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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, February 11, 2021

11 February 202120:40

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's forthcoming talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and African Integration of Togo Robert Dussey


At the previous briefing (on February 4 of this year), we announced Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's talks with his Finnish counterpart Pekka Haavisto. The ministers will discuss a broad range of bilateral and international issues at their planned meeting in St Petersburg,

On February 16, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and African Integration of Togo Robert Dussey will be in St Petersburg on a working visit, where Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with him to discuss the prospects of continuing the steady advancement of the countries' traditionally friendly bilateral relations, with emphasis on strengthening the political dialogue and expanding trade and economic ties.

The ministers will conduct a detailed exchange of views on current African issues, underscoring concerted efforts to counter the terrorist threat in the Sahara-Sahel region, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and the pandemic.

We hope the visit by Foreign Minister of Togo Robert Dussey will help spur comprehensive progress in relations between our countries in various areas.

On the sidelines of the talks, the ministers are expected to sign an intergovernmental agreement on ending visa requirements for holders of diplomatic or official passports, and a joint statement on not being first to deploy weapons in space.


Violation of diplomatic and consular law by the expelled foreign diplomats and consular officials


Several diplomatic scandals erupted in the past few weeks, including in connection with the unsavoury role played by a number of foreign diplomats, who directly interfered in the internal affairs of Russia in contravention of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. This is why they have been expelled. I would like to remind everyone about the historical and legal background of this.

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations signed in 1961 (Clause 1 of Article 41) and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations signed in 1963 (Clause 1 of Article 55), just as the majority of bilateral consular conventions, including the Consular Convention between the Soviet Union and Sweden signed in 1967 (Article 27) and the Consular Convention between Russia and Poland signed in 1992 (Article 29), include provisions according to which all persons enjoying relevant privileges and immunities have a duty to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving state and also not to interfere in the internal affairs of that state. I have mentioned Sweden and Poland not because we only have such conventions with these two states, but because the matter concerns diplomats from these two countries plus Germany.

The commentary of the UN International Law Commission on the draft articles of the 1961 Vienna Convention cites participation in political campaigns as a conspicuous example of interference in the internal affairs of the receiving state in violation of the norms of diplomatic law.

The rallies that were held in Moscow and St Petersburg on January 23 and 31, 2021, had not been coordinated with the executive authorities of these constituent members of the Russian Federation, as stipulated in the Federal Law on Assemblies, Meetings, Demonstrations, Marches and Pickets dated June 19, 2004. Moreover, the organisers of these rallies stated publicly and deliberately that they had no intention to coordinate these events with the authorities. They said that this was their new tactic, and that they were doing this knowingly and deliberately.  Consequently, anyone taking part in these events, including foreign diplomats and consular officials, were aware of violating the laws of the receiving state.

They also violated the temporary ban on public events introduced in connection with the coronavirus pandemic. Presidential Executive Order No. 316 of May 11, 2020, On Procedure for Extending the Measures to Ensure Sanitary and Epidemiological Wellbeing of the Population in the Regions of the Russian Federation due to the Spread of the Novel Coronavirus Infection (COVID-19), allows the senior officials in the Russian regions to introduce special restrictions. Executive Order of the Moscow Mayor No. 12-UM dated March 5, 2020, prohibits public and other mass events in Moscow. Foreign diplomats were perfectly aware of this.

Therefore, the participation of staff members of consulates general of Sweden and Poland and the Embassy of Germany in the January 23 and 31 rallies not only amounts to interference in the internal affairs of Russia but was also a deliberate and knowing disregard for the laws and rules of the receiving state. We hope that the Western media, which have been following and commenting on these developments, will inform the general public about the reasons I have mentioned here for our decision to expel these officials.

The Polish and Swedish representatives argued that their consular officials allegedly acted in accordance with their duties. Participation in political developments in the receiving state is not among the duties of consular officials (or diplomats) set out in the applicable international agreements. Implementation of any other actions is only possible if they do not contradict these agreements and the legislation of the receiving state. In this particular instance, both have been violated clearly and openly.

Berlin, Stockholm and Warsaw have been notified about our position.


Statements made by official representatives of the United States and international human rights organisations on violation of freedom of speech and assembly in the Russian Federation


The international information landscape has been swept by a wave of unacceptable statements, in tone and content, made by US and other Western officials, as well as by some representatives of international organisations that present themselves as human rights champions, on Russia allegedly violating people's right to freedom of assembly and peaceful protest.

I just spoke about the rules, norms, and laws of permanent and temporary nature our country is guided by with regard to mass events.

Now back to how it was presented in the Western mainstream. As you might have guessed, I am referring to the uncoordinated rallies and their organisers the West is trying to present as leaders of the so-called non-systemic Russian opposition. In reality, we are perfectly aware, just as our western partners, of the qualifications awarded to such representatives. They are agents of influence. They have been defended by a host of high-profile figures. Suffice it to mention US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, State Department spokesman Ned Price, and Human Rights Watch speaker Hugh Williamson, and dozens of other NGOs and mass media from the collective West, many of them supported by the money either directly allocated by the State Department or indirectly through other affiliated agencies.

There is a large and obvious anti-Russia provocation underway with the elusive goal of shaking up the internal political situation in our country. These attempts are doomed to failure. I think our Western partners are aware of this only too well, which makes them even angrier.

It is quite shocking and outrageous that the initiators and performers of this information campaign targeting our country are increasingly turning to illegal means. Not just stretched thin or allowing different interpretations, but downright illegal. I have already mentioned some of them expounding on the previous topic. But there are other aspects. They are trying to involve teenagers in their dirty games, use them as a human shield or as a target audience for their information attacks, during illegal demonstrations in Russian cities. This is unacceptable. Nobody can get away with such interference in our internal affairs.


Double standards in Western approaches to media freedom


We have repeatedly said that Russia is not the only country targeted with interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. We have cited examples. Here is one more. Even if it is not the most vivid or eloquent case, it is no less indicative.

I read the news: "We are deeply concerned about declining media pluralism in Hungary… the loss of the broadcasting license by an opposition Hungarian radio station, US Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price said in a written statement yesterday."

Again, this is a small but very striking example. I think that Hungary is fully capable of figuring out what to do, in line with its own legislation, including in the information sphere.

The most interesting thing is that EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, who recently visited the Russian Federation, actually said as much during a news conference, where he was asked about the grounds for closing media outlets in a number of EU countries, in particular, Russian-language media. He said he hoped and believed that all these problems would be resolved on the basis of those countries' legislation as well as with respect for the international norms binding on these states. I would say this should also apply to Hungary.

There is one more aspect. I would like to remind you that it was the US State Department and its agencies such as American embassies that welcomed the closure of three television channels in Ukraine. Now, I would like to understand the difference. Why is the closure of a media outlet in one country condemned, while the closure of another outlet in another country is encouraged, on the contrary? We know the answer only too well.


Social media censorship in France


We have said many times that global US internet companies grossly violate freedom of speech. I would like to once again draw your attention to the Federation Council's statement about double standards, blatant bias, the absence of civilised legal regulation and the abuse of existing regulations.

In addition to outstanding cases, such as blocking the accounts of former US President Donald Trump, there are less conspicuous, but no less prominent cases. Here's a case of suppressing freedom of speech on social media in Europe, in particular, France (we are talking about US online platforms). In late December 2020, French senator Sebastien Meurant's Twitter account was blocked on a far-fetched pretext, in fact, for expressing an opinion. This is not the only such case. The online magazine Boulevard Voltaire suffered the same fate for using a portion of the famous painting by Eugene Delacroix Liberty Leading the People as a logo. This is nothing short of a travesty. This painting is the symbol of France known beyond France and is seen as that country's symbol by many countries and peoples. Twitter referred to it as "violation of rules governing graphic violence and adult content."

We are baffled by the fact that the official Paris and the mainstream French media are taking these absurd and outlandish developments in their stride, despite being zealous defenders of freedom of speech when it comes to the countries that are not members of the elite club titled "the free world." For some reason, the Americans have remained silent on this account, and the US State Department has not come up with any written statement. We are looking forward to it. Perhaps, they will come up with something sooner or later. It may well be that when it comes to censorship on the part of US online platforms, principles don't matter as much.

To reiterate, digital dictate, censorship and even more so the use of social media as a tool for interfering in sovereign states' affairs is unacceptable in principle, regardless of the country of origin of a platform in question. Notably, ensuring freedom of speech is the duty of any legal democratic state. The decisions must be based on law and not be hostages to the political views of any group of people. By the way, this is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which our Western partners, including in the EU countries, Paris included, like to cite.

In this regard, we would like to note that the Russian media have long been accustomed to the fact that their activities abroad are subjected to censorship, and have successfully adapted to this challenging working environment. However, this doesn't mean that we have accepted this as a norm.


The German Foreign Ministry's contacts with the Belarusian opposition's Coordination Council


The reports about contacts between the German authorities and leaders of the Belarusian opposition's Coordination Council which took place in Berlin on January 28-29 have come to our attention. In particular, according to its social media publications, as well as materials posted by the German state media holding Deutsche Welle, State Secretary of the German Foreign Federal Office Miguel Berger held a meeting with former Belarusian diplomat Pavel Latushko, during which the German side announced an initiative to create an international mechanism for criminal prosecution of the persons guilty of violations and crimes against human rights in Belarus. In this regard, the parties have allegedly discussed the internal political situation in the Republic of Belarus "in the context of its relations with Russia." Notably, the comments provided by the Federal Foreign Office about the above meeting say nothing about the fact that this issue had been discussed.

The anti-Russia sentiments of some of the leaders of the Belarusian protest movement, including those who associate themselves with the Coordination Council, have not yet been openly stated, but are clearly manifested in this particular instance.

Moscow has no illusions about the official Berlin's position with regard to the social and political processes unfolding in a country that is Russia's ally and Russian-Belarusian relations in this context. We are well aware of the German diplomacy's practices in the post-Soviet space. So, we were not surprised by the Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas' statement of February 6 about the German government's plans to allocate 21 million euros to support the "democratic" protest movement in Belarus.

Considering the above, we would like to warn the German party against attempts to meddle in the allied Russian-Belarusian relations or pitting our two nations against each other, either themselves or by proxy.


Anti-Russia publications in the Dutch media


Dutch editions Trouw and De Groene Amsterdammer released materials accusing Russia and China of allegedly sending spies to the Netherlands under the guise of technical experts. A scheme was published under which Moscow and Beijing invited specialists, provided them with visa support and resolved their migration issues. Reportedly, this so-called "work" was carried out through Dutch businesses and branches of Russian and Chinese organisations in the Netherlands.

Thus, the experts allegedly gather the necessary information, and Russia and China are building up their strength in industrial and other types of espionage in the process.

As usual, no evidence has been provided. This is most likely a put-up job and the materials in question are designed to throw in another piece of disinformation about our two sovereign states. This may well have been done following the "guidelines" provided by the local security services. This is exactly a case of fake news that the EU claims to be fighting. If so, you should pay attention to Trouw and De Groene Amsterdammer. They are spreading fake news and lies. Please provide the materials that can be used as evidence, if any.


Deployment of US bombers to Norway


We have noted reports on preparations to deploy a squadron of the US Air Force Rockwell B-1B Lancer strategic bombers to Orland Main Air Station near Trondheim. The purpose of this deployment is to conduct joint exercises with the Royal Norwegian Air Force.

We perceive Oslo's decision as another step in a series of similar actions to expand military activity in the Extreme North and in direct proximity to Russian borders. As you may know, the construction of a port for servicing US nuclear submarines near Tromso in northern Norway is nearing completion. Permanent Marine contingents from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the United States have been deployed to northern Norway, allegedly for organising training exercises. In October 2020, US Marine units began to be deployed on a periodic, rather than rotational, basis. This makes it possible to boost their strength many times over under the pretext of conducting exercises. These are just a few examples.

We were perplexed by the comments of Norwegian Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen, who said that Norway's actions have a "stabilising effect," and that there are no reasons for Moscow's negative response. One can hardly talk about  "tranquility" when tensions are increasing near Russian borders, and when an extremely powerful bridgehead for conducting hostilities against Russia is being established. 

We believe that such activities on the part of Oslo threaten regional security and put an end to Norway's traditional policy not to deploy permanent foreign military bases on its territory in peacetime.  

We hope that Oslo will implement a responsible policy in the North, and that it will refrain from actions that undermine overall regional stability and damage bilateral relations.


Latvian ban on retransmission of 16 television channels


On February 8, 2021, we commented on Latvia's ban on the retransmission of the Rossiya-RTR television channel, and now there are reports on introducing additional restrictions in the Latvian media space.

The National Electronic Mass Media Council (NEPLP) of Latvia has decided to ban the retransmission of 16 television channels, including NTV Mir Baltic, Ren TV Baltic and others, from February 10. They claim that this is a temporary measure that was motivated by the regulator's need to clarify the legal ownership of these channels and to determine whether the EU sanctions apply to them. However, they could have clarified ¬†all the legal intricacies without terminating broadcasting. We are not na√Įve and understand what is going on. What surprises us is the undisguised lies. If you make decisions that you believe are justified, then you should explain your behaviour to your EU partners. But you sit around a table with them discussing the need to introduce more sanctions against Russia for "violating democratic principles". ¬†Don't forget about yourselves and your own gross violations.

This is a well-known formula of the Baltic reality. They are awkwardly trying to cover up informational opposition to dissent and persecution of everything linked with the Russian language, including such channels as Kinomiks, Nashe Novoye Kino (Our New Cinema) and NTV Serial, which have purely cultural and educational content.

All this can be characterised as a continuation of the anti-Russia hysteria campaign that has engulfed Latvia at a time when specialised international institutions do not have the required influence on Riga. We would like to once again remind them of their obligation to monitor the freedom of speech and media in countries that are members of these organisations.


Israel's reaction to glorification of Nazi criminals in Lithuania


We noted the reaction of Israeli officials and the public that condemned a speech made by Deputy of the Lithuanian Seimas Valdas Rakutis. On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, he tried to whitewash Nazi accomplices and put part of the blame for the atrocities of the butchers on their victims. Needless to say, the entire international community must pool efforts in denouncing such public attempts to rewrite history. It is gratifying that this time the discourse of this so-called professor about "cooperation" of Jews with the Nazis was duly rebuffed by other members of the international community and the Lithuanian politicians who have preserved some remnants of common sense.

Russia will continue its policy of principle, the aim of which is to preserve the historical memory, cooperating with those who believe in the same thing. During their telephone conversation on February 8, 2021, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister of Israel Gabi Ashkenazi discussed the need to counter the attempts to revise history and the results of WWII, glorify the Nazis and their accomplices, and forget the crimes of the Holocaust, the memory of the victims and the feat of the liberators of Europe. They confirmed mutual resolve to consistently uphold these principles at international venues. 


Uzbekistan's government policy on consolidating the position of the Uzbek language in the context of the adoption of the draft law on the national language of the Republic of Uzbekistan by the Oliy Majlis


On January 27, 2021, the draft law on the introduction of amendments and additions to the law of the Republic of Uzbekistan on the national language was approved in the first reading in Uzbekistan.

We note that it reflects provisions on the status of other languages (there are about 100 ethnic groups in the republic), and unacceptability of linguistic discrimination.

We are carrying out a number of joint educational projects in Uzbekistan the goal of which is to promote the knowledge of the Russian language. After the national language it comes second when it comes to its usage and social importance and it is mandatory for pupils to learn in Uzbek secondary schools.

We consider the decision made by Uzbekistan leaders to open a branch of the Herzen Russian State Pedagogical University (St Petersburg) in Tashkent of utmost importance. In addition to educating bachelors and masters, there will be refresher  courses for teachers. Our partners have been noting the shortage of teachers in the republic. There are about one thousand teachers in Uzbek universities.

In October 2020, the Ministry of Education of Russia and the Ministry of Public Education of Uzbekistan launched a project to upgrade the teaching standards of the Russian language and general subjects taught in Russian in Uzbekistan. The project will continue up to 2030 and was started with the assistance of the Alisher Usmanov Art, Science and Sport Charity Foundation based at the Herzen University.  Up to a thousand Russian specialists are expected to go to Uzbekistan between 2020 and 2030. They will gradually start working in 14 regional centres to improve the skills and to retrain teachers employed by the public education system of Uzbekistan and teaching in around 10,000 Uzbek schools. 


Diplomatic Service and Practice Journal 


The Diplomatic Academy of the Foreign Ministry is pleased to present to you the quarterly Diplomatic Service and Practice Journal that comes out online. The first edition of the publication was released on February 8 of this year.

This journal has a unique format that is unmatched in the world. It is designed to make a tangible contribution to the theoretical comprehension of current world politics and the diplomatic service, and to provide working diplomats with direct informational support.

The goal of the journal is to disseminate topical articles on the modern diplomatic service and problems of international relations and global politics. Articles are contributed by Russian and foreign journalists, government officials of the Russian Federation and other countries, and Russian and foreign experts on international affairs.

The unique format of the journal can be attributed to the high professionalism and broad practical and theoretical knowledge of its contributors as well as the topicality of the published articles consistent with the modern trends of world politics and international relations.

The journal is published on the website of the Foreign Ministry Diplomatic Academy.


Serbia marks Statehood Day


On February 15, the Republic of Serbia marks its national holiday, Statehood Day.

The date is very symbolic. The First Serbian Uprising, the first, historically important step of freeing the country after many centuries of Ottoman rule began on February 15, 1804, the Orthodox holiday of Candlemas. On February 15, 1835, Serbia adopted its first Constitution. These 19th century events were crucial for the history of the Serbian people and state.

Serbia is a traditionally friendly and reliable partner of Russia. Multifaceted bilateral relations are developing dynamically and have become strategic. We closely cooperate with Belgrade on the global stage and assist it in its striving to preserve independence and territorial integrity as related to the developments around Kosovo. Joint coronavirus response has become a new area of cooperation. 

We heartily congratulate our Serbian friends on Statehood Day and wish them peace, wellbeing and prosperity.


The Gambia marks Independence Day


On February 18, the Republic of the Gambia marks its national holiday, Independence Day.

The Gambian people have come a long way in building their statehood and true sovereignty after colonial rule. In the 15th century, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to settle on the territory of contemporary Gambia. In the 17th century, it came under the control of the British Empire, which continued the cruel exploitation of the captured lands and slave trade.

Gambians received self-government only in 1963. The Constitution of the independent Gambia came into force on February 18, 1965. The country is currently moving towards democratic changes and is gradually working towards challenging socioeconomic development objectives.

Russia-Gambia relations, whose 55th anniversary was marked last year, are traditionally friendly and are always built on the principles of equality and mutual respect. At the current stage, proactive steps are being made to fulfil the potential of bilateral relations in political cooperation, trade, economic and cultural ties and in other areas.

We would like to congratulate the people of the Gambia on their national holiday and wish them new achievements, peace, prosperity and wellbeing.


Answers to media questions:

Question: People in Iceland are asking how they can get the Sputnik V vaccine and how to start the process.

Maria Zakharova: The first thing to do is to verify the sources of information. If Western governments rely on the statements by those they support politically, whom they describe as the Russian non-systemic opposition, that is, those who claimed six months ago that there is no Russian vaccine, this will only create confusion and complicate the development of cooperation in this important sphere. Second, direct contacts must be established with Russia. This is usually done through our embassies, and it is the best method. Your embassy can address a request to the Foreign Ministry, but such matters are usually addressed through the government agencies in foreign states. They will contact Russian embassies or send relevant letters or notes with their cooperation proposals, questions, or requests for organising an online meeting on the coronavirus vaccine. A number of such meetings have already been held, and quite successfully.  During them, we provide detailed information about organising cooperation in this sphere.

I would like to say once again that the supply and use of the Sputnik V vaccine in a foreign country must be preceded by its registration. So far, the Sputnik V vaccine has been registered in 24 countries (Russia, Belarus, Argentina, Bolivia, Serbia, Algeria, Palestine, Venezuela, Paraguay, Turkmenistan, Hungary, the UAE, Iran, the Republic of Guinea, Tunisia, Armenia, Mexico, Nicaragua, the Republika Srpska entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lebanon, Myanmar, Pakistan, Mongolia and Bahrain). The list is increasing every day; three more countries have joined it during the past week.

The launch of the production of Sputnik V abroad and its delivery to foreign countries is being supervised by the Russian Direct Investment Fund. To receive the relevant information, you as journalists can apply to the RDIF press service; its contacts are available on the RDIF website. Your government agencies can send the request to our embassies, which will help organise meetings, including online.

Question: The trilateral statement by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia on November 9, 2020, provides for opening transport communications, but Armenians are still unable to travel from Martakert to Vardenis.  Local residents have appealed to the peacekeepers for help. Can the resumption of transportation by the Vardenis-Martakert and Martakert-Stepanakert road via Askeran be put on the agenda of the trilateral working group on Nagorno-Karabakh?

Maria Zakharova: As far as I know, the issue concerns several routes in Nagorno-Karabakh. Of course, those who are working on the ground there have more information about the routes people in Nagorno-Karabakh need most of all. If the routes you have mentioned are within the zone of responsibility of the Russian peacekeepers, this question can be addressed to the Russian Defence Ministry. I would like to remind you that in accordance with Clause 6 of the Statement by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia issued on November 9, 2020, the Lachin Corridor is the route connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.

Question: Could you tell us about progress in the repatriation of Armenian prisoners of war?

Maria Zakharova: We are working with our Azerbaijani and Armenian colleagues, including through the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh. An exchange of prisoners has been held recently with the assistance of the commander of the Russian peacekeeping force; one Azerbaijani citizen and five Armenians have returned to their home countries.

In general, we are proceeding from the premise that the best solution is an exchange of prisoners based on the "all for all" principle. You know about our approach to this matter. President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have spoken about it.

Question: The People's Republic of China is known to enforce a tough pandemic-related quarantine that also affects Russian sailors who are unable to obtain timely medical treatment. Would you care to comment on this situation? 

Maria Zakharova: According to our sources, a complicated situation has developed in some of the ports in China's Liaoning Province. This concerns the provision of medical treatment for the crews of Russian sea-going vessels that have arrived there. 

In this connection, the Foreign Ministry has sent an appeal to Russia's Ministry of Transport and the Federal Agency for Fishery, suggesting that the relevant Russian economic operators be notified about this circumstance. The document also suggests that adequate health protection standards be introduced aboard Russian vessels.

At the same time, we are working with the Chinese party in order to resolve current problems. Consequently, we are working with Chinese colleagues and in the inter-departmental format.

Question: What do you think of reports that the Azerbaijanis have desecrated a monument to the fallen heroes of the Great Patriotic War in the occupied Armenian village of Avetaranots in the Askeran District of Nagorno Karabakh? The monument is located at the Saint Gayane Monastery.  

Maria Zakharova: We presume that everyone knows our principled position concerning the desecration of monuments. Any desecration of monuments is unacceptable. Regarding monuments to heroes of the Great Patriotic War, there can be no other position in this respect. We have repeatedly drawn attention to the desecration or demolition of World War II memorials in various countries, including in the European Union, as well as to attempts to manipulate these sensitive matters in the media space. 

We have contacted our Azerbaijani colleagues, and they have assured us that the Azerbaijani party has promptly recorded various acts of vandalism and the destruction of cemeteries and monuments to soldiers killed during the Great Patriotic War and dedicated to the Great Patriotic War. They are conducting an investigation to expose such actions. Those who commit acts of vandalism are brought to account. The authorities resolutely thwart such actions, and they do not encourage them in any way. 

On the whole, people in Moscow, Baku and Yerevan should remember that the Great Patriotic War and the subsequent victory were made possible by our peoples. We should jointly respond to acts of vandalism or the desecration of monuments to heroes of those events on every occasion, rather than only in certain cases. Just see how often I raise this subject at our briefings; I am doing this virtually every week. Poland and other countries, mostly EU members, behave badly in this context. 

I would very much like, and it is my sincere desire as the Foreign Ministry's Spokeswoman and simply as a member of the public that we should not be alone in our attempts to counter the falsification of history and to fight the desecration and vandalising of monuments, and that we should unite. I believe that all states whose peoples gave their lives for the sake of our future should censure any similar hideous acts in the 21st century. So, let's all work together in this direction. 

Question: Refugees and internally displaced persons are returning to Nagorno-Karabakh. Over the past three months, about 52,000 people have arrived from Armenia to the Russian peacekeepers' zone of responsibility. Is there any work being done now to ensure the return the Azerbaijani population to Karabakh, given that these people also number tens of thousands and have the right to return to their homes?

Maria Zakharova: Under Clause 7 of the Statement signed by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia on November 9, 2020, "Internally displaced persons and refugees shall return to the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent areas under the supervision of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees."

At present, we are indeed witnessing a rather intensive inflow of returning Armenians who left home following last autumn's events, which are well-known. 

Our position is that the corresponding clause of the trilateral Statement applies to everyone who was forced to leave their place of residence.

Question: Russia's decision to declare three diplomats from Poland, Germany and Sweden personae non grata for participating in unauthorised protests to support blogger Alexey Navalny caused a very harsh reaction in the West. Russia's actions were immediately condemned. Germany and the United States reacted most sharply. There is some concurrence in the statements made, as well as threats of possible expansion of the sanctions against Russia.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was an arbitrary and unjustified act and Russia's departure from its international obligations, adding that the expelled diplomats were just observing the January protests. The German Chancellor's strong reaction was also a surprise. She said she considered these expulsions to be unjustified and "yet another aspect that can be observed right now of Russia being quite far from the rule of law" and that Berlin reserved the right to expand sanctions against Moscow, in the first place, personal restrictions. Earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry noted that talking with Russia through pressure and sanctions was not a good idea, but the collective West intended to increase the degree of confrontation and was trying to use every far-fetched reason to introduce new sanctions against Russia.

Maria Zakharova: The calls made in recent days to introduce new illegitimate restrictive measures against our country have not surprised us. Our experience of relations with the European Union since 2014 convincingly shows that Brussels almost instinctively grabs the sanctions lever whenever it is faced with the firm determination of Russia and other sovereign states to defend their own legitimate interests, to refuse to allow undisguised interference in their internal affairs or to do the bidding of Western architects of the rules-based international order. Even before 2014, illegal sanctions had also been on the Western agenda.

It is symptomatic that this new relapse of obsession with sanctions against Russia under the pretext of human rights violations followed immediately after EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell's visit to Moscow on February 4-6, even though before his visit, many in Brussels, including Josep Borrell himself, were very sceptical about introducing new anti-Russia restrictions, apparently well aware of the futility of this venture. This obviously looks like a shot at revenge for the awkward attempt to encumber the European diplomacy head's first visit to Moscow since 2017 by imposing a confrontational agenda on him that had nothing to do with Russian or other European strategic interests. Mr Borrell has given his assessments of the visit and the outlook for bilateral relations between Russia and the EU at the news conference.

The obvious trouble that some went to in order to attach a political agenda to this topic after his visit leaves no doubt that this whole talk about Western sanctions as a means of fighting violations of human rights or non-proliferation regimes is nothing more than demagogy covering Western countries' opportunistic political interests we are well aware of. As a reminder, in 2018-2019, the West invented some "horizontal" sanctions mechanism to curb the proliferation and use of chemical weapons, as well as in response to some cyberattacks. That was presented in the European Union as having no direct relation to any particular country. On paper, it looked as if those measures were taken for the benefit of "international cooperation and rules-based order" in those areas. But in fact, the first targets for the illegitimate restrictions under the aforementioned regimes were precisely Russian citizens and organisations. In reality, this arsenal used to further derail the architecture of EU-Russia relations, which has been painstakingly built over the years, is being expanded through the efforts of the anti-Russia minority in the EU.

We would like to caution our EU partners against taking another reckless step. This would lead to a prompt and commensurate response. It is absolutely unacceptable to use human rights as a geopolitical instrument. This would look especially cynically against the backdrop of Brussels' continued complete disregard for the flagrant violations of media freedoms and the rights of Russian speakers in the Baltic states and Ukraine, as well as for other problems in their own countries. I am referring to the brutal repression of protests and dissent. On the global scale, this is fraught with growing arbitrariness in international relations and erosion of international law.

We would like to once again reaffirm our position of principle that unilateral restrictions in circumvention of the UN Security Council are unacceptable. We urge the EU to resume an equal and constructive dialogue and to make use of diplomatic channels, which are kept open, to look for workable compromise that will ensure a balance of interests. This will benefit all Europeans, who are not willing to pay for a geopolitically structured confrontation orchestrated by some EU countries on our common continent. We and other members of the international community will see this as visible proof of the EU's independence. Failure to do this will be interpreted as one more proof of certain curators standing behind EU decisions.

As for US comments on the expulsion of foreign diplomats, who were allegedly only watching the rallies, I would like to remind our American colleagues that Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak never watched, attended or inspired domestic political processes, let alone took part in any rallies in the United States. However, the US media and politicians nearly went as far as to accuse him of espionage. Sergey Kislyak is a highly skilled professional in the field of international relations, a career diplomat who has worked for many years to the benefit of Russian-US relations in the interests of our nations. Despite this, a veritable persecution campaign was launched against him four years ago without any substantiating facts. This time, however, we could see from the relevant footage that foreign diplomats did indeed participate in the unauthorised rallies. This is more than a mere violation of the principle according to which diplomats must act in strict compliance with their status and must not take part in any events or activities that are incompatible with it. They openly violated the laws of the Russian Federation. Washington does not see this as objectionable. This is strange logic, but we have grown used to it.

Question: It has been reported that the Ukrainian Defence Minister and NATO Assistant Secretary General Patrick Turner allegedly discussed the idea of allowing NATO aircraft to use the airspace in the Simferopol flight information region. What is Russia's attitude to this provocative idea?

Maria Zakharova: I believe that you should address this question to the Russian Defence Ministry.

Question: How did the Russian authorities establish that the expelled German, Swedish and Polish diplomats participated in the protest rally in support of Navalny?

Maria Zakharova: Easily. I was not directly involved, but I would be delighted to find out. Why are you only referring to the information published on the Foreign Ministry's website? The videos are in open access, and I believe you could have cited them as well. It is notable that none of the three embassies have refuted them.

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