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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, August 13, 2020

13 August 202018:45

Table of contents

  1. Coronavirus update
  2. Assisting Russian citizens in coming home
  3. Russian regions assist Kazakhstan in countering the spread of the coronavirus
  4. Launch of Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator
  5. Developments in Belarus
  6. Syria update
  7. Resignation of the Lebanese Government
  8. New York Times article on US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warning Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of repercussions of alleged Russian intelligence support for the Taliban against US military in Afghanistan
  9. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's statements in an August 10 interview with Newsmax TV
  10. Pentagon plan to increase the US military presence in Romania
  11. US practice of adding terrorist organisations to national list
  12. The Russian Foreign Ministry and Russian diplomatic missions and consular offices abroad participate in posting information on the МестоПамяти.РФ website
  13. 60th anniversary of independence of the Republic of the Congo
  14. 75th anniversary of the liberation of Korea
  15. 60th anniversary of the Gabonese Republic's independence
Answers to media questions:
  1. Resumption of tourism to Montenegro for Russians 
  2. Russian-Pakistani relations 
  3. The next round of Russian-Turkish talks on Libya 

Coronavirus update

The epidemiological situation around the world continues to be tense. The total number of infections since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic has exceeded 20 million. We have to admit that on a global scale, the incidence rate has not yet reached a plateau; it continues to rise. The new outbreaks of the infection noted in recent days in a number of European countries indicate the need to continue to take anti-epidemic measures.

Last week, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking on the current situation with the coronavirus in the world, correctly noted that "The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world. It has stress tested our political, economic, cultural, and social infrastructure, and found us wanting. It has pushed the limits of health systems both weak and strong, leaving no country untouched." We share the position of the WHO on the importance of strengthening national health systems, of showing solidarity and combining the efforts of all countries in coronavirus response and relief on a global scale. We maintain the closest contact with the WHO on the development and future use of a COVID-19 vaccine. A few days ago, for the first time in the world, Russia registered a vaccine against COVID-19, developed by Russian scientists. More than 20 countries have already shown practical interest in it.

We would also like to note that, in accordance with Russian Government Directive No. 1993-r of July 31, 2020, foreign diplomats and holders of service passports travelling on short-term business trips are allowed to enter the Russian Federation. The entry restrictions that were previously introduced as part of the effort to contain the coronavirus were lifted on August 1, 2020.

This has fully reinstated the pre-coronavirus procedure for this group of foreign nationals to pay short-term visits to the Russian Federation, including visa-free entry if there is an appropriate interstate agreement.

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Assisting Russian citizens in coming home

We continue to advise you on the programme for assisting Russian citizens in returning home amid the coronavirus pandemic. Approximately 3,000-4,000 people a week on average are taking evacuation flights. To date, since coronavirus related restrictions were imposed, almost 280,000 people have been able to come home, of whom over 70,000 have taken advantage of the evacuation flight algorithm.

Meanwhile, we want to point out the high load of regular flights that were resumed since August 1 with the UK, Turkey and Tanzania. Given the numerous incoming questions, we again draw your attention to the still effective restrictions on the entry of foreign nationals to Russia. The procedure for crossing the Russian border at airports, on the ground, and at other checkpoints, was set forth in directives No. 635 and No. 763 of the Russian Government, and comments on them have been posted at the Russian Foreign Ministry website and the website of the Border Service of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, which, I remind you, makes direct decisions on Russian border crossings.

On several occasions, we have explained the sanitary control measures, whereby foreign nationals, when boarding a plane, need to have the certificate of a negative COVID-19 PCR test result, taken no earlier than 72 hours prior to arriving in Russia. Russian citizens need to undergo a COVID-19 PCR test within three days of arriving and register the result via the relevant form at the Public Services portal (gosuslugi.ru).

There is still a demand for evacuation flights amid the current pandemic. Last week we made inbound flights from Los Angeles, Miami, and Tel-Aviv: we received requests for these destinations from organised groups of individual compatriots. We have not overlooked such European destinations as Frankfurt, Paris, Barcelona, Alicante, Verona and Budapest either. In Asia, inbound flights from Seoul to Vladivostok have been popular; from there Russian citizens can return to their own cities.

We have drawn up the schedule of evacuation flights through the end of August. We have scheduled flights from Goa, Phuket, Bangkok and Denpasar (Bali). We are still receiving requests for assistance in returning home from these places after almost five months since launching the evacuation programme and over fifty performed flights. We are trying to consider all the incoming requests, whether from groups or individuals. When I say "we" I mean our embassies, the foreign missions and the central staff. Requests are taken into account when drawing up flight schedules. We are indeed trying to render all possible assistance to our people stranded abroad, giving them advice and practical help.

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Russian regions assist Kazakhstan in countering the spread of the coronavirus

As you know, Russia is actively helping countries hit by the coronavirus. When this disease affected our strategic ally and partner, the brotherly nation of Kazakhstan, Russia's regions didn't remain idle, they joined the mission and contributed to countering the pandemic. We would like to thank the following regions in particular: Astrakhan, Kazan, Novosibirsk, Orenburg and the Moscow city government.

A plane with a medical team of 22 specialists left for Almaty on July 6 as part of the agreement reached between the Moscow Government and Almaty City Hall.

On July 11, another team of 11 Russian doctors arrived in the Mangystau Region.

On July 15, five doctors were sent from the Astrakhan Region to Kazakhstan's Atyrau Region to provide organisational and methodological aid as well as 16 tonnes of humanitarian supplies (masks, protective suits and disinfectants).

On July 18-20, a large humanitarian shipment from Ural-Eurasia (Yekaterinburg) was delivered to Kostanay, Kokshetau and Petropavlovsk.

On July 20, Gumilyov Eurasian National University in Nur-Sultan received a shipment of personal protective equipment from their partners at the Berlek-Unity Centre for Geopolitical Studies in Ufa.

On July 22, over 250 kg of cargo purchased by the Caspiy-Eurasia Centre (Astrakhan) and Astrakhan universities, members of the Caspian Universities Association, was delivered to Atyrau.

On the same day, aid from the Eurasia-Volga information and analytical centre (Saratov) was delivered to Uralsk.

From July 27 to August 1, a medical team of four doctors from Kazan was working in the Jambyl Region of Kazakhstan, who came there at the invitation of the local government.

The Novosibirsk Region sent seven infectious disease specialists to the Pavlodar Region of Kazakhstan and also dispatched a consignment of medical supplies which included 50,000 masks, 20,000 pairs of gloves and 200 protective suits for the region.

The North-South political analytic centre (Moscow), Siberia-Eurasia expert club (Novosibirsk), Institute of Central Asian Studies (Kazan) and the Commonwealth of Eurasian Nations (Orenburg) sent aid to Nur-Sultan, Almaty and Shymkent.

The Orenburg Region government and the Orenburg branch of the all-Russia NGO of small and medium-sized businesses, Opora Russia, are working to send a humanitarian consignment (personal protective equipment) to the Aktobe Region in Kazakhstan this month.

In total, in July, public organisations operating near the Russian-Kazakhstani border sent more than 150,000 masks, 25,000 pairs of gloves, blood pressure monitors, thermometers, antiseptics, medicines and other items to Kazakhstani regions. The total value of goods is over 1.5 million roubles.

Our regions' steps fully embody the principle of being good neighbours, which is how we refer to the aid being sent from Russian regional associations to the people of Kazakhstan.

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Launch of Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator

We have taken note of a statement by the WHO Secretariat about plans to create a council to support the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator.

The council is positioned as a high-level temporary advisory body to rally multilateral support for the ACT initiative.

The council has been set two main goals – to promote the consolidation of political and financial resources to support the ACT, and to provide information support for the efforts undertaken by the Accelerator.

The council is expected to represent the WHO member states, the European Commission and the WHO as initiators of the ACT Accelerator, non-profit organisations, and private businesses as observers. Russia is one of the states influencing the development of the market for pharmaceuticals, including vaccines, drugs and diagnostic tools.

We are ready to consider an official invitation for Russia to join the ACT Accelerator support council once we receive one.

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Developments in Belarus

We are closely following the developments in Belarus over the past few days. We are concerned about the incoming reports on incidents that involve violations of public order on the streets of a number of Belarusian cities that followed the presidential election.

In this context, we note the unprecedented pressure that some of our foreign partners are putting on the Belarusian government. We have witnessed some clear attempts of external interference in the affairs of a sovereign state aimed at splitting society and destabilising the country. We have repeatedly seen the use of similar methods in other countries.

For our part, we urge everyone to show restraint and exercise prudence. We reaffirm our interest in a stable internal political situation in Belarus. We hope that the situation will normalise soon and will resume its usual course.

As regards the recent detention of Russian citizens in Belarus, including journalists, we would like to note the significant role that the Russian Embassy in Minsk and particularly Ambassador Dmitry Mezentsev have played in settling this problem, by keeping in touch with the relevant authorities in Belarus. At this point, most of the Russian journalists have been released. Specifically, Semyon Pegov, Vladislav Zizdok, Anton Starkov, Dmitry Lasenko, Maxim Solopov, Ilya Pitalev, Nikita Telizhenko and Igor Rogov have returned home. We are grateful to our Belarusian colleagues for their prompt response to the relevant requests by the Russian Embassy. I would like to note that the effort to protect Russian citizens' rights will undoubtedly continue.

We also expect that professional cooperation between the investigative committees, the prosecutors general and other competent authorities of the two countries will help sort out the situation with the detention of 33 Russian citizens in Belarus in the shortest possible time. It is important to note that any attempts to find some "Russian footprint" in the organisation of the popular unrest in Belarus are quite groundless. Whatever evidence can be found there point in a different direction. The relevant facts in this regard have been reported to the Belarusian side and are now in the public domain.

I would like to emphasise that Russia has always been and remains a reliable ally and friend of Belarus and the fraternal Belarusian people. We are confident that any attempts to trigger discord between us are doomed to failure.

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Syria update

We view the overall situation in the country as stable. Tensions remain in the territories beyond Damascus' control. 

Radicals in Idlib continue to resist the implementation of the Additional Protocol of March 5 of this year by the Russian and Turkish militaries. Terrorists have stepped up the shelling of government troops and nearby towns and villages and continue their provocations in the "security corridor" along the M4 motorway, thus, the joint patrols of the motorway have been suspended. Also, attempts to attack the Khmeimim Russian air base are of special concern. Another attack involving three drones is reported to have been repelled on August 10. It is clear that firm stability in the Idlid de-escalation zone can only be achieved after the terrorist hotbed there has been neutralised. 

The situation in the northeast of Syria is also complicated. The existing problems, related to increased ISIS activity, the dire humanitarian situation and increasing coronavirus cases, are compounded by Arab protests on the west bank of the Euphrates against Kurdish actions and the illegal US presence. The local population is angry over illegal extraction and smuggling of Syrian oil with support from the US. This is not only the deliberate plundering of the country's natural resources. This also undermines Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity and endangers regional security. It is noteworthy that Washington waived its own sanctions which ban any operations with Syrian hydrocarbons so as to deal in Euphrates oil. 

On the humanitarian track, we note that Syrians have resumed their return to their homeland. Thus, repatriation of refugees from Lebanon has stepped up with over 2,000 people leaving for Syria since the beginning of the month. In this connection I would like to draw the attention of the international community to the need to facilitate this process, including by relieving the socioeconomic load on the receiving countries, especially against the backdrop of the tragic events in neighbouring Lebanon.

On the political track, we expect the members of the Constitutional Committee's editorial commission to resume their work in Geneva on August 24, with support from the UN Secretary-Generals' Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen, provided the epidemiological situation permits.

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Resignation of the Lebanese Government

On August 10, amid the escalating crisis in the Republic of Lebanon, President of Lebanon Michel Aoun accepted the resignation of the Cabinet of Ministers led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab and formed early this year. Members of the Government will continue to work as acting ministers until a new cabinet is formed.

We view the ongoing political events in Lebanon as its domestic affair. As always, we support its sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity. We call on the people of Lebanon to resolve all urgent issues on the domestic agenda within the confines of the law, via a dialogue to reach a wide national consensus without interference from abroad.

We believe that today all Lebanese politicians have to unite in order to overcome the aftermath of the disaster that took place in the port of Beirut on August 4 and lead the country out of this long crisis together. First of all, they have to take joint steps in order to de-escalate tensions, renounce violence and prevent a further descent into chaos and to a point of no return. We hope that foreign states will help de-escalate tensions in Beirut and help the Lebanese reach a compromise, and not do the opposite. We believe that the United Nations should take upon itself the mission of coordinating international efforts to support Lebanon in this situation.

At the same time, we would like to voice our concern over the attempts by a number of potential international donors to politicise the provision of financial aid for Lebanon in their own geopolitical interests. We believe that socioeconomic assistance to countries in need should be provided without any strings attached. Any prior conditions that infringe on national sovereignty and the prerogatives of the legitimate authorities are unacceptable. Moreover, considering the difficult domestic political situation in Lebanon, pushing for any unprepared reforms without consensus support can lead to further destabilisation and an uncontrollable escalation of violence.

We are doing everything we can to bring the situation back to normal as soon as possible in Lebanon, a friendly nation, including actively participating in the large-scale search-and-rescue operation in the port of Beirut and having the Russian Emergencies Ministry mobile field hospital doctors provide emergency medical assistance to the injured.

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New York Times article on US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warning Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of repercussions of alleged Russian intelligence support for the Taliban against US military in Afghanistan

During Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's July 13 telephone conversation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the US side did indeed raise the issue of the supposed plot of Russian military intelligence to encourage Taliban attacks on US troops in Afghanistan. 

What was Russia's response? The Foreign Minister of Russia called such allegations bad-faith speculation with no basis in reality, and asked Washington for evidence which was not produced, as expected. 

Moreover, Sergey Lavrov stressed that the US presence in Afghanistan is in Russia's interests, including to prevent militants from shifting focus to Central Asian countries. 

We would recommend that officials in Washington look to the statements made by the US President, who had repeatedly said that US intelligence does not consider this information to be credible.

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's statements in an August 10 interview with Newsmax TV

We took note of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's interview with Newsmax TV in which he said "the Iranians, the Chinese, the Russians too, are engaged in influence operations here in the United States" including with respect to the US presidential election. We did not hear anything new concerning our country in this interview. This fixation on Russian interference in US affairs is better left to Freud, in my opinion. In recent years, accusing Russia of every conceivable sin – from "election interference" to "spreading misinformation" – has become a sort of ritual for US politicians and officials.

For our part, we will never cease pointing out the entirely fabricated and baseless nature of the allegations. There is no – and can be no – real evidence of the Russian state influencing any US election or any domestic matters whatsoever. Our country does not engage in that, and the tales of "interference" are a byproduct of US domestic politics.

It is certainly unfortunate that such insinuations are still being made even as the US and the entire world are busy dealing with the serious challenge posed by the coronavirus and its socioeconomic toll. We firmly believe that under the circumstances everyone in the world community should be working together rather levelling unsubstantiated, nakedly political charges at other nations.

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Pentagon plan to increase the US military presence in Romania

Following the announcement of the Pentagon decision to increase its military presence in Poland and the Baltic states, high-ranking US commanders spoke about their country's plans to redeploy to Romania some of the troops being withdrawn from Germany. Washington does not conceal that these steps are part of the effort to bolster the so-called "north-south axis" from the Baltic to Black Sea, the axis that is to become the line marking Russia's "containment," with Romania viewed as a key stronghold for projecting power in the Black Sea region.

Obviously, there is a clear trend here of systematically reinforcing the US-NATO military group in the so-called near-front zone, which is what NATO considers Russia's western borders to be. This is about something that is actually happening, not made-up stories of Russian interference. This is a routine feature of current US policy.  At present, it means that there will be essentially permanent US and allied contingents in Eastern Europe where they had never been before. The fact that this presence is anecdotally called a "permanent rotation" does not change the essence of the matter.

If these steps are taken, they will endanger the 1997 Russia-NATO Founding Act, in particular the provisions that deal with the obligation not to station "substantial combat forces" in the alliance's new member-states.

All that is evidence that the US and its NATO allies are intent on seeking to create an "arc of tension" along the contact line with Russia, at the expense of European security interests.

Of course, Russia will respond appropriately to this provocation of encroachment. This fact must be taken into account, among others, by the east European capitals which are constantly thinking up new ways to incite Russophobia while beckoning US soldiers. We just advise them to carefully weigh all the risks and seriously consider the consequences.

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US practice of adding terrorist organisations to national list

The American authorities continue to ignore the spread of neo-Nazi ideas in the United States without taking any practical steps to mitigate this problem.

We noticed the recent British government decision to include the international neo-Nazi group Feuerkrieg Division, the majority of whose members are US citizens, to the national list of terrorist organisations. At the same time, this organisation is not on the US list of terrorist organisation. Paradoxically, the British seem to be more concerned with this issue than the Americans, who, as we understand, are trying to shift the focus of this problem from themselves to other countries. Why am I talking about this? Because some time ago (about two months ago), we noticed that they included a little-known Russian organisation on this terrorist list, giving it the status of the first foreign group of white Supremacists, as they say, to be sanctioned. You would be better off paying attention to problems with your own domestic organisations. Instead of some little-known Russian organisation, you would better have added the Feuerkrieg Division to your list. Why not? This would have been a step in the right direction.

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The Russian Foreign Ministry and Russian diplomatic missions and consular offices abroad participate in posting information on the МестоПамяти.РФ website

On February 14, 2018, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the Russian Military Historical Society signed a cooperation agreement. One of the goals is to cooperate on filling the online resource МестоПамяти.РФ with information and materials on Russian (Soviet) military memorial sites located beyond the Russian Federation.

To date, Russian diplomatic missions and consular offices in more than 50 foreign countries have joined this project initiated by the Russian Military Historical Society. The interactive map on the site marks graves, monuments, memorials and memorial sites, including those that no longer exist for some or other reasons.

We call on our compatriots living abroad and foreigners who are interested in true history to take an active part in the project.

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60th anniversary of independence of the Republic of the Congo

On August15, the Republic of the Congo marks the 60th anniversary of independence. From the time the first Europeans arrived in the 15th century from Portugal, the territory of the modern Congo was one of the centres of slave trade. Later, at the end of the 19th century, the country was taken over by the French. In October 1947, the Congo was granted the status of an overseas territory of France, and in 1958, it became an autonomous republic within the French Community.

After the Congo proclaimed independence, the Soviet Union provided the republic diverse assistance in the development of the young Congolese state, which i officially chose the socialist path of development in 1963. Industrial enterprises, infrastructure facilities and healthcare centres built with our country's assistance were the symbols of that time. Hundreds of Soviet civilian and military specialists worked in the Congo, and about 7,000 Congolese were educated at Soviet universities, while tens of thousands more were trained by Soviet specialists at home in the Congo.

At present, the multifaceted ties between the Russian Federation and the Republic of the Congo continue to grow in an atmosphere of friendship, trust and mutual respect, which are inherent in our relations. The two countries maintain an intensive political dialogue; trade and economic cooperation is advancing and humanitarian and cultural contacts are expanding. Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso's visit to Moscow on May 23, 2019 lent a powerful impetus to the Russian-Congolese partnership. During President Vladimir Putin's meeting with the Congolese leader, they outlined plans for the further development of mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation in the investment, trade, economic, military and humanitarian spheres. In October 2019, President of the Republic of the Congo Denis Sassou Nguesso took part in the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi.

We sincerely wish all the best to our Congolese friends on this national holiday and wish them peace, prosperity and success.

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75th anniversary of the liberation of Korea

On August 15, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea mark the 75th anniversary of the peninsula's liberation from Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945).

The National Liberation Day is a holiday celebrated in both South and North Korea and is closely linked with our country. In August 1945, Soviet troops fought side by side with Korean patriots in an operation to liberate the Korean Peninsula, suffering significant casualties. Our people deeply cherish the memory of those soldiers' heroism.

As we approach this memorable date, we would like to express hope that both South and North Korea will overcome their alienation and will continue their progress to joint prosperity and success.

We call on all states involved in the Korean peace process to combine their efforts towards achieving a lasting peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia as a whole.

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60th anniversary of the Gabonese Republic's independence

On August 17, the Gabonese Republic marks the 60th anniversary of independence. Since then, the country has scored considerable successes in its democratic development, in forming a stable political system and facilitating economic development.

The colonisation of what is now Gabon began in the late 15th century with the arrival of Europeans from Portugal, the Netherlands, France, Spain and Great Britain. Since the early 19th century, the first permanent French communities began to be established on these territories. Paris signed unequal treaties with the chiefs of local tribes stipulating protection and patronage on the part of France and gradually managed to establish a colony there that existed for over 100 years.

On October 15, 1973, our countries established diplomatic relations that continue to develop successfully in an atmosphere of friendship, mutual respect and solidarity. Russia and Gabon maintain active political dialogue, work to further expand mutually beneficial political, military-technical, trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation under the agreements reached at the July 2018 meeting between President Vladimir Putin and President of the Gabonese Republic Ali Bongo Ondimba in Moscow, as well as during contacts between representatives of the two countries on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi in October 2019.

We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate our Gabonese friends and colleagues on their national holiday and wish them peace, prosperity and well-being.

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75th anniversary of independence of the Republic of Indonesia

On August 17, the people of Indonesia are marking the 75th anniversary of independence.

The establishment of the Republic of Indonesia was proclaimed in 1945 as a result of the national liberation movement. This ended a period of foreign domination that began as far back as the 16th century, when Portugal, Great Britain and the Netherlands one after another strove to establish control over the legendary Spice Islands. By 1920, the entire territory of today's Indonesia was a colony of the Netherlands known as the Dutch East Indies. World War II also impacted the people of Indonesia, bringing Japanese occupation in 1942-1945. The Netherlands did not recognise Indonesian sovereignty over most of the country until 1949, and Jakarta re-established control over the western section of New Guinea only in 1963.

The Soviet Union played an important role in the formation of the young state, providing  the Republic with large-scale political and economic support. This year marks the 70th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between our two countries. Russian-Indonesian ties traditionally develop in the spirit of respect and trust, and the accumulated potential of mutually beneficial cooperation highlights their truly partner-like nature.

After becoming a notable player on the international scene, Indonesia has been actively involved in the work of the G20, the Islamic Cooperation Organisation, the Non-Aligned Movement and key Asia Pacific associations. Today, Indonesia also acts as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Ahead of the national holiday, we would like to wish peace, prosperity and well-being to our Indonesian friends.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: How is the work going with resuming tourist travel from Russia to Montenegro?

Maria Zakharova: As you know, starting August 7, a decision of the local government in Montenegro came into force about the liberalisation of entry for Russian nationals, which is now in the so-called green list of countries with a relatively stable epidemiological situation. Russian tourists are required to have a status of a Montenegrin resident or to spend 15 days in a country from the green list before arriving in Montenegro.

It is obvious that the lifting of restrictions reflects the Montenegrin government's desire to try to compensate the huge losses in their tourist industry, the backbone of their economy, which it suffered due to the coronavirus pandemic. Russians have been the biggest part of tourist flow to Montenegro for years and this country has been quite popular among them.

Travellers need to remember that new waves of the pandemic are still possible. In this regard, in particular, we retain our restrictions and preventive measures and carefully pick foreign countries to open for air travel.

As for Montenegro, we should remember that this resort country announced an all-out pandemic on July 21, which is still in place. The disease develops in waves, which makes it impossible for us to make forecasts about its spread. We must also listen to other countries' estimates. Thus, Montenegro has not been included in the EU list of non-EU states whose citizens are allowed to enter the European Union space.

We believe that when planning a foreign trip, Russians need to assess the situation from the medical point of view, consider logistics (at the moment, Russia has resumed air traffic only with Turkey, Great Britain and Tanzania). And please keep in mind the problems related to the lockdown and the inability to leave other countries and return home, as well as all the efforts we took to bring our citizens back home.

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Question: On August 14, Pakistan celebrates the 73rd anniversary of independence. Pakistan and Russia have established a constructive political dialogue that also consolidates friendly relations and mutual understanding.   How could you characterise the relations between the two countries in 2020?

Maria Zakharova: First of all, let me take this opportunity to congratulate the friendly people of Pakistan on the upcoming holiday, Independence Day, and convey our wishes of peace, prosperity, and wellbeing.

Russian-Pakistani relations at the current stage are a multifaceted partnership based on a concurrence or proximity of our countries' approaches to the majority of key international and regional issues. 

We maintain a stable political dialogue, including at the highest and high level.   Although the COVID-19 pandemic introduced certain adjustments to the schedule of our political contacts, we intend to implement the existing plans when the sanitary and epidemiological situation returns to normal.

We are working to strengthen our trade and economic partnership, including by implementing joint energy projects.  We hope for an early start in the construction of the North-South gas pipeline from Karachi to Lahore.

Our counter-terrorism cooperation is increasingly dynamic.   Since 2016, Friendship joint antiterrorism exercises have been held alternatively in Pakistan and Russia.

Collaboration on the international stage is expanding. Some additional opportunities for this emerged after Pakistan became full-fledged member state of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in 2017. We value the dialogue with Islamabad on the Afghan issues and our partners' active involvement in mechanisms designed to promote settlement in Afghanistan, including the Moscow format, the expanded Three of Russia, China and the United States with the participation of Pakistan, and the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group.

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Question: When is the next round of Russian-Turkish talks on Libya being planned? What will be discussed?

Maria Zakharova: I would like to note that Libya is discussed during our regular working contacts not only with our Turkish partners. We maintain an intense, trust-based dialogue on key matters related to a comprehensive political settlement of the Libyan crisis with all stakeholders, primarily those in Libya itself. I am referring to the heads of the existing authorities and government agencies in western and eastern Libya, representatives of influential political forces, established regional leaders, and sheikhs of tribes.

We are collaborating constructively with the African Union and the Arab League, as well as with countries, primarily Arab and European, that share our approaches and are proactive where Libya is concerned. We proceed from the assumption that the relevant collective actions should be based on the decisions of the Berlin International Conference on Libya (January 19, 2020) and UN Security Council Resolution 2510 approved in support of these decisions, with the main coordinating role assigned to the United Nations.

As for the next round of the Russian-Turkish interagency consultations on Libya, it should take place in Moscow in August or September of this year on a date convenient for both sides.  The Russian and Turkish representatives agreed on this in principle during their previous meeting in this format held in Ankara on July 21-22 of this year.

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