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9 September 202120:43

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow, September 9, 2021

1781-09-09-2021

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Table of contents

  1. Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Rwanda Vincent Biruta’s visit to Moscow postponed

  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar Mohammed Al Thani

  3. Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming talks with Luca Beccari, Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Economic Cooperation and Telecommunications of San Marino

  4. Sergey Lavrov to attend a joint meeting of the CSTO Foreign Ministers Council, Defence Ministers Council, Committee of Secretaries of Security Councils and session of the Collective Security Council

  5. Update on Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline

  6. The interim government in Afghanistan

  7. High-level meeting on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan

  8. The German Foreign Ministry’s statement on “hacker attacks” against German parliamentary organisations

  9. Navalny’s projects funded through foreign diplomatic missions in Russia

  10. Developments in the Republic of Guinea

  11. Events planned by US-based Russian foreign missions to remember the victims of the 9/11 attacks

  12. The 25th anniversary of the Arctic Council

  13. Beginning of the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council

  14. Catalan story published by America’s The New York Times

  15. New aspects of UK internet regulation

  16. Opening new secondary school building in Tskhinval with the Russian Federation’s support

  17. The handing over of Russian ambulances to Tajikistan

  18. The outcome of the presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe

  19. Update on the situation around a BBC journalist

 

 

Answers to media questions:

  1. BBC’s programme on chemical attack in Syria

  2. Funding Alexey Navalny’s projects through foreign diplomatic missions

  3. Contacts with new leadership of Afghanistan

  4. Implementation of trilateral statement of presidents of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia on Nagorno-Karabakh

  5. Yerevan’s statements on status of Nagorno-Karabakh

  6. Russia’s support to compatriots living abroad and foreign young people in receiving higher education in Russia

 

 

Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Rwanda Vincent Biruta’s visit to Moscow postponed

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Rwanda Vincent Biruta, scheduled for September 10 during his working visit to Moscow, have been postponed by mutual agreement.

 

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar Mohammed Al Thani

 

On September 11, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar Mohammed Al Thani who will pay a short working visit to Moscow.

The foreign ministers will discuss in detail the topical issues of further promoting bilateral relations. They will conduct an intensive exchange of views on the developments in Afghanistan and around it. The diplomats will compare their positions on international and regional issues of mutual interest with an emphasis on the need for political settlements in the persisting conflicts and crises in the Middle East and North Africa.

 

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Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming talks with Luca Beccari, Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Economic Cooperation and Telecommunications of San Marino

 

On September 13, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov plans to hold talks with Luca Beccari, Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Economic Cooperation and Telecommunications of the Republic of San Marino during his official visit to Moscow on September 12-15.

During the meeting, the diplomats will exchange opinions on the status of and prospects for Russian-Sammarinese cooperation in the bilateral and multilateral formats. They will also discuss international issues in detail.

 

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Sergey Lavrov to attend a joint meeting of the CSTO Foreign Ministers Council, Defence Ministers Council, Committee of Secretaries of Security Councils and session of the Collective Security Council

 

On September 15 Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend a joint meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation Foreign Ministers Council, Defence Ministers Council, Committee of Secretaries of Security Councils and the session of the Collective Security Council. The meeting will take place in Dushanbe on the eve of the CSTO Collective Security Council session (September 16).

The meeting activities during the inter-session period will be reviewed under the chairmanship of Tajikistan Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin. The meeting will include an exchange of opinions on the military-political situation in CSTO collective security regions with an emphasis on the Afghanistan situation. The participants are expected to approve, in a joint meeting format, the documents submitted to the CSTO Collective Security Council, for consideration, including the CSTO Collective Security Council Declaration.

Attendees are to discuss a package of decisions concerning foreign policy, military and antiterrorism cooperation within the CSTO.

We will promptly advise you of any additional events or possible changes in Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s schedule.

 

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Update on Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline

 

The last section in the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline’s second line was welded the other day. It remains to dock the gas pipeline sections, one of which runs from the coast of Germany, and the other runs from the territorial waters of Denmark, and then to commission them. Gazprom confirmed that the first gas via the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline will be sent to the European market by late 2021.

In other words, the construction of one of the world's largest energy infrastructure projects is nearing completion. It is now clear to everyone, including to Nord Stream 2 detractors who fiercely opposed the construction, that it is impossible to stop it. It's time to stop obstructing this important project. The time has come to agree on reasonable and mutually beneficial operation of the pipeline.

The timeline for the first commercial distribution depends on German regulators. We look forward to millions of European consumers receiving Russian gas soon via the shortest, most economical and environmentally friendly route. The carbon footprint of gas transport through Nord Stream 2 is more than five times lower than alternative routes. The relevant materials on this have already been provided. Strategically, Nord Stream 2 will improve Europe's energy security for decades to come. The pipeline was built with the latest technology and meets all international standards.

For many years now, we have been providing clarifications, taking questions, responding to criticism and debunking fake news, including that Nord Stream 2 is a purely business project, and that Russia has no plans to use it otherwise. We truly hope that Nord Stream 2 will stop being used as fodder for all sorts of political speculations, fabricated news, information campaigns, or a pretext for illegal restrictive measures, and will stop being part of the agenda of confrontation.

Taking into account the fact that major European energy companies participated in financing the project and that hundreds of European contractors were engaged in the construction process, Nord Stream 2, just like its predecessor Nord Stream 1 is, in fact, a positive example of mutually beneficial partnership between Russia and Europe, which we are willing to build based on the principles of respect for one another’s interests and mutual benefit.

I would like Europeans, the residents of different countries and cities in Europe, to hear what we have to say. So often they have been victimised by their media which distorts data and which, unfortunately, goes along with the information campaigns that are carried out by lobbyists. At this point, we hope that European residents, citizens of European countries, will hear, understand and realise that they will benefit from this joint international project.

With regard to attempts to tie the early phases of the normal operation of Nord Stream 2 in with other stories, we, first, continue to view them as cases of illegal politicisation of energy cooperation, which fundamentally contradicts market principles. Second, as President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed at a meeting with German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, we stand ready and willing to continue gas transit across Ukraine. However, this is a purely business matter that depends on many factors, including the volumes of future European purchases and the competitiveness of alternative routes.

 

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The interim government in Afghanistan

 

On the evening of September 7, new appointments to the interim government in Afghanistan, which includes members of the Taliban, were announced. The head of the new cabinet and its members have the status of acting cabinet members, which might indicate that the process of forming the government and the vertical hierarchy of power in general, is far from complete. It cannot be ruled out that this vertical hierarchy will comprise other structures as well to ensure the inclusive character of the new government bodies. We will follow this closely.

Russia has consistently spoken in favour of giving due consideration to the interests of all ethnic and political forces in Afghanistan in building the new state. We believe this to be the only possible way of achieving lasting peace and accord in Afghan society and of ensuring the peaceful recovery in the country. 

 

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High-level meeting on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan

 

Afghanistan has traditionally been among the recipients of humanitarian aid from Russia, partly under the auspices of the UN.

Since 2018, under the World Food Programme (WFP), we have provided aid to Afghanistan worth approximately $9 million, including staple foods that were distributed by UN humanitarian workers among the most vulnerable segments of the country’s population. 

In addition, our country played a significant role in developing the UN humanitarian agencies’ logistics potential in Afghanistan by allocating over 70 vehicles to the WFP vehicle fleet as an in-kind contribution: 40 KAMAZ trucks in 2011 and 31 KAMAZ trucks in 2015. 

We understand that the current uneasy military and political situation along with the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to more challenges in the economy and in healthcare and more concerns about food security. 

We believe it is important to remember that it was due to Russia’s efforts that the call to all donors and international humanitarian agencies to render assistance to Afghanistan and the countries that are major recipients of refugees has been included in UN Security Council Resolution 2593 on the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, adopted on August 30.

We note with regret that contrary to Russia’s proposals, the US, British and French authors of this document flatly refused to include provisions in the resolution about the need to scrupulously follow the guiding principles of the world organisation responsible for delivering humanitarian aid, which are set forth in UN General Assembly Resolution 46/182, as well as the premise of the debilitating impact of freezing national financial assets on the economic and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan.

Russia intends to take part in a high-level meeting on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan in Geneva on September 13. The meeting will be held at the level of Permanent Representative to the UN Office in Geneva. 

 

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The German Foreign Ministry’s statement on “hacker attacks” against German parliamentary organisations

 

We noted a new list of anti-Russia accusations by German Foreign Ministry’s Deputy Spokeswoman Andrea Sasse at a government news conference on September 6. She spoke about the activities of “Ghostwriter,” a group of hackers allegedly directed by Russian government agencies against the deputies of federal and local parliaments of Germany.

This is not the first time Russia has been accused of involvement in hacker attacks on German deputies. Germany made similar allegations in 2015 and 2017. The internet remembers everything. It is easy to find this information through search engines and you will understand that after the 2017 parliamentary elections the then German Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maiziere had to acknowledge the absence of any Russian influence on the voting. However, apparently Berlin is not learning from its past mistakes.

Despite our repeated requests via diplomatic channels, our German partners have not presented any evidence of Russia’s involvement in hacker attacks. I would like to emphasise that we used existing diplomatic channels for this purpose. Russian proposals to conduct a joint inquiry were ignored. At the same time, Germany has initiated two packages of anti-Russia sanctions from the EU in this context.

We are convinced that in the case of Ghostwriter, these allegations have a foreign policy background like the similar groundless US accusations against Russia. It appears that this is yet another PR escapade in the context of the domestic political struggle in Germany on the eve of the elections to the Bundestag on September 26, 2021.

Like a bad student, in accusing Russia, Berlin is trying to parrot its overseas teacher and copy whatever it does in the hope of getting good marks and gaining political points.

Such statements have nothing to do with the efforts to counter threats in the information space and promote international cooperation on information security.

Russia opposes this rhetoric and these groundless accusations that are part of the campaign, to a consistent course of developing equitable, professional relations with all states in the bilateral, regional and global formats.

Recently (on September 3, 2021) we held constructive and businesslike consultations on international information security on the sidelines of the Russian-German interdepartmental high-level working group on security policy, and agreed to make them systematic. The report published after this event is available on the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Therefore, we believe that the afore-mentioned recent statement reflects the desire of individual German politicians to show their main ally, to whom this lobby is oriented, that they allegedly keep the Russians at a distance and will not allow breeches in trans-Atlantic solidarity. On top of that, they are likely to once again use the hackneyed “threat from the East” on the eve of the elections to the Bundestag. We would like to recommend that our German partners that it would be good to return to a civilised election agitprop campaign without any insinuations or groundless accusations against foreign countries. If you are denouncing or accusing someone, please support your claims with facts. This is a point of interest because, as we understand it, Berlin is averse to the facts.

 

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Navalny’s projects funded through foreign diplomatic missions in Russia

 

Occasionally, the German Foreign Ministry makes statements in step with their US allies. The US Embassy in Russia also responded to the information about Navalny's projects being funded through employees hired by the German and US diplomatic missions in Moscow. There were several NATO countries, too, but we focused on the US and German embassies.

Without mincing words, the German side ascribed to official Russian departments the alleged attempts to “construct accusations of direct financing” for the blogger. We are not inventing anything; we are only pointing to the facts and are doing so by taking questions from the media who contact us. Here are the facts: foreign embassies in Moscow hired Russian citizens (each embassy does this in its own way) and paid them money, which they, in turn, transferred to the corresponding organistions. These are just the facts, which we have confirmed.

This is really very strange. When they accuse us of something, they make do with accusations alone and instantly come up with ideas for punishment which they hurry to implement, but when we point to the facts and bring no charges against anyone - just facts - for some reason, they throw a fit, as if it comes from another chapter titled “this is a different matter.” In turn, our American counterparts are not only claiming that the mentioned data are “outright false,” but are also accusing us of “attempts to intimidate people for supporting political opposition.” This is ridiculous. Listen, colleagues from the State Department, there should be at least some kind of a checklist that you can use to review a statement against, so that you don’t say things that are the direct opposite of your previous statements. It is strange to hear things like that from the overseas-based “beacons of democracy” who, in the best traditions of a Cold War-era witch hunt, launched this January, not 10 years ago, but in 2021, the outright persecution of the supporters of your own opposition in your own country. Remember, people were fired from their jobs, lists were published, arms were twisted, and people were thrown behind bars. They ascribed all kinds of things to them. For many years now, the US media and official agencies have been showing schemes, established links between former residents of the post-Soviet space, broke them down literally into atoms, told everyone who they supported and financed and how, and who they voted for. There were some obscure photographs, names and an endless sequence of unsubstantiated judgments.

Why did this catch our eye? Because our diplomats were expelled from many countries under the far-fetched pretext of interfering in election processes or supporting an opposition party or movement. Today, we will discuss another put-up job, an article on this account, which was published in the Western press. Whenever our diplomats were accused of interference, they have never been presented with a single fact. Otherwise we would know it. This is why we are saying to our Western partners: How come? Why double standards?

 

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Developments in the Republic of Guinea

 

We continue to follow closely the developments in the Republic of Guinea, where a group of military personnel led by special purpose battalion commander Col. Mamady Doumbouya seized power by force, arrested President Alpha Conde, disbanded the government and dissolved the Constitution.

Moscow expressed its concern regarding the forceful change of power in Guinea. We demand that Alpha Conde be set free and that his security be ensured. We consider it critically important to prevent an escalation of tensions and to take the necessary measures to return the situation to the constitutional framework. We deem that a swift restoration of law and order and the launch of a nation-wide dialogue are the only way to settle the situation.

According to the Russian Embassy in Conakry, the situation in Guinea is mostly calm, government agencies go on working normally, and powers are being transferred at the local level. A National Committee for Reconciliation and Development, which is supposed to provide for a peaceful transition of power, has been formed. On September 6, military coup d'état leaders, jointly with former government members and heads of state agencies, held a meeting in Conakry. During the meeting, Mr Mamady Doumbouya stated that a government of national unity will be formed soon. He also gave assurances that foreign mining companies would be able to continue their operations without hindrance and Guinea’s maritime borders would remain open for the mining exports. On the same day, it was announced that the country’s air borders would reopen with the resumption of commercial and humanitarian flights.

According to our diplomatic mission in Conakry, the situation around the Russian Embassy remains tranquil and there have been no incidents involving Russian citizens or employees of Russian companies operating in the country. We maintain constant communication with our compatriots and all necessary measures are taken to provide for their security. We still advise our citizens to abstain from travelling to the Republic of Guinea until the situation there returns to normal completely.

 

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Events planned by US-based Russian foreign missions to remember the victims of the 9/11 attacks  

 

On September 12, the Russian Embassy in the United States and the Schiller Institute are planning a ceremony in memory of the 9/11 victims to be held at the monument To The Struggle Against World Terrorism in Bayonne, New Jersey, otherwise known for its more poetic name, Tear of Grief, which is located just opposite Manhattan across the Hudson.  Opened on September 11, 2006, the monument was created by President of the Russian Academy of Arts Zurab Tsereteli, who presented it to the American people as a gift from the Russian Federation.

This year’s function will include the reading of Zurab Tsereteli’s solemn address, a speech by Russian Consul General in New York Sergey Ovsyannikov, and brief remarks by US police and Fire Administration officials and relatives of the victims. The Schiller Institute’s choir will sing the Russian and US anthems.   

 

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The 25th anniversary of the Arctic Council

 

This year, the beginning of Russia’s second chairmanship at the Arctic Council has coincided with the organisation’s 25th anniversary. The history of the Arctic Council can be largely regarded as a success story. Emerging in Rovaniemi, Finland, in the early 1990s as an upshot of regional environmental cooperation and formally inaugurated in Ottawa, Canada, in 1996, the Arctic Council has become an influential forum for an intergovernmental dialogue between the Arctic states on matters of sustainable development in the Polar regions. Importantly, the six “permanent participants” of the Arctic Council, organisations representing the interests of the indigenous peoples of the North, have been an inalienable part of this dialogue for the last 25 years.  

A number of initiatives and projects will be implemented during this year as part of the anniversary celebrations, from filming a documentary on the Arctic Council’s history and achievements to holding roundtables and workshops on the future of the Arctic region in the member countries and observer states. There are also plans to run awareness events on social media maintained by the Council and its members. For more details, see the Arctic Council’s official website. This organisation is a crucial and highly significant example of collaboration between states and NGO’s in an international format.   

 

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Beginning of the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council

 

From September 13 to October 8, Geneva will be the venue of the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

The participants are expected to discuss a wide range of topical matters regarding the promotion and protection of human rights, including the fight against racism and modern forms of slavery, the situation concerning native ethnic groups, the human rights dimension in the activity of private security and military companies, the subject of forced disappearances, abductions and illegal arrests, mercenaries, the right of access to water and sanitation, as well as guaranteeing the rights of senior citizens.

The negative influence of unilateral coercive measures on human rights will become a high-priority topic of the upcoming session. A separate discussion will be devoted to this matter. Additionally, a dialogue with the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur, due to submit a detailed assessment of the concept and types of such illegal sanctions and their interpretations, with emphasis on their exterritorial consequences, will take place.

Traditionally, the participants will review a number of national case histories, including the human rights situation in Yemen, Libya, Myanmar, Syria and Ukraine.

At the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council, members of the Russian delegation will continue to consistently advocate constructive and mutually respectful dialogue and efforts to overcome confrontation and to advance a unifying agenda on topical matters regarding human rights.

 

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Catalan story published by America’s The New York Times

 

I do not know how best to define what the story is about. On the one hand, it is about the developments in Catalonia, but on the other, it is about the New York Times, with its history and traditions, again becoming a hostage of their own unprofessionalism, or even an instrument in the hands of some lobbying centres. Judge for yourself.

A couple of days ago, the Russian Foreign Ministry published a refutation of a NYT article, Married Kremlin Spies, a Shadowy Mission to Moscow and Unrest in Catalonia, on its webpage devoted to examples of publications replicating false information about Russia. Actually, if it were not so long, it could be of use to the James Bond franchise, except that there they seem to employ “talented” people who come up with creative headlines. If anything, this piece can be defined as bad fiction. It would be a stretch to call it journalism because it is fake from beginning to end.

This “bombshell” about some Catalan officials’ ties with Russia has quickly gone viral peddled by anyone who can press the share button. I would really like to know how reliable the NYT sources were, especially given the refutation of the fabrications presented by the Catalans themselves. The writers refer to some secret European intelligence report, which contains obvious misinformation. They might as well have named any other source – why not a secret report from Martian intelligence – exposing contacts between Josep Lluis Alay, who was a senior adviser to former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, and Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov. Such contacts never happened and could not have happened, in Russia, or elsewhere. I believe Mr Syromolotov actually learned about the existence of this person, Josep Lluis Alay, from the NYT article, and was extremely surprised and outraged. I understand his feelings. The piece also mentions a meeting with the head of Rossotrudnichestvo, Yevgeny Primakov, who has already commented on this “perverted information” on his Telegram channel.

If, by any chance, anyone failed to see it, I will tell you about it in brief. Yevgeny Primakov did meet with Mr Alay once (not as head of Rossotrudnichestvo, but as a journalist). In fact, he was appointed to head Rossotrudnichestvo much later. When he met with Carles Puigdemont’s adviser, he was a journalist, the ideological inspirer, leader and host of the Mezhdunarodnoye Obozreniye (International Review) programme on the Rossiya television channel. They discussed the possibility of an interview with Puigdemont for the programme. That interview was actually filmed in Brussels, but without Primakov's participation. It went on air almost a month later, after the Spanish elections, so this cannot be linked to any influence on developments in Catalonia. They would have shown an abridged version (without political slogans) to avoid any accusations of trying to interfere in Spain’s internal affairs.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that certain Spanish media (this time, replicating an American publication) have peddled the provocative topic of Russia's alleged interference in Spain’s internal affairs during the Catalan events. The writers of such publications never show much imagination. The time-worn speculations on the Russian footprint in separatist processes in Catalonia are gaining ever new phantasmagoric details. Old story, new details, in the style of tabloid spy detective stories.

The Foreign Ministry has repeatedly expressed a principled and unequivocal position that the Catalonia situation is exclusively a Spanish internal matter and that the developments around it should strictly follow the line of the current Spanish laws. All the comments and statements on this score have been published on our website. We have also said many times that our relations with Spain rely on the unconditional respect for the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Our Spanish partners know this.

As for the aforementioned New York Times misinformation, we, for our part, have promptly reacted to it by publishing a refutation. The problem is that nonsense cannot be refuted. This is their true strength. They publish things that are difficult to disprove. One can disprove an incorrectly presented fact, an incorrect quote, or a wrong date. But absurdity is impossible to refute. Apparently, this is the two journalists’ most valuable skill. Their names are known to us; Michael Schwirtz and Jose Bautista have been added to the history of world fakes. They have been hailed as world-class bunglers for an entire week already.

Now a few words about the NYT traditions. I would like to highlight a reprint of one old study – A Test of the News published by Cosimo Classics last year. It was initially published as a supplement to The New Republic in 1920. The study, written by Walter Lippmann and Charles Merz, explored the portrayal of the October Revolution in Russia by the New York Times. The independent journalists found many inaccuracies and distortions in the reporting. Here is what they tell the readers: “The news about Russia is a case of seeing not what was, but what men wished to see.” According to Lippmann and Merz, from the end of 1917 to the end of 1919, the New York Times reported 91 times that the Soviet government had fallen or was about to fall. This is just one aspect, and the NYT reported a non-existent story 91 times. It was a hundred years ago; but, as they say, if the tradition is good, why change it? Still, there are journalistic standards; people learn from mistakes, their own or someone else's. You need to change. It's time.

I would like to point out that we are expecting a refutation from the NYT. We will monitor the information landscape for this refutation. We will not leave this topic.

Isn’t this amazing? A hundred years later, they still work the same way. The journalistic standards of some newspapers never change. Bravo, New York Times! Nevertheless, we are hoping against hope that you will draw some conclusions from this lesson.

 

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New aspects of UK internet regulation

 

We have taken note of the stricter regulations for online platforms, including major social networks introduced in Great Britain in early September. The document titled the Age Appropriate Design Code was presented by British authorities as a regulation aimed at preventing various objectionable interaction models between providers of information society services and minor users. The code prohibits tracking children’s location, showing targeted ads or other personalised content and using strategies “to extend user engagement.” Despite the rather innocent title in terms of potential legal consequences, violators of this code may face fines of up to 4 percent of their annual turnover. This is tremendous money when it comes to internet giants.

This seemingly well-intended initiative has triggered yet another wave of debates among UK government members, primarily security agencies, about whether it is reasonable to toughen the requirements for IT companies further. Obviously, merely to protect children’s welfare. Prohibiting end-to-end encryption of data, providing security agencies with access to data, identity verification requirements for social media users were among the proposals made. Notably, the same measures were proposed only recently in relation to a slightly different set of arguments, mainly concerning migration control and countering terrorism.

We assume that under these circumstances, the changes in the UK legislation per se are not the issue. In fact, the changes generally go in line with the global trend, as governments are seeking to draw lines for internet giants. Similar legislative developments in Australia, Germany, France, China and the United States (including state-specific laws) come to mind. We have been hearing reports of fines imposed on internet companies. One such case is the record-high 225 million euro fine issued by the Irish regulatory body to Facebook for failing to fully inform its users about how their personal data is collected and used. 

What is conspicuous though is how easily UK officials and the non-government entities taking their lead deny this right to others. We remember the hysteria that our British partners sparked at different levels (the government, NGOs and media forums) in the wake of several Russian bills. They should make up their minds: either they object to the rules and principles they see impossible to use as a blanket rule or they recognise them as normal, in which case they should stop criticising our country to no end. There must be consistency in actions. They cannot see themselves as the only honest party while accusing others of dishonesty and seeing attacks on the freedom of speech in every attempt to regulate relations with internet monopolies to make them more civilised. We are constantly being told about this. This is yet another case of double standards. Once again, “you don’t understand, this is different.”

It appears to us that, in the global IT industry today, when online platforms enjoy almost complete lack of control and accountability, we can solve this problem by either introducing national or regional regulations for their activity (and here, we must remind our partners that each state has the right to develop its own national laws and regulations) or by developing unified approaches to codifying this industry that would be recognised by all interested parties. We would prefer the second route. And we have spoken out in its support many times. Our lawmakers from the Federation Council issued and distributed addenda on this matter via international platforms. We would like to draw our British colleagues’ attention to the inconsistency in their approach.

At this stage, we encourage them to refrain from inadequately qualifying the same measures that they widely implement in their own country, when other countries are concerned.

 

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Opening new secondary school building in Tskhinval with the Russian Federation’s support

 

On September 6, 2021, a new building of Secondary School No. 3 was opened in an impressive setting in Tskhinval to take the place of a school wrecked during the Georgian aggression in August 2008. This facility was built with the Russian Federation’s financial assistance.

South Ossetian leaders headed by President Anatoly Bibilov, Russian Ambassador to South Ossetia Marat Kulakhmetov, former school graduates from among South Ossetian politicians, representatives of the diplomatic corps, the public at large and media outlets attended the ceremony. In the process of delivering his speech, the head of the South Ossetian state thanked the Russian Federation for its large-scale assistance to the republic, including that of helping to modernise the local social infrastructure.

The opening of the school is an important contribution to asserting South Ossetia as a progressive social state. The Russian Federation will continue all-round assistance to the fraternal republic in its economic development.

 

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The handing over of Russian ambulances to Tajikistan

 

On September 7, 2021, Russia handed over ten Russian-assembled ambulances to Tajikistan in Dushanbe.

Russian Ambassador to Tajikistan Igor Lyakin-Frolov, Deputy Head of the Administrative Directorate of the President of the Russian Federation Olga Lyakina, Deputy Prime Minister of Tajikistan Matloubkhon Sattoriyon and other officials attended the ceremony.

This is not the first time that Russia is assisting Tajikistan in its efforts to strengthen the national healthcare system. Our cooperation in this sphere is developing dynamically, including within the framework of the joint COVID-19 response efforts. Today, almost 2,700 young Tajik men and women are carrying out their studies at Russian medical schools. This comes as yet another major Russian contribution to developing Tajikistan’s healthcare system.

The ambulances have been donated with up-to-date medical equipment, including portable lung ventilators, defibrillation monitors, electric cardiographs, as well as metered-dose rescue oxygen inhalers. All this proves that Russia cherishes these strategically important relations. It is symbolic that the event took place in the run-up to international events seen as important by our countries and the visit by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin to friendly Tajikistan.

Russia is a key partner in strengthening Tajikistan’s healthcare system and improving its sanitary-epidemiological well-being. Over a period of the past few years, four mobile KAMAZ lorry clinics have been delivered to Tajikistan with Russian financial support. They are equipped to provide basic treatment and also to diagnose HIV, viral hepatitis cases and other infectious diseases. A GAZ lorry mobile laboratory for conducting quick medical tests and two medical trailers for providing comprehensive medical treatment and implementing preventive measures in the republic’s remote regions have also been delivered.

Under the joint COVID-19 response efforts, Russia provided Tajikistan with diagnostic test systems and reagents, as well as 50,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine, free of charge. Since the pandemic began, Rospotrebnadzor has sent six expert delegations to the republic for providing practical assistance in combating the infectious disease.

The World Health Organisation also implements projects to reduce maternal, infant and child mortality rates in Tajikistan and to expose risks linked with non-infectious diseases with Russian support.

 

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The outcome of the presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe

 

The second round of the presidential elections took place in the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe on September 5. According to the National Election Commission, candidate from the Independent Democratic Action party Carlos Manuel Vila Nova received the greatest number of votes, 57.54 percent. International observers, in particular, from the Economic Community of Central African States, noted that the voting took place in a peaceful and calm atmosphere.

Moscow welcomes the successful holding of the presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe and looks forward to Sao Tome society moving forward along the path of stable socioeconomic development.

 

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Update on the situation around a BBC journalist

 

Despite our numerous and exhaustive clarifications regarding the reasons for denying Sarah Rainsford the renewal of a journalist visa and revoking her accreditation as a BBC correspondent in response to harassment bordering on undisguised mockery and humiliation launched by London against the Russian media, she continues to make public statements which make one doubt not only her professional integrity, but elementary human decency as well. I would like to emphasise that we have received media inquiries asking us to note that Russian journalists feel humiliated by Sarah Rainsford in connection with her remarks concerning a number of Russian media.

In a recent interview with a Russian media outlet, this British woman, whose name has almost become a household name, is skillfully combining tearful stories about her emotional experiences in connection with the departure with speculation based on some of her “feelings” and references to “unnamed sources,” as well as with outright lies, and continues to pretend that not only does she not understand the origin of the problem, but considers herself a victim of an “attack on freedom of speech” in Russia while at the same time casting aspersions on her Russian colleagues. I think it is time for this correspondent to begin realising that she is offending Russian journalists (I’m not even talking about the authorities). She is saying things that are far from reality and questions the work of her colleagues. Commenting on the Russian media and their members, she, as the journalists told us, did not ask them for comments, clarifications or interviews. She's a BBC journalist after all.

Once again, I would like to respond to the false statements that she made. Her departure is a direct and immediate outcome of many years of systematic and unjustified refusal by the British authorities to stop the practice of visa discrimination with regard to Russian journalists. London is practicing visa denials and manipulations with regard to Russian journalists. The BBC television channel is well aware of this. We raised the matter with them more than once. We also mentioned this to official London saying that we would be forced to respond with non-mirror actions. We are not going to use things that were used against our journalists as that would border on humiliation and insult.

Sarah Rainsford is lying when she claims that the Russian journalists’ problem in Britain stems from something else than London objecting to TASS correspondents being present in the country. If so, let her provide evidence. The British reporter deliberately misleads the public opinion about the isolated nature of these incidents: TASS's attempts to send a replacement were unsuccessful, since the British authorities refused to accept their documents for processing. I would like to note that several TASS employees were unable to submit the necessary documents for consideration. So, consciously or not, Sarah Rainsford is resorting to slanderous statements hinting to the Russian correspondent’s alleged “failure to comply” with certain “background check standards in accordance with British templates.” I just wonder what kind of standards and what kind of British “templates” she is talking about which preclude journalists from obtaining visas. We have already mentioned that the British authorities are withholding visas to Russian diplomats who receive British invitations to participate in forums on freedom of speech. We have also mentioned that the British side does not allow accredited Russian journalists to attend events related to freedom of speech and the protection of journalists. Ms Rainsford is not only commenting without any objectivity on what her colleagues had to face in Britain, but she also opposes herself to them in her comments showing that she is a better journalist than her Russian colleagues without providing any facts to corroborate that statement. This is something new from the realm of “British humour.” She says that she is the right kind of journalist, because she is a public journalist and appears on television, whereas the Russian correspondents are “anonymous” individuals “overseen” by the state. I’m not sure what makes this Brit think that they are anonymous individuals, and this is yet another one of her lies. The British side and the BBC know their names. Their names are known to the general public as well.

Now, with regard to oversight by the state. I would just like to clarify this matter and respond to this comment made by Ms Rainsford. Two British ministers - Minister for European Neighbourhood and the Americas at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Wendy Morton and British Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Dominic Raab himself - have already interceded for this “independent” and “public,” as she calls herself, journalist. What does Ms Rainsford think about this? If she believes that state patronage is what separates a high-quality journalist from a low-quality journalist, a democratic journalist from a non-democratic journalist, a right kind of journalist from a wrong kind of journalist then what category does she think she is now part of? That's a good question. Let’s hear her answer that question if she's so public.

By questioning our clearly expressed willingness to revise her case based on reciprocal steps from the UK, Ms Rainsford is showing disrespect for the Russian authorities. It’s in their interests to take us up on that gesture of goodwill not to escalate this vicious practice of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” and to give London a chance to save its face and issue a visa to a Russian correspondent. Then, we will be willing to issue a visa to this BBC correspondent. 

The above approach to overcome this drawn-out situation which was created solely by the British side remains on the table even despite the British correspondent’s inappropriate and false statements.

Once visas are issued to the Russian correspondents, Ms Rainsford can feel free to contact the Russian consulate. No more fantasies please. We will provide facts every time the British correspondent comes up with a fantasy. Probably, it will sound really harsh. But we were not the ones to invite you to this “path.”

 

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Answers to media questions:

 

Question: Last week, the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) published a press release on last November’s programme dealing with an alleged chemical weapon attack at Douma, Syria, in 2018. The documentary hinted that a former OPCW inspector, who chose to call himself “Alex,” had been motivated to go public about his doubts over the attack by the prospect of a $100,000 reward from the website WikiLeaks. He was certain that the attack had been staged. He was cooperating solely with the journalists who upheld the views shared by Moscow and Damascus.

After investigating the matter, the BBC admitted that this was wrong and that the allegation concerning the inspector represented a failure to meet the standard of accuracy appropriate to a programme of this kind, published on its website.

What does this say about the media narrative on the conflict in Syria and their attitude to dissidence?

Maria Zakharova: The story you have mentioned is a Radio 4 documentary aired by the BBC in November 2020. Its author is BBC investigative journalist Chloe Hadjimatheou and it was dedicated to a high-profile episode involving an alleged chemical weapon attack in Douma, Syria, on April 7, 2018. In its content and bias, the programme is little different from other similar Western mainstream stories.  Its aim was to do everything possible (even using unacceptable methods) to divert  the international community’s attention from the US, French and UK missile strikes on Syrian government facilities, launched on April 14, 2018, in retaliation for an alleged chemical attack blamed on the Syrian government army. 

The Douma incident remains a glaring example of the Western secret services providing protection to the armed Syrian opposition and the pseudo-humanitarian NGO White Helmets that is affiliated with them. They are the initiators of incessant provocations with the use of poisonous agents, their aim being to demonise the legitimately elected Syrian government. Just a reminder, the White Helmets is a British creation as is the British Broadcasting Corporation that has been established by the British government. The heads of the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) also did their bit to distort the real picture, as is evident from the numerous recent exposures testifying that the OPCW’s final report on the results of the investigation into this chemical provocation has been falsified. The blame for the alleged chemical attack was put on Damascus, this contrary to the report’s original version drafted by former OPCW employees on the basis of objective data. They deserve respect and media attention because later they did not shy away from saying in public that the report had been falsified to fulfill the political order from the aggressor countries that had launched the missile attack.    

It is not surprising therefore that Peter Hitchens, who can hardly be suspected of sharing pro-Russia or pro-Syria views, followed closely the official position in the cases, where the Syrian leaders were accused of using chemical weapons, and asked hard questions that made the UK government feel uncomfortable. He arrived at the right conclusions too. These conclusions often differed from the picture that the authorities of the United Kingdom and other Western countries were attempting to paint. Thus, one can well understand the indignation felt by Peter Hitchens, to whom the dishonest journalist has denied the right to have his own opinion on the situation in Douma. She has also ascribed mercenary motives to one of the two former employees of the OPCW Technical Secretariat, one known as “Alex,” claiming that his revelations were prompted by things other than the defence of the scientific credibility of the first version of the report on the chemical provocation in Douma. His professional reputation and human dignity were also put into doubt.

The positive verdict the ECU has handed down on Mr Hitchens’ protest gives ground for some optimism. But I am not sure that serious shifts will follow.  It is one thing to deal with low-grade lies smearing a highly respected journalist and a scientist with an established reputation, lies that can be easily disproved in court, and quite another when a state, in this case the UK, is not interested in an objective investigation of the Douma incident and continues to distort the true picture with the help of its government-controlled media, seeking to avoid responsibility, along with its NATO allies, for the aggression perpetrated in violation of the UN Charter and the generally recognised norms of international law.

Earlier today, we took a look at the contracted campaign of falsifications. I quoted from The New York Times and gave you some other examples (the Russian hackers, etc.). Each day we come up with relevant examples. The just mentioned is one of them.  

What are they staking on? Even if televised lies are later debunked and proven as fakes, enough time will pass and the needed perception will be formed and sink into the public mind. Who will see these denials? Who will learn that the documentary failed to meet the standard of accuracy or that an event got inappropriate coverage?  This almost never is aired in public.

Do you recall how many times we urged CNN, that had aired a paid-for story, to include facts in its programmes? This was eventually done but in a format and after such a long lapse of time that it lost all relevance. 

Question: In your post, did you mean the publication on the website inagenty.ru – the Committee for the Protection of National Interests?

Maria Zakharova: You know, when we published those materials, we responded to media questions. Journalists asked us to prove that there were Russian citizens working in the foreign embassies who funded relevant structures. Honestly, we believe it is inappropriate to reveal their names because it is personal data.

Question: How did you verify the list?

Maria Zakharova: It is a very strange question to ask a representative of a federal security and law enforcement agency.

Question: So is it correct that Russians working in foreign embassies are doing so through the GlavUpDK Inpredrakdy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?

Maria Zakharova: As for the US Embassy, they have been hiring their personnel not through GlavUpDK since the 1980s. This information is open to the public and there are interesting articles on the matter. You should have read them. As for the other embassies, citizens and employees, you need to learn in every concrete case how they were hired. You should ask the diplomatic missions themselves.

Question: We saw people on these lists who have never worked in foreign embassies, but received grants for learning languages, online courses or for translations of books. Did you separate such people?

Maria Zakharova: I already answered this question, saying that we do not reveal personal information.

 

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Question: You call this situation a scheme. Why do you think it is a scheme? There are numerous people from Russian state agencies in the leaked database of Alexey Navalny’s supporters.

Maria Zakharova: I use the word scheme in a sense it is used in the Ushakov dictionary. It says that a scheme is a description or image of something in the main, broad terms. There is a scheme of a novel or a report. I use this word in this context. Please note that in our materials, we wrote that whether the foreign governments have come up with this form to provide money for Navalny’s cause or was it a miraculous accord of the feelings of the employers and employees, this matter is for our civil activists and journalists to investigate. Honestly speaking, I am concerned about other things. Please take note of these words.

Questions: You compare this situation with the reaction of the Western countries on the Russian diplomats’ actions. But in this case, we are not speaking about foreign diplomats, but Russians, assistance personnel and teachers from language centres. Don’t you think that it is wrong to compare a diplomat with an ordinary teacher?

Maria Zakharova: Exactly. We are not comparing their duties, we need to compare the source of their income. And it is the same, a foreign government uses their embassy in a sovereign country to fund, pay salaries and transfer money.

If you have any more questions about this, please ask them and we will gladly answer them.

 

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Question: Are there plans for any meetings with the new Afghan authorities soon? At which level can they be held?

Maria Zakharova: At this stage, we are maintaining working contacts with Taliban representatives at the level of the Russian Embassy in Kabul. There are no plans for any other meetings so far. Our embassy in Afghanistan is regularly commenting and posting information about such contacts.

 

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Question: Some 300 days ago, a trilateral statement by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia [on Nagorno-Karabakh] came into force. The sides sometimes accuse each other of violating that agreement, citing various reasons. What is the Russian Foreign Ministry’s position on the implementation of the various provisions of that document?

Maria Zakharova: We regularly report on the activities of the Russian peacekeeping contingent, which is reliably ensuring a ceasefire at the contact line in the Lachin Corridor. No major ceasefire violations have been reported in the Russian peacekeepers’ zone of responsibility. This has been confirmed in Baku and Yerevan. We also present our views on the situation on the Azerbaijan-Armenia border where armed clashes have taken place over the last few months. We provide updates on the efforts to resume economic ties and transport links in the region, which are being taken at the level of the Trilateral Working Group co-chaired by the deputy prime ministers of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

We are informing the public and media about all mediation efforts aimed at improving relations between Baku and Yerevan, which we are making at the bilateral and trilateral levels, as well as within the framework of multilateral formats.

I don’t believe it would be wise to try to draw any conclusions based on attractive-looking figures. We will prepare a major review in time for the anniversary of the November 9 statement to share our comprehensive assessments with you.

 

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Question: The Yerevan authorities have recently started working energetically to promote a link between a peace treaty with Azerbaijan and the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. As far as we remember, President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have repeatedly pointed out that the status of Nagorno-Karabakh is a matter for the future and should not be raised now. Can the Foreign Ministry comment on this statement, or more precisely, on this condition set by Yerevan?

Maria Zakharova: We are closely monitoring the ongoing discussions in Azerbaijan and Armenia regarding a peace treaty and the status of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Regrettably, the sides do have major differences over political matters. This is why we believe that priority attention must be given at this stage to strict compliance with all the provisions of the trilateral agreements reached at the top level on November 9, 2020 and January 22, 2021. This concerns, first of all, compliance with the ceasefire regime, the settlement of humanitarian problems, and the resumption of economic ties and transport links in the region.

We hope that these efforts will help create conditions for normalising Azerbaijani-Armenian relations and for coordinating a final political solution.

 

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Question: Is Russia helping young compatriots abroad and foreign citizens wishing to study at Russian universities? What assistance do they receive? I am referring to scholarships, visa support, accommodation, transport and healthcare benefits, Russian language courses or any other kind of support or incentives. Can you report a trend when it comes to the growth or decline of enrolment amid the pandemic?

Maria Zakharova: During the past few years, the desire of foreigners and compatriots to receive a higher education in Russia has not declined but increased. The number of foreign students who have to pay for their education and those enjoying free tuition at Russian universities has increased from 150,000 in 2011 to some 300,000 in 2021.

In accordance with Government Resolution No. 2150 issued on December 18, 2020, the federal budget allocations quota for the education of foreign nationals and stateless persons (including compatriots living abroad) in the 2021/2022 academic year has been increased by 3,000 places to 18,000. This category of students does not pay for their education in Russia.

Moreover, the quota will be 23,000 for 2022/2023 and 30,000 after that. Foreign students are provided with dormitory accommodation and monthly maintenance allowances, the same as Russian students, as well as an opportunity to learn Russian at special courses.

Every university has a website, with entire sections devoted to the tuition conditions for foreign nationals at the given school.

 

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