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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, March 6, 2020

6 March 202015:48

Table of contents

  1. Meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to attend presentation of Kemerovo Region
  3. COVID-19 update
  4. Update on Bolivia
  5. More aggressive US rhetoric against Russia on the Open Skies Treaty
  6. The Pentagon’s next budget request
  7. Second anniversary of the Salisbury incident
  8. Dutch authorities’ attempts to pressure The Hague District Court before the start of the MH17 trial
  9. Agenor naval operation
  10. Israeli plans for the construction of new settlements on the West Bank
  11. Italian authorities’ provocation against Russian biathlete Alexander Loginov
  12. President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky’s executive order declaring February 26 in Ukraine a Day of Resistance to the Occupation of Crimea and Sevastopol
  13. Anti-Russia statements by the President of Montenegro
  14. Russian historian Alexey Umnov-Denisov denied entry to Romania
  15. Update on Russian nationals Mikhail Ivkin and Pavel Kosov
  16. Update on Russian national Olesya Krasilova detained in Spain
  17. Viktoria Ivanova’s case
  18. Situation with Le Monde newspaper
  19. Celebrations of Ghana’s Independence Day

Answers to media questions:

  1. Amendment to the Russian Constitution to ban giving away Russian territory
  2. Turkey’s actions in Syria
  3. Developments in Afghanistan
  4. Estonian authorities’ actions against Channel Five journalist Andrey Zakharov
  5. International cooperation in addressing corruption issues
  6. US–Taliban peace deal
  7. Dismantling monuments in the Czech Republic

Meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund

On March 11, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will chair the annual meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund. The plan is to review the organisation’s activities in 2019 and approve the list of priority areas for 2021.

The Gorchakov Fund was established in 2010 by Directive of the President of the Russian Federation to support public diplomacy, facilitate the participation of non-profit organisations in international cooperation and involve civil society institutions in foreign policy processes.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to attend presentation of Kemerovo Region

On March 12, a presentation of the Kemerovo Region (Kuzbass) will be held at the Foreign Ministry Mansion in Moscow as part of a programme to assist Russian regions in developing and strengthening cooperation with foreign countries and the business community.

Representatives of the diplomatic corps accredited in Moscow, federal and regional authorities, business executives, and Russian and foreign media will attend. The event is aimed at demonstrating the economic opportunities and investment potential of the Kemerovo Region, as well as reaffirming the regional government’s intention to further build up business ties with foreign partners. Various regional projects will be presented, in which foreign businesses and interested entities are invited to take part.

As per tradition, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Governor of the Kemerovo Region Sergey Tsivilev will speak at the event.

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COVID-19 update

The World Health Organisation recently lifted the level of threat of global outbreak of the new disease to “very high,” again urging all states to enhance healthcare and preventive measures. The specially created Government Crisis Centre for the control and monitoring of the coronavirus situation regularly and promptly releases information on steps taken by Russia.

The Russian Foreign Ministry continues to monitor the development of the coronavirus situation and takes the necessary steps and measures to assist Russian citizens. Russia’s foreign agencies are working to verify reports of Russian citizens abroad with COVID-19 and keep in touch with them, and set up meetings with representatives of local authorities on this issue.

In these circumstances, when planning foreign travel, Russian tourists are asked to take into account previously published recommendations and follow updates from the relevant authorities, including the Foreign Ministry, the Federal Agency for Tourism and Rospotrebnadzor.

Once again, I ask you to go to the official accounts of our foreign missions on social media (only verified accounts), which can provide all the necessary information to Russians who are abroad and who need help; a telephone hotline is available.

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Update on Bolivia

The situation in Bolivia in the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections on May 3 remains uneasy. We are seeing that preparations for the elections are characterised by an open and in some cases behind-the-scenes struggle between different political forces, primarily related to the process of candidate registration.  

Given this backdrop, several media outlets around the world have reported that, essentially, there were no legal grounds for the events that triggered the political instability in Bolivia, such as allegedly massive violations, forgery or tampering with the vote count during the [presidential] election on October 20, 2019. In other words, if we summarise the recent sensational reports, we can say that what happened last autumn was typical of a coup. I would also like to respond briefly: “Hello! Where were you in October 2019? Why did it take so much time to analyse or, at least, cite the facts that were obvious at the time?” 

I would like to note that, probably, now we see positive dynamics in the sense that the truth always comes out, but this time we had to wait for a fairly long time to see this happen. I would like to draw your attention to all the comments made by the Russian Foreign Ministry. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke about this, as well as the spokespersons for the ministry. Just read them again and draw your own conclusions. 

Speaking of the news reports by the [world’s] leading media outlets, in particular, the American media, The Washington Post carried an article that caused quite a stir. We have ambiguous feelings after reading it. On the one hand, the material appears to be correct and conclusive. This was what observers from the EU and the Organisation of American States (OAS) reported earlier. But, on the other hand, as we have said many times, some activities [that took place during the election campaign] were based not on compliance with international law and Bolivian law but rather on the principles of political expediency that served the interests of certain political forces. As a result of these activities, the situation in the country was seriously destabilised. They had a negative impact on the country’s economic development and have led to a situation where the top priority now is to bring the country back to an effective lawful election process, so that leaders that have the trust of the majority of Bolivians could be elected.

I would like to note again that the situation has recurred. Unfortunately, in the heat of the events, the media are used as a mouthpiece and a tool for fighting or exerting external influence. It is only later that people realise what has really happened. I want to repeat that, as a rule, things get back on track roughly within six months because it is impossible not to see the obvious.    

I would also like to note that the current Bolivian authorities have a very restricted mandate to prepare for the elections and form, based on the election results, a legitimate government. That is why we are greatly disappointed to read and see the groundless and sometimes false statements they promote about “Russian involvement” or some “Russian mafia” that is allegedly involved in the illegitimate processes taking place in Bolivia. In so doing, the Bolivian interim government cites no specific information, facts, evidence or proof of illegal actions committed by either Russian authorities or even Russian nationals, for that matter. The Russian Embassy has received no relevant requests or inquiries from the Bolivian authorities, nor have they been forwarded via any other channel.   

If this is being done purposefully, I would like to tell everyone who is engaged in such activities that they will not succeed in making us quarrel with the Bolivians. If these are not willful actions but manifestation of stupidity, then everything is clear as it is.    

Russia and the Russian people have kind and sincere feelings of friendship and respect for the Bolivians. We believe these feelings are mutual.

I want to draw your attention yet again to the huge amount of false information about Russia that, unfortunately, is currently being spread in Bolivia.

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More aggressive US rhetoric against Russia on the Open Skies Treaty

I would like to inform you that as of today there have been no official statements on the US’ potential withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty (OST).

Nevertheless, we are very concerned about statements by high-ranking US officials and Congresspeople that are trying to turn the OST into a bargaining chip in their domestic political games.

We consider the OST an important mechanism for ensuring European security and military transparency along with the 2011 Vienna Document on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures.

We openly state our position during our contacts with our partners and objectively describe the situation that has taken shape around the OST. We hope that common sense and a constructive approach from all participants in the treaty will make it possible to prevent its collapse.

In general, I would like to note that US attempts to undermine the contractual foundation of arms control in real terms will not be able to inflict irreparable damage on our common security. We hope it will still be possible to put this situation back on a legal track on a global scale.

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The Pentagon’s next budget request

We have taken note that in their budget request for fiscal 2021 the Pentagon and the US Department of Energy (DOE) suggest building up allocations on budget items linked with nuclear weapons with a view to countering “threats” that are ostensibly emanating from Russia and China. This is being done against the backdrop of what I just mentioned – US withdrawal from all commitments. This trend was obvious long before now, tying Washington’s hands and somehow keeping it part of security and strategic stability agreements.   

We would like to note in this context that Washington is not only upgrading its nuclear forces but is also trying to provide new capability, which substantially enhances the likelihood of using them. Special concern is evoked by US efforts to increase the range of small-yield nuclear arms, including the development of such ammunition and its deployment on strategic carriers. This obviously lowers the nuclear threshold.

One gets the impression that Washington has decided to purposefully view a nuclear conflict as a real political option and is creating a befitting potential for it. But to feign at least some legitimacy for these destructive actions, the United States traditionally refers to the alleged external threats from Russia and China.

We would like to emphasise that the United States is only threatened by its own attempts to revive the concept of the world based on power and reshape international relations in the spirit of “rivalry between the great powers,” in which America is naturally supposed to be the winner. This logic is flawed and very dangerous.

We consider such plans destabilising. Their implementation leads to the growth of armed confrontation, which is fraught with the most negative consequences. The relentless buildup of military power, especially without legal constraint, is a road to nowhere. Continued arms control and peaceful cooperation with other states, which we constantly urge Washington to opt for, is a much more effective way of ensuring national security.

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Second anniversary of the Salisbury incident

It has been two years since the “Salisbury mystery,” which the British authorities purposely used to exacerbate bilateral relations, or, to say more, used to intimidate the international community. Despite Russia’s numerous requests for a responsible dialogue – and there have been a lot – Great Britain still refuses to have an in-depth discussion and conduct a joint investigation of what happened there. Let me remind you that Russians were victims there. And the leadership of the United Kingdom still uses the Skripal case as leverage against Russia, stirring up anti-Russian feelings in British society.

We strongly condemn all of London’s attempts to blame Moscow for the Salisbury incident. We insist on a professional, objective and unbiased investigation of what happened there. We reaffirm our readiness for substantive cooperation between our law enforcement agencies and relevant experts.

We believe it crucially important to provide immediate consulate access to the Russians. I would like to stress (I hope this information won’t be blocked and will somehow reach British society) that over these years (two years have passed since the incident), we have never stopped or dropped our pressing demands to organise a meeting with the Russian victims, as we and the entire world were told during this incident. We have sent diplomatic notes, made statements and raised this issue during our diplomatic contacts. There was no answer.

The British authorities ignore the relevant Russian demands for no reason and neglect their international legal obligations, including under the bilateral 1965 Consular Convention.

We believe that Great Britain’s approach does not comply with the norms of international law or any law. We are confident that only an open and mutually respectful dialogue between professionals based on the law and in the legal sphere will put an end to the British speculations and help find the truth, hence taking all the questions off the table and stopping fake news. And there have been a lot of them over these two years. I think that these events will go down in historical documents as an example of a large-scale information campaign based on disinformation.

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Dutch authorities’ attempts to pressure The Hague District Court before the start of the MH17 trial

We are seeing the information campaign in the Netherlands gain new momentum as the trial for the July 2014 MH17 crash over eastern Ukraine approaches at The Hague District Court on March 9. All this is coming, in no small measure, from the Netherlands Prosecutor's Office, which is the lead in the work of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT MH17).

This is being done to shape public opinion in the right way, to prepare the ground in order to highlight and, perhaps, in some sense, secure the so-called achievements of nearly six years of work. This, of course, is far from the high standards that our Western partners refer to.

Due to the apparent lack of anything new beyond the repeated accusations, the JIT made a very strange move they probably see as spectacular (again, as part of the accelerating information campaign) in announcing they had witnesses whose names and identities were, predictably, classified. I can even remember questions to this effect, and more than once, and also during one of the briefings. This sounds like the same old magic formula, “we know for sure it was you who did this from secret sources we cannot disclose,” already a handy tool in a number of high-profile cases, events and incidents, now being applied on a larger scale.

I recognise this hallmark style, that of planted news citing some mythical “irrefutable” evidence, with witnesses’ details classified and links to sources that cannot be opened. At the same time, important matters of direct relevance to the tragedy – such as Ukraine’s failure to close its airspace to civilian aircraft due to the internal armed conflict in the summer 2014 – which the Dutch parliamentarians seemed interested in, have apparently slipped from public discourse. The huge package of information about the crash provided by Russia continues to be ignored. The investigators are not interested in why all the prosecutors involved in the MH17 inquiry were fired just before the start of the trial in Ukraine.

Yet, the media campaign is gaining unprecedented momentum, with a clear accusatory bias towards Russia and – something absolutely unacceptable – against its citizens. This has been unleashed in the last days before the trial in order to compensate for the gaps in the evidence, to hide the juggling of facts to fit the pre-selected version. Another reason is probably to inspire the idea that the probe was impeccable and predetermine the verdict in advance and prevent any deviation from the line drawn up six years ago.

I just have one question. Is it even acceptable practice to launch such an information campaign before a court trial? Have you seen a precedent for this anywhere?

We believe all of the above is a grossly apparent attempt to put pressure on the court.

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Agenor naval operation

We see the situation in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz as turbulent. Moreover, the clearly excessive presence of foreign ships in that area does little to deescalate tensions; it creates an additional irritant if anything. It is from this perspective that we are watching Operation Agenor, part of the European-led Maritime Situation Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz (EMASOH) initiative launched by France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Greece, Italy and Portugal.

We take it that the current situation is the result of an exacerbation of a chain of problems. We suggest all countries interested in detente and stronger regional stability consider the Russian proposal, which concerns establishing a dialogue on building a collective security system in the Persian Gulf.

Russia’s approach to addressing the situation is based on the equal interaction of all regional and other interested parties, and the strict observance of international law.

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Israeli plans for the construction of new settlements on the West Bank

The announced Israeli Government's plans to build more settlements in zone E1 on the West Bank of the Jordan River are in conflict with the international legal framework of a Middle East Settlement. If implemented, this will disrupt the territorial continuity of the West Bank, which is an indispensable condition for the viability of a future Palestinian state.

We reaffirm Russia’s principled position, reflected in UN Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), which says Israel’s establishment of settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, had no legal validity, constituting a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security, within internationally recognised borders.

We urge all parties to refrain from any steps that could provoke a new and dangerous escalation in the region and impede the creation of conditions for the resumption of direct Palestinian-Israeli talks under international auspices.

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Italian authorities’ provocation against Russian biathlete Alexander Loginov

An official protest was sent to the Italian side over a February 22 early morning search of the places where biathlete Alexander Loginov and his personal coach, Alexander Kasperovich, were staying for the IBU Biathlon World Cup in Anterselva, Italy. The Russian side declared such actions against Russian athletes unacceptable and disproportionate. That incident will have a negative impact on the development of sports cooperation between our countries.

Such investigative actions performed in the early hours on the day of one of the World Cup events naturally affected the state of our athletes. As you know, Alexander Loginov was compelled to cancel his participation in the mass start event on February 23.

In response to our request, the Italian authorities said the search took place at 6 am “to allow the Russian athlete to participate in the late morning competition.” In fact, the race was at 14:30. Such explanations by the Italian side are not credible.

I point out that representatives of the Italian carabinieri confirmed to our diplomats that their activities revealed no evidence incriminating Alexander Loginov.

Because a preliminary investigation regarding our athletes in Italy continues, we urge the Italian authorities to strictly observe the legitimate rights and interests of Russian athletes and representatives of our team. We hope that comprehensive measures will be taken to prevent such incidents in the future, and those responsible for abuses against athletes will be punished.

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President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky’s executive order declaring February 26 in Ukraine a Day of Resistance to the Occupation of Crimea and Sevastopol

President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky recently signed an executive order declaring February 26 in Ukraine a Day of Resistance to the Occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol. His actions can only be described as a show because this is ridiculous and pointless.

Despite the qualification that was given to what was again invented in Ukraine as regards Crimea and Sevastopol, the chosen date is the only understandable part. It is no accident that February 26 was somehow linked with Crimea and Sevastopol. Do you know why this was done? I doubt Mr Zelensky himself knows.

On February 25, 2014 one of the ringleaders of the Right Sector, a Ukrainian national radical movement, Igor Mosiychuk expressed his ideas on retaining Crimea (his mind was still racing):

“The attempts to violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity will be severely punished. If the authorities are unable to do this, the Right Sector will send a ‘friendship train.’ We will go to Crimea like UNSO (Ukrainian National Self-Defence) did in 1990. A public similar to this one ran away like rats as a column of UNSO representatives was entering Sevastopol…” Six years have passed and a new holiday has emerged – Day of Resistance to the Occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol.

Knowing how Ukraine viewed “the liberation” of Crimea from occupation, is there any reason to be surprised that Crimean residents made a conscious choice in favour of reuniting with Russia at the March 16 referendum?

Here is one more piece of advice for those who invent new holidays and excuses for celebrations in Ukraine – recall and reread at least the recent history of the last few years, what was said by those who became the ideologists of building a so-called new Ukraine. Consider what you are doing from time to time and what this can lead to.

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Anti-Russia statements by the President of Montenegro

" rel="111">In an interview with Reuters, President of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic, deemed it necessary to speak again about Russia’s alleged interference in the domestic political processes in this Balkan country.

We regularly remind the leaders in Podgorica that Russia is not in the habit of interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, and Montenegro is no exception in this respect. If Montenegrin leaders are seeking those that interfere in their affairs they should turn around and look in the opposite direction. Maybe they will see those that interfere in their home affairs. References to all kinds of “hybrid” encroachments on foreign sovereignty ascribed to Moscow are awkward attempts to resolve domestic problems by searching for a foreign enemy and to distract the public from understanding who is really interfering in Montenegro’s internal affairs.

Needless to say, the law on freedom of religion adopted in Montenegro in December 2019 raises serious concern. This issue was of global significance and destroyed the unity of the Orthodox world. This is the gist of the problem rather than the position of the forces that criticise new legislative proposals and that urge a respectable and equitable dialogue between the Montenegrin authorities and the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is upholding its legitimate centuries-old rights and interests.

As for Podgorica’s progress along the European integration road, this is its sovereign choice. We have never opposed the expansion of the EU. This issue concerns applicants for membership and Brussels and the development of relations between any specific country and integration structures.

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Russian historian Alexey Umnov-Denisov denied entry to Romania

On March 2, the Romanian authorities denied entry to Russian historian Alexey Umnov-Denisov into Romania without explanation. As a result, academic events aimed at developing a constructive dialogue between the academic communities of Russia and Romania had to be cancelled. Later, the Romanian Foreign Ministry announced that this decision was ostensibly based on the current international norms and provisions of Romanian law.

Bucharest’s action causes perplexity and regret. We consider this demarche to be overtly unfriendly, and clearly not conducive to improving the general atmosphere of bilateral relations.

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Update on Russian nationals Mikhail Ivkin and Pavel Kosov

At the last briefing, I promised to come back to the situation with Russian nationals Mikhail Ivkin and Pavel Kosov, who are being held at a detention centre in Marseilles pending court hearings. I want to remind you that they were detained in Munich on a French Interpol arrest warrant in February 2018. The two men are charged with causing grievous bodily harm to a British national in disturbances provoked by football fans in France during the 2016 UEFA European Football Championship.

Answering the question, I promised to inform you about the measures taken by the Foreign Ministry to protect the interests of the Russian nationals in question. The Russian Consulate-General in Marseilles took the necessary measures to protect the rights and interests of the Russian nationals under the related Russian laws and international law. The Consulate-General staff visits the two men under investigation and has established contact with their lawyers.

On March 3, an employee at the Russian Consulate-General in Marseilles visited Mikhail Ivkin in a penitentiary. Ivkin did not complain about the detention conditions or any violation of his rights. The prison authorities permitted the consular employee to hand the man books that his relatives had sent him.  

Determining if the suspects are guilty of the offences they are charged with and passing a final verdict on this case in compliance with international regulatory acts falls exclusively within the terms of reference of the local judicial authorities. An appeal can be filed against the verdict in keeping with the procedure provided for under French law.  

The Russian nationals have been held in detention for about two years. While we are not biased against French criminal code standards, we believe it is necessary to take a proportionate approach towards exercising them and that it is unacceptable to delay investigative progress.  

We continue to keep a close eye on the situation, so to, among other things, avoid any direct or indirect violation that could have an adverse impact on the Russian nationals and affect their rights. The Foreign Ministry in Moscow and our diplomatic missions in France maintain contact with the representatives of our two citizens and will further assist them in protecting their legitimate rights.

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Update on Russian national Olesya Krasilova detained in Spain

On February 14, the Spanish authorities detained Russian national Olesya Krasilova on the Canary Island of Tenerife at the request of the United States. She is employed by a Russian government-funded agency and was in Spain on a business trip.

The detention of Olesya Krasilova is another example of how the United States tries to hunt down Russian nationals around the world. Hopefully, the Spanish authorities will take a principled and law-based position in this case – a case that will have direct implications for relations between the two countries. The Spanish Foreign Ministry has already received a Russian diplomatic note expressing Russia’s serious concern about the unprecedented detention and custody of a Russian national, and it calls on Spain to refuse to extradite her to the United States. We are taking the necessary measures to safeguard her rights and legitimate interests and we are urging Spain to not take measures that could further exacerbate the current situation, which defies the law as it is. We have firmly demanded that the American authorities revoke the request for the extradition of Olesya Krasilova to the United Sates.

We will continue to work to secure the release of the Russian national as soon as possible. A delegation from the relevant Russian government-funded agency visited Madrid to secure a lawyer to defend the woman. With support from the Russian Embassy, the organisation that employs the defendant and the Russian-speaking lawyer signed a contract.  

An employee from the Russian Embassy’s consular division was sent to the Canary Island of Tenerife where he visited Olesya Krasilova at the Tenerife-2 jail. The woman is determined to fight to secure her release and return home.

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Viktoria Ivanova’s case

In the context of an investigation against Russians that has been going on in France for two years, I would like to also comment on the investigation around a Russian journalist in France. The French prosecutor’s office stopped investigating a case of assault against a Russian journalist, Viktoria Ivanova. The pretext was very strange: “It is impossible to identify the persons responsible.”

This is strange. The investigation around the Russian citizens Mikhail Ivkin and Pavel Kosov has been going on for two years to find those responsible, but here it was decided to drop the case after just a couple months because it is impossible to identify the persons responsible. I understand that the issues are completely different; they are not connected and do not develop in parallel. But perhaps there are common approaches to the execution of law in France.

Let me remind you that Rossiya Segodnya correspondent Viktoria Ivanova was injured by the French police during the yellow vests rally on May 1, 2019. Despite the clear word “Press” on her helmet and armband, a police officer struck her with his baton twice, causing a bruise on her left arm and a concussion.

The case materials include extensive evidence that Ms Ivanova was a victim in this situation. In particular, there is footage from CCTV cameras showing the hits. Specialised agencies also checked photos and radio traffic data as well as questioned the commanders of the units who were on the scene: all the information was gathered and presented.

Without impugning the law enforcers’ responsibility, the French prosecutor’s office still decided to stop the investigation due to the fact that they were “not able to identify those responsible.” Ms Ivanova was notified about this in a letter on March 2.

A precedent has been set. It turns out that, even with all the information, technical equipment and the strict commitment to protecting journalists’ rights officially declared by Paris at public organisations and events, this does not work in practice.

We believe that the decision made in Ms Ivanova’s situation violates her rights as well as the principles of justice and inevitable punishment for the crime. We support the Russian journalist’s intention to try to bring those responsible for her injuries to justice. If French government bodies and public organisations hold forums under their auspices, such as the Paris Peace Forum, where all these problems are discussed in theory, then all of this must be implemented in practice there.

We will not overlook this case and will send all the materials to the OSCE and other international agencies.

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Situation with Le Monde newspaper

Something strange is happening in journalism in France. If you remember, I spoke about how we are forced to publicly raise the issue of the French media refusing to publish materials refuting false information posted by them. I was talking about Le Monde newspaper.

Only after our public appeal did we receive a response from this newspaper. Let me remind you, we simply asked to publish a response to the false information that Russia is making it tougher for journalists to get visas. Dozens of foreign correspondents are present here today, and they probably have not faced tougher visa regulations in recent years.

We asked for the opportunity to publish a refutation article. The newspaper did not reply to us for several weeks. After a public appeal, we received a response. It is amazing. I am quoting: “We read your letter with interest, but do not wish to publish it.” Is this okay? This is the French media – world forums, discussing the fight against fake news, the global initiative of Champs-Elysees on how to deal with misinformation. We use legal methods to prevent the spread of fake news. We do this respectfully, based on French law – we sent a letter through the Russian mission asking to publish it. We did not even insist that it should be published in the newspaper; they could have just posted it on their website. But they tell us that they do not want to publish our answer. I have never seen anything of the sort.

Should we treat the French side the same way, concerning all the issues mentioned above? This is not our choice. By the way, let me remind you that the media’s obligation to publish a retraction or to provide the interested party with the opportunity to publish a comment on the pages of a publication in response to inaccuracies or distortions is a key principle of generally accepted international journalism ethics. The principles are professional and democratic. Whether the media leadership wants to apply these principles or not has nothing to do with democracy, freedom of speech and principles related to respect for the profession.

According to the Declaration of Principles on the Conduct of Journalists, adopted by the International Federation of Journalists in 1954 (hello to Le Monde), “the journalist shall do the utmost to rectify any published information which is found to be harmfully inaccurate.” We did not insist that Le Monde reporters do this work — we did it ourselves. We were ready to adjust the article together, reduce and simplify it. We translated it, provided it in French. The right to reciprocal, fair comments and criticism of one’s own publications, as well as to private criticism and opinion journalism, is also enshrined in the 2019 Global Charter of Ethics for Journalists. The same aspects are enshrined in the UNESCO International Principles of Professional Ethics in Journalism. Do you know where they were approved? In Paris, on November 20, 1983. They are also set out in the 1971 Declaration of Duties and Rights of Journalists of the European Federation of Journalists. If Le Monde is not committed to this, please let the public know. To make us aware of it.

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Celebrations of Ghana’s Independence Day

Today, March 6, marks Independence Day of the Republic of Ghana. The friendly nation of Ghana has a long history and distinctive traditions and customs. It remembers the sad and difficult times from its colonial past. The first Europeans (Portuguese) arrived on the shores of Ghana at the end of the 15th century and were amazed by the amount of gold, which back then became a tragedy for the local population. Rumours about the riches of this West African country soon reached refined Europe, and the ancestors of today’s Dutch, Danish, French and English people left for the Gold Coast (as Ghana was called before), clearly not to delight the locals with the achievements of European civilisation. The violent fight for resources (gold) ended in victory for Great Britain, which controlled all of Ghana by 1901. The barbaric exploitation of natural riches was traditionally accompanied by slave trade. I will refrain from describing all the medieval charms.

The people of the Gold Coast did not accept the colonial rule, and the national fight for freedom led by Kwame Nkrumah concluded with the proclamation of independence in 1957. The new state was named Ghana, and Kwame Nkrumah became its first president. He remained loyal to the ideas of Pan-Africanism, carried out a policy of rapid development of his country and the entire African continent, and was among the initiators of the Organisation of African Unity.

Today Ghana is a leading African economy that successfully addresses socioeconomic development issues and has a balanced foreign policy. We congratulate our Ghanaian friends on their national holiday and hope to further promote the full scope of mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and Ghana. We wish Ghanaians peace, prosperity and well-being.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: My question is about the amendment to the Constitution of the Russian Federation regarding the prohibition of transferring territories of the Russian Federation. This amendment is known to have been approved by the respective State Duma committee. During the discussion, influential politicians said they wanted to put a lid on talks with Japan on the South Kuril Islands. President of Russia Vladimir Putin also expressed his stance. As a result, the amendment acquired the following wording: with the exceptions of demarcation and re-demarcation, actions towards the transfer of the territories of the Russian Federation and calls for such actions are not permitted. In this connection I have a question whether this amendment will affect further Russia-Japan talks on a peace treaty. Does the Russian Foreign Ministry consider these talks to be related to the transfer of Russian territories or to the demarcation procedures?

Maria Zakharova: It is not accurate to say that the amendment will affect [the talks]. The amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation will influence all areas of our life. In this case I mean not my life or yours but life inside the Russian Federation. This is clear. The changes in the Constitution will have an effect on the different areas of life they refer to. This is number one. It is not proper to discuss the amendments and their effect or lack thereof. I do not think it corresponds to the legal aspects of the question asked. When changes are made, we will start discussing them as the existing Fundamental Law.

The second point concerns the negotiation process with Japan. You see, you phrased your question from an interesting perspective. I have no claims against you because it is, one way or another, a position held by many Japanese media outlets and many political forces, including those outside Japan. Will future actions or events affect the current talks? I have a counter question: Why do we (rather, you) pose a question in such a way that some future developments should affect talks that have been ongoing for more than a year? It has been two years since we intensified this dialogue with Japan on the peace treaty and took it to a new level. Why should we proceed from the future when we have present? Unfortunately, this present becomes the past each day. I think this question should be forwarded to the Japanese side, to Japanese diplomats, politicians and statesmen. What has been done over the years, especially the last two years, to reach the goals set? In this case we should not proceed from the future. We have to analyse the global and strategic approach and see how it is being pursued by the Japanese in practice. I have a question for you: What has been done to the Japanese Constitution in the context of holding talks with Moscow? Let me help you: nothing. This is why I think it is not worth talking about what will influence the talks in the future due to possible changes to the Russian Constitution when Japan throughout the years has done nothing of what could have been necessary and logical to do if it indeed wanted real progress on this issue. There must be a different philosophy. Actually, there must be any philosophy at all.

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Question: As you know, under the Sochi Memorandum, Turkey was to separate the armed opposition from the terrorists. It was emphasised yesterday that the terrorists would be eliminated. Is the agreement still in effect that Turkey will eliminate the terrorists on its own or will the Syrian army and Russian forces join in? 

Maria Zakharova: You see, I want to draw your attention to yesterday’s Joint Statement following the talks by the Russian and Turkish presidents, which was voiced by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and is available on our website. It lists the agreed upon steps to be taken by the parties. As to the elimination of the terrorists and militants, regardless of yesterday’s talks, if they are identified as such, they must be eliminated primarily by the Syrian armed forces and those forces, countries and contingents which legitimately interact with the Syrian authorities. This is our principled approach, and this has not changed. Obviously, there are different mechanisms for coordinating actions with the international community but it is basically not only the right but also the duty of the Syrian state to act and to engage, on legal grounds, those who are ready to render such help. This is a basic approach to proceed from, and we have not revised this.

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Question: The US and the Taliban movement recently signed a peace agreement. Two days later, the situation in Afghanistan only deteriorated. What does Russia think about this? How can peace and security be established in Afghanistan?

Maria Zakharova: We have already given our evaluation of the agreements reached between the US and the Taliban. As you said, they led not to instant progress, but, unfortunately, to further deterioration. We hope that the agreement will be followed through on. We are confident that the aspiration for true peace against the backdrop of the current situation in Afghanistan should become a true priority for all forces, including socio-political forces. I understand that this is a very global, general solution. But you want an answer to a question that has not been answered for decades. Maybe there is a solution, but it is difficult to implement, as we see.

In short and without generalisation, these mutual controversies should not be seen as a global approach. They should be subordinate to the most important thing: the interests of the people of Afghanistan. And this move towards peace in the interests of the wellbeing and prosperity of the Afghan people should become an undisputable imperative. Again, I understand that this is a very global piece of advice and solution, but history tells us that it should be implemented one day. We need to combine our efforts, not suspend them over controversy, which of course, will always be there. 

Question: Through examples in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir and other countries we see that women and children are the people who are the most affected by war. What can you say to the women who will spend the holiday – International Women’s Day – in a refugee camp or other uncomfortable places?

Maria Zakharova: If you are asking this question about the women who suffer from armed conflicts and are currently at refugee camps, I have holiday wishes, but not for them. I want to address the men, who, unfortunately, often forget about the obvious advantages of a peaceful life, the need to preserve peace as a global concept, a global imperative. So my holiday wish is that they should always remember that political ambition, the political environment, and various other interests should always proceed from the priorities of a peaceful life and the needs of civilians.

As for those women who are suffering from conflict, I wish them stamina and patience. Unfortunately, there are not hundreds of thousands, but millions of women in this position.

I would also wish for public organisations all over the world, non-governmental agencies, civil society, activists who are engaged in charity projects and women’s problems in various areas, to identify and outline the most important things. They should not focus on small, though important, but at the same time not crucial interests of their own. It is important to take a broader view, and remember that there are a huge number of civilian women and children in the world who have no idea of not only what human rights are, but what a normal human life is. So, when I see the numerous new civil initiatives, movements, campaigns that are supposed to deal with very crucial issues related to women, I often feel amused and sad at the same time, because their goals are so petty, and their objectives are so shallow, and all these resources could have been used to deal with truly global issues and problems.

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Question: Last January our colleague, a Channel 5 journalist, Andrey Zakharov, issued a report on Latvian legionnaires. In February, he released another report on Waffen-SS legionnaires that hold annual marches in Estonia. Under this excuse the Estonian authorities cancelled his Schengen visa for five years and expelled him from the EU. How can you comment on these actions of the Estonian authorities? Can they be interpreted as obstructing the professional activities of a correspondent, which runs counter to international agreements on the media and the freedom of speech?

Maria Zakharova: We have already commented on this. Our comment is published on the Ministry’s website. It is current. We will follow up with a letter to the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Desir, in which we will describe in detail this situation. We will raise the issue in practical terms at international venues and will come back to it.

We will ask our EU partners, both in individual countries and as an integrated structure, about the rules and procedures of accreditation, the entry and exit of journalists and their ability to engage in professional activities. Some time ago we tried to understand whether the EU has common rules on this. It seems to be a progressive structure in this sense, as it were. It is endlessly talking about the horrors of propaganda and the struggle against disinformation. That said, we have repeatedly asked our EU colleagues about the rules for working there, which in the opinion of EU agencies must be fulfilled by those who want to be considered law-abiding journalists. Much to my surprise we were told that there are no common rules: state to state movement is common, the Schengen Zone is common, and decisions are made by consensus, including those on countering dishonest journalists. Nobody pursues any individual policy on a national basis. Everything is subordinated to tough discipline and there are no common rules that are understandable and accessible. We were told that we should address each country individually. We did this. Many countries did not reply at all, as if they have no accreditation rules of their own. What could be easier than this question? Please explain.

By the way, there was one shocking moment, although it does not concern your question directly. We found this out when Russian journalists faced this problem. It appears that applicants for being a journalist in Britain on a permanent basis must take an exam in English. They have to do this at special courses and pay no small fee for this. This requirement is applied selectively. In some cases it is required, and in others it may not be applied. This is an approach that can also be used for denying a visa to a journalist for political reasons, for one. We are fully aware of that. I am sure many journalists working in Britain have no idea about the need to take this exam and pay for courses or for taking this exam. Some journalists have to deal with this problem. Thus, journalists that applied for visas in Moscow were denied and told to bring a certificate. What does this mean? This means that the mechanism of issuing a visa, accreditation or work permit is being used as an instrument of political pressure on journalism and journalists.

As for the case you brought up, I promise you that we will do everything we can to get an appropriate international response because it is directly linked with politics. As we see it, there is no other explanation than the use of the visa and accreditation policy for some kind of political revenge for journalistic activity.

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Question: The Russian media do not report much about anti-corruption measures. This is even reflected in the departure of former officials that end up fairly wealthy upon their arrival abroad. Recently, there were reports that an ordinary colonel from the Ministry of the Interior, Sergey Terentyev, owns several mansions and flies to Monaco on his helicopter. Does the Foreign Ministry deal with the return of corrupt officials to their homeland and the seizing of their real estate? Has this process been stepped up in the past few years? Has it become more intense?

Maria Zakharova: Several years ago we devoted a series of reports to how many of our Western partners resort to distorted rather than simply double standards in anticorruption cooperation with Russia.

We all participate in related agreements and international organisations, including those under the UN. We are subjected to criticism by our Western partners. However, many inquiries by Russian law enforcement agencies remain unanswered and are completely ignored even though they have a huge base of evidence.

In addition, many that Russia has inquired about officially were given asylum, the status of political refugees or other types of protection and almost patronage. Many of these people become exceptional representatives of the local political elite. They are regularly given time whereas we cannot publish our response to obvious fraud. Meanwhile, these people go from one programme to another on local television channels.

This attitude is creating a very strange, distorted idea of normal cooperation in this area. We have spoken about this problem more than once. In fact, we can update the statistics.

At the same time, Russian citizens against whom provocative claims are lodged are being caught, detained and taken (in general, this comes down to abduction). These claims are part of some planned campaign repeatedly waged against Russian citizens that are kept in US prisons, or they are far-fetched and completely false cases. Sometimes nobody even thinks of the need to somehow legitimise their capture and detention. They are simply kept in prison for months and even years without an explanation. They are called enemies of the Western world and that’s it.

The second part of the problem is lack of normal cooperation between law-enforcement bodies on corruption cases, the extradition of citizens charged with corruption and the creation of zero tolerance to manifestations of corruption. In this case, those that law enforcement bodies have a large evidence base on and those who have court decisions against them should understand from the very start that they will not be given any residence permit or any legal status, not to mention political refugee status, that they will not be sheltered. In this case, justice and international cooperation would work smoothly. If this concept prevailed this would be a major contribution to the anti-corruption struggle.

I can update our statistics on what countries have given us a negative reply to an inquiry or who have simply ignored it altogether. States that have an evidence base on people that are not clean, to put it mildly, allow them to use the benefits and opportunities granted by their governments.

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Question: According to the latest update, the Afghan Government has refused to release Taliban prisoners. It seems this historical deal will no longer survive. What do you say?

Maria Zakharova: I have already partially dealt with this question. We hope that the agreements signed between the United States and the Taliban will be implemented in full.

Here are the statistics regarding the prisoners. We believe that all obstacles on the way to the implementation of the agreements will be lifted soon, including when it comes to the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 Afghan government soldiers before the launch of direct intra-Afghan talks on peace and the post-conflict settlement in the country, as this is set out in the agreement.

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Question: Monuments are being destroyed, commemorative plaques removed and squares renamed in the Czech Republic. According to frequent statements made in Russia, this is not its concern. For example, Russian Ambassador to the Czech Republic is often invited to attend events such as the renaming of a square after Boris Nemtsov. Russian officials do not attend them, and the Czech media later have a field day reporting their absence. This is obviously being done under foreign orders, because the Czech Republic is following the example of the United States, Ukraine and Lithuania. It is not a purely Czech initiative. If it is an attempt to reform the Czech society, as it happened in Ukraine, will Russia revise its relations with the Czech Republic in light of the fact that its views on the outcome of WWII is changing? Czechs say now that the Soviet Union all but started WWII, and that Hitler attacked the Soviet Union to save the world from Bolshevism.

Maria Zakharova: And it has slipped their memory about the occupation of Czechoslovakia?

I do not see exactly what we should take part in. At first I did not believe that it was really happening, but later I read a statement produced by Prague officials who had initiated the renaming of the square. The reasons they provided shocked me. I always thought that cities, streets and squares are named after people whose outstanding activities are viewed as a reason for commemorating them in the national history – we are talking about streets and squares in a sovereign state – so that this serves as an example and encouragement for the people in that country. I thought so because when you change something in your own home, you do it for yourself and not your neighbours. When I read the explanation provided by the Prague authorities, I thought that it was the most absurd thing I had ever read. They wrote that they did this to support the Russian opposition. This is pure nonsense.

First of all, actions aimed at influencing political processes in sovereign states fall within the province of international law. Of course, civil society, political parties and movements can express their support. But what we are talking about here is the official position of a state.

Second, do the Czech authorities intend to support only the Russian opposition? What about the opposition forces in Germany or Italy? Or maybe the French opposition needs the Czech authorities’ support? Do they plan to support the idea of a monument to the Yellow Vests? Why has Prague limited its support of internal political processes to Russia? This is rubbish. Moreover, this explanation – as I mentioned, it was an official explanation – is evidence of disrespect for the memory of the person whose name they chose in this particular case. It turns out that his name is being used not even in a political struggle but in a political horseplay. This is strange and bizarre.

Do the Czech authorities have similar feelings for the opposition in other countries? What are they planning to do in support of the American opposition? What about the opposition in Latin America or the Middle East? Why go so far? There are closer neighbours than Russia, which is located on the same continent but not in the direct proximity to the Czech Republic. What about Poland? The Polish opposition most likely needs support as well? What monument will be erected and which street will be named in honour of Polish opposition leaders? This is what I would like to understand. Furthermore, there are different kinds of opposition. For which part of the opposition have the Czech authorities demonstrated their respect? I think that several opposition movements in Russia might ask when monuments to Lenin would be rebuilt. The Communist movement is in opposition here.

So, this is absurd logic that shows a lack of good judgement. But we will not tell them this.

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