Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow, September 3, 2020
- Update on the coronavirus
- Assisting Russian citizens in returning home and resuming regular flights with individual countries
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s working visit to the Republic of Cyprus
- 10th East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers Meeting
- SCO Foreign Ministers Council meeting
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan Shah Mahmood Qureshi
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Mukhtar Tleuberdi
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Kyrgyzstan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chingiz Aidarbekov
- The end of World War II
- Maintaining military memorials abroad during the year of the 75th anniversary of Victory
- Warsaw’s attempts to help representatives of the Belarusian opposition
- Update on Venezuela
- OPCW’s policy on procrastinating investigation of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian armed opposition
- Washington’s statement on the potential reduction of US troops in Iraq
- Extension of the mandate for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon
- Mali update
- Peace agreement signed between Sudan’s transitional government and the Sudan Revolutionary Front
- Poliovirus eradication in Africa
- The Trevor Reed case
- Deleting accounts by Facebook and Twitter
- Independence Day in the Kingdom of Eswatini
- Hearings on the case of Serb General Ratko Mladic
- Polish authorities’ statements on World War II
- Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s plans to speak at UN Security Council meeting
- Expansion of territorial waters in the Aegean Sea
- Turkey’s actions in the exclusive economic zones of Cyprus, Greece and Egypt
The COVID-19 situation remains a challenge with mixed dynamics. The number of cases worldwide as of September 2 is close to 26 million which is an impressive number.
The virus continues to circulate, and we’re witnessing another spike in the number of infected in a number of countries that previously showed a steady decline. New morbidity clusters are limited to isolated locations and form in places of mass gatherings where social distancing rules are violated, as well as at public venues. In order to ensure sustainable control over the epidemiological situation, all countries without exception are using the necessary prevention and control restrictions and means and are relying on their experience in combating the new coronavirus infection.
To reiterate, the crisis caused by the coronavirus infection clearly demonstrates the need for collective action by all states, where, according to a WHO survey in late August, national healthcare systems were not prepared to adequately respond to the outbreak of a new pathogen.
Russia supports the WHO’s focus on working with all countries and sharing experience in order to jointly fight the pandemic. This is what WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus had in mind when he said on August 27 that humanity needs an approach in the spirit of global solidarity and partnership to put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We keep working – I mean not only the Foreign Ministry’s central staff and our foreign missions, but other ministries and Government departments as well – to provide assistance for our citizens to return home on dedicated flights in a situation where global transport logistics remain limited. The average number of returnees now stands at 5,000 people a week, and the total number has already exceeded 300,000 Russians, as well as the citizens of other states, and of course, citizens of the CIS countries. We are working on incoming requests (both individual and collective), which we continue to receive daily through various channels. Of course, we primarily focus on the most pressing humanitarian cases.
The schedule through September 25 includes flights from Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, Serbia, the United States, France and Japan. On a separate note, three flights from China to various regions of Russia have been included in the flight schedule, which is welcome news for many. Those people, who have been waiting for a flight for more than a month, now have a choice of the following routes: Shanghai-Moscow, Shanghai-Vladivostok and Manchuria-Irkutsk.
On September 2, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin signed a corresponding directive to resume international air service with Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and the Republic of Maldives on a reciprocal basis. In addition, a decision was made to increase the frequency of flights with Switzerland to four flights a week. Based on numerous applications, Mr Mishustin made a decision to cancel restrictions on multiple border crossings for certain groups of citizens. According to amendments to Government Directive No. 635-r of March 16 and Government Directive No. 763-r dated March 27, Russians whose relatives reside abroad and need assistance, will now be able to visit them on multiple occasions.
However, please note that restrictions regarding the entry of foreign citizens to the Russian Federation provided for by the above Directive No. 635-r remain in force. Individual categories of foreign nationals continue to fall under a number of exceptions.
On September 8, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to the Republic of Cyprus at Cyprus’s invitation. The visit is timed to the 60th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations (established on August 18, 1960).
During the talks with the Cypriot leaders, Mr Lavrov expects to focus on approaches to overcoming the consequences of the pandemic in the hardest hit areas of bilateral cooperation. The participants plan to exchange views on international and regional issues, including the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean and a Cyprus settlement.
They are also expected to sign a plan of consultations between the foreign ministries of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Cyprus for 2021-2022.
On September 9, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend the 10th East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers Meeting via videoconference. The participants will discuss preparations for the 15th meeting of the heads of state and government in Hanoi in November of this year. They plan to review ways of promoting practical cooperation on a broad range of issues, including as part of the implementation of the 2018-2022 EAS Manila Plan of Action.
Special attention will be paid to pooling regional efforts for countering the COVID-19 pandemic. The Russian side advocates promoting cooperation in healthcare. In particular, it suggests creating a mechanism for cooperation in fighting infectious diseases.
The participants plan to exchange views on international and regional issues and improving security in the Asia-Pacific Region.
On September 9-10, Moscow will host a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Foreign Ministers Council.
The participants in the meeting, chaired by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, will concentrate on the preparations for the upcoming session of the SCO Heads of State Council. They plan to present drafts of the final political declaration, statements by the heads of state on the 75th anniversary of Victory in World War II and a number of urgent foreign policy issues as well as decisions aimed at further developing SCO activities on overcoming the global political and socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The foreign ministers will discuss key international and regional issues in the context of the 75th UN anniversary.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold a number of bilateral talks on the sidelines of the meeting.
On September 10, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
During the meeting, the ministers will touch on key issues on the international and regional agendas, with an emphasis on Afghanistan, which acquires additional significance in the context of the expected launch of a direct intra-Afghan dialogue with assistance from international mediators. The parties will discuss the main areas of comprehensive bilateral partnership, including in the areas of anti-terrorism, trade and the economy. In particular, we expect an in-depth discussion of unresolved issues related to the construction of the North-South gas pipeline, which will run from Karachi to Lahore, in order to start it as soon as possible.
On September 9, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan Mukhtar Tleuberdi on the sidelines of the SCO Foreign Ministers Council meeting. The ministers will discuss the progress in implementing the agreements reached between the two countries’ leaders. They are expected to discuss key topics of bilateral strategic partnership and alliance, including cooperation at multilateral platforms, and compare approaches to the most important issues on the regional and international agendas.
The ministers will also discuss each side’s preparations for the 17th Russia-Kazakhstan Interregional Cooperation Forum to be attended by the heads of state, the 22nd meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission on Cooperation as well as ongoing bilateral cooperation in such strategically important areas as outer space, energy, economic integration and, of course, military-technical and defence ties.
They will focus on joint approaches to coordinating work within regional integration associations such as the EAEU, the CIS, the CSTO and the SCO. Also discussed will be cooperation and security in Central Asia and the Caspian region, as well as joint efforts against external threats and challenges, including the novel coronavirus infection.
The signing of a Protocol to the Agreement between the governments of the two countries is being prepared, which envisages raising the status of the Kazakhstani Consulate in Astrakhan to the Consulate General.
On September 9, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Kyrgyzstani Minister of Foreign Affairs Chingiz Aidarbekov.
The foreign ministers’ meeting will contribute to implementing the agreements reached at the highest level, including during a telephone conversation between the two countries’ presidents on August 31, and to the further intensification of Russian-Kyrgyzstani multifaceted ties.
The ministers will exchange views on current issues on the international and regional agendas and will discuss the key aspects of bilateral cooperation as well as the schedule of upcoming meetings at the high and highest levels.
On September 9, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to meet with his counterpart from the Republic of India, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
As you know, India is one of Russia’s key strategic partners and we maintain a comprehensive political dialogue with it. Personal meetings with its leaders are being resumed despite the pandemic-related restrictions. This year we will mark the 20th anniversary of signing the Declaration of Strategic Partnership.
Of course, we regard Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar’s visit to Moscow as an important step in maintaining this intense dynamics. The ministers intend to discuss a wide range of bilateral cooperation issues as well as current issues on the regional and international agendas. Among the topics are interaction within the SCO, BRICS, RIC (Russia, India, China), the East Asia Summit, developments in Afghanistan and the situation regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Our joint work at the UN has special significance, particularly considering the fact that India is to receive the status of non-permanent member of the UN Security Council next year.
This year, a new day in Russia’s military glory will be widely celebrated for the first time. September 3, Day of the End of World War II (1945) was established in accordance with a Federal Law signed by the Russian President on April 24 of this year. This proposal was advanced by State Duma deputies and Federation Council senators who aimed to consolidate patriotic traditions, to preserve historical justice for the victors in World War II, and to perpetuate the dignified memory of those who died defending the Fatherland.
The implementation of this initiative allows veterans and public circles, including Russia’s Far Eastern regions, to organise official festive military memorial events in commemoration of the end of World War II, to the victorious end of which the Soviet Union made a decisive contribution.
As you may recall, fulfilling the allied obligations assumed at the Crimea and Berlin conferences of 1945, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan on August 8, 1945. On August 9, the strategic Manchurian offensive began, which ended in the complete defeat of the Japanese Kwantung army, the liberation of Manchuria, North Korea, South Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands.
The Soviet Union’s participation in the war with militarist Japan led to a sharp decline in the ability of the last Nazi Germany’s ally to resist and ultimately to its surrender.
The Japanese Instrument of Surrender signed on September 2, 1945 aboard the battleship USS Missouri declared the unconditional surrender to the allied powers of the Imperial Japanese General Staff, all Japanese armed forces and all armed forces under Japanese control regardless of their whereabouts. The document was signed by Lieutenant General Kuzma Derevyanko for the USSR.
Russian law requires the Foreign Ministry to fulfill a wide range of responsibilities regarding the organising and supervising of military memorial work abroad. In particular, Russian diplomatic missions and consular offices abroad exercise control over the current condition of the burial places of Russian and Soviet soldiers who died in action outside Russia. This work is being carried out by Russia’s foreign missions as scheduled in order to properly maintain Russian and Soviet military memorial sites in foreign countries.
Annually, Russia renovates about 300 individual graves, cemeteries and memorial sites where Russian and Soviet soldiers are buried. The total number stands at over 12,000. In this year of the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War, Russian embassies in Austria, Bulgaria, China, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, North Korea, Spain, Romania and the United States are renovating many sites, including such iconic sites as the Monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia, Bulgaria, and the Monument to the Soviet Liberator Soldier Alyosha in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, the Tallinn military cemetery, including the Monument to Soviet soldiers who fell in the Great Patriotic War and the Bronze Soldier.
Based on the military memorial work abroad carried out by the Defence Ministry’s specialised missions, thousands of names of fallen soldiers were established, which are now immortalised on memorial plaques. For example, in Romania, a Soviet burial site in the town of Budesti was renovated. Personal information about 5,879 soldiers was engraved. A similar project will be completed by the end of 2020 in Slovakia, where tombstones with over 11,000 names of fallen soldiers will be built in the Soviet cemetery in the town of Zvolen. With the assistance of the local authorities, a Soviet burial site in the town of Tapolca, Hungary was restored, and the Fire of Memory was lit.
Yesterday, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described the situation in Belarus in detail following talks with his Belarusian counterpart Vladimir Makei. He gave a comprehensive assessment of the situation in Belarus.
I would only like to add information about Warsaw’s attempts to help members of the Belarusian opposition, considering there were questions about this.
The Polish authorities continue to openly interfere in the domestic affairs of the Republic of Belarus. They are not alone but what they are doing is outrageous.
Warsaw is exerting pressure on Minsk, actually dictating to it a “line of conduct,” and openly supporting Belarussian opposition forces, in particular, with funds, via NGOs under its control. It is using information and propaganda broadcasts to influence Belarusian public opinion and providing shelter in Poland to the leaders of street protests.
The Polish leaders are at the forefront of the EU’s unfriendly policy towards Belarus and they promote the toughening of EU sanctions against Minsk. In this context, statements by Poland’s head of state on the readiness “to protect” certain regions in neighbouring Belarus are a source of concern.
Belarus unequivocally sees Poland’s actions as obvious attempts to interfere in its internal affairs. On August 27, the Foreign Ministry of Belarus expressed a strong protest in this connection to the Polish charge d’affaires in Minsk. To be honest, I don’t even know how else this could be qualified.
We urge Warsaw to return to the universally accepted norms of international law and renounce its policy of undermining the sovereignty of its neighbour. We call on Warsaw to give up approaches that are unacceptable in international relations, notably, support for anti-government actions and the creation of a financial and organisational base in Poland for an opposition that is engaged in illegal activities.
There are a number of important new developments in the political situation in Venezuela. Preparations for the parliamentary elections are intensifying. According to the Constitution, they will be held on December 6. They are to be a major step on the way to a peaceful political settlement of internal differences in Venezuela. We note with satisfaction that quite a few representatives of the opposition political forces have expressed the desire to take part in the election process. We welcome the willingness of the Venezuelan government to grant them the necessary election guarantees, including to invite international observers from the UN and the EU to election sites.
With a view to reaching national reconciliation, President Nicolas Maduro made an unprecedented decision to pardon 110 opposition members that were taken to court on charges of embezzling government funds, and involvement in attempts to stage a coup and assassinate the head of state. Their political rights were reinstated, including the right to vote and be elected. This decision was coordinated with different opposition groups – both at the national dialogue roundtable discussions and elsewhere.
We noted that this step was duly appreciated by High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.
Against this backdrop there are “no changes on the Western front.” I am referring to Washington. The United States, which was in the forefront of those who demanded the release of the so-called political prisoners, is again threatening to toughen sanctions against Caracas and to continue stifling the Venezuelan economy, primarily its oil sector. The rhetoric on the drug and terrorist threats that are ostensibly emanating from Venezuela is being intensified.
We have emphasised more than once that unilateral bans on Caracas must be cancelled. They not only deprive Venezuela of badly needed funds but also restrict its opportunities to effectively counter the spread of the coronavirus infection and purchase individual protection gear, medical equipment and drugs. During the pandemic, the preservation and even the toughening of illegal sanctions amount to a politically motivated crime.
At the same time, having proclaimed a priori its intention not to recognise the parliamentary elections, Washington is openly encouraging the radicals to boycott the vote. This is an absolutely destructive position that shows a lack of respect for the Venezuelans, their maturity and political wisdom. Lyrics aside, the aim of this policy is to keep afloat the Juan Guaido project that primarily failed in the eyes of the Venezuelans and was imposed on them from the outside. The US has invented and pursued many projects like this throughout the world. This plan is yet another failure.
We are convinced that international efforts to help normalise the situation in Venezuela cannot be imposed from the outside like some kind of “action plan.” Help means support for those who are directly involved in the dialogue and the process of settlement. It does not at all amount to demands to overthrow the legitimate authorities at any cost.
We urge all responsible members of the international community to prevent attempts to destroy the constitutional electoral process in Venezuela and to support as much as possible the creation of favourable conditions for letting the Venezuelans develop their own constructive solutions and compromises for existing problems within the bounds of law, without outside pressure and interference, not to mention the threat of force.
Once again we note that the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) continues to drag out the investigation into the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian armed opposition, under far-fetched pretexts. Meanwhile, Damascus regularly informs both the OPCW and the UN Security Council about these incidents.
Here’s a specific example. Almost two years have passed since the incident in the Syrian city of Aleppo (November 24, 2018) but the Technical Secretariat is still, unable to complete the investigation. It continues to add requirements for Syria which has already given the OPCW inspection groups access to the incident site and all the available information and continuously expresses its openness and willingness to cooperate.
Regrettably, the OPCW Technical Secretariat was not so scrupulous as regards the information received from unknown sources on the territory of a third country concerning investigations of incidents in the cities of Al-Lataminah, Saraqib and Khan Shaykhun. Eventually, the Syrian authorities were blamed for these incidents without any grounds.
We believe that the procrastination in investigating the use of chemical weapons by the militants contradicts the requirements of the Chemical Weapons Convention and once again shows that the Technical Secretariat is politically biased in Syrian affairs. This also proves its willingness to fulfil the political orders of a number of states that have repeatedly used armed force against Syria in violation of the UN Charter to pursue their geopolitical interests in the Middle East.
President Donald Trump made yet another statement on the US’s intention to reduce the strength of the US military contingent in Iraq almost by half. The figures that have been quoted over the past few years are so different that I don’t think there is any point in mentioning them again because every year we hear something new (reduction by percent or by total number; a reduction in troops but instead they increase them). I think it is worth commenting on this trend as such.
We believe that a real reduction of the military presence in Iraq and the Middle East in general by the US authorities would be a step in the right direction. Time has shown that US troops in Iraq have not brought stability or peace to that country. On the contrary, the security situation remains fairly tense there, as we have regularly pointed out.
At the same time, we must state that the publicly declared US intention to withdraw military units from foreign countries often remains an empty declaration that is never carried out. Syria offers a specific example. US troops have firmly entrenched themselves in Syria in violation of all international standards although President Trump has repeatedly said he would withdraw them. This is not the only example. There are many spots like this in the world.
On August 28, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2539 on extending the mandate for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon for one year, until August 31, 2021. This is a major peacemaking operation by the UN, which plays an important stabilising role on the Lebanese-Israeli border.
The Russian delegation took a most active part in harmonising this document, being guided by a principled approach on the need to consider the position of Beirut as the host party in terms of the mandate’s substance and the parameters of the operation. In this context, the Russian delegation closely cooperated not only with the UNSC members but also with its Lebanese partners, invariably supporting the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of that country.
We continue to closely monitor the developments in Mali, where the military seized power on August 18. We share the concerns expressed over this by the UN Secretary-General, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
We welcome the release on August 27 of ex-president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and National Assembly Speaker Moussa Timbine, who had been detained by the military.
The removal of nearly all the top Malian leaders has complicated the already difficult situation in the country. In addition to socioeconomic problems, Mali is now facing the task of protecting its territorial integrity and combating the terrorist threat. Internal unrest there has greatly undermined Malians’ ability to effectively contribute to the collective efforts of the Sahara-Sahel countries, including the G5 Sahel group of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, which is focused on combating terrorism.
We believe that every possible measure should be taken to prevent any further deterioration in Mali and to return it to the constitutional framework. In our opinion, the only possible way to settle the current crisis is to restore law and order without delay, launch an inclusive national dialogue and take other steps that will bring about the desired effect.
It is good that the developments in Mali have so far been peaceful and that no lives have been lost. We welcome the August 19 statement issued by the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), which currently holds power in Mali, about its plans to relaunch civil rule and hold presidential elections within a “reasonable timeframe.” As far as we can see, the CNSP intends to ensure a sustainable operation of executive authorities. We hope that one way to do this is the ongoing CNSP-led talks with the opposition June 5 Movement, which organised mass rallies against Keita’s policy during the past few months.
We support ECOWAS mediation efforts towards settling the crisis in Mali. The organisation’s extraordinary session, held via videoconference on August 20, decided to send a high-level fact-finding mission to Mali led by Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, former president of Nigeria. It is notable that this first direct contact with the mutineers was organised within a short period of time.
During their August 28 meeting, the ECOWAS leaders urged the CNSP “to immediately begin the process for a civilian transition” and to organise presidential and parliamentary elections within 12 months. The transitional president and prime minister must not represent the CNSP and will not stand as candidates in the next elections. The ECOWAS sanctions imposed on Mali have been extended until September 7, when the organisation will hold another meeting.
The talks, including on the parameters and the timeframe of the civilian transition, are ongoing. We are hopeful that the measures taken by ECOWAS regarding Mali will be effective and that the African Union will contribute to them energetically.
The Foreign Ministry recommends that Russian citizens refrain from visiting Mali until the situation in the country becomes normal and reliable security guarantees are provided.
On August 31, Sudan’s transitional government and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), a coalition of armed groups from the regions of Darfur, Southern Kordofan and the Blue Nile, initialled a peace agreement in Juba, the capital of the Republic of South Sudan. The document stipulates the division of powers in the centre and the regions, including SRF representation in the federal bodies of the transitional government – the Supreme (Sovereign) Council, the government and the legislative assembly. The SRF armed units will be incorporated in the republic’s law enforcement authorities in order to maintain law and security throughout the country.
We welcome the initialling of the peace agreement in Juba and look forward to it being signed officially soon. In our opinion, it is a major step towards restoring national accord in Sudan, achieving the transition objectives and dealing with the acute socioeconomic problems in the country. We also hope that those armed groups that are not taking part in the peace process will join the agreement.
Last week the WHO Regional Office for Africa announced the eradication of the poliovirus in Africa. Not a single case of this dangerous infectious disease has been registered on the African continent over the past four years. This achievement was made possible thanks to a system-wide mass vaccination and a large-scale campaign against polio organised by African countries with the support of international organisations, first of all the WHO.
We congratulate everyone who was involved in this truly landmark achievement. We think that it can be rightly regarded as convincing proof of the efficiency of international cooperation in combatting dangerous epidemics.
We also believe it is important to note the contribution made by Soviet and Russian scientists to developing vaccines against polio and its eradication around the world, including in Africa.
I cannot but comment on the stories in the US media on the allegedly politicised case of US citizen Trevor Reed, who was sentenced to nine years in prison on July 30.
I want to point out the following: Trevor Reed was found guilty of committing a criminal offence under Part 2 of Article 318 of the Russian Criminal Code. As you may know, during his arrest “for inadequate behaviour” on August 16, 2019, Trevor Reed, who was under the influence of alcohol at the time, resisted arrest and assaulted two police officers. Under the above Criminal Code article, the use of violence that may pose a danger to the life and health of a government official during the performance of his/her duties is punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years.
As for the speculations about an allegedly unjust and too severe punishment, I want to note that in the United States, as well as in some other Western countries, such offences are punishable by much longer imprisonment terms. For example, assault on a police officer engaged in discharging his duties in the State of New York carries a sentence of up to 15 years. It would be good if the US newspaper articles about Trevor Reed mentioned this fact too.
We noted that once again, the Facebook and Twitter social networks blocked and then deleted 18 accounts and two pages, allegedly of Russian origin, under the pretext that these accounts had violated these services’ rule prohibiting foreign interference.
The social networks’ administrators justified their decisions and the restrictive measures by citing the findings of an inquiry conducted into the deleted accounts that is allegedly based on data from the FBI. The relationship between American intelligence agencies and social networks prompts certain questions. I believe that it could be a subject of a special investigation in the future. But back to the point.
In particular, the account holders are being accused of attempting to impose radically leftwing views on users and criticising both US presidential candidates in their posts. It is speculated that they may be cooperating with the Internet Research Agency, a Russian media outlet. Supposedly, the inquiry found evidence of “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” – that is, the pages were distributing content of Russian information agencies without notifying readers about it.
These are “solid” arguments, of course. We understand that the reality is not what it is portrayed as and it is unlikely that such a complicated string of logic could be the actual reason for censoring another source of Russian media content. It is more likely that the IT corporations acted out of political motivations, similar to the approach followed by that part of the American establishment that is constantly inflating a myth about the threat of Russia’s interference in the US elections – a myth that has been repeatedly debunked by the Americans themselves. Let me remind you that after almost four years, not a single piece of evidence corroborating such accusations against Russia has been provided. Last week, this was confirmed by US Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen, who announced that there was no evidence of the fact that any foreign actors could have significantly affected the integrity or security of the election infrastructure or the infrastructure of election campaigns.
It appears that the Americans are simply trying to keep their favourite topic afloat. In our opinion, these speculations have run their course and they are doing this on purpose in the context of the upcoming US elections in November.
We urge the internet platforms to review their policy in favour of observing the fundamental norms of international law and the democratic principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
We expect that competent international bodies and human rights organisations will duly respond and make an objective evaluation of the IT corporations’ actions.
On September 6, the Kingdom of Eswatini marks a national holiday, Independence Day. On this day in 1968, the British protectorate over the country was lifted and Eswatini gained national sovereignty.
We highly value the traditionally friendly relations with this African state. Our countries maintain a regular political dialogue and work on expanding mutually beneficial cooperation in political, military-technical, trade, economic and humanitarian areas. We hope that the business contacts established by this friendly state’s delegation, led by King Mswati III, on the sidelines of the Russia‒Africa summit in Sochi in October 2019 will give an extra impetus to our cooperation.
We would like to congratulate our friends on their national holiday and sincerely wish the people of Eswatini success and prosperity.
Question: On August 25, the hearing of appeals in the case of Serb General Ratko Mladic began at the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals despite his ill health. How would you comment on this?
Maria Zakharova: As far as we are aware, the lawyers for Mladic have filed motions with the Mechanism’s Appeals Chamber and the Registrar to order the “immediate hospitalisation” of the general, but both motions have been dismissed without any substantiation of the decision.
This attitude to the rights and health of Ratko Mladic is unacceptable. Following a recent review of the Mechanism’s functioning, the UN Security Council issued a resolution noting “the importance of ensuring the rights of persons detained on the authority of the Mechanism in accordance with applicable international standards, including those related to health care.” There are serious questions about the Mechanism’s compliance with these standards. It appears that Ratko Mladic is unable to participate in the hearings in full measure, which can result in gross violation of his right to a fair trial.
What is happening at the Mechanism is remindful of the worst traditions of its predecessor, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). It appears that the Mechanism is doing its best to uphold the wrongful sentence adopted by the ICTY in 2017 despite the deteriorating health of Ratko Mladic. We once again urge the Mechanism to abandon this line and to strictly comply with the standards of international law, including respect for the rights of persons detained, including Ratko Mladic.
Question: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has noted that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were both responsible for starting WWII. At the same time, the Polish Foreign Ministry has invited the Russian Embassy to do a test on WWII, which includes questions about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the Yalta Conference. What is the Russian Foreign Ministry’s position on such Polish statements in the year of the 75th anniversary of victory in WWII?
Maria Zakharova: It is not the first time that the Polish authorities have tried to play on WWII, which is an extremely sensitive topic for the people of the former Soviet Union. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has been particularly active in the media space in order to satisfy his political views or ambitions, or the part of Polish society who would like to know for sure who was to blame in Poland’s military defeat. He is trying to shift the focus of public attention away from the strategic mistakes made by the Polish authorities before the war and to place the blame on the external forces, claiming cynically that the war was unleashed by the Soviet Union together with Nazi Germany.
The death of millions of peaceful civilians, which the Polish Prime Minister mentioned during the ceremonies marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the war, is extremely lamentable, and this feeling is especially strong in Russia and the other former Soviet republics where the Nazi invaders and their accomplices destroyed a great number of cities and over 70,000 villages, leaving 25 million people homeless and killing over 26.6 million Soviet citizens.
This is an especially delicate subject, as Poland only too well knows. We cannot understand why they continue to distort the history of WWII when this is harmful to bilateral relations and Poland’s own historical path. This is having a destructive effect on Poland. It is outrageous that the cynical distortion of history is complemented with attempts to play on the innermost feelings of individual people and humankind as a whole. It was a similarly irresponsible attitude of European leaders in the 1930s that pushed the world towards the largest disaster in history.
We regret that real memory and sorrow are being ever more often replaced in Poland with a farce. The Polish Foreign Ministry indeed invited, via Twitter, our Embassy in Warsaw to do a test on WWII. It would be interesting to know what Poles would say in a similar “game” about their pre-war leaders’ regular meetings with Hitler and his closest henchmen, or how they would explain Poland’s annexation of several Czechoslovak lands immediately after the Munich Pact, which essentially gave the green light to the implementation of Nazi Germany’s aggressive plans?
We can assure our Polish colleagues that Russia is well acquainted with history, but our answers to that test will hardly be to the liking of the Polish Foreign Ministry. Moreover, the Polish establishment itself has failed this test by forgetting who made the decisive contribution to the defeat of Nazism and who saved European nations from physical extermination.
Question: Would you please comment on the information recently reported by the press service of Belarusian presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya – specifically, that she plans to speak at UN Security Council meetings on September 4, 2020. Which of the UN members initiated her appearance? Is Moscow aware of such initiatives?
Maria Zakharova: It was Estonia that initiated the event you mentioned. Information about Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s participation in the meetings has indeed been circulating. However, we do not have an official confirmation yet.
In the meantime, it should be stressed that in any case, it will not be an official UN Security Council meeting. The only possible format for the meeting on September 4, 2020, is an Arria formula meeting. Any member of the UN Security Council has the right to convene an informal meeting of this kind. The consent of the majority is not required.
This format was initially created as an additional tool to obtain more information on the issues on the UN Security Council’s agenda. However, eventually, many UNSC members started to misuse it. Our Western partners are more likely to do so as they try to pull representatives of civil society into communication with the Council, including individuals who are not always constructively disposed.
Moreover, our Western colleagues often use Arria formula meetings to promote their political goals and draw attention to the matters on which Council members are seriously divided. The meeting on Belarus initiated by Estonia is an example of this counterproductive practice.
It is obvious that the situation in Belarus after the election is not posing any threat to international peace and security – the issues supervised by the UN Security Council. As we see it, indirectly placing this situation on the Council’s agenda via an alternative route such as the Arria formula meeting is flagrant interference in domestic affairs of a sovereign state. We strongly believe that any assistance to Minsk by the UN can be provided exclusively upon the request from the official authorities.
The experience of the past years shows that using the Arria formula is necessary to grant a certain status to the matters that do not fit in the UNSC agenda. This is part of the ongoing information campaign against Belarus.
Question: The Greek media regularly claim that Russia is totally against Greece extending its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles, something that is allowed under the Convention on the Law of the Sea, provided, to be sure, that the freedom of navigation is preserved, as stipulated by the Convention. I wonder, if Moscow has discussed this matter with Athens? What is Moscow’s position? Do you think there is a need for an additional agreement with Russia in cases, where this decision is taken in relation of regions, such as the Aegean Sea, where Russian and other international interests may be affected?
Maria Zakharova: Russia has signed the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and its position is based on international legal norms contained in this document. Specifically, Article 3 of the Convention stipulates that every State has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles, measured from baselines determined in accordance with this Convention. But in a number of cases, countries, for some reason or another, establish a narrower territorial sea. We proceed from the assumption that in this matter states are guided by common sense and take into consideration the geographical peculiarities of a region. In cases, where a territorial sea has to be delimitated between neighbouring states, this issue should be addressed in keeping with international law.
The leadership of the Hellenic Republic is well aware of Russia’s opinion regarding this matter.
When it comes to situations where Russian interests are directly affected, we will deal with each specific case on its merit. So far though, we see no need for this.
Question: Has Russia changed its position in connection with Turkey’s threats against other Mediterranean states and its unilateral geological exploration in the exclusive economic zones of Cyprus, Greece, and Egypt? What countries, apart from Russia, may benefit, in your opinion, from an armed conflict between two NATO members? What do you think about media reports claiming that Mr Erdogan is pursuing his expansionist policy in the region with so much uncontrolled aggression because he feels Moscow’s support?
Maria Zakharova: We cannot call these speculations anything other than provocative. We have repeatedly declared that we do not seek to benefit from interstate strife. This fully refers to such a sensitive and explosive region as the Eastern Mediterranean. It does not matter whether countries involved in a conflict are allies and members of the same military and political block or not.
Russia would like all disputed issues to be solved exclusively via a political dialogue involving the development of confidence-building measures and a search for mutually acceptable solutions based on international legal norms. We are prodding no one towards any aggressive actions. Our bilateral cooperation, with Turkey among others, as we repeatedly said, is not directed against third countries.