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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 27, 2020

27 August 202018:30

Table of contents

  1. Coronavirus update
  2. Assisting Russian citizens in coming home and prospects for opening borders to foreigners
  3. Russian humanitarian aid provided to Peru to counter the coronavirus
  4. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's meeting with students and faculty of MGIMO University
  5. BRICS Foreign Ministers' Council meeting via videoconference
  6. Update on Belarus
  7. Statement by US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on the intention to build medium- and short-range missiles "to deter Russian aggression"
  8. European Commission's statement on Europe-Wide Day of Remembrance for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes
  9. Entry into force of the Memorandum between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on reciprocal easing of visa procedures
  10. Blocking of Cuban government media accounts by Google
  11. Unveiling a monument to Sergey Yesenin in Croatia
  12. 75th anniversary of the independence of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
  13. Annual Forum of Young Diplomats from Organisation of Islamic Cooperation countries on 100% Tatarstan digital platform

Answers to media questions:

  1. Meeting between the Russian Ambassador and Mali's military authorities
  2. Statements on ending hostilities in Libya and launching a political settlement
  3. Possible exchange of the citizens detained and serving their sentences in Russia and the US
  4. Options for settling the Varosha issue
  5. Situation around the Maarjamae Memorial Complex
  6. Outcomes of the meetings held by the Russian Ambassador with leading political figures in Afghanistan

Coronavirus update

The global coronavirus situation remains tense. As of August 27, over 24 million people have been infected with the coronavirus since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Again, I am referring to the world situation as a whole. The dynamics of the disease varies, and is preventing many countries from relaxing their current restrictions.  

During briefings last week and this week, WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus again emphasised that efforts to counter the pandemic must be collective and the only way to overcome it is to work together. 

The governments of most countries are focusing on consolidating positive results in countering the pandemic. They put a lot of effort into additional training for medical personnel to treat and diagnose COVID-19, and they are implementing effective anti-epidemic measures.

Now the main goal for all countries is to make safe and effective vaccines. A number of countries, including Russia, are developing them and conducting their pre-clinical and clinical trials to overcome the negative consequences of the pandemic for the economies. Our country is willing to take part in international cooperation in this area. The Russian Foreign Ministry or our missions abroad have notified their host countries of this.

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Assisting Russian citizens in coming home and prospects for opening borders to foreigners

We continue to provide assistance to Russian citizens who want to come home amid the pandemic. Evacuation flights continue to be requested even today, five months after the programme was launched.

In the past week, over 4,000 people have used these flights, and a total of over 290,000 people have returned to date. As a reminder, a number of regularly scheduled flights have reopened. Nevertheless, our evacuation flights remain in demand. The statistics speak for themselves.

A number of flights are scheduled through the end of August, including flights from Israel, India (Goa), Spain (Alicante and Barcelona), Italy (Verona and Rome), Cyprus, the United Arab Emirates, the Republic of Korea, France (Paris and Nice) and Japan. A long-awaited flight from the People's Republic of China is also being finalised.

Foreign citizens are still subject to restrictions when entering the Russian Federation, as per Government Directive No. 635-r of March 16. And once again, certain categories of foreign nationals can enter Russia provided they present all properly certified documents under this directive.

Recently, the relevant instruction by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin allowing foreign athletes, coaches and physical fitness specialists to once again visit Russia under working or humanitarian visas entered into force. The decision should make it easier to cross the border for those involved in international competitions, including people in professional sport leagues.

As we approach the new academic year, the Russian Government's Emergency Response Centre, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova, is studying the possibility of approving an algorithm for receiving foreign students at Russian universities. As we understand from our foreign partners, this subject is very important now.

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Russian humanitarian aid provided to Peru to counter the coronavirus

In accordance with the Government of Peru's request for humanitarian aid to counter the coronavirus, on August 19 Russia send a Nordwind Airlines plane to Lima to deliver 500 test kits and the necessary reagents. The Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade is actively working on additional shipments of necessary medical supplies to Peru considering Russian enterprises' industrial capacities.

This testifies to the genuine partnership based on mutual respect and assistance as well as friendship and solidarity that Russia and Peru share as two countries that have significant experience in relieving emergencies together. It is symbolic that this year, on July 18, both countries marked the Day of Russian-Peruvian Solidarity, the 50th anniversary of Moscow providing aid to the victims of a major earthquake in Peru.

We believe bilateral relations will continue to develop for the prosperity of the two nations.

Moreover, in response to the request of Andean Parliament President Rolando Sousa, asking Russia to provide humanitarian aid for the region to fight COVID-19, this plane delivered 200 test kits and reagents from the Federation Council of the Russian Federal Assembly for the Andean Parliament.

Amid the global difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Russia is ready to join forces and exchange expertise with its interested partners in order to provide relief.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's meeting with students and faculty of MGIMO University

As usual on September 1, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with first-year students and faculty of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University) of the Foreign Ministry as well as the Diplomatic Academy as part of the events to mark Knowledge Day. Mr Lavrov will speak about current issues on the international agenda and answer topical questions directly.

The meeting will be held in person, but due to COVID-19 prevention measures, the number of participants will be limited. The Foreign Ministry will stream the meeting on its website and social media accounts.

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BRICS Foreign Ministers' Council meeting via videoconference

A full-format meeting of the BRICS countries' foreign ministers will take place via videoconference on September 4 under the chairmanship of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The participants will exchange opinions on urgent international issues, including regional conflicts, the need to counter new challenges and threats and cooperation between the five member-states at multilateral venues, including on the sidelines of the upcoming anniversary 75th UN General Assembly. The participants plan to discuss cooperation, during the year of Russia's BRICS chairmanship, in three main areas – politics and security, the economy and finances, and humanitarian ties.

The traditional meetings of BRICS Sherpas/Sous-Sherpas will take place before the foreign ministers' meeting.

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Update on Belarus

The situation in Belarus has received broad coverage. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin's interview with international journalist Sergey Brilyov has just been published. The situation in Belarus was discussed in detail during this interview. There is nothing to add to this at the moment. We will make additional comments when receiving questions.

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Statement by US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on the intention to build medium- and short-range missiles "to deter Russian aggression"

Speaking at the Republican National Convention, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo declared the US's intention to develop medium- and short-range missiles "to deter Russian aggression." This statement probably set the tune for his speech. He mentioned, as a US achievement, Washington's withdrawal from the "harmful" INF Treaty, which allows the US to develop missiles "to deter Russian aggression."

We still believe the US made a big mistake (rather than an achievement) when it unilaterally withdrew from the treaty. Although the INF Treaty was not ideal in modern circumstances, there is no doubt that it continued to promote predictability and restraint in the nuclear missile area.

As we have explained more than once, the deployment of US ground-based medium- and short-range missiles in different parts of the world will be an extremely risky and destabilising step for international and regional security. We believe this will provoke a new round in the arms race with unpredictable consequences. Needless to say, Russia will immediately respond to the risks of additional missiles near Russian territory.

We are convinced that in this context the only sensible and justifiable measure would be a joint search for a mutually acceptable settlement of the current situation through political and diplomatic means. Russia is open to equitable and constructive work on restoring trust and enhancing international security and strategic stability. We hope the Americans will also display reciprocal interest and responsibility.

As for yet another propaganda thesis on "Russian aggression," this is just one more attempt to distort the facts and mislead the US and international public in order to sidetrack attention from the US's own destructive actions in the world arena.

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European Commission's statement on Europe-Wide Day of Remembrance for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes

We have noted the traditional statement on behalf of the European Commission with respect to the so-called Europe-Wide Day of Remembrance for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes.

We have to state that Brussels continues its strange and short-sighted policy of falsifying and rewriting European history. The European Commission has once again replicated the revisionist idea that it was the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact signed on August 23, 1939, that "plunged Europe into darkness." In doing so it has not said a word, which is customary for such absurd statements, about the expansionist and hate-filled intentions of the Nazi regime and the decisive role of the Soviet Union in the victory over Nazism.

In this context, we want to remind those who support historical speculations that Europe started the "plunge into darkness" not on August 23, 1939, but much earlier, when Western countries opted for a policy of appeasement of the aggressor-country that reached a peak with the Munich Betrayal of 1938.

An exhaustive and comprehensive analysis of those historical events has been made by President Vladimir Putin in an article entitled "75 Years of Great Victory: Common Responsibility for History and the Future." We have quoted this article on many occasions. We invite anyone interested in speculating on this subject to read it attentively.

Another attempt by the European Commission to draw a parallel between the USSR and Nazi Germany runs counter to everything: history, facts, logic and morals. Above all, it runs counter to the conclusions of the Nuremberg Trials. By promoting such pseudo-historical concepts in pursuit of fleeting political interests, Brussels is "playing with fire" and they know it. Such liberal use, interpretation or willful distortion of historical facts can lead to a tolerance for the overt propaganda of Nazi ideology in some EU countries. This is a harsh fact today. It threatens the fundamental principles of democracy and human rights, and offends the memory of the millions of victims of WWII and those who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of Europe from German Nazism.

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Entry into force of the Memorandum between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on reciprocal easing of visa procedures

The Memorandum between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the reciprocal easing of visa procedures, signed in Riyadh on October 14, 2019, will enter into force on August 30.

The memorandum provides for the issuance of multiple-entry tourist visas for Russian and Saudi citizens for up to six months, multiple-entry private visas for up to one year, and multiple-entry business and humanitarian visas for up to five years.

Multiple-entry visas will be processed for the citizens of the other country for a stay of no more than 90 days within a 180-day period.

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Blocking of Cuban government media accounts by Google


On August 20, the US's Google blocked the accounts of the Cuban publisher Granma and the leading news channels Mesa Redonda and Cubavision Internacional. It accused them of violating US export laws. Where there's a will, there's a way. An article in US law was found as an excuse to block these sites.

As usual, Google did not deem it necessary to provide a full or even partial explanation for its actions. This unceremonious blocking is restrictive and violates universal democratic principles by limiting freedom of access to information and its dissemination. This was a deliberate action by the IT giant.

The only argument that was offered was a reference to some norms that require a corporation to block the transfer of applications to the countries on which the US government has imposed an embargo.

Comrades in the US who make these decisions, please, listen to me! When serious documents aimed at preventing the spread of xenophobia, racism and new forms of Nazism are being developed, you typically refer to freedom of speech. You express how important this is to you and that it has to be taken into account even when drafting anti- or counter-terrorism resolutions, holding conferences, etc. You attach primary importance to freedom of speech. What is the link between US exports and blocking Cuban publishers and news channels? What are you talking about? Do you really think we don't understand why this is being done? Don't we understand that this is the very censorship against which you fight so hard in other countries? You are doing this with your own hands.

Obviously, it doesn't stand up to criticism and it runs counter to common sense. This is the pure exterritorial application of US law. In this case, it represents the arbitrary censorship of the global internet, which runs contrary to the relevant UN conventions and is totally unacceptable.

But is this really the only example of anti-democratic media regulation in the United States? Unfortunately, no. In September 2019, Cuban accounts were blocked by the social media giant Twitter. In June 2020, the internet platform deleted numerous Russian, Chinese and Turkish accounts under the far-fetched pretext that they were promoting political propaganda. In July, Google blocked, without notice, the official account of the Tsargrad TV channel on YouTube and the related Tsargrad News and Double-Headed Eagle channels. In addition, it banned their access to email, cloud and other services.

These examples make it obvious how the IT corporations Google, Facebook and Twitter are building up their participation in Washington's campaign against objectionable media, under the political pressure of the US establishment. If an alternative opinion is brought to public attention, we see how Washington operates to stamp it out. Apparently, US officials see a threat to the information monopoly of mainstream news in world broadcasting.  

We see the actions of these US IT corporations, including the recent Google move, as the crude suppression of freedom of speech and expression and of the principles of free dissemination of information and unrestricted access to it.

We urge the heads of these companies not to abandon democratic values for the sake of fleeting political considerations and revise their policy in favour of observing fundamental international legal standards. Either explain why you can't or tell us how these decisions are made. Maybe you can describe the pressure that is exerted on your companies? How do you make decisions on blocking news channels?

We hope the relevant international agencies and human rights organisations will react appropriately to these actions and give an unbiased assessment of this situation.

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Unveiling a monument to Sergey Yesenin in Croatia

On August 20, a monument to Russian poet Sergey Yesenin was unveiled in Opatija, Croatia. The ceremony was attended by the Ambassador of Russia to Croatia, city officials, representatives of civil society, educational institutions, businesses and creative communities, and compatriots.

Our Embassy gave the bust of the great Russian poet as a gift to the residents of the seaside town, which is very popular among tourists, including those from Russia.

It is gratifying that the initiative to perpetuate the memory of outstanding figures of national culture and history on Croatian soil is supported by the local community and serves to strengthen people-to-people contacts.

We are grateful to our Croatian partners for valuing Sergey Yesenin's rich spiritual and literary legacy, which has no national borders.

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75th anniversary of the independence of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam

On September 2, Vietnam will mark the 75th anniversary of the country's independence.

From the middle of the 19th century, Vietnam was a colonial possession of France, and during the Second World War, it was occupied by Japan. Only the victory of the August Revolution of 1945, which was won by the Vietnamese people led by the legendary Ho Chi Minh, put an end to foreign rule and marked the creation of a new state on the map of Indochina – the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. However, Vietnam had to defend its freedom and independence with arms in hand for many years – first in the Resistance War of 1946-1954, and then when repelling foreign aggression led by the United States. In 1975, this heroic fight culminated in the reunification of the country and the creation of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Support from the USSR played an important role in the early days of Vietnam's statehood. The USSR for many years provided Vietnam with large-scale political and economic assistance. The traditions of friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation established at that time still underpin our special bilateral relationship. This year, Russia and Vietnam are celebrating the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations. Russian-Vietnamese cooperation is rapidly developing in the spirit of a comprehensive strategic partnership based on the rich experience accumulated over previous years.

Today Vietnam is a modern state with a fast-growing economy, an active participant in a number of regional and international associations, and currently a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and the ASEAN Chair.

Ahead of the holiday, we would like to wish our Vietnamese friends peace, prosperity and wellbeing.

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Annual Forum of Young Diplomats from Organisation of Islamic Cooperation countries on 100% Tatarstan digital platform

On September 9, the Council of Young Diplomats of the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Government of the Republic of Tatarstan and the Academy of Youth Diplomacy are holding the first online session of the Forum of Young Diplomats from Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries – an annual event bringing together young employees of foreign ministries from Muslim countries. Previously held only in person, this year's forum is titled "Digitalisation and diplomacy: The new reality and new opportunities."

Indeed, this is a remarkable and reputable platform for young professionals, where they discuss the most topical issues on the international agenda. As in previous years, the fifth anniversary meeting will include participants representing Algeria, the UAE, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and other OIC countries. The honorary guests will include Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Special Representative of the Russian Foreign Minister for Cooperation with Organisations of Muslim States Konstantin Shuvalov, CEO of the Tatarstan Investment Development Agency Taliya Minullina and many others.

It is noteworthy that the forum will be held as part of 100% Tatarstan, a unique two-week online platform running between August 30 and September 10. This extraordinary aggregator of business video content was created to demonstrate Tatarstan's socioeconomic achievements, provide continuous positive media coverage of the region and promote its positive image among other regions and internationally. You can learn more about this unique platform on its website at www.100tatarstan.com.

We invite media representatives to cover this event. Your contact person in the Council of Young Diplomats is Raisa Shumskaya who can be reached at +7 (985) 413-00-45.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: Can you please comment on the recent meeting between the Russian Ambassador in Bamako and Malian military authorities?

Maria Zakharova: On August 21, at the invitation of the leaders of the military group that took power in Mali, Russian Ambassador in Bamako Igor Gromyko met with the leader of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People Colonel Assimi Goita at the military base in the town of Katiа located not far from the capital.

The main focus of this first contact with the new self-proclaimed Malian authorities was on ensuring the security of the Russian diplomatic mission and its staff. The Chairman of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People was informed about our concerns regarding problems with the embassy's security that had not been up to standard since the events of August 18.

The ambassador was assured that the Malian Gendarmerie and the military police would immediately receive instructions to take exhaustive measures to protect the Russian foreign mission.

At his own initiative, Assimi Goita informed the Russian Ambassador about the reasons that prompted the military to remove President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and the Malian Government from power, as well as about the committee's priority steps to restore order in the country and set up the operation of government bodies.

The leaders of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People held similar meetings with the ambassadors of several other countries, including China and France.

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Question: On August 21, Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord of Libya Fayez al-Sarraj and President of the Libyan House of Representatives Aguila Saleh Issa gave statements on introducing a ceasefire in all of Libya and launching a process of political settlement. What do you think of this step?

Maria Zakharova: Being convinced that there is no alternative to a political settlement of the Libyan crisis, we have consistently advocated a stable ceasefire in Libya and cessation of the bloody intra-Libyan conflict that has been tearing the country apart since the 2011 NATO intervention. In this context, the recent statements by Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord of Libya Fayez al-Sarraj and President of the Libyan House of Representatives Aguila Saleh Issa have given us grounds for optimism. We urge the sides to launch intra-Libyan talks without delay based on the mechanisms created at the Berlin International Conference on Libya on January 19 of this year and approved by UN Security Council Resolution 2510.

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Question: Could you comment on the possibility of exchanging detained citizens that are serving terms in Russia and the US?

Maria Zakharova: The media has regularly published articles lately about preparations for exchanging US citizens, including the recently convicted Paul Whelan for Russian citizens that are being kept in US prisons. As the Foreign Ministry noted earlier, any reports on alleged talks on this issue are not based in reality.

As for the Russian citizens serving terms in US prisons, on March 24 Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sent a verbal message to US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. He urged Washington to release them for humanitarian reasons due to the spread of COVID-19 in the US. Since then we have repeatedly raised this issue at different levels but have not heard an unequivocal answer.

We urge our US colleagues to address this matter – the sooner the better.

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Question: What is Russia's attitude towards the repeatedly announced plans of Turkey, which occupies part of the Republic of Cyprus, to start unilateral reconstruction and use of the Famagusta resort? What is your attitude to the proposals of the President of Cyprus to study, in cooperation with the UN and the two communities, the issue of reconstruction and the return of the lawful residents of the closed city?

Maria Zakharova: The parameters of resolving the Varosha problem are determined by a series of UN Security Council resolutions – 414 (1977), 482 (1980), 550 (1984), 789 (1992) and 2483 (2019). As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the Russian Federation is committed to the modalities of the decision fixed in these resolutions and is ready to render assistance to the negotiating parties. This also determines our attitude towards the proposal by President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades.

We believe early resumption of the talks on a final solution of the Cyprus problem would create a constructive atmosphere that will facilitate a compromise on the Varosha issue as well.

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Question: The Estonian Government is planning to demolish the Maarjamae Memorial Complex commemorating Russian Baltic Fleet seamen. Estonia's Interior Minister has described this memorial as a symbol of the occupation period. Is the Russian Foreign Ministry aware of this? Can we say that the Estonian authorities' plan is yet another step in the campaign against monuments to Soviet soldiers in the Baltic and several other East European countries?

Maria Zakharova: We have recently learned about the new plans of Estonian politicians in their war against the remaining elements of the "Soviet legacy." These plans concern the memorial complex on a hill in the suburbs of Tallinn built in 1960 to commemorate the heroic Baltic Fleet seamen who perished there during the First World War. According to Interior Minister Mart Helme, this disintegrating complex is "a symbol of the occupation period" and must therefore be demolished.

However, the city authorities have adopted a more sound approach. Tallinn Mayor Mihhail Kolvart has said that Tallinn is not waging a war on memorials and is ready to buy the complex out so as to start renovating it.

Let's hope that common sense prevails in Estonia and the country's political forces refrain from staging yet another provocation, which would inevitably deepen the further erosion of the thousands-strong Russian language community and the stagnation of bilateral relations.

For our part, we will continue to work actively, including at international venues, to prevent the rewriting of our common history and the desecration of Soviet memorials in the Baltics.

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Question: The Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan has recently held meetings with some of the country's key political figures to discuss the possibility of peace talks. In particular, he met with President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani, First Vice-President Amrullah Saleh and former President Hamid Karzai, as well as with the NATO Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan. What are the results of these meetings? Have any practical agreements been reached?

Maria Zakharova: Indeed, over the past few days the Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan has held a number of meetings, which were focused, in part, on encouraging the Afghan leadership to start direct intra-Afghan peace talks as soon as possible.

Regrettably, contrary to the positive decision taken at the Loya Jirga general assembly on August 7-9 of this year, the Afghan authorities have not released the remaining Taliban prisoners and have put forth new conditions for their release.

In this context, we urge Kabul to complete the exchange of prisoners and start a direct dialogue with the armed opposition without delay. We have pointed out that any delays in launching the intra-Afghan talks undermine the international efforts towards a settlement in Afghanistan and throw into question the Afghan authorities' desire for an early restoration of peace in the country.

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