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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, August 1, 2019

1 August 201917:41

Table of contents

  1. Syria update
  2. Sudan update
  3. US escalating tensions in the Gulf
  4. Situation involving the Stena Impero oil tanker with Russian sailors onboard
  5. Venezuela update
  6. Release of Mein Kampf in Estonia
  7. UK media reports on forming cyber troops
  8. Russian approaches to artificial intelligence (AI) in the light of the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence held on July 11-12 at UNESCO
  9. International law on freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly
  10. Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova on the sidelines of Terra Scientia National Educational Youth Forum

Answers to media questions:

  1. Ceasefire violation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict area
  2. Caspian Five cooperation
  3. US sanctions against Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
  4. US President Donald Trump offers assistance in fighting wildfires in Siberia
  5. US Senate approves a bill on sanctions against the companies involved in Nord Stream 2 construction
  6. European Parliament election
  7. United States cuts back financial aid for Armenia
  8. Latvian government’s decision to block Baltnews.lv Russian-language news website
  9. New round of talks within the trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine
  10. Denial of Russian visas to teachers of the Anglo-American School
  11. Update on the INF Treaty

Syria update

A two-day International Meeting on Syria in Astana (IMSA-13) starts in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, today.  Representatives of the three guarantor countries – Russia, Iran and Turkey – delegations of the Syrian Government and Syrian opposition, as well as Jordan and the UN as observers have traditionally participated in this format. This time, they will be joined for the first time by Lebanese and Iraqi observers. We hope that the inclusion of new Arab observers will increase the level of involvement of Syria’s neighbours in the peace process and will allow for more a substantive discussion of such pressing issues as the return of Syrian refugees, the establishment of trade and economic ties and the normalisation of relations between Damascus and its Arab partners.

The participants will discuss the situation on the ground in Syria, the political process, primarily the launch of the Constitutional Committee, and humanitarian issues, including the provision of aid to all Syrians, the return of the refugees and IDPs, and the country’s post-war recovery. The Working Group on the Release of Detainees/Abductees will meet on the sidelines of the peace talks.

Concerning the current situation on the ground, Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff Colonel General Sergey Rudskoi held a detailed briefing earlier this week; his remarks are posted on the Russian Defence Ministry website, providing a detailed analysis of the situation in various parts of Syria, including Idlib, the northeast and the south, based on the most recent statistics.

In general, we continue to be alarmed by the tense situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone, as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham militants continue shelling and attacking nearby areas from that zone.

A difficult humanitarian situation persists in the Rukban and Al-Hawl camps. Despite encouraging signals regularly given by Western representatives, the situation there is not changing for the better. After nearly all civilians were evacuated from Rukban with Russia’s assistance, both camps actually turned into colonies of runaway terrorists and their families. The unbearable living conditions are further radicalising the remaining residents of Rukban and Al-Hawl. As a result, there is a real threat of these people eventually escaping these camps and joining the ISIS terrorist underground and its “sleeper cells” in Syria and Iraq.

Despite the objective economic difficulties, the Syrian authorities are continuing to implement a large-scale programme to restore peaceful life and repatriate Syrians – as many as 330,000 people have returned in the year since the announcement of the Russian initiative to return refugees and IDPs to Syria.

Syria is gradually returning to peaceful life, reviving natural trade and economic ties and coming out of isolation. Some 30 countries have confirmed their participation in the 61th annual Damascus International Fair scheduled for late August ? early September, which plays an important role in supporting the national economy and attracting additional investment in the country. Furthermore, in the second half of July, a Syrian delegation visited Minsk, where they discussed with the leadership of Belarus the participation of local companies in the post-war reconstruction of Syria.

Syrian-Arab relations continue to improve. President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas’s intention to visit Damascus in the near future was announced recently.

According to the Syrian Ministry of Education, Russia has become one of the leaders in providing scholarships to Syrian students, a third of all foreign grants. For our part, we are glad to be contributing to the future of the Syrian people this way.

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Sudan update

We continue to monitor closely the developments in the friendly nation of Sudan. From the very outset of the crisis Russia has been calling on the parties involved to settle their differences exclusively by peaceful means, on the basis of a broad-based dialogue involving all responsible political forces in the country.

We support the political agreement signed on July 17 with the mediation of the African Union and Ethiopia between the Transitional Military Council and the opposition Alliance for Freedom and Change on the establishment of provisional administrative authorities for the transitional period. It is our understanding that its implementation will help stabilise the situation in Sudan.

At the same time we think it necessary to have the talks on drafting the Constitutional Declaration, which is to define the powers of the future provisional government institutions, completed as soon as possible.

We are convinced that the settlement of the crisis in that country must be exclusively an internal Sudanese affair and consider any forms of outside interference to be unacceptable.

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US escalating tensions in the Gulf

We are concerned about the increasing potential for conflict in the Gulf. The developments are indeed moving towards a dangerous point and are fraught with the risk of a major military conflict.

The United States is deliberately making the situation worse partly by organising a pirate seizure of the Iranian tanker in Gibraltar to strengthen the US military presence in the Gulf area under the pretext of “ensuring freedom of navigation.” At the same time, other countries are being dragged into provocative schemes, even those that basically have nothing to do with this region. They are already being organised into some kind of “naval coalition.” This is a favourite device in recent years – instead of building up forces to ensure peace and stability based on international law, they are creating obscure coalitions with vague powers and rights that are not supported by any legitimate authority, that simply pursue the opportunistic interests of a certain group countries. This naval coalition is apparently aimed at exerting pressure on Iran rather than ensuring peace; unfortunately, as we understand it, the United States is playing the leading role here.

As a reminder, before the United States unilaterally withdrew from the agreement that ensured the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear programme, shipping and oil traffic through the Strait of Hormuz was smooth and stable. There was no need to form any coalitions to ensure security until the Americans began to artificially escalate tensions.

Washington seems to be looking for a pretext to raise tensions, continue aggressive rhetoric against Iran and propel the conflict toward a more active and hot phase. In so doing, it is guided essentially by its internal political considerations, the next round of the electoral cycle. We regularly voice these concerns, pointing out that it is a vicious policy to put at risk civilians in other countries, as well as their own citizens, including military personnel and civilians, in pursuit of voter support, to manipulate minds, tamper with information and thus influence popularity ratings. America’s allies in all these coalitions had better think twice before letting themselves be dragged into someone else’s game as pawns.

The current crisis makes the need for the development of a coordinated strategic vision for the long-term stabilisation in this region even more relevant. We have been suggesting that we jointly address that matter for many years. In particular, we have developed the Collective Security Concept for the Persian Gulf Region; Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov presented the updated version of this concept during his briefing on July 23.

This initiative is based on strict observance of international law, multilateralism and the equal participation of all regional states without exception. We expect it to be supported.

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Situation involving the Stena Impero oil tanker with Russian sailors onboard

The Russian Embassy in Iran is constantly monitoring the status of the three Russian citizens in the crew of the Stena Impero British-flagged oil tanker anchored in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.

On July 26, Russian diplomats in Iran were allowed a meeting with them. The sailors’ health is in good condition, they have no complaints. They have access to adequate food and medicine.

The Iranian authorities were asked to resolve the situation around the Russian citizens in order for them to return home as soon as possible. We will continue to do our utmost and prioritise this matter.   

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Venezuela update

We fully support comprehensive efforts to find mutually acceptable ways to settle the conflict in this country. Russia is interested in solving the Venezuelan problems as soon as possible and once again urges all involved to refrain from commenting on the process and goals of talks in the Norwegian format held between the legitimate Venezuelan government and representatives of the opposition, as well as from attempting to influence them. External pressure on the negotiation process will not speed it up, but rather sow mistrust between the parties and meaningfully slow the process down.

Such conduct by the US and its allies may cause direct contacts to be broken off and a new political escalation with consequences that will be difficult to predict, which also postpones any peaceful settlement of the intra-Venezuelan conflict without the use of force. All the members of international community somehow interested in reaching a settlement are responsible for the outcome of the intra-Venezuelan dialogue.

Unfortunately, the very first steps along the path of talks have raised concerns among the so-called friends of Venezuelan democracy. Recently (July 16) the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy threatened to expand the sanctions if the talks don’t have practical results. An interesting diplomatic move. If the talks break down, and no matter whose fault it is, sanctions will be imposed. These are the convolutions of EU diplomacy.  The US Secretary of State also stepped in and said on July 19 that Maduro leaving office can be the only goal of the Barbados talks. So the talks are seen not as a path to look for a compromise and ways to settle the conflict but to move towards a predetermined goal set by a third party (another country). It seems all these statements with implicit ultimatums can be explained by Washington’s feeling that that the participants of the talks could find a compromise that won’t play into the hands of the US Administration but rather benefit the Venezuelan people.

In addition to verbal threats that constantly invoke the military option, the legitimate Venezuelan government also receives more overt signals: US reconnaissance aircrafts perform provocative flights near the Venezuelan border more and more often, forcing the national Air Force to respond. On July 24, the US Department of the Treasury added another 10 Venezuelans and Colombians as well as 13 companies from several countries (Hong Kong, Colombia, the United Arab Emirates, Panama, the US and Turkey) to the sanction list. This is another example of real pressure and blackmail. Do you know why these companies from the countries I mentioned were added to the list? For evading sanctions to purchase and distribute food as part of social assistance programmes for the poor. Here we can see how much concern there really is for Venezuelans. Recall that US involvement here is predicated on concern for Venezuelans.

Moreover, the US continues to practice double standards. Washington has prolonged the exceptions for five oil producing and oilfield service companies from the sanctions introduced by President Donald Trump this January as part of its policy of choking off the Venezuelan economy. This means that, as a means of unfair competition, these sanctions are designed to squeeze other players out of the Venezuelan market and create additional advantages for US businesses. No anti-Maduro considerations stand in the way when the interests of large US businesses are at stake. This is absolutely hypocritical; it is a double standard and violates all the rules and norms of international relations afforded to democratic communities as global rules of the road. Exceptions are made for companies that don’t lack for resources which they use to further enrich themselves; but no exceptions are made even for poor child cancer and leukemia patients.

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Release of Mein Kampf in Estonia

We took notice of information that additional copies of Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf, which is banned in Russia, will be released in Estonia this August. The first run of the book that was released by Matrix Publishing in the first half of this year has reportedly sold out. This publishing house has on more than one occasion published works by notorious authors: for example, its infamous activities include the publication of books by Nazi accomplices in Estonia and their followers today.   

It is worrying that unhealthy excitement over this book has been worked up in Europe in recent years. In 2016, an edition with commentaries by the Munich Institute of Contemporary History was released in Germany. By the end of the year, 85,000 copies were sold, instead of the initially planned 4,000 copies. The same year Italian Il Giornale released the first volume of the book as a free supplement to the newspaper.    

In 2018, Mein Kampf became available in the Netherlands, after a 70-year ban on the sale of the book in this country, and a French translation of the book was announced for release in 2020. Last March, a Warsaw theatre staged a performance based on Hitler's text, although it is banned in Poland. The book can be bought in Britain, the United States, France and Japan.   

They have started to forget what this book is. Let us remember together. Mein Kampf is a militaristic, misanthropic book, which sets forth the ideological framework for Adolf Hitler’s future evil doings and describes terror as a legitimate instrument of political struggle. In Russia, it is included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials and there is a ban on publishing and distributing the book. The reprinting of a text like this, even if it has critical commentaries by historians, risks becoming an ideological timebomb in light of the increasingly frequent attempts to revise the outcome of World War II, rehabilitate the accomplices of the Nazi regime and spread neo-Nazism, racism and xenophobia in Europe. What makes things worse in Estonia is that the publishing house has released the book without taking the trouble to provide accompanying reference material or explanatory notes, or censor passages.

Last year, in addition to Matrix Publishing, bookshops across the country started to sell comic strips, Hitler the Hipster, filled with humour that is centred around dark themes like the Holocaust and the aggression against the Soviet Union. The most active among Estonian media is Culture and Life magazine, which is known for its efforts to rehabilitate Hitler’s accomplices, as well as its open involvement in popularising the Estonian SS units and the period of 1941-1944, when Estonia was occupied by Germany.   

The distribution of literature like this is not the only indicator of the critical level that neo-Nazi sentiments have reached in Estonia. A few days ago, on July 27, a now traditional rally of the admirers of Waffen-SS was held at Sinimaed Hills. On July 29, items with Nazi symbols were available at a market that opened on the grounds of a NATO military base in the city of Valga. The memory of war criminals is being perpetuated, whereas acts of vandalism are carried out on memorials to Holocaust victims and Soviet soldiers who liberated Estonia from Nazism and the activities of antifascist organisations are being obstructed.   

It is clear that were it not for the lenient attitude of the authorities, the rising popularity of neo-Nazism in Estonia would have been impossible. We believe that international organisations, including the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the EU and the UN, will, at last, pay closer attention to this obviously dangerous situation and use their influence with Tallin. We also believe that Estonian civil society will take resolute actions to prevent their country from turning into a bastion of neo-Nazism in Europe and follow the example of the leading book distribution networks which have refused to sell the book by Hitler printed by Matrix Publishing. As for those who, motivated by short-lived political benefits, promote the ideology that was condemned by the Nurnberg Tribunal, they should be ashamed as they contemplate the numerous descendants of Estonians who defended and liberated their home country from the Nazi invaders, although I am not quite sure if this term is still relevant in international relations today.

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UK media reports on forming cyber troops

We took note of UK media reports today that referred to statements by the British military on the establishment of specialised divisions for offensive cyber warfare in the information space. In particular, I mean The Daily Telegraph, which justifies such measures by the need to rebuff, among other things, imaginary threats from Russia. The Times, for example, wrote expressly that such divisions are to “orchestrate cyberattacks and spread misinformation.”

What we see is not just another achievement in the UK’s anti-Russian policy but actually an acknowledgement of London’s aggressive intentions in the digital sphere. It’s particularly ironic that less than a month ago the Foreign Office organised a so-called Global Conference for Media Freedom, and now the British authorities have shown their hand: to manipulate information for military-political purposes, including in the cyber landscape.

We won’t leave it at that. I think that the Russian Embassy in the UK will comment. We will discuss this topic again in greater detail. This is our first response. 

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Russian approaches to artificial intelligence (AI) in the light of the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence held on July 11-12 at UNESCO

The International Conference on Artificial Intelligence, organised by the Information for All Programme and the French Paris-Sud University, was held on July 11-12 at UNESCO headquarters. Russia acted as a conference partner.

A wide range of international agencies (World Intellectual Property Organisation, World Bank, the EU, the ILO, the ITU, and the OECD) and representatives from the expert community were involved in the conference. Western speakers prevailed. The rest of the world was represented only by Brazil, Taiwan and Japan.

The event actually went beyond the stated topic, which was narrow and not quite relevant to the organisation – the impact of digitalisation on the labour market. Various areas were considered, including education, ethics, economic implications and others.

In general, the conference confirmed the aspiration of UNESCO to take a leading role in developing a regulatory framework for AI.

Generally, the event was more like an exchange of views on a very new, relevant and dynamic issue. No documents were adopted following the conference.  

Director of the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology’s Center for Computational and Data-Intensive Science and Engineering Maxim Fyodorov, who participates in the development of Russia’s national strategy on AI, spoke at the conference plenary session on the approaches of our country to this issue. He emphasised the importance of the central role of humans in AI applications, the advisability of developing an appropriate international ethical framework, and the need to coordinate intergovernmental approaches to formulating a common policy in AI.

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International law on freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly

You have probably noted our recent responses to statements made by the foreign affairs agencies of various countries regarding internal political events in Russia. There have been many of them over the past week. It is amazing how sensitive our foreign colleagues are to internal events in our country. They have expressed concerns about certain aspects of the electoral process in Russia. As you know, we have been commenting through our overseas missions, and we will continue to do so. We always provide appropriate explanations in a form that is readily understandable to our partners, supply audio and video materials, remind them of their own internal practices, urge them to spend more time on their domestic politics, and point out the generally recognised and fundamental international legal principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, because many seem to be forgetting about it. We also take care to remind them that international law, which was still in force last time I checked, requires states to refrain from any comments or actions that could be interpreted as such interference.

Taking this opportunity, and since several foreign affairs agencies have a record of such statements, I would like to use this opportunity to educate our especially sensitive partners on the international legal aspects of electoral processes and freedom of assembly. Before we start hearing any bizarre, awkward or untethered statements, it would be a good idea to review – since we are talking about international relations – the international legal documents these countries have helped write and adopted.

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says that the exercise of the right to freedom of expression “carries with it special duties and responsibilities” and “may therefore be subject to certain restrictions” that are “provided by law and are necessary for the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals.”

Article 21 of the same International Covenant on the right of peaceful assembly says the exercise of this right is also subject to restrictions “in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

Similar provisions are contained in Article 10 on Freedom of Expression and Article 11 on Freedom of Assembly and Association of the European Convention on Human Rights. Moreover, as an additional reason for possible restrictions on the exercise of the rights in question, they also mention “the prevention of disorder or crime.”

I would also like to remind our Western partners, whose recent comments have been entirely off-base, that the exercise of the constitutional right to peaceful assembly by citizens of the Russian Federation is regulated by the Federal Law of June 19, 2004, On Meetings, Rallies, Demonstrations, Processions and Pickets. Its provisions are fully consistent with our country’s obligations under the aforementioned international agreements and treaties.

It is especially strange to hear reprimands from countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and many others, where the authorities ferociously pummel their fellow citizens, journalists and foreign nationals that turn up, with or without cause. There should be no talk of proportional response after watching how demonstrations have been dispersed in Paris, Frankfurt, Ferguson, London and other places. Yet, here they are lecturing others.

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Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova on the sidelines of Terra Scientia National Educational Youth Forum

In conclusion, I would like to share with you our plans for August. We are preparing several outreach activities for our press centre. We will inform you about them and invite you to attend. One of our goals is to acquaint you with some interesting forums that take place in Russia and, of course, to draw your attention to venues that are remarkable in every sense.

Our next briefing will be held on Friday August 9 in the city of Solnechnogorsk in the Moscow Region, on picturesque Lake Senezh. The Terra Scientia National Educational Youth Forum is running there from July 5 to August 20. We received an invitation to speak there and feel it possible and even necessary to hold a briefing there. This is a unique and creative forum, a communication platform, which provides young people from all over the country, who really want to change their lives for the better and really participate in these changes, an opportunity to unleash their creative potential and use it in the practical areas of our life, and present their own developments and look at other people’s developments.

Terra Scientia is also an educational forum whose participants get an objective view of the current state of affairs in our country and objective assessments of its development prospects as part of a direct dialogue with the leading politicians of our country, representatives of big business, and cultural and scientific figures. Most importantly, they can ask questions and get answers in an interactive dialogue format.

I invite everyone to our regular briefing in the city of Solnechnogorsk. I hope you will like it. See you soon!

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Answers to media questions:

Question: There are still tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh and the ceasefire is constantly being violated. Over recent months, there were the dead and injured on both sides. An Azerbaijani border guard was wounded yesterday. Do the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, in particular Russia, plan to take any measures on this?

Maria Zakharova: We are concerned with the rising tensions on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, which resulted in the death of an Armenian soldier and non-fatal casualties on both sides. We convey our condolences to the family of the dead and wish an early recovery to the victims.

The growing tensions run counter to the recent agreements on a ceasefire and the stated intentions to settle the conflict by political means.

We proceed under the premise that further escalation is unacceptable. We call on the parties to the conflict to display restraint, to refrain from using force and to take measures aimed at stablising the situation.

Regarding the co-chairs, I believe it would be better to ask them directly. We will inform you if we have new information.

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Question: On August 12, the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea, signed by the Caspian Five, will see its first anniversary. How do you find these states’ cooperation in the Caspian region since the convention was signed?

Maria Zakharova: The document you mentioned provided a necessary legal framework for cooperation in this geopolitically and geoeconomically important region. Of course, the convention has incentivised cooperation between the Caspian states in various areas.

On August 12, the first Caspian Economic Forum will be held in Turkmenistan. This is a major event designed to give a powerful impetus to trade and economic cooperation in the Caspian zone. Prior to the forum, the ministers of economy and transport of the Caspian Five will meet.

The high-level interstate Working Group on issues related to the Caspian Sea, established under the auspices of the foreign ministries pursuant to last year’s decision approved by the presidents of the Caspian countries, has started proactive operations. The five-way talks on an agreement concerning the method of establishing the straight baselines in the Caspian, as envisaged by the Convention, have come under way.

Agreements on cooperation in search and rescue, maritime transport, research, navigation safety and the fight against poaching and drug trafficking are being drafted.

Russia wholly supports dynamic and comprehensive cooperation between the coastal states. I am confident that the number of items on the Caspian agenda will continue to expand.

" rel="111">I believe that this is a good response to some recent statements to the effect that international law and multilateral diplomacy are not working. This is an example of how we have managed to create an international legal infrastructure for further cooperation. This was done without pressure from self-proclaimed informal leaders, but with a common effort, through consultations and long and difficult talks, which I have personally seen.  Given that all countries are different, have their own goals and interests, as well as identical or differing approaches to international problems, this is an example of effective and mutually respectful cooperation  aimed at finding consensus solutions that can be used as grounds for cooperation in the legal sphere.

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Question: Yesterday, the United States sanctioned Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Could you comment, please?

Maria Zakharova: It seems to me that imposing sanctions is all that US diplomacy is capable of. Putting diplomatic terminology aside and describing the situation as is, the United States is driving itself into a corner. They have denied themselves the possibility of using a wide range of diplomatic resources and tools to address various questions and problems, leaving just one tool, sanctions. This tool does not work, has not produced any results and has completely discredited itself and those who resort to it. When a large, great and in every sense significant country uses unilateral sanctions as an element of how it resolves problems, it testifies to  the ineptitude of its other institutions. I wonder why US diplomacy was put on this dead-end road. Maybe you, as journalists, should address this question to the US?

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Question: In his telephone conversation with President of Russia Vladimir Putin, US President Donald Trump offered him assistance in fighting the Siberian fires. Can this offer of assistance be regarded as a step toward resuming dialogue?

Maria Zakharova: Yes.

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Question: What can you say about the US Senate endorsing sanctions against companies involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline?

Maria Zakharova: It is just another attempt to try and keep the wheel turning. They do not know what else to do and what other dirty trick to play. However, the next round of anti-Russia measures is being only discussed by the US Congress so far. They discuss masses of things, but they do not always adopt decisions on them. It is difficult to say what is going to happen this time. But one should understand why this is being done.

I believe that today we should talk about the mechanics behind this process. I am referring to the Protect European Energy Security Act, which was submitted in May. Please don’t be surprised by the fact that it is about Americans protecting Europeans – this is their modus operandi. Later, they will demand money for their protection, as is the case with NATO. But it will likely be a follow-up move.

The bill has been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but it should be also discussed by several other committees in the autumn, after the summer recess, and after that – by the Senators in a body. Next the same procedure is to be followed by the House of Representatives. There are no deadlines. So there is no need to react to each step in the legislative procedure. Basically, we have commented on this situation.

As for why we need not react to each step in this process, it is not the only anti-Russia bill in Congress. There are about 20 such masterpieces on the congressional calendar. All of them are of the same type. The production of such bills has long become the only job for a number of US lawmakers, especially as they can use it for self-promotion. It is a much hyped subject, and they want to get themselves into the limelight by advancing resonant initiatives, which the voters will remember.

Another aspect we must not forget is that even the most active advocates of the sanction pressure on Russia have admitted over the past few months, including publicly, that these measures have not produced the desired effect. Even when it was not done “just for the sake of doing it” but for a clear purpose that was made public, the initiators of sanction pressure have admitted that it does not work. The United States has introduced anti-Russia sanctions 71 times since 2011, including 31 times since early 2017, that is, under the incumbent administration. But neither the previous nor the current administrations have achieved their goal. Russia continues to pursue an independent foreign policy.

A politician in one of the countries, which Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has visited, told us an interesting story. This is what was said verbatim: “I love reading the statements made by the Russian Foreign Ministry, because what they say becomes reality in a few months or a year.” So, we will continue to pursue an independent policy, providing an objective assessment of international developments and forecasting the outcome of certain international events, because this is effective, and our actions are not based on virtual reality and subsequent excuses for illegal actions but on a real analysis of real life and the situation on the ground. Our actions are substantiated, including when it comes to international law. There is nothing the United States can do about this, including in the case of the Nord Stream 2 project, which continues despite the threats. The initiators of the sanctions have made a laughing stock of themselves when they publicly refuse to participate or to give others an opportunity to participate in a lucrative project. They are just demonstrating their impotence. It was my reply to the previous question. But when the matter concerns unilateral and termless sanctions – over 70 sanctions imposed since 2011 – they are evidence of their impotence and inability to use any other of the existing tools.

It turns out that it was in vain that Washington forced American companies to reject profitable contracts in Russia, including in the oil and gas sector. And now they have to explain their failure to the voters. They have missed out on making huge profits without any good reason, and they have lost their niche on the Russian market. Their commercial interests have been sacrificed to geopolitical ambitions, but ultimately the United States has not gained anything in business or politics. Moreover, it risks alienating its European allies who are interested in Nord Stream 2 and who are aware of the project’s scale, openness and transparency, as well as the underlying mutual respect and legal framework.  I believe that the day will come soon when the Americans, including the American business community, will call their politicians to account for this short-sighted policy.

Those who are pursuing this agenda can only rely on the propaganda effect of the papers they prepare and adopt, as well as on heightening tensions and putting on edge those who are monitoring the situation. I do not think we need to react every time this happens, and I mean both us and you.

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Question: 70 days ago, the European Parliament election took place; yet, a large number of people, who have been legitimately elected to this body, still cannot start their work despite receiving some 2.5 million of Catalonian residents’ votes. I am speaking of former President of the Government of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont, as well as the currently imprisoned Oriol Junqueras, whom certain local journalists call a political prisoner. Could you comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: To the best of my knowledge, the European Parliament leadership and the Government of Spain are now addressing this issue. We hope it will be settled within the legal framework. I do not think this requires a separate comment from us.

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Question: Reports have emerged recently of the United States planning to considerably cut the traditional annual financial assistance to Armenia in the new fiscal year. According to Zareh Sinanyan, High Commissioner of Diaspora Affairs of Armenia under the Prime Minister, “This is the way Washington wants to punish the Armenian side for sticking to its traditional policy of strengthening links and cooperation with Moscow after the new Armenian government took office, and even more importantly, sent its troops in Syria.” As we know, Armenian military doctors, combat engineers and other specialists are now active in Syria. Can it be interpreted as one country seeking to punish another for maintaining normal, friendly, allied and partnership relations with a third country?

Maria Zakharova: I would not like to give any political assessment of this particular case. I have not seen the quote you cited.

I would like to use this as an example of what we have repeatedly mentioned. On the one hand, there is the Western world – what we call the Western civilisation – which for many decades has provided a lesson for all other countries and continents as regards the need to follow an independent policy, both domestically and internationally, and has endlessly stated that interference in other states’ internal affairs was unacceptable. Building relations between two sovereign states is their own internal affair. Although we are talking about foreign affairs, this policy is shaped based on the domestic concept and ideas of what tasks and goals a country wants to achieve externally. So it follows that dictating terms to anyone as to what countries they can or cannot develop friendly relations with, what to be guided by, and what blocs to join contradicts the concept I mentioned, the concept backed by Western countries and, most importantly, the United States.

We have repeatedly observed this approach, when it was not just about the non-allocation of assistance that had been promised and should have been provided, but about its full withdrawal. We have seen sanctions pressure on certain countries (the examples are close at hand), and direct threats to the business community and companies that cooperate with the countries blacklisted by Washington. Sometimes these threats evolved into aggressive actions. We all remember the case with European banks, which were punished for conducting totally legal transactions that displeased Washington.

This all negates the values that the United States declared and is defending in today’s international relations. I think that at some point this contradiction will bring them to a deadlock with no way out. Actions cannot be so contradictory and illogical. This always leads to a collapse.

This is not about one specific situation but rather about the United States’ global and even philosophical, ideological approach to its basic values that it is defending as fundamentally important for itself and the entire world.

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Question: Last week, the Latvian authorities decided to block the Russian language news website Baltnews.lv. The Russian Foreign Ministry believes this move attests to Latvia’s efforts to remove independent media from its information space. The Baltic countries have repeatedly created obstacles for Russian journalists. How does Russia, and in particular, the Foreign Ministry plan to protect its media abroad?

Maria Zakharova: We commented on this case straight away.

We are doing this in several ways. Obviously, we make public statements and send a notice of protest to our partners that allow this kind of information- related outrage in their countries. We explain our clear-cut position outlining that this approach to the media is unacceptable to international organisations and raise this issue at international venues and various conferences that are held under global institutions. It is necessary to have a comprehensive approach to this issue.

Often we react to the appeals of journalists and editors who ask us to support them. Incidentally, some people in this room can confirm my words. We receive letters and appeals from media staff with requests for support. These are not just our measures that are adopted by the international community but also targeted support for journalists. We have begun working as “information first aid.” Journalists, correspondents and their offices send us materials, videos and documents confirming the interference in their activities. This is why we are implementing a comprehensive approach to such issues.

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Question:  Commenting yesterday on the regular round of Trilateral Contact Group talks, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Martin Sajdik said that the indefinite truce, starting July 21, has “produced significant results.” Do you agree with his evaluation? What can you tell us about the results of these talks?

Maria Zakharova: I can only express an optimistic attitude towards this expert evaluation. We believe the truce will really work and become indefinite, as it is called.

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Question: What can you tell us about the denial of Russian visas to teachers at the Anglo-American School?

Maria Zakharova: This story appeared in the US media as a leak. As I see it, the Americans alleged that Russia ostensibly was denying visas to American teachers at the Anglo-American School in Moscow. We have commented in detail on this issue, explaining that it’s not the case and we explained what is happening and why.

Today I can say that we have reached some progress on this matter on a reciprocal basis. Russia hopes for the global settlement of the Russia-US visa issue in this area (re administrative and technical staff and teachers) and a global resolution to the crisis. Regrettably, it is currently in a deadlock.

Let me remind you that a Russian citizen has to wait up to 300 days for an interview (this is the waiting time in Moscow) to receive a visa. Business visits, cultural exchanges and the participation of our athletes in competitions are being disrupted. Regrettably, the US is calling into doubt its ability to host international events if it cannot issue visas within reasonable time frames. Today the world lives at a totally different speed and in an entirely new reality that does not suggest 300-day wait times for visa issuance. Sometimes there is no answer at all: applicants are neither refused not granted a visa. People are completely unaware of what is going on. Meanwhile, this is the attitude towards people who do not pose any threat. On the contrary, they develop bilateral relations and are seen in the US as merited public, cultural and sports figures.

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Question: Tomorrow the INF Treaty will become history. It has been disintegrating for a long time and Russian leaders have commented on this in different ways. They said the treaty was a Cold War relic and that it bound Russia more than it did America. They also said the Americans were shattering it for the wrong reason because this would result in grievous consequences for security in general. It will actually expire tomorrow. Is this good or bad for Russia? What will Russia do when it is no longer bound by this treaty?

Maria Zakharova: We have commented in detail on this issue. We said from the start that, as you correctly pointed out, it was the US that started walking away from this treaty, and now they are finally done with it. We said this was a serious mistake of Washington in all respects. We gave the US repeated chances to resume its legal commitments under the treaty. We said that if they had concerns over any aspect of the treaty, we were ready to respond to them. Moreover, we held several events that were informative or explanatory. These were practical meetings attended by our military experts that were ready to give explanations on any issue of interest and show any facility that ostensibly made our partners worry.

What did we see? We saw complete reluctance not only to take part in such discussions or similar events but even an aggressive desire to prevent any US partner from attending explanatory meetings that were only designed to find common ground for discussing the issue.

Indeed, there was an aggressive information campaign in the US itself. It turned everything upside down and accused Russia of all but being the first to walk out from this treaty. Moreover, we saw how NATO institutions were used for the same purpose as a participant in the information campaign. The shattering and discarding of the treaty and the created information atmosphere are a source of much regret. This is a perverse example of resolving complicated issues in the modern world. Instead of preserving an instrument that relieves concerns we see that it is being thrown out. Instead of creating an atmosphere of trust aimed at making the world more stable and secure we are seeing steps in the opposite direction.

A relevant statement will be made tomorrow. As you pointed out, this is a historic moment, but regrettably, with a negative connotation. One way or the other, alas, tomorrow will go down in history.

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