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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 16, 2020.

16 July 202020:46

Update on the coronavirus infection


I will continue updating you on the global coronavirus infection. Today, the spread of the coronavirus in the world is still alarming. The total number of people infected in different countries is steadily growing. It has exceeded the 13 million threshold. The number of deaths is over 600,000. The rates and dynamics of the spread of the virus on the planet are a source of concern. Many international experts believe the pandemic is continuing to "gain momentum." A global record on the number of infected people in a day – over 230,000 – was recorded.

WHO Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke at his recent online briefing about the persisting global threat of COVID-19. He again warned the world against excessive optimism and the unjustified rush in relaxing quarantines. He also emphasised the need to be vigilant and observe the precautions that are being introduced in different countries to prevent the spread of the virus and save lives. According to WHO Secretary-General , the peak of the pandemic has not yet been reached. If society does not observe the basic guidelines of countering the coronavirus and does not take precautions, the risks will only continue to grow, and a repeated outbreak will have even more destructive consequences.  

Under the current conditions of this unprecedented cross-border challenge when a lot depends on the concerted efforts of states and governments, multilateral organisations and structures, Russia has actively joined the collective efforts of the international community. Thus, the practical aspects of countering the infection were discussed on July 14 at an international videoconference on cooperation in security during the COVID-19 pandemic at our initiative.


Update on inbound flights


Now, back to a subject that has become traditional over the past four months. I'm talking about helping our fellow citizens stranded abroad return home. Acting in close coordination with other departments in charge of the matter, Russian and international air carriers, and with the strong involvement of Russian diplomatic missions abroad, which found themselves at the forefront of the action, the Foreign Ministry continues to provide assistance to our compatriots who are unable to fly home for a number of reasons, including international logistics, internal restrictions in different countries, etc.

It was another week in our programme to assist Russian citizens to return home amid the pandemic. The statistics are as follows. Over the past week, we managed to help about 4,000 people return home, bringing the total to about 55,000 since the time this programme began. Of these, 45,000 people returned home on Russian flights.

Let me also remind you that during yesterday's meeting of the Government Coordination Council to control the incidence of the novel coronavirus infection, Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Chairperson of the Council Ms Golikova said that thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of Communications and Mass Media, the Federal Air Transport Agency, the Ministry of Transport and the Foreign Ministry over 266,000 Russians have returned home under the inbound flight programme over the entire period of the pandemic.

Homebound flights from Dushanbe, Almaty, Yerevan and Tashkent took place last week. The chances of getting home are improving for our compatriots stranded in European countries. Russian air carriers have organised more flights from Barcelona, Paris and London to Moscow.

On July 10, Aeroflot managed to perform the long-awaited flight from Los Angeles.

Once again, the flight geography is expanding all the time. On July 10, 108 Russian citizens and one Ukrainian citizen from Crimea were flown from Windhoek (Namibia) to Kaliningrad with a layover in Frankfurt, Germany. This challenging "hybrid" flight was made possible through the close cooperation of Russian diplomatic missions, in particular, in Namibia and Germany, and the strong involvement of the Kaliningrad Region Government.

Speaking of expanded geography, I'd be remiss not to mention the "African tour" that started tonight to bring home Russians stranded in Africa in the most difficult circumstances and in isolation from the rest of the world in the wake of the global lockdown. The Foreign Ministry managed to make this long-awaited and necessary project possible for returning our compatriots home. I'm talking about Tanzania, Liberia, Ghana, Cameroon, Uganda and Kenya. The aggregate flight time, we believe, will exceed 100 hours. This one-of-a-kind project will be carried out by three pilot crews. We will keep you posted on the developments.

The preparations took several weeks to complete and involved the efforts of many people. The most important and truly unique fact is that the number of people involved in this project by far exceeds the number of the returnees. We don't leave our people behind.

This flight was possible because of agreements with the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. It will pick up Russians from the countries that lie very far from our country, with which we have never had direct air connections. Amid a pandemic, making this flight seemed almost unrealistic, but let's hope for the best. Royal Flight Airlines will land in the capitals of seven countries. We have been in touch with the people who have been waiting for this flight for a long time now and have provided them with material and moral support. We hope they will get home eventually.

The inbound flight programme for the upcoming weeks will go beyond Africa. There will be a bevy of flights from the CIS countries. The inbound flight schedule already includes traditional flights from New York, Paris and Frankfurt. Returning to the topic of connections and transit flights to inbound flight airports, these connections can be used by anyone stranded in the countries where international air traffic has been restored and is functioning properly.

Once again I would like to remind everyone that in order for your connection to be smooth, we strongly recommend that you notify the Russian foreign missions in the host country of your plans to fly. Take my word for it, providing information in advance will save you trouble down the road.

Here's another useful piece of information. Please note that our official website (https://www.mid.ru) provides up-to-the-minute information about the foreign countries opening their (https://www.mid.ru/ru/informacia-dla-rossijskih-i-inostrannyh-grazdan-v-svazi-s-koronavirusnoj-infekciej/-/asset_publisher/UUDFpNltySPE/content/id/4229073), as well as information on all completed inbound flights (https://www.mid.ru/ru/vyvoznye-rejsy). This information is updated daily. Accordingly, we are tracking the pandemic situation in real time and can provide this information upon request.


Pet repatriation flight from Shanghai


I must mention that one of the most urgent problems for our citizens was not only the opportunity to get home but also to take home their pets. This subject may not seem serious enough for some people, but we understand after four months that it is indeed a burning issue. I can tell you about one case that attracted much public attention. On July 14, Aeroflot made a rather unusual repatriation flight from Shanghai to Moscow. A cargo plane brought 10 pets, including nine cats and dogs plus one ferret, back to their owners in Russia. The public eagerly followed this operation.

I want to remind you that earlier, on July 4, we arranged an inbound flight from Pudong International Airport for Russians stranded in China. However, for a variety of reasons – limited space, etc. – not all of them could take their pets.

These four-legged friends could be returned to their owners thanks to the joint efforts of volunteers with such projects as We Are Together and No One Gets Left Behind, members of various Russian public associations in China (in particular, the Russian Club in Shanghai) and, of course, employees of the Aeroflot cargo transport group. Our diplomats, namely the Consulate General in Shanghai, assisted in processing the documents required to allow the pets on board.

According to our information, at the time when this material was prepared, all the pets had safely made the nine-hour flight in a heated cargo compartment and after a veterinary checkup, reunited with their happy owners at last.


Upcoming visit of Minister of Foreign Affairs of Algeria Sabri Boukadoum


As a follow-up to the established practice of maintaining a dialogue on the topical aspects of bilateral relations and regional agenda Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria Sabri Boukadoum on July 22 in Moscow.

As is known, our country and Algeria are bound by the Declaration of Strategic Partnership signed in 2001. It sets out long-term reference points for our joint work. We have managed to considerably build up the foundations of our cooperation over a period of almost two decades.

Mutually beneficial ties in trade, the economy, military-technical, scientific and humanitarian spheres have been successfully developing. Trade between our countries amounted to $3.4 billion in 2019, which is a very significant indicator.

Algeria plays an important role in securing regional stability in North Africa. The country is making a weighty contribution to the fight against terrorism in the Sahara and Sahel region and taking active part in international efforts to reach national reconciliation in Mali and has a constructive intermediary potential in the Libyan settlement. 

We expect the upcoming talks to facilitate the strengthening of our multifaceted bilateral interaction.


Upcoming visit of President-Elect of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly Volkan Bozkir


On July 22-23 Volkan Bozkir, Turkey, will be visiting Moscow. He was elected President of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, which starts in New York in September.

On July 23. he will have detailed talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. They are expected to discuss topical international matters regarding the UN international agenda, raising the efficiency of UN activities as well as the modality of holding the future jubilee session of the UN General Assembly.

During his stay in Moscow, Mr Bozkir will also meet with the leaders of the Federation Council and the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation.


Syria update


Overall, we are aware of considerable tension on the ground in Syria, especially in the regions not controlled by Damascus, primarily Idlib and east of the Euphrates.

The Russian and Turkish military are working in Idlib under the Additional Protocol of March 5. They are focusing their efforts on creating a so-called safety corridor along the M4 motorway and on joint patrol missions. We would like to note that part of the road from Trumba to the Ain Al Havr settlement was completely cleared on July 7.

Nevertheless, the terrorist groups operating in the de-escalation zone continue to actively resist the Russian-Turkish efforts in a bid to destabilise the north-western regions of Syria. In practical terms, the fighters have increased the number of shelling raids on the positions of the Syrian Government's forces and nearby settlements. On July 11, they launched yet another attack on the Khmeimim air base using two drones. On July 14, a landmine blew up along the route of a Russian-Turkish patrol mission near the town of Ariha, reportedly wounding several servicemen. We will definitely not sit on our hands; we will fight back.

There are a number of explosion-prone factors in the regions east of the Euphrates, such as an increase in ISIS operations, the destabilising effect of the illegal US presence in the regions, growing protests by the local residents against Kurdish oppression and deteriorating humanitarian conditions, primarily in the camps for the internally displaced persons, due to the prevention of humanitarian deliveries. We believe that security and stability can only be ensured in the north-east of Syria on the basis of the full restoration of the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

We have noticed a "strange" pattern: terrorist groups have not been vanquished but are being incited to continue fighting in the areas illegally occupied by the US. It has been reported that the Americans are training and arming the fighters of the terrorist group Jaysh Maghawir al-Thawra in the Al Tanf deconfliction zone for subversive operations in other Syrian regions. According to media reports, the other day the Syrian military detained three extremists, who said they were involved in preparing attacks on Russian and Syrian facilities upon US instructors' orders.

The situation in Syria is being aggravated by the growing social and economic problems against the backdrop of the unilateral Western sanctions, which have been extended and increased contrary to the appeal by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to ease sanctions amid the pandemic. The proponents of sanctions pressure make no secret of their intention to strangle the Syrian economy and to increase the suffering of the Syrians so as to provoke social protests. They say openly that the restrictions will not affect the regions not controlled by the Damascus and the Syrian opposition. In addition to sanctions, they are also making active use of humanitarian instruments for attaining their political objectives, as proved by the recent discussions at the UN Security Council on the extension of the cross-border mechanism for humanitarian aid delivery into Syria. 

It is obvious that the main goal of the Western representatives was not to deliver emergency aid to those in need, but to infringe on the sovereignty of Syria and to undermine its unity. As for Russia, we would like to say once again that Russia has always advocated the mobilisation of international humanitarian assistance to all who need it throughout Syria without any discrimination, politicisation or preliminary conditions, and in coordination with the Syrian Government as stipulated by the norms of the international humanitarian law.


Update on Libya


The situation in Libya is causing serious concerns. Despite the fact that there has been no large-scale military activity during the past month, the developments on the ground remain tense. Reportedly, the opposing Libyan parties have simply taken time-out in order to recalibrate their forces before resuming armed confrontation. This may result in more casualties among the civilian population and further destruction of the socioeconomic infrastructure.

The threat of further internationalisation of the conflict is growing. In response to the Government of National Accord's appeal to the Turkish leadership for help with opposing the Libyan National Army, the House of Representatives, based in the east of the country, recently passed a decision that basically sanctions the involvement of Egyptian armed forces in the military action on the side of Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

We call for the warring Libyan parties to prevent a new spiral of escalation, to immediately and permanently cease fire and, of course, start an inclusive political dialogue based on the respective UNSC resolutions and decisions of the Berlin Conference on Libya.

Our stance is that the Libyan crisis does not have a military solution. All the existing problems and disagreements must be resolved through negotiations. We directly spoke about this to Deputy Chairman of the Government of National Accord Ahmed Maiteeq and Speaker of the House of Representatives Aguila Saleh when they were received in Moscow in June and July 2020.


Russian Foreign Ministry's report on observance of human rights in Ukraine


The Russian Foreign Ministry has prepared a report on the human rights situation in Ukraine. The report is published on the Foreign Ministry's official website at https://www.mid.ru/web/guest/maps/ua/-/asset_publisher/ktn0ZLTvbbS3/content/id/4232144

The report covers the problematic state of affairs with regard to observing human rights in Ukraine and presents data on the systemic violation of fundamental rights and freedoms. On a regular basis, Ukrainian officials adopt legislative acts that run counter to the norms of Ukrainian human rights law and international obligations with regard to the protection of human rights.

Under the artificially created pretext of fighting against "Russian aggression" and "separatism" in Ukraine, the Ukrainian officials persecute political opponents, independent journalists and media outlets as well as undesirable members of public organisations. The same contrived pretexts are used to justify the restriction of rights of internally displaced persons who fled from the area of the domestic armed conflict in the southeast of the country, as well as to justify the suppression of the rights of the Russian-speaking population and ethnic minorities, especially in education. The same reasons are used to support persecution of the clergy and parishioners of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and the campaign to forcibly takeover its parishes. Most recently, the officials have been referring to the novel coronavirus infection to justify these absolutely objectionable actions.

The Ukrainian officials are pursuing an intentional policy of justifying and glorifying Nazi criminals and their Ukrainian abettors. The distorted interpretation of the historical events of those years propagated by the officials, especially in education, is aimed at cultivating nationalist sentiments among the general public and primarily among the younger generation.

The far-right organisations operating in the country openly promote racial hatred, including racist ideology. As a result of this policy, people belonging to ethnic and national minorities often face discrimination and stigmatisation, including physical aggression. In this context, the rising number of incidents of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and vandalism targeting religious sites and places of worship is not surprising. It would be strange if this did not happen after so many years of absolutely uncontrollable or perhaps, on the contrary, well-directed radically-oriented nationalism.  

The numerous problems persistent in Ukraine regularly come onto the radar of international bodies monitoring human rights, treaty bodies involved in human rights protection, special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council as well as international and Ukrainian human rights NGOs. All these bodies note the systemic nature of violations in this area and point out, with great concern, that the exposed problems require most focused attention from the officials and significant efforts for their resolution.

Unfortunately, there has been no indication so far that the Ukrainian officials intend and are capable of rectifying this reprehensible situation.


The United States step up military aid to Ukraine


We have noted that the United States was systematically stepping up its military aid to Ukraine. Its draft defence budget for 2021 allocates for these purposes $250 million, with half of this sum intended for direct arms supplies.  It is also planned to draft a comprehensive programme to assist the development of Ukraine's Armed Forces.

The United States seems to be in the mood for using Ukraine's Enhanced Opportunity Partner status at NATO (the decision was approved on June 12, 2020) to consolidate its influence on the Ukrainian defence sector. Washington has always actively prodded Kiev towards reforming its military and converting its military-industrial complex to NATO standards.

By supporting, in this manner, the "party of war" in Kiev, the United States is actually encouraging the Ukrainian authorities to sabotage the Minsk agreements and to continue the hostilities in Donbass.   This makes it possible to foment the myth regarding the necessity to protect Ukraine from a certain "Russian threat" and to justify military reinforcement of NATO's eastern flank. And, of course, this enables the US to address its own mercantile problems, given the funds allocated to Ukraine in parallel with the introduction of NATO weapon standards.


Belgrade and Pristina resume a dialogue


We support Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic' efforts aimed at a peaceful settlement of the Kosovo problem, including as part of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.  We proceed from the assumption that the EU, which has been assigned a mediatory role in this process by a decision of the UN General Assembly, will perform its functions in good faith and work to achieve the implementation of the agreements reached by the sides.  Forming the Community of Serb Municipalities of Kosovo (CSMK), something that will create the conditions for the Serb population's survival, is of key importance. We must note with regret that the Pristina authorities have been sabotaging their commitment to establish CSMK for over seven years now.

It is at this angle that we are regarding the resumption of a dialogue between the sides in the videoconference format on July 12, as well as a direct face-to-face meeting of the participants scheduled for today in Brussels. Let me remind you that this has become possible after the Kosovo authorities cancelled their anti-Serb discriminatory trade measures that had been in effect for more than one and a half years, something that we repeatedly referred to.   

We would like to stress that the Russian position on Kosovo remains unchanged. We are in favour of Belgrade and Pristina achieving a viable and mutually acceptable solution based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244. It should primarily conform to international law and get the approval of the UN Security Council. It should also meet the interests of the people of Serbia.


The US State Department's statement on extending sanctions to Russian gas pipeline projects


We note Washington's surprising stubbornness in seeking to prove to the world what has already become an axiom – the fact that it has no arguments left internationally apart from sanctions. That its attempts to exert pressure very often focus on whatever is associated with Russia is nothing new. America's own allies in Europe catch some of it too. But this time, the Secretary of State himself has announced updates in the public guidance on Section 232 of the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) adopted in 2017. The Department of State explains that their implementation of Section 232 will now include investments or other activities related to a broader scope of Russian energy export pipelines, including Nord Stream 2 and the second line of TurkStream. The DOS has threatened that persons making such investments or engaging in such activities… may be subject to sanctions pursuant to Section 232.

The more I watch Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's interviews where he touches on the subject, the more I have the impression of watching a film from the Cold War period.    

It is common knowledge that the undertakings the DOS has mentioned are purely commercial projects. We, as well as our European partners, have told the Americans as much, based on figures, facts and calculations.

So it is logical to ask whether the State Department people have read the Act and its Section 232? We did. On numerous occasions we had to explain to our US partners the details of the international agreements and their own domestic laws, which they were referring to.  Let me repeat the trick.

Section 232 invoked by Secretary of State Pompeo says that the President may impose sanctions only "in coordination with allies of the United States."  I wonder if their decisions were coordinated with anyone at all? Berlin, perhaps? But it seems to me that in Germany only the lazy have not signalled their negative attitude to the hypothetical US sanctions against German companies. We will return to the German response later today.

I would like to ask my question again: Have they read through the Act that the State Department and its chief were referring to?   

What is clear is just one thing: the United States is pursuing its own time-serving economic interests in a bid to find a foothold in Europe as an energy supplier.  No holds barred! There is nothing that Washington would not use to achieve its goal. But they cannot be unaware that [the Europeans] will buy their expensive natural gas only if they are coerced into it. In an attempt to convince others that it is in the right, the US has used whatever it can think of, including the trite formula on the need to protect its European friends from "aggressive Russia."  We love this quote. But we would like to stress again that Secretary Pompeo's tough statements are unacceptable. Please reread Section 232.

Now let us look at Berlin's reaction. "The United States is disregarding Europe's right and sovereignty by threatening sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 project. Germany deems it necessary to develop a common approach to the policy of sanctions towards Russia but Washington's actions make this difficult," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.  "By announcing measures that will also sanction European companies, the US government is disregarding the right and sovereignty of Europe to decide where and how we source our energy. European energy policy is made in Europe and not in Washington. We clearly reject exterritorial sanctions," says Mr Maas in a statement circulated by the German Foreign Ministry.  

We cannot but agree with this. But there is just one "but." Possibly the problem is that they are beginning to articulate this formula only now, whereas they should have operated according to it somewhat earlier.


New expansion of the US Treasury sanctions list


We regret the July 15 decision of the US Treasury to add three Russian citizens and five Russian companies to the Sudan-related sanctions list.

We have put forth our position on this matter more than once. The allegations of "the hand of the Kremlin" throughout the world are nothing more than American paranoia. These sanctions are only putting extra strain on the already complicated relations between our countries.


US troop reduction in Afghanistan


We have taken note of a statement made by Assistant to the US Secretary of Defence for Public Affairs Jonathan Hoffman on the US's reduction of its forces in Afghanistan to a level stipulated in Washington's agreement with the Taliban for bringing peace to Afghanistan, as well as the transfer of five military bases to the Afghan National Security Forces.

We welcome the United States' compliance with its obligations under the Doha agreement and call on the United States, the Taliban and the Kabul Government to implement the other arrangements within the framework of settling the situation in Afghanistan, primarily when it comes to prisoner exchange and direct intra-Afghan talks.

We believe that a full withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and a direct and inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue, with the assistance of international partners, will put an end to a bloody multi-year war and will facilitate the establishment of a lasting peace in Afghanistan.


The practice of capital punishment in the United States


We have taken note of the decision of the US federal government to resume the execution of death row inmates after a 17-year moratorium on the federal death penalty. We believe that this decision, as well as the preservation of capital punishment in several states, contradicts US human rights obligations. This practice is unacceptable because the lethal injection is in violation of the international ban on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In light of the high risk of judicial mistakes and procedural violations, the use of capital punishment will deprive inmates of the right to a fair trial.

We are also concerned about the disproportionate use of capital punishment with regard to some groups of people, primarily on grounds of race. This practice is undermining the guarantees of equality of all before the law and the courts and is proof of discrimination against inmates in violation of international law in the field of human rights and freedoms.

The policy of the United States, which claims to be the leader of the democratic world, contradicts the universally accepted international standards of humane treatment of inmates.  The US authorities are violating not only the rights of their own citizens but also foreigners sentenced to capital punishment. Many of them have no access to procedural guarantees and assistance, because the United States is not complying with its obligations under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations to promptly notify the consular offices of the inmates' countries of origin. It is regrettable that after losing the LaGrand and Avena cases in the UN International Court of Justice the United States has withdrawn its agreement to recognise as compulsory the jurisdiction of the supreme UN judicial authority related to the application of the Vienna Convention, which has had a negative impact on the legal protection of foreign inmates in US prisons.

We call on the US authorities to refrain from authorising the death penalty at the federal level, to abolish the application of this practice, which contradicts current human rights standards, in the states where it is being used, and to fulfil in good faith its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.


The UK government's statement on Russia's interference in 2019 election


The UK Government announced, through its Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, that it sees "no evidence of a broad-spectrum Russian campaign" in the 2019 elections to the British Parliament, but still calls such attempts unacceptable.

Also, Mr Raab mentioned an ongoing criminal investigation of some sort, "there is an ongoing criminal investigation and it would be inappropriate for us to say anything further at this point."

That statement is so vague and contradictory that it is almost impossible to figure out what he meant. If it's inappropriate to talk about it, don't talk. If you're talking anyway, then present the facts.

What is it about? Let's look into it. On the one hand, there is no evidence, on the other hand, they are talking about some kind of retaliation. These are mutually exclusive things. One gets the impression that another round of the "highly likely" tactic is about to begin.

I read the original publication. Clearly, having analysed the experience of previous years, the British government has come to the correct conclusion that the term "highly likely" no longer makes any sense. So, they chose a different term. The British government has bestowed a new gem upon us today – "almost certain." The "almost certain" has replaced "highly likely," but the tactics haven't changed.


Appointing the heads of the OSCE executive bodies


The term of office for OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Lamberto Zannier and OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir expires on July 18. Russia did not object to extending their term in office for three more years.

No consensus was reached. A number of countries were concerned about the items on the agenda and complained about the work of these executive bodies reflecting the crisis events in this organisation. As a result, the OSCE Albanian Chairmanship-in-Office announced a competition to fill these positions. Applications can be filed until September 18. The appointment will take place during the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Tirana on December 3-4.

In recent years, Russia has repeatedly drawn attention to the system-wide shortcomings in OSCE functioning, geographic and thematic imbalances, and the lack of effective consideration for the entire spectrum of the participating states' opinions.

The situation where the Secretariat and OSCE institutions were left without full leadership confirms the long-overdue need for deep reform in this organisation, including the development of a Charter (constituent document), operating rules for the executive bodies, increased efficiency in preparing multilateral conferences and consultations, etc. We hope the current institutional crisis at the OSCE will spur substantive efforts in this area.

We consider it critically important to rectify the insupportable situation during the competition to fill the senior position vacancies at the OSCE, when in all the years of the OSCE's existence there has not been a single representative from the CIS countries in these positions. This runs counter to the fundamental principles of the OSCE and its procedural rules and principles that enshrine the equality of all participating states.

Today, we sent a letter to the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir, with whom we have successfully interacted over the years. We highly appreciate this interaction. It has not been problem-free, but it has been constructive. I would like to mention a major event such as the Conference on Freedom of the Media and Safety of Journalists in Moscow co-hosted by Russia and the OSCE. At this point, this is a farewell letter, but who knows, maybe we will continue to interact with Mr Desir in the future. We will follow his work, considering that over the years he has become a genuine professional in his field. We look forward to continuing our interaction.


Opening of an Orthodox chapel at the burial site of Red Army soldiers in Estonia


On July 14, the opening ceremony of an Orthodox chapel built at the mass burial site of Red Army soldiers who perished when liberating this area from the Nazi invaders took place in Maardu, Estonia. Without exaggeration, funds for the project were raised throughout the entire world. The Estonians were enthusiastic about the idea. The necessary funds were raised in record time: it took less than a year for the new Chapel of St George to open its doors to parishioners.

The opening ceremony was attended by senior diplomats from Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan as well as Maardu Mayor Vladimir Arkhipov, Tallinn Deputy Mayor Vadim Belobrovtsev and activists from veteran organisations. The chapel was consecrated by the Metropolitan of Tallinn and All Estonia Eugene.


The 55th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and the Republic of the Gambia


On July 17, we will mark the 55th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and the Republic of the Gambia. It has been agreed that the two countries' foreign ministers will exchange messages of greetings on this occasion.

Russian-Gambian friendship has always been based on the principles of equality and mutual respect. At present, active efforts are being taken to take advantage of the potential of bilateral collaboration in the field of politics, trade, the economy and humanitarian interaction.

The people of the Gambia have covered a difficult path from the colonial yoke to independence and a sovereign state. The Portuguese were the first European nation to settle in the Gambia in the 15th century, but their place was taken by the British Empire in the 17th century. The Gambia was granted full internal self-governance in 1963 and achieved independence on February 18, 1965, when its constitution came into effect.

The Republic of the Gambia is now moving forward on the path of democratic development and progress. We wholeheartedly support the Gambian authorities' resolve to expand the entire range of relations with Russia and are ready to further develop our mutually beneficial cooperation.

We congratulate the people of the Gambia on the 55th anniversary of Russian-Gambian relations and would like to wish them every success, peace, prosperity and welfare.


Answers to media questions:

Question: Could a meeting be held at the level of the foreign ministers of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, or at any other level, to discuss the recent escalation on the Azerbaijan-Armenia border? Have the conflicting parties asked Russia to help settle the problem? What efforts have been taken in this connection? What is the Russian Foreign Ministry's opinion of the obtaining situation?

Maria Zakharova: The July 13 statement by the Foreign Ministry of Russia and press releases on telephone conversations held by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with Foreign Minister of Armenia Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Elmar Mammadyarov, as well as a statement issued by the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group include a call on the sides to take the necessary measures to prevent any further escalation and to resume substantive talks without delay.

We will duly inform the media when we have any information about Sergey Lavrov's possible meetings with his colleagues. At this moment I have no such information.

The Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry of Russia are working with their Azerbaijani and Armenian colleagues to prevent any further escalation and to promote normalisation between the sides.

Question: Article 9 of the Joint Soviet-Japanese Declaration of 1956 reads that the Soviet Union "agrees to transfer to Japan the Habomai Islands and the island of Shikotan, the actual transfer of these islands to Japan to take place after the conclusion of a peace treaty" between the Soviet Union and Japan. One of the amendments recently approved to the Russian Constitution prohibits the transfer of national territory with the exception of cases of delimitation, demarcation and re-demarcation of the Russian border with the adjacent states. Can this exception be applied to the 1956 Declaration?

Maria Zakharova: First of all, I would like to say that neither the demarcation, nor the delimitation of borders has any connection to the talks on a peace treaty with Japan.

Our dialogue with Tokyo has always been based on the principle of the inviolability of our borders, and we have always pointed out the need for Japan's full recognition of the results of WWII, including the legal possession of the South Kuril Islands by the Russian Federation. No changes are possible in this position, and now this principle has been clearly expressed in the Constitution of Russia.

We believe that the goal of our talks should be the signing of a fundamental document that would be more embracing than just a peace treaty. What we have in mind is a treaty of peace, friendship, neighbourliness and cooperation, which will provide a solid and modern legal basis for advancing our relations to a fundamentally new level.

Question: Last month, a German company specialising in electronic payment services went bankrupt amid a fraud scandal. We know that the company's COO has shown traders in London some documents leaked from the OPCW concerning the poisoning of Sergey and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury in 2018 and other people in neighboring Amesbury, also affected by a nerve agent at the same time. He never told the traders how he got those documents. A former commander of the UK's chemical and biological weapons regiment told The Financial Times that the documents could have been leaked from Russia, adding that Russia had orchestrated a major misinformation campaign to discredit the UK investigation and undermine the credibility of the OPCW. Can you comment on these statements?

Maria Zakharova: Your question contains a lot of information. It is very indicative. All I can say to this is we do not know what exactly the Irish police found during the search of the Dublin office of the bankrupt German company. As you said, this firm specialised in electronic payment services and hardly had anything to do with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Regarding the role of the OPCW in relation to the Salisbury incident, it should not be forgotten that the British authorities immediately rejected our proposal to hold consultations on the Skripal case in accordance with paragraph 2 of Article IX of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to remove whatever far-fetched concerns they had. So the OPCW just retreated to purely technical assistance under paragraph 38 (f) of Article VIII of the CWC. At the request of the United Kingdom, Technical Secretariat experts simply confirmed the presence of chemicals in the so-called Novichok class in the samples given to them.

It is noteworthy that none of the experts were able to identify the geographical origin of the chemical compounds found. Therefore, we have no idea whatsoever of the rationale applied by those who suddenly admitted the possibility of some Russian footprint in this highly dubious story. Most likely, these fantasies (and this is how they should be qualified) should be considered in the context of London's tactics of accusing Russia in their preferred "highly likely" style we know so well (now elevated to a new level – "almost certain").

In general, it seems more appropriate to ask the initiators of this Russophobic hoax for clarification. Apparently, this was done just to keep this fabricated Skripal case story afloat. Why London would want to go around in a new circle (something that's obvious now, given today's statements and the Financial Times' quite coincidental interest in this topic) is a big question.

Question: What can you tell us about Syria's preparations for parliamentary elections on July 19? How will these elections impact the settlement of the crisis in that country? What does Russia think about the forthcoming elections at a time when the US is increasing its economic pressure on Syria by adopting the so-called "Caesar Act"? 

Maria Zakharova: We know that Syria has scheduled parliamentary elections. We believe it is important to ensure the normal functioning of all institutional authority – both legislative and executive. This will maintain stability and prevent a Libyan scenario.

We consider it important to hold elections in conformity with the current Constitution. Any other comment will be released after the elections.

Question: On July 13, the Interim Commission of the Federation Council on Information Policy and Cooperation with the Media urged the Russian Foreign Ministry and other bodies of executive authority to take political and other measures within their competence in response to the illegal actions of the Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian authorities as regards the Russian media. Can the Russian Government take actions that will be tough enough to prevent the authorities of the Baltic republics from being disrespectful to Russia? Will Russia adopt economic sanctions?

Maria Zakharova: We are talking about the media. The Foreign Ministry is now working on a proposal for such measures.

Question: A joint article was published recently by Lithuanian Seimas Deputy Emanuelis Zingeris and Chair of the Lithuanian Jewish community Faina Kukliansky on World War II. It distorts the facts of Lithuanian history during the Great Patriotic War, which were mentioned in the article by President of Russia Vladimir Putin. What could you say about this article?

Maria Zakharova: Regrettably, this article is fully in line with the Russophobic policy actively pursued by Lithuanian leaders in the past few years and their attempts to whitewash the Nazi's Lithuanian accomplices and those involved in the postwar criminal groups, the so-called "forest brothers" that are guilty of large-scale annihilation of civilians, and to impose their ideology on society. Moreover, the authors of the article ignored some facts they considered inconvenient, notably, the published data on the numerical strength of the Lithuanian Jewish community and the real reasons for its changes during the war. Thus, they completely ignored the fact that during the occupation of Lithuania by Hitler's Germany, the Nazis and their Lithuanian accomplices killed about 95 percent of the Lithuanian Jewish community. They also ignored the expert opinion of the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum regarding the positive reaction of Lithuanian Jews to the accession to the USSR and a number of other historical facts.

At the same time, the response of different representatives of the Jewish community to this article shows that it reflects the opinion of individuals that are making incompetent attempts to present it as the opinion of the entire national minority.

Meanwhile, manifestations of neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism continue gaining momentum in Lithuania, which is a fact. The media has reported on many incidents that took place at the end of last month: on June 23, radicals threatened the editor of the musuzidai.lt website Yakov Finkel; on June 26, Jewish religious sites were desecrated in Vilnius; and on June 29, a similar incident took place in Kaunas.

Detailed information on manifestations of neo-Nazism, anti-Semitism and race discrimination in Lithuania are cited in the relevant section of the Foreign Ministry report regarding the situation with the glorification of Nazism and the spread of neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. This document is accessible on the Foreign Ministry website. It describes the efforts of Lithuanian leaders to falsify the history of WWII, groundlessly distort the liberation of the Baltic republics from the Nazis by the USSR and the Red Army, and prosecute anti-Nazi activists.

We would like to advise the Lithuanian authors of this article to learn the facts described in the relevant Foreign Ministry report instead of making an awkward attempt to distort the tragic events of history.

Question: Reportedly, Sitka, Alaska town officials have decided to move the monument to the ruler of the Russian settlements of Alaska Alexander Baranov from the town park to a museum, where it will be displayed in a historical context. What's your take on this move? Do you agree with the reason mentioned in the resolution on moving the monument, that Alexander Baranov exercised direct supervision over the enslavement of the Tlingit and Aleut peoples and that his actions have affected the indigenous peoples to this day? Do you plan to negotiate possible repatriation of the monument?

Maria Zakharova: We regret the recent decision by the Sitka town authorities to relocate the monument to Alexander Baranov erected in 1989 from the town park to a museum. Clearly, it was made amid a highly emotional atmosphere in the wake of a campaign to demolish monuments that swept the United States.

We are aware that many Americans advocated keeping the monument in place. Generally speaking, they have a lot of respect for our common historical heritage and Russia's role in developing Alaska. It is certainly wrong and unfair to deny Baranov's vast constructive contribution. He spearheaded the construction of over 200 towns and settlements, including Russian America's capital Novoarkhangelsk, later renamed Sitka, schools, libraries and hospitals.

As you may be aware, a symbolic ceremony of reconciliation with the participation of the descendants of the Russian pioneer and Tlingit Indian tribe was held back in 2004. The Russian-speaking community in the United States tried to re-direct discussions around the monument into a constructive channel. The corresponding petitions by the Coordinating Council of Organisations of Russian Compatriots in the United States and the Congress of Russian Americans have collected about 6,000 signatures.

The situation was widely covered in our country as well. There were even suggestions to bring the monument back to Russia, but the Sitka town officials decided to keep it and move it to a museum. For our part, we will continue to keep an eye on the fate of the monument.

In general, we believe that our common history should be the subject of a mutually respectful dialogue and bring the peoples of Russia and the United States closer rather than be politicised to suit fleeting interests.

Also, please see the Ambassador of Russia to the United States Anatoly Antonov's comments on this matter.

Question: In recent months, the Foreign Ministry has taken on the mission of repatriating Russian citizens from other countries. This required major efforts on the part of Russian diplomatic missions and the Government in general. At this point, we know that Russia could resume international flights, which means that Russian citizens will again be able to travel abroad. What is your take on this?

Maria Zakharova: We were not involved in "repatriation" per se. We assisted Russian citizens who wanted to return home in the usual, traditional way, but were unable to do so amid the global lockdown. The Foreign Ministry did this as part of a team led by the Russian Government and the Emergency Response Centre. Several Russian departments and our foreign missions around the world took part in this effort.

With regard to, as you write, resuming international flights and regular flights by Russian airlines, this matter is now being discussed by the corresponding departments. The decision will be made by the Government.

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