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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 25, 2020

25 June 202020:13

Update on the coronavirus pandemic

The global situation with the novel coronavirus pandemic remains largely unstable.

In the last few days, Latin America, South Asia, the Middle East and Africa set new records in the growth rates of infected people since the start of the pandemic, and this is a cause for concern.

Repatriation flights

This week we passed another milestone amid the ongoing global lockdown and entered the fourth month in our efforts to help repatriate Russian citizens who found themselves stranded abroad because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the current algorithm was put in place, more than 41,000 of our compatriots who expressed the desire to return home were repatriated. Out of this number, over 36,000 people were brought home by Russian airlines. I would like to emphasise that we have already met and exceeded the target figure of 30,000-odd people that was announced in late March–early April. However, we have received new applications from people who did not plan to return initially. Now their circumstances have changed, and they want to come home. Now we have to make adjustments to our algorithm to give them this opportunity.

In the past week, we focused on the near abroad. People flew from Dushanbe, Tashkent, Bishkek, Osh and Chisinau and not only to Moscow but also to other cities of Russia. Our citizens also returned from Belgrade, Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok. The geographic reach of transit via European and Asian hubs continues expanding. Almost all people on yesterday's flight from Hong Kong were transit passengers who flew from New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan (PRC), Singapore and the Philippines. In all, there were about 60 people. Compatriots from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Singapore, to mention a few, returned to Moscow via Paris and Frankfurt. I would like to emphasise that we are helping compatriots return home not only by direct flights but also by using transit opportunities wherever possible. Russian citizens from Malta, Bahrain and Greece, not to mention such traditional remote destinations as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, have registered for the forthcoming flights from Paris and London.

Next week, we will pay special attention to Latin America. Preparations for another complex repatriation flight are underway. You can find all the details about flights on the information resources of the Public Services portal and on the websites of our embassies. I must say that we are working round the clock to make this flight available to as many people as possible. Regrettably, logistics difficulties do not always allow us to do so. We were hoping that it would be possible to organise ground transit from Peru to Quito, but reality proved to be too complicated for it. Yet we continue working in this area. In any case, we are trying to offer the optimum routes for our citizens, minimising possible risks.

We continue receiving numerous group applications from our citizens. All of them are taken into account in scheduling repatriation flights. Thus, our compatriots in China will have several opportunities to return home in the next few weeks. Flights operated by Russian and Chinese airlines will leave from Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou and possibly Beijing. This is brief information that reflects the work and very active efforts of Russian diplomats and employees of other departments: the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media, the Ministry of Transport, Rosaviatsia (Federal Agency for Air Transport), Rospotrebnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Protection and Welfare) and the Emergency Response Centre. All these efforts are taken under the aegis of the Government of the Russian Federation.

Russia's humanitarian aid to Malawi

I would also like to say a few words about Russia's humanitarian assistance. The representative office of the UN World Food Programme in Lilongwe has begun distributing food purchased using Russia's contribution to this international organisation, worth a total of $1 million. I am speaking about 420 tonnes of food purchased in our country and delivered to Malawi via UN channels. It will be provided to 40,000 most vulnerable Malawi citizens.

This is another example of Russia's contribution to the international efforts on providing the Malawi people with humanitarian assistance against the backdrop of a difficult economic situation aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Supporting school nutrition system in Tajikistan

Russia and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) have launched the third, concluding stage of a joint project on the development of a sustainable school nutrition system in Tajikistan, which also includes repair and re-equipment of cafeterias, improving skills of Tajik school employees, as well as holding campaigns on promoting a healthy diet. In accordance with the Russian Government's Directive No 1206-r of April 30, our country will provide over $11 million for this project in 2020-2023.

Since the launch of this initiative in 2013, Tajikistan has modernised catering facilities and held training for the employees of 60 Tajik schools, built or renovated seven school bakeries, which produce bread for over 60 schools, installed ten greenhouses, and much more. Over these years, Russia provided food to over 500,000 school students of 1-4th grades at 2,000 Tajik schools. Russia's contribution to the development of the republic's school nutrition system reached $17.1 million in 2013-2019.

In addition, $10 million from Russia's regular contribution to the WFP will be used to purchase food for Tajik schoolchildren in 2020-2021.

Russia' large-scale assistance provided through the WFP, which exceeded $100 million since 2005, proves Russia's readiness to support the development of Tajikistan in the spirit of strategic partnership and alliance between our countries. This is our practical, concrete contribution.

Voting on amendments to the Constitution outside Russia

Now I would like to comment on something that is very relevant today. I am referring to the upcoming vote on amendments to the Russian Constitution. Some people will be voting outside our country. To vote on amendments to the Constitution, Russian citizens located outside our country will be able to use 254 polling stations in 143 countries at Russian diplomatic missions and consular offices; precinct election commissions (PECs) have been set up there.

Due to the sanitary and administrative restrictions imposed in most countries as precautions against COVID-19, we cannot use a standard procedure for organising voting on amendments in all countries. Each country has its own rules introduced to contain the pandemic. Even different regions within one country can have their own rules, recommendations, or restrictions.

In many countries, travel is limited even within cities, foreign agencies are closed to visitors, and some governments have declared a state of emergency because of the pandemic, and you are also aware of this. Some countries have not lifted curfews. Not all diplomatic missions and consular offices are in a position to organise voting within the same dates as in Russia, from June 25 to July 1, due to personnel and technical issues.

Nonetheless, at most Russian embassies and consulates general (where PECs have been set up), voting will be held on July 1 in accordance with the legislation of the Russian Federation and the resolution of the CEC of Russia, and in compliance with all the norms and rules established by the authorities in their host countries. In some countries, despite the difficulties, early voting is also envisaged, within six days before the main date, and sometimes even earlier – officials will visit predominantly Russian communities. There are a lot of technical issues. Once again, all the difficulties are caused by the epidemiological situation in each particular country and they will be dealt with on the ground.

More details on the work of precinct election commissions and updated voting schedules can be found on the websites of Russian foreign agencies.

Russian-US meeting on strategic matters

On June 22, Vienna was the venue of a Russian-US meeting on strategic issues, which caused much stir in the media and the international analytical community. The Russian interagency delegation was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and the US delegation by Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea.

The participants in the meeting continued to discuss the international security and arms control situation, including, among other things, the prospects for extending the New START Treaty. The Russian delegation reiterated the arguments as to why the extension of this treaty in keeping with its provisions would be a reasonable and responsible step under the current circumstances. Regrettably, the US delegation told us nothing new on this matter.

Yet another important topic was maintaining stability and predictability following the termination of the INF Treaty. The Russian delegation reminded its counterparts of an initiative for Russia-NATO counter-moratoriums on the deployment of ground-based medium- and shorter-range missiles. The United States is following a course for deploying systems that were previously banned under the INF Treaty in different regions of the world. We once again warned our US colleagues that this policy was destabilising and fraught with an additional escalation of tensions and high arms race risks. 

In Vienna, the Russian side pointed to the destabilising influence of NATO's military activities in Europe. This is provoking a further growth of tensions and distrust, something that we mentioned on many occasions. We also reminded them of our proposals aimed at de-escalating military tensions, which NATO has stubbornly disregarded up till now.  We have also drawn their attention to this time and again. In this context, we emphasised anew the importance of putting an end to the "joint nuclear missions" of the alliance, withdrawing US nuclear weapons from the territory of European countries to its national territory, and eliminating the infrastructure for their deployment in Europe. From our point of view, this step would do much to promote a healthy international security atmosphere in the world.

The participants in the meeting focused on US attempts to involve China in nuclear arms control talks, with the Americans insisting on Russia supporting their idea to make these discussions trilateral.  

The Russian position on this matter is well known to the public and, as we hoped, to the United States as well even before the consultations.  We reiterated this position. The Russian Federation is open to a multilateral discussion of possible predictability and restraint measures in the nuclear-missile sphere on the understanding that it would be counterproductive to "force" anyone to participate in these conversations.  Discussions, talks and consultations of this kind should be based on consensus and take into account the legitimate interests and approaches of all countries. In order to continue this work, we deem it important to involve France and the UK, America's NATO allies, since it styles itself as a "nuclear alliance."

The Russian side said directly at the talks that the readiness to listen to the US approaches we displayed in Vienna should not be interpreted as our consent or preparedness to offer any assessments or comments.

An important result of the meeting was the sides confirming their interest in continuing the security, stability and arms control dialogue. Some subjects for further discussion in a bilateral format were outlined. 

Specifically, the sides confirmed the agreement on holding a meeting on space problems, which had been reached at the previous round of the strategic dialogue in January. The relevant experts will have to tackle the entire set of space security issues, including the risks of arms deployment in outer space. Among other things, we will ask questions related to the US Defence Space Strategy.  We would like to draw attention to our commentary in connection with the publication of its unclassified version. Let me remind you that it was posted on the Foreign Ministry website on June 19.

Apart from this, it was arranged at the Vienna consultations that experts on military doctrines and nuclear strategies, including issues related to the use of nuclear weapons, would hold a meeting.  

Yet another promising subject is discussing verification and transparency, including the sides' respective approaches, and trying to find possibilities for ensuring their connectivity.   Certainly, this is not simple, because our views on this cluster of topics diverge widely.

The sides have also arranged to have expert consideration of matters related to all types of weapons capable of performing strategic missions and influencing strategic stability. I am referring to systems that are not embraced by any international restrictive regimes.

Russia is open to continuing the strategic dialogue. We intend to build our future relations with the United States in the arms control sphere on the basis of strict parity with reliance on the principle of mutual regard for each other's interests and concerns. 

The US State Department's "historical discourse" regarding Russian and Soviet compliance with arms control treaties in 1984-2020

We have noted that the US Department of State has published another piece of material by Christopher Ford, Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation, that contains a "historical discourse" regarding Russian and Soviet compliance with arms control treaties and agreements in 1984-2020. Compared to the State Department's annual Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments (Compliance Report), Washington has made yet another attempt to act as a "mentor" who thinks that he has the right to judge the "academic record" of other states in various areas.

Even a cursory examination of this material shows that one can hardly call it a serious analytical document reflecting the real situation in the field of arms control. US colleagues cite no evidence and confine themselves to groundless accusations with regard to Russia and the Soviet Union. This is business as usual, and this has become their good tradition and their visiting card. In our opinion, their assessments are very biased and tendentious.

Why are they doing this? Their goal is obvious: They want to forge a negative image of Russia as a country that flagrantly violates international arms control obligations and, maybe, to divert the attention of the international community and the global public at large from real US efforts to dismantle the system of arms control treaties and agreements that has evolved over the decades.

By the way, we would like to eliminate this document's shortcomings and to recall the facts: It was precisely the United States, which destroyed the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The US side also renounced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) for resolving the situation around the Iranian nuclear programme. And the United States is now moving to dismantle the Treaty on Open Skies. At the same time, Washington, is unfortunately, continuing to undermine the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. The US has officially announced that it does not plan to ratify the document.

Consequently, the United States has no legal, political or moral right to assess compliance with arms control agreements by other states. The relevant verification and control mechanisms are stipulated for this purpose, and specialised international organisations have also been established. Washington's striving to appropriate this function has no prospects and cannot be used as a pretext for voicing any findings or conclusions.

We are once again urging our US colleagues to focus on detailed expert dialogue on a wide range of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation matters. These unjustified public accusations are on the verge of information aggression. They are often biased and, like now, do not facilitate a search for any compromise solutions and the elimination of existing concerns.

Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko's videoconference with co-chairs of the International Geneva Discussions on Security and Stability in the South Caucasus

On June 25, Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko had a regular videoconference with co-chairs of the International Geneva Discussions on Security and Stability in the South Caucasus, namely, Toivo Klaar, EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Ayse Cihan Sultanoglu, UN Representative to the Geneva International Discussions, and Rudolf Michalka, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office for the South Caucasus.

They continued to discuss topical matters regarding regional stability and security during the persisting threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Russian party expressed concern over the unconstructive line of official Tbilisi which is stepping up its anti-Russia, anti-Abkhazia and anti-South Ossetia rhetoric, including that on the "borderisation" issue, without any weighty reasons at all. Attempts continue to politicise the subject of containing the spread of the novel coronavirus infection. Against this backdrop, we have no choice but to deplore the refusal of the Georgian leaders to maintain constructive dialogue with Sukhum and Tskhinval on current matters, primarily the border issue.

The exchange of opinions confirmed the coinciding positions of Russia and the three co-chairs of the Geneva Discussions in support of using the available dialogue channels to the maximum extent.

They underscored the importance of continuing the well-coordinated work in the format of the Geneva Discussions and the mechanism to prevent incidents and respond to them for motivating the sides to display restraint, search for compromise solutions and eventually attain mutually acceptable decisions.

They reaffirmed their readiness to continue contacts in the videoconference format whenever necessary. They agreed that specific deadlines for holding another round of in-person Geneva Discussions would be stipulated with due account for the development of the epidemiological situation and the recommendations of our countries' sanitary-oversight agencies.

EU adopts 2019 Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World

On June 15, the Council of the European Union adopted the 2019 Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World. We have nothing else to do but note that the EU continues to follow a destructive line towards instrumentalising the human rights agenda and promoting a politicised and frankly selective approach to human rights observance around the world. The chapter on Russia is an arbitrary list of far-fetched insinuations.

The complimentary assessments of the human rights situation in Ukraine, where one flagrant problem – discrimination against the Russian-speaking population – has been elevated to state policy, just do not hold water.

At the same time, the European Union's good old tradition is trying to pose as the main defender of democratic values around the world and to compete with the United States. This just raises more eyebrows amid the chronic problems with respect for human rights in the European Union and its member countries that still have stateless persons, show little respect for the rights of national and linguistic minorities, and increasingly impose censorship under the pretext of fighting disinformation – cases of infringement on journalists for their professional activities are multiplying. Moreover, all experts in the EU space have expressed concerns about spreading neo-Nazism and the reincarnation of national radicalism.

The paragraph about the EU countries once again abstaining from supporting the draft resolution on Combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance co-sponsored by Russia at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly is yet more proof of this quality of the report – it presents the move as "maintaining unanimity in expressing opposition" to the Russian-tabled initiative.

I really do hope this is expressing the personal opinion of those who wrote this paper, and not the position of the foreign ministers of the EU member states that approved it.

I think that many EU residents, if they actually knew that their governments have rejected a document adopted annually and aimed at preventing various forms of racism, would have many questions to ask their foreign ministers – who authorised them to block or criticise this document?

We hope that in the year of the 75th anniversary of the Victory over Nazism, EU capitals will be able to show political will, look outside from the windows of their offices, look around and support the Russian initiative aimed at preventing a revival of hate ideology in all its manifestations.

New US arms deliveries to Ukraine

We noted a report by the press service of the US Embassy in Kiev on the deliveries of US arms and military equipment to Ukraine, including the Javelin anti-tank missiles, worth $60 million in total.

Our American colleagues know very well how we see such steps by Washington and this view remains unchanged: pumping military products into the Ukrainian Armed Forces only aggravates the conflict in southeastern Ukraine and fuels the revanchist ambitions of Kiev's "war party".

This problem has another dimension that is equally dangerous. I am talking about the US-Ukrainian joint military exercise, the annual Rapid Trident drills on the ground and the Sea Breeze offshore drills, as well as the presence of 1,500 American instructors at the Yavorov and other training grounds. This is, of course, a grave violation of the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements – specifically, Clause 10, which provides for the withdrawing of all foreign troops, military equipment and contractors from the territory of Ukraine.  

New demarche by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry

Kiev doesn't seem to get tired of inventing new theories and multiplying statements generated by its distorted perception of reality.

Yesterday, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry stood out with yet another statement and a diplomatic note for the Russian Foreign Ministry in which it expressed "a strong protest" against the parade in Crimea marking the 75th anniversary of Victory over Nazism, a parade that, as it was stressed, had not been "agreed upon" with Kiev.

We would like to point out once again that Crimea is an integral part of the Russian Federation and any issues related to organising any events on the Crimean territory are decided and will be decided by Russian officials only. The issue of what country Crimea is part of was finally brought to a close by the Crimean population in the 2014 referendum and is not subject to discussion. We will decide which heroes to honour and how to celebrate our holidays without your suggestions.

As concerns the parades in Donetsk and Lugansk that were also mentioned in Ukraine's protests, Kiev's complaints are completely unsubstantiated. Russia does not control these Ukrainian regions. We understand that the officials of these self-proclaimed republics notify the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine about upcoming events and military equipment movements well in advance. It seems strange that the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry was not aware of that.

As concerns the original protest note from the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, we have not received it yet. Like previous similar notes, it will be returned to Ukraine immediately upon receipt. I would like to suggest once again that Kiev save paper.

"Investigation" by US company Graphika

On June 16, the US company Graphika, which studies online communities, published a report on "Russian disinformation." It accuses Russia of running an "information operation" between 2014 and 2020, which the Atlantic Council NGO has nicknamed "Secondary Infektion." One of the report's lead authors, Ben Nimmo, claims that the main goal of this Russian operation is to "provoke divisions between Western countries" and to "launch smear campaigns against Kremlin critics."

I invariably urge the authors of such science-driven phrases to peruse the official statements of the presidents and prime ministers, for example of the NATO countries, on current issues such as the pandemic, economic problems, migration, refugees and participation in various campaigns. Just read them and you will see for yourselves that it is not Moscow that is trying to divide "Western democracies." There are widely different and sometimes even completely opposite views in your associations and in the Western community in general. I see this as something to be proud of. You have democracy. It is another matter that it cannot be always put into practice, given the heavy-handed discipline enforced during voting on a number of documents. But it is true that there are different opinions, and there is no need to take additional measures to provoke divisions.

Graphika has allegedly uncovered 2,500 pieces of content in seven languages, or one every day, across over 300 platforms, from social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to niche discussion forums in Pakistan and Australia. It claims that the campaign has been targeted at the Government of Ukraine, WADA, Hillary Clinton and Emmanuel Macron.

The key points of the report have been reprinted by the leading American media outlets, including The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. The far-fetched and absurd nature of these allegations becomes obvious if we look at the statistics of the daily traffic of message communication. Facts show that there are 5 billion items posted on Facebook alone per one "piece of content" termed by Graphika as "secondary infektion." It is notable that the authors of the report admit that "almost none of those efforts achieved measurable impact." Why write about it then, or create a newsflash which can be used by others, including for unscrupulous reasons?

In light of the above, the only conclusion that comes to mind is that the media promotion of the Graphika report is nothing other than yet another anti-Russia propaganda speculation. This is what disinformation is all about. Such speculation is designed to convince the American audience of the existence of the "Kremlin's hand" that is provoking conflicts and dividing American society and the entire Western civilisation.

These allegations are so absurd that we would not have commented on them had they not become the basis for media reports. I would like to say once again that it is not Moscow that is producing disinformation but those who rely on such false assumptions.

45th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Mozambique and its diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union

On June 25, 1975 or 45 years ago, the people of Mozambique gained independence. The same day, diplomatic relations were established between Mozambique and the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union provided multifaceted assistance to the people of Mozambique in their struggle against colonial oppression. After they gained independence, we continued to provide large-scale assistance to the development of the republic's independent economy, the protection of its sovereignty and territorial integrity and its movement on the path of social progress.

Over the past years, our bilateral ties based on friendship, solidarity and mutual respect have grown considerably. Our countries maintain political dialogue and are strengthening economic cooperation and humanitarian ties.

Of course, we are resolved to continue to strengthen and deepen our friendly bilateral relations.

The 60th anniversary of independence of the Republic of Madagascar

On June 26, the Republic of Madagascar marks the 60th anniversary of its independence. This nation has a long history and unique customs and traditions. In the 15th-18th centuries, Madagascar was home to separate kingdoms, which had united into a single state by the 19th century. For many years, the people of Madagascar resisted the attempts made by Paris to establish its rule there. Only in 1885 did Madagascar become a protectorate. In 1896, it was declared colonial possession of France. The governance of the island went over into the hands of the French governor-general, and Queen Ranavalona III and her prime minister were exiled to Reunion Island and then to Algeria.

Unfortunately, the decolonisation of Madagascar cannot be considered fully completed even today. Over the years, Malagasy diplomacy has been working to restore Antananarivo's sovereignty over the islands of Epars taken over by France three months before the declaration of independence. These islands are located in the contiguous waters of the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Mozambique. In accordance with the law of the French Republic (2007), its legislation and regulations apply to their territory which is of significant scientific (unique flora and fauna) and economic (large off-the-shelf hydrocarbon reserves) interest.

Despite resolutions 34/91 (1979) and 35/123 (1980) adopted by the UN General Assembly, Paris is clearly not in a hurry to resolve this problem, fearing that returning the islands to Madagascar may trigger claims for French overseas territories by other states.

Diplomatic relations between our countries were established on September 29, 1972 and are quite successful. We highly value the traditionally friendly nature of bilateral relations. Over the past years, we managed to establish a constructive political dialogue based on close positions on key issues. We maintain good contacts at the high and highest levels, including between our foreign ministries. The legal framework underlying our relations is getting better all the time.

The participation of a Madagascar delegation led by President Andri Radzuelina in the economic forum and the Russia-Africa Summit (Sochi, October 2019) gave a significant boost to cooperation. Ways to expand mutually beneficial partnership in trade, the economy, investment and culture were outlined. There are good opportunities for establishing cooperation in agriculture, energy, healthcare and the development of natural resources.

We would like to congratulate our friends on their national holiday and express confidence that the traditional friendship and cooperation between Moscow and Antananarivo will continue to expand successfully for the benefit of the peoples of the two countries and in the interest of peace and stability in East Africa. We wish the friendly nation of Madagascar further success in achieving their goals, well-being and prosperity.

The 85th anniversary of Russian-Colombian diplomatic relations

Today, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Colombia mark the 85th anniversary of diplomatic relations.

Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister of the Republic of Colombia Claudia Blum exchanged congratulatory messages on the occasion of this significant date.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's message notes that over the past decades the two states have covered a significant distance towards establishing friendly and equitable relations, formed the traditions of a constructive political dialogue and mutually beneficial cooperation, the further strengthening of which meets the interests of the peoples of our countries and will serve to ensure peace and international and regional stability.

In turn, the Foreign Minister of Colombia reiterated the commitment of the Colombian government to building up bilateral ties in the political, economic and cultural spheres and expressed appreciation for Russia's assistance to the process of internal Colombian settlement at the UN Security Council.

As part of the anniversary events, the Russian Foreign Ministry's website put on a display of unique documents and photographs from the ministry's archives representing the most outstanding pages in the history of bilateral relations. The material is available in Russian and Spanish.

The exhibition starts with welcoming video messages by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Colombia to Russia Alfonso Lopez Caballero.

Everyone is welcome to visit.

Answers to media questions:

Question: How can the Foreign Ministry comment on the unrest in the United States?

Maria Zakharova: We can comment on it again. This is a short answer.

In more detail, I can say that Russian President Vladimir Putin has given a principal assessment of this topic in a recent interview with Rossiya 1 TV channel. Obviously, what is happening in the United States is, on the one hand, a reflection of their old problems such as racial inequality in society, and on the other, a result of the bitter political infighting unfolding in recent years. The President of Russia underscored that both the Soviet Union and modern Russia have always sympathised with African Americans' fight for their rights. But of course, when defending someone's natural rights erupts in uncontrollable riots, this means trouble. Vladimir Putin expressed the hope that the foundations of American democracy will help the United States overcome the crisis.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly commented on the protests that erupted in American cities following the killing of George Floyd. In fact, we have been pointing out system-wide flaws in the US human rights sphere for years: discrimination on racial, ethnic and religious grounds, police violence, a biased justice system, overcrowded prisons, uncontrolled use of firearms and "means of self-defence" by private individuals, and much more.

It is regrettable that in this situation, Washington still refuses to expand its international legal obligations in the humanitarian sphere from year to year, refrains from joining most major international human rights agreements or deliberately creates conditions for ending its participation in relevant international universal groups and conventions. Namely, the guarantees of the rights of African Americans were enshrined in a number of international human rights covenants. However, their scope of application in the United States is limited by the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). As for other international instruments that could be used to protect the rights of African Americans, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United States has not ratified them. At the same time, Washington is deliberately creating conditions to be able to discontinue participation in formats it does not favour. There are many examples of this – in particular, the US withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council, something many countries saw as open disregard for the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and even the entire UN system.

The situation in the United States is clearly an emergency, which is confirmed by the fact that a group of African countries initiated extraordinary meetings on June 17 during the resumed 43rd session of the HRC devoted to human rights violations, system-wide racism, police violence and violence against protesters.

Most of the participants in those meetings strongly criticised the actions of the US authorities. Representatives of international human rights NGOs demanded that a special mission is established to investigate violations of the rights of people of African descent in the United States. Urgent calls were made for the US government to strictly enforce the 2001 Durban Declaration and Programme of Action to combat racism.

The extraordinary meeting was followed by the adoption of the HRC Resolution on the Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Africans and of People of African Descent against Excessive Use of Force and Other Human Rights Violations by Law Enforcement Officials.

The Human Rights Council's Special Procedures almost daily express serious concern about rampant racism and police violence in the United States; these experts make very tough open statements addressed to officials in Washington.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has activated its early warning procedure in relation to mass protests against racism in the United States and released, on June 12, 2020, a special statement highlighting the violations of the rights of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States. It also required Washington to urgently submit its periodic report, which is overdue since November 20, 2017, and include information on the measures taken to give effect to the recommendations of the present statement.

The situation in the United States warranted the attention of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who urged Washington to unequivocally condemn the endemic and structural racism that blights US society and take actions that truly tackle inequalities.

We will certainly continue to closely monitor the situation and record the actions of US law enforcement agencies. We presume that, while taking action to curb looting and other illegal activity, the authorities must still avoid violating the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. We will continue to demand that the United States, which has traditionally shown ostentatious consideration for other countries, strictly observe democratic standards and uphold the freedoms of its citizens at home.

Question: Is anything being done to bring Russian citizens held prisoner in northern Syria as the result of the armed conflict back to Russia? Several flights have been organised to bring women and children back. Do you plan to make more such flights? How many more Russian citizens are there?

Maria Zakharova: The efforts to bring back to Russia the children of Russian citizens who had been recruited to international terrorist organisations are being coordinated by an interdepartmental group chaired by Commissioner for Children's Rights Anna Kuznetsova. The Foreign Ministry representatives in this group are taking a direct part in implementing all the procedures stipulated under the Russian legislation to establish the children's identity and determine whether they have relatives in Russia. We are using the DNA profiling method, which includes the collection of DNA samples by experts from the Russian Centre of Forensic Medical Expertise at the Healthcare Ministry.

Before the coronavirus pandemic closed the borders, representatives of the interdepartmental group made several visits to Syria, and as a result we have brought 43 children back to Russia. DNA samples have been collected from another 150 children to determine if they are genetically connected to the potential foster parents.

As for the repatriation of adult Russian citizens from Syria, this entails considerable difficulties because all of them are guilty, to a greater or lesser degree, of violating Syrian legislation (illegally crossing the border, collaboration with terrorist organisations, etc.). When Damascus resumes control of the areas where such people are detained, the Syrian law enforcement authorities will investigate every individual for potential involvement in illegal activities.

As of today, efforts are being taken to determine the number of Russian citizens in Syria. We hope to resume the repatriation of Russian children from Syria as soon as the coronavirus lockdown is lifted.

Question: According to media reports, three Russians have been detained in Thailand as illegal migrants. All of them are crew members of a racing yacht, which has been anchored in the port of Phuket since March because of the coronavirus restrictions. Is this information reliable? Why have they been detained? What punishment are they facing? Where are they at this moment? What is Russia doing to settle the problem? Where are the other crew members, and what is their condition?

Maria Zakharova: According to the Russian Consulate General in Phuket, the seven crew members of the Uminoko racing yacht have been living on board the boat since late March. In light of the efforts against the new coronavirus infection being taken in Thailand, they were allowed to disembark only to buy food and drinking water.

The Consulate General has helped two members of the crew who expressed a desire to return to Russia to receive permits for crossing the border, but they were late for the flight that was organised to transport people to Russia on June 9. In other words, they entered Thailand again and were placed in hotel quarantine for 14 days in accordance with the country's legislation. The Consulate General ensured that their stay at the hotel was fully paid for by the local authorities.

On June 16, three other Russian citizens were detained by the Phuket immigration police for disembarking without permission and hence illegally crossing the national border.

When the Consulate General learned about their arrest, it established contact with them and took all the necessary measures of consular response. On June 18, consular officials attended the court hearing during which the detained Russians pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a fine of 5,000 bahts, or approximately 10,000 roubles. The Consulate General has coordinated their release on bail and deportation to Russia.

On June 22, all of the above mentioned five Russians left Thailand on board a plane organised to take Russian citizens back home.

A female member of the Uminoko crew previously returned to Russia by sea. As of today, only the captain remains on board the yacht waiting for the quarantine to end.

Question: Western media reports say that President Trump was considering the possibility of conducting a nuclear test. What is Russia's attitude to this?

Maria Zakharova: Let me remind you that we already commented on the US media reports regarding a possible resumption of nuclear testing in the United States at our May 28 briefing.

We are not inclined to overdo the gloom. After all, we are talking about a discussion of unverified information from "unidentified" sources rather than an official decision of the US authorities.  

At the same time, we cannot but be concerned over Washington's position on the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the non-proliferation and arms control regime as a whole. We said that there were quite a few signs of the US preparing to withdraw its CTBT signature. I am referring to the new US nuclear doctrine published in 2018, which says in no uncertain terms that Washington is renouncing the course for ratifying CTBT; boosting the readiness status of the Nevada testing range; and holding a discussion of possibilities of resuming nuclear testing during a seemingly "routine" survey of the Stockpile Stewardship Programme, which received significant media coverage.  

We note that the United States, if it really resolves to resume nuclear tests, will deal an irreparable blow to the entire non-proliferation and arms control system.   

I would like to stress once again that the Russian Federation strictly obeys its 1992 self-imposed moratorium on nuclear testing. As long as other nuclear states parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty observe this moratorium in good faith, all possible efforts should be taken to ensure that the treaty comes into force. The responsibility for the fact that this has failed to come about lies with the remaining eight states that are dragging their feet on the signing and/or ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. These include not only the United States but also Pakistan.

Question: The US media are reporting with reference to a Taliban statement that ISIS in Afghanistan is ready to make an attempt on the life of US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad. How do you think this could impact the peace process in Afghanistan?

Maria Zakharova: The US State Department's Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad is making pro-active efforts, including within the framework of the extended Russia-China-US format, to induce the parties to the conflict to meet the conditions necessary for a launch of direct intra-Afghan talks as soon as possible.

We hope that the Afghan authorities will adopt exhaustive measures to prevent possible provocations against the peace process in Afghanistan, including attempts on the life of diplomats assisting its progress.

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