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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, July 2, 2020

2 July 202018:35

Update on the coronavirus pandemic

The data on the spread of the novel coronavirus in the world show that so far it is not possible to reverse the growth rate of those infected. These are data from international organisations. Since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, over 10 million people have fallen ill and 500,000 of them have died from the virus.

New outbreaks of the disease, which are recorded in countries where the main stage of the pandemic seems to be over and normal life is returning, raise concerns. New increases of the epidemic follow the lifting of quarantine restrictions in certain regions.

We are carefully following the warnings about the need for balanced approaches by some governments to the opening of their borders, societies and economies voiced by the World Health Organisation, including by its Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution on combatting the coronavirus

On July 1, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2532 on combatting the coronavirus. It was drafted by France and Tunisia. Russia supported this document guided by the imperative of joint international efforts to counter this global threat.

It is noteworthy that the resolution references the measures proposed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in the context of overcoming the impact of the pandemic for states engulfed by conflicts. In this connection, we would like to once again emphasise that it is necessary to suspend illegal unilateral sanctions that restrict the potential of the countries, especially the developing and least developed countries, to respond to coronavirus-related challenges.

We also fully support Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s call from March 23 for an overall ceasefire, as envisaged by the resolution. At the same time, we have noted many times that any humanitarian pause should not include anti-terrorism operations. We are glad to see this also reflected in the resolution.

Moreover, it is also very important that the adopted document emphasises the importance of an inclusive, comprehensive and global response to the coronavirus pandemic, with the coordinating role of the UN. This approach corresponds with Russia’s policy for the unconditional support of the World Health Organisation as the leading mechanism to mobilise individual countries’ efforts to combat COVID-19. We believe it is necessary to ensure joint international support for this UN agency.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown that the solidarity of all of humankind and the renunciation of narrow national interests are essential to successfully overcoming any global challenge.

Russia’s response to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s remarks on Russia allegedly using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to limit individual rights and freedoms

On June 30, during the opening of the 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said she had received reports to the effect that in many countries, including Russia, China and Nicaragua, journalists, bloggers, and civic activists are receiving threats, the alleged goal of which is the local authorities’ efforts to stifle criticism of their efforts to combat the coronavirus infection.

Generally, to confirm the reliability of incoming alarm signals, UN agencies send corresponding requests to the authorities of the country in question to confirm or refute the information they received. As of July 2, there were no requests for Russia on behalf of the UN monitoring mechanisms regarding violations of human rights during the effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Clearly, this is why the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights does not claim that the information she received is reliable. If specific information about possible violations in this area is received from the High Commissioner, we will be willing to conduct an investigation.

Notably, in the same remarks on June 30, Ms Bachelet welcomed the innovative technology used by Russia in fighting the coronavirus to provide remote medical help to indigenous nomadic peoples.

Regarding the introduction by most states of restrictions on individual rights and freedoms during the fight against a global crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, including identifying a line that should not be crossed, I would like to point you to international human rights law and our country’s corresponding human rights commitments. As you may be aware, the list of so-called absolute rights, that is, the rights that cannot be subjected to any restrictions regardless of the situation, is clearly outlined in international law. We are talking about the right to life, freedom from torture, slavery, freedom of thought and conscience. Other rights and freedoms, such as the right to peaceful assembly and several others, may be temporarily restricted legally. Of course, such restrictions should be introduced by law, be proportionate and have a limited period of validity. Russian authorities have complied with all these requirements.

In addition, since the coronavirus pandemic can be qualified under international law as a threat to the life of the nation, Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 15 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms allow the member states to derogate from their obligations. A number of European states, such as Albania, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Romania, San Marino and several others, have resorted to that. Our country found this step inappropriate. This is because the restrictive measures introduced in Russia were proportionate to the threat posed by the coronavirus epidemic for the population and mandatory in a democratic society to protect citizens’ health. As a result, the numbers speak for themselves. Despite the fact that Russia ranked as the world’s third highest country in terms of the number of confirmed coronavirus cases, the death toll from this infection is at a record low compared to the losses suffered by other countries affected by the pandemic. Along with this, unprecedented measures have been taken to uphold individual social and economic rights.

Update on flights bringing Russians home

Regarding rights and support, I am also referring to assistance for Russian citizens who found themselves stranded abroad because of the lockdown since international transport logistics have been down for three months running. Another week has passed amid the efforts of the Foreign Ministry, our other agencies and embassies to assist the return of our citizens who are stuck abroad because of the problems with international travel. Since the ongoing algorithm was launched, the number of compatriots repatriated with the help of our embassies is over 47,000, including over 38,000 returned by Russian carriers; others came back on foreign and charter airlines.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talked about the details of bringing these people home in a lively manner in his interview with the Epidemics project by Anton Krasovsky, prepared at the Russia Today Russian Editorial Board. The full text is available on our website as well as on YouTube Channel.

Getting back to the specifics, another Azur Air multi-stop flight is now on its way to Latin America. The plane should land soon in Quito, capital of Ecuador, where it will pick up about 70 Russian citizens, including those who arrived there from Bolivia. It will then fly to San José, Costa Rica, where our compatriots who were in Central American countries are also waiting for it, including those who flew there from Columbia. The plane is to land at Sheremetyevo Airport tomorrow.

Last week was marked by numerous transit flights. Russian citizens in various countries had an opportunity to return home on special flights from Paris, London, Barcelona, Rome and Athens. The range keeps on growing. Our citizens in the Middle East, as well as in Southeast Asia, the South Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand, have also joined the system.

Meanwhile, I want to remind you of some key points. When en route to a repatriation flight, even after registering on your own at the Public Services Portal, please contact the nearest Russian diplomatic mission. It will not only give us a more detailed picture of the return of our citizens, but you will also be able to count on the fullest possible assistance from Russian diplomats in solving a number of issues (border, transit, logistics, etc.). Please believe me, there are quite a few issues like this. We have come across such situations on many occasions where the information on the transit of Russian citizens came too late and some of them had to interrupt their travel because of a failure to observe the requisite formalities. This could be avoided if they identify themselves at a Russian embassy or consulate.

Soon, an updated schedule of repatriation flights through the end of the week will be published. Again, we will give the proper attention to the CIS countries, where a great number of our citizens are still waiting for an opportunity to fly to Russia. We will continue our work on arranging connecting transit flights via such European capitals as London, Paris, Barcelona, as well as Seoul.

Foreign Ministry Commission support

One more current subject linked with the support of our people is the work of the Foreign Ministry Commission on adopting decisions on payment benefits. As you know, a Foreign Ministry commission has been active since early April to support Russian citizens abroad who cannot return home because of the coronavirus infection. The commission operates under Resolution No. 433 of the Government of the Russian Federation of April 3, 2020.

In cooperation with a number of departments, the commission verifies applications of Russian citizens for the social aid it receives from the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation. It makes decisions on granting, denying or discontinuing support and informs the ministry about them and asks it to add incomplete information to the applications.

If the commission adopts a positive decision, it sends the required benefit documents to the Treasury to transfer the amount to the applicant’s bank account.

The commission has reviewed about 65,000 applications of which over 17,000 were considered relevant to the requirements of Resolution No. 433. The commission approved these applications. Thus, over 24,000 people, including family members, benefited from the social support provided by the Government of the Russian Federation.

The majority of our compatriots who received social aid have already returned home.

Results of voting abroad on the amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation

On July 2, the referendum commission established by the Foreign Ministry stopped receiving copies of protocols from the voting stations established abroad. In all, 254 voting stations were set up in 144 countries. District electoral commissions were headed by 39 ambassadors and 63 consuls general, which points to the importance of the task set before our foreign offices. Indeed, the Foreign Ministry focused on this issue.

Due to the coronavirus epidemic the vote took place mostly at embassies and consular offices as well as at Defence Ministry units abroad.

As many as 144,791 people voted under serious coronavirus-related restrictions in various countries. By agreement with the territorial election commission, 42 on-site and early voting procedures were held in areas of compact settlement of Russian citizens. They were attended by over 33,000 people. This number includes employees of the companies engaged in large-scale construction projects abroad and military personnel at Russian bases.

The vote took place in full conformity with election laws and the observance of proper safety measures and the sanitary-epidemiological recommendations of Rospotrebnadzor and, of course, the local authorities.

Voting took place in a calm atmosphere, without incidents, in all countries. Representatives of the Russian and foreign media were present at some voting stations. The conformity of the voting procedures to the standards of law was monitored in some voting stations by observers authorised by the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation.

The US State Department releases annual Country Reports on Terrorism

We received a note from the US Embassy in Moscow containing the Russian portion of the most recent US State Department’s annual Country Reports on Terrorism released the other day. We are grateful to our US partners for this kind reminder, since we ourselves have lost practical interest in these reports. Year in and year out, in almost identical, highly politicised terms, they repeat the same groundless reproaches regarding Russia’s anti-terrorism policies. Allegedly, Russia’s counter-terrorism efforts are aimed not at combating security threats, but at suppressing various freedoms and infringing on human rights domestically.

We suggest that the people behind these reports take a more creative approach and, possibly, look for instances of overlapping interests of our countries in important areas of ​​bilateral interaction such as anti-terrorism activities. Probably, their colleagues from a dozen specialised US departments can come up with some ideas since they engaged in the interagency dialogue between Russia and the United States on counter-terrorism, in the framework of which three quite productive meetings took place in Vienna in 2019 (March, June and September). However, as is always the case with our US partners, these meetings are not even mentioned in the report for reasons unknown to us. Talk to each other, please.

The continuing US administration’s spin on extending the arms embargo against Iran and prospects for maintaining the JCPOA

The United States continues to promote the introduction of an unlimited arms embargo on Tehran. We believe there are no objective reasons for raising this issue at the UN Security Council. The United States has neither the legal, nor any other grounds for using the UN Security Council’s powers in its self-serving interests.

The special procedure for supplying arms and military equipment to or from Iran envisaged by UNSC Resolution 2231 came as a temporary solution initially. Using it after October 18 was not planned.

A draft resolution on an indefinite arms embargo on Iran promoted by Washington at the UN Security Council is a set of restrictive measures which are in line with US policy of maximum pressure on Tehran. It touches on a range of matters that have nothing to do with resolving the situation related to the Iranian nuclear programme.

We consider introducing additional restrictions on Iran not only unjustified, but counterproductive from the point of view of the prospects for keeping the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) intact. The main reason for the difficulties and failures in implementing the nuclear deal with Iran is the subversive activities by the US. It unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA and continues to systematically violate UNSC Resolution 2231, and it also creates obstacles for its implementation by the conscientious participants.

We believe that doing business with Tehran from a position of force only prevents the JCPOA implementation process from returning to the originally agreed upon framework and stabilising the situation in the region in general.

In our opinion, the only possible way out of this difficult situation is to consolidate the efforts of the states participating in the nuclear deal and the entire international community to preserve the JCPOA by observing the commitments undertaken by all stakeholders. Now more than ever, it is important to protect legitimate cooperation with Tehran.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s contradictory remarks regarding Russia’s policy in Afghanistan

We were puzzled by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s contradictory remarks in connection with recent accusations against Russia regarding the alleged organisation of contract killings of US troops in Afghanistan. This topic has already been unequivocally covered not only in Russia, but the United States as well; in particular, US President Trump spoke on the matter. The head of the Pentagon also said there was no evidence to support these fabrications.

On the one hand, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seemed to agree with these assessments of US leadership and called for holding the people behind this fake news responsible. On the other hand, he suddenly remembered the long-refuted insinuations about the alleged deliveries of Russian-made weapons to the Taliban, and at the same time began to talk about the need to have this matter reviewed by US Congress. He also said that he raised the issue of stopping weapons supplies to the Taliban every time he met with his Russian colleague.

Here’s what would I like to say about the contacts of our US partners, in particular, the Secretary of State, with his Russian colleague. During his meetings with Foreign Minister Lavrov, Mr Pompeo has never raised this issue. Russia supplied arms only to the legitimate government of Afghanistan, which is a well-known fact. If our US colleagues want to have a conversation in this context, it would be appropriate to recall the information circulating in Afghanistan regarding the US special services’ support for ISIS with the use of helicopters, which we covered extensively at our briefings one to two years ago, and shielding them from Taliban attacks. In addition, we should not forget about support provided to ISIS by US aviation during clashes with the Taliban. The latter was repeatedly confirmed by the Taliban in 2018-2019.

As for the remarks at the US legislative assembly, we have our own legislative assembly as well. We are all aware that our legislative assembly is working energetically on the international track. I think they too can pay attention to the topic of Afghanistan, weapon supplies and interaction with terrorists by a number of states – at least, such information is out there.

China’s law on ensuring national security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

We noted the entry into force of the law on ensuring national security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the PRC on July 1, 2020 by decision of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of China.

In this context, we would like to reaffirm that Russia’s position of principle on the situation in Hong Kong remains unchanged. We respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the PRC and consider all issues pertaining to Hong Kong to be China’s domestic affair. We are against any attempts by external forces to interfere in relations between the central government and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the PRC.

Accusations against Kosovo “President” Hashim Thaci

On June 24, the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office in The Hague that deals with crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) published a statement on completing its investigation on charges against so-called Kosovo “President” Hashim Thaci, former Assembly Speaker Kadri Veseli and eight former KLA fighters. All of them are suspected of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murders, persecution and torture. About 100 people were victims of their actions, including Albanians, Serbs, Romani and people of other ethnic groups. The collected materials have been submitted for preliminary proceedings. The trial can take place after they are reviewed by the Kosovo Specialist Chambers during a period of up to six months.

The adopted decisions again graphically demonstrate the inadequacy of so-called Kosovo “statehood.” I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the persons accused of the gravest crimes held positions of authority in Pristina for a long time. These criminals unilaterally proclaimed Kosovo independence in 2008. Its illegal character is fairly obvious and is based on international legal documents on the unlawful events of 2008.  

We are convinced that all those who were involved in atrocities must face trial and be held accountable regardless of their positions.

The blocking of Russia Today Media Holding television channels in Latvia

On June 30, we learned about Latvian authorities’ decision to ban the broadcasting of seven television channels of Russia Today Media Holding in Latvia, including the Arabic and Spanish versions, as well as the documentary films channel. Riga tried to explain this move with the EU’s personal sanctions against Director General of Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency Dmitry Kiselev.

We hope Latvia took these outrageous and illegal steps due to the incompetence of its authorities that fail to understand that Mr Kiselev has never had anything to do with what was cited by Riga. I would like to tell our Latvian colleagues that this organisation has the legal status of an autonomous non-profit organisation and is headed by Margarita Simonyan.

Unfortunately, this is hardly the first time a Russian media company has been groundlessly deprived of the opportunity to freely disseminate information in Latvia to meet the needs of its large Russian-speaking population for information in its mother tongue. The Latvian authorities are completely obsessed with clearing their information space. This is not their first step. They are afraid of any content of Russian origin.

We have repeatedly drawn the attention of international organisations and human rights champions to this unacceptable situation in Latvia, the crude attempts to discriminate against Russian speakers and eliminate the Russian language from the country’s information space. This is being done despite the fact that over 40 percent of its population prefer to receive information in Russian.

We again urge the relevant international organisations to subject Riga’s decision to meticulous judicial expertise and establish whether it corresponds to Latvia’s political and legal commitments to ensure freedom of speech and expression, and free access to information.


The 60th anniversary of the declaration of independence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

On June 30, the Democratic Republic of the Congo celebrated the 60th anniversary of its declaration of independence. The Congolese people have a very long history, and unique customs and traditions. The first local state entities emerged there in the 14th century, with the Kingdom of the Congo becoming the largest regional state. In the 15th century, Western countries, primarily Portugal and Belgium, started invading these nations. In 1885-1908, the Belgians seized the territory of the Congolese Kingdom which then became the private colony of King Leopold II. In 1908, it received the status of an official colony of Belgium or the Belgian Congo.

The Soviet Union provided diverse assistance to Congo’s efforts to rid itself of colonial oppression. History recalls a period when the Soviet Government supported the country, and when Soviet citizens staged massive demonstrations in defence of national heroes of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, namely, Patrice Lumumba and his comrade-in-arms during the fight for independence, Antoine Gizenga.

On July 7, 1960, the two countries established diplomatic relations that continue to develop successfully in an atmosphere of friendship, mutual respect and solidarity. Both countries maintain high-level political dialogue and actively promote their economic cooperation. They also continue to expand humanitarian and cultural ties. I would like to recall a meeting between President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Felix Tshisekedi Tshilombo on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi in October 2019. This became the first such meeting at the level of heads of state in the history of bilateral relations. The sides charted prospects for further expanding mutually beneficial Russian-Congolese cooperation in investment, trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian areas.

We cordially congratulate our Congolese friends on the national holiday and we express confidence that the traditionally friendly relations between our countries will continue to grow consistently stronger.

We wish the people of this country, which ranks among the largest African states, further successes in achieving their goals, as well as prosperity and well-being.

The 60th anniversary of the declaration of independence of the Federal Republic of Somalia

On July 1, the Federal Republic of Somalia marked the 60th anniversary of its declaration of independence.

The people of this country, with whom we are bound by traditions of friendship and solidarity, have come a difficult way while fighting for independence and the right to decide their own destiny.

In the late 15th century, the Portuguese established control over the Somalian coast. In the last quarter of the 19th century, the United Kingdom and Italy divided Somalia. After World War II and a lengthy transitional period, both territories reunited in 1960 as an integral independent state after ridding themselves of colonial dependence.

The Soviet Union and Somalia established diplomatic relations on September 11, 1960. The Soviet Union provided gratis assistance to Somalia in building infrastructure facilities, training national specialists and establishing its armed forces. Hundreds of Soviet specialists worked in this country, and over 20,000 Somalians graduated from Soviet higher education institutions.

The Russian Federation has consistently supported the domestic peace settlement process in Somalia and the country’s socio-economic revival. Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, intends to continue its participation in agreed-upon international efforts to provide diverse support to Mogadishu.

We sincerely congratulate our Somalian friends on the national holiday, and we wish them well-being and prosperity.

Independence Day in Venezuela on July 5

This Sunday, on July 5, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela will celebrate its Independence Day (1811).

Our countries have long-standing ties of friendship and mutual understanding. Caracas is Russia’s strategic partner in Latin America. The recent visit of Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza to Moscow to participate in celebrations of the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War became new evidence of friendly relations between our countries. Joint projects are successfully implemented, and close cooperation within international organisations has been established.

In over two centuries of its rich history, Venezuela has travelled the path of gaining true independence and protecting national sovereignty. The legitimate Government of Venezuela, despite unprecedented external pressure, continues to uphold its country’s right to self-determination. We will continue to provide comprehensive assistance to our Venezuelan friends, including in the interests of overcoming intra-Venezuelan differences through an inclusive nationwide dialogue based on the principles of national legislation without destructive external interference.

We would like to convey our best wishes to the Government and people of Venezuela on this wonderful day.

45th anniversary of the independence of Cabo Verde

On July 5, the Republic of Cabo Verde will celebrate the 45th anniversary of its independence. This is one of the most dynamically and sustainably growing countries in Africa and a country with unique traditions.

Its people travelled a difficult path of struggle for independence, the establishment of statehood and the acquisition of genuine sovereignty. In this country, the older generation gratefully recalls the selfless assistance that the Soviet Union invariably provided to Cabo Verde. Last year, a memorial plaque was unveiled in Praia, commemorating the feat of the Soviet destroyer Byvaly’s crew. In January 1973, as a result of their decisive actions, the assassins of the leader of the Guinea-Bissau and Cabo Verde liberation movement Amilcar Cabral were arrested, and his comrade-in-arms Aristides Pereira, who later became the first President of independent Cabo Verde, was released.

Today, relations between our two countries are at a high level. We are ready for further beneficial cooperation in various fields, as well as for close interaction on the coronavirus response.

I would like to congratulate the people of Cabo Verde on their national holiday and wish them all the best.

Celebration of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Day

Per our good tradition, we would like to congratulate our friends from the Caribbean Community on the upcoming CARICOM Day, which is celebrated in several member countries as an official holiday on the first Monday in July.

In today’s international context, when such notions as sovereignty and independence are often questioned and sometimes simply ignored, this reputable organisation with 14 regional countries as its members sets a clear and important example that even small countries can defend the key principles of the UN Charter and play an important role on the global stage when they act consistently together and have faith that their cause is just. This is proved by Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ activities as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. This country effectively represents its CARICOM partners and, together with the Dominican Republic, the entire Latin America.

By strengthening unity and solidarity, the Caribbean nations are becoming an important and positive element in global politics. After a period of colonial dependence, these countries, for which ethnic diversity is a backbone factor, are successfully building a sustainable multiethnic society.

Lately our relations with the Community and its member states have received a new impetus: last year, the President of Trinidad and Tobago as well as foreign ministers of Grenada and Jamaica visited Moscow and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took a trip to Surinam; at the beginning of this year, we received the Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Given CARICOM’s interest in making relations with Russia systematic, prospects have emerged to launch a multilateral communication format in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2010.

We are consistently working towards improving the contractual and legal base of cooperation, including via signing basic agreements on relations and expanding the visa-free regime with Caribbean countries. Traditional areas of Russian-Caribbean ties include development projects, regional professional training programmes, cultural, humanitarian, educational and tourist exchanges and promotion of business initiatives.

We are ready to further promote ties with the Caribbean Region in various areas in an atmosphere of friendship, solidarity and mutual account of interests. This is our principled approach, free from fleeting political interests.

Answers to media questions:

Question: We have received requests to comment on the trial of biologist Alexander Ignatenko from Rostov-on-Don and his fellow travellers who were detained in Sri Lanka for collecting dead insects.  Over 70 Russian biologists made a public address to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. They confirmed that Mr Ignatenko had never been involved in commercial entomology and asked him to help ensure the rights of the detained Russian citizens.

Mr Ignatenko’s family members said that neither a consul nor an interpreter attended the court hearings.

We would like you to explain: What assistance on the part of the state can Russian citizens rely on in such a situation abroad? What scale of aid can they hope to get and in what timeframe? Was such assistance rendered to Mr Ignatenko?

Maria Zakharova: I would like to say that our citizens who face problems with local law-enforcement bodies abroad can certainly rely on help from relevant Russian foreign missions. This aid is primarily designed to uphold their lawful rights and interests. The nature and scale of assistance depend on many factors, including the circumstances of a specific case, laws of the country of stay and its participation or non-participation in applicable international treaties.

As for Alexander Ignatenko, Nikolay Kilafyan and Artyom Ryabov, the Consular Section of the Russian Embassy in Colombo has been in contact with them since it learned about their arrest. Owing to the efforts of our diplomats, the investigation was not dragged out, and the Russian citizens had an opportunity to phone their relatives and their attorney. Moreover, all three detainees were released under travel restrictions before the trial, although the charges against them are considered very serious in Sri Lanka. They were charged with the illegal collection of insects (over 550 specimens were confiscated from them). These actions are punishable by big fines and a term in prison of up to five years.

Six court hearings have been held up to this day. Following the fifth hearing on June 25, the number of criminal counts with which Mr Ignatenko and his fellow mates were charged was reduced to 200, but Mr Ryabov and Mr Kilafyan were taken into custody. During the sixth hearing on July 2, the judge decided to release them on bail.

Mr Ignatenko did not attend the last two hearings for medical reasons. He received medical care in hospital, and his life is not under threat.

The trial is taking place in Nuvara Eliya, which is located at a considerable distance from Colombo. It is difficult to get there due to the strict restrictions on movement introduced by the Sri Lanka authorities to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus infection. At present, the sanitary and epidemiological situation in the country has somewhat improved, which allowed the Russian consul to attend the sixth hearing.

The next hearing is scheduled for July 23. We will keep track of the trial.

Question: We saw a report on the publication of a book about the crash of the Malaysian Airlines MH17 flight which was written by popular Malaysian writer Syed Mahadzir Syed Ibrahim. His books are even included in the school curriculum. Have you heard anything about this book, and could you comment on it?

Maria Zakharova: Thank you for your question. Indeed, this book was published in Malaysia in late May.

To my knowledge, Mr Ibrahim paid special attention to different versions of the MH17 flight crash. He also focused on the motives, including those that are not always evident, which in his opinion were behind the moves of various countries that took part in the crash investigation at different stages. Mr Ibrahim maintains, for one, that the US could use the tragedy to justify new sanctions against Russia.

The publication of this book shows that Malaysians are increasingly eager to form their own opinion about the crash. We believe this is particularly important considering that the coverage of the tragedy by the West has been biased and politically motivated for years.

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