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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, September 17, 2020

17 September 202019:41

Coronavirus update

Unfortunately, the coronavirus situation remains in the focus of all governments without exception, as well as healthcare agencies and scientific communities. The spread of the pathogen in certain countries and regions has not slowed down or become more predictable. The incidence curve continues to rise. Recently, the World Health Organisation reported another single-day record: over 308,000 new cases of infection. The total number of those infected since the beginning of the pandemic is about to surpass 30 million. The instances of repeated outbreaks of the disease in areas of relative epidemiological calm are alarming. Regrettably, they are becoming numerous.

This is why the development of a reliable, safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19 remains a priority, with no alternative, of the entire international community’s efforts. To date, scientists all over the world have developed about 180 vaccine candidates, with over 30 of them being at various trial stages. Russia is open for broad foreign cooperation with all interested parties in this sphere and ready to provide the necessary aid, which it proved by allowing access to its own innovations.

We welcome the call reiterated this week by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to revise the policy of unilateral sanctions and restrictions against certain states that have a catastrophic impact on their economic and humanitarian situation and undermine their ability to respond to the coronavirus in a timely and adequate manner.

Russia sends 3,000 tonnes of vitaminised flour to Tajikistan

On September 11 this year, Russia and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) sent 2,000 tonnes of vitaminised Russian-made flour to Tajikistan. Another 1,000 tonnes will arrive in the republic by the end of the month. This humanitarian shipment was delivered to Dushanbe as a Russian contribution to the WFP fund under the Memorandum signed between the Russian Emergencies Ministry and the WFP for 2020-2021. In 2020, Russia is allocating $5 million to Tajikistan for this purpose. The total volume of food aid from the Russian Federation to those in need in Tajikistan since 2005 has amounted to $82.5 million.

In addition, since 2012, the Russian Federation has allocated an additional $28.3 million for the implementation of WFP’s sustainable school meal programme in Tajikistan.

This is not an isolated effort. There are many acts of this nature. We will periodically inform you about them.

Assisting Russian citizens in returning home

Continuously, starting on March 19 (six months, 27 briefings), we have been informing you about our assistance for Russian citizens to return home via dedicated flights (we can call them targeted flights). This assistance has been used by over 312,000 people, both Russian citizens and citizens of other states, primarily in the CIS.

Before the end of this month, there will also be flights from Kazakhstan, Cyprus and Japan, and at the same time I would like to remind you that regular international air service has resumed with a number of countries (with some limitations): the United Kingdom, Egypt, the UAE, Republic of Maldives, Tanzania, Turkey and Switzerland.

The procedure for foreign citizens’ entry into the Russian Federation has been generally maintained; at the same time, following the September 10 meeting of the Emergency Response Centre headed by Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, decisions were made to lift restrictions for some categories of citizens, which were approved by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin in the form of several amendments to Government directives No. 635-r of March 16 and No. 763-r of March 27 of this year.

According to the signed documents, from September 15, citizens of the Russian Federation and the Republic of South Ossetia will be able to freely cross the border in both directions.

In addition, entry into and exit from our country is now allowed for crew members of sea and river vessels located at Russian ports, using road, air, rail or sea transport.

Restrictions on crossing the Russian border do not apply to specialists who are involved in quality control of equipment manufactured by Russian companies under contracts related to the construction of nuclear power plants abroad within the framework of international agreements between Russia and our foreign partners.

Free border crossings are also allowed for those involved in the certification of new aircraft and maintaining domestically produced aircraft operated by Russian companies.

The Russian Federation’s participation in the high-level week at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly

On 22-29 September, New York will become the venue for the high-level week at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly. This is the main international political event of the year for comprehensively reviewing topical modern problems that traditionally brings together the heads of state and government and foreign ministers.

At the same time, against the backdrop of the unending pandemic, the events will mostly be held online.

Considering the anniversary session, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin will head our country’s delegation, and he will deliver a video address on the first day of the event.

Despite the extraordinary circumstances, member states are in for a rather packed work schedule. Apart from general political discussions, a number of separate discussions on numerous highly important international matters are scheduled on the sidelines of the high-level week.

A high-level event marking the UN’s 75th anniversary will take place on September 21. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will address its participants on behalf of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation’s member states.

An event on the Yemeni humanitarian crisis is scheduled for September 23. As we have repeatedly noted, more frequent informal meetings on separate national matters at the UN General Assembly have little effect on the real situation in the relevant states.

A number of events will be devoted to healthcare. One such event that will deal with progress and multi-sectoral efforts to achieve global tuberculosis elimination goals, is scheduled for September 23.

Members of the UN Thematic Working Group on Noncommunicable Diseases will meet on September 24 and will discuss the Group’s cooperation with member states during the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and following the pandemic. Russian Minister of Healthcare Mikhail Murashko is expected to take part in both discussions.

Many other events are scheduled to be held.

On the whole, I would like to say that the current General Assembly is taking place when the world continues to accumulate an additional potential for conflicts, when specific divisions are becoming more pronounced, and when mutual mistrust continues to increase among states.

Fundamental international law norms, formalised in the UN Charter, are being seriously tested.

Some countries are making more and more active attempts to impose alternative non-consensus methods for resolving matters in circumvention of the UN. This is being done to reinstate their dominant positions that have been lost and to hamper the natural process of converting to genuine multipolarity. We realise that illegal unilateral measures are becoming more widespread, including coercive measures.

In this context, Russia will continue to advocate further efforts to strengthen the UN’s coordinating role in global politics and strict compliance with the UN Charter’s principles. We want to focus our efforts on consolidating the line to establish a multipolar international order, to advance a positive unifying agenda, to search for adequate answers to modern-day challenges and threats, to attain equal and indivisible security, while unconditionally respecting people’s sovereignty and right to independent development.

Certainly, we will inform you about the events of the UN General Assembly’s anniversary session and Russia’s participation. We will publish reports, video addresses made by Russian representatives and inform you about its work.

Mongolian Foreign Minister Nyamtseren Enkhtaivan’s visit to the Russian Federation

On September 20-22, Nyamtseren Enkhtaivan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mongolia, will visit the Russian Federation. This is his first foreign visit since the establishment of a new national government in July 2020.

On September 21, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with his Mongolian counterpart, and they will discuss key matters regarding bilateral affairs, the implementation of high- and highest-level agreements on the further development of mutually beneficial trade and economic, transport, infrastructure, energy, cultural and humanitarian cooperation, enhanced cooperation on the international scene and in regional affairs. There are plans to exchange opinions on drafting a plan of joint events devoted to the celebration of the 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our countries in 2021.

During the visit, the parties will exchange ratification instruments of the Treaty on Friendly Relations and Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between Russia and Mongolia, signed on September 3, 2019 in Ulaanbaatar.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in a videoconference of the Foreign Ministers of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia member states

On September 24, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in a videoconference of the Foreign Ministers of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) member states.

Participants will discuss the prospects of the advancement of cooperation at the CICA, including in combatting the novel coronavirus infection and the post-pandemic development, and will exchange opinions on the current regional and international issues.

During the event, Tajikistan will pass the forum chairmanship to Kazakhstan.

Belarus update

We are closely monitoring the developments in Belarus, the opposition statements and the ongoing protests and events to support the current government. We hope for the soonest normalisation of the situation and the restoration of the constitutional order in the country.

Russia’s stance on the events in Belarus that followed the presidential election has not changed. This was confirmed by President Vladimir Putin during the meeting of the two countries’ leaders on September 14 in Sochi. We again reiterate and confirm that Alexander Lukashenko is the legitimately elected President whom President Vladimir Putin again congratulated on winning the election at the meeting in Sochi. We respect the choice of the fraternal Belarusian people. This equally applies to those who voted for the current President and for other candidates.

We advocate a peaceful settlement of the situation through an intra-Belarusian dialogue without any “prompts” or pressure from the outside. It is unacceptable to impose unilateral intermediary services and assistance.

We support the initiative of the Belarusian President to hold a constitutional reform in the country in order to liberalise the political system. We know that practical work is underway on this matter.

Work also has begun to implement the agreements reached at the Sochi summit, in particular, the provision of a $1.5 billion loan to Belarus. Belarus will be the first country to receive the Russian-made coronavirus vaccine. The issues of Russian energy deliveries will be worked out in a constructive manner. The relevant agencies engaged in restoring transport links between our countries have intensified their work, and so have intergovernmental commissions and industrial enterprises.

Preparations for another Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions are also underway. The forum will take place on September 28-29 in Minsk. Contacts between the heads of Russian and Belarusian regions will be organised.

In this difficult time, Russia will continue to support the government and people of Belarus, a country that is our closest strategic ally.

Syria update

Despite successes in combating international terrorism in the long-suffering Syria, with the key role of Russian service personnel, the national situation remains far from stable.

Terrorist organisations Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, the successor to Al-Nusra, and Hurras Al-Deen, a Syrian subsidiary of Al-Qaeda, have become entrenched in Idlib Governorate. Their activity is partly curtailed by the presence of Turkish service personnel in the Idlib zone and by joint Russian-Turkish patrols on the M-4 route between Saraqib and Jisr Al-Shughour. However, Ankara is delaying the fulfilment of its obligations under the Russian-Turkish memorandum, signed on March 5, 2020.

The authorities continue to eliminate surviving elements of ISIS gangs that regularly make themselves felt on both banks of the Euphrates River. Terrorists are making full use of enclaves within a 55-km radius around the illegal US base in Al-Tanf, as well as the zone of Washington’s so-called oil interests on the territories of Arab tribes beyond the Euphrates River. The legitimate Syrian authorities are so far unable to access these areas and to establish elementary law and order there.

The US-backed self-proclaimed “administration” of northeastern Syria, dominated by the local Kurds, is vacillating, which is fraught with dangerous consequences for the unity of Syria. On the one hand, its leaders emphatically deny accusations of separatism. On the other hand, they are playing dangerous games with the Americans, signing illegal contracts with them and pandering to the plunder of hydrocarbon resources beyond the Euphrates River. This is done at a time when the people of Syria sorely need these resources in order to resume the normal operation of the state’s energy sector.

At the same time, the situation in most Syrian regions, controlled by the legitimate government, is gradually normalising. The authorities are moving to overcome the dire consequences of the armed conflict. However, their potential has been considerably impaired by the disruption of the country’s territorial integrity and, of course, last but not the least, by the disruption of economic ties.

The tough unilateral anti-Syria sanction regimes, imposed by the United States and its allies, are also exerting their impact. At the same time, US restrictions, especially after the enactment of the so-called Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, far transcend the boundaries of US national jurisdiction and create barriers to international trade. In the political context, these measures hamper the Syrian peace settlement and the pace of the political process, including the work of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva. In the humanitarian context, they entail additional suffering for the people of Syria. Even amid the pandemic, Washington did not agree to any humanitarian exceptions and continued its line of economically “strangling” the entire Syrian state and its people.

On September 7, members of a high-ranking Russian delegation headed by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Damascus. They discussed bilateral coordination matters with the state’s leaders in great detail with the aim of promoting the political settlement in Syria, restoring national unity and overcoming the postwar economic ruin. Detailed material on this subject is posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website.

I would like to once again reaffirm that Russia is ready, based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254, to continue assisting the people of Syria in countering dangerous political and socio-economic challenges during the construction of an upgraded and modern Syria in the interests of all its citizens.

New exposure regarding civilian deaths during Dutch air strikes in Iraq in 2015

The Russian Foreign Ministry has already assessed the actions of Dutch service personnel in Hawija, Iraq, where over 70 civilians were killed in 2015 as a result of air strikes.

It turns out that The Netherlands were involved in another tragic incident. In September 2015, F-16 fighters of the Royal Netherlands Air Force hit two residential buildings in Mosul, mistaking them for an ISIS command post.

Dutch lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld, who made this exposure, previously defended the rights of Hawija residents in suing the state of The Netherlands; and she is currently preparing another lawsuit against the Dutch Defence Ministry on behalf of Iraqi citizen Bassim Razzo, a top manager of the Mosul office of China’s Huawei Co., whose family was killed during the above-mentioned air strike.

After long arguments, the Dutch Defence Ministry admitted its responsibility and agreed to pay one million euros to the plaintiff. However, Mr Razzo requested the lawyer’s assistance after failing to receive the promised sum.

The air strikes on Hawija and Mosul highlight the Dutch Government’s strong reluctance to accept responsibility for civilian deaths, despite the indisputable facts and evidence concerning the actions of the Kingdom’s Armed Forces that border on war crimes. At the same time, the Dutch side shamelessly accuses Russia and, as they say, the Assad regime of inhuman behaviour and of deliberately destroying civilian facilities in Syria. This is yet another attempt to manipulate public opinion and a glaring manifestation of double standards.

Statements by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell on EU’s plans to develop a sanctions regime named after Alexey Navalny

The statements on the EU’s plans to create a global regime sanctioning human rights violations around the world and the intention to name it after Alexey Navalny were made during the EU Parliament’s plenary session on September 15.

We believe eroding the basic principles of international law and undermining the prerogatives of the UN Security Council through endless illegitimate unilateral sanctions imposed by Brussels and Washington to be unacceptable. This position is well known.

As for whether it would be advisable to name this sanctions regime after Alexey Navalny, we view this exclusively as an undisguised attempt to give a manifestly anti-Russia tonality to the new EU restrictions. At the same time, Berlin persists in brushing off our proposals to work together in order to get to the bottom of what happened, using clearly far-fetched pretexts.

Statements on this subject coming from Brussels suggest that truth is not what our Western partners are after. It seems that the actual goal of the information campaign promoted in the European Union at the initiative of certain political forces is to guarantee that the EU’s destructive policy towards Russia becomes irreversible.

We hope that common sense will prevail in the European Union and our partners will renounce the arbitrary practice of assigning blame and in the future will draw conclusions based on real and confirmed facts.

Calls by Prime Minister of Denmark Mette Frederiksen to launch a new debate on Nord Stream 2 construction

The new attempt by the Danish authorities to hinder the construction of Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is perplexing, to say the least.

I would like to point out that Nord Stream 2 construction is now in its final phase, with 90 percent of the work completed. On July 6, the Danish Energy Agency approved the application filed by Nord Stream 2 AG to use pipe-laying vessels with anchors in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipelines in the country’s exclusive economic zone. It is noteworthy that the agency did not support the new ideas voiced by the country’s political leadership, saying that this approval cannot be revoked. Therefore, all the approvals needed to complete the construction, including from Denmark, have been obtained.

It is clear that in this case we are dealing with unfair competition. Washington is pushing its expensive liquefied natural gas to the European market to the detriment of European companies and consumers, while Denmark has been consistent in lobbying the US plans using various political pretexts as a disguise. We believe that Copenhagen’s unconstructive policy could have a negative effect on the spirit of our bilateral relations.

The intention of the Polish prosecutor’s office to initiate the arrest of Russian air traffic control officers

The Foreign Ministry, the media and the public have noted the statement by the National Public Prosecutor’s Office of Poland that it filed a lawsuit to arrest Russia air traffic control officers who were working at the Smolensk airport on April 10, 2010 at the time of the crash of the Polish presidential aircraft.

For several years now, Poland has been doggedly spinning a conspiracy theory about the tragedy as it seeks to re-investigate the plane crash in order to blame Russia, even though the Interstate Aviation Committee set out the causes in its report without any ambiguity back in 2011, and the Polish side accepted it: facing poor visibility, and contrary to the warnings from air traffic control officers, the Polish pilots decided to land the aircraft in the Smolensk airport, which was the cause of the crash. Years later, Warsaw ignores facts and has taken the situation to the point of absurdity, trying to score political points on the back of the tragedy and blame Russia.

This yet another absurd act by the Polish authorities is hardly surprising. Considering the rampant Rusophobia pervading the country, government agencies often engage in “political hit-jobs.” We call on our partners to put an end to this spectacle and stop harassing Russian air traffic control officers. All Warsaw’s attempts to secure their extradition will be in vain: under our Constitution, the Russian Federation cannot hand over its citizens to anyone under any circumstances.

Overall, my advice for those with strong nerves would be to read the transcript of the conversation between the pilots and the air traffic controllers available on the Interstate Aviation Committee’s website.

The Republic of Chile independence anniversary

September 18 marks the 210th independence anniversary of the Republic of Chile. We congratulate the people of Chile who have gone a difficult path fighting colonial dependence and towards acquiring the right to independently decide their destiny on this special day.

Good relations of longtime cooperation, based on the principles of equality, mutual respect and pragmatism link Russia and the Republic of Chile. Political dialogue, including that at the UN and APEC, continues to develop steadily. Our trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian ties are also developing successfully.

I would like to join the congratulations of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, forwarded to his Chilean counterpart Andres Allamand Zavala, and to wish peace, prosperity and well-being to our Chilean friends on behalf of the Foreign Ministry.

Republic Day, the state holiday of South Ossetia

On September 20, the Republic of South Ossetia is celebrating Republic Day, a state holiday. Thirty years ago, members of the Soviet (Council) of People’s Deputies of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region passed the Declaration on National Sovereignty.

According to tradition, the Russian Federation’s leaders will send their greetings to the leaders of South Ossetia.

South Ossetia has gone along a difficult path towards asserting its statehood. On August 26, 2008, the Russian Federation made a landmark decision to recognise its independence. On September 9, 2008, both countries established diplomatic relations. On September 17, 2008, they signed the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance. They also signed the Treaty on Allied Relations and Integration on March 18, 2015.

Over the years, the Republic has certainly asserted itself as a sovereign state. It has scored considerable successes in establishing a system of state-power agencies and facilitating economic development and that of the social sector. For example, this is proved by the repeated free expression of South Ossetian citizens’ will at multi-level elections under established democratic procedures, an almost 100-percent increase in their national GDP over the past six years and many other indicators. Many infrastructure facilities, including those destroyed during the Georgian aggression, as well as dozens of important social institutions, have been restored and built with Russian assistance.

Despite the restrictions in connection with the coronavirus pandemic, we are consistently implementing a large-scale investment programme to facilitate South Ossetia’s socio-economic development in 2020-2022.

The Russian Federation is helping South Ossetia to consolidate its foreign political positions and expand its international ties. We are confident that, apart from Russia, Abkhazia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, Tuvalu and Syria that have recognised the Republic’s independence, the number of countries objectively assessing new geopolitical realities in the South Caucasus will continue to expand steadily.

The 60th Republic of Mali independence anniversary

On September 22, the Republic of Mali will mark the 60th anniversary of acquiring state independence. The country is living through a difficult period of its history following the recent armed regime change. We hope that Mali will reinstate a civilian form of government, based on all-inclusive nationwide dialogue, as soon as possible, and that it will focus on holding free and democratic elections following a short transitional period with the assistance of the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union.

Russia and the people of Mali are linked by longtime relations of friendship and cooperation. The people of Mali have a rich historical past, unique customs and traditions. France launched its colonial expansion in what is now Mali in the second half of the 19th century. The local population was forcibly conscripted into the French army, and exorbitant taxes caused the discontent of local residents. Armed revolts often took place on the captured territories. In 1946, Modibo Keita and Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the future first presidents of Mali and Cote d’Ivoire, established the Sudanese Union Party that spearheaded the anti-colonial movement. In 1960, Mali acquired independence following a prolonged struggle and opted for a socialist orientation. Major projects were implemented in the country with Soviet assistance. This includes a cement factory, the Kalana gold-mining company, a stadium in Bamako, the country’s capital, the Gabriel Toure Hospital, an airfield in Gao and a number of national education facilities. Large-scale prospecting operations were conducted, and 9,000 hectares of new territories converted into rice paddies.

Thousands of Soviet educators, doctors and other specialists worked in Mali. Over 10,000 Mali citizens received a higher education in Russia.

We hope that the time-tested Russia-Mali ties will continue to develop steadily in the interests of both states’ peoples. We would like to congratulate the friendly people of Mali on their national holiday and to wish them every success in achieving nationwide reconciliation, reviving their country as soon as possible, and we also wish them peace, prosperity and well-being.

Answers to media questions:

Question: The UN Secretary-General urged Russia and the United States to agree, as soon as possible, on the extension of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires in February 2021, for another five years. Has there been any progress on this, or have contacts with the American side on this topic been interrupted? On what conditions is Russia ready to extend the Treaty, given that the State Department has already listed some of its conditions (no moratorium on the deployment of intermediate and shorter-range missiles in Europe or bringing China in)?

Maria Zakharova: Russian officials have repeatedly stated our position on this issue. We have been in touch with the US side for a long time and have publicly supported the extension of the START Treaty. At the end of last year, a formal proposal was submitted to the United States to consider it as soon as possible. We are ready to extend the START Treaty in the same form it was signed and for a period provided for by its terms and conditions, which is five years, without any preconditions. So the ball is in the United States’ court right now.

We note with regret that the Americans are making attempts to peg the START extension on matters that have nothing to do with its scope or content. Such actions are unlikely to increase anyone’s optimism about the treaty’s future.

Question: Armenia, pursuing a policy of illegal settlement in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, has been relocating Armenians from Lebanon to these lands. Last week, information circulated on social media about a Lebanese family moving to Shusha, a place of great historical and spiritual importance for the Azerbaijani people. Pursuing a policy of illegal settlement, Armenia is trying to change the demographic situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. The illegal settlement policy is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, including the 1949 Geneva Conventions. According to the Fourth Geneva Convention (Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War), the occupying state must not relocate its civilian population to the occupied territories. How can the Russian Foreign Ministry comment on this fact?

Maria Zakharova: We have heard about the intention of the de facto authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh to relocate the Armenians leaving Lebanon to the territories they control. We have read a report about two Lebanese families interested in moving to Nagorno-Karabakh. We have no verified data on the actual influx of Lebanese refugees into Nagorno-Karabakh or the territory around it.

It is our belief that right now, we need to concentrate on resuming the negotiation process aimed at resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh issues, including the problem of refugees and displaced persons in the region. On September 14, the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs held consultations by telephone with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia and conveyed to them the mediators’ proposals on further steps in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, including holding separate meetings with each of the ministers as a starting point. We are hoping for a positive response from the parties.

Question: Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation conference last week. What are the chances of advancing bilateral relations and what are the key points of the agreement reached between Pakistan and Russia? Is there effective bilateral cooperation on the situation in Kashmir and Afghanistan?

Maria Zakharova: We gave a detailed commentary on the current state of Russian-Pakistani relations during the briefing on August 13. The points made in that statement remain relevant. However, a number of important developments have taken place since then.

On September 10, Sergey Lavrov and Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi met on the sidelines of the SCO Ministerial Council meeting, a second meeting over the past two years (the last time they met was in December 2018 in Moscow). The parties again substantively discussed the outlook for Russian-Pakistani partnership, especially in the political, antiterrorist and trade and economic spheres. An agreement was reached to continue targeted work to bring our relations up to a qualitatively new level. First of all, we agreed to make every effort to advance our flagship project – the planned North-South Gas Pipeline from Karachi to Lahore – toward implementation as soon as possible.

The ministers also touched upon current issues on the international agenda, primarily the situation in Afghanistan. In this context, I would like to note that it was precisely the coordinated partner interaction between the key players, including Russia and Pakistan, that made it possible to actually start the direct intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha.

Question: Mike Pompeo has visited Cyprus after Sergey Lavrov and openly demanded that the country stop admitting Russian warships to its local ports. He also linked Russia’s activities in Cyprus with money-laundering operations. How can you comment on these demands?

Maria Zakharova: It would be better if you asked your question to those voicing such demands and to those to whom such demands are addressed. We believe that, first of all, the United States should not interfere in our bilateral relations with Cyprus and secondly, we have always said and continue to say that our cooperation with any country is never directed against the interests of any third country. We would advise Washington to also adhere to this principle.

Question: The Greek Government has announced its decision to open the country’s borders for a certain number of visitors from Russia on September 7-21 and to revise this deadline later on. This deadline has virtually expired without any reply from the Russian Federation’s official authorities to the Greek inquiries. Is Russia’s “silence” linked with its overall position on EU countries, as regards the opening of borders, or, does this reflect the low level of cooperation between Athens and Moscow?

Maria Zakharova: It goes without saying that the level of our relations with Athens cannot be called low. We cannot agree with this interpretation of the question. Specialised agencies are drafting our measures on this score. Of course, we have no choice but to heed the constantly changing global epidemiological situation which is not getting any better.

Question: How can you comment on the media reports about the illegal crossing of the border with Estonia by Alexander Litreyev, a business manager whose activities are being investigated by the Russian authorities, with the alleged assistance from the Consulate General of the Republic of Estonia in St Petersburg?

Maria Zakharova: In his interview to Radio Liberty, Alexander Litreyev noted that he had left Russia for Estonia as far back as May, despite the absence of documents confiscated under a criminal case, opened against him. According to Mr Litreyev, officials of the Estonian diplomatic mission helped him safely cross the border.

Margus Laidre, the Estonian Ambassador to the Russian Federation, was invited to the Foreign Ministry the other day. The Russian party demanded explanations on this matter from the Estonian party.

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