Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow, February 18, 2021
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming talks with Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Mohammed Haneef Atmar
- APEC Forum
- Visit to Kazakhstan by the Healthcare Ministry’s Chief Children’s Surgeon for Siberian Federal District Yury Kozlov
- Russia’s humanitarian aid under the UN World Food Programme reaches Palestine
- Update on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
- Ukraine and Western countries refuse to back Russia’s OSCE initiative to settle the conflict in Donbass
- US naval exercise in the Black Sea
- NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg remarks on the Alliance’s concept of containing Russia and China
- The German Government’s response to the question on Navalny’s case by the Alternative for Germany party in the Bundestag
- German special services’ cooperation with Alexey Navalny
- Foreign Minister Lavrov’s message to the OPCW Director-General and the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Sweden
- Court verdicts on yellow vests in France
- British plan for settling the Cyprus issue
- Remarks by Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany Andrey Melnik
- Delays in deportation case of Nazi criminal Helmut Oberlander in Canada
- Nazi torchlight march prohibited in Bulgaria
- Declaration of Vladimir Solovyov persona non grata in Latvia
- Moldova “forbids” Russian Ambassador in Chisinau to attend Transnistria events
- Russian demarche in connection with Estonia’s provocative actions
- Update on Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko imprisoned in the United States
- The Russian Language and Culture Centre closes in Krakow
- Anniversaries of independence of Saint Lucia, Guyana and the Dominican Republic
- Brunei Darussalam National Day
- Ankara and Baku’s potential plans to create hotbeds of tension and undermine the efforts of the international community to promote the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
- The status of Christian cultural and historical landmarks in Turkey
- Russia’s position on the prospects for reaching peace in Afghanistan in the context of regional developments
- Prospects for implementing the Minsk agreements
- Russia’s possible response to various unfriendly moves by Britain
- Videos showing violence towards protesters in Western countries
- Specific developments in Russian-German relations
On February 24-27, 2021, Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Mohammed Haneef Atmar will visit Moscow for talks with his Russian colleague Sergey Lavrov and other officials.
The ministers plan to discuss various aspects of bilateral relations, including trade and economic ties, as well as peaceful settlement in Afghanistan and the need to counter the threats of terrorism and drug trafficking.
Russia lays emphasis on the promotion of national reconciliation in Afghanistan and the cessation of the long-standing armed conflict in the country. We are consistently advocating for the development of Afghanistan as a peaceful, independent and neutral state, free of terrorism and drugs, and having good relations with its neighbours, the other countries in the region, and the rest of the world.
The current condition of the world economy increases the need to promote regional cooperation, which many countries view as an effective tool in overcoming the adverse consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. One such time-tested regional mechanism is the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, in which Russia has been playing an active part since 1998.
The annual APEC cycle on preparing its summit next November has just begun. Over 40 Russian ministries, departments, public and private companies, research centres and public organisations are involved in this work. They take part in the activities of over 60 APEC expert groups and dialogue venues.
In the APEC format, we focus on creating a free, nondiscriminatory, transparent and predictable trade and investment environment, the digitalisation of different economic sectors and government management systems, and ensuring innovative sustainable development and secure growth.
Faced with the current challenges, we consider it a priority to provide fair access to vaccines and maintain constructive cooperation in developing, producing and distributing diagnostic devices and medications. The initiative on economic growth and integration of remote territories is one of Russia’s successful projects within the forum. We intend to pay special attention to cooperation between APEC and other regional associations with a view to advancing President Vladimir Putin’s initiative on creating the Greater Eurasian Partnership.
We regularly inform you about the assistance Russia provides to neighbouring countries and other countries fighting the pandemic. I would like to give you some examples of this during today’s briefing.
Russia and Kazakhstan have managed to transform the challenges of fighting the coronavirus pandemic into more opportunities for them, primarily in expanding ties in healthcare between the two countries. This month Kazakhstan started vaccinating its population with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine made at the Karaganda Pharmaceutical Integrated Plant.
Yury Kozlov, Chief Children’s Surgeon for the Siberian Federal District at the Russian Healthcare Ministry, visited Kazakhstan on February 5-12. The main reason for the distinguished Russian doctor’s visit was to hold instructional classes for the School of Children’s Surgeons. Within a week, Kozlov performed more than ten surgeries at Nur-Sultan and Almaty’s leading surgery centres that were broadcast live on a specialised website. He gave several presentations on advanced methods and practices used in infant, baby and child surgery, including those he developed himself. He delivered lectures to local students from medical colleges and to young surgeons.
Medical personnel and the public at large in Kazakhstan showed a lot of enthusiasm for the visit. We are grateful to our friends for the warm reception of our doctor. As for us, we will continue providing the necessary support for the mutually-enriching educational missions that are carried out by our countries’ specialists.
On February 11 this year, a ceremony to transfer 936 tonnes of vitamin-rich wheat flour, another shipment intended for Palestine, to UN World Food Programme (WFP) officials took place at the port of Ashdod, Israel. Wheat flour was delivered by the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry as part of Russia’s voluntary donations to the WFP Fund. Palestine is traditionally among the recipients of humanitarian aid from Russia under the UN programme.
The above shipment will be delivered to the Gaza Strip and distributed among the needy in late February-early March this year. Another 1,008 tonnes of flour intended for the Palestinians living on the West Bank is in the final stage of clearing customs.
The World Food Programme is our key partner in providing humanitarian aid to Palestine as part of the UN-led effort.
In addition, Russia regularly sends humanitarian aid to the CIS countries, as well as Middle Eastern and African countries. We also send food to the Caribbean and Latin American countries. Of late, Russia has been expanding the geography of its humanitarian activities, along with diversifying them. Russia combines its food supplies to many countries with, among other things, funding and sending experts to help these countries implement their ambitious programmes seeking to ensure that children have meals at schools regularly.
We have received many inquiries concerning the current state of affairs in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement.
The situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict area has remained stable over the past several days. No ceasefire violations have been recorded. The Russian peacekeeping contingent is monitoring the situation from 27 observation posts, and continues to clear the area of explosives and ensure the refugees’ safe return to their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The implementation of the declarations by the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia of November 9, 2020 and January 11, 2021 was discussed during telephone conversations between President Vladimir Putin and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov on February 17, as well as during Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Foreign Minister of Armenia Ara Ayvazyan in Moscow.
The trilateral working group co-chaired by the deputy prime ministers of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia remains operational. Information about the results of the group’s second meeting, which was held via videoconference on February 12, is posted on the Russian Government website.
Last week, Russia submitted to the OSCE a draft statement by the OSCE Permanent Council to support the Package of Measures to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine. As you may recall, this document was adopted six years ago by Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk with the participation of Russia and the OSCE, and approved by the Normandy format members and a UN Security Council resolution, and thus became part of international law and the only viable path to achieving a settlement, which many of our foreign colleagues never stop to say.
Russia’s current OSCE initiative is the result of Kiev’s never-ending sabotage of the Minsk agreements and its attempts to distort and revise the content and sequence of the steps prescribed therein. Statements to this effect have often been made by the Ukrainian leaders, but they failed to receive a proper response from international organisations, or France and Germany as mediators of the peace process.
Our brief draft was straightforward. It contained three clauses: to support the Package of Measures approved by the UN Security Council, to call for its early implementation, and to encourage OSCE bodies to provide corresponding assistance.
It may appear that there is nothing new about this, just confirmation of the key points of what the international community has already agreed on. No one at the OSCE should have objected to this approach, since all countries involved have come up with similar ideas at the Permanent Council weekly meetings. At least, they said so many times trying to convince us of their sincere positions. We believed that the unanimous approval of this statement would send a clear message to Kiev, as well as to Donetsk and Lugansk, and would encourage them to implement the Package of Measures and to promote peace in Donbass.
We were surprised to find that Ukraine and the Western countries refused to support Russia’s initiative. During two rounds of consultations, they tried to impose wording that goes beyond the Package of Measures and the UN Security Council resolution, which eventually blocked the adoption of the document. It is especially regrettable that our Normandy format partners – Germany and France, as well as Sweden, the OSCE Chair, whose special representative coordinates the Contact Group’s activities – did not support the initiative.
Our partners’ behaviour speaks volumes about many things (including their “sincerity”) and begs the legitimate question: What exactly is behind their reluctance to confirm in writing things that they themselves have been saying and what was officially adopted by the Contact Group six years ago and approved by the Normandy format members and the UN Security Council? I would like to believe that this response is not covering up plans to dismantle the Minsk agreements and to resolve the Donbass problem by force. Our partners will need to prove that through their actions.
We are convinced that the conflict in eastern Ukraine can only be settled peacefully through direct talks between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk based on the Package of Measures, to which there is no alternative. We regret the OSCE rejecting our initiative to support it and once again call for the genuine implementation of its provisions in full and on a consistent basis.
We will take into account our partners’ response to Russia’s initiative when determining our position regarding the OSCE’s further role in resolving the domestic Ukraine crisis.
We became aware that on February 9, a group of US and Turkish naval ships supported by aircraft held a joint maritime exercise in Black Sea waters to practice hunting for a simulated enemy’s submarine. The ships were the Arleigh Burke-class USS Donald Cook and the USS Porter, a P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, the Turkish frigates TCG Orucreis and TCG Turgutreis as well as two F-16 fighters and a reconnaissance plane.
Officials from the Pentagon and the State Department released provocative-sounding statements about Washington and its allies allegedly “contributing to the strengthening of security in Europe” with this exercise. To achieve increased security, as we noted in the previous news story, the implementation of the Minsk agreements must be facilitated, which would be a real contribution to the process. The US, which is deeply involved in Ukraine developments, if not in the Minsk format, could do much by urging Kiev to abide by its commitments as approved in the UN Security Council resolution. This would be a true contribution to enhancing security in Europe. It is highly questionable for everyone to see how F-16 jets would do that.
Anyone can see that the exercise has a clear anti-Russia push. It was held right at Russia’s borders, near our Black Sea coast, to be exact, and thus threatens peace and stability. It seems as though the US 6th Fleet wants to find an enemy in the Black Sea, but they are searching in vain.
NATO officials seem to be intrinsically unwilling to objectively assess their role in the NATO-Russia relations crisis.
In recent years, we have repeatedly submitted for consideration initiatives to search for ways of exiting this crisis, in particular, to decrease tensions, and to create a truly equal system of European and Euro-Atlantic security. None of our efforts have received a meaningful response, while the Russia-NATO Council, established in 2002, remains suspended. Do you recall at whose initiative? Not Russia’s.
We have been providing regular and detailed coverage of this subject. In particular, our relations, and the NATO’s approaches to interaction with Russia were covered at the December 3, 2020 briefing. Regrettably, nothing has changed since then. That commentary can be considered valid today, too.
We have noted the German Government’s response to the Alternative for Germany opposition party’s inquiry on Alexey Navalny’s case in the Bundestag, which was published on February 15, 2021. You can read these materials. I would like to comment on them because there were many questions.
It follows from the German Government’s response that on August 22-31, 2020, Alexey Navalny was guarded by security services personnel: first, a security group from the German Federal Criminal Police Office and later the criminal police departments of federal lands. In other words, the Government does not deny that he was guarded and controlled by security services.
It is also claimed that traces of a combat chemical agent in Navalny’s biomaterials coincided with those found on “the poisoned bottle” and “other things.” However, the government said in its response that a decision on whether these traces could be considered important material evidence is within the competence of Russian law. I have a question in this context. If Berlin says officially that this issue is within the competence of Russia law, why are we denied these materials?
According to the German government’s information, Alexey Navalny’s wife Yulia Navalny and Press Secretary Kira Yarmysh were on a plane flying from Omsk to Berlin. Interestingly, in an interview with the BBC Russian Service of September 18, 2020, Maria Pevchikh claimed that she accompanied the blogger rather than Kira Yarmysh. It follows from the same interview that “the poisoned bottle” with the traces of Novichok that was later sent to a Bundeswehr laboratory, was also aboard of the same plane. Now they’re in a tangle. I’m not sure they can come up with something else. The direct incongruities in Berlin’s statements (this is not a journalism investigation but Germany’s official position) are beyond understanding. One gets the impression that these are deliberate attempts to “cover the tracks” of Maria Pevchikh. By the way, her national citizenship is unclear. It would be good to specify this. Supposedly, the German government does not know whether she visited Mr Navalny in the hospital. Our German partners are unable to give a sensible reply to any of our questions.
And, finally, the main point, almost a scandal. It appears that the German authorities were not afraid that Alexey Navalny’s companions might have been “poisoned” because if they had, they would have developed similar symptoms by the time the evidence of Novichok poisoning was received. Since they had no symptoms, they were not examined at all. But maybe there were no symptoms because there was no poisoning?
The German government is indirectly admitting that this version has the right to exist because in its response it said that it “does not have information as to whether the companions were examined to identify Novichok poisoning as a result of carrying objects with traces of a poisoning substance.” As for observing the necessary precautions when carrying these items, the German government “does not have any information or even an excuse for receiving it.”
We again urge Berlin to stop confusing the international public. Germany continues to persistently and somewhat obviously conceal the real circumstances of the Alexey Navalny incident and of his stay in Germany not only from Russia but also from its own MPs. Berlin does not share any details even with its own allies. Naturally, this brings into doubt the sincerity of Germany’s professed humanitarian motives in this context.
We must state once again that Berlin still does not intend to provide answers to most of the key questions on this incident. There is no evidence of the accusations made, no specific conclusions from expert examinations, and an absence of many other things that are badly needed to understand what happened. The inquiries of the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office are ignored, and no substantive, exhaustive answers are given. We will continue seeking explanations for the main details of the incident from the German authorities.
A discussion in the media on Western special services’ role in Mr Navalny’s “investigative files” has come to our attention. In particular, many commentators refuse to consider the access to materials in the Dresden Archives of the GDR Ministry for State Security (Stasi) which was provided to him as proof of the special services of foreign states’ links with Alexey Navalny.
In accordance with the German Stasi Files Act of 1991, anyone can access this archive, but only with the German competent authorities’ permission. We hear implausible statements to the effect that the German authorities allegedly knew nothing about the blogger’s activities and were not interested in them.
On the other hand, suspicions that the German authorities could have deliberately facilitated access to the Stasi files for Mr Navalny and even directed him to specific documents are now looking more convincing. This assumption is corroborated by the fact that throughout the entire period following the unification of Germany, notorious Stasi “dirt” was occasionally used to settle scores with political opponents and persecute unwanted individuals. Scandals involving Stasi archives arose, among other things, around such iconic figures as former chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Kohl. The fact that a large part of the Stasi archives ended up in the United States after 1990 and then returned to Germany only after a long time causes even more distrust in what Berlin is saying.
Thus, there is good reason to believe that in this case Berlin has deliberately committed an openly unfriendly act towards Russia, which is yet another piece in large-scale anti-Russia provocation, which the German authorities are diligently fomenting around the situation with Mr Navalny with the goal of interfering in our country’s internal affairs and thus exerting influence on the political situation in Russia.
As you may be aware, an open letter to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov by Russian neurologist Vitaly Kozak who works in Switzerland was posted online in late January. In it, he posed a number of difficult and uncomfortable questions related to the article in The Lancet journal about the alleged use of a chemical warfare agent against Mr Navalny. The letter raises a number of important questions to which our Western colleagues still haven’t clearly responded. The media took note of the issues mentioned by the doctor as well. In this regard, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answers to some of the questions asked in the letter were published on February 8.
After that, the Foreign Ministry sent Sergey Lavrov’s message to OPCW Director General Fernando Arias and the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Sweden with a request to comment on concerns expressed in the letter. The letter itself and an interview with Sergey Lavrov with his comments were attached to this message.
We look forward to the OPCW, Berlin, Paris and Stockholm responding publicly. As you are aware, they are not known for modest evaluations or mild verdicts. Colleagues, it’s time to start providing evidence and do so as zealously as when you were providing your earlier assessments.
As a matter of fact, the OPCW, as well as our European colleagues, could have taken up this matter and provided authoritative opinions on the circumstances contained in the letter themselves, without outside prompting, but it appears that we need to come up with a reminder. Serious accusations have been made, and the world is intrigued. Let’s get to work.
After the unauthorised protests in Russia in January, which included attacks against law-enforcement officers, representatives from the “progressive and liberal” West subjected Russia to unjustified and inappropriately scathing criticism. It went beyond the framework of diplomacy and was often just undisguised interference in our domestic affairs. Appeals were made to immediately release those who violated public order and that were subject to administrative liability and in some cases to criminal liability under Russian law. Unfortunately, our French colleagues joined this chorus.
In this context, we would like to advise our partners that focused on Russia to look at their own problems – they have enough to deal with. France is not doing well in many respects. Traditionally posing as an ardent defender of human rights, France does not stop at using the most stringent legal measures if its authorities believe protesters have upset public order.
The French “Themis” sentences against those convicted in the yellow vest movement are indicative. According to available estimates, about 12,000 demonstrators were detained and over 3,000 court verdicts were handed down, of which, one third included actual prison sentences.
The favourite method of French law enforcement bodies is to accuse protesters of “encroaching on a government authority representative.” French courts tend to interpret this at will. Thus, a court in Nice sentenced four demonstrators to a suspended sentence of two months and a fine of 7,000 euros for anti-police posters, while a court in Marseille imposed on a demonstrator a fine of 900 euros and damages amounting to 1,000 euros for insulting a policeman.
These “peculiarities” in the approaches of the French authorities to the demonstrators did not go unnoticed by the international public. This is borne out by the recent Amnesty International report “France: Arrested for Protest: Weaponising the Law to Crackdown on Peaceful Protesters in France.” The Economist dropped France’s ranking in its Democracy Index. Every country has its problems. France and other countries need to focus on their own problems. As soon as they are reduced to none or are about to disappear forever, we will be happy to listen to their opinion and be interested in their experience of success. Their recommendations would be complete, interesting and relevant, but not at this point.
While the French authorities are engaged in propaganda and feel sorry for the plight of democracy in other countries, protesting citizens from the Fifth Republic have the opportunity to feel all the “justice” and “democratic benefits” of the French judicial machine.
Russia supports the efforts of the international community to achieve a fair, viable and comprehensive solution to the Cyprus issue. However, as we have said many times, there should be no pressure on either party. It is unacceptable to impose a blueprint on them for a settlement from the outside or rigid deadlines or tailor UN assistance to the indicators of progress at the talks.
The Cypriots themselves must assess the various external promptings on the alternatives for a settlement. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, we advocate the modalities endorsed by the resolutions of the UN Security Council, which imply the creation of a dual zone and a two-community federation with common international legal standing, sovereignty and citizenship based on agreements to be reached by both Cypriot communities. That said, any change in the basic parameters must be reviewed by the UN Security Council.
We have noted comments by Ukraine’s Ambassador in Berlin to the DPA state news agency regarding the German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s interview with the Rheinische Post of February 6, 2021.
The Ukrainian diplomat blamed the Federal President for distorting history and underestimating the number of Ukrainian victims in the fight against Nazism. He went as far as demanding a reshuffle of the historical memory culture established in Germany since it allegedly does not fully highlight the role of the Ukrainian people in the victory in World War II, and also called on the Bundestag to convene a special session and take a decision on building a special monument in Berlin to commemorate Ukrainian victims of the war.
Such calls to pay tribute to the dead sound cynical from a representative of a nation which annually votes down the UNGA resolution on countering the glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
The Ukrainian diplomat should be taking a closer look at the situation in Ukraine where local collaborators and Nazi proxies from OUN–UPA (Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists—Ukrainian Insurgent Army) are elevated to national hero status and are honoured with torch marches comparable with the 1930s Nazi marches while the Ukrainian Institute of Historical Memory is in a court battle over the status of the Galicia SS Division insignia as a non-Nazi symbol.
Those who are so eagerly honoured by Kiev now fought during the Great Patriotic War against Soviet and Polish guerrillas, exterminated civilians and joined Jewish pogroms. It would be a good idea to disclose that as well.
Nevertheless, the majority of Ukrainians fought for the freedom of our common homeland in the ranks of the Red Army, which is well remembered in Russia, alongside all the ethnic groups of the former Soviet Union. The memory of the priceless Victory, one for all, which was attained at incredible cost, is not to be forgotten. Attempts to “split” this heroic deed by the Soviet people and take its pieces away to “national flats” are unacceptable, all the more so since the Ukrainian SSR, as well as modern Ukraine, was a multi-ethnic republic. Currently it is a multi-ethnic state that seems to be trying to forget that. This is what loyalty to historical truth is all about.
We regret that official Berlin felt nothing but “bafflement” at yet another despicable stunt aimed at the German head of state by the Ukrainian ambassador accredited there. Kiev’s incumbent authorities should be regularly reminded that all peoples of Europe were victims of Nazism, and it was impossible to defeat it without a common effort.
The hearing on the deportation of Nazi criminal Helmut Oberlander, resident of Canada, has been delayed again. During World War II, Oberlander served in the Nazi punitive unit Sonderkommando SS-10A, which was involved in the massacre of 214 orphans in Yeysk in 1942 and over 30,000 people in the Rostov Region. His lawyers have been granted a stay of proceedings due to the defendant’s ill health.
We believe that the use of legal loopholes to draw out the hearing of Oberlander’s case is absolutely unacceptable. Incidentally, what does the Ukrainian Ambassador to Canada think of this matter? We are waiting for commentary, statements and debates. We share the opinion of the leading Jewish Canadian human rights organisations, which demand that this Nazi collaborator be punished for his crimes against humanity, which have no statute of limitations.
The Canadian authorities obviously hope to settle the deportation case of Nazi criminal Helmut Oberlander based on the precedent with Vladimir Katriuk, who escaped punishment for his involvement in the Khatyn massacre in Belarus.
This year, the Sofia mayor’s office has again prohibited the neo-Nazi torchlight Lukov March, held to glorify the criminal and inhuman Nazi ideology. The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, Interior Ministry and Prosecutor’s Office welcomed that decision, saying that such xenophobic meetings are unacceptable.
Meetings honouring WWII Bulgarian General Hristo Lukov known for his fascist and anti-Semitic views were held in the capital of Bulgaria between 2003 and 2019.
Russia has been consistently urging the international community to join ranks in the fight against the glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and aggressive nationalism and is the initiator of the annual adoption of a UN General Assembly resolution to this effect. We are pleased to note that this joint work is yielding positive results.
We believe that any attempts to rehabilitate Nazi ideology and to falsify history, including in the context of the 80th anniversary of the start of the Nazi aggression against the Soviet Union we will mark this year, must be cut short.
Today the Latvian authorities have added Russian journalist Vladimir Solovyov to the list of personae non grata. The Foreign Minister of Latvia accused Solovyov of the “glorification of the crimes of Nazism.”
To begin with, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics has posted a fake story. We believe that the only reasonable explanation for this is the prohibition of the broadcasting of VGTRK and RT television channels in Latvia. The policy of banning “undesirable” channels as part of the general campaign of smothering Russian and Russian-language media resources in the Baltics has led to the proliferation of fake information by Edgars Rinkevics. He simply had no opportunity to watch. Otherwise, the Latvian Foreign Minister would have known that Vladimir Solovyov is one of the most ardent anti-fascists devoting a great deal of his air time to fighting the Nazi plague.
In general, the Latvian authorities’ cynical policy has gone beyond the pale. This is more than just cynicism. A loose definition won’t do in this case. We should think about a serious assessment, primarily a legal one of this situation. We would like Mr Rinkevics to return to reality. If the Latvian authorities really want to fight Nazism, he should stop turning a blind eye to the torchlight marches held by Latvian citizens in honour of the Latvian Legion of Waffen SS. They should stop tearing down and prevent the desecration of monuments to the Soviet soldiers who gave their lives for the liberation of the Baltics from Nazism.
Otherwise, in accordance with the logic of Mr Rinkevics, many citizens of the neighbouring Baltic countries should be declared personae non grata, along with some Latvian officials, for example, Defence Minister Artis Pabriks. In September 2019, he took part in a commemoration ceremony in the town of More, where in 1944 the 19th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (2nd Latvian) was holding up the Red Army advance towards Riga for a week. Artis Pabriks said about members of the Latvian Legion: “It is our duty to honour these Latvian patriots from the depths of our soul. Latvian legionnaires are the pride of the Latvian people and the state.”
I don’t remember Rinkevics posting a tweet condemning the statements glorifying Nazism, fascism and other criminal ideologies made by his own Defence Minister.
Latvian officials can hardly be described as anti-fascists considering that in 2020 Latvia, together with the other EU member states, voted against the adoption of the UN General Assembly resolution on countering the glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
Several days ago now, the press service of Moldova’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration responded ambiguously to the Russian Ambassador’s attending an event in Transnistria on February 10, 2021 via videoconference. In their comment, officials of the press service urged diplomats, accredited to the country, to refrain from attending events, organised by “Tiraspol agencies.”
This response causes dismay. Chisinau realises that Russia does not call into question the territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova, that it is acting as a guarantor and mediator of the Transnistria peace settlement, and that it advocates the sustainable development of Russian-Moldovan relations in the spirit of principles, stipulated by the bilateral Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation of 2001. The actions of the Russian Ambassador to Moldova completely meet these principles.
Chisinau should also realise that it is impossible to fulfil mediatory functions in the Transnistria peace settlement without maintaining contacts with the parties to the conflict. In addition to this, the duties of any ambassador include efforts to expand ties with the receiving country’s regions and to maintain contacts with the local diaspora of his or her country. The Embassy of Moldova to Russia conducts such work, including by making trips to the Russian regions, and this causes no allergic Russian response, all the more so when this implies videoconferences.
We expect that our Moldovan partners refrain from politicising the activities of the Russian Embassy in Chisinau.
Russia is consistently working to expand neighbourly relations with border countries, including Estonia.
However, it is clear that our partners should also strive to improve relations. Unfortunately, the Estonian party has once again shown that it is not prepared to overcome its completely unprovoked hostility towards Russia.
It appears that the Estonian authorities have decided to display loyalty towards their handlers in Washington and Brussels, having absolutely groundlessly granted persona non grata status to a diplomat from the Russian Embassy in Tallinn. The diplomat concerned was dealing with cultural and educational matters or those fields where our countries still maintain cooperation.
Russia has responded quickly. We have summoned the Ambassador of Estonia to Russia, voiced our resolute protest and announced the expulsion of a diplomat from the Estonian diplomatic mission.
We continue to closely monitor all developments concerning Russian citizens imprisoned and detained in the United States. We are doing our absolute best to improve the harsh and sometimes inhumane conditions in which they are kept. You can read about it in Maria Butina’s book, which does not make for light reading but it helps understand the actual state of affairs. In addition to poor incarceration conditions, our citizens are exposed to a serious risk of contracting COVID-19.
We are particularly concerned about civil aviation pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in a fabricated case based on “testimony” by American stool-pigeon agents. For ten years, the Russian citizen, whose health was seriously undermined, has been dealing with cynical disregard for his problems and unwillingness of US officials to provide him with the medical help that he needs. Unfortunately, Russian diplomats’ numerous requests for a full-fledged medical examination and required medical procedures continue to be ignored.
The issue of Konstantin Yaroshenko’s possible release and return to Russia for humanitarian reasons has been raised with US officials at different levels. However, Washington, which is consumed with protecting human rights anywhere but at home, is ignoring the obvious and undisputable facts and insisting on the validity of the unjust and deliberately politicised verdict issued by the court in New York.
Konstantin Yaroshenko was detained following US agents’ lead in Liberia, where, in the course of a brutal interrogation, he was subjected to torture resulting in lost teeth and serious damage to his internal organs. Then the Russian citizen was transported to the United States to a so-called court hearing which demonstrated a complete absence of even a rudimentary due judicial process.
For his principled denial of guilt, Konstantin Yaroshenko was sentenced to 20 years in prison, a huge term according to normal standards but commonplace in the “democratic America.”
We will continue to vigorously seek Konstantin Yaroshenko’s speedy release and the release of other Russian citizens who were unjustly subjected to repression in the United States. It would be helpful if US media reporting on Paul Whelan and his allegedly inhumane prison conditions in Russia would occasionally remember Konstantin Yaroshenko, and if the self-censorship, in which US media outlets are completely bogged down, would make an exception for a Russian citizen who has already been in prison for ten years. We will not back down and we will not leave the White House Administration alone. We will demand that the legal rights of Russian citizens caught in the grinder of American punitive justice be observed.
The Russian Language and Culture Centre, created in 2008 at the initiative of the Russkiy Mir Foundation at the Teacher Training University in Krakow, closed down on February 15. The university decided to terminate cooperation without providing any explanation for the cause of the decision. We are sorry to hear this.
The Centre was instrumental in promoting bilateral cooperation in education for more than 10 years. During this time, hundreds of students studied Russian as a foreign language and over 600 different functions were held there with the participation of local students and teaching staff, including festivals, contests, exhibitions, workshops and Q&A sessions with Russian cultural figures. Every year, the centre hosted an international European-standard exam for proficiency in Russian as a foreign language.
Of course, the University of Krakow can make whatever decisions it sees fit. However, it should be noted that by doing so Poland is severing another bond in Russian-Polish cultural cooperation.
As our good tradition has it, I would like to introduce a Caribbean motif to our meeting in the run-up to the anniversaries of independence of Saint Lucia (February 22, 1979), the Cooperative Republic of Guyana (February 23, 1970) and the Dominican Republic (February 27, 1844).
The history of these countries is replete with landmark events that determined the entire region’s transition from the era of colonial dependence to modern democratic states that advocate compliance with universally recognised principles and norms of international law. A lot happened here, including oppression on the part of the European colonial states, and attempts to restore foreign rule, including foreign aggressions. Nevertheless, despite the dramatic trials, the peoples of these countries formed their own identity and chose a path of independence.
Despite the distance between us, Castries, Georgetown and Santo Domingo are Russia’s important partners and kindred spirits who defend their sovereignty and national interests and also serve as a bridge connecting the Caribbean region with our country.
We are linked by multifaceted cooperation with the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, including in the investment sphere. The many years during which Russian economic operator RUSAL has been active in that country’s mining industry are a case in point.
Saint Lucia and the Dominican Republic are praised by our people as excellent recreation and tourism destinations. Of course, the pandemic has taken its toll, but hopefully things will get back to normal after it’s over.
We are pleased to have good friends in that region through the people of Saint Lucia, Guyana and the Dominican Republic, who are open to expanding constructive cooperation based on mutual respect and equality, both in bilateral and multilateral dimensions.
I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate, on behalf of the Ministry, the peoples of these countries and their governments on the occasion of this holiday and wish them peace and prosperity.
February 23 is Brunei Darussalam National Day.
Since 1888, the Sultanate has been part of the British Empire. During World War II, in 1942-1945, it was under Japanese occupation, after which it returned to the United Kingdom.
The constitution adopted in 1959 meant autonomy from London only in matters of internal self-government. It took the Brunei people several more decades to assert their sovereignty. As a result of political and diplomatic efforts, and not without the support of ASEAN member states, in 1984, an agreement was signed with Great Britain on granting genuine independence to the Sultanate.
Brunei chairs ASEAN this year. We are willing to work closely with it in order to comprehensively promote Russia's strategic partnership with ASEAN. We reiterate our unwavering commitment to promoting our mutually beneficial bilateral ties.
In the run-up to the national holiday, we would like to wish peace and prosperity to the friendly nation of the State of Brunei Darussalam.
Question: The ultra-right nationalist Turkish party and the attendant extremist neo-Nazi organisation Grey Wolves have stated their intention to implement certain projects on occupied Artsakh territories, including the city of Shusha. Does not the presence of foreign forces preaching the ideology of neo-Nazism and using terror as the main method for achieving their goals threaten Nagorno Karabakh and regional security? The top leaders of Turkey and Azerbaijan have approved the implementation of specific projects by these forces. Does not this highlight the plans of Ankara and Baku to set up hotbeds of tension in the region and neighbouring countries, and to undermine the international community’s efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict by peaceful means?
Maria Zakharova: We have no information about these plans. Nagorno Karabakh is now returning to peaceful life through collective efforts following the agreements made between the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia on November 9, 2020 and January 11, 2021. To accomplish this, Armenia, Azerbaijan and all neighbouring countries should act in unison and in line with common positions and should help launch dialogue between all regional nations, help de-block economic and transport ties and protect historical and cultural landmarks. Regarding common positions, it is necessary to establish lasting peace, first and foremost. Consequently, people returning to the region will reinstate peaceful life in various fields, including in the economy, finance, economic links, transport, logistics and many other fields associated with normal life. All of us should remember this.
Question: Two Armenian churches are on sale in Turkey. Numerous Christian churches and cemeteries are also being destroyed, and competent Turkish agencies are not responding to this in any way. Is it possible to trust statements about regional peace and stability against the backdrop of such vandalism with regard to cultural and historical landmarks?
Maria Zakharova: I will now probably deviate from the formal part, but, speaking of real-estate sales, I cannot provide any assessment for the time being. I was surprised to learn about the practice of selling cultural facilities worldwide. I will refrain from personal assessments, but, under this widespread practice, cultural facilities are converted into houses, shopping centres and even night clubs. In this case, we are talking about the domestic national legislation of each state. We have to proceed from this assumption. Regarding the demolition of religious facilities and historical landmarks, one should know the specific context. You have merely mentioned this aspect, but you have failed to provide any hard evidence. If you believe that Russia should somehow comment on this, and that there is an international aspect here, please provide some specific examples. Otherwise, it is rather difficult to comment on this. You are perfectly aware of the Russian position that, among other things, hinges on approaches, voiced at international venues. This position is linked with the need to treat religious facilities and historical landmarks with care.
In this case, we have to know the facts before replying to your question. I will be able to comment on this if you send such facts to us, and if there are certain components dealing with Russian or international positions.
Question: The intra-Afghan talks in Qatar have been deadlocked, which has resulted in an outbreak of violence in Afghanistan. At the same time, two weeks ago official talks were held with a Taliban delegation in Moscow. What is Russia’s position on the possibility of restoring peace in the region in this situation?
Maria Zakharova: Indeed, the parties to the conflict in Afghanistan, wrangling over technical matters, have not even started discussing the main aspects of national reconciliation such as the future system of governance, a lasting ceasefire and other issues of vital significance at this moment.
This deadlock was one of the main issues discussed at the Moscow consultations between Special Presidential Representative for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov and a delegation of the Taliban’s political office. The Russian official pointed out the importance of launching a substantive intra-Afghan dialogue as soon as possible. The Taliban delegates reaffirmed their commitment to constructive talks with the Kabul delegation and to the Doha accords with the United States.
We believe that additional efforts should be made in this situation to boost the intra-Afghan reconciliation process. We intend to continue working towards this end within the framework of the extended group of Russia, the United States and China plus Pakistan. We also hope that Iran will join the group. One more meeting could be held within the Moscow format. If necessary, and if the concerned members of the intra-Afghan negotiations agree, we will propose holding this dialogue in Moscow.
Today I have already announced the upcoming talks between the foreign ministers of Russia and Afghanistan, during which this issue will be discussed as well.
Question: You have said at the beginning of today’s briefing that Kiev continues to sabotage the Minsk agreements and that the international community is not responding to this. In light of the continued shelling (it was reported the other day that a school in the Lugansk People’s Republic had been damaged), alarming statements have been made, including by members of the negotiating group, that the Ukrainian Armed Forces would retaliate if shooting continued from Donbass. Attempts are being made to prevent the implementation of the Minsk agreements.
What could Russia do to attract international attention to Kiev’s criminal activities and to prevent new provocations against civilians in Donbass? Is there actual risk of disruption of the Minsk agreements?
Maria Zakharova: I have already spoken a great deal on this subject today. I believe I have answered your question as well. We have submitted one of our initiatives to the OSCE, but our so-called Western partners have blocked its implementation. We continue urging the Normandy format participants and all other countries that are curating Kiev in one way or another to convince the Ukrainian authorities to implement the Minsk agreements.
As for Donbass, we are above all providing humanitarian assistance. This is a difficult period, especially for those who are living in an active phase of the conflict, considering the coronavirus pandemic and many other serious problems. As you are aware, Moscow has been providing humanitarian assistance and support throughout the past years.
Question: Would you comment on Britain’s call to bar Russia and China from the UK defence supply chain, as well as the accusations of espionage? Will we give an equivalent response?
Maria Zakharova: As far as I can see, you are referring to the recent ideas of the House of Commons’ Defence Committee. I believe that their Russian law-making counterparts may well respond to that. After all, there is the tool of parliamentary diplomacy. I believe that this is a case when it would be right to use it.
It is obvious that some UK quarters are interested in fuelling anti-Russia hysterics and keeping up the myth of the Russian threat. If these ideas take the practical form of unfriendly actions, we will provide an equivalent response. We would like to encourage all our ill-wishers to take the side of good, which amounts to developing civilised relations, first of all, in the interests of our countries’ citizens.
Question: You handed over videos about violence against protesters in Western countries to High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell. Earlier, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also gave them to his Swedish colleague Ann Linde. What was their response? Did they take the time to watch the videos?
Maria Zakharova: The absurdity of the situation is that, in order to see the actions of the police in the EU countries, Brussels does not have to watch Russian videos; all it needs to do is look out the window or just go outside. Instead of participating in illegal campaigns in Russia, Brussels diplomacy should walk the streets of its own cities. Unfortunately, they are not doing this or, when they do, they are zealously pretending nothing is happening.
Aware of this kind of approach, we handed over the materials. I am certain they saw them. I am also certain they have no desire to comment because any comment would come down to having to assess their own problems in their own countries. They do not like to do this but we will keep reminding them.
Question: In early February, the relations between Russia and Europe were once again in a state of crisis. Do you think our dialogue with Germany is dependent on Russia’s relations with the European bureaucracy (the European Commission and other bodies) or, on the contrary, is it the relationship between Moscow and Berlin that will determine the tone of the Russia−Europe dialogue in general? Why is Berlin refusing to build a strategic union with our country and criticising us when it comes to all significant matters?
Maria Zakharova: As one of the major sponsors of European Union institutions, Germany has a substantial influence on the current agenda, the work and policies of the European bureaucracy. The fact that former German Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen is now President of the European Commission speaks for itself. Germany used to be a generator of positive initiatives concerning Russia, including in our bilateral contacts. Unfortunately, now the situation has changed and there is a different state of affairs. It is telling that during Germany’s presidency in the Council of the EU in the second half of 2020, it was at Berlin’s initiative that the European Union introduced not one but several packages of anti-Russian sanctions. That clearly confirms that Germany’s strategy is to use EU resources to implement its chosen course towards full-fledged containment of our country. At the same time, it is unlikely that Germany could have easily accomplished this plan had it been not for the mutual willingness of the European bureaucracy to act in line with it. And it is essentially pointless to even speak about the European bureaucracy’s independence when it comes to foreign policy.
Few EU countries are happy about this state of affairs. Many of our partners are openly displeased and concerned about Germany’s ambition to dominate European foreign policy; however, due to various circumstances, including their notorious financial dependence on the union’s leading economy, they are not able or hesitant to speak out openly against the policy which is being imposed from outside and which puts them at a disadvantage.
When we are told that decisions in the European Union are based on consensus, we always clarify what they mean by consensus. Consensus means unanimous support; it does not mean that those who are against a decision, have to accept it because it is their obligation. Consensus is something different.
We are open to and ready for constructive cooperation with Western Europe based on the principles of mutual respect and consideration for each other’s interests. This is a basis, a foundation of international law. We are committed to it and always talk about it.
The question of why Berlin is pursuing a deterioration of relations with our country should be addressed to our German partners. We do not see any objective benefits for Germany from such policy. Perhaps Germany does but then they should explain it. It would be interesting to hear about it.