12 March 202019:42

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, March 12, 2020

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Table of contents

  1. Opening of an exhibit on the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Venezuela
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in Government Hour at a State Duma plenary meeting
  3. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto
  4. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Burkina Faso Alpha Barry
  5. Update on Covid-19
  6. Update on Syria
  7. Update on Yemen
  8. Project to build Hidase hydroelectric dam on the Nile
  9. Questions on Afghanistan
  10. Fake media stories on the possibility of sending Russian troops to Afghanistan
  11. Start of the MH17 trial at the District Court of The Hague
  12. The ECHR ruling on the Polyakh and Others vs Ukraine case
  13. Continued discrimination against the Russian language in Ukraine
  14. Trilateral Contact Group on the settlement in Donbass
  15. Russia’s alleged interference with the elections in Guyana
  16. Developments on Armenian-Azerbaijani border
  17. The 52nd anniversary of the declaration of independence of the Republic of Mauritius
  18. The Foreign Ministry’s presentation of the UNOCT project on the exchange of air traveller data
  19. The OSCE Permanent Council’s discussion of the Julian Assange case

Answers to media questions:

  1. Opportunity for a universal conference of Palestinian movements for national reconciliation being held in Moscow
  2. Influence of the spread of the coronavirus on Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s schedule
  3. Plan for French tourists’ stay in Russia
  4. Russia’s potential plans on stopping vehicle traffic with the republics of the South Caucasus due to the coronavirus
  5. The Foreign Ministry’s recommendations on visits to countries affected by the coronavirus
  6. Notice by the Foreign Ministry to foreign representatives on the procedures for the celebrations of Victory Day in Moscow
  7. Mr Lavrov’s readiness and willingness to meet with his Polish counterpart
  8. Update on the French newspaper Le Monde

 

 

 

Today we are conducting an unconventional briefing. We are conducting it now that the WHO has declared the spread of the novel coronavirus a pandemic. We, among others, are guided by the WHO’s recommendations to hold large, public events online via ICT whenever possible to prevent the spread of the disease. This is what we have done. Therefore, today the briefing for journalists will be held remotely. This briefing will be devoted to their questions, which are still coming in. I will reply to them during this briefing. 

 

Opening of an exhibit on the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Venezuela

 

The opening ceremony of an exhibit of archive documents devoted to the 75th anniversary of Russia-Venezuela diplomatic relations will take place on March 17 with the participation of the Foreign Ministry’s top officials. Among the invited guests are representatives of the diplomatic corps accredited in Moscow, public and political organisations, scientific and cultural communities as well as the media.  

Visitors will be shown documents and photos of the history of our bilateral ties that started on March 14, 1945 with the exchange of notes between Soviet Ambassador to the US Andrei Gromyko, and Venezuelan Ambassador to the US Don Diogenes Escalante.

Today, relations between the two states rest on the firm traditions of friendship, solidarity and mutually beneficial cooperation. Venezuela is Russia’s strategic partner. In recent years we have reached considerable progress in promoting mutually advantageous projects in energy, industry, agriculture and the social field through concerted efforts. We are steadily enhancing our trade, economic, military-technical and investment ties and expanding cooperation between our civil societies.

Our two countries jointly counter attempts at dictate by force, uphold the standards and principles of international law, including non-interference in internal affairs of other states, and oppose illegal unilateral sanctions.

The upcoming exhibit, which illustrates the main stages of Russian-Venezuelan common history, is designed to become further evidence of traditional friendship and cooperation between the two countries.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in Government Hour at a State Duma plenary meeting

 

On March 18, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will speak about the Russian Federation’s current foreign policy during the Government Hour at a State Duma plenary meeting.

He is expected to cover a broad range of pressing issues in global politics, including relations with leading Western partners, settling the crises in Syria, Libya and Ukraine, countering Western sanction pressure, and coronavirus updates. In addition, Sergey Lavrov will brief the lawmakers about the prospects for building the Union State of Russia and Belarus and deepening integration within the EAEU, as well as other topics.

Regular meetings between the Minister and the State Duma deputies make it possible to enhance interaction between the executive and legislative branches of powers, exchange views on current international developments and better coordinate efforts in carrying out Russia’s single foreign policy.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto

 

On March 18, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary Peter Szijjarto.

During talks, the parties will discuss practical matters of Russian-Hungarian relations with an emphasis on the implementation of the agreements reached at the meeting between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban in Budapest on October 30, 2019.

The ministers will also exchange opinions on a number of pressing international issues, including settling the internal Ukrainian crisis, ensuring language rights for ethnic minorities in Ukraine, and developments in the Middle East, including in the context of the joint Russian-Hungarian initiative on assisting Christian communities living in that region.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Burkina Faso Alpha Barry

 

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Burkina Faso Alpha Barry will pay a working visit to the Russian Federation on March 19-21.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with him in Sochi on March 20. The foreign ministers will discuss the prospects for expanding bilateral cooperation in the political area, as well as in trade, the economy and culture.

There will be an in-depth exchange of views on pressing international and African matters with a focus on countering terrorism and extremism in the Sahara-Sahel region.

We look forward to Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Burkina Faso Alpha Barry’s visit giving a major boost to the traditionally friendly relations between Russia and Burkina Faso in various areas.

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Update on Covid-19

 

I have received many questions regarding the Foreign Ministry’s involvement in countering the spread of the coronavirus infection, including the WHO recommendations, the work of our agencies, and the corresponding legislative measures that are being adopted. I will bring up this issue more than once today.

There was a question as to whether any safety precautions are being taken by the Foreign Ministry.

The Foreign Ministry works with the Operational Headquarters (OH) to prevent the import and spread of the new coronavirus infection in Russia. Also, the Ministry has set up its own headquarters headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov. Decisions are being made in coordination with the Russian authorities.

A very common question is whether the diplomats’ schedules have changed. All I can say is that many international events have been postponed; international events are being canceled or dates are being changed. In particular, yesterday, Russia received a notice from the President of the UN General Assembly on additional measures and changes in the General Assembly’s programme in March and April. There’s a proposal to reduce the number of diplomats who attend UN headquarters for the UN General Assembly meetings; they also proposed refraining from inviting participants who reside outside the state and New York City. There’s also a proposal by the head of the UN General Assembly to cancel side events and to postpone or scale down the celebration of national days. An entire package of actions is proposed, and meetings are being postponed. Of course, all this affects the work of the domestic diplomats, both at the central office and for embassy staffs, and permanent missions and consulates general.

The Russian Foreign Ministry decided to reduce short-term business trips to a bare minimum. Russia’s foreign missions decide on preventive measures based on the situation in the host country and in coordination with the central office.

As for our ministry, we have put several media events online. We have the technology for that.

Another very common question is how media activities are regulated given the large number of foreign correspondents in Moscow. Each correspondent received an individual answer to this question, as it concerned a particular journalist in person.

I gave you an overview of measures that are being taken by the Foreign Ministry.

I can say a few words about the current situation in general.

Over the past few days, coronavirus cases have been reported in more countries around the world. To date, the infection has affected over 119,000 people in more than 110 countries. To reiterate, the World Health Organisation declared coronavirus Covid-19 a pandemic.

Almost every country, whether affected or not by the virus, are stepping up preventive and control and restrictive measures (more stringent quarantine restrictions are being introduced, border crossings are closed, and large public events are being canceled). In particular, I would like to once again draw your attention to Italy. The Italian government has introduced a number of emergency measures, including entry/exit restrictions. Why am I bringing this up again? First, because, unfortunately, the Italian Embassy in Moscow was disseminating not entirely correct information in response to Russia’s measures and warnings and, second, because the ban on domestic travel between regions and holding public events, as well as the closure of educational institutions, museums, cinemas, theatres, ski resorts and recreational sites affects large numbers of tourists.

We draw your attention to the fact that, as part of the Italian authorities’ plan to curb the spread of the disease, foreign tourists arriving in Italy are being asked to return home on the same flight. Many Russians have run into this situation despite our warnings. At the same time, foreign citizens temporarily residing in Italy are allowed to leave the country provided they do not show symptoms of the disease. 

Again, we advise Russian citizens to temporarily refrain from traveling to Italy until it officially announces that the situation has stabilised. Those who are now in Italy should look to return to Russia as soon as possible and take the specific precautions recommended by the corresponding Russian agencies.

To obtain the latest information on the spread of the coronavirus, please follow our posts on the websites of our ministry and foreign missions, including our social media accounts. Of course – and I don’t get tired of repeating this – check the Foreign Assistant mobile app’s news feed. Please download the app and follow it. We post last-minute information there.

Assisting our citizens who are quarantined in foreign countries, remains, as always, a key priority for Russian foreign missions.

This is not the last thing I will say today on this subject, as questions from various media keep coming.

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Update on Syria

 

A dangerous escalation of tensions in the Idlib de-escalation zone was recently overcome thanks to the agreements reached by President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan at their meeting in Moscow on March 5.

In practical terms, the Additional Protocol to the Memorandum of September 17, 2018 made it possible to cease hostilities, as of March 6, along the existing line of contact in the de-escalation zone. The ceasefire is generally being observed, which promotes the stabilization in Idlib. In addition, the presidents made a decision on creating a security corridor along the M4 motor road and organise Russian-Turkish joint patrolling in this zone. According to reports, work on resuming traffic on the M4 is already underway.

The Russian and Turkish defence ministries are maintaining contact to ensure the implementation of the signed agreements. We hope this will help achieve sustainable stabilisation in Idlib, improve the humanitarian situation and allow IDPs to return home.

Importantly, the Additional Protocol contains provisions of principle on the commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity. The sides also noted their resolve to continue the struggle against all terrorist groups recognised as such by the UN Security Council, up to and including their elimination.

The situation in the northeast of Syria generally remains stable as a result of the implementation of the Russia-Turkey Memorandum of October 22, 2019. We consider the invigoration of the so-called ISIS “sleeping cells” and the illegal presence of the US-led international coalition to be negative variables.

Washington’s policy of encouraging Kurdish separatism and stealing Syrian mineral resources does not help enhance security in northern Syria.

Serious apprehensions are caused by the lack of progress in resolving problems at the refugee camps in al-Howl and Rukban that are located on territories outside Damascus’s control. We are urging the sides controlling these areas to at least meet the basic needs of their IDPs and to prevent a humanitarian disaster.

We are concerned about Israel’s continuing practice of delivering unilateral air strikes at Syrian territory, violating the sovereignty of neighbouring Arab countries. The most recent attack came from Israeli aircraft from Lebanon’s air space on March 5. One Syrian army serviceman was killed and over ten were wounded as a result.  We believe these arbitrary military actions undermine regional security and lead to the escalation of tensions.

At the same time, we believe it is necessary to step up humanitarian aid to Syria and help its refugees return home against the backdrop of the general stabilisation in the country. We note the coordination of efforts by Damascus and Beirut on these issues. Thus, last week Lebanese Minister of Social Affairs and Minister of Tourism Ramzi Musharrafia paid a working visit to Damascus to hold consultations with Head of the Syrian Coordinating Headquarters on Refugee Return Hussein Makhlouf.

In addition, we support the development of effective cooperation between the Syrian Government and international humanitarian agencies. Recently, Damascus was visited by ICRC President Peter Maurer, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and Executive Director of the UN WFP David Beasley. Syria is also receiving aid on a bilateral basis. According to reports, China is giving Syria its fifth humanitarian grant worth $14 million. Japan also announced its intention to give Syria humanitarian assistance of about $5 million via the agency of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN WFP.

We welcome the gradual normalisation of Syria’s contacts with the Arab countries. We believe this process helps enhance regional security and stability.

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Update on Yemen

 

Moscow continues to watch closely the military, political and humanitarian situation in the Republic of Yemen.

Unfortunately, the relatively long period of time during which tensions have been easing across the board seems to have come to an end. According to incoming reports, there are fierce clashes in the Marib and Al Jawf governorates, while the aircraft of the [Saudi Arabia-led] Arab coalition that sided with Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi have again started to bomb the positions of the Houthi Ansar Allah movement. In turn, the Houthis have resumed shelling areas in Saudi Arabia.   

No progress has been made so far in implementing the Stockholm Agreement, which the parties to the conflict reached in December 2018. Many provisions of this agreement relating, in particular, to disengaging the troops in the area near the city of Hudaydah and lifting the siege of Taiz have remained only on paper.  

It is still important to implement the Riyadh Agreement between President Hadi’s Government and the Southern Transitional Council of November 5, 2019. We believe not only the situation in the south of Yemen depends on this but also the prospects for ensuring stability across the country.

We reaffirm Russia’s principled stand on the need to end the armed conflict as soon as possible and begin inclusive intra-Yemen talks under the auspices of the UN. We also firmly believe that progress towards resolving numerous problems facing Yemen, including its administrative divisions and government structure, is only possible through a dialogue and respect for the interests of all of the country’s leading political forces. 

We will further do all we can, in contact with involved and interested parties, to facilitate the efforts to achieve this objective.

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Project to build Hidase hydroelectric dam on the Nile

 

Question from Egyptian Ten-TV Channel: The dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia has worsened of late because of the Hidase dam project on the Nile River and Ethiopia’s refusal to sign an agreement to regulate the operation of the dam. At the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, Russia said it could mediate in resolving this dispute. Can Russia propose this initiative again, given that the situation has escalated?

Maria Zakharova: First, I would like to note that relations between Russia and Egypt and Russia and Ethiopia have traditionally been friendly. We are keeping a close eye on the situation that is evolving around the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Hidase Dam) on the Blue Nile River. Russia is interested in that Cairo and Addis Ababa resolve their differences as soon as possible through negotiations and using existing mechanisms as equitable partners and in compliance with international law, and also taking into account the legitimate interests of each country.

We will further assist the efforts to seek a mutually acceptable compromise in contact with all relevant parties.

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Questions on Afghanistan

 

Question from 92 News Pakistan: The long-awaited truce between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban is at risk after the government showed its hand by refusing to release Taliban supporters that had been arrested. It decided to release only 1,500 of the 5,000 prisoners agreed on.

The country saw two presidential inauguration ceremonies and there is the impression that real peace is unlikely in the near future. What can you tell us about that? 

Question from Asia News: The US Department of State published a statement rejecting the establishment of parallel government authorities in Afghanistan after the recent elections. What is Russia’s position on this issue? 

Maria Zakharova: I would like to draw the attention of the journalists who submitted these questions, and the general public, to the commentary published on the Russian Foreign Ministry website on March 11. It is totally devoted to this topic.

It discusses the two inauguration ceremonies in Kabul on March 9, one each for the major rivals at the presidential election, Ashraf Ghani and Abdulah Abdulah.

We are concerned that the emerging controversy, particularly in the context of the latest developments mentioned above, is fraught with the further aggravation of an already complicated domestic political situation in the country and negative consequences for launching inclusive intra-Afghan talks which appeared possible following the US-Taliban agreement signed in Doha on February 29 this year.

Let me remind you that Russia welcomed the signing of this agreement and hopes it will be followed up on in full, something we also mentioned earlier. We expect any hurdles on the way to be cleared shortly, including resolving the issue of releasing 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 government service personnel ahead of the direct intra-Afghan talks on peace and the post-conflict configuration of the country as written in the above agreement.

We are urging all responsible political leaders in Afghanistan to be guided exclusively by national interests and to focus efforts on promoting the national reconciliation process which will lead to the end of the civil war and the revival of a peaceful, united and independent state free of terrorism and drug crime.

We are ready to further render all possible support to the friendly Afghan people in the interests of reaching these goals. 

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Fake media stories on the possibility of sending Russian troops to Afghanistan

 

We have noted an online publication about a statement made by Presidential Special Representative for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov at a briefing at Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency. He reportedly spoke about the possibility of sending Russian troops to Afghanistan to fight terrorism there should the Afghan authorities request it.

I would like to state with all responsibility and deliberately using such wording that this assertion is absolutely untrue, and that the Russian special representative never made it in any form. Not one single media outlet whose representatives attended the briefing, except this online publication, has published such headlines, stories or data. At best, we can perceive this as an extremely unsuccessful interpretation of the Russian diplomat’s words. I hope that we are not talking about a deliberate distortion or fake news. I am more convinced that those who prepared this story for the website had trouble choosing the appropriate wording.

Everyone knows the Russian position on this matter: Under no circumstances, has Russia planned to send its troops to Afghanistan nor does it intend to do this. One can only talk about the possibility of expanded cooperation with Afghanistan in the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking through current collaboration in the military-technical sphere and in the field of training skilled specialists. Everyone is well aware of the forms of such collaboration. We have regularly published material on this matter.

We are urging the media to be more professional and to fulfil their duties in a highly responsible manner because such interpretations and even distortions of data and statements can spell major problems during the interpretation of these stories in various countries. We are always ready to give answers to the issues of interest and to provide any additional explanations.

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Start of the MH17 trial at the District Court of The Hague

 

The first session of the trial on the crash of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014 started in the District Court of The Hague on March 9-10.     

During the previous briefing we gave detailed coverage of this issue on the eve of the trial. We said the Western media had launched an unprecedented accusatory media campaign that has become direct pressure on the court and an aggravation of anti-Russia sentiment.

Now that the first session has been held, it is clear that our evaluation was well grounded. Although the court dealt only with procedural issues in this session, like the schedule and the order of the sessions, and the presence of participants, the frenzy over the trial has not abated. On the contrary, it has been fueled by some Western politicians, investigators and prosecutors.

I noted the unceremonious approach of the prosecution that is openly precipitating the trial and demanding that the court formally sanction the only imposed version of the crash as soon as possible. I will offer only one fact by way of example. At this point, Dutch prosecutors are quoting the testimonies of some anonymous witnesses that ostensibly have indisputable evidence of the guilt of the defendants. As usual, the public is being influenced by the “highly likely” thrills of the activities of the Russian secret services. They are being accused of attempting to identify the witnesses, intimidate them and impede efforts to establish the real picture of the tragedy. A lot of fake news has been published during these days.

I would like to recall that Russia is not part of this trial. Moreover, the assertions of Russia’s involvement in this disaster are groundless and are based on questionable sources.

Charges have been brought against one Ukrainian and three Russian citizens. Attorneys represent one of them. They have already requested that the court carefully study all 30,000 pages of the trial materials. That, of course, will take them some time (this opinion is shared even by non-professionals). Legal counsel has justifiably raised questions that we and certain Dutch MPs have asked many times, notably, why Ukraine did not close its air space over the zone of the hostilities and why this issue has not been fully investigated. Up until now, dozens of well-grounded questions also remain unanswered. Questions have been raised not only by Russians but also by politicians, journalists and civil society representatives that have not accepted the mainstream version that was basically imposed on them.

We do not want to anticipate the court’s verdicts. We hope all accessible information, rather than the arguments of the prosecution alone, will be reviewed at the trial without bias. If the trial is truly independent and unbiased it will have to include a study of all the facts around this tragedy, require additional examinations (this is obvious), and question other witnesses and experts, not just those selected by the prosecutors. It will be necessary to analyse in detail the actions or inactions of the Ukrainian authorities, and to verify the authenticity of the photo, video and audio feeds presented by the prosecution. This is just the first look at what should be done at the trial if it is truly unbiased.

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The ECHR ruling on the Polyakh and Others vs Ukraine case

 

We have taken note of the refusal by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to grant Ukraine’s appeal for a review of the ECHR ruling on the Polyakh and Others vs Ukraine case given by a Chamber of seven judges on October 17, 2019. The ECHR judges concluded that the dismissal of Ukrainian civil servants under the Government Cleansing (Lustration) Act of 2014 (GCA) led to violations of their rights. Therefore, the initial ECHR judgement, according to which Ukraine violated its commitments under the European Convention on Human Rights, has come into effect.

We hope that the Ukrainian authorities will abide by Article 46 of the Convention and will take all the necessary steps to honour the ECHR ruling, in particular, by stopping lustration practices in contradiction of the standards of the Council of Europe.

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Continued discrimination against the Russian language in Ukraine

 

We have pointed out more than once that the Ukrainian authorities’ policy of forceful Ukrainisation not only violates the general international norms in the fight of minority rights, but is also splitting society and fomenting hatred in the already polarised Ukrainian society.

There are many examples of this. For example, just a matter of days ago, nationalists launched a hate campaign on Lvov Lyceum No. 45 for announcing the enrolment of primary school pupils in Russian-language classes. Some social media users even called for torching the school.

This uncivilised nationalism looks absurd in the 21st century in a country that claims to be committed to European values and seeks to join the European Union.

The Ukrainian authorities go to stupid lengths in their zealous fight against all things Russian. In late February, the notorious National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting of Ukraine banned the retransmission of three Russian channels, citing “the protection of Ukraine’s information space from the audio, video and print propaganda of the aggressor country.” This serious wording could hint that the banned channels broadcast high-profile political or analytical programmes which can be perceived as promoting the Russian point of view, or talk shows, analytical and weekly programmes on Ukrainian agenda. Not at all, the shocking ban was imposed on Evrokino (EuroCinema), TopShop TV and Zoopark (Zoo) which are guilty of broadcasting in Russian.

The Ukrainian authorities’ actions show open disregard for the Ukrainian Constitution, whose Article 10 guarantees the protection of the Russian language. Moreover, Kiev is not honouring its commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, the Concluding Document of the CSCE meeting in Vienna (1986) and the Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE (1990). The list of international documents disregarded in Kiev is much longer.

We once again urge international human rights organisations to give a clear and appropriate assessment of Ukraine’s violation of the Russian speakers’ rights, and make Kiev abandon its policy of discrimination against the Russian language.

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Trilateral Contact Group on the settlement in Donbass

 

In the context of Ukraine, I would like to also answer a question from the Federal News Agency which goes as follows: “The Trilateral Contact Group on the settlement in Donbass will be able to propose a new mechanism for a dialogue between the parties to the conflict in southeastern Ukraine as soon as March 25. How does the Foreign Ministry evaluate the current settlement process in Donbass? When will there be peace in Ukraine?”

Yesterday, Dmitry Kozak, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Russian Presidential Executive Office, spoke at length on this issue. Specifically, he noted that the agreements need to be “treated with due care to make sure they are not undercut.” On our part, we can only call on everybody to follow this wise advice.

Over the past few years, Kiev has made so many statements which, to a great extent, are mutually exclusive, contradicting the logic and meaning of both the adopted documents and the obligations Kiev took on, that it is high time they acted rather than just talked. If the present Ukrainian leadership demonstrates a constructive attitude, this approach as well as this attitude will certainly find a matching response from all the other parties involved, primarily within the framework of the Contact Group in Minsk.

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Russia’s alleged interference with the elections in Guyana

 

I would like to also cover other topics and other regions. We noted publications in Guyana concerning Russia’s interference with the elections, now in this country. We have allegedly interfered with the elections all over the place, now it is Guyana’s turn. There have been not only media reports but also circulating statements by Guyanese officials about deportation of three people “of Russian origin” from the country due to their alleged interference with the elections in Guyana. I would like to confirm once again Russia’s principled approach that any form of interference with domestic affairs of other states is absolutely unacceptable.

Additionally, I would like to emphasise that we have not received any official inquiries regarding this issue from the Guyanese officials. We assume that if our partners had any actual concerns, before anything else they would address these inquiries to our country via the existing channels instead of engaging in this kind of self-initiated public activity in the media. I do not know why they are doing this, whether they are pursuing some political interests, it is hard to say. But in any case, we will, by all means, be paying attention to these events, issuing rebuttals, etc.

We wish the friendly state of Guyana, with which we are bound by strong time-tested ties of constructive cooperation, to successfully complete the election process within the boundaries of the law and with absolute respect for this country’s sovereignty and its nation’s right to determine the course of its own political and socioeconomic development independently and without any destructive external meddling.

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Developments on Armenian-Azerbaijani border

 

We also received a question from the Public Television of Armenia. The question itself seems to contain the answer so I will allow myself to drop the opening part and focus on the essence of the issue concerning our Armenian colleagues: “How would you comment on Azerbaijan’s aggression on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border?”

Unfortunately, incidents of ceasefire violation continue on the border and on the contact line. There have been deaths and wounded victims. I would like to offer our condolences to the loved ones of those killed.

We are urging the parties to exercise restraint, refrain from using force and instead intensify the negotiation process aimed at reconciliation using political means.

I can assure you that we will continue to monitor the situation and make timely comments.

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The 52nd anniversary of the declaration of independence of the Republic of Mauritius

 

On March 12, the Republic of Mauritius is celebrating the 52nd anniversary of the declaration of independence. It is common knowledge that Portuguese explorers discovered Mauritius Island in the early 16th century. The Dutch occupied it in 1598, in 1715 it was taken over by France, and the United Kingdom established control over the island from 1810. On March 12, 1968, Mauritius was declared an independent state, within the Commonwealth of Nations.

On March 17, 1968, several days after the liberation of Mauritius from colonial dependence, our two countries established diplomatic relations that continue to develop successfully.

Nevertheless, the process of Mauritius’ decolonisation cannot be considered absolutely complete. For many years, this country’s diplomacy has been prioritising the issue of restoring the sovereignty of Port Louis over territories, sequestrated by the United Kingdom in 1965, or the Chagos Archipelago. By the way, we have repeatedly commented on this matter.  

London is unwilling to address this problem and to honour the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 of December 1960), as well as UN General Assembly Resolution 2066 of December 1965 that urges the United Kingdom to refrain from any action violating the sovereignty of Mauritius.

In June 2017, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution seeking the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion on the issue. This launched the relevant court proceedings, and, in February 2019, the International Court ruled that the decolonisation of Mauritius was not duly completed as long as the disputed islands remained under British rule. 

In May 2019, the majority of UN General Assembly members, including Russia, supported a new Mauritius draft resolution on the legal consequences of the Chagos Archipelago’s separation from the territory of Mauritius. Citing the International Court’s decision, the document demanded that London withdraw its colonial administration from Chagos no later than six months after the resolution’s approval. Unfortunately, the United Kingdom declined to fulfil the UN General Assembly’s resolution.

We welcome the friendly nature of relations between Russia and Mauritius. In November 2017, Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and International Trade of Mauritius, paid a working visit to Moscow. He had very fond memories of various meetings and of Russia in general. Notably, he had talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. On March 17, 2018, the heads of both countries’ foreign policy agencies exchanged congratulatory messages in connection with the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.

On October 24, 2019, President of Russia Vladimir Putin had a meeting with Acting President of the Republic of Mauritius Barlen Vyapoory on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi.

We would like to congratulate our friends on their national holiday and to voice confidence that the traditional relations of friendship and fruitful cooperation between our states will continue to develop successfully for the benefit of both nations and in the interests of peace and stability in the East African region.

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The Foreign Ministry’s presentation of the UNOCT project on the exchange of air traveller data

 

On March 5, the Foreign Ministry hosted a presentation highlighting a global project on the exchange of air traveller data, launched by the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT). Held at the initiative of the Department for New Challenges and Threats, the event was intended for representatives of Russian security agencies.

Chief of the Countering Terrorist Travel and Aviation Security Section Jelle Postma presented the relevant software that the UNOCT suggests the member-states use to track suspected terrorists.

The participants also discussed some other practical aspects of Russia-UN cooperation on counter-terrorism and crime prevention, primarily related to countering foreign terrorists and the consolidation of border security for this purpose.

Russia reiterated its full support for the UNOCT’s antiterrorist efforts.

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The OSCE Permanent Council’s discussion of the Julian Assange case

 

The OSCE Permanent Council considered the Julian Assange case. On March 7, the Russian delegation lodged an initiative to discuss the continuing political persecution of the Wikileaks founder. To reiterate: this refers to an OSCE Permanent Council meeting.

We expressed our criticisms in connection with the journalist’s persecution and the violation of his rights. I think that this formula is far from reflecting the truth for the simple reason that we can already talk about the use of torture, direct victimisation, and driving a specific person, a journalist, writer and public figure to the brink. This is no longer a persecution or violation of his rights. The case in point is an on-camera crime that may have a fatal ending. 

Let me remind you that this state of affairs was harshly criticised by both Reporters without Borders and Prof. Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The intention to extradite the prisoner to the United States was also denounced by OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir and Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic. They stressed that he will face an inordinate prison term, if not capital punishment, in the United States.

During the meeting, Russia again pointed out the unacceptability of the journalist being deprived of adequate medical assistance (something that could lead to his death) and the fact that he was unable to freely contact his lawyers.

But the UK and the US have different ideas. In their opinion, the “Assange case” has nothing to do with freedom of speech or freedom of the media, while his dissemination of classified information allegedly “put many people’s lives at risk.”

In effect, London and Washington are accusing him of disseminating the truth, which they regard as a threat to life. I would like to remind you that the West’s military aggression against Iraq alone – and this is what, among other things, Julian Assange was focusing on – was palmed off as a case of “defending the truth,” given that the entire information campaign launched by Washington and London was based on sheer misinformation rather than just false imperatives. The ballyhoo surrounding Julian Assange and primarily the agendas promoted by Washington and London are an apotheosis of imperial logic, double standards and lies.

Look at these aggressors concerned with some imperilled lives, aggressors guilty of causing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of civilian deaths in Iraq alone.

The world community has no doubt about the political underpinnings of the Assange persecution. We call on human rights activists and related international organisations to do all they can to ensure justice for Julian Assange or at least in order to prevent Washington and London from murdering him.   

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Answers to media questions:

Question: Meetings with representatives of Palestinian movements have been held one after another at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow. What is their ultimate objective? Is Moscow planning an intra-Palestinian conference on national reconciliation?

Maria Zakharova: Indeed, senior Ministry officials have been holding intensive contacts with representatives of various Palestinian movements since late February. Here are some of them: comprehensive consultations were held with Central Committee member of the Palestinian Fatah Movement Hussein al-Sheikh on February 27, with HAMAS Politburo Chairman Ismail Haniyeh on March 2, with head of the Palestinian National Initiative party Mustafa Barghouti on March 5, and with Secretary-General of the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine Ziyad al-Nakhalah on March 11. We expect other Palestinian political leaders to visit Moscow soon.

We hope that these contacts will lead to a new intra-Palestinian meeting in Moscow. In our opinion, it can help coordinate an agreement on the restoration of national unity on the PLO political platform. We believe that bridging the gap between Ramallah and Gaza is the main condition for developing direct and sustainable Palestinian-Israeli talks on a comprehensive settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict based on the universally recognised international laws, including UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions as well as the Arab Peace Initiative.

I have taken note of many reports that do write about these meetings, which should be considered comprehensively, out of context. I would like to ask you to take into account what I have already said, namely, to take a comprehensive view of Russia’s efforts to coordinate a meeting of various Palestinian political movements, as well as of Russia’s goals as I previously presented them.

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Question: Will the coronavirus affect Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s plans, in particular, his potential trip to Japan?

Maria Zakharova: I began my briefing today by listing changes in the plans of Russian diplomats in Russia and abroad and reasons that can lead to such changes. Of course, we are acting in compliance with the WHO recommendations and the instructions and recommendations of the Operational Headquarters. We are also developing our own measures and recommendations, which the Ministry leadership quickly approves as binding on the Ministry staff.

As for Japan, I can tell you that the timeframe for the next meeting of the Russian and Japanese foreign ministers have not been coordinated, which means that the coronavirus will not affect the process. These two subjects are definitely not interconnected.

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Question: How did the situation change for French tourists after recent recommendations by the French diplomatic mission regarding cancellation of trips to Russia due to the coronavirus outbreak? What checks are French nationals subject to upon entry to Russia?  Under what circumstances would they be quarantined? How is quarantine being organised in Russia? Is there a designated hospital or a hotel?

Maria Zakharova: We have received many similar questions. I would like to stress once again that the issues concerning travelling to Russia are regulated by decisions of the Russian coronavirus Crisis Centre as well as regional officials.

First of all, please follow the updates from the Crisis Centre and secondly, use the hotlines and online communication tools provided by the centre to receive prompt replies to your questions.

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Question: Is Russia planning to suspend transport connections with the republics in South Caucasus due to the coronavirus epidemic?

Maria Zakharova: These decisions are within the competence of the Crisis Centre. I want to emphasise once again that everything that has to do with the protocols, recommendations and legislation covering visits by tourists and delegations to our country from abroad has no political motivation. The main reasons and strategies behind the preventive measures are related to healthcare, medicine and safety. We are also taking due account of the recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and accumulating international experience in fighting this pandemic (a term we can now use) across the world. 

It is not about politics. I can confidently say that in this case the Foreign Ministry is playing a secondary role and only repeating the recommendations developed by the Crisis Centre. Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov is representing the Foreign Ministry in the Crisis Centre.

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Question: Is the Foreign Ministry planning to offer additional recommendations regarding visits to countries with reported coronavirus cases given that there is an increasing number of these cases? Are there any changes in the schedule of foreign trips by Russian diplomats?

Maria Zakharova: I have already answered the second part of this question.

Once again, any questions about recommendations regarding travel to the countries affected by the coronavirus are discussed by the Crisis Centre which is overseeing the prevention of the import and spread of the new coronavirus infection in Russia. It is the Crisis Centre, not the Foreign Ministry, that is responsible for decisions in this area. The Crisis Centre is working on these decisions in the inter-agency format, through collective and concerted action based on the main goals and objectives for which it was established.

As for the trip schedule, as I said, senior officials of the Foreign Ministry have decided to minimise short business trips by Russian diplomats. This decision took effect several days ago. And we are guided by this decision.

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Question: The developments throughout the world concerning the spread of the coronavirus are becoming ever more serious. There are more and more cases every day. In this connection, have foreign representatives notified the Russian Foreign Ministry via diplomatic channels that they would not be able to attend the Victory Day celebrations in Moscow? If so, which countries have done this?

Maria Zakharova: Just two hours ago, the Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov commented on this issue. Please note that the organisation of summits and top-level events is the prerogative of the Presidential Executive Office and its representatives are entitled to comment. Mr Peskov has already answered this question.

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Question: Is Sergey Lavrov interested and ready to meet with his Polish counterpart? How does Russia feel about ​​resuming the work of the Russian-Polish group on the complex issues of common history?

Maria Zakharova: I would like to point out that Russia, Moscow, Russian diplomats, and other officials have never avoided dialogue with Warsaw. Just a reminder, that there were high-level meetings on the sidelines of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers’ session in Helsinki on May 17, 2019, in particular between the Foreign Minister and his Polish counterpart. We also maintain contacts between the Foreign Ministries and at other levels; they have not been disrupted. The problem is that such meetings need to produce results, because they are not meetings for meetings’ sake. And the expected result is obvious – the development of bilateral relations, not their disruption. Accordingly, if we take this case, Moscow cannot be blamed. We are always focused on dialogue, always assuming we need to develop bilateral relations in the interests of the peoples of our countries, and are careful and responsible with public statements on various matters, including sensitive ones.

As for the bilateral group on the complex issues of common history, as you are aware, this format was established in order to de-escalate political dialogue. In a situation where Warsaw blocked it at its initiative, suspended all cooperation mechanisms and terminated the agreement on visa-free travel between Russia’s Kaliningrad Region and the neighbouring regions of Poland, we believe that the selective approach to straightening out the dialogue meets the interest declared by the Polish Foreign Minister to improve relations with Russia. Again, we are open to a normal, equal dialogue with Warsaw on the clear conditions that I have already mentioned today. The goal should be obvious – it is the development of relations, not their disruption.

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Question: The French newspaper Le Monde has refused to publish a Russian Foreign Ministry letter refuting inaccurate information about the Ministry’s activities given in an article in the newspaper in January. What will the Ministry do in this connection? What steps could it take?

Maria Zakharova: I have issued a detailed comment on the situation with Le Monde. We believe that the Foreign Ministry has taken all possible steps to settle the problem in a civilised manner or through methods that are in accordance with the internationally accepted standards, seeking to attract the said newspaper’s attention to the inaccurate information it published. We gave the newspaper an opportunity, or more precisely asked it to correct its mistake.

However, Le Monde has decided not only to ignore our request, but also to write and say openly that it had no desire to meet our request. We believe that such actions are self-explanatory: this policy is evidence of the newspaper’s attitude to its readers and professional ethics. We see this as a black mark on the newspaper’s reputation.

As we have pointed out, by refusing to publish our refutation, the French newspaper has violated the main principle of universally recognised journalistic ethics, that is, the obligation to give the concerned party an opportunity to reply to a newspaper report that contains inaccurate or distorted information. This commitment has been sealed in several international documents which the French journalistic community not only signed but actively helped to work out as part of the truly democratic processes that took place in the 1950s and 1960s.

We see Le Monde’s actions as a negative example of journalism,  showing disregard for the democratic media standards and principles, which are so often spoken about in Paris. We will continue to write about this, citing this negative example at the relevant international venues, and we will forward pertinent materials to the OSCE.

***

Japanese journalists have asked numerous questions about measures taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that have affected them directly, and also about the activities of certain journalists. We will answer these questions individually.

I was struck in particular by one question: Does quarantine for journalists imply self-isolation or a forceful placement under quarantine? We have much to tell our Japanese colleagues about the difference between self-isolation and quarantine. We will answer all these questions individually because they concern specific aspects of the lives of those who asked them.

 

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