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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, February 12, 2020

12 February 202022:02

Table of contents


  1. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the 56th session of the Munich Security Conference
  2. Russian and Italian foreign and defence minister meeting in the 2+2 format
  3. A visit to the Russian Federation by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Ayman Al Safadi
  4. Measures on the novel coronavirus outbreak in China
  5. Syria update
  6. Former US Vice President Joe Biden’s statement on Afghanistan
  7. Ukrainian information space update
  8. Russian-language media in the Baltics
  9. World Radio Day
  10. Russian linguist Maria Konoshenko’s Kpelle dictionary comes off the press in Guinea
  11. Remarks by Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova at the conference “Disinfo horizon: Responding to future threats”
  12. Dismantling of the Monument of Gratitude to the Red Army in Leszno
  13. Publication by the Polish Institute of International Affairs
  14. Incident involving Russian citizens in Phuket, Kingdom of Thailand

Answers to media questions:

  1. Assessing Josef Stalin’s role
  2. Poland’s plans to “neutralise” historical facts of World War II
  3. International Conference on Libya
  4. NATO’s possible support for Turkish forces in Syria
  5. Turkey’s accusations regarding Russian actions in Idlib
  6. Speculations around coronavirus
  7. Alleged Russian cyber or hybrid attacks on NATO members
  8. Afghanistan: Soviet Army withdrawal anniversary
  9. Russian trade delegation official in Japan
  10. Former Ukrainian president’s statements
  11. Estonian parliament draft statement
  12. Munich Security Conference

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the 56th session of the Munich Security Conference

On February 14−16, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will participate in the 56th session of the Munich Security Conference (MSC) as the head of the Russian delegation.

Many meetings, contacts, talks, and participation in various formats (bilateral and multilateral) have been planned on the sidelines of this event. The many MSC formats, including plenary sessions and roundtable discussions, will provide for a comprehensive review of security issues in different parts of the world, including the Middle East, North Africa, the Arctic and the Balkans, as well    as urgent problems of energy security and healthcare. The participants will focus on the current situation in trans-Atlantic relations, new challenges and threats of our times, including climate change and the influence of increased trade protectionism and accelerated technical progress on international security.

In his speech at the plenary session entitled “Global disorder − other opportunities for a new agenda,” Mr Lavrov plans to describe Russia’s attitudes towards ensuring international security and global stability in a world system that is rapidly disintegrating. Mr Lavrov also plans to make another speech during the Primakov Readings discussion, which will be devoted to the priorities of Russia's foreign policy in an era of new confrontations between the great powers.

By tradition, the MSC offers an opportunity to hold informal meetings on the sidelines. The schedule is now being planned. We will inform you about the schedule soon. Mr Lavrov and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas are expected to take part in a traditional business breakfast with representatives of the Russian and German business communities. Mr Lavrov is expected to hold bilateral meetings with his foreign counterparts: German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic-Radman, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and African Integration of Togo Robert Dussey, and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell.

On the eve of the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend the ceremony of awarding Russian veterans with anniversary medals 75 Years of Victory in the 1941−1945 Great Patriotic War at the Russian Consulate General in Munich. Details of the event are now being reviewed. We will inform you about them soon.

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Russian and Italian foreign and defence minister meeting in the 2+2 format  

On February 18, the Russian and Italian foreign and defence ministers will hold their regular meeting in Rome in the 2+2 format. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu will meet with their Italian counterparts, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Luigi Di Maio and Defence Minister Lorenzo Guerini.

The format was established under an agreement between the president of the Russian Federation and the Italian prime minister and has been in effect since 2009. 

The upcoming meeting is the fourth in this format. The agenda includes a wide range of international issues with a focus on global stability and resolutions of the most acute interregional problems. In particular, issues of arms control and security in Europe will be discussed, as well as the Middle East settlement and developments in North Africa.

The consultations in Rome will include separate meetings between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Luigi Di Maio and bilateral contacts between the countries’ defence ministers. The parties will exchange views on the current state of bilateral relations.

A visit to the Russian Federation by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Ayman Al Safadi

On February 18-19, Ayman Al Safadi, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, will be in Moscow on a working visit. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with him on February 19.

The talks will include an in-depth exchange of views on current issues on the international and regional agendas with an emphasis on conflict situations in the Middle East. Emphasis will be put on the Syria settlement in the context of resolving the urgent humanitarian issues, including the return of Syrian refugees to their place of residence and the Palestine-Israel situation. The parties intend to have a detailed discussion on further advancing the multifaceted cooperation between Moscow and Amman including the expansion of economic and investment partnership.

We note the strong character of the Russian-Jordanian political dialogue which is marked by a high degree of trust, and close or overlapping approaches to many key contemporary issues.

Measures on the novel coronavirus outbreak in China

First, we would like to note that on January 31 President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin sent a message to President of the People's Republic of China (PRC) Xi Jinping with words of support and sympathy in connection with the coronavirus outbreak. Our Chinese friends were also offered any assistance we could provide.

On February 1, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had a telephone conversation with Member of the State Council and Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi. Mr Lavrov reaffirmed Russia’s willingness to help China counter the epidemic.

An Emergency Response Centre on preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus infection has been established in Russia following instructions from Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. The Foreign Ministry is part of this effort in cooperation with other related federal government bodies. We have informed you about this regularly. A national action plan has been adopted. The Foreign Ministry has also formed the Emergency Response Headquarters, which is coordinating the work in this area. I believe that you are receiving updates from our offices abroad – embassies, consulates general and permanent missions. I would like to remind you that we have hotlines and accounts on social media that are available at all hours, the Foreign Ministry’s accounts, and the websites of our consular services and foreign missions. I would like to draw your attention to the Foreign Assistant app that you can download on any device (smartphone, iPod or computer). This programme will allow you to access information on any country online while traveling.    

At present, in close cooperation with our Chinese partners, Russia is taking all the necessary measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus here. The Russian Government has adopted a number of directives (No. 140-r of January 30, 2020, No. 153-r of January 31 and No. 194-r of February 3, 2020). The Russian embassy and the consulate general in China are closely monitoring the situation and staying in touch with Russian citizens that are in China’s districts where the disease has spread.

In close cooperation with our embassy in Beijing, on February 5 the Defence Ministry evacuated Russian and some CIS country citizens from Wuhan in Hubei Province by plane. Our compatriots who wanted to leave the areas affected by the ourbreak in China were taken home. Evacuation corridors are regularly organised at the state checkpoints in the border areas for Russian citizens to leave China and Chinese citizens to leave Russia.

Our diplomatic missions have hotlines where Russian citizens in China can contact our diplomats and receive help.

On February 9, the Emergencies Ministry delivered Russian humanitarian relief to Wuhan with the Foreign Ministry’s support by a special aircraft. At China’s request, over 23 tonnes of humanitarian cargo including personal protection items, which China is short of, were sent to the districts affected by the coronavirus.

I would like to do something that I rarely do. Usually we give our political views and then reply to questions. Sometimes our emotions run high. We always support our positions with facts. It is probably pointless to appeal to conscience, morals and ethics but we do this, too. Today, I would like to emphasise this. To be honest, reading the foreign press, monitoring reports from Western news agencies and watching television, I am shocked that all this appears on the territory of states that not only consider themselves civilised but who also preach the lofty ideals of democracy and upholding human rights at international venues. Frankly, I don’t even remember such almost undisguised derision as regards China and its people that the writers of these many reports allow themselves. They are using disinformation and fraudulent facts, and are showing a lack of respect and sympathy which is so badly needed by the country and people that have been hit with the unprecedented spread of a new virus. At the end of the day, they should come to their senses, gather their wits and recall or probably read again everything that was signed and everything that was declared by the UN and its agencies. These principles must be recalled and not just at political meetings. We need to abide by these principles in life. If a country and its people are fighting such a dangerous and challenging epidemic, it is possible and necessary to display sympathy.

In this context, I would like to support the Chinese people, our Chinese friends, and do this not only on my own behalf but on behalf of all commiserating Russian people that are sending us letters and calling us, asking us to convey words of support to China in these uneasy times. They are asking us to do this in Chinese since it’s still an official UN language.

Dear friends,

We really want China and the Chinese people to act as one and unite in countering the epidemic to protect China as the ancient towers of the Great Wall do. Russia feels for the people of China through these difficult times. We are  fully behind them and we would like to sincerely wish them every success in overcoming this epidemic.

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Syria update

The situation in Idlib is highly charged. The fighters of the terrorist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and affiliated units have intensified attacks on the Syrian government forces. They are shelling nearby cities, including Aleppo, and are using drones to attack the Russian air base at Khmeimim. As a result of this, 150 civilians have been killed and 300 injured over the past month. Syrian military casualties include over 400 dead and over 900 wounded. We believe that this aggravated situation is rooted in Turkey’s neglect for its obligations under the Sochi Memorandum signed on September 17, 2018 and the fact that Ankara is moving the so-called moderate opposition units it controls to northeast Syria, the zone of its Peace Spring Operation and Libya.

Nevertheless, Russia remains committed to the Idlib agreements reached in Astana and is resolved to continue to work jointly [with Turkey] to implement them. Our main current objectives are to bring down the level of violence on the ground, to ensure the safety of the guarantor countries’ military personnel in and around the de-escalation zone, as well as to prevent the aggravation of military confrontation as a result of the ill-considered use of force.

We hope that Russian and Turkish representatives continue working on a comprehensive solution for Idlib. A Russian interdepartmental delegation visited Ankara a few days ago, and we are now coordinating a schedule of further interdepartmental contacts, about which we will update you in due time.  It should be pointed out that all de-escalation zones in Syria were devised as a temporary measure, which must not in any way infringe on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country or hinder the fight against the terrorist groups that have been declared as such by the UN Security Council.

Terrorists also maintain their presence in the other parts of Syria, including east of the Euphrates. We see the revitalisation of sleeper cells there, contrary to the declarations on the routing of ISIS issued by the United States and its allies. The terrorists stage regular violent attacks on Kurdish units and are doing their best to damage basic infrastructure in other parts of Syria as well. On January 27, they attacked several oil storage facilities in the port city of Baniyas. On February 3, mortar attacks were launched against oil and gas facilities in Homs. There are serious concerns about the Al-Hawl refugee camp, whose population includes the families of ISIS fighters, foreign terrorist fighters and other militants. The situation at the camp is approaching a humanitarian catastrophe, and the delivery of aid there has been largely restricted.

In this context, I would like to mention the Russian efforts being taken to evacuate the children of Russian citizens from Syria. Thanks to the contribution of a Russian interdepartmental working group that was in Syria between February 1 and 6, we have removed 35 Russian children from Al-Hawl. On February 6, 26 of these children were flown back to Russia, while the other nine remain in Damascus to complete travel formalities.

Other destabilising factors include the Israeli strikes on Syria. Such unilateral actions are infringing on Syria’s sovereignty and are putting at risk the lives and safety of civilians. This happened on February 6, when a civilian aircraft carrying 172 passengers barely escaped destruction during Israeli airstrikes.

Former US Vice President Joe Biden’s statement on Afghanistan

We have noted a statement by former US Vice President Joe Biden on Afghanistan that was made at a campaign rally. I realise that, considering the presidential election race is now entering its final stage, we will hear many extravagant statements from US representatives. In his statement, Joe Biden provides an extremely negative assessment of the situation in Afghanistan and casts doubt on the country’s prospects for asserting itself as integral unified multi-ethnic state.

This statement by a former US leader did not surprise the Russian side. The US leaders claim that they have been fighting terrorism in Afghanistan for over 18 years as well as building a democratic Afghan state. As we know, Washington has failed to achieve any of these goals.  In this context, Joe Biden’s words should be understood as an open admission by the US establishment of its powerlessness in these matters and the failure of its Afghan campaign, as the Russian side has repeatedly stated. I would like to point out that we are not talking about a human rights activist here, a person representing some humanitarian organisation or even an expert. This  is a representative of the highest level of the US executive branch who, for many years, had all the levers for influencing this situation. In this regard, it comes as no surprise that there has been a highly negative reaction to the US politician’s rhetoric among Afghan society and political circles, including representatives of the government of Afghanistan, which cooperates closely with the United States.

In our opinion, all this once again confirms that the United States and its allies have exhausted the limits of their presence in Afghanistan. It is high time to withdraw the international military contingent from the country. The people of Afghanistan themselves should sit down at the negotiating table and determine the destiny of their own state because no one else can do this for them.

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Ukrainian information space update

Today, we are marking another anniversary of the Minsk Agreements. Prior to this, we published an extensive commentary containing our assessment of the situation as a whole and the current stage of the efforts being made to implement the Minsk Agreements. I am not sure that the word “stage” is appropriate in this context. I think we should focus on the definition contained in our statement: the “imitation” of efforts to implement the Minsk Agreements by the Ukrainian side. I would like to discuss the developments taking place in the Ukrainian information space as a separate item.

We again have to turn the spotlight onto the situation regarding freedom of expression in Ukraine, where the Kiev regime has been systematically consolidating its hold on the media and bringing increased pressure to bear on dissenting information sources.

Arousing serious concern are its latest legislative initiatives in the media sphere. The bills “On the media” and “On countering disinformation” actually envisage a number of substantial restrictions for the media and in fact impose state censorship on stories that the authorities find embarrassing for themselves.

It is difficult not to see that these antidemocratic legislative initiatives are directed exclusively against Russia. Specifically, we are facing yet another Ukrainian attempt to oust Russian information content and deprive the population of an opportunity to receive unbiased and objective information on domestic and world events. Even if one cannot describe some single source or a group of sources as fully objective, then at least one is witnessing an attempt to deprive their own population of an alternative and additional point of view.

Judge for yourselves: one of the bills directly instructs the media to cover the Russian leaders’ activities in a negative way. The plans are to legitimate the ban on “popularising and producing propaganda for the government agencies of the aggressor state.” Judging by the policy that Kiev pursues with regard to the Donbass residents, it is Ukraine that is the aggressor state. And the most horrible thing is that it is an aggressor state towards its own people. The same bill contains an exoneration (or denial) of an armed aggression and annexation of Ukraine’s territory as well as violation of its territorial integrity and sovereignty.  Clearly, these restrictions, given the right interpretation, can be extended to any journalistic writings.

There is also a proposal to turn down registration applications from news agencies whose governance bodies are located in Russia. But do European and world conventions, or material, agreements and declarations that regulate journalists’ professional activities say anything of the kind? Where is this allowed or encouraged in principle? What documents stimulate this sort of behaviour? This behaviour, on the contrary, is criticised by national and supranational professional communities.

Apart from this, the Ukrainian media market will be closed to companies whose owners or beneficiaries are Russian citizens or tax residents. Relaying signals from Russian territory is banned as well.

Kiev is also tough on dissenting national media. Last week, the Security Service of Ukraine searched the office of Channel 1+1. In so doing, the officers declared that criminal persecution had nothing to do with “pressure on the media or impingement on the freedom of expression.” But what were they doing there? Carrying out a maintenance inspection? Checking the electrical wiring? What are we talking about? Where are the related international organisations?  Where are all those who are tracking the developments in the field of media rights and freedoms through a magnifying glass? Concern has been expressed by OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir and related Ukrainian and international NGOs, including the Ukraine National Union of Journalists, the European Federation of Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders. The problem is that this is just a one-off and gentle response, quite unlike what they organised for the benefit of Oleg Sentsov or Nadezhda Savchenko. After all, they know how to stand with placards at embassy gates, write petitions, stage daily flashmobs, organise support rallies, or snap photos. As a gesture of goodwill they even deliver food to the channel’s office. I know that Ukrainian journalists are fond of things like that and know how to do them.

We hope that the Kiev authorities will heed the international community’s opinion, reread the commitments signed by their predecessors, stop their arbitrary treatment of the media, and step once again back onto the path leading to the civilised world that they are so eager to join. We once again call on the Kiev government to comply with the international obligations in the field of media freedom and freedom of expression they have assumed. 

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Russian-language media in the Baltics

We are worried about the aggravated situation concerning the Russian and Russian-language media in the Baltic countries. Similar measures, founded on nothing but political reasons, towards the Russian media adopted by the governments of various countries are instruments of pressure on the media and are part of an anti-Russian campaign being waged against Russian journalists and media. If there were some facts, they would have been mentioned. But here we only see identical political measures aimed at putting pressure or containing those concerned, or simply aggressive acts.

On February 4, the Latvian State Security Service conducted searches of the Riga office of Baltic Media Alliance that includes 25 television channels in the Baltic countries that broadcast programmes by Russia’s Channel One and Ren TV.

As an official pretext for the searches, Riga claims that a certain group of people, including the co-owners and board members of the Alliance Oleg Solodov and Alexey Plyasunov,  are suspected of violating  EU sanctions. This pretext can be used to crank out many similar situations and can be used against any media. However, against the backdrop of the system-wide prosecution by Latvian authorities of Russian-language information sources, this case looks like it is a fake, and the statements made by  the Latvian security agencies are Riga’s failed attempt to justify its discriminative and repressive policy towards the media. And once again we are asking, where is everyone? Where are all the protesters in front of the embassies of the relevant countries, first of all Latvia, and other EU countries? Where are the flashmobs and the supporters?

The fact that the Latvian district court upheld the decision of the National Electronic Media Council to stop broadcasting nine Russian channels confirms once again the fact that Latvia is not going to review its attitude towards Russian-language media resources. Moreover, President of the Republic of Latvia Egils Levits yesterday asked the Latvian parliament’s commission on human rights and public affairs to increase the share of television programmes in the official EU languages in the country’s cable networks to 80 percent. What can I say? Yes, it is much better to concentrate on the languages of Old Europe like Spanish and Portuguese. This is very relevant for Latvia. Does anybody else see it?

We consider these steps a direct violation of the rights and freedoms of the media and the discrimination against the Russian-speaking population of the republic whose access to information in Russia is being restricted.

Other Baltic republics show similar trends.

As of January 1, 2020 the government of Estonia forced Sputnik Estonia to suspend its operations, by using unprecedented pressure and even threats to start a criminal prosecution against the employees of the Russian news agency.

In Lithuania, Sputnik is also being put under pressure. In May 2019, the authorities in the republic issued a 5-year entry ban for the agency’s news editor Marat Kasem. Let me remind you that last year, the country banned the broadcasting of the Russian channels RTR Planeta and Rossiya 24 under various pretexts; the Russian media resources’ websites were also blocked.

It is obvious that we are dealing with a blatantly Russophobic campaign. By the way, representatives of these countries are taking part in the Paris Peace Forum at various levels (officials and civil society representatives). Some of the forum’s sections are devoted to freedom of speech, democratic processes and freedom of the press. How are they feeling there? What is the point of attending such forums when you destroy any other alternative point of view in your country using political means? Moreover, you have no respect for the rights of national minorities. I truly believe that any people, any country deserves to be called by its name. Okay, national minorities is an accepted term, but it is still insulting. People who were born and raised in these countries, who contributed to its prosperity and evolvement while speaking and thinking Russian, should be respected. Most importantly, their rights are protected at an international level.

We urge the international human rights NGOs and relevant international bodies to assess the situation concerning the position of the media and the rights of journalists in the region. First of all, we are expecting a response from the OSCE.

World Radio Day

Tomorrow, February 13, marks World Radio Day, proclaimed by the UNESCO General Conference in 2011 and timed to coincide with the first broadcast of the UN Radio in 1946.

This year, “Radio and diversity” is the theme of World Radio Day. It is expected to focus on such issues as pluralism and combatting discrimination against radio journalists based on their race, social status, age, religion or gender. I am telling you all of this after what I said and you knew about the Sputnik radio station, among other things, in the countries also united by UNESCO. How is this possible? It is a paradox.

I would like to stress that recently Russian radio broadcasters have been discriminated against frequently and had to face attempts to limit their activities by any means from several countries’ authorities.

Just a few examples. The Ukrainian radio segment: after the law on the state language was adopted in May 2019, the Kiev authorities introduced language quotas on television and radio stating that at least 90 percent of the national and regional media broadcasts must be in Ukrainian. In fact, the radio content is also censored by the state. How do they determine these 90 percent? Based on what? On the number of people living there? On the popularity of the language? How is this indicator determined? Perhaps Ukraine held some consultations with its international partners, non-government organisations or specialised agencies? By the way, they could have asked UNESCO whether this innovation corresponds to the internationally recognised rules and norms in this sphere.

The Sputnik radio has faced politically biased obstacles in the United States. In February 2019, a US company that produces content for it, RIA Global, had to register as a foreign agent at the demand of the US Department of Justice. This makes its operation more difficult: it directly affects the company’s activities and entails financial and legal problems as well as an entire range of other problems it now has to face.

Apart from RIA Global, the US Department of Justice demanded that several of Sputnik’s partner companies broadcasting the Russian radio station’s programmes at FM frequencies register as foreign agents.

Often radio programmes are not used to provide socially important information to people but as a tool for propaganda, disinformation and simply lies. We have already mentioned the December 10 broadcast of the Crimea: Realities radio programme at the Foreign Ministry’s website, where articles with false information about Russia are exposed. The radio hosts accused the Russian authorities of preventing foreign officials, international observers and monitoring groups from accessing the peninsula. We call them every day, organise press tours and trips, and consult with journalists. Many of you here in the audience have taken part in such trips. Our main goal is to open Crimea to foreign visitors, official delegations, non-governmental organisations and journalists as widely as possible. And yet such total fakes appear. The situation is completely the opposite. Russia is constantly inviting foreign representatives, as I have said, including journalists. This is not just about organised tours or trips. There is every opportunity to visit Crimea independently. We are only needed when you require help or assistance in organising an interview, if you come across problems or too much red tape. If you want to go there and see everything for yourselves, there are no barriers. You should see for yourselves what the real situation on the peninsula is and then compare it to the message of the Crimea: Realities programme. The violation of the visa requirements can be the only reason to prohibit entry to Crimea, but this is the usual practice in any country and does not discriminate against people who want to visit Crimea. Of course, there are security restrictions due to the anti-terrorism and anti-extremism measures carried out in full compliance with the national law, like in any other countries. In fact, there are no other barriers.

We hope that World Radio Day will not become another reason for political speculation but for the professional community’s honest discussion of broadcasters’ problems and development prospects in the industry in strict compliance with the high standards of the quality and objective journalism. Despite new media formats appearing in recent years, radio programmes remain one of the main formats of broadcasting for general audiences as well as a socially important communication channel.

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Russian linguist Maria Konoshenko’s Kpelle dictionary comes off the press in Guinea

The first ever Russia-Africa summit was held in Sochi in October 2019. The event has provided an important additional impetus to the development of the entire set of Russia-Africa relations. Efforts are continuing in this sphere, including in what concerns expanding scientific and cultural ties. For example, Guinea has published a Kpelle language dictionary compiled by Senior Research Fellow Maria Konoshenko of the Institute of Linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences. This work took  a number of years, including over 20 months that the Russian linguist spent in the southeastern Forested Guinea region, where she mostly lived in families of native speakers fluent in this language belonging to the West African Mande family, a language spoken by more than half a million Guineans.  The presentation of Ms Konoshenko’s widely acclaimed scholarly work was organised in Conakry in several stages. This is an additional part in humanitarian cooperation between Russia and Africa, Russia and Guinea. In principle, our attitude towards supporting linguistic culture is also clear.

Remarks by Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova at the conference “Disinfo horizon: Responding to future threats”

We took notice of the remarks made by Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova at the conference “Disinfo horizon: Responding to future threats.”

Ms Jourova’s alarmist speech reproduces well-known cliches regarding the imagined “threat posed by Russia.” Instead of providing evidence, she reiterated certain peremptory speculations derived from research studies issued by politically motivated centres.

In an attempt to accuse Russia, she mentioned such stories as the Malaysian Boeing disaster and the “Skripal case.” Staggering examples! Plenty to talk about with Ms Jourova! If in her high EU position Ms Jourova has inside information about how the investigation into these incidents is proceeding, we would like to ask her to say why Russia has been denied the opportunity to participate in the investigation, while Ukraine, which is still hiding the air controllers who were in charge of Flight MH17, is a member of the investigative commission. Why did the Russia-supplied hard evidence and findings of an expert study fail to be attached to this case? This is what concerns disinformation.

It would also be extremely interesting to learn Ms Jourova’s opinion as to why the UK, while exiting from the EU, refused to grant Russia consular access to Russian citizens Sergey and Yulia Skripal and why they are being concealed from the public. After all, it’s a conference, “Disinfo horizon.” In the UK, this horizon is boundless.  Where are the Skripals, if this topic has resurfaced in the context of disinformation? What would have been easier than to take all the British media publications over nearly two years, analyse them and come to a conclusion that it is impossible to invent a larger-scale disinformation campaign than that related to the “Skripal case?” There is not a single interview with the main figures in this case in Britain. We saw just one statement that Yulia Skripal clearly read from a written text or a teleprompter, a statement filmed by an unknown cameraman and an unknown media outlet. More likely than not, this video was made by the secret services and presented as an exercise in reading. She was not available for questioning. Journalists were not in either direct or indirect contact with her. No one actually knows anything about Sergey Skripal himself. Are you serious about citing this as an example of Russia’s disinformation policies?  But it’s absurd, it’s a lie pure and simple! I am not feeling embarrassed or inhibited in this sense. To reiterate: falling back on these specific examples of Russia’s alleged disinformation activities is a bad case of lying.

We do not think it possible to leave unnoticed Ms Jourova’s attempt to rewrite history after the example of some of her EU colleagues. She is hinting at the Soviet Union’s responsibility for unleashing the WWII.

" rel="111">This is not the first time that Ms Jourova superimposes her personal convictions upon the position of the organisation she represents. Moreover, she is passing it off as a European position. We believe that this is inappropriate in the current historical realities. We think that one should bear responsibility for one’s words and offer explanations. We would also like to refer all those who are unsure of which powers bear responsibility for WWII to read the documents of the Nuremberg Trials. Many of these have been digitalised and are available on archival websites in the Russian segment, specifically the website of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation and affiliated organisations.

This hostile rhetoric is not contributing any positive overtones to EU-Russia relations, which are not in the best of shapes as it is. More than that, this verbal license in attacks on Russia, one that is peremptory and unsupported by facts, is just dangerous and may lead to incidents similar to the one that happened the other day in Torun, Poland, where some unidentified men attacked a group of people, who were speaking Russian. As I understand, there were representatives of different states among them. People in high positions must not engage in provocations.  

Dismantling of the Monument of Gratitude to the Red Army in Leszno

Poland has committed another act of state vandalism intended to destroy the Soviet memorial legacy in that country. On February 7, the authorities of Leszno in the Greater Poland Voivodeship started pulling down a monument erected in 1946 to honour the Soviet soldiers who died while liberating the city. Again, turning a blind eye to the international commitments stemming from Russian-Polish treaties and agreements, Poland continues its shameful war against Soviet monuments, zealously increasing the already enormous damage caused to Russian-Polish relations.

The Polish authorities, pursuing populist goals, have gone beyond the boundaries of civilised behaviour in an effort to reinterpret WWII events in a way that suits them and to blot out the pages describing the decisive role of the Red Army in saving Poland from the Nazi invaders, cynically insulting the memory of 600,000 Soviet soldiers who died during that country’s liberation.

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Publication by the Polish Institute of International Affairs

We have paid attention to an article by the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) entitled “World War II in Russian Foreign Policy,” which states that Russia allegedly refers to events related to WWII, in order to, among other things, brand Poland as an anti-Semitic state with a view to “undermining European unity” and “augmenting the differences” in relations between Poland and its foreign partners: Israel, Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania and Armenia.

I do have more to say, but I want to stray from the subject a little bit. In addition to the historical subjects of WWII, “Russia is guided by the idea of undermining European unity.” Did anybody in Poland say such things to London? Now is the right time to make such a statement on behalf of Poland, the European Union, Brussels and various groups of EU member-states, criticising London and blaming it for undermining European unity. There is a clear reason to do so. But I have not seen this done. It’s no use holding back. By the way, a couple of sanctions may well be imposed against the country which abandoned the EU so treacherously.  They are in place and spelled out in all EU materials, documents and agreements. What has Russia got to do with it? What have Poland, Russia and EU unity got to do with it?

There is another interesting aspect. We constantly hear from EU countries some terms related to all-European unity. My colleagues draw our attention to the fact that unfortunately we also have begun to use the same expressions. But all-European unity and EU unity are different things. The EU is the EU, and Europe is Europe. There are a great number of large countries that are not EU members, but still European. Please, do not forget about that, my European colleagues.

The article also says that history is an important tool of “Russian propaganda,” which, it its turn, is disseminated by Russian media. Russian diplomats are also allegedly involved in this activity using such forums as the UN, PACE, the OSCE, etc. But, indeed, we have not started this. Since the end of the Nuremberg Trials, we have been invariably observing its decisions throughout all these years notwithstanding the name of our country and its political system. We have never called these decisions into question. Our policy has not changed at all. However, Poland and many Western countries are changing their position. It is Polish leaders who are changing their position and statements to quite the opposite. It is Poland that is destroying monuments to heroes of World War II. It is Poland that is lying when it says that the Red Army did not liberate Warsaw but occupied it from the point of view of those real liars. It is Ukraine and Poland which went as far as saying, and Poland set the tone, that it was not the Red Army but some Ukrainian army that liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp. It was not Russia’s position. I will say it again, Russia has been following the same principles that provided the foundation for the postwar world and were recorded in the final documents of the Nuremberg Trials. So, if you, ladies and gentlemen from Warsaw, are saying that history has become or is an instrument of propaganda, say it about yourself. Not a single statement in our position on the history of WWII or the Great Patriotic War has changed.

We regard such plants and statements as the desire of some countries and ruling circles in some countries to manipulate public opinion and deprive their citizens of access to independent sources of information. Regretfully, in some countries this trend is especially alarming and is spreading not only in the information space, but also in science, which is equally dangerous. In a number of East European countries, such an attitude by local authorities looks exceptionally cynical, because it borders on attempts to whitewash the crimes of the Nazis and their accomplices as well as anti-Semitism.

As we pointed out on many occasions, the Russian Federation will firmly oppose any attempts to falsify history. The calls for counteracting dissemination of an unbiased image of the events of the past are well in line with the current policy of ridding the memories of the Polish liberation by the Red Army in 1944-1945 from the minds of the Polish people. Such calls may be equated with the blasphemous “war against monuments” to Soviet soldier-liberators, a tide of desecration of the graves of our warriors who died for the liberation of Polish lands from the Nazis.

Incident involving Russian citizens in Phuket, Kingdom of Thailand

We received a lot of questions regarding the tragedy involving Russian citizens that took place on the island of Phuket, Kingdom of Thailand.

According to the Russian Embassy in Thailand, on February 10, two tourist speedboats collided off the eastern coast of Phuket, resulting in 21 injured Russians aboard one of the speedboats. All of them were taken to hospitals in Phuket. Two underage Russian citizens died from their injuries. To date, all the victims have been discharged from hospitals.

According to our data, the tragedy is also being investigated by the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation.

This issue is under the priority control of the Russian Interior Ministry and Russian foreign missions in Thailand, whose employees provide the necessary assistance to the injured Russian citizens.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: You have spoken a lot about rewriting history. You recently commented on Poland’s statement that the USSR occupied Ukraine and Belarus. Our foreign colleagues use a rhetorical device: they equate our country with Nazi Germany, communism with fascism, and Stalin with Hitler. They say that Stalin caused great harm to our country and was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people. Russia, indeed, has a very controversial attitude towards the history of the late 1930s - early 1940s and the figure of Joseph Stalin. According to the Levada Centre polls in 2012 (this organisation is recognised as a foreign agent, so it can hardly be suspected of liking Stalin), 70 percent of our country’s residents have a positive attitude towards Stalin. If we have our own internal contradictory attitude to that period of history, to the man who led our country when we fought Hitler’s Germany, does this weaken our negotiating position abroad when we talk about upholding the historical truth and fight the rewriting of history?

Maria Zakharova: This is both a historical and rhetorical question. This is a topic to be discussed by academic societies, historical associations, scientists, experts and representatives of civil society.

Today I have repeated many times what our attitude is based on in the context of World War II. This is not only the Russian attitude, not only the attitude of our people, including historians, military, civilians, scholars, experts and journalists. This is a question of the international proceedings against Nazi criminals, initiated by the winning countries, which were guided by international law. They were guided not only by their political views; they used the law and legal instruments, perhaps for the first time on such a scale, as well as their national anger and pain for the final and implacable condemnation of Nazism and fascism, in order to put an end to it, and so that this issues would never be reviewed again – as it is done in the legal space. I think that these people – the experts and specialists who dealt with this issue, proceeded from the need for an international tribunal from this point of view. They didn’t want this to be about political views, about the views of that generation; they wanted a legal opinion that would remain for centuries. That is why we always avoid using only the national assessment of these events. It has been given. In the context of World War II, the Great Patriotic War, we always tell our colleagues – Polish colleagues, or those from the UN, etc. – that the revision of the Nuremberg Trials decisions is tantamount to reviewing the results of World War II. And that is inadmissible.

Question: You have said that Warsaw has been playing this game for too long, and that you have information about the Polish side’s plans for purposefully neutralising historical facts of World War II that Moscow will unveil. What could be the eventual outcome of Polish authorities’ attempts to call history into doubt? And are any consequences possible?

Maria Zakharova: Everyone should understand that the tragedy might repeat itself. When they open a tightly packed Pandora’s box with a bloody and terrible legacy, stamped with all the seals having international and legal weight, when they take out images, garments and suits of those years, when modern generations start wearing them and use them as a historical asset, when criminals replace heroes, and when heroes are called anti-heroes, this is fraught with only one thing – repetition of the very same mistakes with the same disastrous consequences. I am not imposing the opinion of a representative of the executive branch on the educational and academic community, but I believe that we can only advise school administrations to start lessons each week and each year, from primary school on, by remembering the disastrous consequences and huge casualties that humankind sustained during World War II. We should think and act in such a way, so that children would realise from the very early age that humankind must not repeat this tragedy. We can accomplish this by preserving moral and spiritual memory not only as a sign of respect for the fallen victims but also as a vaccination of sorts to protect people from mistakes and tragedies of the past. As I see it, few people in modern Europe understand this today.

On the whole, highly complicated international processes are taking place in the world. They are connected with migration and the elimination of fundamental traditions on which the states had hinged and to which nations had aspired. As an immortal novel notes, “everything got mixed up.” Religions no longer serve as reference points for European civilisations. The younger generation either renounces this or does not perceive this as a reference point or a motive for existence in society. They have introduced so-called amendments to the norms of public and personal morality and public conduct that are completely alien to European civilisations. The world is starting to lead a new life. The attempts to reinterpret historical events that took place 75 years ago would doom our future generations to repeating these terrible and bloody mistakes.

Question: German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that, on February 16, Munich will host a meeting of a commission for implementing the decisions of the International Conference on Libya that took place in Berlin on January 19. Will Sergey Lavrov attend this meeting?

Maria Zakharova: We know about this German proposal, and we are currently assessing whether the Russian side will attend and at what level.

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Question: You have noted that the situation in Syria has reached its boiling point. There is also the question of whether NATO gets drawn into the process because, according to a representative of the ruling party, Turkish leaders want to ask the Alliance for help because their forces are under attack in Syria.

Maria Zakharova: I have not read these reports in great detail. What consequences do you expect from Turkey’s appeal to NATO? What exactly should happen?

Question: The Syrians are targeting Turkish service personnel.  

Maria Zakharova: Just inform NATO about this? As if NATO does not know what is going on. Considering the fact that the Alliance is brain-dead, as President of France Emmanuel Macron has noted, I believe they should think twice before appealing to NATO. But this is the sovereign right of members of this wonderful organisation to decide what they should do. I want to know the purpose of this appeal. I believe that, if NATO had the potential to resolve crises in this region, this potential would have been activated long ago. But this potential is not available.

Question: NATO should provide assistance when a member country is under attack, but the Turkish forces are in another country.

Maria Zakharova: You took the words right out of my mouth. It is hard to come under attack when you are in a state that did not invite you there.

Question: The Turkish leadership, namely, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has openly accused Russia of attacking civilians in Idlib. How would you respond to these accusations?

Maria Zakharova: We reject these accusations.  We are setting forth our position. We do not conceal the fact that Russia and Turkey disagree on a number of matters, including this one. Russian experts who recently travelled to Turkey for precisely this purpose have now come back. Contacts with our Turkish colleagues may take place in the near future, and I have also mentioned this. These contacts will aim to clarify all the difficult and complicated items on our agenda.

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Question: In the context of the coronavirus, journalists are increasingly recalling Russian President Vladimir Putin’s words (at the meeting of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights on October 17, 2017) that Western organisations were actively collecting biological material of Russian citizens all over the country, from different ethnic groups and people living in different geographical locations. We remember that the President wondered why they were doing it purposefully. Kurchatov Institute President Mikhail Kovalchuk said many times that the West had stepped up work to develop a new bacteriologic weapon that can affect certain ethnic groups without infecting others. In the future, it can become a new weapon of mass destruction. In this context, do you believe it is possible that the situation in China with the spread of coronavirus was influenced from the outside? Perhaps it is time to sound alarm at high-level diplomatic forums due to this new danger that the humankind may face from a completely new and merciless weapon of mass destruction.

Maria Zakharova: There are several aspects to your question I would like to comment on. You said that President of Russia Vladimir Putin asked a rhetorical question: “Why do our Western partners do this? Why do they collect biological material?” It was asked in a public space for everyone to think about. Experts know the answer very well. There is no different reading here. Experts, specialists and representatives of relevant agencies know very well why and with what purpose biological material is collected and what biological labs do. This is why we have mentioned during the briefings over the recent years the activities of biological labs located in neighbouring countries. This raised a lot of criticism against us: it is not our concern; why do we care; these are sovereign states. Of course. And today we can see how the world shuddered when an epidemic broke out in a sovereign state. Nobody knows what medicines should be used to treat it or what can be done to prevent it completely. This means our questions were well-grounded.

The answer to your question on what the agent was and how such a large mass infection took place should be directed to specialists, who will conduct the necessary research. There can be no political answer. This is an issue of facts, or we will turn into British politicians, like Theresa May, saying “highly likely.” We will not do this.

At the same time, indirectly, at the second or third level, foreign countries’ involvement in the situation regarding the coronavirus in China is obvious. Look how it is used in the media or political statements in order to misinform, undermine trust in China and blacken its image. Beijing is talking about this, presenting facts, data and materials and trying to refute this. Of course, at the second or third level, foreign countries’ involvement in this situation is obvious. We can say this with absolute certainty.

It is high time the international community focused on such challenges and threats. Instead of hunting non-existent Russian hackers all over the world and using the “highly likely” situations to their benefit, they could have concentrated all the resources, capabilities and scientific achievements on problems like this many years ago.

The Munich Security Conference starts in several days. The conference events are held at various venues all year round, but the key event will begin in a couple of days. In fact, it must be devoted to such challenges and threats. Year after year, the Munich Security Conference discusses some imagined threat from the East, from Russia. It is never confirmed, and all this is becoming absolutely outrageous. People who take advantage of this are professional aggressors and denouncers of Russia, who have grants, receive money and theses to promote.

They operate beyond decent people’s fields of work. However, they are invited, and their speeches are listened to, while the real threats and challenges such as terrorism, development of new forms of extremism, teenage extremism, drug trafficking and now pandemics, which are, unfortunately, becoming regular (for example, the Ebola epidemic several years ago) do not get enough attention, which they must get.

It was reported recently that Russia and China were named among the main threats in the new US budget, and the United States wants to allocate $700 million to counter Russia’s influence. This report cited an official document published by the White House. I don’t know who will implement this, but the White House published it. Can you imagine such a sum being allocated to counter Russia politically? This money can be spent on humanitarian aid and support for research centres working to find answers to the latest challenges and threats. Instead, almost a billion dollars is spent to counter Russia.

There was also information that the US Department of State created a new office of special envoy to counter Chinese influence at the UN and other global institutions. This is beyond the pale. We are going back to the roots of mistakes made at the beginning of the 20th century, which we seemed to have left behind. A special envoy is not appointed to negotiate, address complicated issues, find solutions or consensus, but to counter an entire country, a country that never attacked anyone but was an object of aggression. As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at the UN General Assembly: “China is a country of hardworking and courageous people” that has much to offer at the global stage. Appointing a special envoy to counter such a country is beyond all bounds of decency, as is allocating money to counter Russia.

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Question: Russia is being accused of violating the sovereignty of different nations. One of the latest statements to this effect was made by Kay Bailey Hutchison, the US Ambassador to NATO. She claimed that each NATO country suffered from cyber or hybrid attacks carried out by Russia. Would you please comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: There are thousands of attacks on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s information resources every day. There are perpetrators who do it. Last year we presented statistical data on which countries those attacks emanate from. However, geography alone does not offer us a complete picture.  A person can stay in one country and launch a cyber attach in the interests of totally different agencies, countries or organisations.

Statements regarding the countries being targeted by attacks from Russia need to be substantiated by facts and documents. Cybercrimes are investigated by private companies apart from international organisations. They can be contacted, commissioned to do a study, and one can get the results. At present, anything that has to be substantiated by facts but fails to provide them and moves towards political claims is just propaganda. 

Question: The anniversary of the Soviet Army’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will be marked on February 15. What is the current perspective on this date?

Maria Zakharova: Just the same as a year ago. Our position has not changed. There is official material on this which I can send you.  

Question: Anton Kalinin of the trade mission of the Russian Federation in Japan was summoned by Tokyo police to be questioned regarding the theft of classified information. He ignored the police request and came back to Russia on February 10. What is the Russian Foreign Ministry’s position on this? Are any diplomatic actions planned by Anton Kalinin?

Maria Zakharova: Have you been asked to ask this question? Or is it a question from a media outlet? If it is a plant via Japanese media ahead of the talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi due to be held in Munich, then it is not a good act, not a good step made by the Japanese side to corrupt the atmosphere ahead of the talks. If the Japanese side has questions, they can always be asked via diplomatic channels. It is the way your question is worded that makes me come to this conclusion. If you want to ask something relating to reality, I am ready to listen to your question. But the way your question was presented implies that you were told to ask it.

What kind of diplomatic actions should Anton Kalinin take? What exactly do you mean?

(Silence ensues in response).

Everything is clear. So it appears I was right.

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Question: Ukraine’s first president Leonid Kravchuk said that Russia is guilty of the war in Donbass. In particular, he said that Russia took advantage of Ukraine’s problems and quickly resolved its own issues it kept under the table.  

Maria Zakharova: He was the one who said that Hitler and Stalin met in Lvov before the war, wasn’t it? Don’t make fun of this man. It is obvious that his statement is ludicrous. There are actors whose actions can affect something – special representatives, representatives of foreign policy departments, special envoys representatives of the sides – their statements might be absurd but they affect the political agenda, one way or another. What’s the use of discussing statements made by people who make odd, foolish, crazy claims which do not influence the agenda? I do not think it is worth neither my time nor yours. What if he spots extraterrestrials, should we also comment on this? And he may spot them, by the way.

Question: On January 29, the Estonian parliament accepted a draft statement that accuses Russia of allegedly promoting its special perspective of WWII history. In doing so, they are apparently following the example of Poland and Latvia, which adopted such statements. What do you think can be done to stop this outrage?  

Maria Zakharova: First of all, we should acknowledge this outrage, as you have said; we should not ignore it and must give a clear response. I can tell you that many countries would like to openly speak on this matter but they just cannot afford it. They feel restricted in their actions by the block discipline and fearful as they are either aware of the imminent revenge from their “big brother” or are unwilling to mar relations with their neighbours. There is a large scope of issues.

Previously, war veterans who took part in the fight against Nazism were the ones who prompted a reaction; they demanded that their governments, political parties and leaders give a clear and adequate response. This generation is stepping down and their voice is no longer heeded. Their children and grandchildren obviously do not deem this issue of primary importance for them due to a number of reasons.     

Also, we should not forget that over the past 30 years these countries have made efforts to change the attitude of people to these issues. Mostly young people were targeted, with new history textbooks and new literature. I remember perfectly well that even in our country active efforts were made in the early 1990s to promote the so-called new interpretation of WWII and the Great Patriotic War. I remember that criminals – in the literal sense of the word – posing as researchers, wrote and published one book after another under false names. Those people were convicts and traitors, who received money from the same sources that supported collaborators who then fled to the West, including to escape justice. Efforts were made to infect our country as well but our nation’s immunity against this disease was so strong that these attempts failed. Although strong and massive, these attempts were rejected.  

Just recently, attempts have been made to reinterpret the key events of WWII, the Great Patriotic War, the Siege of Leningrad and the deeds of the siege survivors. Efforts were made to present actions by residents of the besieged city in a totally different way. A number of other historical events and fundamental aspects related to WWII and the Great Patriotic War were also subject to reinterpretation. Actually, this was a blatant attempt at wrecking our historic refusal to review the results of WWII.

So we should not ignore this. We should make comments based on documents, present them, digitise as many of them as possible, showcase them, translate them into foreign languages, and promote them as our responses.  

I remember someone previously asking a question about Poland’s consistent and purposeful approach in this regard, including at the government level. Indeed, we do have information that decisions were made at the government level in Poland on launching a special campaign to disavow everything that Russia says. This decision was taken recently. I think this explains the recent salvo of articles by Polish diplomats and foreign policy service representatives ranging from minister and deputy ministers to ambassadors that are totally departed from reality and facts. They even came down to claiming that the Soviet Union occupied Ukraine and the Republic of Belarus in 1945. When a statement was made claiming that the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated not by the Red Army but by the Ukrainian army, I thought this was the worst lie we could expect from them. After all, there are facts, maps, photographs, and video footage available. But when they say that the Soviet Union occupied itself – this is beyond the bounds of sanity. This is indeed propaganda based on the “the worse the lie, the more people believe it” principle.

Question: What is Russia expecting from the Munich Security Conference?

Maria Zakharova: I have already mentioned our expectations. Yet I can say again that first, we do have them meaningful, and second, we expect a constructive dialogue in various formats. We expect bilateral meetings to be meaningful and productive, and the panel discussions to be engaged and providing opportunities for effective communication with our partners on pressing issues. That's about it.

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