-year students and the teaching staff of MGIMO University. This will include a welcome speech to the students and an interactive section, which has become popular and extremely interesting over the years with its live interaction between students and the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Also on the same day, before visiting MGIMO University, the Foreign Minister is scheduled to speak at the Primakov Gymnasuim as part of Knowledge Day events.
The 76th session of the UN General Assembly will open on September 14. We hope that its key events, including the High-Level Week (HLW) scheduled for September 21-27, will be held in person. For all the technological advances, when it comes to diplomacy, there is still no alternative to person-to-person confidential communication. However, according to incoming reports, many world leaders would rather prepare video addresses that will then be presented during the HLW.
We continue to closely monitor the epidemiological developments in New York, which can make adjustments to the HLW modality. The possibility of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's participation in the General Debate of the 76th session of the General Assembly depends on how the coronavirus situation unfolds. The decision is still in the works. We will certainly keep you informed.
The upcoming session of the UN General Assembly will take place amid the further accumulation of conflict potential in the world and the growth of global threats that require the urgent elaboration of collective decisions on the part of the international community. Against this backdrop, Russia will make all the necessary efforts to promote a multipolar international order, promote a positive unifying agenda, and search for adequate responses to the challenges of our time.
We will continue to advocate further strengthening of the UN’s central coordinating role in global affairs and strict observance of its Charter, including the principles of the sovereign equality of states, non-interference in their internal affairs and the settlement of conflicts through political and diplomatic means. Particular emphasis will be placed on countering persistent attempts being made by a number of countries to undermine or reformat the generally recognised international legal norms and impose alternative non-consensual approaches to resolving various issues bypassing the UN, based on the dubious concept of a rules-based international order.
During the session, we will launch a major initiative to promote our country’s main priorities. I am referring to strengthening the architecture of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, preventing the militarisation of outer space, forming universal rules of conduct in the information space, countering the glorification of Nazism and rewriting history, expanding depoliticised cooperation in fighting terrorism and organised crime.
As a founding state of the UN and a responsible member of the international community, Russia will continue to promote enhancement of the UN influence and prestige as a cornerstone of true multilateralism, a universal platform for equal and effective interstate cooperation. We are ready to collaborate with all like-minded people.
For more information on Russia’s approaches to the topics of the upcoming 76th session of the UN General Assembly agenda, please read the relevant statement on the Russian Foreign Ministry website.
In addition to earlier statements by Russian officials, we would like to add the following as we take the questions that we receive in the wake of changes in the political situation in Afghanistan.
The Taliban came to power in Kabul on August 15 which is an undeniable fact, a reality that the international community should certainly be mindful of when building relations with Afghanistan. The central province of Panjshir where Afghan Tajiks led by former vice-president Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Shah Massoud’s son formed armed resistance remains outside the Taliban’s control.
President Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country and was recently found in the UAE, is undoubtedly responsible for what happened. Over the past three years, he has been well placed to ensure the success of the intra-Afghan peace process and to facilitate the smooth formation of an inclusive government with the participation of all the country's ethnopolitical forces. However, this chance was missed.
We note that the Taliban have actively got to grips with restoring order and are showing commitment to establishing a dialogue with influential Afghan political leaders, in particular, former IRA President Hamid Karzai, about the future state form of government, and are willing to accommodate the interests of the citizens, including the rights of women.
I would like to draw your attention to today's comment by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, which he made during a news conference pointing out that when Afghanistan was in the grip of a civil war, we advocated urgent transition to a nationwide dialogue with the participation of all opposing Afghan forces and ethnic and religious groups in the country. Likewise, now that the Taliban have taken power in Kabul and most other cities and provinces, Russia stands for a nationwide dialogue that will lead to forming a representative government which, with the support of the citizens of Afghanistan, will proceed to develop agreements on political arrangements in this multi-ethnic country.
Speaking about how this can be accomplished, just like in recent years, it can be addressed as part of the expanded troika (Russia, the United States, China and Pakistan) and the Moscow format, which are internationally recognised as the most effective mechanisms for promoting international support for the Afghan settlement. Russia stood strongly for the early start of these talks. The government and the President of Afghanistan had arrangements on this account, but were sluggish in their attempts to act on them, which we have already commented on, including during our briefings. Accordingly, what happened happened. This is a reality that we have to deal with, and to use diplomacy, knowledge of history and the entire toolset that includes diplomatic skills. We reaffirm our unwavering course on creating an external environment for providing every support to the nationwide dialogue in Afghanistan. I would like to remind you of our commitment to the corresponding resolutions of the UN Security Council. We believe (Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov mentioned this today) that the Moscow format has the best prospects. The situation has taken on a regionwide dimension. Neighbouring countries that are located further away from Afghanistan are responding to it. All five Central Asian states, as well as China, Pakistan, Iran, India, Russia, the United States and the conflicting parties themselves, are part of the Moscow format. No official proposals have been made so far, but, as Sergey Lavrov noted, the effectiveness of this “support group” during Afghan talks has always been recognised by everyone. Russia stands ready to resume the Moscow format, if deemed appropriate. We are taking note of all the statements coming from the Taliban who are willing to establish dialogue with other political forces in Afghanistan. They have already announced a number of meetings with representatives of political forces.
The Russian Embassy in Kabul, including its consular department, continues to operate as usual. Working relations are being established with the new authorities, primarily, in order to ensure the Russian citizens’ safety, as well as the smooth functioning of our foreign mission. The consular work is held back by certain difficulties stemming from the collapse of the former state system. For example, the legalisation of documents has been suspended for obvious reasons due to the collapse of the previous state structure and the civil service in Afghanistan.
About 100 Russian citizens are registered with the consular department, mostly ethnic Afghans, who at various times studied in Russia or the Soviet Union, got married, obtained citizenship, and then returned to their historical homeland. The embassy’s consular service is focusing on working with them and other Russian citizens. Notably, the majority of such requests concern providing assistance in transporting people out to the Russian Federation. All these requests will be carefully reviewed.
Importantly, no one is talking about evacuating the embassy staff or Russian citizens residing in Afghanistan. As of now, routine arrangements are underway to organise several charter flights. We have done this before amid the coronavirus pandemic when we engaged the local company Ariana Afghan Airlines. Since this is no longer an option, we are planning to organise special flights, including for Russian citizens who want to leave Afghanistan. The Taliban representatives assured us that there would be no obstacles to us doing this and provided corresponding safety guarantees.
We have no knowledge or information about any of our citizens being affected as a result of the known events of the past days at the airport in Kabul.
We believe it is too early to make any predictions about future trade and economic relations between Russia and Afghanistan under the new regime. However, there is no reason to believe that they will not receive a boost after the state bodies resume normal operations and calm is restored in Afghan society. Other matters are now on the agenda, which we will certainly cover in our comments as information becomes available.
In light of the situation now observed at the Kabul airport and the inability of a number of Western states to arrange the repatriation of their diplomats, military personnel and civilians from Afghanistan, let alone Afghan citizens who collaborated with them and who want to leave the country with their families but cannot do so, we would like to say the following.
To prevent an aggravation of humanitarian problems in Afghanistan, we are ready to offer Russian civil aviation services to take any number of Afghan citizens, including women and children, to any countries that show an interest in accepting and accommodating them.
As representatives of the new authorities in Afghanistan have assured us, there are no fundamental obstacles to the arrival and departure of Russian aircraft in Kabul. They guarantee the safety of Russian aircraft, crews and passengers.
We noted an article published recently in Britain’s daily newspaper The Times about Russian submarines spotted off the coast of Ireland, allegedly trying to access underwater internet cables for reconnaissance purposes.
We consider this publication as another unscrupulous piece of the anti-Russia misinformation and propaganda campaign underway in the UK. These unfounded allegations, in the usual highly-likely style, pursue the only obvious goal: to instil in the unsuspecting Western audience a feeling of some growing ‘Russian threat.’ How long they will try to keep British viewers and readers in the dark with such mythology, is anybody’s guess.
We also noted the statements made by top British officials that they are ready to help the citizens of Afghanistan, help them leave the country and support them financially. Perhaps the Afghan citizens (whom the UK will give shelter) will tell Her Majesty's subjects about the true threats and the situation in the world and be able to debunk, with their first-hand stories, the endless myths about the alleged threat coming from Russia and sometimes from China.
It is quite indicative that the writers are trying to cover up the absence of any facts by quoting certain experts, such as veterans of the British security agencies.
We call on London to stop disseminating distorted and knowingly false information about Russia. We would like to point out and reiterate the futility of inciting and fuelling Russophobic sentiments or elevating Russophobia to the rank of state policy, as well as the importance of building a dialogue based on mutual respect and consideration for each other's interests.
We could not ignore the numerous requests and published appeals and calls to reconsider the allegedly unjustified decision to revoke the media accreditation and visa of Sarah Rainsford, a BBC correspondent in Moscow. These calls are being diligently replicated by sympathetic foreign NGOs egged on by the British side.
We consider any material containing this kind of message and written in this key while deliberately avoiding telling the whole story as a deliberate and inherently cynical attempt to mislead the general public as to who is actually to blame for the situation around the BBC correspondent.
Since passions seem to be running so high, we would like to remind everyone what this is really all about. In order to suppress any speculations, I would like to emphasise that very detailed explanations were published last Saturday concerning the true background of the situation triggered by London’s repeated unjustified refusals to issue visas to Russian journalists, as well as ways to unblock this deadlock. These explanations are a universal response to any of the calls. The feigned surprise of the UK officials – after we had repeatedly warned them over the course of the past one and a half or even two years about official London pushing us towards this kind of response by its mockery of Russian correspondents – as well as various mediators’ stubborn reluctance to figure out who they should actually address their complaints to, if anything, are rubbing in the idea that this caterwaul has been carefully orchestrated.
In a situation where any other attempts to put Britain’s arrogance in relation to the Russian media in check and preclude violations of freedom of speech by London have been exhausted, we believe a reciprocal, mirror measure against their compatriot is the only remaining option to uphold the Russian media’s rights in the UK. This seemed like the only way to draw the British audience’s attention to London’s arbitrary treatment of journalists. Apparently, the goal has been achieved, because everyone if frantically covering the developments. The only problem is that they have gotten their perspective rather wrong. There is no way they could turn this story upside down and make it sound like British journalists are being persecuted in Russia. Not this time. No, this was not persecution. This was a response to Britain’s two-year-long harassment of Russian journalists working in the UK. The authorities refused to issue or extend their visas, they were forced to leave the country because they were denied the relevant permits without any justification or explanation.
We always keep our promises. We promised to respond, and we responded. But the reverse is also true. I hope that London will hear this: as soon as Russian correspondents start receiving British visas and their visas are extended, Sarah Rainsford can apply for an extension of her Russian visa to any of the Russian missions abroad. There will be no hurdles. I would just like to point out that this is a two-way road.
Those who are worried about upholding the rights of some journalists while ignoring the oppression of others, by definition, cannot call themselves defenders of freedom of speech, freedom of the media and plurality of opinions. If you wish to protect, protect everyone.
We continue to operate on the premise that Europe in general does not have any insoluble military-political issues that might need a military solution or a weighty presence of military-political blocs. Nevertheless, the actual state of affairs and the buildup of NATO's military presence on our western borders are a telling sign that the alliance is thinking differently.
As we now see, the NATO leadership, while promoting the propaganda thesis about the need to “contain Moscow by force,” is oblivious of real threats and starts dealing with them after the world collapses. You know why? The answer is simple. For many years now, they have been focusing on and have invested enormous resources in ensuring that their audiences - the citizens of their countries - remain aware of what is alleged to be the only threat, Russia. Given this situation, it is no wonder that they have missed the realities and the real threats. Now, it has become the legacy of the entire world.
The “rotational” presence in the Baltic countries and Poland boils down to permanent deployment of four NATO battalion groups on the ground which, taken together, can be equated to a reinforced motorised infantry brigade with heavy equipment. Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the alliance is conducting exercises on the “eastern flank,” including under a scenario of countering a “comparable” adversary, meaning Russia. We consider such manoeuvres provocative, or at least short-sighted given the circumstances.
The Baltic states are often among the key supporters of anti-Russia policies and spare no effort to bolster up the myth of a possible “invasion” by Russia. Brussels admits that “more military force than ever is deployed in this area” now.
The NATO mission to patrol the Baltic airspace continues unabated, and its flights often approach Russia’s border. The same applies to the naval presence. NATO ships with guided missile systems regularly enter the Baltic Sea in the vicinity of the Kaliningrad Region. The pilots of NATO countries, as well as the warship crews, deliberately provoke Russian emergency response forces and, according to military experts, are testing our ability to provide an appropriate response.
We are concerned about the increased US military presence in Poland with their plans to significantly increase the total number of US troops above the 4,500 already deployed there. The infrastructure under construction will make it possible to bring the number of US troops in that country to 20,000 people in a fairly short time. These plans run counter to the 1997 Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between the Russian Federation and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which sets forth the overall objective of strengthening stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.
We are also witnessing an increase in military activity near Russia's southern borders. Kiev regularly conducts exercises with aggressive scenarios and involvement of NATO forces, as it continues to modernise its military infrastructure. The statement of August 10 by Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Alexey Reznikov to the effect that US air defence systems may be deployed in Ukraine came as another corroboration of Kiev's unwillingness to implement the Minsk Package of Measures, Clause 10 of which binds the Ukrainian authorities, as a party to the conflict, to withdraw all foreign armed formations, mercenaries and military equipment from the country. As we can see, the political elite in Kiev and its Western handlers chose to follow the path of militarising Ukraine, thus postponing the prospect for peaceful settlement of the internal conflict in Ukraine.
All of that will inevitably result in a shift in the balance of power in Europe and provoke a slide into another arms race. We plan to closely monitor the situation, and in the event that the United States and NATO continue to undermine the foundations of security on the continent, we will be forced to take the necessary measures to ensure our legitimate national interests, which our country's leadership has conveyed on many occasions.
We call on NATO members to resume observance of the principle of military restraint. Our specific constructive proposals for de-escalating tensions in Europe, which we made available to NATO leadership earlier, remain in force.
On August 17 of this year, the Russian Foreign Ministry returned, without consideration, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s note of protest over Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Crimea to take part in the Tavrida art cluster [festival]. The note was returned because of the unacceptable terminology that was used by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry to try and question the fact that Crimea is part of Russia.
It really is high time our Ukrainian colleagues realised that the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol are legal entities of the Russian Federation. This matter was resolved for good in 2014 by the residents of Crimea at the referendum, in keeping with the right of the nations to self-determination, which is set forth in relevant UN and OSCE documents, as well as in Ukrainian law. Thanks to this decision that was taken after the coup in Kiev, residents of Crimea escaped being discriminated against by the Ukrainian authorities. Today, their rights are safeguarded by the Constitution of the Russian Federation. The sociopolitical and humanitarian situation in Crimea has notably improved. Incidentally, Russia is the only country in the world, which in two of its regions has granted the Ukrainian language the same status as it has in Ukraine. Unfortunately, Kiev has not reciprocated.
We are calling on Ukraine to put an end to any attempts to encroach on the territorial integrity of our country. We reaffirm that we will return similar notes of protest in the future if they concern Crimea or other legal entities of the Russian Federation.
Despite the protests by the public, Jewish organisations and our compatriots living in Canada, the Ottawa authorities have refused to take any steps to eradicate a shameful phenomenon like memorials to Nazi criminals from among Ukrainian collaborators who fought in the 14th Waffen-SS (Galician) Division.
There are monuments in different cities, including Edmonton, the capital of the Province of Alberta, where a bust has been installed to SS Hauptsturmfuhrer Roman Shukhevich, who was commander of the 201st Waffen-SS Schutzmannschaft Battalion, as well as to those from the above Galician Division who took part in massacres. The recent high-profile incident, involving some unidentified people, who used red paint to write on this, so called, “memorial” the words true Nazi and Nazi monument, has sparked again a discussion on the unacceptability of glorifying Nazi butchers in Canada, a country that fought against Nazism as part of the anti-Hitler coalition.
We would like to specially note that the majority of Canadians do not sympathise with Stepan Bandera and other Ukrainian warlords who fought with him, to whom the Canadian authorities gave shelter in the wake of WWII. However, quite a few politicians, including some cabinet members, openly support ultra-nationalism with a Russophobic tinge that is being preached by the incumbent regime in Kiev. It is not surprising therefore that the calls by the Canadian Jewish community, including well-known NGOs like B’nai B’rith and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, to get rid of Nazi symbols have remained a voice in the wilderness.
In addition to this, the media and history textbooks are being used to inculcate “the only true” opinion, which is that Nazi accomplices led by Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevich allegedly fought for the independence of Ukraine. At the official level, Nazi Germany is being blasphemously equated to the Soviet Union, which insults the memory of the 27 million Soviet people who lost their lives fighting for the victory over Nazism and also spoils relations between Russia and Canada.
We are calling on the Canadian authorities, who speak about their commitment to human rights and democracy and pay lip service to the criticism of any manifestation of xenophobia and anti-Semitism, to take real and effective steps towards the historical truth. Zero tolerance to Nazism and those who are trying to justify it today is the call of our times and the debt we owe to the memory of the Soviet and Canadian war veterans who fought against Hitler’s war machine.
It is not the first time the US diplomatic mission in Moscow is planting inaccurate information in the public discourse about US citizens who are serving sentences in penitentiary institutions for crimes committed in the Russian Federation.
This, in particular, concerns Trevor Reed, a US citizen convicted of assaulting police officers, who is presented as a victim of “biased and unfair trial.” In addition to fuelling artificial drama around the situation and groundless claims about the “deliberate severity” of punishment (although in the United States, disobedience and resistance to law enforcement officers is punished much more severely), the Embassy is openly misleading its audience on social media by writing in its official accounts that the Russian Government has not given information about his whereabouts, contrary to its obligations.
This is not true, to put it mildly. Ambassador John Sullivan posted this on August 16, while on August 12, the US Embassy was officially informed by a note from the Russian Foreign Ministry that US citizen Trevor Reed, whose appeal had been denied and verdict confirmed, has arrived to serve his sentence in a penal colony in Mordovia. I have just reported this to our American colleagues again. I would like to underscore that this information was earlier officially provided to the American diplomats, in due order.
Previously, law enforcement agencies promptly responded to all inquiries from the diplomatic mission regarding his health, the possibility of arranging calls, as well as places of detention. The Russian Foreign Ministry intends to continue to provide appropriate assistance in this regard. We are committed to fulfilling our obligations.
We would like to see a similar approach from the State Department and other US agencies concerning Russian citizens imprisoned in the US, especially in Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko’s cases, where “deliberate severity” is evident. As a reminder, both were sentenced to disproportionately long terms of 25 and 20 years. Requests from our diplomats for adequate medical care or change of treatment and security in prison to a more humane option often remain unanswered or are rejected without consideration. This is unacceptable. We will not put up with this.
August 23 marks 82 years since the signing of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact. Regrettably, in recent years, this event has become a pretext for politicised and pseudoscientific speculations on the part of a number of European capitals, which do not hide their desire to rewrite the history of World War II and redefine its causes and lessons based on their own, not even intra-state objectives, but the political goals of one party, a group, or a movement. All this is at odds with the medium- or long-term prospects. It is done in the here and now, at this given moment, without giving a thought to the past or the future.
These days, we are hearing Brussels issue its traditional calls to equalise the responsibility of the “totalitarian regimes” for unleashing a global conflict. The cynicism with which they are trying to shift the blame for the bloodiest war in the history of humankind, or, as the saying goes, to “pass the buck,” is stunning. The revisionist thesis that the Non-Aggression Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union signed on August 23, 1939 “plunged Europe into darkness” does not hold water. One cannot resist a sense that Europe has swiftly plunged into darkness, and has done so not in the faraway 1939, but right now - into the darkness of ignorance.
As a reminder, our country and our diplomats worked throughout the second half of the 1930s to create a single European security system in an attempt to organise resistance to the then still fledgling Nazi aggressor. This plan was thwarted primarily by the Western powers, which are now claiming what I have just mentioned.
The Munich Agreement signed by the heads of government of Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy in September 1938, irrevocably stacked the balance of forces in Germany's favour and allowed German and Polish troops to annex parts of Czechoslovakia, including Sudetenland and the Teschen region, to name a few. The occupation of the whole of Czechoslovakia in 1939 came as a logical outcome of the Western capitals’ policy to appease Hitler and his henchmen, reinforcing the Nazis and boosting Germany’s military-industrial potential.
In addition, by August 1939, non-aggression agreements with Hitler had already been signed by Poland (Non-Aggression Pact, 1934), Great Britain (Anglo-German Naval Agreement, 1935 and Non-Aggression Declaration, 1938), Italy (Steel Pact, 1939), Denmark (Non-Aggression Pact, 1939), France (Non-Aggression Declaration, 1938), and Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia (non-aggression pacts, 1939).
The failure of the Soviet-French-British talks in Moscow on concluding a mutual assistance treaty through the fault of London and Paris, which did not provide their representatives with appropriate powers, and the real danger of waging a war on two fronts - with Germany in the west and Japan in the east (violent fighting on the Khalkhin-Gol River was already underway) - left the Soviet Union without a choice.
Thus, the Soviet Union became one of the last European countries to conclude such an agreement with Germany. It is a fact, but for some reason our Western partners and the Western mainstream media, which are clearly at the service of respective interests, stubbornly continue to turn a blind eye to it and are reluctant to use it when writing their numerous materials. This agreement placed vast areas of Western Ukraine and Belarus - former Russian territories seized by Poland in 1921, as well as the Baltic countries – out of the reach of the German sphere of influence. The Soviet Union protected the residents of these territories, albeit for an undetermined amount of time, from the horrors of the German occupation and the “new order” of the Nazis, including the Holocaust. Many of the residents of these territories later fought in the ranks of the Red Army or worked on the homefront thus contributing to the common Victory. As a reminder, during the war, Nazis and their accomplices killed almost 96 percent of the Jewish population in Lithuania alone.
Exhaustive and in-depth assessments of these historic events were provided by President Vladimir Putin in his article titled “The 75th anniversary of Great Victory: Shared Responsibility to History and Our Future” published in 2020.
The attempts by a number of European capitals to shift the blame for unleashing World War II to the Soviet Union run counter to historical facts and common sense. They are also inconsistent with the Nuremberg Tribunal rulings.
The promotion of these radical pseudo-historical concepts amid blatant condoning of neo-Nazi movements, an unrelenting war on monuments to Soviet liberator soldiers, primarily in the Baltic countries, Poland, the Czech Republic and Ukraine, is an affront to the memory of millions of victims of World War II and those who laid down their lives liberating Europe from Nazism and is fraught with the most dangerous consequences.
August 31 will mark 80 years since Britain’s first Arctic Convoy arrived in the Soviet Union. That convoy, codenamed Operation Dervish and consisting of seven transport and 16 escort ships, made a successful passage from Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands to the port of Arkhangelsk.
Russia will always remember with gratitude how the anti-Hitler coalition members extended a helping hand to the Soviet Union in the most difficult first months of the Great Patriotic War. The further course of the war confirmed the Arctic Convoy’s significant contribution to the success of the joint struggle against the common enemy, which cannot be overestimated.
Russia and the UK are now paying tribute to the memory, heroism and dedication of those involved in the convoys. Their heroic crossing of the North Atlantic is forever inscribed in golden letters in the history of the liberation of Europe from Nazism.
On August 12, Russian Ambassador to the UK Andrey Kelin, the Russian Embassy’s military attaché, British officials and representatives of the diplomatic corps attended the commemorative events in Liverpool to mark the 80th anniversary of the Arctic Convoys. Princess Anne, the daughter of Queen Elizabeth II, delivered a special address.
Anniversary celebrations dedicated to this significant date will also take place in Arkhangelsk on August 29-31. The main events will include an international research and practice conference, Lend-Lease and Arctic Convoys: From Regional Cooperation to a Global Coalition; a ceremonial meeting, Victory Fire Miles; the opening of an exhibition, Destination Port: Arkhangelsk. 80 Years Since Dervish, the First Allied Convoy; as well as a festival of military brass bands, Direction Nord: Dervish.
The Arctic Convoys are an integral part of the chronicle of Russian-British relations, a vivid example of successful cooperation between Moscow and London, based on mutual respect, equality and common interests.
On August 14, an earthquake registering as high as 7.2 on the Richter scale struck Haiti, 12 km northeast of Saint-Louis du Sud. Hardest hit were southern departments of Nippe and Grand'Anse.
According to reports, as of August 18 of this year, the tragedy has claimed the lives of over 1,900 people and injured about 10,000. There are no Russian citizens among the dead or injured; we do not have any confirmed information of them. We continue monitoring the developments.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin sent a message of condolences to Prime Minister of Haiti Ariel Henry over the disaster that befell the country.
We sincerely sympathise with the Haitian people at this difficult time, share the bitterness of loss with families of the victims, and wish all those injured a speedy recovery.
We are also making efforts to accelerate disaster relief – a team of Russian helicopter pilots operating under a World Food Programme contract are dedicatedly supplying the regions most affected by the earthquake with humanitarian supplies and medicines.
We are carefully monitoring the military and political developments in the friendly Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, where armed conflicts have intensified recently between the government army and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).
The TPLF continues combat operations and has gained control over some areas not only in Tigray, but also in the adjacent provinces of Afar and Amhara which were not affected by the conflict. The Tigray forces are continuing to try and capture the strategic road that connects Ethiopia and Djibouti, which may lead to the aggravation of the already difficult humanitarian situation as well as an increased number of refugees and internally displaced persons.
We are also concerned by the toxic atmosphere around this conflict created by some foreign media. We believe that irresponsible comments produced by some journalists are not facilitating a settlement of the conflict and are only heating up the existing discord by preventing the parties from reaching mutually acceptable solutions.
We believe that the declaration of a truce by both sides of the conflict is the only sensible way to stop the bloodshed, improve the humanitarian situation, reach gradual social and economic stabilisation and return internally displaced persons back to their homes.
We urge the international community and regional organisations to support the Ethiopian government in its efforts to normalise the situation in Tigray in order to bring peace and to restore the life of the citizens back to normal there. We believe that the decisive role in the settlement of the intra-Ethiopian conflict must be played by the Ethiopians themselves with support from the African community.
The sixth Eastern Economic Forum will take place on September 2-4 in Vladivostok. The forum was established in 2015 to promote the fast-track economic ramp-up of the Russian Far East and to expand international cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region.
Considering the current developments, the agenda of the forum will be focused on the search for new opportunities to develop the Far East and East Asia in the changing world. Participants in the event will discuss the transformation of the architecture of international relations and international division of labour, anti-crisis strategies to overcome pandemics and their aftermath, challenges in global trade, digital transformation of a wide range of spheres of life, a new environmental agenda, as well as developing the processes of alignment of integration processes, including as part of Russia’s Greater Eurasian Partnership initiative.
The extensive programme of the forum will include plenary and themed sessions such as The Value and Values of the Greater Eurasian Partnership, Unmanned Logistics Corridors: Russia is Building a Digital Bridge Between Asia and Europe, and The Northern Sea Route: Closer, Faster, Safer. Plans call for holding business dialogues with the leading partners in the Asia-Pacific Region, events as part of the youth segment of the forum, and the 10th APEC International Conference on Higher Education.
Some foreign leaders have been invited to take part in the sixth Eastern Economic Forum.
We hope that the forum will become a large step towards the implementation of our strategic policy to securing the Russian Far East as a centre of economic growth in the Asia-Pacific Region.
We have received numerous media requests asking us to comment on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, on the Azerbaijani-Armenian border and in the South Caucasus in general. I will now provide an answer to all these questions.
Question: Many experts are pointing to the fact that the state of affairs between Azerbaijan and Armenia, amid the continuing exchange of fire, is beginning to resemble the situation that pertained there before the Karabakh war in the autumn of 2020, which causes serious concerns. What is Moscow doing to settle the situation? Talks are underway, but they are off-limits. Why are there no direct trilateral meetings between Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia on this matter? Are such contacts anticipated at the high and highest levels? Has Moscow’s focus shifted from the Nagorno-Karabakh problem in the wake of new global challenges? Has the issue retained its status as a strategic priority?
Question: Provocations by the Azerbaijani armed forces on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border continue unabated. They opened fire on Armenian positions on August 16, killing two Armenian soldiers. There is irrefutable evidence that the Azerbaijani armed forces conducted sniper fire at the villages near the border, in particular, the villages of Kut and Norabak in the Gegharkunik region. What do you think about these frequent provocations by Azerbaijan that claim human lives, as well as making Armenian communities targets of their attacks?
Question: In an interview with the CNN Turk TV channel, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev stated that he expected Russia to stop arming Armenia and to comply with all the provisions of the trilateral statement on Nagorno-Karabakh, in hope of achieving peace. President Aliyev does not shy away from receiving weapons, in particular drones, from Turkey, but he is confused by Russia’s military interaction with Armenia. What does Russia think about this statement considering that arms supplies are an integral part of the Russia-Armenia alliance? Did President Aliyev present claims regarding unfulfilled clauses of the tripartite statement? What clauses are being referred to?
Maria Zakharova: The situation in South Caucasus is central to Russia. The implementation by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia of the trilateral agreements of November 9, 2020 and January 11, 2021 is our top priority. We maintain regular contacts at the highest and high levels with Baku and Yerevan. This summer, President Vladimir Putin met with Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan (July 7) and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev (July 20) in Moscow. The Foreign Ministry, the Defence Ministry, as well as border agencies and embassies continue to do their part. Contact formats are discussed with the parties. The decisions are made in accordance with what promotes the cause in the best possible fashion.
Given their particular sensitivity, the details of the discussions are not always released, since public knowledge could stand in the way of achieving sustainable results. I would also like to note the absolutely counterproductive nature of the confrontational and, moreover, bellicose rhetoric that political leaders in the countries of South Caucasus occasionally resort to. This is a direct hit on one spot, damaging the achievement of sustainable results, which is the most important thing. The goals are set forth in the above agreements.
Baku and Yerevan highly appreciate the stabilising role of the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh along the line of contact of the parties and the Lachin Corridor. Thanks to our peacekeepers’ actions on the ground, the situation in the region has significantly improved and remains relatively quiet. Data on refugees returning to their homes are regularly posted on our Defence Ministry’s website. Isolated incidents get quickly resolved in the normal course of business. The main reason behind them is an acute lack of trust in relations between Baku and Yerevan.
Russia advocates a comprehensive improvement in Azerbaijani-Armenian relations. We are making our position known to Baku and Yerevan, including at the highest and high levels. We urge both sides to eliminate the existing mutual irritants in the humanitarian field as soon as possible and to exchange minefield maps and prisoners of war according to the “all for all” motto.
It is Russia’s sovereign right to supply arms internationally. We have corresponding arrangements with Armenia and Azerbaijan, being mindful of the need to maintain the balance of forces in the region.
With regard to assessments of the situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border published in a number of media outlets, we would like to note that the Russian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly urged Yerevan and Baku to refrain from using force and to use exclusively political and diplomatic means to mitigate tensions. We highlighted the fact that using confrontational rhetoric in the circumstances at hand is counterproductive. We continue to believe that talks on delimiting the border with its subsequent demarcation will provide a lasting solution to this situation. We stand ready to provide consultations to advance this process.
With regard to the Trilateral Working Group (TWG) co-chaired by deputy prime ministers of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, you have already seen the reports that it resumed its activities on August 17. A TWG meeting was held in Moscow, and the information about it was posted on the Government website. We note with satisfaction that the parties were able to resume practical discussions of approaches to unblock economic and transport links in the South Caucasus, which will help tap the significant economic potential of that region.
Question: Russia generally sounds as though it approves of the change of government in Afghanistan and expects stabilisation of that country under Taliban control. What are the reasons for this optimism?
Maria Zakharova: I would like to note that Russian officials have never expressed their approval of the change of government in Afghanistan. We comment on the reality. It would be strange if we had not noticed it. There are obvious differences between the assessments you mentioned and what actually happened. Our assessments concerned the objective situation in Kabul after the Taliban de facto established control over the Afghan capital. We also reported on the positive signals transmitted to us from the Taliban leaders regarding their plans for the country’s future.
As you are aware, the Taliban has already begun to establish public order after reaffirming security guarantees for the Afghan population as well as foreign diplomatic missions. This is of fundamental importance for us, considering that there are Russian citizens living in Afghanistan, as well as our foreign missions, and diplomats continue to perform their professional duties.
At the first official news conference in Kabul on August 17, a Taliban representative announced a general amnesty and promised to respect women’s rights within the Islamic legal framework. They also announced an intent to fight drug production and keep international terrorist groups from using the country’s territory for action against third countries.
Question: How would you comment on the sharp surge of Russophobia in Central Asia? Do the recent incidents in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan reflect the official government policies? What steps will Russia take to defend the interests of Russian-speaking minorities there?
Maria Zakharova: We monitor reports about manifestations of nationalism, including discrimination on religious and linguistic grounds in relation to our compatriots and Russian-speakers in foreign countries. We do this regularly. When we comment on the most high-profile cases, it is public assessment. This cannot replace the almost daily work carried out by the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Embassy and Rossotrudnichestvo in this area.
We are aware of the recent online reports, as well as the incidents in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which caused a widespread reaction in Russian society. Unfortunately, this is not the first time we have seen this. The Russian Foreign Ministry and our embassies in Nur-Sultan and Bishkek responded in a timely manner to these excessive manifestations. Once again, I would like to emphasise that when I say respond I mean not only public reaction, but also practical steps.
On August 16, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke by telephone with his Kyrgyz counterpart, Ruslan Kazakbayev, urging the Kyrgyz authorities to promptly respond to such cases in order to avoid infringement of the rights and dignity of our compatriots. The Kyrgyz Foreign Minister assured him that the Kyrguz government will continue to firmly oppose any manifestations of nationalism and help strengthen the role of the Russian language to uphold the rights of the Russian-speaking population.
Sergey Lavrov also spoke with Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Mukhtar Tileuberdi on August 18. The parties reaffirmed that the activities of the so-called language patrols need to be thoroughly investigated and a reaction from the Kazakh authorities and law enforcement agencies would follow; any manifestations of household nationalism will be resolutely suppressed.
Protecting the rights and interests of Russian citizens and compatriots abroad has been and remains one of the priorities of Russia’s foreign policy. Our embassies keep a close watch on this matter and are ready to provide the necessary assistance to Russians and Russian compatriots at any time.
Nationalism in any of its manifestations is an evil and a shame for any state and its people, and must be combated. The official positions of both countries you mentioned and their official representatives are widely known and leave no doubt as to their attitude.
Maria Zakharova: I have already talked today about the Afghan government’s responsibility for establishing an intra-Afghan dialogue.
Unfortunately, Afghanistan’s leadership missed their chance. Everything that happened needs to be analysed by journalists, political scientists and lawyers, but we gave a global assessment which emphasises the importance of the intra-Afghan dialogue with account taken of everyone’s interests based on understanding the history of Afghanistan and focusing on the need to consolidate society, which is indeed a critical element of it all. Russia has an absolutely consistent position in this regard.
Question: I would like to see Russia focus much more on making the acquisition of Russian citizenship less complicated. Many of our compatriots want to reinstate the Russian citizenship they lost when Russia did not allow dual citizenship. The children and grandchildren of many of our compatriots who were born after the collapse of the Soviet Union were often forced to obtain citizenship in another country, but would like their children to be Russian citizens. And Russia needs people, especially patriots.
Is the Foreign Ministry in a position to influence the arrangements involved in obtaining Russian citizenship (or at least a residence permit)? Indeed, amid exacerbated confrontation, our compatriots are increasingly exposed to violent attacks and moral terror.
Maria Zakharova: I would like to provide a brief overview of the legal framework that we use in this work. With regard to citizenship, the Foreign Ministry is guided by the Constitution of the Russian Federation and the 2002 Federal Law On Citizenship of the Russian Federation. Permanent residence in Russia is the main prerequisite for obtaining Russian citizenship. The fast-track procedure for obtaining citizenship abroad applies only to stateless persons residing in the countries of the former Soviet Union and minor children.
Presidential executive order No. 622 of October 31, 2018 approved the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025, which focuses on voluntary relocation to the Russian Federation for the permanent residence of our compatriots residing abroad, as well as other persons, who can successfully integrate into Russian society.
As part of the efforts to implement this concept, the Foreign Ministry engages in drafting federal laws designed to simplify the applicable regulations and procedures that underlie the institution of Russian citizenship. The most recent changes include repealing the requirement to renounce other active citizenship when applying for Russian citizenship, the introduction of a preferential procedure for granting citizenship to individuals who received a higher education in Russia, and highly skilled specialists with professions that are in demand in the Russian economy, as well as citizens of Belarus, Moldova, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.
The Foreign Ministry was instrumental in adopting a draft law under which several categories of citizens can obtain a residence permit (followed by Russian citizenship) without obtaining a temporary residence permit first.