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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow, July 23, 2020

23 July 202022:23

Coronavirus infection update

Over the past week, the number of coronavirus cases around the world has reached 15 million, confirming expert views on the intensification of the spread of the infection: the daily increase has stabilised over the past few days at over 200,000 people. The pathogen is mutating, and we now have its more aggressive variations. Second waves and recurrences of the disease have been reported in some countries and regions where the spread of the infection seemed to be decreasing.

The World Health Organisation continues to insist on the imperative need to remain vigilant in the face of these quite real risks. Its official representatives, including Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, have more than once warned about the unjustified and premature complacency, disregard for simply safety measures and the hasty lifting of the coronavirus restrictions. According to the WHO, success depends on an objective balance between the governments' decision to ease restrictions and the real sanitary and epidemiological background in their countries and around them. It is extremely important to consistently combine the efforts of the international community to effectively respond to the global epidemiological threat.

Assisting repatriation of Russian citizens

I would like to report on last week's efforts to repatriate Russian citizens. The people's circumstances are changing. However, we continue to provide assistance to them through the combined efforts of Russian agencies and civil society. The other day it was four months since we launched a programme to evacuate the Russian citizens who were in a difficult situation abroad amid the coronavirus. As of today, we have repatriated more than 61,000 since we first used the evacuation algorithm in early April. Of these, over 49,000 returned home on Russian air carrier flights and over 11,000 were evacuated by special flights organised by foreign airlines. We maintain close contact with our foreign partners.

A symbolic but not the final event in this programme, which is not over yet, was a unique operation planned to evacuate our citizens from eight African countries and Jordan. The flight that is now known as Afrikanskoye Koltso (African Ring) has become a symbolic achievement of those who have been working around the clock for the past four months to bring our compatriots back home, whatever the circumstances.

Within a period of four days, a Royal Flight plane took off and landed nine times, including six times within one day, in seven states – Tanzania, Liberia, Ghana, Cameroun, Uganda, Kenya and Jordan, so as to be able to bring back home 205 passengers, including 197 Russian citizens plus citizens of Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Iraq.

We have made several complicated flights. When I say "we" I want to emphasise the combined efforts of Russian executive bodies and civil society, including active people with a civic stand, volunteers and, of course, our businesses. These complicated flights have been made to Africa and Latin America, and their logistics is truly unprecedented. I would like to express our special thanks to the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, which has made this project possible through its financial assistance. This is a vivid example of cooperation between the state and socially responsible businesses.

In addition to Africa, we continue monitoring the situation in other countries where Russian citizens are waiting for repatriation. We have had the now traditional flights from Thailand (a combined flight from Bangkok and Phuket), Alicante, Belgrade, Paris, Dushanbe, Bishkek and Tashkent, Seoul and New York. We have made the long delayed evacuation flight from Baku. Our plans for next week include flights from CIS and European capitals, New York and Seoul plus one more evacuation flight from the Philippines.

It is a dramatic story. We have organised two evacuation flights from the Philippines, but it turned out a month later that there were still very many people there who wanted to return home but could not do this before for a number of reasons. We hope that all those who want to leave the Philippines will take advantage of this opportunity, because regular flights are unlikely to be resumed soon.


Developments involving Russian citizens kept in penitentiaries on the territory of foreign states in the context of COVID-19 pandemic

I would like to discuss a topical subject and say a few words about the developments involving Russian citizens kept in penitentiaries on the territory of foreign states in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Against the global pandemic background, the Russian Foreign Ministry's missions abroad have been focusing on the conditions in which Russian citizens are kept at penitentiaries on the territory of foreign states. Given the relevant prerequisites, they explore the possibility, jointly with the host country authorities, of varying the preventive or punitive measure taken against them, including the early release from custody (particularly in the cases involving minor offenses), specifically with account taken of the humanitarian aspects and the need to abide by the sanitary rules amid a dramatic aggravation of the epidemiological situation. 

Decisions on an amnesty or the conditional early release taken by the relevant authorities do not apply, in the majority of cases, to the serious and most serious crimes.  In certain instances, a favourable attitude to a relevant application concerning foreign citizens serving sentences for having committed minor offenses is conditional on their immediate departure to the state of citizenship (with a ban on subsequent entry within the next few years). Given the persisting restrictions on trans-border travel, meeting this condition is highly problematic in the present-day environment.

Nevertheless, there are positive signals as well, coming primarily from countries of the former USSR. As of early July, Russian missions abroad have reported that one Russian citizen has been amnestied in Azerbaijan and 21 Russians (ten of them sentenced for minor offenses, 3 for serious crimes, and 8 for extremely serious crimes) have had their uncompleted prison terms reduced in Kyrgyzstan. 

The majority of Russian missions abroad note that there is no surge of complaints from Russian citizens as regards their detention conditions in the current situation, specifically complaints about compliance with sanitary and epidemiological regulations and availability or otherwise of timely medical aid.   

At the same time, we still feel highly concerned over the situation in the United States. The US authorities consciously avoid delivering on the unconditional duty to notify Russian consular officials of an arrest or detention of this or that Russian citizen, a duty imposed on them by the Bilateral Consular Convention of 1964. The Embassy's relevant appeals to the US Department of State, requesting them to provide a list of names of Russian citizens under investigation or serving a sentence in US prisons usually remain without a reply.

We are also concerned with how the US side performs its obligations regarding the notification timeframes (one to three days) and the timeframe within which a consul is allowed to visit a detainee (two to four days after the detention or arrest depending on the location). We again call on our US colleagues to abide by the said Consular Convention.

Russian humanitarian aid to Abkhazia in countering COVID-19

I would also just like to say a few words about the humanitarian aid that we are providing to various countries that have asked us for help. From the outset of the pandemic, at the request of the Abkhazian side we have been supplying gratis Vektor test kits for the laboratories diagnosing the novel coronavirus. Regular assistance, including diagnostics, is provided by the reference centre of the Stavropol Research Antiplague Institute, where Abkhazian specialists were trained in using the test kits.

In addition to this, at Sukhum's request a combined medical team of the Black Sea Fleet 4th separate regiment of radiation, chemical and biological defence disinfected such facilities as hospitals, markets, government institutions and border checkpoints in Abkhazia from April 18 to May 18.

We are ready to extend the necessary assistance further.

Russian humanitarian aid to Kyrgyzstan in countering COVID-19

Russia is also supporting Kyrgyzstan in combatting the coronavirus. The Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare has provided Kyrgyzstan with three mobile laboratories, 1570 test kits for diagnosing the disease (to make 157,000 tests) with the necessary amount of chemicals and 10 devices for remotely taking the temperatures of people. We have also been providing consultations together with scientific and methodological support. A Rospotrebnadzor delegation went to Kyrgyzstan to give advice on how to organise antivirus activities in early July.

In view of the aggravated epidemiological situation in Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Government decided to extend to its people urgent humanitarian aid.

On July 22, a Russian Defence Ministry cargo plane delivered to Kyrgyzstan six medical teams (19 people), special medical equipment, PPE, disinfectant and medicine.

On the morning of July 23, a Russian EMERCOM plane took off for Bishkek and delivered 58 Russian medical workers, who are going to be working in Kyrgyz medical facilities. A Russian EMERCOM plane will soon (tentatively on July 25) take medicine and medical equipment to Bishkek.

Possibility of obtaining free visas after restrictions on entering Russia are lifted

Visas issuance by Russian consular missions was temporarily suspended pursuant to Government Directive No. 635-r of March 16, 2020.

After Russian missions abroad resume working on visas, foreign citizens will get an opportunity to obtain visas without having to pay any consular fees and processing costs if all the following conditions are met:

- the applicant's passport has an unused single (double entry) visa effective not earlier than  March 15, 2020;

- the applicant submitted documents giving grounds for issuing a similar or  a visa for less visits for another time;

- the visa expires within six months after the Government Directive No. 635-r of March 16, 2020 is declared cancelled.

All these conditions must be met to get the relevant service.

Together with the documents giving grounds for obtaining a new visa the applicant should file a written application (in free form) to the head of the consular mission for exemption from the already mentioned payments because of an event of force majeure. In this case we will proceed from the decision taken by the Russian authorities that restricted entry into the territory of the Russian Federation that did not allow the person concerned to travel on the earlier issued visa.

Foreign Ministry website publishes Russia's position on upcoming UN General Assembly's 75th session

As you are aware, the 74th session of the UN General Assembly is coming to an end. We are awaiting the next session, the 75th, which will begin on September 15. In this regard, the Foreign Ministry website has published material related to Russia's position on the upcoming 75th anniversary session. This sets out our country's approaches to the entire range of international subjects on the agenda.

Results of 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

This is another matter related to the United Nations. While we are awaiting the 75th anniversary session, the 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council has just concluded in Geneva. It took place from June 30 to July 17. The restrictions the UN adopted due to the pandemic have influenced the process and character of the session. It was held without delegations from the capitals. The Council adopted 23 resolutions, approved the results of Spain and Bahrein's Universal Periodic Review and appointed four experts at the new openings of the special procedures of the Human Rights Council.

We have to note that the session has also shown the inability of Western countries and developed economies to rise above their self-serving interests and show solidarity against the backdrop of global challenges, such as COVID-19. They did the opposite and picked confrontation.

It has resulted in an extreme political engagement and way too emotional discussion of the developments in the Philippines, Venezuela, Eritrea, Belarus, Myanmar, Nicaragua and Burundi. The Council approved resolutions on the human rights situation in Syria and Eritrea that have long been out of touch with real developments in those countries.

We would like to dwell upon the adoption by the Human Rights Council, at the initiative of Brussels, of a resolution on human rights in Belarus prior to the presidential election in that country on August 9. Against the backdrop of the never-ending list of accusations made by Western partners about alleged Russian interference in the elections in their countries, without any proof as always, we are perplexed by the fact that they are absolutely okay with their own, not alleged, interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state by initiating such decisions of the Council. We consider this approach unacceptable.

It is sad that many so-called developed democracies have taken advantage of the restricted organisational parameters of the work of the Council when a comprehensive review of the initiatives is impossible, for adopting such controversial, not yet reflected in international law concepts, like the responsibility to protect and to hold peaceful protests, as well as for promoting their own interpretation of the goals and principles of the UN Charter with a view to redesign the entire architecture of international relations.

We are disappointed by the persisting inability of some of our colleagues in the Council to hold an open and equal dialogue and take into account the concerns and interests of other countries. We would like to again urge our Western partners to join efforts and bring the Council back to mutually respectful and equal cooperation in the human rights area.

Financial scams of White Helmets founder James Le Mesurier

I would like to say a few words about Syria; however, I will not give any assessments of the situation – something we do regularly anyway – but will focus on something we have not spoken about for a long time – the White Helmets. What I want to do is to show the international public that the White Helmets are not humanitarian workers or an NGO trying to help people. This is just a false story, a deception, a fake, disinformation, which has long gone beyond the legal framework.

Strange as it might seem, such assessments can be found in the media of  Western states, even though for a long time, it was the Western media that stubbornly imposed a biased approach and profusely praised the pseudo-humanitarian group's activity in Syria. The White Helmets members were described as some impartial hero-rescuers risking their lives to save the local civilian population, victims of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and his allies, as they wrote. In general, this rhetoric has not changed. Western sponsors have not given up their support for the White Helmets and affiliated groups.

For our part, we have noted more than once that the flashy pious facade of their humanitarian 'brand' hides looting, racketeering, robbery, deliberate misinformation, staged chemical attacks, air and artillery strikes and downright complicity in terrorism. Well, journalists seem to have finally become interested, and have decided to take a closer look, beyond the facade of the propaganda that the Western community has spouted into the world for many years. So they have conducted an investigation of their own.

One of the leading Dutch newspapers, De Volkskrant, recently ran an article about financial fraud committed by none other than James Le Mesurier, the founder of the White Helmets and former director of the non-profit Mayday Rescue Foundation, who died on November 11, 2019 in Istanbul. It appears that the man lived in grand style, with a monthly salary of 24,000 euros, an apartment and a luxury villa in Istanbul, as well as a luxury apartment in Amsterdam worth more than 1.5 million euros. He was fabulously, incredibly rich, on a scale that does not fit in with the picture of Mayday Rescue or the White Helmets' declared activities.

The journalistic investigation carried out by the newspaper revealed that Le Mesurier was not particularly honest in financial matters. For example, in the summer of 2018, he was apparently caught trying to steal 50,000 euros during the White Helmets' evacuation to Jordan. Even before that, Dutch regulators already had a long list of questions about the Briton's activities, seeking, for example, explanations for the unjustifiably high salaries and broad privileges of the Mayday Rescue leaders, the NGO's substandard financial transparency, conflict of interest, and tax evasion in the Netherlands. That is an outside perspective, providing an opportunity to find out what the White Helmets were doing, as well as all there is to know about the life of that pseudo-humanitarian agency's leaders, not just ordinary members.

All this once again confirms that the management of the White Helmets, shamelessly putting their hands into taxpayers' pockets in countries that sponsored them, were obviously prioritising their own selfish criminal interests. The customers and masterminds of the project were never particularly bothered about what Syrian civilians wanted, simply using them as a cover. They never cared about what was happening in Syria, or about any stability in that country. It is not surprising that their subordinates, having learned the ropes of the bloody business, cooperated with terrorists and facilitated their atrocious crimes.

It is difficult to imagine that after the high-profile journalistic revelations by De Volkskrant, there will be any Western propagandists left who will continue to exonerate those pseudo-humanitarian workers with their tarnished reputations, or to present them as benefactors. Their helmets are no longer white.


US efforts to offset Russian influence in Africa

We have noted that the US Department of State is allocating grants to journalists, education institutions and NGOs of African countries for countering alleged Russian propaganda in media space. Under the pretext of increasing the transparency of state institutions and boosting the stability of the judicial system on the African continent, they are financing efforts to search for the "Kremlin's hand" in the spirit of a real "witch hunt." As I see it, the current situation in the United States is not the best moment for establishing order on the African continent. The United States should better start with itself, and it has a lot of work to do.

We have no choice but to comment and explain why we perceive this as Washington's striving to eliminate the favourable regional socio-political background with regard to Russia that became particularly obvious following the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi in October 2019. It appears that the United States is deliberately encouraging anti-Russia publications in some African media outlets and is trying to portray Russia as a destabilising force. We are confident that such methods of unfair competition and misinformation show that there is no hard evidence confirming the so-called Russian policy of propaganda and misinformation, and this is also the consequence of weak US approaches in the field of public diplomacy.

The allocation of grants fits into the White House's efforts to promote the idea that there is no alternative to Western concepts regarding state governance and the imposition of alien values on sovereign states.

We see this as yet another manifestation of neo-colonialism and an element of covertly formalising inequality in the overall system of international ties. In the context of the 60th anniversary of passing the UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, due to be marked in December, we are urging our US colleagues to follow the spirit of this highly important historical document and to completely renounce their mentor-like attitude towards developing countries.

Anti-Russia accusations regarding alleged hacker attacks to obtain access to Western COVID-19 vaccine projects

We resolutely reject another absurd media story by our Anglo-Saxon "friends" from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom regarding an alleged hacker attack to obtain access to Western COVID-19 vaccine projects. We have repeatedly noted that Russian state agencies have never had anything to do with these accusations. In reality, we have been successfully cooperating on this topical global problem with many countries, including the above-mentioned countries. It is simply indecent and sacrilegious to try and exploit this sensitive subject.

We don't understand the reasons for once again whipping up an anti-Russia hysteria around the hacker story at a time when everyone is already sick and tired of it. This is all ridiculous and amounts to yet another Russo-phobic attack.

We would like to advise the British National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) which is successfully promoting this fake story to rely on information backed by specific and irrefutable evidence, instead of claiming 95-percent certainty all over the world. We have already heard about the "highly likely" concept that was replaced by the "almost likely" term. And now, they are talking about 95-percnt certainty. Please come again when you score 100 percent.

US sanctions against foreign companies

We have taken note of one more strange US political action. On July 15, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced visa restrictions on high-ranking officials of the Chinese IT giant Huawei and a number of its counteragents.

Chinese companies have been accused of incredible activities that have nothing to do with their commercial operations, such as censorship, the persecution of political dissidents, the establishment of total control over Chinese citizens and illegal collection of their personal data.

It appears that Washington is using every available opportunity to use non-market and extraterritorial methods and illicit techniques to elbow a strong high-tech rival out of the market. Moreover, these techniques are prohibited in the United States itself. Just recall what Washington said some 10 years ago when it was promoting its information technology throughout the world. A large group of American politicians are demonising those who are undermining the US monopoly on the growing market of 5G information and communication technology. The financial sanctions have now been complemented with visa restrictions based on the selective application of the US Immigration and Nationality Act against foreign citizens who have become undesirable for various reasons.

We regret Washington's dangerous policy of using tough-line measures to elbow rival high-tech companies out of the international markets, especially amid the difficult conditions created by the coronavirus pandemic when hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs. During this difficult period, information technology has become the lifeline for people who had to stay home for months on end and could not communicate with their family members, relatives and friends around the planet in any other way. Such irresponsible actions are clearly not helping the world to overcome the ongoing economic crisis.

Another component of this policy of restraints, sanctions and aggressive pressure is the US order that China close its consulate in Houston, Texas. It appears that countries that uphold their interests, promote their economies in a legitimate manner and refuse to yield to illegitimate US actions are immediately faced with sanctions, threats, stop lists, the seizure of people and assets, and the closure of their embassies and consulates. We have seen this taking place for years now, under different US administrations and contrary to the values which Washington has been spreading around the world.

Report by Commission on Inalienable Rights at US Department of State

We have thoroughly familiarised ourselves with the report prepared by the Commission on Inalienable Rights under the US State Department. We noted the fairly self-critical nature of the purported goal of this study which is whether Washington can still claim the role of the global leader in promoting the human rights agenda in third countries. Why waste time on research and reports? Just ask us. We would have provided a short and clear answer.

Framing the question like that appears as bold as never before, and resolute, too, amid the ongoing domestic unrest and numerous protests in the wake of George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis by law enforcement officers.

Unfortunately, the 60-page-long report about the Commission's work does not have a slightest trace of an analysis of the problems regarding human rights in the United States. Based on this report, such a problem doesn't exist. There's footage of what is happening there, but there's no such problem according to the report. The report itself and its outcomes are a case of blatant propaganda of American exceptionalism when it comes to articulating and promoting one's own, hence, "correct" vision of the human rights concept, which we are accustomed to. In fact, the commission has arrived at an interesting conclusion that without the Americans, fundamental freedoms and rights would not have been so well developed and the UN with its human rights mechanisms wouldn't have been created.

This finding looks at least strange amid, to put it mildly, Washington's "sluggish" involvement in international human rights mechanisms. Of nine main human rights treaties, the United States participates only in three, and even then with many reservations. For example, unlike Russia, Washington does not allow its citizens to turn to treaty bodies with their complaints about their rights' violation. It sounds very "liberal and "democratic." The demonstrative boycott of the UN Human Rights Council, the main UN body in this area, by the "world leader in the field of human rights," which we talked about today, doesn't make sense. This is an actual boycott. It would also be a good idea to sort out the undercurrents of the reservation to Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits any propaganda of war, made by the United States, which is a permanent member of the UN Security Council bearing special responsibility for maintaining international peace and security.

Washington's policy seeking to build an hierarchy of human rights and freedoms set out in the report gives rise to many questions, including those of a purely legal nature. The history of humankind has taught us enough lessons in this sphere, so as to kill the temptation to discuss again what is primary and what is secondary. I would like to remind our US colleagues that international law has long and clearly enshrined the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interconnectedness of all human rights.

Such an unceremonious disregard for the international law fundamentals, especially amid persisting large-scale systematic violations of human rights in the United States itself and failure to observe them with regard to citizens of other countries deprives Washington of the moral right to put forward any claims against the governments of third countries. In this regard, we would like to recommend our US partners to get busy with real problems at home. We've been talking fairly often about this lately. Also, there's an important problem of racial discrimination. These problems became the object of attention of international bodies such as the UN Human Rights Council, which held a special meeting on this subject and adopted a separate resolution.

The Russia part of the International Religious Freedom Report to the US Congress

We note the annual report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released on July 17. It is traditionally replete with Russo-phobic argument and biased assessments of the situation in our country. This year, the authors of this so-called study decided to target the Russian legislation they describe as allegedly excessively harsh. According to their version, Russian laws infringe on the rights and interests of various religious movements, in particular, Jehovah's Witnesses and the Hizb ut-Tahrir group.

Regarding the Jehovah's Witnesses – perhaps the United States is simply unaware of this, so I would like to enlighten our partners about a court decision recently enforced in Switzerland, one originally issued in July 2019. The court recognised some of the methods used by the local group of Jehovah's Witnesses as violating fundamental human rights. Don't you know this?

I am referring to the practice where persons who choose to leave the sect or who fail to follow its instructions, are boycotted by their families and friends, children are boycotted, and psychological and social pressure is put on dissidents using various manipulative methods to influence consciousness, punishments, as well as unpunished cases of sexual violence. The sect's members are actually denied the right to freedom of opinion and conscience, and this is what warranted the attention of Swiss justice.

As for Hizb ut-Tahrir, let us not forget that it is an international terrorist organisation. Its activities are prohibited and can be prosecuted not only in Russia, but also in most Arab and European countries. Not so long ago, the US Department of State said in its reports that this organisation was contributing to the spread of extremist sentiment among Muslims. This assessment can be found in the 2009 Country Report on Terrorism. Ten years later, the US position has reversed. This actually happens rather often. In this regard, our overseas partners' concern about that organisation was very surprising.

Russia's position is unchanged. Any non-governmental organisations operating in our country, including religious ones, must respect and comply with Russian law. Unfortunately, representatives of this group continue to propagandise non-compliance with the laws of the Russian Federation. We deem this unacceptable.

The 45th anniversary of Apollo-Soyuz programme

On July 17, 1975, there was the famous "space handshake" between the commanders of the Soviet and US crews after the Soyuz and Apollo spacecraft docked. The success of such an experimental flight laid a firm ground for further progress in space exploration giving a powerful impetus to the development of international cooperation in that area. The experience gained during the mission made it possible to implement the Mir-Shuttle space programme, during which Russian cosmonauts were taken into orbit by US Space Shuttles and US astronauts worked at the Russian Mir orbital station. The result of that multi-year fruitful Russian-US interaction in space exploration was the decision to build an international space station, a project, which is now being implemented by 14 countries.

So, 45 years ago, at the peak of the Cold War, despite the then political differences between the two countries, they managed to carry out an unprecedented large-scale project that laid the foundation for the subsequent work of the next generation of space explorers, with the help of the joint efforts of Soviet and US scientists, engineers, cosmonauts and astronauts.

It should be noted that Soviet and US specialists faced really complex tasks. It is symbolic that the Soyuz crew and the Apollo crew literally breathed different air. The differences in the chemical composition of the atmosphere in the Soviet and US spaceships required complicated solutions to build the special airlock with docking facilities to allow the crew to transfer from one spacecraft to the other. And according to the memoirs of Soyuz commander Alexei Leonov, initially his historic handshake with US colleague Thomas Stafford was planned over Moscow but mystically it occurred while the docked ships flew over the Elbe, where Soviet troops met with their US allies 30 years earlier during WWII. By the way, the tradition of a handshake in space has survived to this day. It would be great if such fine traditions could return to the Earth and lay the foundation for Russia's relations with the United States in a variety of areas.

This year, to mark the 45th anniversary of Soyuz and Apollo docking, Vasily Boryak, Deputy Director of the North America Department at the Russian Foreign Ministry, and US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan made a video call to space and greeted the crew of the international space station on this historic event. The diplomats noted that space is still a priority area of cooperation between Russia and the United States where steady progress continues.

New anti-Russian statements by President of Lithuania Gitanas Nauseda

We have been unrelenting in responding to the attempts by Baltic politicians to falsify the historical events of the 20th century and impose their own biased point of view based on the infamous concept of the "Soviet occupation." President of Lithuania Gitanas Nauseda has taken the liberty to engage in these unfriendly verbal attacks yet again during a recent session of the European Council in Brussels.

We believe accusing Russia of "historical revisionism" to be inadequate, cynical and immoral for Lithuanian leaders in view of their consistent efforts to glorify the so-called forest brothers, many of whom collaborated with the Nazis and caused dozens of thousands of civilian deaths.

It is sad that the Lithuanian leader continues to feed on these destructive phobias instead of thinking about improving the relations between Russia and Lithuania that have hit a hopeless deadlock, which is the fault of Vilnius.

Japan's white paper on defence

We took note of the assessment of Russia's defence policy in the 2020 Defence of Japan (Annual White Paper). Surprisingly, not only the sections on Russia are completely detached from reality, but also imbued with distrust and suspicion regarding our country's policy and actions, aimed exclusively at ensuring effective national security in Asia-Pacific's tense military and political environment.

We firmly reject Tokyo's claims regarding defence actions in the Southern Kuril Islands, labelled in the White Paper as "inherent territories of Japan" under illegal occupation.

Once again, we have to recall that Russia assumed sovereignty over these islands in view of the outcomes of WWII, enshrined in the UN Charter, among other instruments, which entitles us to carry out any kind of activity there.

We regret to note that in its White Paper, Tokyo failed to make its defence policy transparent, refraining from explaining to the regional community its plans to revise the post-war "peaceful" constitution. It also reaffirmed its narrow bloc-based approaches to security, while ignoring the need to build an inclusive and transparent architecture of relations in Asia-Pacific taking into consideration the interests and concerns of all the regional powers, which is long overdue.

Launch of the updated Russky Vek (Russian Century) portal

Russky Vek (Russian Century) portal for Russian compatriots living abroad has launched its updated version. It was created at the Foreign Ministry's initiative to render information support to the State Programme for Voluntary Resettlement of Compatriots Living Abroad. The portal is operated by the Institute of Russian Diaspora (Russkie.org).

The portal is mainly designed for informing people, government agencies, NGOs and civil society in general both in Russia and abroad on what the Russian Federation does to support compatriots living abroad, promote national interests and improve its image, and use the latest online technology to facilitate cultural and economic ties with Russian compatriots.

The portal provides daily updated news, analysis and other material, including articles, reports and interviews covering the latest events in Russia and within the Russian world.

The Russky Vek website offers detailed information on legal and administrative aspects of participating in the state programme, including the Official Information Package, information on regional resettlement programmes, updates on career opportunities in the resettlement regions, contacts of diplomatic and consular missions, as well as the Interior Ministry's migration offices and associations of compatriots living abroad.

For the first time, the portal's Resettlement section offers an interactive map of regions taking part in the state programme with their brief descriptions and links of the relevant employment offices, as well as local Interior Ministry offices.

The portal's new version seeks to make content interactive, functional and better available.

We hope that the updated website will be easy to use and user-friendly, offering an enhanced experience regardless of the users' web navigation skills.

If you have any other suggestions, please send them in so that we can make this website even better.

Unveiling a renovated monument to Great Patriotic War soldiers in Moldova

On July 18, the village of Jevreni in the Criuleni District of Moldova hosted a ceremony to unveil a renovated monument to Great Patriotic War soldiers.   

The memorial complex opened in 1956 and did not see any repairs until now. The monument became dilapidated during those years, some of the marble slabs were smashed, and the reinforced concrete stele sprang many cracks. It was, therefore, decided to restore it with financial support from the Russian Federation.

The granite perpetuates the names of more than 400 Red Army soldiers, who fought heroically for the freedom of our common homeland, including people hailing from Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine.   

In all, 16 memorials across the Republic of Moldova will be restored with support from the Russian Foreign Ministry, Russian regions and foundations during the year of the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War.

Celebrating Peru's Independence Day on July 28,

Next Tuesday, July 28, the Republic of Peru will celebrate its Independence Day (1821).

Our two countries are bound by long-standing bonds of friendship and mutual understanding. Lima is an important strategic partner of Russia's in Latin America. We successfully implement joint projects in trade, economic, scientific, cultural and humanitarian areas and cooperate at international organisations. We have actively worked together in combating drug trafficking. Education is also an important area, with hundreds of Peruvian specialists trained at Russian universities.  

Other evidence of our close ties in this difficult period was Russia allocating humanitarian aid to its Peruvian partners for the purpose of fighting the novel coronavirus infection.

Just a few days ago, we recalled July 18, the Day of Russian-Peruvian Solidarity, a tragic date for both countries. Fifty years ago, a Russian-piloted Antonov An-22 plane crashed to the ground on its way to the site of a devastating earthquake in the department of Ancash. There were Russian medics on board, who accompanied humanitarian cargo intended for the earthquake victims. We appreciate our partners' attention to relatives of the air crash victims and their direct involvement with them. 

I would like to use this occasion to wish peace, prosperity and all the best to the people of this wonderful country on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia.

Uncertainty regarding the settlement of the internal Ukrainian conflict in Donbass

We have taken note of positive change in the implementation by Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk of the Normandy format leaders' decisions taken in Paris. During a videoconference of the Trilateral Contact Group held on July 22, the sides signed an agreement regarding additional measures to strengthen the ceasefire. It comes into force on July 27 and includes certain measures aimed at maintaining a ceasefire on the contact line in Donbass. This agreement has been made possible through a direct dialogue between the representatives of Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk with the mediation of Russia and the OSCE. We hope that these coordinated measures will be implemented.

At the same time, we are seriously worried about the situation on the political track. It has been complicated by Kiev's decision on local elections, which have been scheduled for October 25, 2020. In accordance with Verkhovna Rada Resolution 3809 issued on July 15, the organisation of these elections in certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions has been complemented with requirements that directly contradict the Minsk Package of Measures. These requirements include the reinstatement of the Ukrainian constitutional order in Donbass (it is unclear what order they had in mind, the existing one or the one that should take into account decentralisation and a special status for Donbass), as well as the restoration of Ukrainian control of the border with Russia. On July 22, these requirements were confirmed in an official press release of the Ukrainian President's Administration.

I would like to say once again that the Minsk Package of Measures stipulates a different sequence of measures. It should start with the amendment of the Constitution and other Ukrainian laws within the framework of the constitutional reform and with a focus on decentralisation and the approval of a permanent special status for Donbass, which is to be sealed in the Constitution. This should be followed by elections and the restoration of Kiev's control of the border. The process should only end after a comprehensive political settlement. In addition to this, the Minsk Package stipulates that the subject of elections in Donbass must be coordinated through a direct dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk.

The meaning of the Verkhovna Rada resolution on local elections and the press release of the Ukrainian President's Administration is not clear. They can be interpreted as Ukraine's actual withdrawal from the Minsk agreements. These decisions should be clarified.

Russia as a peace intermediary and a member of the Trilateral Contact Group and the Normandy format is worried. We request that Kiev provide a clear explanation on this subject. We also urge our German and French partners in the Normandy format and international organisations to provide their views on the evolving situation and to encourage the Kiev authorities to honour their obligations.

Answers tu media questions:

Question: The Turkish Government has announced that it is closing maritime zones in the Mediterranean and planning to start geological exploration on the sea shelf based on an unrecognised Ankara-Tripoli memorandum. These intentions are being opposed by Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, leaders of eastern Libya, and other countries that regard this agreement and Turkey's neo-Ottoman plans as unacceptable. What is the Russian view on this memorandum and the clear surge of tension in the region? In the light of the law of the sea and international law, can all the islands influence the delimitation of maritime zones and the sea shelf?

Maria Zakharova: The Foreign Ministry's Information and Press Department has repeatedly provided explanations on this matter in its comments. Our position remains unchanged. We are following closely and with much concern yet another escalation of tension in the Eastern Mediterranean. We are in favour of differences being settled through talks based on generally recognised norms of international law. We call on our partners to work on strengthening confidence-building measures and good-neighbourliness and to necessarily refrain from unilateral, ill-considered actions.  

There is a universal venue – the United Nations – for an effective solution of disputed matters as they arise. Apart from this there is the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that contains a mechanism for the delimitation of exclusive economic zones and continental shelves between states.

Question: What is your comment on US sanctions against Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov?

Maria Zakharova: We have commented on this matter. In addition to this, I can say the following. The US Department of State decided to "renew" its 2017 ban on entry to the US for Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov. The new prohibition extends to Mr Kadyrov's family members – his wife and children.

As we understand, a number of US politicians are dead set on continuing to accuse Russia, its leaders, politicians, executive authorities and lawmakers of all imaginable and unimaginable sins. This is yet another example of a public action, given that a portion of the US political beau monde has not renounced its erstwhile political course. I would like to ask what seems to me an absolutely logical question: In what way are Mr Kadyrov's family related to any violations imputed to him? It is totally unclear. I am not going to comment on these far-fetched accusations, the more so that, as usual, evidence and arguments are lacking.

We are witnessing yet another attempt to justify the allocation of budget funds to the US Department of State to pay an army of muckrakers looking for any negative information – this time in the context of Russia but basically in relation of citizens in all "rogue" states.  This is how they "contain" Russia, assert their exceptionality, and, of course, violate international law under the pretext that they are "exceptional" and this self-ascribed status gives them the right to do whatever they want.  

Question: How would you comment on the election campaign held ahead of the July 13 to 15 elections to North Macedonia's Assembly?

Maria Zakharova: It was hard to miss a series of video addresses made by high-ranking Western politicians, including the heads of government and ministers, who openly and aggressively called on North Macedonian voters to vote for this or that party. The addresses were widely disseminated during the election campaign in North Macedonia.  

This open foreign meddling in the affairs of a sovereign state forms a background against which the unscrupulous and totally groundless speculations about a "Russian extension" in any elections around the world look absolutely absurd. We are witnessing the cynical use of double standards: suspicions and reproaches addressed to Russia are routinely justified by non-transparent and vague reasoning in the highly-likely style, while the West's direct pressure on citizens of North Macedonia is being palmed off as something legitimate and conforming to the notorious "democratic tenets."

I think this example makes it quite clear how hypocritically the West pursues its policy of aggressive pressure, accusing certain countries of meddling, when there is no meddling, and issuing itself an indulgence for any sort of interference, where its own interests are involved, even in the case of a sovereign state.

Question: The conflict that flared up on the border of Azerbaijan and Armenia has subsided in the past few days, but the situation remains tense. Meanwhile, official Baku believes that the efforts of the co-chairs of the OSCE's Minsk Group to resolve the conflict are not enough and suggests changing the methodology and convening an extended meeting of the Minsk Group that would involve all 11 states. Azerbaijan is also suggesting that the mechanism for fulfilling the UN Security Council's resolutions should be revised. Can you comment on Baku's position, and is it possible to say that Russia has played a key role in reducing tensions? What short-term agreements have been reached to stabilise the situation?

The other day, Azerbaijan suggested holding an extended OSCE Group summit that would involve all of the format's member countries. What does Russia think about this initiative to invigorate the diplomatic process to peacefully resolve the Nagorno Karabakh conflict?

Maria Zakharova: The ceasefire violations are decreasing, but tensions do persist.

In an effort to prevent further escalation, we are exerting specific efforts within the framework of the OSCE's Minsk Group as one of its co-chairs and also independently.

Last week, participants in a Minsk group meeting reviewed the situation in the conflict zone. Those in the OSCE Permanent Council meeting also did the same in the presence of all OSCE participants. The co-chairs of the Minsk Group maintain permanent contact with the conflicting parties. Earlier, the latter held video conferences with OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Edi Rama and OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger, and there are plans to hold consultations with the UN Secretariat.

A number of statements, including those by the Presidential Executive Office and Foreign Ministry, have been made, urging the conflicting parties to display restraint and strictly adhere to the ceasefire. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has had urgent telephone conversations with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts. This week, he discussed the situation with Ambassadors of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Moscow. The national defence ministries are also cooperating.

Yerevan and Baku have proposed various initiatives to formalise the truce and to build up the negotiating process. We are discussing these with the concerned parties. We hope it will be possible to review the range of issues on conflict resolution in great detail after the restrictions on international travel are lifted.

Question: The government of Afghanistan is opposing the release of 600 Taliban prisoners based on the fact that they were convicted for serious crimes. What is the Foreign Ministry's take on this?

Maria Zakharova: Our understanding is that this issue needs to be resolved by the opposing parties themselves. As far as we know, the technical consultations concerning the lists of prisoners subject to release are still in progress. More importantly, this issue should not serve as an artificial obstacle to beginning direct intra-Afghan talks. For our part, we call on Kabul and the Taliban to complete the prisoner exchange as soon as possible and move on to a constructive dialogue.

Question: How did Afghanistani leadership react to Russia's proposal to host the intra-Afghan talks?

Maria Zakharova: At the moment, Russia has not officially proposed hosting intra-Afghan talks. However, we do not rule out this possibility in the future. It is true that we have received relevant requests. Right now we believe that the talks will be a lengthy process and will require more than one round of meetings in different capitals.

Question: What was the Foreign Ministry's response to a resolution opposing Russia's participation in the G7 that was submitted by a group of Democrats to the US Senate?

Maria Zakharova: The initiative by a group of Democratic senators to adopt a resolution against Russia's participation in the G7 events would have little practical influence on our interests. This is just another attempt to use the Russia factor in domestic political battles in the United States and to gain political points with Russophobia. It seems to me that they are simply taking advantage of American voters' lack of knowledge on the international agenda. They make up anything they want. They do not even have to explain the inadequacy of these steps and, basically, their absurdity.

As for US President Donald Trump's proposal to hold an extended meeting of the Group of Seven with Russia and several other countries, we already commented on this matter in early June.

Our stance is that in the polycentric system of international relations that is emerging now, looking for solutions to the problems in global politics and the economy is only possible based on the principle of inclusivity. The days of elite clubs are gone. It is clear that no serious conversation on crucial global issues is possible without China.

We are convinced that other mechanisms of global governance are more consistent with the spirit of the age such as the G20, which represents the major centres of economic growth and political influence, as well as BRICS, the SCO and the EAEU where members operate on the principles of collective leadership, respect for each other's interests and consideration for the civilisational and cultural specifics of each member state.

Question: Can the Foreign Ministry confirm reports about preparations for an upcoming meeting of the Russian and French foreign and defence ministers in the 2+2 format in Paris?

Maria Zakharova: Indeed, we are preparing for this meeting, scheduled to be held in Paris, as it is France's turn to host. The dates remain to be clarified.

Question: You have called a statement about Russia by the British Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee "fake-shaped Russophobia." Do you want to say that this wide range of accusations, including cyberattacks, misinformation and mysterious murders of Russian citizens in the United Kingdom, are all conjectures? What prospects for improving Russian-British relations do you see?  

Maria Zakharova: I cannot help but agree that murders of Russian citizens in the United Kingdom are, indeed, mysterious, in many cases. I would say they are typically English murders. This is a fact that instead of an objective investigation, the world regularly witnesses yet another farce. Why? For one, this is because sentences are passed even prior to investigation. This, too, has become a good British tradition.

Regarding the above-mentioned report, we have, indeed, commented on it at the Foreign Ministry's Main Office, and the Russian Embassy in the United Kingdom has also issued a statement. For many years, we have emphasised that Russia is invariably guided by the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries. We do not harbour any unfriendly intentions regarding the United Kingdom either. We have said this many times. We are willing to develop equal cooperation with that country. At the same time, we have repeatedly warned London that the hysterical anti-Russia campaign now underway in the United Kingdom will eventually backfire against its architects.

In this connection, we would like to note once again that efforts to elevate Russophobia to the level of state policy have no future. This devalues London's parallel statements about a desire to normalise bilateral relations, as well as many other statements about international law, compliance with law, etc.

Regarding prospects for improving relations between Russia and the United Kingdom, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom Andrey Kelin has discussed them in great detail. Please read his interview.

I believe that these curt phrases assessing this report completely reflect its empty essence. This report is about nothing, it is full of hot air because it contains numerous accusations but does not provide any facts. The document has a well-known style and provides no evidence or specific facts. As we have already realised, all this is presented under the highly likely, almost likely or 95 percent likely concepts; the last concept is quite new. This is another addition to the negative information background that has a destructive effect on interstate dialogue and the normal development of bilateral ties.

Question: Does Russia plan to study the possibility of lifting restrictions on crossing the border with Abkhazia? Are you conducting the relevant talks with the Abkhazian side? When can the first stage of lifting restrictions commence?

Maria Zakharova: Indeed, in early July 2020, the leaders of the Republic of Abkhazia asked Russia to study the possibility of lifting restrictions, introduced during the pandemic, stage by stage. We are examining this matter in the inter-departmental format. A final decision will be made after thoroughly analysing the current sanitary-epidemiological situation in Abkhazia. Rospotrebnadzor experts who have left for Sukhum will be expected to submit the relevant recommendations.

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