Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, January 30, 2020
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with ASEAN Secretary-General Dato Lim Jock Hoi
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to attend the opening of a photo exhibit dedicated to the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and Indonesia
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming visits to Mexico and Venezuela
- Diplomats’ Day
- Update on the spread of the coronavirus in China and other countries
- Distortion of history
- Update on Russian national Alexander Vinnik
- The US Deal of the Century
- Libya update
- Venezuela update
- The unfriendly moves by the Bulgarian authorities
- Another series of US and Canadian sanctions
- EU’s decision to include seven Russian nationals on the EU blacklist on the pretext of their involvement in organising elections in Crimea
- Joint press statement following the EU−Ukraine Association Council meeting
- Situation around Russia’s Sputnik news agency in Estonia
- Estonia marks 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Tartu
- Update on Soviet memorials in Poland
- Joint operation of Group-IB, Interpol and the Indonesian police on detaining a cyber gang
- Holding the 20th Winter Diplomatic Games
- Foreign Ministry report on the human rights situation in certain countries
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming meeting with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla
- Venezuelan opposition and regional conference against terrorism in Colombia, January 20, 2020
- Opposing falsification of history
- Disintegration of USSR
- Serbian Parliament discusses bill on lowering electoral threshold at upcoming parliamentary elections in Serbia
- Geneva talks with foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan
- Russian-Bulgarian relations
- 1812 Patriotic War
- British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s anti-Russian statements
- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statement on agreements within framework of Astana and Sochi formats
Secretary-General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Dato Lim Jock Hoi will be in Moscow on a working visit on February 2-4.
During talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, scheduled for February 3, the parties will discuss in detail the prospects for promoting the Russian-ASEAN strategic partnership, including greater coordination at international and regional venues, closer collaboration in combating new challenges and threats, more intensive cooperation in the trade, economic and cultural areas, and joint steps in the context of creating the Greater Eurasian Partnership.
Lim Jock Hoi’s agenda includes meetings with the leaders of the Ministry of Economic Development, Ministry of Science and Higher Education, Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Civil Defence, Emergencies and Disaster Relief, as well as the top executives of the largest business companies. Plans also include a visit to the ASEAN Centre at MGIMO University and a meeting with the Chair of the Eurasian Economic Commission Board.
On February 4-5, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden Ann Linde will be in Moscow on a working visit at the invitation of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Their talks are scheduled for February 4.
The officials plan to discuss a wide range of bilateral issues, interaction between Russia and Sweden in regional formats in the north of Europe and in the Arctic, as well as in international affairs, including in the context of Sweden’s OSCE presidency in 2021.
The opening of an archive photo exhibit dedicated to the 70th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Indonesia will be held at the Russian Foreign Ministry building on February 4.
The exhibit will feature archive documents and photos covering the milestones of bilateral relations between 1950 and 2018.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Indonesia to the Russian Federation Wahid Supriyadi will deliver welcoming remarks during the event.
The ceremony will be attended by representatives from Russian ministries and departments, scientific and business circles, ASEAN countries’ embassies in Russia, and former high-ranking Russian diplomats.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be in Latin America on February 5-7. On February 5, he will make a technical stop in Santiago de Cuba, where he is scheduled to meet with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla.
On February 6, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit the United Mexican States where he will have talks with Foreign Secretary of Mexico Marcelo Luis Ebrard Casaubon and exchange views on pressing international and regional issues. The ministers will coordinate the countries’ approaches to various items on the global agenda in an effort to promote bilateral cooperation at multilateral platforms.
The ministers will devote particular attention to promoting integration processes in Latin America and the Caribbean and to deepening the dialogue between Russia and regional associations, including the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), where Mexico is holding rotating presidency this year.
The ministers will also take a closer look at the current state of affairs in Russian-Mexican relations and their prospects with an emphasis on stepping up the political dialogue, building up and diversifying trade, economic and investment ties, expanding cultural and people-to-people exchanges, and improving and strengthening the legal foundations of bilateral cooperation.
The meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia and Mexico will be held in the year of the 130th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations (December 11, 1890) and is designed to impart even greater dynamics to mutually beneficial cooperation aimed at achieving concrete results.
On February 7, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Venezuela where he will meet with Executive Vice President Delcy Rodriguez and Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza. Mr Lavrov will be received by President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro as well.
There will be an exchange of views on the situation in Venezuela and related developments, the prospects for finding political solutions to internal disagreements based on a national dialogue and within the constitutional field, without destructive, let alone military, external interference.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between Russia and Venezuela (March 14, 1945). Interaction has reached the strategic partnership level in the 21st century.
Current items on the bilateral agenda and practical steps to deepen cooperation between the two countries in areas such as energy, mining, transport, agriculture, medicine and pharmaceuticals, as well defence cooperation, will be reviewed during the meetings.
The agenda includes a discussion of steps to promote the coordination of bilateral cooperation in the international arena and to counteract illegal unilateral sanctions that worsen the socioeconomic situation in Venezuela.
As you know, February 10 marks a professional holiday in Russia – Diplomats’ Day, established by a presidential executive order of October 31, 2002. The date of the holiday is connected with the earliest mention in official chronicles, February 10, 1549, of our country’s first state agency in charge of foreign affairs – the Ambassadorial Department (Prikaz in old Russian).
In keeping with tradition, we are preparing a number of events for this date that include a gathering attended by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the laying of wreaths at memorial plaques that honour diplomats who were killed in the war years and in peacetime when performing their official duties. We will publish materials about the history of the Russian diplomatic service, as well as about its most prominent figures, on our online resources. The Foreign Ministry’s Department of History and Records will prepare thematic exhibitions, as this year marks the 250th birthday of Adam Jerzy Czartoryski and the 200th birthday of Nikolay Girs, two foreign ministers of the Russian Empire.
Of course, we are looking forward to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s traditional congratulations to all employees of our ministry.
According to the Russian Embassy in Beijing, there are 182 Russian citizens whom we have contacted in Hubei Province, including 122 in Wuhan, as of 10am Beijing time, January 30.
The Russian Embassy and consulates-general in China are closely following the situation; they stay in touch with our compatriots and continue specifying the number of Russian citizens in the areas to which the disease has spread (as of January 30, there was no information on Russian citizens infected with this virus on Chinese territory).
The Foreign Ministry is doing all it can to assist the Russian agencies involved in this maintain contact with Chinese departments while responding to the risks of the coronavirus spreading.
The Chinese authorities are taking emergency measures to localise the disease, treat infected people and prevent the further deterioration of the epidemiological situation.
Hubei Province can help provide foreigners with everything they need, including medical aid. Foreign citizens are allowed to leave the province (not by public transport) but only after a 14 day-quarantine and with the permission of its authorities. These conditions were determined by the medical restrictions required to localise the coronavirus.
According to the Chinese National Health Commission, 7,711 confirmed cases of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus were recorded as of January 30 in 31 provinces/autonomous regions/cities under the central authority. During January 29, 38 deaths were recorded (37 in Hubei and one in Sichuan). A total of 124 patients were released from hospitals (21 patients on January 29). There were 12,167 suspected cases of pneumonia caused by the coronavirus (on January 29, there were 4,148 suspected new cases).
There are 10 confirmed cases in Hong Kong, seven in Macao and eight in Taiwan. A total of 170 people have died of the disease.
I would like to draw your attention to the information for Russian citizens in Hubei Province, which is published on the Russian Embassy website in Beijing. They are asked to provide their contact data for emergency connections.
On January 24, Rostourism and the Turpomoshch Association launched a hotline. In accordance with the recommendations of Rostourism, tour operators have stopped selling tours to China, and have cancelled charter programmes for incoming tourists. For the time being, only return flights are allowed. On January 29, Rostourism recommended that Russian citizens abstain from tourist trips to China until the epidemiological situation returns to normal. Rospotrebnadzor has organised sanitary and quarantine control at state border checkpoints and border areas and introduced monitoring of flights coming from China.
Outside China, the disease has been confirmed in Thailand (14 cases), Japan (11), Singapore (10), Australia (7), Malaysia (7), the United States (5), France (5), Germany (4), UAE (4), Republic of Korea (4), Canada (3), Vietnam (2), Cambodia (1), Nepal (1), Finland (1) and Sri Lanka (1).
On January 26, the World Health Organisation identified the coronavirus international danger level as “high” but has not yet described it as an international emergency. It is closely monitoring the situation for relevant decisions and qualifications.
The Foreign Ministry is cooperating around the clock with Russian agencies, Chinese government bodies and the Chinese Embassy in Moscow. Our Embassy officials are working with the relevant agencies in China for prompt action that is primarily aimed at ensuring the security of our citizens. In the process, we understand that all of us must pool our efforts. Under the circumstances, the international community and all countries can use their best experiences for cooperation in overcoming the consequences of the spread of the virus.
The whole world came together to mark the International Holocaust Remembrance Day and 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp. We all bowed our heads in memory of the victims and liberators. It seemed that this could offer a dignified way for bringing our countries, peoples and politicians closer together. There were many statements and comments over the past days, absurd in their form and at times horrendous in terms of their meaning, begging one deplorable conclusion. The practice of rewriting history and unprincipled and unrelenting efforts to impose an alternative vision of the causes, course and consequences of the biggest tragedy of the 20th century have been gaining momentum and reached a critical point. Just as when we discuss pandemics and how we can and must fight them, develop vaccines and antidotes, by the same token we must realise that we are dealing with a real historical virus that can be lethal. It could be that this virus has spread globally. Today, mines are being laid around the pillars of the international relations architecture while prioritising momentary political gain, and sometimes personal ambition and interests or as part of political put-up jobs. In other words, we are witnessing efforts to undermine the world order that was designed to prevent new global shocks such as world wars. I am referring to the Nuremberg Trial verdicts, the demise of which is fraught with catastrophic consequences.
Let us now turn to the more recent past. Remember what our Western partners were saying some 15 to 30 years ago? They are beginning to forget it, but we remember everything. I will share some of their quotes today.
January 2005, when the International Holocaust Remembrance Day was observed for the first time, marking 60 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, President of Poland Aleksander Kwasniewski made a clear and unambiguous statement that read:
“The Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was liberated on 27 January 1945 by Soviet troops. Some of the liberators are among us here today – those who saved the prisoners and uncovered the Auschwitz horror to the World. I had the honour today to present them with distinguished Polish decorations. With profound respect for the soldiers’ sacrifice of blood, Poland pays tribute to all the combatants, all who died a heroic death marching in the ranks of the Red Army to liberate our homeland from Nazi occupation.
We remember the enormous contribution of Russians and other peoples of the Soviet Union to the victory over Nazism. We remember that it was on the eastern front that the outcome of World War II was determined to an enormous extent; that it was the Red Army that seized Berlin. Twenty million killed – soldiers in action and civilians murdered by the Nazis – were a terrible price, which the nations of the Soviet Union paid for this historic victory. Together we bow our heads to their sacrifice.”
I would like to reiterate that it was the President of Poland who said this, not the Russian President. Has anything changed since then? Yes, something has changed. But these changes had nothing to do with what happened 75 years ago. The changes were the minds of today’s politicians in Poland, and elsewhere.
The rhetoric has changed radically over the past 15 years. Today’s head of the state in Poland, Andrzej Duda, mentioned the Red Army soldiers only once during his remarks at the Auschwitz museum, and did so in a perfunctory manner. It may be that the presence of the few Auschwitz survivors who still remember these horrible events and the liberation that took so long to materialise for them prevented the Polish President from completely losing touch with reality. But what will happen when these survivors will no longer be with us? Speaking at a place that stands witness to a misanthropic ideology, the Polish President did not dare say an outright lie while looking straight into the eyes of the people who saw the human embodiment of death and evil within those walls. I would like to ask once again: what will happen in five or ten years? What will be the statements coming from the Polish politicians then? Unfortunately, the time will come when all those who survived the horrors of Auschwitz will have passed away. Will it stop us from believing their recollections, archives and documentary chronicles?
However, there are those for whom moral obstacles do not matter. Speaking at the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, US Vice President Mike Pence talked about allied forces that liberated Auschwitz. For some reason he forgot to mention the undeniable fact that it was the Red Army soldiers who liberated the concentration camp. I have a feeling and certainty that he did that on purpose, despite the fact that Ivan Martynushkin, who was one of the first to enter the horrible grounds of the camp on January 27, 1945, was in the audience as a special guest, direct witness and one of the last remaining participants on those events.
Former Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski went even further in his anti-Russian frenzy. He went as far as to demand compensation from Russia for ‘Poland’s suffering’. The Red Army liberated Poland from the Nazis: 600,000 of Soviet servicemen fell in the process, and of those who survived only a few have lived to this day. I think that they would be best placed to provide an adequate response to this outrageous statement. But we can stand up and defend their memory today. It is a pity that there are very few people left who witnessed the Yalta Conference. We will mark the 75th anniversary of its opening on February 4. It is there that the Soviet negotiators, headed by Joseph Stalin, ensured that Polish statehood be restored, while our Western partners showed little interest in this.
As for the compensation Jaroslaw Kaczynski demanded, he should have known better. As far as I am concerned, I promise to compensate for everything with information.
As hard as it may be to imagine, today’s politicians in the West have all of a sudden lost their memory and good judgement. Those who intentionally distort history today remember and know everything all too well, and can access the archives. As a matter of fact, they are pursuing other goals. The carbon-copy ‘mistakes’ committed by both the US embassy to Denmark and Der Spiegel, a prominent German weekly magazine, in their social media postings, claiming that American troops liberated Auschwitz, are all part of the same sequence. In fact, everyone will read and repost the original story, while it is left up to the users whether the correction statement and excuses resonate the same way. They will probably be compelled to do so without delay. This is how these falsifications are fed to the audience.
All this presents a creeping threat. History is being attacked on the information front. What do they want and what are the true objectives of those who are doing it? It may well be that they want to teach new generations a different kind of history for them to know and believe, leaving no place for the Red Army’s glorious victories, how it defeated the Nazi army despite being outnumbered by it, or the sacrifice of the Soviet people on the frontlines and behind the lines. There will be no place for the Munich conspiracy, the forest brothers, virulent antisemitism in Poland or in other free and sovereign countries that are proud of their freedom and seek to rewrite history. There will be nothing left apart from momentary political considerations, serving their interests and gain.
Let me share with you a historical episode as an example showing how the processes we are talking about are unfolding. I have already mentioned 2005 and the statement the Polish leader made at the time. By the way, I don’t know whether the 2005 statements by the President of Poland were refuted by his successors. Could it be that he was ostracised after that and had to withdraw his statement? After all, what he mentioned in his remarks never happened, it is now claimed.
Here is another example from our recent past. An Associated Press article (a source trusted by the abovementioned figures) on the visit to Israel by President of Poland Lech Walesa in 1991 read: “Walesa was praised for his fight against Communism and as a leader of a new Poland. But everywhere on his visit, including in Parliament where aging Holocaust survivors sat before him as legislators, the Polish leader met the past.” What an image. But why was it forgotten? Why are we rewriting history even we remember and know it?
We saw an opposite situation in Poland only a short time later, by historical standards. The country adopted a law making it illegal to talk about the responsibility of the Polish people and state or their complicity in crimes committed by the Third Reich. I have a question in this regard. Back in 1991, Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Shamir spoke about those who absorbed anti-Semitism “with their mother’s milk.” In 2001, in an interview with Der Spiegel, Avigdor Nielawicki, a survivor of the Jedwabne pogrom in which up to 2,000 people lost their lives, said: “I think it is horrible that many Poles still don't admit to their country's anti-Semitic past. They have to understand: the perpetrators were Polish.” It turns out that what could be said in a respected Western magazine in 2001 today could cost the author a fine or a prison sentence. How is this possible? After all, we are dealing with the past, events that happened 75 years ago. How could it be that no one understands that the events that took place 75 years ago do not change? What changes is the way they are treated depending on the political situation. This is a crime in itself.
Lithuania has taken similar steps to what we saw in Poland. I have a question: Where are we headed? Where is humankind going and Europe in particular? Has it forgotten its experience of 75 years ago? How will the minds of new generations in Poland and Lithuania be framed? What kind of reality will Europe live in? A time will come when tweets will be regarded as the ultimate truth.
How long will it take before the evil that was crushed in Berlin in May 1945 and buried for good during the Nuremberg Trials resurfaces? If humankind forgets its past, will it manage to counter these trends once they emerge? The answer is no. There will be no antidote.
I wanted to tell you that even against this backdrop the statements by President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky, who literally equated the role played by the USSR and the Third Reich in unleashing the Second World War, “enabling the Nazis to launch the deadly flywheel of the Holocaust,” are outrageous. This statement did not come from a person who takes a stand as a neo-Nazi or declares himself to be one. These were the words of a President of a country that aspires to new democratic heights. And after that the Ukrainian authorities ask themselves why their people do not want to live in the same country as them. The resurgence of neo-Nazism is the aftermath of the Maidan coup has been clearly a problem for the international community. How can these statements be understood? Torch processions and celebrations of killers responsible for the loss of tens of thousands of lives have become all too common. But statements of this kind go beyond all boundaries. By saying so, the President of Ukraine betrayed his own people. In the trenches and on the battlefield, when soldiers and officers stood up to the Nazi tanks with a single grenade in their hands, they were all part of a united Red Army that succeeded in doing what others were unable to do, and many did not want to do. It was the Red Army that liberated humankind from the Nazi plague. Period. Equating the responsibility of the killer and the victim is a crime and a moral outrage.
I would like to make a special note of Leonid Kravchuk’s case, who went as far as to claim that Hitler and Stalin met in Lvov. He claimed that there was documentary evidence, and that it was not a secret. “They tried to come to an agreement,” he said. I have one question for Leonid Kravchuk: What kind of pills have you been taking? What prompted you to make statements of this kind? Do you realise that to some extent you are part of the political establishment representing a UN member country? By the way, the soldiers of your country won the right to be in the UN. Are you in your right mind? Is there anyone left in Ukraine who can give them basic history textbooks on the Great Patriotic War, the Second World War? This is beyond all reason. It seems that he later said that he was not aware of any documents confirming his earlier statements. How can this be? Let me point out once again that these are people who shape public opinion.
I would like to reiterate that we will comment, present facts and provide quotes on every statement distorting the history of the Second World War and the Great Patriotic War, no matter how frequent and how many such statements there are.
On January 23, Alexander Vinnik was extradited by the Greek authorities to stand trial in France, despite him being a Russian citizen and despite Russia’s request for extradition.
The Russian Embassy in Paris maintains regular contact with Vinnik’s lawyers and provides any necessary consular assistance to them.
We cannot accept the unhelpful position taken by France, which did not duly notify Russian representatives of Vinnik’s arrival in France where he was moved from one hospital to another on January 24, a move that we were not informed of either. For three days, repeatedly and under various pretexts, our consular staff’s requests to meet with the Russian national have been turned down, which is a flagrant violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of April 24, 1963.
This is likely being done to exert psychological pressure on the Russian national and make him feel like he is on his own, that nobody is addressing his situation or cares about him and that his country is not taking measures to protect him. But this is not true.
We are also outraged at how a Paris trial court heard the Alexander Vinnik case on January 28. The Head of the Consular Department at the Russian Embassy in France was not allowed to be present in the courtroom. The lawyers said they and their client had not been given the floor. At the same time the court did not make allowances for the health condition of Vinnik, who grew weak after a 40-day hunger strike, so he had to stand during the court session. Is this France’s new interpretation of human rights? They even refused to give Vinnik a glass of water. The court ordered that Alexander Vinnik be held in custody during deliberation.
The lawyers have talked about several inconsistencies in the case and the violations of legal procedures committed by the French authorities.
We believe pressure like this on the defendant from French judicial authorities and law enforcement agencies is unacceptable. If Paris hosts the Paris Peace Forum, where members of civil society can present opinions and where the main subject they choose to speak on is human rights, then please observe the human rights of one specific individual. Incidentally, we are not talking about a maniac or a murderer. I urge France to not overstep legal boundaries.
The Russian Embassy in France will lodge a relevant diplomatic complaint.
We will continue to work to ensure the rights and safeguard the interests of our compatriot. We will insist that the French authorities extradite the suspect to Russia and observe his rights. We are in regular contact with his lawyers and are providing all the necessary assistance.
This subject has evoked many questions. We have voiced our initial assessment of the so-called Deal of the Century. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented on this matter at a news conference on the results of 2019, and Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov has also provided his comment. But I would like to speak on this subject in some detail because we have received many questions.
On January 28, US President Donald Trump unveiled the political aspect of the so-called Deal of the Century at a meeting with Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House. The US administration drafted this plan for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
We analysed this 181-page document. It proposes territorial exchanges that would give Israel control over parts of the West Bank – I repeat, this is stated in the so-called programme. The Palestinians are to receive land plots in the desert near the Egyptian border. The document also proposes ways of resolving other fundamental issues of the final status, including Jerusalem, refugees, etc.
I would like to note that the Palestinian and the Israeli people should have the final say on matters of a lasting and equitable peace settlement since it has to do with their future.
President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas has already described the deal being proposed by President Trump as unacceptable, calling it an attempt to deprive the Palestinians of their historic right to self-determination and full-fledged statehood.
At the same time, we are closely following the response of Arab capitals to the US initiative. So far, their assessments have mostly been negative and sceptical.
I would like to remind you that all matters the document deals with are reflected in the well-known international legal framework of the Middle East process, including resolutions of the UN Security Council and General Assembly, the Madrid Principles and the Arab Peace Initiative.
We reaffirm our readiness for constructive future work in line with collective efforts aiming to reliably and comprehensively resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. We are ready to closely coordinate our actions with our Palestinian and Israeli partners, as well as Middle East and North African states, members of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators and all parties interested in a speedy achievement of a lasting peace in the Middle East.
We continue to perceive the situation in Libya as tense. The ceasefire declared on January 12 by the Libyan National Army of Khalifa Haftar and forces loyal to the Fayez al-Sarraj-led Libyan Government of National Accord is regularly violated by both sides.
At the same time, certain pre-requisites for stabilisation have emerged following the January 13 contacts in Moscow between Russian and Turkish inter-departmental delegations with representatives of the western and eastern Libyan camps, as well as the January 19 international conference on Libya in Berlin.
It will take long and painstaking work to implement the joint understandings and agreements reached in Moscow and Berlin. At the same time, full involvement of the Libyan warring parties and their support for these efforts remains a crucial factor.
We have taken note of the recent attempts to find new pretexts for interfering in the internal affairs of Venezuela taken by those who continue to try to depose the legitimate president, Nicolas Maduro. For example, some participants of the Anti-Terrorism Conference held in Colombia last week took advantage of the event to claim that a “terrorist threat” is allegedly coming from the Venezuelan government. This sounds very much like Leonid Kravchuk’s statement about the alleged Hitler-Stalin meeting, a fake of the lowest order. By giving a political slant to the discussion on one of the biggest modern-day challenges, the sponsors of such events are crossing a very dangerous line and giving leeway to real terrorists. We call on the responsible countries in the Western Hemisphere to refrain from politicising international anti-terrorism cooperation.
At the previous briefing, we mentioned the US-Colombia war game held in direct proximity of the Venezuelan border. We have taken note of the assurance made by the US Ambassador to Colombia to the effect that these exercises are not directed against Venezuela. It is gratifying that our message has been heard.
However, almost simultaneously, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper held a news conference in Miami following his visit to the US Southern Command. The Pentagon chief said that Venezuela was a major destabilising factor and a national security challenge to the United States. Admiral Craig Faller, Commander of the US Southern Command, added that resisting this challenge called for building up cooperation with allies, and he cited the above mentioned exercise as an example of such cooperation. These statements have really made my day.
In light of the above, we are concerned about the growing US military activity on the northern border of Venezuela. At the same time, Caracas has been accused of ties with terrorists. This is a war of words complemented with practical steps. I would like to ask a question, even though the answer is obvious: Are these links in the same chain? Our conclusion is that the military scenarios remain on the agenda of the White House, which seems to be ready to make use of any available resources to change the Venezuelan government.
So far, Juan Guaido, former leader and now only a member of the National Assembly, remains the main US battering ram used against the legitimate Venezuelan government. He declared himself acting president of Venezuela on January 23, 2019 and since then has been living under this illusion, which his Western partners are encouraging. It is not surprising then that one of the leading persons at the Colombian conference was Guaido, who last year crossed into Colombia with the help of the Rastrojos drug trafficking group. I just wonder who helped him leave the country in violation of the ban this time.
A look at domestic developments in Venezuela shows that the people are becoming increasingly fed up with the calls for civil unrest and would rather settle domestic differences through talks and without any use of force. As for Juan Guaido, instead of making all these foreign trips (many people wonder who is picking up the tab for them), he could emulate the responsible Venezuelan politicians who have been working together on a daily basis at the National Dialogue Roundtable to coordinate compromises that would help return political confrontation into the constitutional framework. But the radicals refuse to budge. They have promised to boycott this year’s parliamentary election and have refused to join the talks on an agreement with broad electoral guarantees.
In this context, Russia continues to advocate a widely representative dialogue between Venezuela’s political forces in strict compliance with the national constitution. Only the Venezuelans themselves can decide their future. We believe that the international community should focus on building up trust between the opponents and should refrain from imposing any settlement on them.
We consider the actions undertaken by the Bulgarian authorities in recent days as unfriendly steps. There remain a lot of questions as to why this had to be done in the form, in which it was done, and as to the rationale behind these actions.
On January 24, the Bulgarian authorities declared the First Secretary of the Russian Federation Embassy in the Republic of Bulgaria persona non grata and an employee of the Russian Trade Mission in Sofia – “person regarded as undesirable.” Contrary to the practice accepted in such cases, the event was leaked to the media, which blew it up into an information campaign. And we have evidence to this effect. The Russian Embassy was notified about this decision only after it was splashed across the media. Moreover, they provided nothing in the way of evidence to prove the Russian diplomats’ guilt, or material, or grounds for these decisions.
The expulsion is justified by their “probing into the country’s electoral system” and their “focus on energy projects.” This does not hold up against criticism. What, in the opinion of the Bulgarian decision-makers, should diplomats do? What do diplomats sent to missions abroad generally do? They study laws, explore opportunities for cooperation, make contacts with representatives of the authorities, public organisations, civil society, and the diplomatic corps, organise events, hold talks, give receptions or have business fora, open exhibitions, etc. If there are any problems, they are addressed through diplomatic means, whereas all this is simply a PR campaign, just a show.
Somewhat earlier, on January 23, the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office charged three Russians with the presumed poisoning, in 2015, of Bulgarian business owner Emilian Gebrev and three other Bulgarian citizens. For all the vagueness of their so-called “body of evidence” and speculations in the spirit of “highly likely,” this story seems to be nothing else than yet another part of the anti-Russian campaign masterminded, it appears, by members of Bulgaria’s political establishment, [who are involved in this] despite the fact that we are developing mutually beneficial relations.
We see in the string of recent events a purposeful wish and intention to disrupt the implementation of the recent bilateral agreements and just to poison the atmosphere of friendship and mutually beneficial and respectful cooperation that should prevail in relations between our countries and our peoples. We reserve the right to respond. The entire responsibility for these groundless and provocative steps lie on the Bulgarian side.
It was reported yesterday that the US and Canada had introduced new sanctions against eight citizens of Russia and Ukraine, including the new acting governor of Sevastopol and Prime Minister of the Republic of Crimea, as well as against the company operating the long-distance train service between the Russian mainland and Crimea.
We are well aware that the whistle-blower is Washington, while Ottawa just meekly follows the Big Brother. But both seem unable to accept the objective reality that almost six years ago, Crimea and Sevastopol voted freely and rejoined Russia in its wake. For some mysterious reason, the United States and Canada, which pose as democracies, are stubbornly denying the residents of the Russian Crimean Peninsula the right to a democratic choice. Incidentally, these sanctions, pressure, political assessments, endless forums and accusations would have come in handy and at a premium, when the residents of Crimea were eager to hold a referendum, while the central authorities [of Ukraine] prevented them from doing so for years on end. Where were your sanctions? Where was the human rights endeavour? All of this is a cynical game.
Each time, Washington-sponsored attempts look even more absurd. These actions failed to bring the results that Washington and Ottawa expected in the past, and so will they now. No amount of sanctions can disrupt the railway service between Crimea and the rest of Russia, as the US seems to be dreaming about. Their instigators will only parade their impotence once again.
Politicians in Washington and Ottawa have crazy perceptions. They would prioritise law and democracy but at the same time think that citizens in this country can be punished with a ban to enter the United States or Canada. They are focusing their retaliation on the residents of Crimea and Sevastopol, who took advantage of the existing legal mechanism and made their choice. These decisions, as I see it, betray the fear that Russians will come into direct contact with Americans and Canadians, who will learn the truth about the events in that period and people who were directly involved in them. And this will be the real truth, rather than what is written in reports by people, who have never set foot in Crimea. They will learn the truth from those who took the decisions and continue to do so today.
I would like to note that by their unfriendly moves, the authorities in the US and Canada are not creating a backdrop favourable for the missions of their new ambassadors to Russia, who have recently arrived in Moscow. Their assurances that they are willing to promote constructive relations [with Russia] are from the outset questionable.
The European Union is acting in a similar vein. As you are aware, the EU decided to put seven Russian nationals on its blacklist on the pretext of their involvement in organising elections in Crimea. Apparently, the EU is still struggling to drop the practice of illegitimate sanctions as well. This is exactly how we interpret the Council of the European Union’s decision of January 28 to impose restrictive measures on seven Russian nationals – representatives of local administration, elected government bodies and election commissions in Crimea and Sevastopol.
Essentially, this is yet another punishment of the Crimeans for free expression of their will. This policy has been pursued since March 16, 2014 when the referendum took place. The people who come up with such decisions are completely fine with the fact that the nature of these decisions contradicts the very essence of the European project that declares its adherence to democratic values.
The European Union cannot find the strength to admit the obvious. Democratic processes are successfully developing in Crimea. Local residents’ active participation in the single election day on September 8, 2019 once again attests to this fact.
Tellingly, European governing bodies waited almost five months to announce this decision. I think it is also part of the campaign. The sanctions by the United States, Canada, the EU, and the meeting of the EU−Ukraine Association Council in Brussels all came in one salvo. Apparently, this gesture was meant to be a signal of support of the Kiev officials. It is sad that the EU is trying to encourage its Ukrainian proteges at the expense of its relations with Russia while maintaining a wall of silence on the obvious problems in Ukraine associated with discrimination of ethnic minorities and growing neo-Nazism.
On our part, we will draw necessary conclusions from this step by the EU that does not correspond with the request by major European capitals for normalisation of the relations with Russia. Of course, we will not leave this decision of the Council of the EU without a tit-for-tat response.
I cannot help but comment on the joint press statement released after the EU−Ukraine Association Council meeting in Brussels on January 28.
Supposedly, the document should cover exclusively the bilateral interaction between Ukraine and the EU. I think they have things to talk about, things to declare and things to focus on in their further movement. Partially, it is true. The document does contain a message about the importance of respecting the rights of national minorities in accordance with Ukraine’s obligations in the United Nations and the Council of Europe. There is also a proposal to the Ukrainian officials to establish a “substantive dialogue” with the representatives of national minorities in the country in order to take their opinion into account, and to fulfill the recommendations of the Venice Commission within the Council of Europe with regard to the discriminative laws on language and education. It is strange that the language chosen is so subdued, which is uncharacteristic of the EU with its sharp statements. Everything is generalised and sounds like a recommendation, when it should simply be stated: they did not do the job; they are not going to do it; they adopted this in spite of it; they are acting out of accord with the very documents they adopted. We sincerely hope that Kiev will listen to the calls, even if soft, for observing the rights of the Russian-speaking population.
At the same time, the document is full of confrontational cliches with reference to Russia. The background of Crimea’s reunification with our country was once again seriously distorted. Once again, they are trying to shift the responsibility for the intra-Ukainian conflict onto Russia. Allow me to remind you, this conflict did not come out of the blue but was a result of the anti-constitutional coup in February 2014, the coup that was not only supported but stimulated by the West. We all remember all too well the calls from Western capitals: “keep going,” “good job,” “history is being made on these squares.” All these words are on record. Yet again, instead of calling for a comprehensive and objective investigation into the MH17 plane crash in July 2014 over Donbass, it is demanded that Russia admits guilt for what happened. More nonsense. These and other carbon-copy anti-Russian statements make it from one EU document into another, like ritual invocations.
This is not bringing anything positive to Russia-EU relations nor, in any way, helping to resolve the conflict in Donbass.
We have repeatedly pointed out Estonia’s gross violation of its international obligations on media freedom and flagrant abusive treatment of the Russian news agency Sputnik bureau in Estonia, which had to close due to unprecedented administrative pressure.
All employees of the agency’s Estonian bureau were forced to resign on January 1 under threats of criminal prosecution by the country's authorities (and this, in 21st century Europe!). They were forced to terminate their contracts with their employer, Rossiya Segodnya, on the grounds that they were threatened by the sanctions arising from its Director General Dmitry Kiselev being blacklisted – a fantastic excuse of the same type as the ‘Adolf Hitler met with Josef Stalin’ story, an argument of the same level and quality. As a reminder, this media outlet is a Russian state-owned enterprise and is not under any EU sanctions, while the unlawful EU restriction introduced personally against the head of the agency does not concern Sputnik. All that Estonia and its officials are saying is far from reality. We have repeatedly highlighted this here in this room as well as at international organisations’ platforms.
In particular, at a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on January 18, Russian diplomats complained of an intimidation and pressure campaign waged on journalists by the Estonian authorities and once again called on OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir to require Tallinn to revise its discriminatory media policies.
Representatives of relevant international organisations, journalistic and human rights associations have spoken out in defence of the Russian media, including the aforementioned Mr Harlem Desir, OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger, the leaders of the European Federation of Journalists and many others. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, announced her intention to follow the situation closely on the sidelines of the winter session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe this week.
Once again, we demand that the Tallinn authorities comply with the commitments Estonia has made as a free sovereign state and end its repressive media policy that violates the fundamental principles of international law regarding freedom of expression and equal access to information. We hope that the Estonian authorities will finally heed the opinion of the international community, return to the legal space and stop their campaign to exert direct pressure on a foreign news agency.
I have been asked to comment on Estonia celebrating the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Tartu between the former RSFSR and the former Republic of Estonia.
The state of Estonia that functioned from 1918 to 1940 lost its status as a subject of international law due to its accession to the Soviet Union, and the Treaty of Tartu lost its force, since both parties that signed it were included in one subject of international law – the Soviet Union. Furthermore, it is not on the registry of existing UN international treaties now.
As you know, none of the agreements reached by the members of the anti-Hitler coalition (Soviet Union, US, UK) in Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam on the post-war structure of Europe questioned the Baltic republics acceding to the Soviet Union. The Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe drew a line under this issue.
Unlike the Russian Federation (the continuator of the Soviet Union), today's Estonia is a new state formed following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and one of its successors, recognised as such by the international community.
It follows from the above that the Treaty of Tartu of 1920 is invalid and belongs to history. This is our official position which I am spelling out again specifically for those who celebrated.
Regrettably, we have to return once again to the “war” against Soviet memorials in Poland, where they started a new wave of desecrating monuments to Soviet soldiers who lost their lives while liberating that country from Nazi invaders during WWII.
In early January, five headstones were flattened at the cemetery in Jelenia Gora, where the remains of Soviet soldiers are to be found. An act of vandalism was committed on a monument on the common grave of Red Army soldiers who liberated the city of Starachowice from the Nazi invaders 75 years ago. It took place on the night of January 17, on the eve of the anniversary marking the liberation. On January 26-27, on the anniversary marking the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp by the Red Army, insulting words were painted on the monument at the Soviet military cemetery in Gniezno. This is how some people express their emotions although a civilized state and educated people call this vandalism.
We see that Warsaw is making its numerous statements in the context of its current “revision of history.” It is impossible not to notice it because it is clear as a bell. Equally obvious is the situation around our memorial heritage in Poland, which is unthinkable for any civilized society. It is indecent to deny this. The shameful desecration of Soviet graves is a direct consequence of historical lies and absurdities.
Data Privacy Day was observed on January 28. This is an important topic on the current foreign policy agenda. In recent years, Western countries have established a bad tradition – to exploit the subject of hacking and systematically accuse other states, nations and companies of all kinds of cybercrimes without quoting any facts. The truth is very different from a whole lot of fairy tales and there are plenty of dreamers. Now that hackers are using cyberspace for illegal acts against individuals and whole countries, Russia is one of the most active participants when it comes to international cooperation on cybersecurity.
The operation code-named Night Fury carried out in December 2019 became a graphic example of such cooperation. The cyber police of Indonesia working together with Interpol arrested three Indonesian residents, who were members of a cyber gang that stole information from bank cards belonging to customers of online shops in Australia, Brazil, Great Britain, Germany, Indonesia, the United States, and other countries. The Russian Group-IB, experts in the prevention of cybercrime, played a key role in the operation. The job is ongoing in another five regions.
This is the first successful international operation against cybercrime in the Asia-Pacific Region. This is an important example of the international scale of cybercrime as well as of the efficiency of international cooperation and the exchange of information when it comes to countering cyber threats and the coordinated cross-border fight against cybercrime regardless of the Russophobic theories coming from Western spin doctors.
This cooperation is in the vein of the line that Russia is consistently upholding. The goal is to elaborate universal positions on countering cybercrime under the auspices of the UN and consolidate international cooperation in this field. The majority of countries support this way of doing things, which is confirmed by the results of voting on the Russia-initiated UN General Assembly resolution on combatting cybercrime.
On February 8, the 20th Winter Diplomatic Games will be held at the suburban Moscow Country Club, a branch of the Foreign Ministry’s Main Directorate for Servicing the Diplomatic Corps (UPDK). The traditional sports event will take place in the run-up to Diplomats’ Day.
The event will involve heads and employees of diplomatic missions accredited in Russia, senior Foreign Ministry and UPDK officials, merited Russian athletes, and members of the cultural community.
Olympic champion and Russian State Duma Deputy Speaker Svetlana Zhurova, representatives of the Russian Olympic Committee and other guests are expected to attend the 20th Winter Diplomatic Games' opening ceremony.
Winners of the biathlon, cross-country skiing, table tennis, Russian billiards and futsal competitions will receive prizes.
The event will feature an interesting cultural and entertainment programme.
For accreditation and additional information, go to: https://updk.ru.
On February 7, Foreign Ministry’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law and Deputy Director of the Department for Humanitarian Cooperation and Human Rights Grigory Lukyantsev will unveil the ministry's regular report on the human rights situation in certain countries at the Foreign Ministry Press Centre.
The report continues the Ministry’s efforts to draw the attention of the international public at large to the increase in human rights violations in a number of countries.
Human rights organisations and experts have detected substantial human rights problems on the European continent and on the other side of the Atlantic. Racist views and prejudices, migrant phobia, Afrophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and many other terrible manifestations continue to spread. Against the backdrop of such tendencies, the problem of protecting the rights of national minorities and ethnic groups, primarily linguistic and educational, has become considerably aggravated. First of all, one should note discriminatory measures by the authorities of the three Baltic states and Ukraine against the Russian-speaking population.
I will not list all the problems and achievements. We will give the floor to the Foreign Ministry’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law Grigory Lukyantsev.
Question: Could you elaborate on Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming meeting with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla in Santiago de Cuba?
Maria Zakharova: I would not like to forestall these talks. The Foreign Ministry website will certainly publish materials coordinated with the Cuban side and available to the media directly before Mr Lavrov’s delegation leaves for the region. But this is to be a topic for discussion.
Question: What was Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido’s role in organising the Regional Conference Against Terrorism that took place in Colombia on January 20?
Maria Zakharova: He was one of the sources of inspiration behind it. I have said enough today about his role. We proceed from the assumption that if Venezuela is somehow concentrating on and consolidating around the negotiating process, the key representatives of the opposition could be less devoted to international tourism and more to domestic problems. This is important today.
Question: Readers of the Natsionalny Kurs asked us to convey their thanks to the Russian foreign ministry and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for their clear-cut stand against the falsification of history. It is nice to hear how you enunciate what is, in our view, a correct position.
Maria Zakharova: It is not “in your view” that it is a correct position. In this case, there cannot be a right or wrong position, according to someone’s opinion. There were the Nuremberg Trials. The rulings and judgments were recorded, with relevant signatures put under them. This is a documented international legal process.
If we are saying that someone has not even just the desire but a deep-down resolve to renounce the Nuremberg results, then they should say so and call for this, honestly and truthfully. Look at how many “courageous” and “resolute” people make statements on WWII. But if they are reluctant to deny the results of Nuremberg, then no one can have a second, third, or fifth opinion on the outcome of the Second World War.
The publication of new documents and archive materials is a contribution to the process and helps historians in their work. But this does not abolish the results of Nuremberg. After all, what has begun now, at this historical moment, has begun for a reason. The last witnesses of those events – not only veterans but also those who saw everything with their own eyes and can tell their life story – have either left us, or are on their way out, or will be gone soon. And then all hell will break loose!
Question: President Putin has repeatedly stated that the disintegration of the USSR was a tragedy. Many millions of Soviet citizens suffered as a result of it. Today, many people, including some of our readers, are going to court to challenge the legality of the disintegration of the USSR. Some courts are considering these cases. If there are court precedents of this kind, how does the foreign ministry regard new relations with former constituent republics of the USSR? I know that this is a difficult question.
Maria Zakharova: It is a very simple question. Your comment must not preempt any court decision. This refers to administrative and criminal cases as well as to international trials. It is simply impossible. There is a government position, but then you should ask the relevant agencies. But it is unscientific to preempt possible court decisions and say what will happen afterwards.
Question: According to media reports, the Serbian Parliament has been considering a bill on lowering the electoral threshold from five to three percent ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled for April of this year. Certain opposition politicians in that country and some EU representatives are criticising these intentions. What comments would you like to make regarding this?
Maria Zakharova: First, I would like to say that this is an internal affair of our friend, sovereign Serbia. Let me remind you that any outside interference is contrary to the basic international legal norms.
Second, this state’s electoral system, including legislation, meets all modern democratic requirements, as it was repeatedly confirmed by international monitors following a number of Serbian elections.
I think that what we are talking about now is the intention to use double standards in an attempt to manipulate information for political purposes.
I would like to remind you that according to the 2009 findings by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, the 3-percent threshold is ideally suited to ensure a wide parliamentary representation of diverse political forces. Incidentally, the same organisation and the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights urged the Council of Europe member-countries in 2010 to consider the lowering of legislative barriers higher than 3 percent to parties’ getting to national parliaments and to remove other obstacles preventing small political parties and independent candidates from being represented in elected bodies of power. This is not so much a comment on intra-Serbian decisions as a reference to international documents.
We are confident that Serbia has the right to address this issue in accordance with the existing legislative procedure, whereas the critical comments and assessments are senseless and ungrounded.
Question: There are numerous speculations in connection with the coronavirus, including apocalyptic. Is there any clarity as to the timeframe for granting Russian experts access to the US biological laboratory in Armenia?
Maria Zakharova: No, I have no information on this. I will inquire.
Question: Foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia held talks in Geneva yesterday and are having more talks today. Does Russia as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group have any expectations?
Maria Zakharova: We proceed from the assumption that the trio of co-chairs should approve a statement today. It must be available on the OSCE website. It makes no sense to forestall it.
Question: Beating your wife is a sign of love. It’s a strange kind of love between Russia and Bulgaria, one related to diplomats. To me, love between our two countries should consist of who loves the other more, or in the frequency of air travel. Bulgaria has expelled several Russian diplomats. What I would like to say is that either their creativity is failing or their actions are inappropriate. Bulgaria’s former foreign minister, Solomon Passy, expressed the view that this was bringing us closer to a situation where Bulgarian diplomats will be expelled from Russia. This would reduce the embassy staff, which is too big anyway. It is rumored that Bulgaria wants to sell part of its embassy building in Russia. If so, please comment on this, because the Bulgarian public is keen to know the details.
Maria Zakharova: Why are you asking me this? Anything regarding the Bulgarian embassy should be addressed to the Bulgarian foreign ministry representative who can comment on it. Personally, I’m not planning to buy anything like this.
I talked at length about diplomats today. If you can be more specific, please ask your question again, although I covered this subject in detail. What specifically do you want to know about the diplomats?
Question: When will Russia announce its symmetrical response?
Maria Zakharova: You will be the first to know.
Question: Thank you for covering the theme of historical memory. Today, there is inadequate coverage of the Moscow militia’s involvement in the Patriotic War of 1812. We are preparing a new issue of our magazine that will be devoted to the Moscow militia that fielded several divisions manned by workers and members of public organisations, including the foreign ministry. We would like you to contribute a story on the involvement of foreign ministry staff in the militia, specifically on their participation in the 1812 war. We will write you a letter, if you do not object. We would like to obtain materials like this.
Maria Zakharova: We will happily support this. By all means!
Question: British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab claimed the other day that the most serious recent attacks on his country’s telecommunications sector had originated from Russia. He said the threats differed in that they came from both cybercriminals and government sponsored units involved in cyber activities. But he failed to cite even one example of this interference, nor name a single organization behind the attacks. What is Russia’s attitude to these charges?
Maria Zakharova: This is just more chatter from London. Unfortunately, this is the only comment I can offer. Any high profile statements that are not corroborated by facts (after all, they don’t need to be so public in nature but can be passed to the Russian side via international agencies as a body of evidence) are just more chatter. We have heard a lot of this from London. Another anniversary of the Skripal story is coming up, which again will be more chatter. We’ll talk with them when we have the facts.
Incidentally, I would like to remind you that I have talked many times about cyberattacks on the Foreign Ministry’s information resources, to mention just this issue. I always cited facts and figures. We are ready to discuss this subject with the relevant experts. We’ll talk when we have facts. The rest is just words.
Question: President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared the other day that Russia was not performing its obligations within the framework of the Astana and Sochi formats. What is Russia’s response to these claims?
Maria Zakharova: We are committed to our obligations.