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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 9, 2020

9 July 202019:10

Table of contents

  1. Update on the coronavirus pandemic
  2. Supporting Kazakhstan in combating the coronavirus, humanitarian aid
  3. Update on bringing our compatriots home
  4. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's participation in the Primakov Readings international forum
  5. Russia's first Voluntary National Review of implementing UN Sustainable Development Goals
  6. The UK's personal sanctions against Russian citizens
  7. Update on Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko
  8. Update on US citizen Paul Whelan convicted for espionage in Russia
  9. US withdrawal from the World Health Organisation
  10. The blocking of RT Group channels in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia
  11. The Venice Commission on education in Latvia
  12. Independence Day of the Republic of Kiribati
  13. The Special Olympics World Winter Games in Kazan

Answers to media questions:

  1. Chechen Republic man murdered in Austria
  2. Russian-Czech consultations on pressing bilateral issues
  3. Chairman of Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation to visit Pakistan
  4. The status of the Kurds in Syria's postwar arrangement
  5. Azerbaijan's initiative to hold a UN General Assembly session on countering the COVID-19 pandemic
  6. Russia's view on the implementation of the US plan for Palestinian-Israeli settlement dubbed "the deal of the century"

Update on the coronavirus pandemic

We begin our online briefing with the current situation concerning the coronavirus infection in the world. The latest data on the global spread of the coronavirus shows that the growth rate of those infected has yet to be reversed and a plateau of stabilisation has not been reached. Nearly 12 million people worldwide have been infected. Against the background of the general, favourable process of virus weakening, some countries are seeing a second wave of local epidemic clusters.

This situation is unique in that the infection does not spare anybody; it is spreading everywhere, penetrating even regions that are practically isolated from modern civilisation.

The WHO leadership keeps warning the international community that the virus has yet to be defeated and is actively circulating around the globe, which requires states to be even more vigilant, united, and committed to mutual assistance and cooperation.

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Supporting Kazakhstan in combating the coronavirus, humanitarian aid

Russia is providing comprehensive aid to the Republic of Kazakhstan in combatting the coronavirus; this includes aid provided by regional authorities.

For example, under a Russian Government directive of July 4, an Emergencies Ministry plane delivered the first shipment of humanitarian aid (protective clothes, individual protection equipment and medicines) to Nur-Sultan on July 7. Another plane will leave tonight, July 9. This humanitarian aid is valued at 150 million roubles.

On July 6, a team of 32 doctors and medical personnel to organise a system of epidemiological oversight and provide lab diagnostics was sent to Nur-Sultan aboard a special Emergencies Ministry plane. On the same day, the Moscow government sent a group of 23 Russian specialists (infectious disease specialists, epidemiologists, anesthetists and pulmonologists) to Almaty.

Several days ago the governor of the Astrakhan Region decided to send a team of doctors to Atyrau to help their Kazakhstani colleagues combat the pandemic.

Since February 2020, 18,000 test systems and 44,000 reagents for coronavirus diagnosis have been sent to Kazakhstan free of charge. In the next few days, another 50,000 test systems and reagents will be sent considering the deteriorating epidemiological situation in the country.

Russian noncommercial organisations are also providing aid to Kazakhstan. The short list of items from the Russian civil sector includes over 100,000 masks, 20,000 pairs of gloves, thermometers and antiseptics, among other things, which will be sent to Kazakhstani regions in July.

Noncommercial organisations from Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Ufa, Saratov, Astrakhan, Novosibirsk, Orenburg and Kazan will take part in this effort. The first shipment of humanitarian aid will be sent to Kostanai from the Ural-Eurasia expert club of Yekaterinburg.

The initiative will also cover Kazakh cities of Petropavlovsk, Kokshetau, Uralsk, Atyrau, Nur-Sultan and Almaty.

This public initiative, in the spirit of traditional neighbourliness and mutual help, is expected to contribute to Russia's aid to Kazakhstan in countering COVID-19.

In May and June 2020, the Russian Healthcare Ministry and Rospotrebnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Protection and Welfare) held lectures and educational webinars on coronavirus diagnosis, methods of treatment and prevention for their Kazakhstani colleagues.

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Update on bringing our compatriots home

I would like to spend a moment discussing an issue that has become truly native. I'm taking about flying our fellow countrymen back home. As is common now, we will summarise another period of assisting our compatriots, those who found themselves stranded abroad because of the coronavirus pandemic. Since the current algorithm was launched, we have brought home nearly 52,000 people, of whom over 41,000 returned on the Russian flights, and the rest on foreign airlines or charter flights, but also with assistance from Russian government agencies.

Last week, we successfully completed repatriation flights from Latin America. An Azur Air flight from Caracas, Quito and San Jose brought 264 people, including families with young children and elderly people, home. Despite the geographical remoteness of that region, in addition to the Russians who had lived and worked in Latin America for a long time, there also were tourists from Russia who, in the true sense of the word, were held hostage to the pandemic. It broke out at the very end of their vacations, and they were unable to return home. We kept in touch with them by email and telephone, so we are well aware of the situation. Finally, it was resolved. The flight home was a long-awaited opportunity for them to reunite with family and friends. As feedback, we received numerous letters and phone calls wishing us well with words of gratitude to everyone involved in this programme.

For my part, I would like to thank our colleagues from the Ministry of Communications and the Federal Air Transport Agency, who worked directly on the Latin American programme and, of course, the diplomats from our embassies and the staff of the ministry's Latin American department and, of course, Azur Air, which carried our compatriots and even their pets whose presence onboard has become an established tradition. This time, everything went well. For those who, for various reasons, stayed in Latin America, our overseas agencies are ready to provide the necessary assistance in arranging transfers for flights by Russian air carriers from Europe. The embassies have the corresponding information.

Last week, Russian-bound flights from New York, Seoul, Shanghai, Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, Central Asia and the countries south of the Caucasus took place.

We are planning more flights in the next 7 to 10 days, in particular, the long-awaited flight from Los Angeles. Our compatriots will also return home from Denpasar, Goa, Bangkok and Phuket. The European flight map is also expanding as more Russian air carriers join the homebound flight programme.

I never get tired of saying that our people in the countries that are not on the homebound flight list can use a hybrid travel arrangement where they can connect to a homebound flight at a European or Asian hub. Once again, please note that if you take a transit flight to a hub for an ensuing homebound flight, even if you registered on the Public Services Portal, it is still a good idea to contact the nearest Russian diplomatic mission. This will give us a fuller picture of the number of people returning home. Those who contact us can count on the maximum assistance of Russian diplomats who will be able to act proactively and resolve problems before they even arise, in particular, border issues, which, believe me, are plentiful. Unfortunately, self-reliance occasionally fails, and resolving problems that arise at the last minute is, as you know, much more difficult.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's participation in the Primakov Readings international forum

Now let's turn to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's schedule. On July 10, he will take part in the sixth Primakov Readings international forum via videoconference. Mr Lavrov's remarks will be broadcast online as part of a joint project of the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Interfax news agency.

Mr Lavrov will share his views on the international situation and reply to questions. IMEMO President Academician Alexander Dynkin will be the moderator of the discussion. Livestream will be conducted on the websites of the Foreign Ministry, IMEMO, Interfax and YouTube.

This meeting will complete a series of forum meetings that have been held from May 29 through July 2, all remotely due to the coronavirus situation. The participants discuss a broad range of issues of global politics, the economy and international security. The discussions have been attended by Foreign Ministry leaders, prominent domestic and foreign scholars and experts.

The Primakov Readings was established in 2015 as an international forum on the global economy and politics. It was named in honour of Yevgeny Primakov and has become a permanent and prestigious venue that makes it possible to exchange expert opinions and map out solutions to urgent issues in a live, informal atmosphere. This forum is needed more today than in the past due to the serious challenges linked with the spread of the coronavirus infection.

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Russia's first Voluntary National Review of implementing UN Sustainable Development Goals

At the UN high-level political forum in New York on July 14, Russia will submit its first Voluntary National Review of implementing UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Russian experts have been preparing for this event for almost two years, collecting information on implementing each of the 17 UN SDGs. They have conducted several rounds of consultations with representatives of federal government executive bodies, NGOs, business and scientific communities.

The document produced by this multi-stage process contains a deep analysis of the socio-economic changes in the Russian Federation aimed at reaching the goals set by the international community as part of the UN 2030 Agenda. It includes the plans for Russia's implementation of the SDGs by the UN-set date of 2030.

One of Russia's most substantial achievements is the full eradication of poverty based on the UN scale; the provision of universal healthcare, guaranteed education for all children and full access to electricity for every resident. The latter was recently noted in the May report of the UN Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL).

We believe this material will be of interest to those who follow the implementation of the socio-economic agenda in this country. It will be also useful for comparing Russia's achievements with those of other states that submit national reviews on the progress of this sustainable development track.

The review will be presented by Minister of Economic Development Maxim Reshetnikov. The presentation will be followed by an interactive session with the participation of other delegations and NGO representatives. The livestream will start on the UN website (www.webtv.un.org) at 5:30 pm Moscow time. The printed version of the review will be accessible in Russian and English on the UN website.

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The UK's personal sanctions against Russian citizens

We see the decision to impose sanctions against some our officials as part of the so-called "Magnitsky case" announced by the UK Government on July 6 as another unfriendly step by the British authorities.

The Russian side has provided exhaustive comments and clarifications on all issues related to the death of Sergey Magnitsky on many occasions, but London obviously prefers to ignore them. It is unclear on what grounds they "appoint" the guilty and mete out a punishment. This is why we cannot qualify Britain's actions other than an attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of another state and to put pressure to bear on the Russian judicial system.

We also want to remind London that Britain's reputation in human rights is far from impeccable for such an arrogant and preachy decision. The cases against UK service personnel on crimes committed during the Iraqi campaign have been dropped in keeping with the best colonial practices; the case of high-ranking Westminster child molesters was hushed up; and facts are emerging about UK special services unlawfully collecting personal information on British citizens. International government and non-government organisations have pointed out these and many other outrageous facts to the UK authorities on many occasions.

Of course, this politically biased decision will have a negative impact on our countries' bilateral relations, which have already been seriously damaged by the British side in recent years.

I would like to remind London that reciprocity is a basic principle in interstate relations. We reserve the right to use appropriate reciprocal measures, and we call on London to give up the language of groundless accusation and instead resort to a civilised dialogue to discuss any problems or concerns.

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Update on Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko

We continue to monitor the developments related to Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko imprisoned in the United States. It will be recalled that he was illegally arrested by US secret agents in Liberia in May 2010 and transported to the US, where he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.  However, the charges against him were based entirely on evidence supplied by stool-pigeon agents.  

The Russian Embassy in Washington has had regular contacts with Mr Yaroshenko and is keeping tabs on his health undermined by enhanced interrogation on the part of US law enforcers, long imprisonment and default of timely medical aid. We urge the US side to provide him with the necessary medical treatment. Following protracted efforts, some important medical check-ups were arranged for him not so long ago.

We would like to draw your attention to yet another aspect of the matter: Washington has failed to respond to our repeated requests to free and bring back to Russia on humanitarian grounds both Konstantin Yaroshenko and all other Russians, who remain in US penitentiaries or are under investigation. They have assured us that they are doing whatever is necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  In reality, as it transpired later, inmates at the overcrowded prison, where Mr Yaroshenko is serving his term, are issued just one medical mask a week, whereas the daily increment of COVID cases [across the country] occasionally exceeds 50,000.

On being informed about this problem, the Russian Embassy in Washington attempted to deliver PPE to Mr Yaroshenko, but the prison authorities refused to cooperate.  

In this connection, we reiterate our call to the US authorities to revise their approach and to let the imprisoned Russians return home. This would be a long-awaited show of humane attitude to those whose lives are exposed to daily danger.

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Update on US citizen Paul Whelan convicted for espionage in Russia

We regularly see media reports alleging that Russia is holding talks with US representatives so as to exchange Paul Whelan, who has been sentenced to 16 years imprisonment in Russia on espionage charges. Let me remind you that Mr Whelan is the holder of passports from three other countries apart from the US.   We would like to give explanations, inasmuch as this story is actively supplied with fakes, including by our US partners. There is also stovepiping and comments that are totally at odds with reality.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its foreign missions have worked on the permanent basis for years to defend the legitimate interests of Russian citizens imprisoned in the United States. We are exerting every effort to obtain an early liberation of Russian citizens exposed to a biased and often politically motivated treatment by the US judiciary. I am referring, among others, to pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was kidnapped by US secret services in Liberia in 2010, businessman Viktor Bout, who ended up in prison following a provocation engineered by US agents, Bogdana Osipova sentenced to a long prison term for having taken her own children to Russia, and many other Russian citizens.

I would like to stress again that the rumours about alleged discussions with the US side on possible options for "exchanging" Paul Whelan for Russian citizens have nothing to do with reality. 

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US withdrawal from the World Health Organisation

We noted reports on new US steps to withdraw from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Somewhat earlier, we gave our assessment of that country's attitude to the WHO. As before, we regard it as unconstructive.

Against the background of messages we receive from Washington, it is hard to explain why US representatives attended the May session of the World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body of WHO. The WHA approved a resolution confirming WHO's leading coordinating role in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Indicatively, the resolution was passed by consensus, which means that the US vote was also taken into account.

It is unclear whether the United States intends to participate in WHO operations as an observer state, as was the case with UNESCO, which the Americans also abandoned in 2017. The Trump administration has left the question unanswered as to whether the US is planning to recall American specialists assigned to the WHO, some of whom hold important positions in the organisation, and whether it intends to prohibit US experts from working for numerous WHO expert committees.   Frankly, we would like to know whether the US intends to be consistent and withdraw from the Pan American Health Organisation (formally an independent entity but in practice a regional branch of the WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (yet another organisation affiliated with the WHO). The US side would do well to answer these questions.

During these difficult times, we also lack understanding as to whether Washington is ready to cease being a party to the WHA's International Health Regulations (IHR), a legally binding instrument regulating multilateral collaboration at a time of health emergencies, and to refrain from involvement in revising IHR based on experience gained in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We continue to oppose the politicisation of global health cooperation. We again underscore the fact that COVID-19 is a challenge to the entire international community and that an effective fight against the pandemic is only possible if all states become involved in coordinated action. 

We are guided by this premise as we prepare for a special session of the UN General Assembly on COVID-19, the convening of which we supported. We hope for a constructive and, of course, non-discriminatory discussion of further joint steps to cut short the spread of the pandemic and overcome its negative consequences.

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The blocking of RT Group channels in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia

We continue to watch the cynical violation of international commitments to media freedom in the Baltic states that are finding it increasingly difficult to conceal their obsession with Russophobia and their intention of using any means to get rid of the Russian information presence in their media space. We are referring to an attack that the authorities in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have launched on the TV channels of Russia Today Group. It is clear that the attack was coordinated, something that these countries' spokespersons have confirmed in public. 

I would like to remind you that it came to our knowledge on June 30 that Latvia had decided to block the transmission of seven RT channels. We commented on this decision at a previous briefing. It was based on EU "personal sanctions" against Rossiya Segodnya Director General Dmitry Kiselev, who has nothing to do with the Russia Today media holding, as we have repeatedly reminded all those concerned.   

On July 1, the Commission for Radio and TV Broadcasting in Lithuania announced that it was ready to use the same sanctions against the same sources on the same far-fetched grounds as their Latvian colleagues. The blockage comes into effect today. The decision was enthusiastically supported by Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius, who said that "Lithuania started introducing restrictions against the Russian media seven years ago."  It would be helpful if his remarks were brought to the attention of Brussels, the OSCE, and many other organisations, including NGOs and relevant media outlets.  

A few days later, on July 6, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu spoke in support of the Latvian move to ban RT broadcasting and promised to analyse the effectiveness of the same measure in Estonia.

Is there any need for further comment after I cited facts and quoted officials from member-states of the European Union, a group that has proclaimed the defence of democracy and fundamental freedoms as its main goal? One is perplexed by the fact that not a single EU official has yet commented on this flagrant abuse of the freedom of expression and crackdown on dissent in the Baltic states.

We think that it is Brussels' inadmissible silence with regard to all the numerous episodes of discrimination against the Russian media in the Baltic countries that has given their leaders a free hand to such an extent that they do not even bother to find a plausible explanation for their steps, measures and moves with regard to the Russian media holding.

These antidemocratic steps are discrediting Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn in the eyes of the world community and are contrary to their international commitments regarding media freedom and free access to information. We say this directly to our Baltic partners, but they seem to be unwilling to hear us.

We hope that the relevant international organisations and the human rights community will respond to these direct violations. There is no need for any proof or investigation. There is a direct breach of the commitments, which those states have assumed of their own free will and made the cornerstone of their domestic and foreign policies.  For our part, we will submit relevant official statements to UNESCO, the OSCE, and the Соuncil of Europe.  

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The Venice Commission on education in Latvia

We have taken a close look at the opinion on the recent amendments to the Latvian legislation on education in minority languages, adopted by the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe) on June 18.

Regrettably, the Venice Commission experts, who for the most part represent EU member-countries, have demonstrated a biased attitude and have actually supported Latvia's policy aimed at a forcible de-Russification of the country and violation of the language and educational rights of the local Russian-speaking community. 

One is particularly perplexed by the Venice Commission's attempt to justify discrimination against the Russian language regarding its status as compared to other minority languages, namely those spoken in the EU. We are confident that EU membership does not justify the creation of an "elite club" that guarantees the rights of a certain group by prejudicing the rights of others.

We insistently call on Riga to abide by the universal and regional minority rights standards and mechanisms accepted by the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE. I would like to remind EU partners that the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights proclaims a ban on all forms of discrimination, including discrimination of minorities.

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Independence Day of the Republic of Kiribati

On July 12, the Republic of Kiribati will mark its Independence Day. It gained independence on July 12, 1979, after almost 90 years of British colonial rule. Since the early 1900s, Britain was active in mining local natural resources, primarily phosphates, practically depleting their reserves by the 1970s.

World War II, specifically the US-Japanese battle for Tarawa Atoll in 1943 has left Kiribati with a legacy of unexploded ordnance. The local ecosystems have been greatly damaged by Western atomic and hydrogen weapons testing conducted in post-war years, something that made the indigenous population of a number of atolls move elsewhere. 

Later this year, we will mark the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations with the Republic of Kiribati. Ahead of Kiribati's national holiday, we would like to wish its friendly people wellbeing, prosperity and success in building a dynamically developing sovereign state.  

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The Special Olympics World Winter Games in Kazan

The Special Olympics World Winter Games in Kazan is one of the most prestigious sports events directed at creating a truly inclusive world for people with intellectual disabilities.

Originally, the Special Olympics World Winter Games should have been held in Sweden in 2021. In late 2019, however, Stockholm refused to host the Olympics and Russia was chosen as its new venue. Taking into consideration the COVID-19 pandemic, the Organising Committee decided to postpone the Games until January 2022.  

The 2022 Games will be the first international event under the aegis of Special Olympics International in this country and will involve 2,000 athletes from 108 countries, plus 3,000 volunteers and 4,000 honorary guests and their family members. This will make the Games a truly world-scale event and help to promote the social adaptation of about three million individuals with special needs, for whom, we believe, this event will be of extreme and special importance.   

Founded in 1999, Russia's Special Olympics is one of the largest national programmes within the world movement. There are nearly 130,000 people with special needs that qualify them for participation in the Games. About 5,000 physical fitness events are held annually for their benefit under the Special Olympics programme at the municipal, regional and national level.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: What's your take on the murder of a man from the Chechen Republic in Austria?

Maria Zakharova: A man was killed in the Vienna suburb of Gerasdorf, Austria, on July 4. Shortly after, two suspects were detained by Austrian law enforcement officers. According to the Austrian authorities, the victim and the attackers are natives of the Chechen Republic.

The circumstances of the incident are now being investigated, including the citizenship of the victim and the detained persons. The Russian embassy in Austria is interacting with Austria's authorities.

The media are providing a variety of causes that may have led to this crime, including criminal motives. Regrettably, a number of publications are talking about the possible involvement of Chechen Republic authorities. We most resolutely disagree. We consider such speculation inappropriate and believe they are interfering with an impartial investigation.

Also, please note the comments released by the Russian Embassy in Austria today.

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Question: The Czech government is reproaching Moscow for delaying Russian-Czech consultations on important items on the bilateral agenda. What's your take on this?

Maria Zakharova: First of all, we would like to emphasise the absolute groundlessness of these reproaches. In reality, the situation is exactly the opposite. In order to resolve certain problems in bilateral relations, Russia initially pushed for the earliest possible holding of talks. Our Ambassador in Prague was given the necessary authority a long time ago, and our partners have been officially notified of this several times. We talked about it publicly and urged our Czech partners to step up the dialogue. It is gratifying to know that after Rudolf Jindrak, head of the Foreign Department at the Office of the President of the Czech Republic, was appointed head of the delegation, the process was set in motion and the Czech authorities started responding. This will make it possible to start the consultations.

We reiterate our commitment to a dialogue at the deputy foreign minister level. However, the sanitary and epidemiological situation precludes any chance of a meeting any time soon. That is why we are urging our Czech colleagues to start consultations with the authorised representatives of our countries as soon as possible.

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Question: Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation of Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah, plans a visit to Pakistan soon. What do you make of this move?

Maria Zakharova: We are aware of Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Abdullah Abdullah's planned visit to Pakistan. We hope this trip will help strengthen ties between Islamabad and Kabul and advance a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan.

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Question: What part do the Kurds play in Russia's vision of Syria's future? Discussions are underway that ethnic federalism is being considered as a form of separation of powers in future Syria. How does Russia see the future of the separation of powers in Syria? What level of autonomy would the regions have?

Over the past four months, northeastern Syria has experienced water supply problems. The Turkish-backed forces blocked the water supply to Kurdish regions several times. Now, Turkey has reduced the volume of water supply to Syria by 60 percent. What are Russia's plans to resolve this issue?

Maria Zakharova: I believe your question has both a historical and a political dimension. For centuries, Syria has been home to various ethnic and religious groups which coexisted peacefully and safely. This was Syria's crown jewel and can only be respected. We are convinced that these historical traditions should be fully preserved and continued.

We operate on the premise that the Syrian Kurds are an integral part of the Syrian nation. Based on this principled position, Moscow supports the dialogue between the Kurds and Damascus regarding the future of their common homeland. The Syrians themselves must determine what their country will be like to make sure its entire population, regardless of religion or ethnicity, feels safe and secure.

It is important to keep this point in mind in the context of the long-lasting fight against terrorism, including of foreign origin. Today, the Syrians are faced with the need to rebuild their homeland based on a common commitment to Syria's sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.

The reconstruction effort must include all water facilities, many of which have been damaged as a result of terrorist attacks. At the same time, using water resources has both a national and a regional dimension and will call for well-coordinated interaction of all the countries through which the most important waterways, including the Euphrates River, pass. The ultimate decision must take into account the interests of all stakeholders.

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Question: Some 130 UN member states have supported Azerbaijan's initiative to hold a special UN General Assembly session on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and on measures to alleviate its consequences. Could you please comment on this initiative?

Maria Zakharova: It has been decided to convene a special UN General Assembly session on COVID-19 at the initiative of the Non-Aligned Movement and Azerbaijan as its current chair.

Russia has supported this initiative of its CIS partner. We believe that the special session will be a constructive event where substantive decisions can be adopted. In this context, we expect an interesting discussion to be held there.

Since the epidemiological situation in New York is rather alarming, the session will be held via videoconference. The related procedures are being coordinated.

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Question: Israel is planning to seize more Palestinian lands. Not only Muslim countries but also all other countries, with the exception of the United States, have criticised this decision. Does Russia support the so-called deal of the century?

Maria Zakharova: As you have pointed out in your question, the extension of Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank can be interpreted as the unilateral implementation of the US plan for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement known as "the deal of the century."

Indeed, the majority of countries have criticised this Israeli plan. There is a stable consensus on the Palestinian issue in the Arab and Muslim world.

Russia has pointed out its position of principle on this matter more than once. It is well known and has been put forth at the top level. It is similar to the assessments and approaches formulated in the recent decisions of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. In our opinion, the attempt to extend Israeli sovereignty to more Palestinian lands will not only preclude the implementation of the two-state solution, but will also most likely provoke a new round of dangerous violence in the region, which will further fuel radical protest sentiments.

Russia's consistent stance on supporting the two-state solution to the Palestinian problem based on universally recognised international law has not changed. At the same time, we believe that direct UN-led talks between Israel and Palestine, with the mediation of the Quartet comprising Russia, the United States, the EU and the UN, must be resumed without delay to address all aspects of the final status and to ensure a comprehensive and lasting settlement based on UN resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.

We believe that a vital precondition for launching a full-scale peace process is the restoration of Palestinian unity on the political platform of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. In this connection, we welcome the well-timed moves taken by Fatah and Hamas towards this goal, which were made public on July 2 during a joint news videoconference by senior Fatah and Hamas officials.

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