Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow, October 21, 2021
- Upcoming talks between Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister of Bolivia Rogelio Mayta
- Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming meeting with UN Under-Secretary-General and Head of the UNOCHA Martin Griffiths
- Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the upcoming 18th Ministerial Meeting of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council
- Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming talks with Foreign Minister of South Korea Chung Eui-yong
- Anniversary of the UN Charter’s entry in force
- Russia-NATO relations
- Update on Ethiopia
- Desecration of a Soviet burial in Poland
- Unveiling a monument to Soviet pilots in Norway
- Unveiling a monument to Yury Gagarin in Portugal
- Mikhail Lermontov monument unveiled in Slovenia
- Fifth anniversary of the Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Centre in Paris
- Deliveries of Russian humanitarian aid to Nicaragua
- Cooperation with the Republic of Guinea in fighting COVID-19
- Russia’s reaction to the responses from the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Sweden during the OPCW Executive Council session
- Statement by German Federal Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer
- Statement by leader of Poland’s ruling party Law and Justice Jaroslaw Kaczynski
- Russia‒Europe relations
- Collective West losing its face
- US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin’s visit to Ukraine
- Normalising relations between Baku and Yerevan
- Russia‒Azerbaijan relations
- Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
- Unblocking economic and transport links in South Caucasus
- Current status of the “three plus three” format
- Developments in Sudan
- Russia‒NATO relations
- Russia‒China bilateral relations
- NATO’s possible steps towards improving relationship with Russia
On October 21-24, Foreign Minister of the Plurinational State of Bolivia Rogelio Mayta will be on an official visit to Moscow. On October 22, he will have talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The ministers will review the status of and prospects for bilateral relations, political dialogue and ways of expanding cooperation in different areas, including efforts to counter the COVID-19 pandemic and improve the contractual legal framework. They plan to focus on opportunities for further promoting bilateral cooperation in the world arena.
Bolivia is one of Russia’s priority partners in Latin America and the Caribbean. Relations with the country are based on the principles of respect and consideration for each other’s interests. Bolivian Foreign Minister Rogelio Mayta’s visit marks a new stage in deepening bilateral cooperation with a view to raising it to a completely new level.
On October 22, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator and Head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. They will discuss UN humanitarian aid for Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Ethiopia, Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh.
On October 25-26, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Tromso, Norway, to attend the 18th Ministerial Meeting of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC).
The meeting is expected to focus on reviewing the outcome of Norway’s two-year BEAC Chairmanship (2019-2021) and to discuss ways of further strengthening regional cooperation between the Council members with an emphasis on project-related activities.
In conclusion, the participants in the meeting will approve a joint declaration, which will lay out key activities the BEAC will pursue in economic cooperation, transport, logistics, environmental protection, climate change, healthcare, cooperation between the member states’ young people, indigenous minorities, and improving coordination between northern regional councils.
It is planned to approve a founding document for the Barents finance mechanism, which will come into effect in 2022. The new tool will help allocate initial capital to support low-budget cross-border regional projects.
In addition, an updated version of the Action Plan on Climate Change for the Barents Cooperation will be approved for the period 2021-2025.
At the meeting, in keeping with the principle of rotation, the next two-year BEAC Chairmanship will pass from Norway to Finland; and in the Barents Regional Council from the Swedish Province of Vasterbotten to the Nenets Autonomous Area.
Several bilateral meetings have been planned on the sidelines of the Ministerial Meeting, of which we will inform you later.
On October 27, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea Chung Eui-yong who will pay a working visit to the Russian Federation.
The ministers plan to discuss topical issues of bilateral relations, including cooperation in practical areas, consult with each other on the situation on the Korean Peninsula and exchange views on key international and regional issues.
The ministers will also take part in the closing ceremony of the Year of Reciprocal Exchanges between the Russian Federation and South Korea, which was timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our countries.
On October 24, the world will celebrate the anniversary of the UN Charter’s entry in force. At a time when the threats facing humanity are growing in number and becoming more complicated, it is more important than ever to maintain unswerving commitment to the UN’s central coordinating role in world affairs. For over 75 years, the UN has embodied the ideals of genuine multilateralism and has been the only venue for devising effective ways of ensuring global stability and security, sustainable socio-economic development and human rights protection.
In turn, the UN Charter is a cornerstone of the current system of international law. This most important document codifies fundamental principles of interstate cooperation, including the sovereign equality of countries, non-interference in their internal affairs and settlement of disputes by peaceful means, without the use or threat of force. Only by strictly abiding by these norms can we all avoid repeating the global conflicts of the past.
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a state that stood at the headwaters of the UN, Russia is ready to do all it can to enhance its reputation and capacity.
There have been many questions on the Russia-NATO relations recently. There were also many comments on that score, in particular the Foreign Ministry’s statement. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov set forth his view on that particular subject in detail but questions are still coming. I would like to say a few more words about Russia-NATO relations in response. Exhaustive explanations of the Russian position on this issue are published on the Foreign Ministry’s website.
The North Atlantic Alliance and its Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg personally did their best – they drove our relations somewhere worse even than in the darkest days of the Cold War. They actually buried the Russia-NATO Council with their reluctance to look together for ways of deescalating tensions. In these conditions, it is impossible and pointless to work with the alliance on the challenges and threats to regional and global security. NATO has itself renounced any practical cooperation and military contacts with Russia.
We heard routine statements by Stoltenberg about a willingness to discuss security issues with Russia. There is no practical benefit to be had and no sense in them. Expelling Russian diplomats while at the same time expressing a desire to speak with Moscow? These diplomats were accredited with NATO to conduct dialogue at the working level. Whom are Brussels officials going to talk to if they have themselves reduced the number of Russian diplomats to zero in several stages, thereby making impossible any dialogue with NATO?
Is it no longer possible to take seriously everything we hear not just from NATO as a bloc but also directly from its Secretary General. He speaks about the need for dialogue and himself expels Russian diplomats from Brussels. He claims that the Russian diplomats were expelled because they were allegedly involved in some kind of “intelligence work” that has not been seen anywhere else. He also says that he will not share any evidence with anyone. We understand why – because there is no evidence. What can we talk about with such officials?
If we continuously hear groundless statements about some intelligence activities of Russian diplomats, I have a direct question for Mr Stoltenberg: What about the intelligence activities of diplomats from NATO countries? Has the intelligence community stopped its activities under the cover of diplomatic immunity or in the guise of international journalists? Has Brussels (NATO Headquarters) sent some signals to NATO member countries about the need to bring home their intelligence officers and secret service agents? What is the North Atlantic Alliance doing in this area? Can we get a specific answer since we have recently heard so many totally unfounded accusations against our country? A simple question: What is NATO doing in this area? Since the NATO Headquarters in Brussels and the Secretary General have initiated the discussion of this issue, let’s talk in practical terms: How many, where, in what countries do NATO intelligence officers work? What secret services do they represent and in what countries? Don’t you want a dialogue on this issue? Answer these questions, please.
We are closely monitoring developments in Ethiopia, primarily, in the areas of Tigray, Afar and Amhara, where clashes between Ethiopian government troops and Tigray People’s Liberation Front groups have recently become fierce again.
We are calling on all parties to the internal conflict in Ethiopia to exercise restraint and declare a ceasefire without preconditions in order to stabilise, step by step, an extremely complicated socioeconomic and humanitarian situation.
We support efforts by High Representative of the African Union for the Horn of Africa region, former president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo. We believe, in this role, Mr Obasanjo, guided by the principle “African solution to African problems”, will throw his weight behind the efforts to normalise the humanitarian situation in the north of Ethiopia.
We expect the differences that have surfaced in relations between the Ethiopian Government and UN agencies to be settled without unnecessary attempts to politicise the process. As we see it, resuming coordination of efforts by UN agencies and the Ethiopian federal authorities will help them provide humanitarian aid more efficiently to people living in the areas of Tigray, Afar and Amhara, who desperately need it.
We believe that preserving the unity and territorial integrity of Ethiopia has no alternative as a basis for resolving all disputes, including a settlement of Ethiopia’s internal conflict in the area of Tigray and gradual stabilisation across the entire country.
On October 9, our compatriots discovered the consequences of yet another outrageous act of vandalism as regards a Soviet military burial in the Polish city of Zambrow in Podlaskie Province. There were inscriptions on an obelisk installed on a fraternal grave; there was rubbish at the entrance and bottles in between grave candles.
There are several fraternal graves in the local cemetery. Buried there are about 12,000 Soviet POWs who died in a Nazi camp in Zambrow in 1941-1942, cadets and commanders of the 86th rifle division summer school who perished in 1941 and 78 soldiers and officers of the 3rd Army of the 2nd Byelorussian Front who were killed in the battles for the city in 1944.
As usual, the Polish authorities habitually did not bother to inform the Russian diplomatic offices about the incident, as is required by Article 3 of the intergovernmental agreement on burial places and places of memory of heroes of war and repression. The local media did not cover this outrageous incident at all.
I would like to ask Polish functionaries who consider themselves dedicated Christians: Where is this caring attitude to the memory of the perished Soviet soldiers you are talking about all the time? Where is respect for the memory of the people who gave their lives for the lives of others? Where is respect for the memory of the dead? You are conniving at such vagaries because, first, you don’t call them immoral, second, never investigate them to the end, and, third, do not clearly state your position on the inadmissibility of such actions.
We have to state with regret that over many years the efforts of the Polish authorities to destroy the Soviet memorial legacy in the country (this is the main reason) and revise history are killing the remnants of the Polish population’s respect for the memory of Soviet warrior liberators and becoming a powerful catalyst of such vandalism. Who are the Polish authorities harming? The answer is obvious – themselves.
We demand that Poland restore the burial in Zambrow to its original state, identify and prosecute the vandals.
In early October, a monument to six Soviet pilots was unveiled during a ceremony in Hasvik on Soroya Island in the north of Norway. The pilots lost their lives when their amphibious aircraft Catalina crashed on June 17, 1944, flying with lend-lease supplies from the US to the USSR.
The unveiling ceremony was attended by the Norwegian Defence Minister, the Governor of Troms and Finnmark, and Russian diplomats.
The opening of the monument in the form of a stele with a bronze bar relief became possible owing to the joint efforts of the Russian foreign and defence ministries and the Norwegian central and local authorities. We would like to make a special mention of the special personal contribution to implementing this important project by Mayor of Hasvik Eva Husby. Owing to her proactive position the names and the memory of the heroism of the Soviet pilots who lost their lives in Norway will be preserved and passed on to the future generations. Thank you very much.
We are sincerely grateful to the Norwegians for their invariably caring attitude to the graves of Red Army soldiers who perished in Norway during World War II. We would also like to thank them for preserving our common history. This is particularly important against the backdrop of the purposeful efforts by other countries (which I have just mentioned) to distort the historical truth and glorify Nazism.
A ceremony of unveiling a bust of legendary Soviet cosmonaut Yury Gagarin took place in Oeiras, a Lisbon suburb, on the 60th anniversary of the first manned flight to space, which is marked this year. The bust was made by sculptor Alexei Leonov and was presented to the city by the international charity fund “Dialogue of cultures – United World.” The ceremony was held in Taguspark – Science and Technology Park.
We would like to recall that earlier the Lisbon Astronomical Observatory presented a postcard issued by the Post of Portugal in honour of this date. The Russian Embassy’s initiative was carried out owing to the active support of the local Rossotrudnichestvo office and the Yury Gararin Association, a Portuguese society of friendship with our country.
We consider these two events to be yet another step towards deepening Russia-Portugal cultural and humanitarian cooperation.
On October 18, an unveiling ceremony for a Mikhail Lermontov bust took place in Kranj, the third largest industrial and cultural centre in Slovenia.
The event was attended by Russian Ambassador to Slovenia Timur Eivazov, Mayor of the Municipality of Kranj Matjaz Rakovec, Honorary Consul of the Russian Federation Danilo Durakovic, as well as representatives of the Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Slovenia-Russia Friendship Society, the public and the media.
The project was the initiative of the Russian Embassy in Slovenia and was financially supported by Comita Group of Companies. The monument was crafted by young Slovenian sculptor Boris Beja.
The unveiling of the monument to the great Russian poet in Slovenia will help further stimulate interest in the Russian language, culture, history and modern achievements, and will give a new impetus to Russian-Slovenian cooperation in various fields.
On October 19, 2016, the Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Centre was inaugurated in one of the most beautiful districts of Paris, on Quai Branly, a unique example of collaboration, creativity, and cooperation of the state and the church outside our country. Over the past five years, the Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Centre, which includes the Holy Trinity Cathedral, an exhibition centre, a conference room, and an educational cluster, has become an important venue for cultural and social events in Paris. This is confirmed by the fact that it has hosted 620 events attended by over 45,000 people (without exhibition visitors). Over the years, the Centre has acquired a well-deserved reputation as a hospitable and comfortable platform for communication between professionals and enthusiasts, the older generation and young people, the Russian-speaking diaspora and French people who are interested in Russia and Russian culture.
The Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Centre can rightfully be called one of the new hallmarks of the French capital. This view, by now well-loved by the Parisians and tourists alike – of the glowing, luminous domes on the same plane with the Eiffel Tower – is a perfect symbol of the commonality and closeness of the Russian and French cultures, the special nature of relations between our states and peoples.
Unfortunately, the full potential of this project, designed to strengthen Russian-French relations, has not been reached. The French authorities continue to delay the signing of the Russian-French agreement regulating the Centre’s legal status. Because of this problem, it cannot be fully staffed. The French Foreign Ministry refuses to issue visas to some of the Centre's employees, and this situation negatively affects its operation. For the same reason, the representative office of the Pushkin State Russian Language Institute is also experiencing difficulties. However, despite all the struggles, we will continue to expand the Centre’s activity, which is quite valuable for the further rapprochement between the peoples of Russia and France.
The Russian Federation is a reliable partner in providing humanitarian assistance. It is currently expanding the geographical scope of its aid deliveries with an eye to implementing sustainable development projects, including under the aegis of the UN World Food Programme (WFP). In particular, it is active in providing assistance to the Republic of Nicaragua.
Russia has made a $5-million voluntary contribution to the WFP fund to finance the programmes intended to develop sustainable school nutrition systems in Nicaragua in the period from 2020 to 2024. In addition, $4 million has been donated for humanitarian food aid in 2021. On April 14 and September 27, 2021, two batches of vitaminised wheat flour and vegetable oil amounting to 1,892 and 787 tonnes, respectively, were delivered to Nicaragua to provide hot meals to students at schools on its Caribbean coast, which was hit the strongest by hurricanes Eta and Jota in 2020.
We continue to render assistance in the area of emergency response, including by upgrading the facilities and equipment of the relevant Nicaraguan services. On July 22, Russia delivered to the Army of Nicaragua a fire-fighting helicopter, 15 cross-country vehicles, equipment for the Emergency Management Centre in Managua (opened in August 2020) and 20 foghorns. This was done as part of the effort to implement programmes of the International Civil Defence Organisation (ICDO).
On February 23, Russia delivered free of charge 6,000 doses of Sputnik V vaccine to the Nicaraguan authorities to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this context, free aid is coordinated with commercial purchases. Applied to bilateral trade and economic cooperation projects are so-called combined formulas, under which Russia delivered to its partners, on October 12, 33,000 tonnes of wheat as humanitarian aid and 250 KAVZ buses (produced by GAZ Group) as technical assistance. Equipment is expected to be supplied soon for a service centre in Nicaragua that will cater to the vehicles in question.
Russia continues medical and public health collaboration with its Guinean partners. On October 18, 310,000 doses of the first and second components of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine were delivered to the airport of Conakry as part of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Thus, the contract between the Russian Direct Investment Fund and the Health Ministry of the Republic of Guinea was implemented in full.
I should remind you that Russia was among the first countries to respond to the Guinean government’s requests for help in combating COVID-19. Guinea-based specialists of Russia’s Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare (Rospotrebnadzor) continue to provide effective diagnostic and therapeutic assistance. Medical equipment and diagnostic kits have been donated to Guinea. Importantly, Guinea was one of the first countries in Africa to register Sputnik V and is about to register Sputnik Light.
We proceed from the premise that the mutually beneficial cooperation between the relevant agencies of the two countries engaged in the fight against COVID-19 will be carried on.
Question: During the OPCW Executive Council meeting, several Western countries and Russia exchanged questions and answers under the Chemical Weapons Convention on Alexey Navalny’s “poisoning,” allegedly carried out by the Russian authorities. What does Russia make of the answers it received from Great Britain, Germany, France and Sweden to the questions it asked them?
Maria Zakharova: On October 18, Great Britain, Germany, France and Sweden responded to Russia’s demarche, designed to reciprocate their actions on the situation with Navalny. They complied with the 10-day deadline set forth in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), considering that the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) notified them of our inquiry on October 8.
The answers submitted by these countries lack any substance. These are formalistic replies worded in the loudspeaker diplomacy genre with all these dated accusations in their favourite highly-likely style. Our colleagues have not presented any information we requested, although they do have it. We asked for this information because without it the Russian Interior Ministry cannot complete a proper pre-investigation review and determine whether what happened to Alexey Navalny could qualify as a crime. This could pave the way to opening a criminal case, and our Western partners have been talking about this with so much zeal. So, many questions of principle remain unanswered.
Let me share them with you one more time. What kind of a toxic agent did German military chemists discover in the Russian blogger’s biological samples? Who was the person accompanying Alexey Navalny on board a charter medical evacuation flight from Omsk to Berlin? What was Maria Pevchikh’s role in all this? We want her to explain in how many countries she is a citizen, since both the German and British authorities have gone to great lengths to cover up her involvement in this story. Some did not notice her, and others did not see her. I think that there have long been things we needed to discuss. Why are Russian law enforcement agencies denied the possibility to question Maria Pevchikh?
Germany and the OPCW Technical Secretariat also declined to provide video footage, which could have shed some light on this situation. After all, the collection of biological samples from Alexey Navalny at the Charite hospital in Berlin had to be filmed, and the same applies to the separation and sealing of these samples in the OPCW’s headquarters in The Hague for transferring them to the two foreign laboratories that where tasked with analysing these samples.
It is telling that we received these meaningless answers and unsubstantiated accusations almost at the same time. In fact, we have become used to these coincidences. We realise that there is a well-oiled mechanism behind them. Unfortunately, all this confirms yet again that some forces in the European Union and NATO persist in what can be viewed as a real and global provocation rooted in crass Russophobia.
One critical question remains open: when, where and under what circumstances did traces of a chemical agent that was allegedly discovered by German, French and Swedish military chemists, as well as two specialised OPCW laboratories, appear in Alexey Navalny’s biological samples outside of the Russian Federation? They did not answer this question, which shows that Western countries intend to push the provocation concocted by them against our country even further. Answering clear questions outside of any political agenda and without ideological overtones – what could be easier? We are talking about straightforward facts: you collected the samples, so tell us what you discovered, where, and what role did the people present along the “chain of custody” play? Who were these people, how could they even enter the country, since they had to enter the German territory and show their passports? They could have received their visas very quickly, if needed, and if they did not have a citizenship of the countries that have a visa-free arrangement with Germany. This we can understand, but they still had to show their passports. The relevant migration and border control services have this data. Knowing Germany’s formalism, we have no doubt that everything was recorded, especially since this was a very important guest (we all remember the convoy), the Chancellor’s personal guest. How can it be that they did not know who arrived with him, and what documents they used to cross the border? There are quite a few questions, in fact.
We will continue requesting detailed answers to all the questions we asked. If someone in the West wants to get any closer to the truth, answering these questions as soon as possible is the way to go. In any case, they need to brace up and answer them. Otherwise, this story will just fade into history. By all means, and looking at the way Great Britain, Germany, France and Sweden responded to our enquiries, it becomes clear that it is the truth that scares them the most, since the unsavoury affair they concocted against Russia has led them into an impasse.
Question: According to German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, the key to resolving the problem of migration to Europe via Belarus lies in Moscow. Can you comment on this statement?
Maria Zakharova: This is completely absurd. We have become accustomed to being accused of certain things that give rise to a kind of ambiguity.
Today, the whole world can see how the crisis on the border of several European countries is developing. Everything is obvious. A combination of two factors, namely, live broadcasts virtually from the border and historically established facts which are the cause of this situation should have eliminated all questions with regard to other countries not involved in this matter and made it impossible to voice certain accusations against Russia. But it appears that we should not underestimate our Western partners.
I repeat once again, such accusations are absurd. A key or many keys lie elsewhere, but not in Moscow or Minsk. I will now tell you where they are: They can be found in the capitals of our Western partners, primarily Washington and Brussels. The collective West, under the guidance of the United States and leading NATO countries, initiated the root cause of the migration crisis. We are referring to the military involvement in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan.
The German representative could have at least attended the conference on the problems of the Mediterranean region, if he has not yet done so. This conference has been regularly held in Italy for many years now, and he could have heard statements by Germany’s European Union and NATO neighbours about their perception of the current situation. Western states will continue to bear the brunt of all these negative developments that have been provoked by interventions and abortive illegal military campaigns. They will bear this brunt in the form of waves of illegal migration, an upsurge in terrorism, organised crime, border crises and a multitude of problems, including interethnic and interreligious problems and many others.
Appeals to Minsk and Moscow, which are being urged to thwart the exodus of refugees, in the form in which this is presented are simply groundless, with due consideration for the Western coalition’s actions in the Middle East and North Africa and now in Afghanistan. What do Minsk and Moscow have to do with all this? How did they manage to link these issues? All this looks strange, to say the least. We have seen the so-called “evacuation” from Afghanistan when tens of thousands of people were left to their own devices, while facing unresolved vitally important matters. They are trying to leave their country using various methods and routes. They have been trying all this time. They are settling down in various countries, on the borders, and are relocating to other continents. What do we have to do with this? The West has conducted this campaign in Afghanistan for 20 years. All this time, at the UN Security Council, we urged them to report on their activities. During this entire period, we heard constantly either that they were withdrawing troops or that they were beefing up their forces there. Washington’s actions fluctuated in accordance with the party line, so to say. US attitudes towards the situation in Afghanistan depended on what party made it to the White House. In addition, various concepts were voiced even within the framework of one administration. No one had a clear perception of Afghan developments, and no one was able to thoroughly analyse them. This ended in a global catastrophe, with the evacuation of Western forces and the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. This triggered another spiral of the migration crisis. From what perspective do they view the role of Russia and Belarus in this context? It is impossible to overlook an obvious aspect of this situation: Western countries are deliberately provoking an aggravation of the domestic Belarusian situation. Belarusian law enforcement agencies have to use their limited resources to maintain domestic stability in the face of tougher outside pressure and much more pronounced domestic security threats. Does nobody understand this either? This is an obvious thing.
Instead of conducting subversive activities, the EU states ought to address matters that concern them and counter illegal migrants in close contact with the Belarusian authorities that have repeatedly voiced their readiness to cooperate. This is another vicious circle.
These counties, I mean the EU countries bordering on Belarus, are actively involved in efforts to interfere in domestic Belarusian affairs. At the same time, they do not recognise the country’s official authorities and are urging Belarus to somehow respond to this situation.
In April 2021, the Belarusian side suggested holding consultations with the European Union on illegal migration matters, and it has been voicing this proposal since then. What do you think the European Union’s response has been? Does the German Interior Minister not know this? Well, the EU declines this offer. I repeat for the third time: This is a vicious circle. Those members of the collective West wishing to break this vicious circle should display their best analytical qualities.
Question: Leader of Poland’s ruling party Law and Justice Jaroslaw Kaczynski said in an interview with Gazeta Polska that Russia is currently waging a multi-stage hybrid war against Poland. How would you comment on that statement?
Maria Zakharova: We have been hearing various reiterations of the same theme from official Warsaw over and over again. We have been accused of all kinds of things. They seem to have used everything: human rights, threats and global aggression, against whom I do not know. We have heard accusations of sabotage; migration crises are, apparently, our doing as well. We have seen it all. Now there is an interview with Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski who, in keeping with the usual practice, could not help but talk about Russia. As you correctly said, once again he accused us of a multi-stage hybrid war. Clearly, it is no coincidence that this term was introduced: it was to perpetuate the idea that we constitute a threat in every single area, hence the word “multi-stage.” This time, Moscow’s subversive activity against Warsaw is, allegedly, creating a migration crisis at the Polish‒Belarusian border.
This is absurd. For many years, we have been watching refugees, primarily from the Middle East, try to cross the EU border. We have been watching this situation along with our partners who, including during a conference on Mediterranean issues, every year, for many years, have been asking what they can do about this problem. There are thousands of migrants, tens and hundreds of thousands. They cross over to Europe via different entry points. But now, out of the blue, our country has come up.
The cause of the situation at the Polish‒Belarusian border should be sought in the actions of our Western partners that created these “multi-stage” waves of migration. The West cannot find a conceptually right and effective solution to this problem. At the same time, it is endlessly covering up its own helplessness in this matter with clichéd accusations against Russia and typically trying to shift the blame onto us.
It is hard to overlook the root causes of this. Somebody should take the entire corpus of the documents from the Mediterranean conference, including remarks, reports and interviews on the sidelines, and simply dig into the nature of the issue, read those documents thoroughly and stop coming up with fictitious, unsubstantiated and ridiculous accusations.
Question: We can see numerous signs of Brussels’ hostility towards our country and allied Belarus. It looks as if the Foreign Ministry and the Kremlin are not dealing with two separate organisations – NATO and the EU, but with a consolidated Euro-NATO Union. Ties linking us with NATO have been severed. What lies in store for our relations with the EU?
Maria Zakharova: We talked a great deal about NATO today. As for the ties you have mentioned, it is not far away from the truth. You can see this for yourself.
After the disastrous withdrawal of the bloc’ forces from Afghanistan, the NATO headquarters in Brussels needed something to justify its existence, and so they redoubled their efforts to blow the mythical “Russian threat” out of any proportion and started to deliberately destroy the remaining channels of our communication. It appears that cooperation with Russia disagrees with NATO in its current form. The conceptual development of that organisation has failed to overcome the Cold War logic. By and large, NATO is a holdover from the Cold War. After terminating any cooperation with Russia and suspending military ties, the bloc moved increasingly rapidly back to the confrontation schemes of the past.
The line for containing Russia, which Washington is pursuing through NATO, is also influencing the EU’s policy. We pointed this out many times. Regrettably, we can see the use of doublespeak in the political context. The EU’s political word and weight are decreasing. The EU has entered a dangerous period when its political will is being suppressed by NATO’s will.
Who is playing the main role in this process? There is a militant group of several EU countries, which have not overcome their irrational historical phobias regarding Russia. We talked about some of them today. They are not only using anti-Russia myths but are inventing them in their own populist interests and in the interests of their global client, whose name we know as well. More importantly, the countries “responsible” for destructive actions are trying to enforce, to cultivate this faulty ideology in the other EU member states. Regrettably, they are using the EU decision-making mechanisms for this purpose. Initially, the union was an integration project focused on creation rather than a tool against anyone. This group of militant countries is working energetically to strengthen the institutional link between the EU and NATO. Fundamentally, the bloc is dominating the EU. As a result, the EU’s policy towards Russia is governed by the obsolete and misguided provisions according to which the entire range of our relations depends on the implementation of the Minsk agreements, which Kiev is systematically sabotaging, as we all know very well.
As for the origin of the European Union, it was established as the European Economic Community. It is logical that cooperation is linked to the economy. The economy in all spheres suggests the priority, interest in and direct benefits of interaction with our country. But the EU is acting contrary to its own interests, contrary to the national and economic interests of its member states. There is a predominant anti-Russia political charge. Has it developed on a common, consolidated basis within the EU? Not at all, because the opinion of people in the EU member states was not taken into account at all. These political doctrines have been imposed from above by a group of countries, the external lobbyists that were encouraging this approach, under NATO’s pressure and the common concepts that link these countries.
The three principles of relations with Russia invented by the EU institutions this year – push back, constrain and engage at the same time – risks becoming a new Bermuda triangle, where any motivation for rethinking relations with Russia in a more constructive manner can disappear altogether. Does the “push back, constrain and engage” formula comply with the basic principles underlying the EU? How can [the EU] states integrate and at the same time interact with a country on which they depend and with which they have had mutually binding relations in a number of spheres for decades? This is being done now on the basis of the “push back, constrain and engage” formula.
It should be noted that the majority of EU member states, 21 out of 27, are also NATO members, which does not mean these two structures must be identical in theory or practice. Despite any differences between us, the EU is not only a geographical neighbour but also our largest trade partner. Contacts between Russia and the EU are maintained, including at the highest level, and they concern a broad range of issues. Sergey Lavrov recently had a meeting with representatives of European businesses. Read about the mutual advantages and the priority of our interaction in many spheres. This is obvious. Both sides are demonstrating mutual interest in cooperation in such promising spheres as healthcare, efforts against climate change and other new challenges and threats, and dialogue on current international and regional topics.
We do not rule out the possibility of developing normal, good neighbourly relations with the EU based on equality and mutual respect for each other’s interests. We are boosting cooperation with individual EU states not only in the spheres I have mentioned, but also under major integration, economic and energy projects, which can serve as a good example for the other countries. We wish that the “group” which is weighing down on the other countries with its Russophobia will open their eyes to their own advantages, abandon the pre-set directives and get down to business in the interests of their nations.
Question: It appears that the main responsibility for the “predictability and stability” in Russia’s relations with the collective West now lies with Washington, since Brussels has crossed itself out. Can this be regarded as a loss of face for both NATO and the EU?
Maria Zakharova: The collective West has lost face more than once and not only in the context of developing its relationship with our country. They have embarrassed themselves many times. Speaking about us (the situation that we were drawn into), it was in the year 2014 when a violent and anti-constitutional coup was staged in Ukraine with the support of the Western countries. Considering the geographical proximity and historical unity of our two countries and nations, our economic integration, plans and projects that were set for the long haul, it all became obvious to us even back then. All masks were dropped, and with that came a loss of face. We no longer have any illusions about the true values of our partners. We did not expect and do not expect any goodwill towards Russia when that is the approach they take.
That was not the only example. It would be a mistake to believe that it is only in the context of the relationship, interaction and mutual tensions with our country that the West has been losing face. There is the Middle East, the so-called Arab Spring, experiments in Iraq and attempts to reshape the map of the Middle East and North Africa in general (take Syria and Libya), as well as forcing its own vision of how entire regions should develop.
There is Latin America. Have they not embarrassed themselves there? In this case, it is primarily Washington rather than the collective West.
Cuba is yet another example of the West’s collective madness and of its going contrary to its own principles. They have been committing crimes for so many years there, with an economic blockade, endless political accusations and pressure from all sides. As soon as certain political interests fell into place on the part of Barack Obama’s administration, a completely different course started to shape itself. Then Donald Trump’s administration came, and the long-standing rhetoric and actions towards Cuba became even more ferocious.
Perhaps I could omit Venezuela since we often comment on the situation in that country. There has been interference in domestic affairs and attempts to use the most sordid leverage against Venezuela. Despite all the hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the West never stops, not even for a second, when it comes to fulfilling its own ambitions. You all remember those endless “projects” involving pseudo leaders like Juan Guaido and the like.
Afghanistan was the lowest point. They lost more than their face; they lost everything. As you can see, examples are in abundance.
As concerns our own foreign policy, including its Western vector, it is based on our national interests rather than sentiments or ideology. A common question we hear is whether we have an ideology at all. Of course, we have an ideology and it is our national interests. It is an ideology of pragmatism, pursuing national interests based on international law and how it regulates relations between countries. The core of our national interests is protecting our citizens and creating favourable external conditions for Russia’s stable internal development. In keeping with this approach, we do not refuse, even despite the crisis of trust created by the West, to have a dialogue on important issues with those who show mutual interest in this kind of communication. Unfortunately, we have seen apparent indications of the opposite. Reducing this consistent and multi-dimensional work to contacts with just one Western capital or a group of countries would clearly contravene this logic.
Question: How does the Foreign Ministry assess US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin’s visit to Ukraine? Is this a gesture of courtesy or an attempt to promote military cooperation?
Maria Zakharova: We believe each country has the right to develop relations with other sovereign states in all areas of mutual interest. So, we do not comment on the visits of third ministers of foreign affairs, defence, or the economic bloc to other countries.
At the same time, the aggressive Russophobic tone of the statements made by the head of the Pentagon came to our attention, in which he outwardly encouraged the revanchist sentiments of the “party of war” in Kiev. This concerns us directly, since it not only provokes tensions along the line of contact in Donbass, but also raises serious questions about Washington’s actual commitment to its own assurances of being willing to promote the implementation of the Minsk agreements.
Question: After the trilateral talks between the foreign ministers of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia held in Minsk on October 14, as a gesture of goodwill and a sign of its willingness to move along the path of peace process, Azerbaijan, with the mediation of Russia, handed over five servicemen to Armenia. Should we expect, in the near future, more humanitarian or other steps following this ministerial meeting? Without a doubt, as the main mediator in the settlement and establishment of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Moscow is committed to effective unblocking of the transport and economic ties in the region. Do you think there are any reasons to believe that a specific result can be achieved by the end of the year?
Maria Zakharova: The 8th meeting of the Trilateral Working Group on unblocking economic and transport ties in the South Caucasus was held in Moscow yesterday under the joint chairmanship of the deputy prime ministers of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Information about it can be found in a press release issued by the Executive Office of the Government of the Russian Federation.
The day before, on October 19, with the assistance of the Russian military, five more Armenian captives returned home from Azerbaijan. We welcome this step by Baku and express hope that the process of returning the detainees will continue.
In total, 122 detainees have been exchanged since December 2020 thanks to Russia’s mediation, among other things, with 105 people returning to Armenia, and 17 to Azerbaijan.
We will continue to provide the necessary assistance to normalise relations between Baku and Yerevan on all tracks.
Question: The past week was quite eventful for Russian-Azerbaijani relations, especially amid the pandemic when the number of mutual visits has decreased. Vice-President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Leyla Aliyeva, Chair of the Milli Majlis Sahiba Gafarova and Minister of Energy Parviz Shahbazov visited Moscow to attend a number of joint functions. Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matvienko said that “Russian-Azerbaijani interaction has been brought to an unprecedentedly high level.” What can the Foreign Ministry say about this level of intensity of contacts? What other events in Russian-Azerbaijani relations are planned to be held before the end of the year?
Maria Zakharova: Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the intensity of bilateral contacts remains high. In addition to the visits you mentioned, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill met with Chairman of the Caucasian Muslims Office Allahshukur Pashazade in Moscow on October 13, and foreign ministers of Russia and Azerbaijan had a conversation in Minsk on the sidelines of the CIS Foreign Ministers Council on October 14. All of that is indicative of the high level of Russian-Azerbaijani relations and our ramified ties.
A number of high-level meetings and events are planned to take place before the end of the year, which we will inform you about as appropriate.
Question: The International Exhibition “Restoration, Reconstruction and Development of Karabakh – Rebuild Karabakh” opened in Baku yesterday. Russian companies are taking part in it. How do you assess the Russian companies’ plans to participate in rebuilding Azerbaijan’s liberated territories? In general, what can you say about Moscow’s high-level commitment to expanding Russian-Azerbaijani cooperation in this area?
Maria Zakharova: As far as I understand, the issue is about the areas that were returned to Azerbaijan in accordance with the Statement by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia dated November 9, 2020. Russian economic operators stand ready to take part in the post-conflict rebuilding of these territories. A business mission led by Deputy Minister of Economic Development Dmitry Volvach visited Baku on July 23 in order to determine promising areas of cooperation. Several Russian companies plan to make another visit to Azerbaijan on November 17-18.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the KAMAZ and the Ganja Automobile Plant Production Association joint service centre was held in the Jabrail district on October 4. It is an example of practical implementation of Russian-Azerbaijani interaction and cooperation in this area.
We are interested in expanding Russia’s business presence in Azerbaijan. We consider this joint work an important component of Moscow-Baku relations, and we will do our best to promote it.
Question: Despite political efforts and trilateral statements, people continue to be killed in Nagorno-Karabakh and on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan has suggested strengthening trilateral mechanisms for investigating armed incidents and enforcing the ceasefire. What does Russia think of this?
Maria Zakharova: On October 14, the foreign ministers of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia held a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the CIS Foreign Ministers Council meeting in Minsk and discussed the situation in the zone of responsibility of the Russian Peacekeeping Contingent, including recent incidents. This situation is also in the focus of regular contacts between the commanders of the Russian Peacekeeping Contingent and General Staffs of the Armenian and Azerbaijani Armed Forces.
We are making every effort to prevent violations of the ceasefire in the zone of responsibility of the Russian Peacekeeping Contingent.
Question: Jalil Jalifar, a member of the board of directors of the Iranian-Russian Chamber of Commerce, recently said that, in connection with developments in the northwest, Iran has encountered a series of subversive activities and the Azerbaijani Government’s refusal to cooperate. Azerbaijan is impeding Iranian exports to Russia via the Astara customs checkpoint. What do you think of claims that Azerbaijan is hampering Iranian exports to Russia?
Maria Zakharova: We consistently advocate reducing the tensions on the border between Azerbaijan and Iran. We are convinced that all difficulties in relations between these two nearby states should only be addressed using political-diplomatic methods, and that all disagreements should be overcome in the spirit of neighbourliness. In turn, we are working to unblock all economic and transport ties in the South Caucasus. We believe that such work should take into consideration the interests of all regional countries, naturally, including those of Iran.
Question: What is Russia’s opinion of the current status of the 3+3 format? What obstacles are hindering its implementation?
Maria Zakharova: The idea of creating a 3+3 regional consultative mechanism comprising Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia plus Iran, Russia and Turkey has been proposed by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Russia has supported that initiative.
We believe that the development of multilateral regional cooperation meets the interests of all the proposed participants of this format. In our opinion, the use of this mechanism could build up trust in interstate affairs, help settle existing differences and unlock the region’s economic, transport and humanitarian potential.
We can see that some Western countries, first of all the United States, would like to hinder certain processes and to put a spoke in the wheels of this initiative. It is notable that our American partners are using disinformation towards this end. For example, they claim that the idea of the 3+3 mechanism was proposed by Moscow and are waging a strange Russophobic game in this context. Here are the facts: Yes, we have supported this format, but the idea was put forth by other countries.
For our part, we hope for an early launch of the 3+3 regional consultative format in the interests of all of its participants.
Question: The other day Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented on the developments in Sudan. He pointed out that external players, first of all the United States, were responsible for destabilisation there. Do the continued unrest in Khartoum and obvious differences in the transitional government pose any risk to Russia’s interests? Are the external players influencing the situation?
Maria Zakharova: You are referring to what Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during a news conference following his talks with his colleague from Guinea-Bissau. The transcript is available on our website. You can read what Sergey Lavrov said in response to that question.
I can only reaffirm our position. We were not the ones who started that country’s division. I hope that you have basic knowledge of the history of this matter. When you read reports on this subject, it looks as if they are again looking for the guilty party. I would like to remind everyone that some external players, primarily the United States, decided that it would be better for the Sudanese if they suddenly lived in two different states.
A campaign of foreign interference was launched, with attempts made to impose on the Sudanese the approaches and ways to build democracy that the West deemed appropriate. As the result, serious tensions have developed in the traditional structure of the Sudanese society.
We believe that any interference in the internal affairs of Sudan, or any other country, should be stopped and that the Sudanese people must determine their own future themselves. It is our fundamental principle, which is based on international law and the UN Charter. We do hope that all those who are trying to reject this principle are aware of their responsibility for the future of the state and the people whose life they want to change according to their own pattern.
Question: Don’t you think that closing diplomatic missions in Western countries and organisations will lead to Russia’s isolation in the European community?
Maria Zakharova: You are right in thinking that NATO countries have been consistently reducing the size of our mission. Russian diplomats’ contacts at NATO headquarters have been practically reduced to prohibitive procedures. This is a military-political alliance, so security matters cannot be discussed without the participation of the military, but all their contacts have been reduces to zero. We are not closing the missions, but they are doing everything they can to block their operations.
We have pointed out that, in case there are urgent questions or a sudden need to meet, the Russian embassy in Belgium is available. Until recently, there were three venues in Brussels – the embassy (which is responsible for bilateral relations with Belgium), the Permanent Mission to NATO, and the Permanent Mission to the EU. Because of the North Atlantic Alliance’s actions, the Permanent Mission to NATO has ended up like this. If they want to talk, they can contact our embassy and the ambassador in Brussels directly.
Question: How do you see the further relations between Russia and China in the context of the changing geopolitical situation in the world?
Maria Zakharova: I would rather break your question in two. Relations between Russia and China are valuable, per se. Their overall development does not depend on the situation in the world in other areas. China is Russia’s key partner. Our contacts at this point are at their all-time best, and it has been a long time. The quality of bilateral Russian-Chinese relations is the result of many years of painstaking joint work to build a unique model of interstate dialogue. The legal framework for our interaction is codified by the Russian-Chinese Treaty of Good Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation. That treaty recently marked its 20th anniversary. It is special because, concluded two decades ago, the document is still relevant, and holds significant opportunities for the sustainable development of our relations with due consideration for emerging challenges.
Russia’s interaction with Beijing relies on the universally recognised norms of international law and is not directed against third countries. The effective coordination of foreign policy steps between Russia and China is becoming a major contributing factor to stabilisation in both the regional and global dimensions.
Russian-Chinese relations do not need to be balanced by playing on US-Chinese disagreements. We are confident that, as far as the levels of mutual trust, stability and depth are concerned, our cooperation is much more mature than the military-political alliances of the Cold War era that relied on ideology, a rigid hierarchy, confrontation with other countries, hampering expansion of ties in other parts of the world and preventing the strengthening of regional players. The dialogue between Russia and China is not based on any zero-sum game; it is based on respect and consideration for the interests of two equal partners. There are no forbidden topics, and a proximity of positions is achieved through a constructive exchange of views with detailed argumentation.
The pattern of interstate interaction that has developed between Russia and China is an excellent example of relations between two major responsible powers in the 21st century. We believe this pattern is optimal and meets our long-term interests.
Question: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently said that NATO has to take the first step if it wants to improve relations with Russia. What steps should NATO take? Under what conditions would Russia be ready to talk with the Alliance? Can you provide any specifics?
Maria Zakharova: There is a lot to it. We keep speaking about this. It all boils down to the answer to the main question: What does NATO want? What is its position? If it wants dialogue, there should be dialogue. But dialogue is impossible if they cut off the telephone lines. There will be nobody on the other end of the line. Is this dialogue? But it is exactly what we see happening now. Consequently, these questions should be addressed to the bloc.
Even in the most difficult situations we always left the diplomatic door open for the exchange of opinions and for negotiations to be held. We believed that problems must be settled through dialogue. Regrettably, our contacts have been recently reduced to us listening to hackneyed clichés, which have nothing to do with reality and do not take our country’s opinion into account. It is the same old song over and over again. Meetings are held at different locations and of different duration, but we get the same broken record again and again. The speeds do differ, though.
Let’s talk a bit about the so-called infrastructure of this dialogue. Our diplomats did their best, but contacts have become impossible. The bloc has destroyed the infrastructure needed for normal communication and dialogue. What should be done? This is a question for NATO. Now we understand that they wanted to destroy our relations completely. If they want something else, we would like to understand what it is. The bloc itself must formulate its desire. Maybe they don’t want us to exist? It doesn’t work that way. Everything else requires analysis, diplomacy, skills, professionalism, competence and many other abilities.