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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, June 17, 2020

17 June 202020:27

Table of contents

  1. Update on the coronavirus
  2. Repatriation flights
  3. Events marking the 79th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War of 1941 ̶ 1945 at Russian foreign missions
  4. Developments in and around Venezuela
  5. News leaks of the UN Secretary-General's semi-annual report on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231
  6. NATO grants Enhanced Opportunities Partner status to Ukraine
  7. Situation regarding Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko
  8. Latvia amends Electronic Mass Media Law
  9. Twitter blocks or removes thousands of accounts allegedly linked to Russia
  10. Article in the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom
  11. 75th anniversary of Russian-Ecuadorian diplomatic relations

Answers to media questions:

  1. CSTO's position on the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan
  2. Developments on the Chinese-Indian border
  3. Statement by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
  4. Developments around Nord Stream 2
  5. Japan's refusal to deploy American missile defence systems
  6. Dialogue on Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
  7. Virtual diplomacy
  8. Pakistan's metal works
  9. Incident with the convoy carrying banknotes for Yemen Central Bank
  10. Statements by US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey R. Pyatt

Update on the coronavirus

Last week, the total number of infected people with the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the world exceeded 8 million. Despite a certain decline in the growth rates of coronavirus cases and a trend towards a decrease in the mortality rate, there were no optimistic signs of a downturn in the global epidemiological situation. Alarming statistics came from Latin America and Asia. In some cases, experts started talking seriously about the start of a second wave of the pandemic.

Proceeding with the easing of epidemiological restrictions, the Eurozone countries announced a decision to start relaxing regulations on travel inside the Schengen zone on June 15 and open external borders on July 1. I would like to emphasise again that these are only tentative decisions for now. Considering the steps by our European partners on restoring freedom of movement, we hope our neighbours will not relax their attention to effectively countering the coronavirus infection. The World Health Organisation continues to warn against excessive haste in easing quarantine restrictions.

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Repatriation flights

Returning Russian nationals home is another pressing issue. Last week, between June 10 and 17, over 5,000 people travelled home from New York, Phuket, Dubai, Bangkok, Cape Town, Casablanca, Paris, Bishkek, Osh, Bali, Tashkent, Tokyo, Goa, Ho Chi Minh City, Seoul, Yerevan, Antalya and Delhi using Russian and foreign air carriers.

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that since the launch of the repatriation algorithm, over 33,000 people have been brought home by Russian airlines and over 4,500 people by foreign airlines. A total of 38,000 people have returned home since April. I will emphasise what I have repeatedly talked about: the number of Russians who have returned home has exceeded the number of people who applied for a flight in early April. We are talking now about those who decided to come back in May ̶ June, those who waited for the regular flights to be resumed and who had tickets for later dates. So this is not a drawn-out evacuation process, but providing assistance to those who want to return to Russia or those who are staying abroad.

On June 16, another complicated flight in terms of logistics and organisation landed in Moscow. An Utair flight arrived in Moscow with a layover in Tyumen. It delivered 164 passengers from six African countries. Among them are airline employees who were in Africa on extended business trips and ordinary people who were far from home when the pandemic started. We are grateful to the Utair leadership, who promptly made a responsible decision to accept our offer to make an additional stopover in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, and take 38 people on board, and of course, to the crew who made this complicated flight. The round the clock coordination between the airlines and employees of Russian agencies in these countries, local authorities and their Russian counterparts was the recipe for success.

After the previous briefing we received many questions regarding the situation in Latin America. I can confirm that we have brought people home from most of the countries. We have not forgotten about Russians in Central America and Ecuador: there have been no flights from these countries yet but we are working on it and hope to have good news for you soon.

Last week, we published on our website detailed information for Russian nationals who are currently staying in foreign countries that did not have direct flights to Russia before the pandemic. Due to the efficient implementation of the algorithm, we managed to agree on and try new logistics schemes: connection of regular flights by foreign airlines and repatriation flights operated from large transit hubs in Europe and Asia. Our compatriots in remote counties currently have even more opportunities to get home, that is, they can pick an airport in several countries, as well as flight dates. Websites of Russian diplomatic missions will have updated information on possible flights. Russian nationals can provide the necessary information and register for a flight to Russia on the state services portal. Depending on the number of free seats, our colleagues in embassies and consulates will assist passengers in making flight connections. You can find more information on our websites; it will be updated on Russian agencies' websites according to the flight schedule.

Over 150 people have already used this opportunity and returned home from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, the Philippines, Ireland and China, including Taiwan.

Together with our colleagues from the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media, Federal Agency for Air Transport and the Transport Ministry, we are developing a domestic logistics algorithm so that passengers will be able to return to their regions with a stopover in Moscow. So far, this is the key domestic hub but we hope to use other major regional centres as well.

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Events marking the 79th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War of 1941 ̶ 1945 at Russian foreign missions

We are switching to the topical international agenda linked with living conditions during the pandemic, one way or another. Nevertheless, the gradual lifting of the restrictions, caused by the spread of the COVID-19 infection worldwide, so far makes it impossible to reinstate the full-fledged format of Russian diplomatic missions' work. This mostly concerns the organisation of events dedicated to the 79th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War of 1941 ̶ 1945. This factor considered, we have revised the formats of many earlier planned events marking this sorrowful date.

It goes without saying that Russian diplomats will lay flowers at memorials that honour those who perished during the Great Patriotic War in most countries, with the active involvement of Russian compatriots. Commemorative events will take place in line with the essential quarantine measures.

Russia's foreign missions will be focusing on online and media projects. This implies themed photo exhibitions and special displays, including retrospective wartime video and photo footage, the presentation of Russian feature films and documentaries and broadcasts devoted to the Great Patriotic War.

Considering the continued attempts of some countries to rewrite the history of WWII in line with time-serving political considerations, we continue to actively defend, including through online projects, the historical truth and the holy memory of the heroic feat of the Soviet Union's nations and this country's decisive contribution to the victory over Nazism.

On the Day of Memory and Sorrow, we organise a number of online events with Russia's foreign missions. There are plans to publish stories and historical notes in foreign languages and to have various online photo exhibitions. We continue our initiatives, namely,  #FacesofVictory, #CandleofVictory and #Lettersof ictory, that are popular with foreign audiences and compatriots. We are pleased to note that broad audiences, especially young people in other countries, display genuine and lively interest in our material, despite the long-time flow of misinformation about WWII in Western media outlets.

Under the project #SongsofVictory, talented young people from all over the world perform wartime songs and the most popular song Victory Day.

We are devoting special attention to our dear veterans living abroad. We always prioritise their well-being. As a rule, ambassadors and consuls general, as well as heads of diplomatic missions, personally oversee this matter. Considering the complicated global situation in connection with the new coronavirus pandemic, we need to protect our heroes more than ever nowadays.

Upcoming video conference of Russian, Indian and Chinese foreign ministers

We have already discussed Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's schedule for the upcoming week. His visits to Serbia and the Republic of Belarus are set to begin tomorrow. But we are also planning and preparing for yet another event.

On June 23, there are plans to hold a video conference of the Russian, Indian and Chinese foreign ministers during Russia's RIC Chairmanship. They will conduct a detailed and substantive exchange of opinions regarding global political, economic, financial and other trends, following the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as cooperation opportunities between the three countries in overcoming the above-mentioned crisis processes.

It should be noted that RIC member states voice consensus on the need to search for an answer to this and other similar threats on a collective basis with the UN playing the central role. They consider it unacceptable to try and use the current crisis situation for obtaining unilateral time-serving benefits to the detriment of other countries' security and long-term interests.

The conference seems rather symbolic seeing that it is taking place in the run-up to the Victory Parade in Moscow. Military contingents from India and China will also march through Red Square together with Russian service personnel.

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we are now preparing for this event.

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Developments in and around Venezuela

The situation in Venezuela features a combination of two main trends. On the one hand, there is an alarming trend: Washington's increasing sanction pressure to strangle the country's economy and social sphere, which is aggravated by the epidemiological situation. On the other hand, in our opinion, there is also an encouraging trend because of the emerging intra-Venezuelan humanitarian dialogue, prospects for a political process and parliamentary elections.

We reaffirm our support of the document on cooperation in order to counteract the pandemic, signed on June 1 by Nicolas Maduro's government and opposition representatives at the National Assembly with the participation of the Pan American Health Organisation. It is important to develop practical mechanisms for its implementation, for which new contacts of the parties to the agreement are required. It is necessary to release Venezuelan money deposited in the accounts blocked by US sanctions and use it for the common good: to purchase medical equipment to counteract the pandemic, food and to restore the national economy, which has been affected by both the pandemic and the Western sanctions.

It is especially important now when many Venezuelan nationals are returning home from neighbouring countries – Colombia, Brazil and Peru – due to the epidemiological situation (it is no accident that these people account for over 80 percent of new COVID-19 cases in Venezuela). It is crucial to prevent a new wave of the pandemic. In addition to the key priority – people's health – we are also talking about the political process in this country.

We remember that the Western countries and the domestic opposition that they support noted the importance of preparing an election schedule in Venezuela. On June 12, an important step was made in this direction: the new composition of the National Electoral Council (CNE). However, it happened not in a way expected by the radicals, who made it impossible to reach a majority in the National Assembly they control. As a result, the Supreme Court had to interfere; it acted within its constitutional powers and in accordance with numerous precedents when it appointed either the entire leadership of CNE (in 2003 and 2014), or its new members (in 2005 and 2016). Every time it happened because the parliament dragged out the process.

The chosen procedure of appointing the new leadership of the Council drew the expected criticism of the opponents, including Washington. In this regard, we would like to note the following.

The events around Venezuela, whose official domestic political decisions – despite all democratic norms of international communication – have suffered stone-walling or direct interference from the outside critics of the current government, has shown the futility of this approach. Blatant pressure and illegal restrictions are aggravating problems in the country, hampering building trust between Venezuelans and leading the country into an impasse. The radicals and their external leaders, who act under the motto "the worse the better" are out of touch with reality.

It is necessary to look at the situation from a new angle, and we urge influential international players to do so. This approach, we believe, is already taking shape. Its essence is that the solution to Venezuela's problems must be peaceful and reached by Venezuelans through negotiations. External influence must not divide the forces inside Venezuela, but must be constructive and help build trust between them, including in the interests of ensuring democratic electoral processes.

This is our position in our intensive external contacts on Venezuela. We intend to adhere to this position in the future as well.

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News leaks of the UN Secretary-General's semi-annual report on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231

The other day several news agencies, mostly Western and primarily American, created a sensation by quoting from a semi-annual report by the UN Secretary-General on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015). I would like to remind everyone that this resolution approved the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran's nuclear programme.

It is notable that the news was leaked even before the UN member states received the report. The organisers of the news leak hurried to publish the information so that nobody would have a desire to read the document through and form their own opinions. The mobilised media outlets offered the international community tips on how to read the report properly and which parts to note. The leaked information did not include the "unnecessary" parts, of course. It is not surprising that from this perspective the blame for the current situation and the problems with the implementation of Resolution 2231 has been placed on Iran, even though it is common knowledge that it was the United States that unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal and that is creating obstacles to the implementation of the related UN Security Council decisions by other countries.

In accordance with the established practice and current procedures, Russia will present a detailed analysis of this UN Secretary-General report at the VTC scheduled for June 30. As we see it, it will be a difficult meeting. What we will definitely not contest is that the report can hardly be described as balanced or accurate, which is regrettable. We are aware that the compilers spent a considerable part of the reporting period in self-isolation, losing personal contact with the UN member states and the situation on the ground. This can explain the lopsided presentation, certain bias, unsubstantiated accusations against Iran, and a desire to paint the situation black and white, which is unacceptable in such a delicate matter.

The international community is led to believe that the UN has allegedly proved Iran's involvement in the missile attacks on the Saudi oil facilities in 2019 and the violation of some provisions of Resolution 2231, specifically, the restriction on delivering arms and military equipment. I will not go over the entire report now. At the same time, I think everyone should know that no reliable proof of Iran's alleged violations has been provided to UN Security Council members. According to the report, representatives of the Secretariat visited some countries at their invitation where they inspected certain "artefacts" submitted to them. They had no mandate for this inspection. Resolution 2231 does not assign any inspection or attributive functions to the UN Secretariat. The Secretariat does not have the required expertise for this task. However, some self-appointed inspectors claimed, based on their personal observations, that what they had seen resembled items Iran had demonstrated at weapons shows. The allegedly irrefutable evidence they cite includes markings in Farsi. This is reminiscent of other cases where conversations in some foreign languages were used to conclude that the home country of the language in question was involved in a crime. These pseudo-experts, who decided for some reason that they have the expertise to act as investigators, never noted that these orderly suppositions had been produced by those who want to prove Iran's guilt at all costs and by whatever means necessary. 

It is especially alarming that this so-called evidence against Iran is based on the results of intercepting some vessels in international waters by the US and Australian navies. The report does not mention the fact that such actions resemble piracy and do not fit in with the standards of international relations or international law, or that these "interceptors" acted provocatively and without any objective monitoring, which invalidates their findings.

It is regrettable that those who compiled the report had no time or desire to investigate the alleged launch of the Dispute Resolution Mechanism under the JCPOA last January. Contrary to the unsubstantiated claims made by the proponents of this version of events, three European countries actually issued an appeal to the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to inform him of their intention to trigger this mechanism. However, they did not trigger it because of numerous procedural shortcomings. The mechanism can only be launched if these shortcomings are settled on the basis of consensus. As a result, the Joint Commission of the JCPOA has not even met to discuss the appeal from the three European countries. This matter was covered in detail in a Foreign Ministry comment published on January 24.

The above does not mean that the problems and challenges hindering the implementation of Resolution 2231 will vanish of their own accord. It takes consolidated efforts and a positive agenda rather than pressure and confrontation to resolve differences. This is how the UN and its Security Council should work. An intense discussion has been ongoing at the Joint Commission of the JCPOA for two years now. Russia has strongly proposed protecting the JCPOA from aggressive US attacks. The recent decision of the US administration to terminate the waiver of the sanctions against the nuclear reactors covered by the JCPOA, which is the essence of the nuclear deal, is an example and proof of who is destroying agreements and undermining Resolution 2231. We have discussed this with our partners many times and in a frank manner.

We believe that it is still possible to return the JCPOA implementation process into the initially coordinated framework and to attain the noble goals set out in the plan. But saving the JCPOA and ensuring full implementation of Resolution 2231 are only possible through a collective effort. To do this, the parties concerned must honour their commitments, with resolute support from the international community. We hope that the Secretariat and the UN authorities will promote this, and abandon any aspirations that can be aimed at undermining the related consensus decisions of the UN Security Council. In our opinion, any actions directed against the JCPOA must be censored sharply and resolutely.

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NATO grants Enhanced Opportunities Partner status to Ukraine

On June 12, NATO granted the status of an Enhanced Opportunities Partner to Ukraine. According to NATO documents, this implies broad access to the Alliance's interoperability programmes and military exercises, those for training service personnel under NATO standards, political consultations and information exchanges. Besides Ukraine, Georgia, Jordan, Finland, Sweden and Australia have this status.

This decision apparently recognises Kiev's "considerable contribution" to NATO operations, including those in Afghanistan and Kosovo. As you understand, it would be impossible to achieve prosperity there without Ukraine. At the same time, they are trying to convince audiences that Ukraine's Enhanced Opportunities Partner status changes little in the existing system of Ukraine-NATO partnership, and that this certainly does not predetermine decisions on Kiev's NATO membership.

No matter what NATO sources may say about this decision, its political implications are obvious. It can only be interpreted as deliberate encouragement of the destructive line of the Ukrainian authorities at a time when Kiev is openly sabotaging the implementation of the Minsk Agreements and continuing the war in Donbass. By issuing additional partner bonuses to the war hawks in Kiev, NATO countries show that, in reality, they are not interested in resolving the domestic Ukrainian conflict. Otherwise, it will be difficult to continue scaring ordinary people with the far-fetched Russian threat and to beef up the military components of the Alliance's eastern flank.

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Situation regarding Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko

We continue to closely follow the fate of Russia's civilian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, now serving a prison term in the United States. His current status gives rise to special concern amid the unfavourable epidemiological situation.

It is common knowledge that officers from the US Drug Enforcement Administration arrested Mr Yaroshenko in Liberia in May 2010. He was tortured and later illegally transported to the United States. A US court sentenced him to 20 years in prison on charges based entirely on the testimony of false secret service agents. 

The Russian citizen's health has been seriously impaired following his torture in Liberia when his teeth were knocked out, and his internal organs damaged. Nevertheless, the administration of the penitentiary where he is staying displays an openly disdainful attitude towards his requests for medical treatment. For example, he is not even given painkillers to ease his intense toothache.

We consider this approach to be absolutely unacceptable. We demand that the US authorities provide our compatriot with the required treatment, all the more so as there are increased chances of him contracting the coronavirus infection behind bars.

Washington should take a humane approach and immediately release the Russian citizen, as well as other illegally convicted or arrested Russian citizens, and allow them to return home.

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Latvia amends Electronic Mass Media Law

On June 11, the Latvian Saeima approved in the final reading amendments to the Law on Electronic Mass Media introducing language quotas on television.

As of July 1, 2021, 80 percent of all television programmes are to be broadcast in the languages of the European Union and the European Economic Area. As for other languages, including Russian, no more than 20 percent will be allocated for them. This quota does not correspond at all with the popularity statistics of Russian television channels, which are preferred by a significant part of the country's population.

In March, the amendments were sponsored by conservative deputies who did not even hide the fact that their main goal was to reduce the share of the Russian language in Latvian broadcasting. In other words, they deliberately set a goal that does not comply with Latvia's international legal obligations. The reformers refer to their campaign against the Russian language as fighting Russian propaganda and they were not at all embarrassed by the wide negative response to their initiative in Latvian society. The Russian-speaking community and the professional community of television workers have harshly condemned and opposed the changes that significantly restrict people's legal access to information sources in a language they understand.

In addition to the language restrictions, the new amendments ban the retransmission of television channels designated under the National Electronic Mass Media Council sanctions in the last three years as part of the basic, most affordable and, accordingly, the most popular broadcast package.

The measure will primarily hit the Rossiya RTR television channel, which was earlier temporarily blocked in Latvia due to its policy. In general, this story leaves no other choice but to describe this situation as a politicised approach of the Latvian lawmakers.

Formally, Latvia is not precluding the technical access to Russian television channels; however, they will be available as part of additional and more expensive subscription packages.

We are again pointing out to our European partners that such practices are inconsistent with democratic standards and Riga's international obligations to ensure free access to information and its free dissemination.

We urge the concerned international organisations and human rights bodies to respond. For our part, we will duly supply all the supporting documents they require.

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Twitter blocks or removes thousands of accounts allegedly linked to Russia

We have noted another wave of removal and blocking of Twitter accounts expressing positions undesirable from the platform's perspective. Over a thousand "politically engaged" accounts from Russia, as well as China and Turkey, have been hit this time.

The suspended accounts include the Russia's Current Policy project – under the far-fetched pretext of pushing political propaganda. What exactly is meant by this explanation is difficult to comprehend. What about US political parties then – aren't they doing that very same thing? Apparently, Twitter management believes that any media or blog, including those specialising in politics, are not allowed to comment on political issues? Did we understand correctly? Or is it simply that the views expressed on this resource turned out to be inconsistent with Twitter's general policy? Then be so kind and spell out that general policy. I would like to read it officially.

Similar moves have been made in relation to the official account of the Leaders of Russia competition. Again, without any explanation. Just  as a reminder, this project is aimed at identifying, supporting and promoting promising leaders with a high level of leadership and managerial qualities. Is it that Twitter doesn't want young and promising leaders in Russia or what?

In general, such actions, accompanied by high-profile statements and a lack of evidence, have long been no surprise. Twitter management has once again revealed its non-transparent evaluation criteria and an extremely selective approach to identifying so-called violators. This problem is being increasingly voiced in the United States. In fact, we are seeing politically tinted censorship. Moreover, the process of issuing a virtual verdict does not imply any litigation and denies users the possibility of defending their rights. They are even denied as much as an explanation of the reasons for suspending each specific account: instead, they are given slogans and unconfirmed allegations.

It is very indicative and symptomatic that, while purportedly "defending democracy" US-registered social media use undemocratic, even totalitarian methods. The Twitter administration essentially acts as a judge, jury and bailiff rolled into one.

At the same time, any violations of the rules by users vigorously promoting the anti-Russia agenda and spreading misinformation are being ignored. Suffice it to mention a recent story with the New York Times and the Financial Times synchronously running almost identical fakes about the Russian Government allegedly understating the number of deaths from the novel coronavirus infection. That planted news was promptly exposed after the Russian agencies concerned provided objective statistics. This, however, did not stop the online anti-Russia communities and engaged bloggers coordinating their actions from freely spreading this false information, including on the Twitter platform, and the media outlets that posted the false data were not even reprimanded or warned by the Twitter administrators. Another example: at the end of last year, Twitter blocked the Good News project account, which published positive information about the Russian economy, science and culture. There was no politics there whatsoever. Does this mean that any mention of good things in Russia is a priori illegal, according to the American platform owners and their curators?

In any case, we urge American online platforms to reconsider their approaches and stop acting as a censor of their own and foreign audiences.

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Article in the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom

Unfortunately, the practice of planting false information has long become a prominent feature of our time. Now it has escalated. It is particularly disappointing when officials and state leaders become the target of such misinformation, because their statements are taken as guidelines, are quoted; they set the vector and tone and shape domestic and foreign policy. On June 15, the popular Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom published absurd allegations saying that in 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin allegedly promised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to use the veto power in the UN Security Council if it put to vote a draft resolution supporting the proclamation of the State of Palestine within its 1948 borders.

This story is absolutely fantastic, with even more unlikely details added along the way. Allegedly, it was US President Barack Obama's idea to sponsor this resolution, but he dropped it after he learned about the Russian leader's promise made to the Israeli Prime Minister to veto it. The writer is clearly not familiar with Middle Eastern realities. There is so much wrong with this story it is entirely incredible – particularly the proposal coming from an American leader, even Barack Obama, to return to the borders that existed from 1948 to 1967 and were used as the basis for the two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict supported by Russia and the vast majority of states. Apparently, the correspondent is not aware that our country recognised the State of Palestine within these borders, including East Jerusalem in 1988, long before the events described. There is another question: Why is the author of this wild fake even suggesting that the Americans, US President Obama, would contact the UN Security Council about the recognition of the State of Palestine? Why bother, when they can just recognise it in their country capacity, as the Russian Federation has done? All this is quite unclear.

In conclusion, I would like to reaffirm Russia's principled position in support of a comprehensive and sustainable Palestinian-Israeli settlement through direct talks between the parties under UN auspices based on universally recognised international legal framework – the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and the UN General Assembly, the Arab Peace Initiative and the Madrid Principles.

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75th anniversary of Russian-Ecuadorian diplomatic relations

June 16 marks the 75th anniversary of the establishment of Russian-Ecuadorian diplomatic relations. On this occasion, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Ecuador Jose Valencia exchanged greetings.

In a message from the Russian side, Sergey Lavrov noted the strong traditions of cooperation with Ecuador, the progress achieved in the development of political dialogue, trade, economic and people-to-people ties. He emphasised Russia's interest in further expanding multifaceted cooperation for the prosperity of the peoples of both countries.

In turn, the head of the Ecuadorian foreign ministry supported the consistent strengthening of the traditionally close ties of Russian-Ecuadorian friendship, and building up mutually beneficial cooperation in strategic areas.

As part of the anniversary events, the Russian Foreign Ministry website features a virtual exhibition of documents and photographs on the history of Russian-Ecuadorian diplomatic relations based on material from the Russian Foreign Policy Archives.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: Media reports say the CSTO is concerned about possible threats to the Central Asian states after US forces withdrawal from Afghanistan. Can you comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: The CSTO is ready for any military-political scenario in Afghanistan. The member states are making joint efforts to strengthen the southern borders of the CSTO zone of responsibility, including conducting exercises with the Collective CSTO forces in the regions of Tajikistan bordering on Afghanistan.

The CSTO is implementing a Package of Measures aimed at reducing tension in the Tajik-Afghan border area, approved by the heads of state in November 2019. Measures are being developed to strengthen intelligence on militant movement and the monitoring of the more dangerous areas. For our part, we are strengthening the potential of the Russian military base in Tajikistan. We consider these steps to be an important condition for improving the security of the southern borders of the CSTO.

We do not believe the US pullout from Afghanistan is fraught with any increased threats to the Central Asian countries. Rather, the presence of US and NATO contingents is an irritant to the armed opposition and an obstacle to stabilising the country. In this regard, we hope that the implementation of the US-Taliban agreement signed in Doha on February 29, 2020 will lead to a complete withdrawal of foreign troops and the achievement of national reconciliation in Afghanistan.

We also assume that once the situation in the country is back to normal, the Afghan authorities will be able to more effectively address the existing threats of terrorism and drugs.

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Question: Can you comment on the situation on the Sino-Indian border?

Maria Zakharova: We are closely following the developments on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) separating Indian-controlled and Chinese-controlled territory. We hope that these two states, as responsible members of the international community, will be able to find mutually acceptable ways to ease tensions as soon as possible, using well-functioning mechanisms of bilateral dialogue in accordance with their political agreement on non-violence.

Question: How would you comment on NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg's statement in an interview with Die Welt that Russia is allegedly maintaining a military presence close to NATO borders in other regions as well?

Maria Zakharova: We have certainly noted Jens Stoltenberg's statement. In particular, he said Russia is active in the Arctic, is expanding its presence in the Mediterranean and maintains a military presence close to NATO borders. According to his logic, NATO countries must continue to invest in deterrence and defence. So while deterring, they just keep expanding.

This statement is actually a corruption of logic, facts, common sense, or any idea of decency and respect for people who have learned to use the internet. It turns the facts on their head, as if NATO has lost both geographical orientation and historical memory.

Gentlemen, it is not Russia that is getting closer to NATO. It is the alliance that has been expanding steadily and continues to do so towards our borders, contrary to the agreements reached in 1990 to stop eastward expansion (apparently NATO forgot about those too) and often ignoring a lack of support for joining the alliance from the new member countries' population – we have recorded these situations.

Russian ships have been present in the Mediterranean for centuries. Perhaps, NATO is also unaware of this, and Jens Stoltenberg is also unaware. There was no sign of NATO when Russian ships navigated it for various purposes – trade, helping our partners, or ensuring national security, something we have the right to do. Russia has been participating in the anti-terrorist operation in Syria since 2015, and, please note, unlike the NATO countries, we were invited by the government of that sovereign state to provide cargo deliveries, support the air force, and engage in rescue operations.

As for the Arctic, Russia's activities in that region are more than logical, given that more than one fifth of our country is located north of the Arctic Circle. Russia is operating in full compliance with international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

So NATO (oh yes, we have prepared some diplomatic language) is again trying to justify its very existence and increase funding from member countries based on completely perverse facts on an imaginary Russian threat. But, frankly, it seems that NATO speeches are written by people who have no idea about the world they live in.

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Question: Klaus Ernst, head of a Bundestag committee, suggested imposing sanctions against the US senators who initiated new restrictions against Nord Stream 2, and called on EU countries to discuss whether Europe has actually become a US state or satellite and give a unanimous answer. How timely is Berlin's idea of resolute measures against the pressure methods used by Washington? What kind of response should we expect from the EU? How could a possible European rebuff at the US affect their relations with Russia?

Maria Zakharova: The aggressive pressure Washington brought to bear on its European allies, primarily on Germany, with a view to disrupting the Nord Stream 2 construction is an unprecedented fact for the trans-Atlantic relations. The sanctions discussed in Congress are to deliver a direct blow to the German economy. The response to them, be it at a national or pan-European level, is undoubtedly a sovereign decision of Berlin and the EU countries.

We expect further support for the project from the German Government. We assume that all its participants will be able to fulfil their contract obligations in full and all the countries interested in the new gas pipeline will show the political will necessary for implementing this initiative, which is strategically important to ensure a reliable energy supply for united Europe. In any case, the current situation is a serious challenge for the EU, both in terms of foreign policy and in terms of its market security for foreign investments.

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Question: The Moscow office of the NHK Japanese TV company would respectfully like to ask for your comments on the Japanese intentions to abandon its plans to install US antimissile systems in Japan. In particular, we would like to know the Russian Foreign Ministry's position regarding this decision – what does the Russian side think of this decision? 

Maria Zakharova: We have paid attention to the statements by a number of Japanese officials on the intention, as it was stated, to "suspend" plans to deploy the land-based antimissile systems Aegis Ashore in the country. In this context, we also take due account of the statements by Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Toshimitsu Motegi in Parliament and during his meetings with journalists to the effect that the Japanese policy of building up its military-political cooperation with the United States has not changed. We will follow this story, above all concerning whether the Japanese leaders take any specific steps in the antimissile area, which has a direct bearing on security in the Asia-Pacific region. 

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Question: Given that the world is gradually starting to ease the restrictive measures taken to contain the coronavirus pandemic, does the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs have any information when the dialogue on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement can be resumed, mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs? Can it be expected to start again after the borders are reopened and the co-chairs visit the region?

Maria Zakharova: The co-chairs always keep in touch with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia. Last month, they held a joint videoconference and discussed aspects of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. The next remote meeting is planned for later this month.

There is an understanding that, once the borders reopen and the restrictions on international travel introduced due to the coronavirus are lifted, non-remote meetings will once again take place.

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Question: My first question is more theoretical. With the spread of COVID19, virtual diplomacy is becoming more and more relevant due to the internet, smart devices and computers. Are online conferences at the Foreign Ministry changing Russia's foreign policy in any way at all?

Maria Zakharova: It should be regarded as an additional useful tool both in emergency circumstances (like the current situation) as well as with the increasingly tight schedule of international contacts.

I would say online contacts are unlikely to replace direct interpersonal communications, the negotiation process. At least we do not have any plans to abandon traditional formats of diplomacy. Yet, you have rightly noted in your question that we have really done a lot in recent years to be able to take advantage of the informational achievements and progress in the cyber environment, and to be prepared for remote participation in international contacts, something we are now doing rather successfully.

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Question: A crisis situation is developing at the PSM steel smelter in Pakistan, built with Soviet contributions in the 1970s and the country's government has apparently decided to dismiss all the workers and privatise it.

The Russian Ministry of Trade has certain proposals for Pakistan on this score. Could you tell us about the extent of Russia's involvement in the upgrading and increasing the productivity of Pakistan Steel Mills as part of bilateral cooperation?

Maria Zakharova: Built with the assistance of Soviet engineers, the Karachi steel smelter has long been the largest industrial enterprise in Pakistan and a symbol of friendly relations between the two countries. As far as we understand, a few years ago, for various reasons, the facility effectively halted production.

Our Pakistani partners are aware of several Russian companies' interest to consider participating in the plant's modernisation. However, this will only be possible after Islamabad adopts a decision on the enterprise's future, including about its potential privatisation.

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Question: The media is reporting that separatists in Yemen have seized a convoy transporting 64 billion rials in banknotes printed in Russia for the Central Bank of Yemen.

Can you confirm this information? Is it true? Was the money printed in Russia? Can you disclose the conditions for Russia's printing money for the government of Yemen?

Maria Zakharova: As you know, there are no Russian diplomatic or consular missions in that country at the moment. After the Russian Embassy was evacuated from Sanaa in December 2017, our Ambassador has been temporarily based in Riyadh, where the President of the Republic of Yemen Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and the vast majority of his government members continue to stay.

Judging by the reports we have, the incident you mentioned has indeed occurred in the capital of Yemen's south, Aden. We can also confirm that, in accordance with the contract signed with the official Yemeni authorities in 2017, Russia's Goznak prints banknotes for that country. It is a purely commercial deal, with the said Russian company performing its job with its usual high professionalism, high quality and on time, as far as we understand it.

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Question: The notorious US Ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey Pyatt, systematically criticises Russia arguing that the only players who would benefit from a possible conflict between Greece and Turkey is Russia and Vladimir Putin. His most recent statement said that Russia has used energy as a weapon in its relations with Europe. How would you comment on these allegations?

Maria Zakharova: Unlike some other states, Russia is not a supporter of the divide and rule policy and does not make bilateral ties dependent on the quality of relations between its partner and a third country. It is not our philosophy to provoke and fuel smoldering conflicts or fan new ones. We are interested in a stable and understandable system of international relations, where participants, rather than wasting energy on civil strife, focus on common goals such as combating global challenges, including international terrorism, organised crime, drug trafficking, climate change, and now this pandemic.

We advocate resolving disagreements through negotiations under international law and urge the states involved to exercise sanity and show neighbourly behaviour. This is the quintessence of Russia's foreign policy in any region, not just in relation to Greece and Turkey that are friendly to us, and their relations.

Allow me to suggest two tips. First of all, remember the history of bilateral relations. It is always a good source of information for analysis. Second, remember the history of US relations with other countries. Geoffrey Pyatt accuses Russia of using energy resources as a weapon, and this is not true. Let me remind you that the United States uses weapons as weapons against civilians in many sovereign countries.

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