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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 27, 2020

27 February 202019:52

Table of contents

  1. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Chairman of the Politburo of the HAMAS Palestinian Movement Ismail Haniyeh
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Finland
  3. Posting material about the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons on the Foreign Ministry’s website
  4. Update on the Covid-19 coronavirus epidemic
  5. Update on Syria
  6. African Union’s initiative to deploy military observers in Libya  
  7. Assessments of US talks with the Taliban movement and the possible implications for an intra-Afghan settlement
  8. Developments in Cameroon
  9. UN Office of Counter-Terrorism launches project to prevent the trafficking of weapons and their supply to terrorists
  10. Possibility of arbitration proceedings over non-issuance of US visas to Russian delegations for UN activities
  11. Viktor Bout’s detention made more harsh
  12. Update on Konstantin Yaroshenko
  13. Update on Julian Assange
  14. Anniversary of the Dominican Republic’s independence
  15. A Consensus Proposal for a Revised Regional Order in Post-Soviet Europe and Eurasia
  16. The Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Chambers’ Specialist Prosecutor Jack Smith ready to initiate proceedings as part of the investigation into the crimes of Kosovo Albanians
  17. 6th World Folkloriada
  18. Russian Regions’ Maslenitsa at the Foreign Ministry
  19. Three Seas Initiative

Answers to media questions:

  1. Russian-Turkish consultations on the developments in Idlib
  2. The US Department of State’s allegations against Russia
  3. Flights between South Korea and Russia
  4. Beginning of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 plane crash court hearings in The Hague
  5. Detention of two Russian nationals in Marseille during the 2016 UEFA European Football Championship

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Chairman of the Politburo of the HAMAS Palestinian Movement Ismail Haniyeh

On March 2, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will receive Chairman of the Politburo of the HAMAS Palestinian Movement Ismail Haniyeh in Moscow.

During the upcoming meeting, the parties will discuss ways of restoring intra-Palestinian unity on the political platform of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation as well as prospects for achieving a durable and comprehensive settlement in the Middle East on an internationally recognised legal basis.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Finland

On March 3, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Helsinki at the invitation of Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto. Mr Lavrov will also meet with President of Finland Sauli Niinistö on that day.

The parties are expected to discuss current issues on the bilateral and regional agendas and exchange views on the outstanding international issues.

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Posting material about the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons on the Foreign Ministry’s website

On March 5, the Foreign Ministry will post material dedicated to the history of drafting the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on its website to mark the 50th anniversary of the Treaty’s entry into force as part of a joint initiative of the NPT depositary states.

We also plan to circulate this material in print form at the NPT Review Conference to be held in New York from April 27 to May 22.

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Update on the Covid-19 coronavirus epidemic

I would like to say a few things about the ongoing spread of this disease that causes acute pneumonia.

As you know, the People’s Republic of China publishes official data, and I will not repeat it here. We fully support China in its struggle against this epidemic. We are also providing consistent support to our compatriots abroad. We provide information in the accounts of our embassies and consulates general, including our permanent missions at international organisations. We publish this information with relevant hotline telephone numbers. Incidentally, ministry officials have just conducted a comprehensive review of whether these phone lines are efficient and whether our staff members are conscientious and responsible in terms of their obligations in this epidemiological situation. I believe this will help upgrade their work and responsibility.

I would like to note that besides China, the coronavirus is rapidly spreading to other states and regions, where the number of infected people is permanently on the rise and the infection zones are expanding. Cases of the disease have been recorded in the Republic of Korea (1,595), Japan (over 800 cases, including passengers on the Diamond Princess Cruise ship), Italy (over 400), Iran (139), Singapore (93), the United States (60), Thailand (40), Bahrain (33), Germany (27), Kuwait (26), Australia (23), Malaysia (22), France (18), Vietnam (16), UAE (13), Britain (13), Spain (13), Canada (11), Iraq (5), Oman (4), the Philippines (3), Croatia (3), India (3), Austria (2), Israel (2), Lebanon (2), Finland (2), Afghanistan (1), Nepal (1), Cambodia (1), Norway (1), Belgium (1), Sweden (1), Egypt (1), Algeria (1), Switzerland (1), Brazil (1), Greece (1), Romania (1), North Macedonia (1), Georgia (1), Estonia (1), Denmark (1), and Sri Lanka (1).

I would like to emphasise that these data keep changing. Using our online resources and missions abroad we will provide updates on the situation for those who plan to enter or are in these countries or going to pass through them. I have a big request for the media and for tour operators to please follow this information and pass it on to all interested parties.  

I would like to make a special mention of Italy because we have been getting many questions about it recently, and considering that many Russian citizens visit Italy or live there (about 45,000). In the past two weeks the number of confirmed coronavirus cases reached 453 (including 12 deaths). For now, we have not received information on infected Russian citizens in Italy. In the hardest hit regions (Lombardy and Veneto) the authorities have introduced a quarantine (covering about 50,000 people), including a temporary entry and exit ban. Restrictions will be enforced simultaneously in the northern areas of Italy until March 15:  classes in schools and universities and public events have been cancelled, tourist sights, museums, theatres, movie theatres and exhibits have been shut down and commercial activities have been stopped. The government intends to extend some restrictive measures to the national level (this primarily concerns public events in Italy). There is a shortage of some products, medications, masks and disinfectants.

We are talking about this in such detail because we are receiving a lot of questions. 

Regular flights between our countries remain routine.

Let me remind you that yesterday the Foreign Ministry published a long article on recommendations, on its website, in connection with the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Republic of Korea, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Italian Republic. Let me repeat that the Foreign Ministry recommends that Russian citizens temporarily refrain from trips to these countries unless they have an emergency.   

In visiting the countries that have been hit by the disease it is necessary to consider the recent developments, to take extra precautions, to follow the rules of hygiene, to take into account the recommendations of Rospotrebnadzor and avoid crowded places. Those who have the initial symptoms of the disease must immediately contact medical institutions for a timely diagnosis and treatment.

I would like to emphasise once again that Russian missions abroad in the countries that were hit by the coronavirus, are taking proper measures to ensure the safety of their employees and Russian citizens staying there.

I would also like to draw your attention, through the media, to the need for travelers to receive medical insurance. This is particularly topical in the current situation.

I would like to say that our information is still an additional source. We provide it in addition to the information that is published by the emergency centre for controlling and monitoring the coronavirus. This centre has been officially established in Russia under the aegis of the Government.

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Update on Syria

In Syria, the focus remains on Idlib, which has become a Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist alliance stronghold. We believe that the failure to comply with the Russian-Turkish Memorandum of September 17, 2018 is a key factor that is contributing to a worsening situation.

Despite the ceasefire imposed on January 9, the militants continued shelling nearby towns and government military positions. Over 1,800 instances of shelling and more than 430 attacks involving heavy weapons have been recorded over this time period. More than 160 civilians have died and about 350 have been injured. The losses are even heavier in the Syrian army, with over 450 fatalities and over 1,100 injured. In addition, the militants have launched 10 attacks against Russian military sites, including two instances with multiple launch rocket systems against the Khmeimim airbase.

Syrian positions have come under Turkish attacks as well. Over 40 instances of shelling have been noted since February 3 killing nearly 20 and injuring over 40 Syrian troops. These attacks were carried out in the areas where terrorists have tried to attack the government positions.

Clearly, given the circumstances, the Syrian army has to fight back. With the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces, it is conducting the Dawn over Idlib operation which focuses exclusively on the terrorists who are holed up in the de-escalation zone.

The Russian interdepartmental delegation’s consultations with the Turkish representatives on a range of issues related to normalising the situation in Idlib started yesterday and will continue in Ankara today.

Thanks to the Syrian army’s effective actions against the terrorists in the Idlib de-escalation zone, civilian motor traffic on Motorway M5 (Damascus-Aleppo) has resumed for the first time in a long while. The Syrian authorities also expect to finish rebuilding the Homs-Hama-Aleppo railway soon.

In February, the Syrian army liberated the city of Aleppo and its suburbs which made it possible to immediately start rebuilding peaceful life there. The city's international airport took its first passenger flight from Damascus after an eight-year break. Air service between Aleppo and Cairo will resume soon.

We note Syria’s gradual reintegration into the international community. On February 21, the Syrian parliamentary delegation took part in the 14th plenary session of the Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly in Athens. Over 20 Syrian companies took part in the international food industry exhibition in Abu Dhabi in mid-February.

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African Unions initiative to deploy military observers in Libya

We welcome the statement by the African Union (AU), following the organisation’s February 9-10, 2020 summit in Addis Ababa, on sending a group of military observers to Libya for monitoring the ceasefire if a respective agreement is reached with the parties to the intra-Libyan conflict.

We believe that AU military observer activity, which must be closely coordinated with the UN that has the lead role in a Libya settlement, could substantially contribute to the efforts of the international community to normalise the situation in Libya and highlight the full implementation of the principle “African solutions for African problems” by the African Union.

We expect that the AU’s close involvement in a peace settlement in Libya will serve its declared purpose of ending military conflicts on the African continent, promote the countering of terrorist threats, primarily in the Sahara-Sahel region, and will help provide favourable conditions for the development of the African countries.

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Assessments of US talks with the Taliban movement and the possible implications for an intra-Afghan settlement

I would like to quote a statement by a high-ranking commander made a couple of years ago, in February 2017. I recall commenting on his statements, though it may not be on this particular one. The US and NATO commander in Afghanistan General John Nicholson said in an interview with the Afghan service of the Voice of America, this  free, democratic, unbiased and non-propagandistic media outlet, "Russia has been legitimizing the Taliban and supporting the Taliban. The extent of that support is still unclear. But the fact is that by supporting the Taliban they are supporting a group which is connected with terrorism and enables terrorists," he said. "Meanwhile, the Taliban supports terrorists." He then went on in the same vein. This was from February 2017.

On February 29, the US and the Taliban are scheduled to sign an agreement on the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. What was it that General Nicholson said about Russia’s attempts to legitimise the Taliban? Apparently, all this was said under the assumption that we either don’t have the internet or we don’t know how to use it. This is incorrect, of course.

Russia has repeatedly said that there is no alternative to political and diplomatic approaches to resolving the conflict in Afghanistan and launching the above-mentioned talks which should open the way to initiating a direct inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue on peace and political settlement. Not only were we criticised for this stance, but there were attempts to ridicule us, to present us as a state that does not support international law, that undermines it. Moreover, we were directly accused of virtually supporting international terrorism (which follows from the above quote). All that for holding a position that is now clearly a reality.  

Special Presidential Representative for Afghanistan and Director of the Second Asian Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry Zamir Kabulov, who has been expressing our position and who has largely contributed to developing it over many years, will attend the ceremony of signing the US-Taliban agreement as an invited guest.

Of course, we will not stop reviewing US statements on the Taliban and Russia’s views on the subject. I want to make a special case of this because not only is it comical but it is also real evidence of:

1. The instability in the US political system;

2. Their permanent political partiality and focus on internal interests, the interests of its own political and possibly financial and economic groups;

3. The unpredictability of US foreign policy, which leads to direct threats to the existing international order.

The list may be continued.

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Developments in Cameroon

Tension persists in the northwestern and southwestern provinces of the Republic of Cameroon. We conclude that this is due both to the unstable situation in the neighbouring areas of the African continent and to historical reasons. The division of the former colonial possessions, without taking into account the religious, linguistic and ethnic factors and traditions of the continent, of the region created many hotbeds of tension in Africa. In this case, Cameroon was no exception.

We call on the Cameroonian parties to conflict to show maximum restraint. We believe a solution to the internal problems of this state can be found through a substantive national dialogue while respecting human rights and ensuring the rule of law.

We are convinced that Cameroonians are able to cope with the aggravated problems on their own, or, if necessary, with the support of the African Union, as well as subregional organisations, in particular the Economic Community of Central African States.

The challenges and threats facing Central Africa are closely interlinked. Destabilisation in one country can potentially disrupt the entire subregion, affecting neighbouring states. In this regard, assessing the state of affairs in Cameroon, we consider it important not to cross the line between crisis prevention and external interference in the internal affairs of this sovereign state.

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UN Office of Counter-Terrorism launches project to prevent the trafficking of weapons and their supply to terrorists

On February 21, in New York, the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism launched a new project to prevent the supply of weapons to terrorists. This project was initiated and is largely funded by Russia. A number of relevant UN agencies and UN member states actively participated in its development and support its successful implementation. At the inaugural event, several more countries expressed interest in joining this work. At the same time, the foreign partners noted the timeliness and relevance of the Russian initiative.

It is expected that at the initial stage, efforts will focus on providing targeted assistance to the Central Asian states. We are talking about holding thematic seminars and advanced training sessions for representatives of government agencies that deal with illegal arms trafficking and counter-terrorism. It is important that experienced SCO experts will be involved in the relevant events.

Judging by the first results, the project is likely to reach other regions of the world. We hope that it can also help shed light on the outrageous instances of providing weapons to terrorists in Syria and Iraq.

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Possibility of arbitration proceedings over non-issuance of US visas to Russian delegations for UN activities

The situation concerning US visa issuance to Russian representatives for participation in the activities of various UN bodies and agencies remains critical. The latest meeting of the UN Committee on Relations with the Host Country on February 25 showed that there has been no progress in this matter.

As a reminder, last autumn 18 Russian representatives were denied visas to attend the 74th session of the UN General Assembly. To date, none of those visas has been issued. This has also happened to other Russian delegates who were supposed to take part in UN activities this year. Visas have also been denied to Russian representatives who are to become mission employees, Russian citizens who were selected for work at the UN Secretariat, and visas have not been extended to Russian diplomats working at the mission.

Visas non-issuance by the UN host country is practiced not only with respect to Russia, but other states as well. By all appearances, in this way Washington is trying to select delegates and experts for participation in UN activities thereby creating serious obstacles for the work of government delegations. This constitutes a gross violation of the US’s international commitments as the UN host country. This position is reflected in Resolution 17/195 (December 2019) of the UN General Assembly on the report of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country.

It also indicates that if the situation of visa non-issuance is not settled within a reasonable time the committee will look seriously at the possibility of resorting to arbitration as per Agreement between the United Nations and the United States of America regarding the Headquarters of the United Nations of 1947. The UN Secretary-General is vested with the right to initiate such arbitration.

Evidently, a “reasonable time” has expired. In view of this, we expect UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to take specific actions to initiate arbitration proceedings over the US violation of its international commitments stemming from its host country status with respect to the UN. I want to underscore that he has the legal grounds to do this.

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Viktor Bout’s detention made more harsh

According to the Russian Embassy in the US, the reason for Viktor Bout’s transfer to the Marion prison special unit in the state of Illinois was not just because of his unsanctioned contact with a journalist, as he said, but also his alleged correspondence with an Iranian-born prisoner. According to Bout’s lawyer, prison authorities authorised his communication with a journalist whereas the Russian national’s legitimate correspondence was mistakenly delivered to the wrong convict which is prohibited by the prison’s regulations. The lawyer plans to file a complaint, including to   court.

For our part, we are indignant at the strip and cavity search by prison authorities to allegedly find prohibited items or substances. This attitude towards Russian nationals, is a real abuse, and is characteristic of the US system.

Obviously, these actions will not go unanswered.

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Update on Konstantin Yaroshenko

I would like to draw your attention to the recent reports on the condition of Konstantin Yaroshenko. He is not just a prisoner, he was kidnapped by US authorities who thus grossly perverted every possible international legal standard. He has been suffering from a number of illnesses for several years and receives no medical attention. Medical service is provided only after sending diplomatic notes, letters, and at times by publishing statements on the matter.

His wife noticed, once again, the deterioration of his health. We will be dealing with this issue. I mean our diplomatic missions abroad. We call on the US authorities to follow their obligations and do everything they can for a man who was virtually “walled-in” to a US prison based on no legal grounds, something we are more convinced of as we review other cases. Our Western partners like to identify systematic approaches and actions by other countries and reaching their own conclusions. But there are enough cases of kidnapping, illegal detention, arrest and abuse by the US to use the same methodology as the US to make this issue a case for the illegality of its actions.

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Update on Julian Assange

This is, of course, beyond the pale. As you know, hearings on his extradition to the United States started in London on February 24. We are all well aware of what will happen after this extradition, if it is carried out. There are many examples. Let me recall what happened to Maria Butina – 117 days of solitary confinement practically without any legal grounds.

 Assange’s condition evokes more than just concern. International experts described his condition as critical. This is not because of age or simply poor health but to the long-term influence of psychological torture. I am quoting a UN expert. We must understand this. After all, this is 2020. This man has been subjected to psychological torture for a long time.

Local observers (in Britain) predict that this trial will be protracted and that a ruling will only be issued after several months, probably in May. Thus, a journalist that has already been basically imprisoned for over seven years continues to be subjected to punishment. In the event of extradition he may be sentenced to life imprisonment – up to 175 years.

The whole world has already qualified Assange’s case as a blow to the institution of investigative journalism and free and independent media, as a catastrophic attack on basic human rights. Such punitive measures as regards a journalist in the 21st century are absolutely unacceptable and disgraceful for the Western countries involved in this, that consider themselves democratic and free.

" rel="111">Commenting on this situation, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir directly urged the British authorities to not extradite the journalist in disgrace. As I said, a pattern has been established by the United States. The conveyor belt is running and will continue to roll. Human rights advocates have voiced concern over Assange’s health on numerous occasions. On February 17, Doctors4Assange published an open letter demanding an end to the psychological violence and medical negligence with regard to Assange. I am thinking that maybe William Browder should get involved. Perhaps it’s time for him to use his experience. All his power, influence and previous actions could be used to free Assange. Or, if this fails, he should demand that the involved countries, primarily Britain and the US impose sanctions against themselves.  

It is amazing that everything that is happening to Julian Assange is his payment for conscientious journalism and for fulfilling his civic duty. He shared with society the information at his disposal. But the position of the “independent” British media is even more shocking: instead of a real protest the British press just issues laconic reports. The Guardian is the only exception. It openly writes that the US is behind this case.

Let me repeat that if we still remember, I hope you did not forget how the absolutely obscure, mysterious case of the Skripals was covered by the British media, how states and individuals have been accused, how inappropriate assumptions were made without any grounds. In the Assange case everything is clear. There is an individual who is still alive albeit in critical condition. Probably the British media should do all it can to prevent this crime.

We urge the human rights community and the related international organisations to firmly express their position and to do what they can to see justice triumph in his case. Julian Assange is the victim of many crimes but the worst has not yet happened.

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Anniversary of the Dominican Republic’s independence

On this day 176 years ago the Dominican Republic, one of the oldest Caribbean countries about which many Russians have first-hand knowledge, gained independence.

One of the reasons we are recalling the history of that unique country is that it is a perfect example of the distinctive features and factors that determined the regional countries’ shift from colonial dependence to modern and truly independent states. Many generations of Dominicans faced numerous trials along that path, including the oppression of the European parent state, attempts to restore foreign domination and foreign invasions, in particular, two periods of US occupation 50 years apart. The achievements of Dominicans on the path towards a distinctive identity and independent development policy command respect when viewed against the background of these tribulations.

Today the Dominican Republic is firmly pursuing a policy, including as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, in the interests of a fair and democratic international order where all states without exception and regardless of their political and economic weight have the right of voice. This is symbolic because in the past Santo Domingo was founded as the first European colony in the New World. That time is long past, and today the Dominican capital is not a monument to the colonial past but a bustling political centre of the Caribbean whose role in global affairs is growing, especially in light of the revival of the Monroe Doctrine.

I would like to join in the congratulations extended by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to his Dominican colleague and to wish the Dominican people welfare and prosperity on behalf of the Ministry.

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A Consensus Proposal for a Revised Regional Order in Post-Soviet Europe and Eurasia

We have taken note of A Consensus Proposal for a Revised Regional Order in Post-Soviet Europe and Eurasia prepared by a multinational group of political analysts convened by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Foundation for Social Democracy, including Russian experts from IMEMO and MGIMO. The report was presented at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) at the Russian Academy of Sciences on February 27.

This is a collective product of independent experts from the United States, Russia and several European countries who expressed their personal views that do not reflect the official position of any country. It is an independent, research-based private opinion of experts. Given the theme of the report, we believe that it has certain relevance, even though we cannot accept some of its basic provisions and conclusions.

I would like to say in this context that our theoretical considerations and practical efforts are based on the belief that the so-called in-between states – six former Soviet republics located on Russia’s southern and western borders – must not be viewed in terms of the geopolitical struggle and zones of influence.

We believe, and the Russian authorities have said this more than once, that these relatively young sovereign states are independent members of international relations and their distinctive features and the specifics of their development stage should be respected. Therefore, we do not consider it reasonable to serve them up with development scenarios without taking into account their opinions and position in the system of international relations.

As a matter of principle, we believe that we should take a broader perspective on the issues of security and development in Europe and Eurasia, with due regard for the historical context and the interests of all nations on our huge continent. Security in Eurasia must be common and indivisible.

A more optimal and promising scenario of a peaceful and neighbourly development in our common space was offered in President Putin’s initiative for a Greater Eurasian Partnership as a cooperation framework for the continent, which is aimed, in part, at creating a common security space without dividing lines that will be open to all countries.

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The Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Chambers’ Specialist Prosecutor Jack Smith ready to initiate proceedings as part of the investigation into the crimes of Kosovo Albanians

This is the prosecutor’s investigation into the crimes of the Kosovo Liberation Army. In his notice, Specialist Prosecutor Jack Smith states his readiness to transfer the groundwork concerning a specific group of people for preliminary proceedings. After its approval by the competent chamber it will become possible to start full-fledged trials.

Russia believes that bringing charges in the case is a long overdue step. As you know, the Specialist Chambers were created in 2017 under the auspices of the European Union in order to bring to justice those guilty of such atrocities as kidnapping people for the purpose of harvesting and selling their organs in the black market. The establishment of the Chambers was prompted by a PACE report issued back in 2010.

We firmly believe that hushing up the brutal crimes in Kosovo and leaving them without an investigation and punishments is unacceptable. Illicit organ harvesting must remain a matter of scrutiny for the world community. What is at stake is the reputation of the international justice system, the European Union as a guarantor of the specialist court performing its duty and the general capability of European institutions to adequately assess the reality. All the individuals involved must suffer severe punishments, regardless of the positions they currently hold in Pristina.

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 6th World Folkloriada

In conclusion of the opening part and since we are in the middle of Pancake Week, I would like to announce a major cultural event directly related to preserving folk customs and traditions. Between July 18 and August 1, the Republic of Bashkortostan will host the 6th World Folkloriada of the International Council of Organisations of Folklore Festivals and Folk Arts. This large-scale event is to be held in Russia in several stages. The opening ceremony will take place on July 18 in Ufa, followed by a traditional dress parade on July 19. Accreditation for Russian and foreign media has opened this week on the 6th World Folkloriada official website,

It is anticipated that more than 3,000 representatives from 85 countries will take part in the event. In the course of 14 days, art groups representing countries and regions will communicate with each other through culture.

You can find more details about the festival on our website.

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Russian Regions’ Maslenitsa at the Foreign Ministry

After today’s briefing, the Foreign Ministry and the Gastronomic Map of Russia federal project would like to invite you to a tasting of traditional Maslenitsa treats typical for different Russian regions. This event is part of the Year of Trades and Crafts in Russia. I think you will enjoy it.

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Three Seas Initiative

The Three Seas Initiative was created in 2016. Our attitude towards this mechanism is that if some initiators see this as an opportunity to unite the region’s countries with the idea of containing Russia, of course, we cannot accept this. We hope that the activity of this mechanism, forum and platform will not result in creating new barriers in Europe. Russia will further watch the developments around this Central European summit.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: You have said that Russia and Turkey continue consultations on the situation in Idlib. President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently suggested holding a meeting of French, German, Russian and Turkish leaders on March 5. Did you discuss the possibility of this meeting with the Turkish side? And do you have any details about the prospects for concluding a peace deal?

Maria Zakharova: Today, Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov commented on a similar question. “President Putin has no plans for such a meeting on March 5 so far,” he said. This is the exact wording of the Presidential Press Secretary’s statement.

Correspondents’ numerous questions link the resolution of the situation around Idlib and the holding of our bilateral consultations with existing or emerging multilateral formats, including the format that you mentioned while quoting Recep Tayyip Erdogan. To be honest, all this sounds rather strange. Bilateral issues should be resolved in line with bilateral formats. This is the purpose of the current consultations which, in my opinion, will last several days. Concerning the involvement of other countries, including those which did not play any significant role in resolving the situation on the ground, a question whether such involvement is needed arises. We are prepared for and remain open to various initiatives that should be explained, one way or another.  We need to understand the purpose of new formats, their essence and the results that all of us will achieve, considering the fact that we have effective bilateral methods for resolving various matters, including complicated ones.

I would like to remind you once again that representatives of the Presidential Executive Office and the Presidential Press Secretary, first and foremost, are the ones who comment on such things as summits, meetings at the highest level and the work schedule of the President of the Russian Federation.

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Question: Could you please comment on a statement made by the US Department of State that accuses Russia of purposefully misinforming the world about US complicity in the coronavirus epidemic. Why did they decide to voice these accusations now?

Maria Zakharova: Why are you asking me about this? Please ask them why they made such statements now. You see, I have just quoted statements made by a representative of the US Armed Forces, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan who was well aware about what was taking place on the ground and who accused Russia of legitimising the Taliban.  He made this official statement during an interview. No one caught him off guard or distorted his statement; nor did anyone refute this quotation. There are dozens of such quotations.

They signed an agreement the other day, notified everyone, to say the least, and invited them to attend the signing ceremony of the agreement with the Taliban. What are you talking about? Why are you asking me about the non-systematic US approach towards international matters? Why do you always address this question to me?

I was simply taken aback by two statements made within a few hours on one and the same day. On the one hand, top US officials say they know for sure that Russia did not meddle in the US elections. At the same time, the US Department of State says it knows for sure that Russia made cyberattacks against Georgia. Who is inventing all this? Who has an indicator showing alleged Russian intentions and desires to meddle in some processes and not to meddle in others? This sounds absurd, doesn’t it? In effect, we most certainly know that they meddled in this process, and we know for sure that they did not meddle in this one. Why are you so certain about all this? What material is there to prove this? We should ask the US Embassy to comment on all these questions and all this nonsense. Their press service employs about 100 people. Let them comment on this. By the way, I am not joking about its lineup.

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Question: Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova announced yesterday that flights between Russia and South Korea would be suspended, except for the flights operated by Aeroflot and Aurora. Will the restriction include Korean airlines, in particular, Korean Air?

Maria Zakharova: This question is not within the purview of the Foreign Ministry. This is the competence of the Russian Government Operational Headquarters for Coronavirus Control and Monitoring. I suggest that you ask them. For my part, I can request information from them, which we will forward to you. Anyway, all questions pertaining to flights and checkpoints, including regular and additional ones, as well as those that are being closed, should be addressed to the Operational Headquarters, which coordinates the operations of various agencies, airlines and so on. The headquarters’ representatives are dealing with these questions and promptly issue comments.

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Question: As you know, the MH17 trial will begin at the District Court of The Hague on March 9. Will you recognise the legitimacy of the Hague court and its verdict?

Maria Zakharova: This question is not appropriate. You have put me in an uncomfortable position, demanding that I recognise or refuse to recognise the legitimacy of court procedure in the Netherlands. How can I do that? Or are you referring to this particular trial?

We have commented on this more than once. I presume that you know this. And if you do, why are you asking this question again? It is a very complicated issue, which calls for a comprehensive comment. But if this is part of a political show, then the questions and answers are indeed expected at the level of “yes” and “no” or “choose one of the three pictures.” If you really want an embracing answer to the question of what happened many years ago, you should take a more serious approach.

We called for a full-scale international investigation that would include all the parties involved and all the data and information available to the states (or their competent services), as well as for exchanging this information on equal terms and for making use of specialised international institutions based on international law. I suspect that you don’t want to hear this, that you have no interest in this. You have your piece of the puzzle, and you want to focus on it alone. In my opinion, taking this path amounts to contributing to a huge global fake.

I would like to remind you that immediately following that tragedy the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2166, which set out the path and the mechanism for a comprehensive investigation. There was nothing impossible there. Everything in that resolution was based on international law and the instruments available for conducting such an investigation. This is the path that should have been taken. It is the path that will lead to the answer.

A group of countries chose a different methodology, a different approach to this problem. Here is what we see in this case: secrecy, private exchange of data, discrimination against participants in the process, inclusion of some and exclusion of others, inclusion of others at a later stage, an information campaign, reluctance to take into account the data that is officially provided by the government and which constitutes factual information. We don’t have to agree with it but it cannot be ignored (for several years). Once again, we have commented on this matter so many times, published articles and other materials on the website; we did everything in order to demonstrate not only complete transparency on our part but also our determination to make sure the answers to the questions about what happened and who is to blame are found collectively, in an honest and genuine manner.

As a result, no matter what is happening, no matter what new data is revealed, we see the exact same approach − secrecy, privacy, non-transparency, selectiveness and so on. If you focus on individual details of this problem it will not get us anywhere. This issue requires a broader perspective based on international law. I understand that in our world today speaking about depolitisation of the process is basically like screaming into emptiness, or almost impossible. The media, political parties, democratic institutions – everything is geared towards using political tools for achieving goals in all areas, from the economy to, unfortunately, justice. We can see it. Even today, I have already given quite a few examples. This is not an issue of moving gas pipelines from one country to another or a matter of commercial gain (although nobody is deflating the importance of these issues). After all, it is about the international community being able, in the 21st century, to unite in the search for answers about how these people died.  

Let’s start with the trivial, simplest thing, which is the exchange of radar data between the countries involved, one way or another, who had the ability and opportunity to have this data. And they have it. Let’s start with the basics. The second aspect is that I, as a person who is not connected with the legal profession and investigations, as a citizen and an ordinary person who has read and seen a lot in this life, still cannot answer the question of why the debris, large parts of the fuselage and the aircraft, has not been removed from the site to this day. 

This is the second block of questions to address. This is not just unfair; it is outrageous. After a collision of cars on the road, debris is collected in order to conduct calculations. Here we are talking about an aircraft. Its huge parts have not been removed from the area by the team of investigators and have not been included in the case materials. They are not hard to access; they are not at the bottom of the ocean or in a jungle. It is possible to go there and collect them. Why has nobody done that? 

How can I tell you if we find this trial just and legitimate before these two essential blocks of questions are worked through? If there is data that can help the probe (and these two blocks of data will, undoubtedly, have a critical impact on the entire investigation) and the global community does not receive it, everything else will depend on the lack of data covering these two major blocks.

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Question: Once the case has been opened, there must be an outcome. If a guilty verdict is passed, is there a chance that these people will serve their sentences in Russia?

Maria Zakharova: Are you seriously saying now that “there must be an outcome”? Unfortunately, it is the Western community that shows that the most high-profile cases usually have no outcome. Don’t you know how many global catastrophes or high-profile killings have not been investigated to this day? At the risk of stating the obvious, well, the anniversary of John Kennedy’s assassination was recently marked around the world. And now you’re saying you hope this case will be investigated someday. It is a matter of approach. If the approach that I mentioned prevails, I have serious doubts that it will lead to anything.

Do you want me to participate in this absolutely anti-legal dialogue with you? Do you want us to act as the British do – accuse and pass a verdict right away without any evidence to support it? You are asking the wrong person. I can’t do that. I believe this kind of reasoning is simply criminal. I hope there are still some basic principles in the world that can’t be violated. There is a presumption of innocence that can’t be violated. One can’t talk about possible punishments or ways to enforce them before there is a strong case, evidence, and a due legal process. This kind of approach used to be condemned, and not only by Russia but even more so by the Western community.

How do you think I could answer this question? How could I maintain this dialogue with you – if these people are convicted, will they serve their sentences? Do you understand the monstrosity of phrasing this question like this? What if other people are convicted – do you think they will serve? Let’s now begin fantasising about how a trial will end.

I am ready to send you the content that we have published, and our requests that were never answered, not even taken into account – maybe not all of them, but the most fundamental ones. Let’s start with this, and not with who will serve sentences. This is a matter of establishing truth, and not a news opportunity for accusing people. The question to ask is what really happened there.

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Question: There were riots in Marseille during the UEFA Euro 2016 football championships. Two years later, two Russians were detained on suspicion of involvement in those riots. Now they are in France, but they have not yet been charged. Is there any way to help in this situation?

Maria Zakharova: Our foreign missions are dealing with this problem. I have seen reports. The families of these people wrote to us. At the next briefing, I will be able to give you more details and talk about the steps that have been taken. We will do our best to step up our efforts on this.

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