Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, April 23, 2020
We are beginning our regular briefing with the problems that are really pressing for the entire world: the current pandemic situation. There has been no radical qualitative change in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic in the world over the past week. The rate of the spread of the disease remains as high as before. The pandemic has invaded 181 countries. In addition to the growing number of patients and victims all over the world, the pandemic has had extremely unfavourable effects on the world economy.
Meanwhile, in today’s most complex situation we can see in some capital cities extremely inappropriate, biased and groundless attacks against some states and international organisations, as well as attempts to burden them with the full responsibility for this epidemiologic crisis. We believe that today it is more important to reach joint agreements and pool our efforts.
Russia supports the measures taken by the WHO and its leadership to combat the coronavirus and supports its coordinating role in the struggle against the pandemic. We also proceed from the need to immediately lift all unlawful unilateral sanctions, which are aggravating the humanitarian situation during the epidemic in quite a number of countries.
This crisis has become a most serious test for the entire international community, for all states, an important survival test as well as a test of how prepared we are to develop new approaches in contemporary international relations with a view to solving serious issues through a collective agenda. After understanding the essence of what is going on and our interconnection, interdependence and common destiny in the face of the current global threat, we now have a unique opportunity to confirm that there is no alternative to joint constructive efforts and initiatives for the resolution of common tasks, whether it is eliminating the effects of the pandemic or coping with the global economic imbalances caused by the pandemic. You know very well the specific proposals of the Russian side as expressed by the President. Our shared future depends on the lessons we can draw from this crisis and how we deal with it.
And now to the priorities of the Foreign Ministry and our diplomatic missions abroad in dealing with issues to assist Russian citizens abroad.
As part of following-up on the decisions of the Russian Government’s emergency response centre, work continues on rendering financial assistance to the Russian nationals abroad who are waiting to return home and find themselves in a difficult situation because of the pandemic. A commission is working in the ministry on these issues. It considers applications and makes decisions on payments for those in need in accordance with Government Resolution No. 433 dated April 3, 2020.
Concurrently, based on the schedule developed by the Federal Agency of Air Transport (Rosaviatsia), Russians who were stranded abroad are being evacuated. Flights from Antalya, Goa, Kathmandu, Yangon, Denpasar, Bangkok, Phuket and other destinations have been arranged in recent weeks. Our citizens were taken to the cities and regions of their permanent residence in Russia, not just Moscow and St Petersburg but also Kazan, Ufa, Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Tyumen, Vladivostok and other cities.
Regarding the regions, I would like to specially stress how deeply they have become involved in the evacuation of Russian citizens, the residents of their cities. We managed to build this difficult but effective chain of interaction in the last few days. You may have seen that flights are going to large regional centres and that the eligible passengers are both residents of those cities and regions and also neighbouring ones. Thus we are closing in on the early return of all of our citizens from abroad.
This takes very detailed cooperation between federal ministries and agencies under the Government of the Russian Federation and regional authorities, public organisations, legislators, deputies, human rights ombudspersons, and of course, journalists. The media are helping us a lot.
There is an increasing number of interactions like this. Novosibirsk took on a high load of incoming flights with residents of the Siberian Federal District. Vladivostok is doing the same for the Far Eastern Federal District. Also actively involved are Yekaterinburg, Kazan, Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Sochi and Rostov-on-Don have recently become involved. We are expecting the regions in the Northwestern and Volga Federal Districts to join in.
A recent flight to Makhachkala brought 230 Russian nationals home. Most of them were accommodated in the quarantine centres in the region because they do not reside in Dagestan. However, this testifies to the high social responsibility of the region, its residents, the authorities, NGOs and others. This is the kind of work that unites us. The flight to Makhachkala was particularly difficult. Although there are no easy flights now in general, that one was extraordinary in terms of logistics and organisation. So I would like to note the well-coordinated work of all the agencies involved: the Russian Ministry of Transport, Rosaviatsia, the Ministry of Communications, and our diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia who settled complicated issues virtually “on the go.” I would especially like to mention the reserve and patience of the Utair crew. This flight was made by this airline and they did an excellent job despite a many-hour delay which was caused by the need to fill the aircraft. Everyone who wanted to get home at that time could do so. We did all this together.
I would like to stress that this work requires an exceptionally high level of coordination by all the agencies involved, primarily regarding the prevention of importing new cases of the infection and its spread. We hope the regional programme will expand shortly with new destinations. The regions now have excellent experience, as I mentioned.
Let me reiterate that all of these steps to evacuate Russian nationals from abroad can only be accomplished through close cooperation and mutual understanding. In this case, I also want to mention foreign governments. Russia supports other countries by fulfilling their requests, including on helping bringing back their nationals. We expect and in most cases encounter the same interaction and rapport from many countries. We are open to a constructive dialogue with all of our partners without exception on organising the evacuation of foreign nationals from abroad and from Russia to their countries of residence. We expect reciprocity in return. Let me stress again that we need to untangle the situation with our compatriots in Southeast Asia. We are sending the relevant documents and diplomatic notes, and we are maintaining contact with Fiji. We hope very much for prompt cooperation.
Due to most countries introducing emergency measures to tackle the spread of COVID-19 and due to Russian individuals, who permanently reside outside Russia, lacking the opportunity to draw up documents necessary to extend their designated pensions, the Russian Government has adopted Resolution No 530 On Procedure of Paying Pensions and Other Social Benefits to Individuals Who Permanently Reside Outside the Russian Federation on April 17, 2020 (entered into force on April 20).
The temporary resolution implies extension of providing designated pensions and other social payments to citizens residing abroad whose documents necessary for extension of pension payments (including those drawn up by Russian diplomatic missions and consular offices) expire from March 1 to May 31.
Pensions and other social benefits will be paid to specified individuals without presenting documents necessary for the extension of such payments from April to June 2020.
This issue is under the control of the Russian Foreign Ministry top officials. The Russian Embassy in Washington is taking further efforts to search for Russian school pupils in the United States amidst the grave situation with the spread of COVID-19 in the country. We are speaking about high school pupils who are visiting the US due to various American educational and learning programmes, which were not coordinated with the Russian authorities.
Regrettably, even the organisers themselves and the representatives of the organisations that should be responsible for the youngsters have failed to give a clear response as to how many of the concerned young people got to the US through these channels and also for what purpose. As we have mentioned, the US Department of State reported that some 80 Russian pupils have been in the US since last autumn under the programme (Secondary School Student Program) that invited them through the Department's website. Sadly, the list of the pupils and their contacts have not been provided to us over a period of the past half of this month. We have only received emails from seven US NGOs that accepted school children in different US states; however, not all of them have responded to the urgent requests made by the Russian Embassy.
As we understood, there are plenty of such programmes in the United States that work with Russian young people without any coordination with the Russian government authorities, and the number of Russian pupils currently in the US may be well over 80.
So far, the Embassy has managed to identify over 40 children. We know the names of 42, of whom eight have already returned to Russia and 34 remain all across the US; many of them are willing to travel back as soon as possible. Some of them consider themselves safe and plan to return to their home country as scheduled, in May or June with assistance from their parents.
The location of at least 38 pupils is still unknown. The US authorities are not providing us with any help with our search efforts and their return to Russia; even more, it appears that they are distancing themselves from solving this issue and ignoring the Embassy appeals. Russian diplomats in Washington and in the US on the whole have to act on their own to settle this issue.
Of course, we will make conclusions from such conduct by US officials. We hope that our schools and the families of the children will act more cautiously in the future when seeing ads of such US programmes, and be aware of the possible risks. We strongly believe that taking underage Russian citizens abroad without their parents or other legitimate representatives is unacceptable without proper coordination with relevant Russian agencies.
We would like to once more ask our educational institutions and families, which sent their children to the US who have not yet retuned back, to provide their contacts including mobile phone numbers to the Foreign Ministry.
Today, April 23, is World Book and Copyright Day. It was established by UNESCO in 1995. Today it probably has a certain symbolic meaning.
The majority of schools all over the world are closed, with children either studying remotely or on holiday. People spend a lot of time at home, where they can use their time differently in self-isolation while strictly adhering to the rules of the lockdown. But one of the best things to do is reading. At last, you can read everything you’ve never had the time to read. And today, on World Book and Copyright Day, we have a great reason to do just that.
International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace will be marked for the second time this year on April 24. This holiday was established on December 12, 2018, by UN General Assembly Resolution 127 drafted by Venezuela as the presiding country of the Non-Aligned Movement.
The task of establishing a truly polycentric world order, taking due account of the interests and approaches of all international community members as well as political and diplomatic settlement of armed conflicts are relevant today as never before, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic. Given this, the importance of the United Nations is growing because it remains an alternative-free mechanism for a just and equal interstate cooperation enjoying universal legitimacy. Undeviating observance of the UN Charter, including the sovereign equality of the states, non-interference in the internal affairs and renunciation of force or threat of force, is a guarantee of international peace and security, progressive socio-economic development and protection of human rights.
Meanwhile, a number of countries, above all in the West, do not stop their attempts to weaken the United Nations’ pivotal coordinating role in the world and to return their lost domination. To this end they are revising the agreed framework of international interaction and trying to replace it with a notorious “rules-based” global order, which implies in part establishing competing mechanisms for promoting dubious ideas. They preserve the destructive practice of unilateral sanctions. All this results only in the augmentation of the conflict potential and paves the way back to the times of confrontation and in no way corresponds to the spirit of multilateralism.
In this situation, it seems very important to intensify steps strengthening polycentric principles in world affairs and concentration of efforts aimed at peaceful dispute settlement and overcoming common challenges and threats based on the UN Charter and other provisions of international law. Russia, as a co-founder of the United Nations, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a responsible member of the international community will continue working in this area together with all interested partners.
I would like to tell you about what we had promised to report in more detail, that is, Russia’s assistance to the post-Soviet countries. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov promised to share more information regarding this.
The past week saw notable developments in Russian-Moldovan relations.
On April 17, an intergovernmental agreement was signed in Moscow to provide a Russian state loan to Chisinau. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the agreement was signed via videoconference between Deputy Finance Minister of Russia Timur Maksimov and Moldovan Ambassador to Russia Andrei Neguta.
Russia’s support to Moldova during these difficult times is much needed and timely.
On April 19, Russia and China completed a joint operation to deliver humanitarian aid to Moldova. A Russian An-124 Ruslan military transport aircraft delivered over 50 tonnes of Chinese medical supplies needed to fight the coronavirus from Shanghai to Chisinau, including diagnostic and sanitising equipment, personal protective gear, respirators, etc.
We hope that this assistance will help Moldova to fight the new coronavirus infection and its consequences.
On April 14, the African Union Peace and Security Council held a videoconference on the impact of the Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak on peace and security in Africa. It was attended by executive officials of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
The participants noted the profound political and socioeconomic consequences of COVID-19 for Africa as well as related security threats. They warned about the possible growth of crime and gender-based violence plus the worsening conditions for refugees and internally displaced persons.
Recognising the problem of rising hatred towards the infected persons, the participants recommended redoubling public awareness efforts and national cybersecurity measures to fight disinformation that is undermining public trust for state institutions and to prevent extremists from taking advantage of and exploiting the coronavirus situation.
Other decisions regarding the further consolidation of collective response to the pandemic include the encouragement of the AU member states, the African private sector, international financial institutions and bilateral partners to contribute to the Africa COVID-19 Response Fund. The AU Peace and Security Council also urged its international partners to consider debt cancelation and relief, as well as to immediately and unconditionally lift sanctions and other punitive measures.
The document also highlighted the importance of implementing national social protection programmes, paying particular attention to the most vulnerable sections, refugees and internally displaced persons, strengthening cross-border cooperation in the fight against the growing risk of terrorism and organised crime. The Council also urged the sides in the Libyan conflict, as well as all armed groups on the continent, to immediately cease hostilities. It also appealed to the African countries to provide all possible assistance to the concerned AU bodies in the implementation of their humanitarian functions.
Praising the relentless efforts being deployed by WHO in providing timely information, technical guidance and material assistance, the Council appealed to the international community to continue to extend full support and cooperation to the efforts of WHO to contain the spread and mitigate the impact of COVID-19.
Work is underway to stabilise the situation in Syria, primarily, on the basis of the guarantor countries’ existing agreements under the Astana format. The developments on the ground, as well as the need to provide the necessary humanitarian aid to the Syrians and to advance the political process were reviewed by the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey in detail yesterday during a telephone conversation. A detailed press release was posted on the Ministry’s website.
In Idlib, the Russian and Turkish military are working to implement the Russian-Turkish Additional Protocol of March 5 to create a security corridor along the M-4 motorway and to establish regular joint patrols. However, this work has run into opposition by the radical units remaining in the de-escalation zone. In this regard, we note Ankara’s efforts to drive the militants out of the areas that are contiguous to the M-4 motorway and we hope that the so-called moderates will distance themselves from the terrorists and the latter will be neutralised.
The situation in northeastern Syria which is home to ISIS prisons and IDP camps with large masses of people and virtually no access from the outside is increasingly causing our concern. Should the coronavirus infection make its way there, the situation may degrade into a disaster and make unbearable the already harsh living conditions there.
Against this alarming background, we noted a number of publications that talk about US assistance to the Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria, which gives rise to a lot of questions. This help really looks weird. Reportedly, in addition to medical disinfection supplies, the Americans also provided the Kurds with means to suppress riots among prisoners, which can hardly be classified as humanitarian aid. In addition to this, there are reports about an explosive spread of coronavirus infection among US troops, and that this is being hushed up.
As is known, the US military presence in Syria is qualified as occupation in accordance with international humanitarian law. This means that Washington bears full responsibility for the civilian population and meeting its humanitarian needs in the areas controlled by it south of the Euphrates River and in Al-Tanf, which is home to the notorious Rukban IDP camp. We have repeatedly voiced our principled position on Rukban, and I would like to reiterate it now. The Rukban problem cannot be resolved by humanitarian convoys. It is necessary to eliminate its root cause which is the 55-km security zone around Al-Tanf which was arbitrarily created by the United States. In addition, as we know from practice, the humanitarian aid never makes it to those who actually need it and is taken over by the militants who hold the refugees hostage.
Providing comprehensive humanitarian aid to all the Syrians who need it without discrimination or any preconditions is an absolute priority amid the pandemic. In this regard, we support UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call to lift or to suspend unilateral sanctions which undermine the ability of many countries, including Syria, to effectively combat the spread of the coronavirus and block the supply of critical medicine and medical supplies. We hope that the UN specialised humanitarian agencies will step up their emergency assistance programmes throughout Syria, without exception or preferences shown to the areas not controlled by Damascus.
The most recent events in Libya are causing us to be greatly concerned. The intensification of hostilities between the forces supporting the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army shows, in our opinion, that the truce declared in January is no longer observed by the warring parties.
This situation has become particularly dangerous amid the spreading coronavirus epidemic in Libya. Clearly, the government is unable to fight the infection amid the ongoing civil strife.
More than ever before, these developments call for the international community to promote the political settlement of the drawn-out Libya crisis. However, coordinating its efforts is complicated by the fact that the post of the UN Secretary-General’s special representative for Libya remains vacant after Ghassan Salame resigned in March.
We believe it is critically important for the UN Secretary-General to come up with a suitable candidate for this position as soon as possible. Without giving specific names, we believe that, given Libya’s geographical location and Arab affiliation, a representative of a North African country with good standing would be the best choice. That way, the African Union and the League of Arab States, whose mediation potential was not properly used during previous stages, would be closer involved in the process of a Libyan settlement.
We are forced once again to respond to the developments in Venezuela. On March 31, the US Department of State announced the Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela. During our previous briefings we spoke in detail about why we cannot take a positive attitude to Washington’s innovation, which can hardly be described as innovation because its goals have not changed and boil down to ensuring the removal of the legitimate president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro. We noted that Washington’s allegedly constructive proposal clashed with the US decisions to place a bounty on Nicolas Maduro, who has been accused of all the deadly sins, as well as to hold military exercises in the Caribbean in order to impose a naval blockade on that sovereign country.
As we saw, our objective, balanced, calm and substantive response based on facts has produced some irritation across the ocean. The numerous statements made there were a clear indication of an information war. They started to “interpret” our response.
They claimed that Russia is cutting ties with Nicolas Maduro and that it is only ready to support the Venezuelan leader at the UN while its interest for Caracas is based on purely geopolitical considerations.
All this, and much more has been stated openly but without quoting our response. As we see it, their objective remains to convince the Chavistas of President Maduro’s vulnerability and to encourage them to stand up against him. Their objective is to undermine and to disorganise the Venezuelan authorities at a time when they need to mobilise the response potential of the nation to the coronavirus challenge, as well as to show that the Venezuelan government allegedly has no external support.
We would like to ask our American colleagues to listen carefully to what we say and not to fake our words. Please use only direct quotations. We promptly publish all our statements on the Foreign Ministry’s website and social accounts, and we also provide an English translation of our statements.
I would like to say once again that it is not the United States but the Venezuelans themselves who can and must decide their future through an intra-Venezuelan dialogue without any foreign interference, preconditions and ultimatums. Diktat has never helped to create trust. By the way, the fact that the Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela was announced by the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rather than by the so-called Acting President Juan Guaido is proof that the Americans do not trust their puppet and have essentially decided to write him off.
The comments made in the US refer to the West creating obstacles to foreign investment in the Venezuelan economy and to the conditions for the lifting of US sanctions. This sounds ominous, both overall and amid the coronavirus pandemic. Is the poorly disguised joy at creating problems for Venezuela and at depriving it of access to the international markets of goods and services amid the pandemic, which will target primarily the interests of common people, a responsible and humanitarian political approach? It is evidently not. It is clear to everyone that this approach has nothing to do with humaneness and human rights. Feeling satisfaction at problems created for others is evidence of low morals.
Here is what we suggest: allow Russia to speak for itself. Do not interpret our statements to suit your own or others’ interests. We have been acting consistently; we do not hide our views and we are ready to and will uphold them.
I believe that our American colleagues should learn one thing: It is important to speak for yourself. If you have something to say, then say it. Do not distort or interpret what we say. By the way, if you start speaking for yourself and do so honestly, people may start believing you. I believe that Washington should begin to be honest with the people of Venezuela. Maybe it should stop planning any campaigns to protect the national interests of Venezuela but instead put its cards on the table and act openly.
We are providing support to everyone who is working to contain the spread of the coronavirus infection, which is threatening the entire world, including Latin America. As we have said, the current situation in Venezuela does not appear to be critical, unlike in the neighbouring countries that are criticising Caracas – Brazil, Peru and Ecuador. This proceeds from the data of the Pan American Health Organisation. Evidence of this objective reality is the return of Venezuelan immigrants in Colombia back home.
To conclude, I would like to point out that we are not averse to discussing Venezuelan developments with Washington. But there can be no “deals” paid for with the health and welfare of common people.
This week, the Russian Foreign Ministry returned two notes to its Ukrainian colleagues. In the first note, Kiev expressed protest in relation to archaeological excavations and earthworks in Crimea. In the second one, it demanded that we provide a report on Russia’s measures to fight the coronavirus in Crimea and Donbass.
Such actions by Ukrainian diplomats never fail to amaze us. Against the backdrop of the pandemic in the country and fires in Chernobyl, when Russian planes are transporting Ukrainian citizens home from third countries, and Russian diplomats are providing them with assistance to return home, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spends all of its energy bombarding the ‘aggressor state’, as they call us, with menacing notes of protest.
I am addressing our Ukrainian colleagues, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry: save paper. It seems that Kiev authorities live in a parallel universe. First, they cut Crimea off from water and electricity, launch a blockade of Donbass, and then they demand a report on how Russia protects the residents of these areas from the coronavirus. Let me remind you that Kiev can have a direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk if it is really concerned about the lives and health of their residents. Russia is not a party to the conflict in southeastern Ukraine and does not control the Donbass territory.
We again remind you that the issue of Crimea’ being part of Russia is closed. In 2014, the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol voluntarily re-unified with Russia. All notes of protest about the Russian authorities’ actions related to exercising sovereignty over the Crimean Peninsula, be it official visits, infrastructure development, including archaeological excavations, holding elections, and all other possible events will be again returned to the Ukrainian party due to the lack of grounds for their consideration.
The US RAND Corporation has published a report on the priorities in Norway’s defence policy. It is unremarkable by itself, just one more of the numerous similar documents where Russia is represented as a ‘most dangerous threat’ to counteract which they need, in particular, to strengthen the military coordination between the United States and Norway using, of course, American-made military equipment.
We noted something else here. In recent years, Norway has been assigned a major role in the US and NATO strategists’ foreign policy plans as the frontline for ‘containing Russia’. The country is building up its military potential, modernising relevant infrastructure, opening training centres for the allies’ military, expanding facilities to store American military equipment and marine equipment, and regularly holding major military exercises. Norway is actively engaged in involving non-aligned countries such as Finland and Sweden.
It is regrettable that Norway is enthusiastically participating in various transatlantic anti-Russia scenarios. The centuries old traditions of neighbourly relations have been sacrificed for the interests of the others, including financial interests. Against the backdrop of slowing bilateral interaction, the military flywheel of military preparations against Russia is gaining momentum.
We urge Oslo to reconsider its destructive approaches and build long-term cooperation with our country based on mutual respect and consideration of interests.
A multilateral project entitled Russian-Iraqi Comprehensive Scientific Expedition was launched last year. It encompasses not only the organisation and conduct of archaeological excavations in the south of Iraq, but also interaction between our countries’ museums and compiling joint publications. Actually, there are some grounds to speak of resuming the cooperation in archaeology between Russia and Iraq severed 35 years ago.
The Russian archaeological expedition and its Iraqi partners jointly conducted a test season of field studies of a significant historical monument included on the UNESCO World Heritage List from March 17 to April 2. It was the ancient settlement of Dehaila situated in the Dhi Qar Governorate, which dates back to the Old Babylonian period – early and middle 2nd century BC.
The work included an instrumental survey of the terrain, they found and categorised various ceramic articles, reaffirmed the date of the settlement and found blanks for cuneiform tablets. The parties reached an agreement in principle as a follow-up to all their research to display their archaeological findings in Russia on a temporary basis after the sanitary and epidemiological situation returns back to normal. We all will be waiting for this.
Upon the completion of the first phase of the joint project the Iraqi Minister of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities Abdulameer al-Hamdani sent an official letter to the Russian Minister of Culture Olga Lyubimova, in which he reaffirmed Iraq’s interest in continuing the mutually beneficial cooperation.
US officials continue to spout critical statements about the ongoing Paul Whelan’s trial in Moscow on espionage charges. In particular, I am referring to the allegations that an innocent man is being prosecuted, as US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee put it.
I would like to remind you that during Maria Butina’s trial in Washington a year ago – she was sentenced to prison just for being a Russian citizen, as she had committed no other offences – US officials spoke of the ‘independence of the judiciary.’ This was how they answered all our questions. They said that they did not have the right to question any decisions of the American court. Now, for some reason, they are not embarrassed to give assessments to a Russian trial, and just as unfortunately, they are not embarrassed to distort reality.
Paul Whelan was not a tourist, as the US representatives are trying to assert; he arrived in Russia for intelligence purposes and was detained in Moscow on December 29, 2018 – caught red-handed while trying to obtain secret information. He travelled into Russia with an American passport, but prudently also had citizenship in a number of other countries including the UK, Ireland and Canada.
From the moment of his arrest, he has had regular visits – almost every week – from embassies of all the four countries, including ambassadors. They must be well aware that Paul Whelan is in good physical shape and, if necessary, immediately receives qualified medical care at the pre-trial detention centre’s medical unit. Furthermore, a medical examination organised at one of the regular city hospitals did not reveal any serious or dangerous health conditions. We are compelled to speak about this because we keep hearing statements from US representatives about his health condition and examinations. Also in connection with the American statements, I would like to note that he was offered for the option of having a minor surgery if he considered that he needed it. He refused it.
Therefore, the statements that Paul Whelan is denied medical care are not just completely groundless – they are not true.
The court has also allowed him to have telephone calls with members of his family in the United States. We presume that he will speak with his family in the near future.
As for his hearings being held behind closed doors and the US Ambassador not being allowed into the courthouse, well, there is nothing surprising here. In Russia, as in most other countries, restricted access to criminal hearings is common legal practice if the indictment contains classified information. The trial of Paul Whelan, who came to Russia precisely to obtain secret information, is just such a case.
By the way, the trial did not start until March 30 and was actually delayed by the holder of four passports, who took more than six months to study the charges after he was provided with a copy of the final version of the case on August 30, 2019 and had a qualified translator at his disposal. Apparently, as we understand it, he was in no hurry and well aware of the convincing evidence.
Now the coronavirus epidemic has made adjustments to the schedule of hearings, but again, the intervals are also being made at the request of Paul Whelan’s lawyers. Despite these delays, the proceedings are underway. Regular meetings were held on April 20 and 21. As far as we know, they will resume next week. The judge is making decisions. Legal proceedings are conducted in strict accordance with Russian laws, and in compliance with all the appropriate rules and procedures.
We have noted the increasing attempts by our Western and, above all, American partners to cast a negative light on the situation with media freedom in Russia in the challenging times due to the coronavirus pandemic. These unrelated facts become correlated in a strange way. We view this assessment as obviously politicised and based on their own interpretation of articles, statements and interviews rather than on actual facts.
In this regard, we would suggest American partners refrain from any actions that could so easily be interpreted as interference in Russia’s internal affairs. Why don’t they focus on their own problems with media freedom in the United States instead, of which there are loads? They are not at all limited to the negative rhetoric of US officials regarding the press. For example, according to numerous testimonies of international human rights organisations, in particular the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, cases of physical violence against media workers and the use of pressure on the media such as lawsuits for their critical statements continue to be practiced in the United States. The special search procedure for journalists crossing the American border along with pressure to disclose confidential sources of information, which undermines the principles of investigative journalism naturally causes concerns of human rights activists.
As a reminder, certain media outlets are being subjected to open discrimination in the United States, in particular, foreign media. An atmosphere of hostility and mistrust is being actively formed around the Russian news agencies RT and Sputnik. The Russian media are not the only targets; the whole world now knows how the Chinese media are treated in the US. The United States Foreign Agents Registration Act does not allow them or their American media partners to fully carry out their journalistic activities.
There is also an increase in censorship and prosecution of unwanted media online. Here is a fresh example – Google’s move to block the account of the Federal News Agency, a Russian online outlet, as unacceptable on April 17. The corporation also blocked its YouTube account, deleting tens of thousands of the agency’s reports and documentaries.
Paradoxical as it may seem, for some reason, Washington’s mop-ups of the media landscape are not affecting the extremist-aligned website Mirotvorets (Peacemaker), which continues to use American servers and poses a direct threat to all journalists included in its database. This seems to be a really special thing for the US. They see no threat in that; at least no action is being taken.
We expect the United States to move from making a show of concern for freedom of speech around the world, to specific actions to rectify the situation with the media rights and the situation of journalists, primarily in their own country.
It is mind-boggling that, despite the dire situation with the outbreak of the coronavirus in the US, instead of helping their voters, the senators in Washington find the time to concoct more anti-Russia libel. You have probably heard that the Senate Intelligence Committee on April 21 released the fourth volume of the Report on Russia’s so-called interference in the US election. In this part, the US lawmakers said they had reviewed and generally approved their special services’ methodology to identify Moscow’s destructive activities.
The “methodology” itself is beyond understanding because 90 percent of the report is classified. It predictably cites no evidence. The statements are linked by hackneyed pretty phrases already rammed into the minds of American voters. The only non-classified part of the report is the conclusions – each one more beautiful than the last. In particular, they argue that in the 2016 presidential election, Russia showed “unprecedented aggressiveness” of interference and escalated the “scope of effort.” They also discuss ways to respond to the “threat from future Russian influence operations.”
Reading this for the fourth year in a row is both sad but at the same time rather funny as well. The paranoid insinuations coming out of Washington are obviously a product of the political infighting in the US. With puzzling persistence, they are blaming Russia for their own failures and trying to get additional electoral dividends at our expense, again through an anti-Russia campaign.
I very much doubt that this will bring real dividends to anyone. America has other problems today. From the bottom of our hearts, we sincerely wish that they emerge from this difficult period. We also wish them to finally wake up and understand that no one else is to blame for their present and past problems. They need to take responsibility for their own economic, political and any other troubles. We sincerely hope that American politicians of all stripes and party affiliations will remember that American citizens are now preoccupied with other problems and that they are not even thinking about Russia, but are thinking about how to survive the pandemic.
Amid this new round of hysteria, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to conduct a productive, effective and constructive dialogue with our American partners, including in the interests of addressing real global problems. Let us hope that the American senators will yet come to realise that these actions are pointless as well as harmful.
Another issue that we will be working on is the situation concerning the monument to Marshal Ivan Konev in Prague. The level and intensity of cynicism that we are seeing there keeps shocking us.
We are carefully analysing the developments around the dismantling of the monument to Marshal of the USSR, Hero of Czechoslovakia, Honorary Citizen of Prague Ivan Konev on April 3. Under his leadership, the troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front liberated Prague from the Nazi occupation in May 1945.
This act of political vandalism is an obvious violation of the 1993 Treaty on Friendly Relations and Cooperation between Russia and the Czech Republic, which is essential for bilateral relations. The agreement obliges the parties to preserve and to maintain military monuments, and also to provide access to them. In this case, there is no more talk about the fulfillment of these obligations by the Czech side.
The obligation to properly implement the above mentioned agreement that was ratified by the Czech Republic, lays on the Government of this country. According to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, each existing treaty is mandatory for all participants and must be properly implemented. References to domestic law and the decisions of the local bodies of authority to justify the non-implementation of the agreement are not acceptable. The Czech authorities not only failed to take measures to prevent illegal actions of the Prague-6 district administration, but turned a blind eye to them. The question about who owns the monument is irrelevant in this case.
It is obvious that the arbitrary dismantling of the monument to Ivan Konev cannot be considered the scrupulous fulfillment of obligations to preserve and to maintain the monument. Given the need to provide access to it, the issue of its location could not be dealt with unilaterally. Article 5 of the agreement stipulates a mechanism of consultations at various levels. It could have been used here.
We urge our partners to return to fulfilling the agreement to the full extent.
We are ready for a meaningful dialogue with the Czech side on the issue which is aggravating bilateral relations.
We consider it overwhelmingly cynical also because we are sad to see that there are several information campaigns unfolding in the Czech Republic rather than one. These campaigns are obviously anti-Russian, political and aimed at striking a blow at bilateral relations. It seems that each factor of bilateral relations is reviewed by some forces in terms of how bilateral ties and contacts could be harmed even more. Even the less problematic subjects and technical issues are turned into political ones in order to complicate bilateral relations as much as possible.
Today several Czech media outlets are promoting a completely ungrounded anti-Russian campaign, devoid of any facts, except the infamous anonymous “leaks” from special services, that accuses Russia of organising cyberattacks on energy and healthcare facilities in the Czech Republic.
We regard these fakes as another step in the dirty work to demonise Russia launched in the West. If there are any facts, first, show them to us. Second, why use leaks? Step up and speak about them. We have embassies, with ambassadors and diplomats, so give them the materials, set up consultations and send diplomatic notes. What is the problem? Why do you once again use the British tool of destroying bilateral relations in the media and endless leaks? As per tradition, those who staged this provocation used the “fake news generator” at full capacity.
It is sad to see that this idea is supported by certain Czech officials. They quickly seized this opportunity to practise their anti-Russian rhetoric and started speaking about cyberattacks from foreign states.
We would like to warn the campaign’s creators against further peddling the topic of mythical Russian hackers, which looks especially cynical during the spread of the coronavirus infection, weakening the united front created by all the countries to counter it.
We find it appropriate to note that according to the 2015 report of the Group of Governmental Experts approved by a consensus and UN General Assembly Resolution 70/237 that codifies its recommendations, any accusations of organising and conducting criminal activities against states must be substantiated.
Russia consistently speaks in favour of using information and communications technology only for peaceful purposes and establishing a professional expert dialogue to ensure international information security both bilaterally and multilaterally. This story has once again proved the inadequacy of such information campaigns without facts and the need to develop universal rules, norms and principles of states’ responsible behaviour in the information space as soon as possible.
On April 27, the Republic of Sierra Leone will celebrate the 59th anniversary of its independence. Russia has maintained longstanding relations of friendship and cooperation with this nation, which boasts a vast history, unique traditions and customs. The country’s capital, which is symbolically named Freetown, was founded by freed African slaves, who chose sovereignty and defended their right to independently decide their future.
In the beginning of the 17th century, Portuguese, English, Dutch and French ships began calling at ports of Sierra Leone to take native inhabitants and sell them into slavery in the West Indies and North and South America. European colonisers started conquering the territory of Sierra Leone in the late 18th century. England used its presence in Sierra Leone to make this territory the metropolitan country’s minerals and raw materials colony. Sierra Leone’s people persistently waged a liberation war. The first large uprising by the local population took place two years after the UK declared the Sierra Leone Protectorate in 1896. The fight for national liberation became more organised following WWII. Efforts included setting up trade union organisations that protected workers interests as well as political parties that led the fight against colonialism. All this helped change the situation at that moment and bring the country closer to its independence, which was proclaimed in April 1961.
Today, Sierra Leone is confidently advancing along the path of democratic development and progress, and successfully addresses the uneasy tasks it faces in the social and economic sector. We express our continued support of its government’s commitment to expanding the scope of fruitful ties with Russia, and we are ready for further mutually beneficial cooperation. We would like to congratulate the people of Sierra Leone on their national holiday and wish them further success, peace, prosperity and wellbeing.
Question: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has recently expressed hope that flight service with Georgia will resume soon. How are the talks on this matter proceeding? Are there any signals from Tbilisi?
Maria Zakharova: I would like to note that Mr Lavrov gave a very detailed comment on the question he received during the roundtable discussion organised by the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund, where he also spoke about the right atmosphere for resolving a range of existing problems.
You can read the transcript at https://www.mid.ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4103828, including his answer to the question in its entirety.
Question: Would you comment on the health of Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who is being held prisoner in the US? It was reported that his cellmate died from the coronavirus.
Maria Zakharova: We continue to closely monitor the state of Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in the US. He has serious health problems, including after the torture he endured during his arrest by officers of the Drug Enforcement Agency in Liberia in 2010.
After reports that the coronavirus epidemic reached the prison holding the Russian citizen, the Russian Embassy in Washington immediately contacted our compatriot. The US authorities have not yet confirmed that a prisoner detained with Konstantin Yaroshenko fell ill. However, the risk of infection remains very high considering that the number of confirmed cases in the US is quickly approaching 900,000.
The general level of medical services at US prisons also raises concern. As we know, there often are even difficulties with getting routine checkups, to say nothing about specific medicines and advanced treatment when necessary.
This is why on March 24 Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sent a verbal message to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, urging him to release Konstantin Yaroshenko as well as other Russians under investigation or sentenced to prison terms in the US for humanitarian reasons. Moreover, on April 18, a diplomatic note was sent to the US Embassy in Moscow, which once again focuses on the need to resolve the issue of returning Russian nationals home as soon as possible. We hope that Washington will respond positively to our requests soon, which would save the Russians’ lives and health.
There is another topic related to the Czech Republic and promoted in the Czech information space in a very odd way.
Question: Prague City Hall recently decided to rename what was known for decades as ‘Under the Chestnuts Square’ where the Russian Embassy in the Czech Republic is located. The Russian Embassy in turn issued a statement that it will use the address of its consular division, 36 Korunovacni, as the official one. Why was this decision made? And why does the website of the Russian Embassy in the Czech Republic still have the old name, Under the Chestnuts Square?
Maria Zakharova: I would like to highlight that the Russian Embassy in the Czech Republic regularly and fully comments on everything that happens in bilateral relations or that concerns the Russian foreign mission’s work. News conferences are being held, and social media accounts updated. In addition to this, I can say for my part that changing the address of the Russian Embassy in Prague is a purely technical issue. Any allegations circulating in the media space about a possible transfer of the Russian diplomatic mission to its consular division building are not true.
The thing is that, according to the Prague cadastre, the Embassy officially has two locations – something the City Hall Department of Trade Licence and Civil Law Issues informed us of after renaming Under the Chestnuts Square, which we previously used as the official address of the diplomatic mission. Given the legal equivalence of the two addresses, the Embassy preferred to refrain from using the new name and decided to keep the tradition of using the name that had existed in Prague for years, which is 34 Korunovacni Street.
In accordance with the established practice, the diplomatic mission notified the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a note, and the ministry accepted this purely technical decision. Once the Czech Foreign Ministry sends confirmation, which, we expect, will not take long, the Embassy will post the valid official address on its website.
No need to look for politics where there is none. Better spot it where it really is.
Question: On March 19, you answered my question about Russia helping Afghanistan in the coronavirus response. You said if there is a request, this possibility will be considered. Now that the official appeal has already been received through the interparliamentary exchange, can they expect a positive answer?
Maria Zakharova: The Russian side indeed recently received an appeal from the Afghan parliament asking for assistance to Afghanistan in the coronavirus response.
Our country’s fundamental position is that none of the requests for help should be left unattended, and all available opportunities for assistance should be considered. We are confident that this request will be examined from the same perspective.
For our part, we would like to once again urge the warring Afghan parties to prevent the spread of the coronavirus infection in their territories, and the member states of the international coalition operating in Afghanistan, to maintain the volume of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, including supplies needed for combating the pandemic.
Question: How can you comment on the United States obstructing medical deliveries to Iran?
Maria Zakharova: We believe that Washington’s course of tightening illegitimate unilateral sanctions against Iran, which has been seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, is unacceptable.
In this context we are guided by the position formulated by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit videoconference on March 26. He stressed the need to establish so-called green corridors and a moratorium on restrictions with regard to the supplies of medicines and essential goods as well as their purchases by the countries hit by the pandemic.
The Russian Federation has repeatedly pointed out the illegitimate nature of unilateral US sanctions against Iran and other countries. We strongly urge the United States to lift the restrictions and not to hinder a comprehensive response to the coronavirus.
Together with like-minded partners we have been campaigning against inhumane sanctions which the United States and some of its allies adopted as their main foreign policy tool. These efforts have brought about certain results. In his written address to the G20 leaders, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on removing the existing sanctions against other countries in order to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. A group of US Democratic senators sent a similar letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet made a critical statement on this subject from the human rights perspective.
The present difficult situation in the world has shown the true face of the Western countries, which often use the terms of humanitarian law. It turns out that most of them prefer a different approach. That is deplorable.
Question: How would you comment on the fact that the United States is urging the UN Security Council to evaluate whether the launch of Iran’s military satellite, Noor, was consistent with Security Council Resolution 2231? US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this at a briefing on Wednesday.
Maria Zakharova: This is not the first time that a state which blatantly violates international law and UN Security Council Resolution 2231 tries to shield itself from international blame by groundlessly accusing Iran of non-compliance with Security Council requirements. Such unscrupulous tricks have long discredited themselves and proved their complete inadequacy, which is confirmed by the results of numerous discussions at the UN Security Council on the implementation of Resolution 2231. As you know, neither the resolution itself, nor the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) limit the rights and capabilities of Tehran in its civilian activities in space exploration and the development of relevant national programmes. The futile attempts of some analysts in Washington to present it like Iran’s space rockets can bear nuclear weapons are a pure manipulation that are smashed by reality: Iran has never had and, we hope, will never have nuclear weapons. Iran, as the resolution stipulates, does not develop, test, own or use ballistic missiles that can carry warheads. We want to emphasise that unlike the United States, which surprises the world every day with the news of plans to develop its nuclear potential. Let me remind you that in the past years since the JCPOA was signed, Iran has remained a state with the biggest number of IAEA inspections, who have never found any nuclear weapons there, despite the fact that inspectors are working tirelessly day and night regardless of the coronavirus risks. It seems that somebody in Washington is not very happy that despite unprecedented pressure and difficulties deliberately created by the US authorities Tehran has stubbornly complied with its non-proliferation obligations. Because in this case, the global attention is focused on the faults and violations of the United States itself, which, as always, claims its exceptional nature. In this case, exceptional is the presumptuousness with which the United States manipulates the clauses of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, and the infinitely cynical approach to international law that as our overseas colleagues believe, is mandatory for everyone but them.
This distorted logic became especially clear and vivid in the recent report by the State Department on the implementation of arms control agreements and treaties. Our American colleagues were too shy to mention the JCPOA and Resolution 2231 (apparently, so as not to remind the others about their own violations), but reprimanded Tehran, which, by their own admittance, has not violated anything yet, but in case it does, Washington condemns it beforehand. Unfortunately, US violations of Resolution 2231 are not a forecast, but a diagnosis. Intended for an unprepared audience, the deliberately false statements of high-ranking US officials cannot alter our resolve to continue fighting together with our partners for the preservation of the JCPOA and its implementation in accordance with the agreed goals in a timely manner.