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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

Briefing by Deputy Director of the Information and Press Department Alexey Zaytsev, Moscow, July 30, 2020

30 July 202017:39

Table of contents

  1. Coronavirus update
  2. Prospects for resuming transport
  3. Facilitating Russian citizens' return to their homeland
  4. Russian citizens detained in the Republic of Belarus
  5. Russia provides humanitarian aid to South Caucasus in coronavirus response effort
  6. Agreement with FAO on cooperation in fighting locust invasion in Africa
  7. Update on Venezuela
  8. Russia-US Strategic Meeting
  9. US arms deliveries to Pristina
  10. Compliance with measures to strengthen the ceasefire in Donbass
  11. Medical help for Russian citizens in US penitentiaries
  12. The European External Action Service press secretary's statement on the situation in Crimea
  13. The Nation article about the Douma bombing 
  14. Facebook's verification of content posted on the Ukrainian StopFake site
  15. Three-day ceasefire in Afghanistan
  16. Enactment of amendments to citizenship of the Russian Federation law
  17. Memorial events at the Russian Chapel on the Vrsic Pass in Slovenia
  18. Celebrating Republic of Benin Independence Day
  19. Celebrating Republic of Niger Independence Day
  20. The Khaled Alkhateb International Memorial Awards

Answers to media questions:

  1. The situation around Russian sailors, Konstantin Semyonov and Ivan Voznikovtsev, who were detained in Greece on charges of organising illegal migration
  2. Discussion of trilateral arms control
  3. Discussion of missile defence issues via strategic dialogue
  4. Talks with Turkey on Libya
  5. Violations of the embargo on Libya
  6. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
  7. Azerbaijani Defence Ministry's report on its intention to hold military exercises with Turkey close to the border with Armenia

Coronavirus update

The global situation with the spread of COVID-19 remains alarming. Recently, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus confirmed that the world is confronting a new and extremely dangerous pathogen today, a pandemic that has become the most serious emergency of international importance ever announced by the organisation. There are no signs of "inhibition." On the contrary, the coronavirus is rapidly spreading across the planet. Over the past month and a half, the statistics on identified cases have almost doubled. The milestone of 17 million cases has been passed. The dynamics of the infection in various countries and regions has not subsided and indicates the need to be prepared for a second wave of the epidemic.

We appreciate the consolidated initiative of a number of specialised UN agencies and expert institutes, recently announced by the WHO, to form a unified database of world best practices in the field of legal and regulatory control of efforts to combat the infection and its negative consequences. The launch of this database will increase the capacity of COVID-19 response at the national and international levels and make the measures taken more effective.

As shown by the outbreaks of the disease in individual countries, observed against the background of the seemingly achieved "taming" of the coronavirus, reversals in the dynamics of the development of the virus may well take place. At the same time, it is clear that it is possible to effectively control the unprecedented cross-border challenge through a collective effort alone.

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Prospects for resuming transport

The global sanitary and epidemiological situation precludes any chances of lifting the temporary restrictions introduced by the Government in March regarding the entry of foreign nationals and stateless persons into our country, as well as state border crossings by Russian citizens through checkpoints other than airport checkpoints.

The current effort is focused on the gradual resumption of international air traffic.

According to Government Directive 1915-r dated July 24, 2020, citizens of UK, Tanzania and Turkey, as well as persons holding a residence permit or any other document validating their right to permanent residence in the above countries can enter Russia if they arrive by air starting August 1. In addition, citizens of the countries with which Russia has valid agreements on visa-free travel can enter Russia via flights originating from these three countries.

Russian foreign missions in the UK, Turkey and Tanzania have resumed the issuance of visas of all categories as usual. Please keep in mind that visas will be issued only to citizens of the above states, as well as persons holding a residence permit (or any other document validating the right to permanent residence) in the UK, Turkey and Tanzania, respectively. Citizens of other states temporarily residing in these countries are not yet eligible for visas.

Much is being done with regard to other countries.

The Foreign Ministry monitors the rules for Russian citizens' entry into foreign countries amid the pandemic. It makes the results available to the Federal Air Transport Agency and Rospotrebnadzor in order to make coordinated proposals to open regular flights with the respective countries. In particular, we analyse our partners' readiness to receive international flights and the special requirements introduced in this regard, in particular, the requirement to present test completion certificates and the quarantining of foreigners. Along with Rospotrebnadzor, monitoring of the sanitary and epidemiological situation in foreign countries has been organised in order to draft a final list of countries with which flights can be resumed.

In the foreseeable future, air traffic can be resumed with other countries that meet the corresponding criteria (an incidence of no more than 40 people per 100,000 in 14 days; an average daily growth rate of 1 percent; a prevalence rate 1.0 or less). The Government takes these indicators into account when making relevant decisions.

Please also note that all passengers arriving from abroad will need to pass sanitary and quarantine control at the checkpoints at Russia's state border. When crossing the border, foreign citizens must present, to sanitary and quarantine control officers, medical documents confirming the absence of COVID-19 disease (in Russian or English), confirming the negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 lab test result taken no earlier than 72 hours before arrival in the Russian Federation, or medical documents confirming the availability of corresponding antibodies.

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Facilitating Russian citizens' return to their homeland

As has become traditional, a few words on the programme to help Russian citizens return home during the coronavirus pandemic. We have repeatedly pointed out that the overwhelming majority of Russians stranded abroad in a serious predicament as a result of the suspension of global transport, have safely returned home. Since we started the evacuation programme, more than 63,000 people have been brought home, including about 53,000 by Russian carriers. 

Nevertheless, even with the upcoming resumption of regular air service between several cities in Russia and the United Kingdom, Turkey and Tanzania, we are not ending our efforts on inbound flight schedules and assisting people to return home. Last week we organised flights from Tivat, Seoul, Bishkek, Yerevan, Tel Aviv, Alicante, Nice and London. One inbound flight was arranged for 170 Russians in the Philippines who were still stranded there after two previous flights. As a result, several dozen people eventually decided against flying from Manila to Vladivostok. This is their right. If they wish, they will always be able to take regular flights once they resume.

Next week we will arrange two evacuation flights – from Miami and Los Angeles in the United States – places a lot of requests came from. We see that the number is growing as the new academic year approaches. Many Russians need to return to go back to school. At the same time, many also cite the grave coronavirus situation in the United States as a reason they want to come home. More flights are planned from Bangkok, Phuket, and Goa.

We continue to monitor the situation in remote areas of the planet, where evacuation flights are not available for objective reasons, in order to provide maximum assistance to the Russian citizens remaining in these places. The hybrid plan has proven effective. We hope that with the expansion of transit services, even more Russian citizens will be able to return home.

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Russian citizens detained in the Republic of Belarus

We expect Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Belarus Dmitry Mezentsev to comment soon on the situation with the Russian citizens detained in Belarus.

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Russia provides humanitarian aid to South Caucasus in coronavirus response effort

Russia has been providing various types of COVID-19 related humanitarian assistance to countries in the South Caucasus since the beginning of the pandemic. One of the projects was to supply Vector test kits for COVID-19 novel coronavirus infection lab diagnostics without cost.  

Russian teams from various specialised medical facilities have worked or continue to provide practical, organisational and methodological assistance in several countries including Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Our military medical specialists also provide assistance under agreements with the host countries. For example, a group of Russian military specialists is currently rendering assistance in Armenia. Earlier, a mixed medical team helped with the disinfection of facilities in Abkhazia.

In addition, experts from Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been trained to work with the Vector test systems at the reference centre of the Stavropol Anti-plague Research Institute.

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Agreement with FAO on cooperation in fighting locust invasion in Africa

On July 27, in Rome, an agreement was signed, via videoconference, between the Russian Foreign Ministry and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation the (FAO) on a $10 million contribution from Russia to the FAO to combat locust invasions in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and South Sudan. The agreement was signed by Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the FAO and other UN Agencies in Rome, Viktor Vasilyev; from the FAO, by Deputy Director General Elizabeth Bechdol.

The desert locust populations in East Africa, the Middle East and Asia have grown 400-fold since early 2020, posing an unprecedented threat to food security and effectively endangering the lives of over 40 million people in these regions. The situation is further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to FAO's humanitarian call to respond to the desert locust invasion in the Greater Horn of Africa region, controlling the pest will take more than $300 million. To date, it has raised about $130 million.

The Russian contribution will help address the invasion of this dangerous agricultural pest, and further, will reaffirm Russia's policy to strengthen cooperation with the African countries in accordance with the final declaration of the Russia-Africa Summit adopted in Sochi on October 24, 2019.

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Update on Venezuela

We continue following the developments in Venezuela. According to incoming reports, the sanitary-epidemiological situation in that country remains difficult but is generally under control by the government. The main hotbeds of coronavirus activity are in the areas bordering on Colombia from where Venezuelan migrants return home. Despite tough quarantine measures, the Venezuelan authorities are rendering all necessary assistance to arriving compatriots. We urge the South American countries to expand cooperation with their colleagues from Venezuela for joint prevention of the spread of the coronavirus infection among the most vulnerable groups.

In this context, we note the beginning of the practical implementation of the framework humanitarian agreement signed on June 1 by Venezuela and the Pan America Health Organisation (PAHO). It was reported recently that the US authorities have unfrozen the Venezuelan government's accounts. These funds will be used by the PAHO to buy individual protective gear and diagnostic equipment and for their shipping to Venezuela. The amount of money at stake is about $20 million while the total amount of US-blocked Venezuelan funds exceeds $116 billion.

Indicatively, the mainstream media give the credit for unfreezing the funds to Deputy Juan Guaido. Considering that he himself welcomed the illegal sanctions and the freezing of Venezuelan funds on foreign accounts, we view his current attempts to gain political credibility through the suffering of the Venezuelan people, as cynical to put it mildly.

We are convinced that the implementation of the June 1 humanitarian agreement must be carried out jointly by its three signatories and on a scale that actually meets the urgent needs of the people.

Obviously, the above exemptions from the sanctions are not enough to meet the humanitarian needs of Venezuela. Washington must completely give up its policy of unilateral bans on Caracas' foreign economic activities and let the Venezuelan government acquire medications and other basic necessities. Only in this case will the Venezuelan people be able to effectively counter the pandemic.

Elections to the National Assembly of Venezuela will be held next December in line with the Constitution. Active preparations are already underway. However, the election campaign is linked with many difficulties due to the coronavirus and the actions by a number of external players. It will hardly be possible to find a political solution to the internal Venezuelan crisis without holding the election. Such is the political reality that has already been recognised by the responsible political forces that are interested in a peaceful settlement to the domestic crisis. We welcome the joining of the election campaign by a broad range of political parties. 

We would like to repeat our position: we consider the electoral process a key element in a settlement. Venezuelan society is tired of confrontation. In this context, we call on all of our foreign partners to refrain from unconstructive criticism and attempts to discredit the election, not to mention overthrow the lawful government of Venezuela by force. Any radical actions can only escalate tensions. 

We hope that all members of the international community will promote favourable conditions for allowing the Venezuelans to independently develop constructive and compromise solutions to the current problems. 

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Russia-US Strategic Meeting

An expert group meeting held as part of the bilateral Russia-US strategic dialogue ended in Vienna. It took place in the form of successive panel discussions on space security, doctrines and capabilities, as well as verification and transparency.

Let's review our interaction with the United States on strategic issues in recent years. In 2014, due to the actions and upon the initiative of the Obama administration, the regular dialogue, including on matters of international security and strategic stability, was suspended and actually frozen for three and a half years. In the summer of 2017, President Putin and President Trump reached an understanding on the need to resume contacts on strategic issues and arms control. Since then, four rounds of full-format consultations have taken place at the deputy foreign minister level in September 2017, in July 2019, and in January and June 2020.

Until now, it has been difficult to qualify these contacts as regular. This was largely due to the staffing situation in Washington. The US delegation arrived at each of these meetings with a new leader and with many new members.

As is customary, the Russian interdepartmental delegation is headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov.

This year, pursuant to the instructions issued by the presidents of Russia and the United States, contacts on the strategic agenda have been stepped up. They have become more substantive. In particular, in the course of the January round of the strategic dialogue, an agreement was reached to launch an expert discussion of space security issues. We're talking about considering the entire range of relevant issues, including the risks of weapons in outer space.

During the last round of talks on June 22, it was additionally agreed to hold a meeting of experts on verification and transparency, as well as military doctrines and capabilities. The United States initially proposed limiting the discussion to nuclear weapons-related issues. We suggested taking a broader look and focusing on all types of weapons capable of resolving strategic tasks and influencing strategic stability.

Actually, the experts of the two countries reviewed these three thematic blocs (space security, doctrines and capabilities, transparency and verification) at a meeting in the Austrian capital held from July 27 to 30. The conversation was specific and professional. The parties will need to analyse the results in detail.

Russia is open to continuing a dialogue with Washington on various strategic issues. We consider it extremely important, in particular to try to prevent the further destruction of international agreements in this area. At the same time, we plan to continue to build our relations with the United States in the area of arms control on a strictly parity basis relying on the principle of mutual consideration for each party's interests and concerns.

Taking this opportunity, we would like to express our gratitude to the government and the Foreign Ministry of the Republic of Austria for their assistance in organising a new meeting with the United States as part of our strategic dialogue.

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US arms deliveries to Pristina

We note with regret and concern reports on American supplies of arms and military equipment to the authorities in Pristina. The US is doing this openly, to the detriment of international efforts aimed at ensuring peace and stability in the Balkans which are therefore incompatible with the militarisation of the self-proclaimed "Republic of Kosovo."

Washington's plan aims to help the Kosovars create their own army. However, this grossly violates the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which provides for the dismantling of any Kosovar Albanian paramilitary formations, allowing the presence of an exclusively international peacekeeping contingent in the province.

We call on everyone who is not indifferent to the developments in the Balkans and the future of this sensitive region to prevent any actions that are fraught with the potential for destabilisation and another explosive conflict.

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Compliance with measures to strengthen the ceasefire in Donbass

A week ago, we reported certain positive shifts in the work of the Minsk Contact Group. On July 22, Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk, with the mediation of the OSCE and Russia, agreed on additional measures to strengthen the ceasefire in Donbass, which entered into force on July 27. We fully support the agreements reached, aimed primarily at preserving human lives and preventing further destruction of the infrastructure.

According to available information, the ceasefire on the disengagement line has been generally observed so far.

This is an important step in the stage-by-stage implementation of the Minsk agreements and the decisions of the December 2019 Paris meeting of the Normandy Four leaders.

We hope the established ceasefire will continue, making it possible to more effectively resolve other issues of settling the internal Ukrainian conflict, primarily those concerning the political aspects of the Minsk agreements.

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Medical help for Russian citizens in US penitentiaries

Currently, about 100 Russian citizens are being held in US prisons and pre-trial detention centres. Most of them are serving time for non-violent crimes. Unfortunately, we have to state that correctional facilities often choose not to provide proper medical treatment for our compatriots who are serving time, including those with serious chronic ailments. Despite the need for medical help, comprehensive medical examination is often delayed or not carried out at all. Only after the Russian Embassy's repeated requests to US authorities was quality medical help provided to many of them.

In view of the spreading coronavirus infection, we note the lack of necessary personal protection equipment (face masks and gloves) for prisoners. Convicts with cold symptoms are kept in the general population. Some of the Russians serving time in the United States have been tested for the coronavirus, and all had negative results.

The Foreign Ministry pays close attention to the health and incarceration conditions of Russians who have been convicted or are awaiting a verdict from a US court. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, work with the US authorities has been stepped up in order to provide assistance to Russian citizens in penitentiary facilities and to protect their interests. We will continue to press for Washington to release the most vulnerable group of prisoners, whose lives and health are at risk.

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The European External Action Service press secretary's statement on the situation in Crimea

We noted a statement made by the press secretary of the European External Action Service in connection with the keel-laying ceremony for two multi-purpose landing ships held at the shipyard in Kerch, Crimean Peninsula, on July 20. We take this as another attempt to interfere in another state's domestic affairs. The arguments provided by the service demonstrate again the inability to provide an unbiased assessment of the realities in the region, as well as total indifference to the legitimate interests and aspirations of the people of Crimea.

We would like to point out that our policy for strengthening the defence capability of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea area is designed to help ensure stability and security in that region.

In connection with the claims that we have allegedly imposed restrictions on Ukrainian citizens visiting Crimea, we would like to note that the temporary preventive measures introduced by Russia in connection with the coronavirus pandemic apply to citizens of most European countries, including Ukraine.

With regard to violations of international law, which the EU has again accused us of, we see Kiev doing this, not us. In this regard, we suggest that the EU, instead of relaying Ukraine's unfounded accusations against Russia, pay due attention to Kiev's inhuman actions of cutting off water and power supplies to Crimea. We call on the EU to abandon the egregious practice of "visa discrimination" with regard to Crimeans, which also directly contradicts international law and founding EU documents.

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The Nation article about the Douma bombing 

We have taken note of an article published in the US weekly The Nation on July 24, which provided a detailed picture of manipulations with the report prepared by the Fact Finding Mission (FFM) of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) about the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria during the high-profile chemical incident in Douma on April 7, 2018. Although these facts are common knowledge, this is the first time they have been reported by such a respectable Western publication.

Independent international experts, public figures and politicians, as well as the media have been discussing these manipulations for more than a year now. A collective appeal has been even submitted to the member states of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the UN Secretary-General as its depositary, asking them to investigate the situation and take emergency measures to restore trust in the OPCW Technical Secretariat.

Russia and other states that hold the same opinion have raised this question at the OPCW more than once, but we have not received any clear response to our numerous appeals. It looks as if this unpleasant case were being covered up and put on the back burner, because it proves that the OPCW FFM reports are being deliberately distorted to whitewash the United States, Britain and France, which delivered missile attacks on the territory of a sovereign state in violation of the UN Charter and the generally recognised norms of international law. Iraq and Libya are the regrettable examples of the outcome of such military and political provocations and gambles.

We hope that this unsavoury story will eventually come to an end and that the OPCW will resume its technical activities in a professional and non-politicised manner, in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention.

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Facebook's verification of content posted on the Ukrainian StopFake site 

The New York Times has published a shocking article about Facebook's collaboration with the Ukrainian site StopFake.

The article mentions StopFake's ties to the Ukrainian nationalists and the far right and provides facts exposing StopFake, which Facebook hired in April 2019 to check facts published in the social media.

Russia has long been aware of the openly anti-Russia character of the StopFake website, its obsessive monitoring and unhealthy interpretation of any Russian-language publications, as well as its ties to the far right.

We are disappointed that such a large corporation as Facebook has chosen an extremely biased resource for the responsible task of verifying information. The analysis of the publications which StopFake has presented as unreliable leaves no doubt that this cooperation is aimed at continuing the political censorship of Russian-language content posted on Facebook.

We urge the company to take a more responsible attitude to choosing its partners. We see the current activities of the US technological giant as yet another proof of the Western countries' coordinated policy for removing Russian content from the global information space.

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Three-day ceasefire in Afghanistan

We welcome the statement made by the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban Movement on another three-day ceasefire for the duration of Eid al-Adha. At the same time, we would like to note that this will not help attain the main goal of the current stage in the settlement process, which is the launch of direct intra-Afghan talks as soon as possible.

We urge the opposing sides to use this pause in the hostilities to reduce the level of violence in Afghanistan, complete the exchange of prisoners and launch a constructive dialogue aimed at national reconciliation.

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Enactment of amendments to citizenship of the Russian Federation law 

On July 24, Federal Law No. 134-FZ of April 24, 2020 came into force amending the Federal Law On Citizenship of the Russian Federation. Under the new legislation, the territorial offices of the Ministry of Internal Affairs are given the exclusive authority to grant Russian citizenship to adults if at least one of their parents is a Russian citizen and is living in Russia, in case the applicant resides in Russia.

These changes were adopted as part of the State Migration Policy Concept for 2019-2025 approved by the President of Russia and aimed to promote demographic development of the Russian Federation and to attract foreign nationals with a potential to successfully integrate into Russian society.

Other changes include a number of measures simplifying the procedure to grant Russian citizenship to persons who have moved to the Russian Federation, such as:

- the requirement to renounce their foreign citizenship has been cancelled for all categories of applicants for Russian citizenship;

- the simplified procedure does not require that the applicant reside in Russia for a specific period or to confirm they have means of subsistence;

- for persons who received professional education in the Russian Federation after July 1, 2002, the required period of employment in the Russian Federation prior to applying has been reduced from three years to only one year;

- citizens of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova and Ukraine permanently residing in our country are now entitled to apply for Russian citizenship via the simplified procedure;

- foreign nationals and stateless persons who are married to Russian citizens residing in the Russian Federation and have children with them in this marriage are also entitled to apply for Russian citizenship via the simplified procedure.

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Memorial events at the Russian Chapel on the Vrsic Pass in Slovenia

On July 25, Slovenia held traditional memorial events at the Russian Chapel commemorating Russian prisoners of war who died during WWI while building a mountain road. This church, built in 1916 on the site of the tragedy, has become a symbol of friendship and a place for annual reunions of the two countries' leaders and the public.

From the Slovenian side, the events were attended by President Borut Pahor, Speaker of the National Assembly Igor Zorcic, key ministers and parliamentarians, politicians, activists of friendship societies and anti-fascist NGOs, prominent figures of culture and art. President? of the National Council Alojz Kovsca was the honorary sponsor of the commemorative events. The Russian delegation was led by Russian Ambassador to Slovenia Timur Eivazov.

We are grateful to our partners for their considerate attitude towards Russian military memorials on Slovenian territory. We consider the annual ceremonies at the Russian Chapel as a manifestation of respect for the memory of our ancestors, and a sign of Russians' and Slovenes' mutual interest in carefully preserving the historical truth and developing neighbourly relations.

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Celebrating Republic of Benin Independence Day

On August 1, the Republic of Benin with which Russia maintains traditionally friendly relations will celebrate the 60th anniversary of independence and sovereignty. One of the most complicated periods in the history of the Benin nation, linked with the colonial era, ended over half a century ago. In the 17th century, an African state Dahomey was established on the territory of the present day Benin and Togo. In the late 19th century, France seized Dahomey and established a protectorate over most of modern Benin and made it part of French West Africa in 1904.

The people of Dahomey began to struggle against the colonial yoke as far back as 1916-1917. After WWII, an upsurge in the national-liberation movement forced France to grant Dahomey the right to establish its own parliament and allowed its deputies to sit in the French Parliament as representatives of an "overseas territory." On July 11, 1960, France recognised the sovereignty of Dahomey which then declared independence already on August 1, 1960 and withdrew from the French Union. In November 1975, the country received its modern name, the Republic of Benin.

Today, the Benin authorities on the whole successfully accomplish national tasks or take action to improve the population's socio-economic life and conduct a well-thought-out foreign policy line.

We are delighted to congratulate the people of Benin on their national holiday, and we would like to wish them peace, well-being and prosperity.

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Celebrating Republic of Niger Independence Day

On August 3, the Republic of Niger with which we also maintain longtime relations of friendship and cooperation will celebrate the 60th anniversary of state independence. The people of Niger have come a long way to achieving freedom and receiving an opportunity to decide their own destiny.

By the late 19th century, France had finished colonising the territory of what is now Niger and formalised its rights to the new possessions following the Berlin Conference of 1884. The actions of the French colonisers who established control over the conquered regions were followed by reprisals and the destruction of entire communities. Niger remained one of France's poorest colonies in Africa. An armed national-liberation struggle began in the early 20th century, and these uprisings were brutally suppressed. In 1958, Niger received autonomous republic rights as part of the French Union. On August 3, 1960, it became a completely independent state.

Today, Niger is advancing along the road of democratic development, overcoming the existing socio-economic problems rather successfully and making a weighty contribution to collective African efforts to counter the terrorist threat in the Sahara-Sahel region.

We would like to congratulate the people of Niger on the occasion of their national holiday and to wish them every success, peace and prosperity. 

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The Khaled Alkhateb International Memorial Awards

The other day, military correspondents from Russia, Syria and India received Russia Today's Khaled Alkhateb International Memorial Awards for Best Journalism. The awards were conferred for their work from conflict zones.

The Khaled Alkhateb International Memorial Awards was  instituted in honour of 25-year old journalist Khaled Alkhateb who cooperated with Russia Today Arabic. On July 30, 2017, the young man was killed during a rocket shelling, launched by militants in Syria's Homs province.

In his reports, he covered the operations of the Syrian government forces against terrorists. In 2018, President of Russia Vladimir Putin signed an executive order on posthumously awarding him the Medal for Bravery. His family received the medal at the first awards ceremony.

The award is presented in three categories: Best Video Journalism from a Conflict Zone: Short Form, Best Video Journalism from a Conflict Zone: Long Form and Best Written Journalism from a Conflict Zone. Journalists from 16 countries vied for the award. 

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Answers to media questions:

Question: Will you comment on the situation with Russian sailors Konstantin Semyonov and Ivan Voznikovtsev, who have been arrested in Greece on charges of facilitating illegal migration?

Alexey Zaitsev: The Foreign Ministry is monitoring the situation following the arrest of these Russian citizens in the territorial waters of the Hellenic Republic on charges of facilitating illegal migration. We maintain correspondence with the sailors' relatives and are otherwise coordinating consular support measures taken in such cases.

The Russian Embassy in Greece is monitoring compliance with the rights and legitimate interests of the arrested and sentenced Russian citizens under international and Greek laws. The Embassy personnel have taken measures to establish contact with the arrested and are providing available information to their relatives and consultation support within their competence. They are monitoring their detainment conditions, organising consular meetings with them in the Athens and Nafplio prisons, submitting statements, if necessary, that these individuals have no prior conviction in Russia, as well as supplying them with the list of recommended defence lawyers and reference material on the extradition of Russian citizens sentenced to prison terms abroad so that they will serve their sentences in Russia.

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Question: US officials claim that they are discussing the possibility of trilateral arms control at their meetings with Russian counterparts. Does this mean the possible involvement of China?

Alexey Zaitsev: I would like to say once again that these discussions are being held in accordance with the agreements reached by our countries' leaders on the Russian-US agenda on security, stability and arms control. During the latest, full-scale round of this strategic dialogue, the sides have reaffirmed their interest in continuing their interaction. They have also coordinated the issues for the further expert discussion in the bilateral format. I have mentioned all of this today.

As for the possibility of holding multilateral discussions to ensure predictability and restraint in the nuclear missile sphere, our position is well known, has been put forth more than once, and we have informed our American partners about it. The Russian Federation is ready to hold such discussions on the understanding that it will be counterproductive to force anyone to join them.  Such discussions can be only held on the basis of consensus and respect for the legitimate interests and positions of all the parties involved. We believe that the further efforts in this sphere call above all for the involvement of Britain and France, the US allies in NATO, which defines itself as a nuclear alliance.

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Question: Donald Trump's special envoy for arms control recently said that the US President will never agree to limit missile defence systems.  Could you comment on this please? Do they discuss missile defence matters during the strategic dialogue?

Alexey Zaitsev: After withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, the United States embarked upon an unprecedented global missile defence system buildup. Unilateral US actions in this sensitive sphere, including the creation of the global missile defence system's segments in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, as well as efforts to establish a space-based missile defence echelon, extremely negatively affect the system of international security, considerably aggravate relations in various regions and help to create dangerous pre-requisites for resuming a nuclear arms race. At the same time, the US Missile Defence Review perceives Russia and China as potential adversaries.

Russian officials, including top-level ones, have repeatedly assessed US missile defence actions. It goes without saying that we continue to raise the relevant issues before the US side, including as part of the strategic dialogue. 

We also touched upon the subject of missile defence at an expert discussion on doctrines and potentials that has ended in Vienna. We are urging the US to guide itself by the generally accepted principle on the unacceptability of strengthening its own security to the detriment of other states' security, while implementing its missile defence plans.

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Question: Turkey has announced talks involving a delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin. According to the Turkish media, the parties to the talks are discussing control over Siirt and nearby territories. Turkey and Fayez al-Sarraj are demanding that Khalifa Haftar and the so-called Russian mercenaries leave Siirt and Al Jufra Air Base. What is Russia's position regarding these "calls?" What is the essence and logic of talks with Turkey on Libya?

Alexey Zaitsev: The July 21-22 Russian-Turkish consultations in Ankara are part of our joint work, conducted under a direct instruction from the presidents of Russia and Turkey, to achieve a lasting and unconditional cessation of hostilities in Libya and to launch an all-inclusive political process.

I would like to recall that the first round of these consultations was held in mid-June in Istanbul. Following the talks in Ankara, it was decided to hold a new meeting of Russian and Turkish delegations in Moscow in the near future. 

The agenda of this work includes a multitude of technicalities that we are now trying to coordinate with the Turkish side. This includes the deployment of the conflicting parties' forces at the moment of declaring the truce. At the same time, it is, first of all, necessary to heed the opinion of Libyan protagonists themselves who are directly involved in the confrontation, while drafting agreements on various aspects of the Libyan settlement. Consequently, it will take some time to finalise compromise agreements.

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Question: The United States, Turkey, their representatives and the media are accusing Russia of violating the embargo on Libya. You have repeatedly said that thousands of jihadists and other militants have moved from Syria to Libya. How was that possible? Who do you think is actually breaking the embargo now?

Alexey Zaitsev: We do often hear unsubstantiated accusations about Russia violating the arms embargo imposed on Libya. Moreover, it is no secret to anyone that several states are directly involved in the Libyan conflict through the supply of arms and transit of foreign mercenaries and militants to the area of hostilities, including those that are accusing Russia. So your question should rather be addressed to the respective UN Security Council sanctions committee.

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Question: Turkey has regularly underscored Russia's special role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution. The leaders of Russia and Azerbaijan have discussed this topic more than once; it was also touched upon during a recent telephone conversation initiated by the Turkish side. During the phone call, both sides expressed willingness to coordinate efforts to stabilise the border region between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Can we talk about any mutual understanding here or at least, about Russia and Turkey sharing a position on resolving the Karabakh conflict?

Alexey Zaitsev: Russia is having deep concerns over the recent aggravation of the situation on the border between our friends Armenia and Azerbaijan. We are confident that the years-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, just like any other disagreement in the international arena, must be resolved exclusively by peaceful means, and through diplomatic negotiations. Our position is invariably shared by the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group – the United States and France, as well as by the UN, the CIS and other international organisations.

The Russian government has made all the necessary efforts to prevent a further escalation there, including through immediate contact with our key partners in the region. During the recent telephone conversations between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and our Azerbaijani and Armenian colleagues, we were given more assurances of support for this approach from Baku and Yerevan.

We have substantively discussed the current South Caucasus situation and specifically the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process with the Turkish side, at the level of heads of state on July 27, and foreign ministers, on July 23. Both sides have expressed serious concern about the threatening developments in the region. Russia and Turkey both believe there is no alternative to a political and diplomatic solution of the existing problems on the basis of international law, in the interests of the peoples of Azerbaijan and Armenia.

We are determined to continue working, together with our partners including Turkey, to prevent a new round of tensions, to stabilise the South Caucasus and actively promote the establishment of a political dialogue between Yerevan and Baku.

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Question: How would you comment on the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry's statements revealing their plans to hold joint exercises with Turkey, including on the border with Armenia?

Alexey Zaitsev: According to our information, the current Azerbaijani-Turkish military cooperation agreement envisages joint battle exercises and tactical flight training in Azerbaijan from July 29 to August 10 involving some 5,000 troops, 150 armoured vehicles, up to 150 artillery and air defence systems, up to 30 tactical aircraft, multipurpose helicopters, as well as reconnaissance and assault UAVs.

We are certainly closely following developments in the region, especially in the context of the recent Armenian-Azerbaijani border conflict, and we urge all parties to show restraint, including in their current military activities.

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