Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow, March 4, 2021
4 March 2021 20:49
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's upcoming visits to the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar
On Match 8-12, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the State of Qatar. He is expected to meet with the leaders of these countries and their foreign ministers.
Mr Lavrov plans to discuss in detail the full range of Russia's multifaceted relations with these friendly countries and map out ways for their further consistent development based on the agreements reached earlier at the top level.
Considerable attention will be paid to the promotion of business cooperation, coordination of new promising projects, and revitalised efforts in the bilateral inter-governmental commissions on trade, economic and technical cooperation.
The sides also plan to review further coordination on the world hydrocarbon situation and cooperation in countering the spread of the coronavirus with the use of Russia's latest developments.
They will conduct an extensive exchange of views on current issues on the Middle East agenda with an emphasis on the need to settle the persisting conflicts in the region at the negotiating table, with consideration for the lawful interests and concerns of all parties involved. The prospects for long term settlements of the crises in Syria, Libya, Yemen, the Gulf area, and Arab-Israeli relations will be analysed in this context.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's interview with Russkaya Mysl magazine
I would like to draw your attention to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's interview with a UK-based Russian-language magazine, Russkaya Mysl, published by our compatriots today.
This is the oldest Russian-language foreign edition, which was published for the first time in Moscow in 1880. Russkaya Mysl is one of the most popular media sources among Russians residing abroad that covers geopolitics from a unifying position.
This interview touches on important matters of our country's relations with the EU and the United States, as well as other countries, on a wide range of global and regional matters.
We encourage you to read the interview posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry and the magazine's websites.
The 25th anniversary of the Asia-Europe Forum
March 1 marked Asia-Europe Meeting Day (ASEM). This year, we are celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Since joining the association in 2010, Russia has been involved in promoting practical cooperation across a variety of fields, including the implementation of specific industry-related projects. As a coordinator of the Asian ASEM group (we started performing these functions in the second half of 2019), we have been targeting the forum's efforts to build up continental interconnection in all its aspects and manifestations with the formation of a single Eurasian interregional cooperation format.
Russia's initiatives in the ASEM include a high-level conference on intercivilisational dialogue (St Petersburg, 2014), meetings of senior education officials (Moscow, 2016), as well as the implementation of a summer youth university project (Vladivostok, Chita and Irkutsk, 2016).
In 2019, we proactively launched the STIpot¬≤ digital academic mobility platform as a communication channel between the ASEM countries' research and education communities. To date, over 2,500 researchers, teachers and students from Asia and Europe have become registered users.
In the first half of 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia came up with a proposal to build transcontinental supply chains via rail transport. At the same time, we are among the curators of the ASEM project for implementing advanced technological solutions in customs cooperation.
The adoption by the foreign ministers of a declaration on combating COVID-19 in the format of the ASEM Group of Five was one of the forum's accomplishments last year. The group includes regional coordinators (Russia, the EU, Germany and Singapore) and Cambodia as chair of the 13th ASEM summit scheduled for the autumn of 2021.
In the context of preparations for the above summit, we see good prospects for achieving positive and very tangible results in post-pandemic socioeconomic recovery. Many ASEM states want us to share our experience and practical results in countering COVID-19. We will continue to share our expertise in this area with our partners.
This year, we came up with an important humanitarian initiative to establish direct contacts between volunteer associations in Asian and European countries. As we saw last year, these movements have played and continue to play a cementing civic role in our fight against pandemic-related challenges.
At a meeting of senior ASEM officials held on March 1-2 via videoconference, we once again advocated a pragmatic and depoliticised approach to promoting multilateral cooperation.
Agreement on ceasefire at the India-China border in Eastern Ladakh
We continue following the developments on the border between China and India. We welcome the agreements on settling the situation that were reached following the telephone conversation between the foreign ministers of China and India on February 25 of this year.
We respect the striving of the sides to act without the interference of the external forces on this issue in the framework of the multi-level mechanisms of bilateral dialogue, which they created. We hope that as responsible members of the international community both states will find mutually acceptable and peaceful ways of decreasing tensions as soon as possible.
The launch of the Russia-funded UNESCAP project on the technical assistance programme, "Strengthening research and studies for improved quality of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) statistics in Central Asia"
Russia will fund the UN programme on training young specialists on statistics in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) will be in charge of this programme over the next two years.
During this period, UN experts and international consultants will conduct a series of training seminars for young employees at statistical services and university graduates that plan to work with official UN statistics. Following the seminars, the organisers plan to prepare manuals and training courses and publish them in the public domain for future statisticians. Russia will spend $400,000 from its voluntary contribution to ESCAP for these purposes.
We believe this project will be a useful way to support our CIS partners. The courses will be taught in Russian and be aimed at tailoring the national statistical indicators to UN standards and requirements. We consider this Russia's contribution to enhancing the efficiency of international statistical accounting and monitoring the SDG in the CIS countries. Federal State Statistic Service (Rosstat) experts will be involved in the programme.
Entry into force of the European Convention on the Abolition of the Legalisation of Documents executed by Diplomatic Agents or Consular Officers in the Russian Federation on March 9, 2021
On March 9, 2021, the European Convention on the Abolition of the Legalisation of Documents executed by Diplomatic Agents or Consular Officers, of June 7, 1968, will enter into force in the Russian Federation.
The Convention simplifies the procedure for the recognition of the documents issued by the officials of the embassies and consular offices of its member countries. It rules out the need for legalising such documents, notably additional verification of the authenticity of a seal or stamp or the signatures of the officials in the Foreign Ministry of the country of stay.
In addition to the current bilateral conventions and consular treaties, the European Convention facilitates the unimpeded recognition of Russian documents in its member countries where about 1.5 million Russians currently live.
Thus, the following documents will be accepted without mutual legalisation if they are issued by the embassies and consular offices of the member countries both in the country of stay or in third countries: birth, death and marriage certificates, certificates of¬†the lack of a criminal record or the facts of prosecution, and any obstacles to marriage certificates.
The European Convention entered into force on August 14, 1970. It was signed by the Russian Federation on January 22, 2016 and ratified on October 27, 2020.
The certificate on Convention ratification was deposited for safe-keeping with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe on December 8, 2020.
Apart from Russia, 24 countries are members of the convention, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Turkey, France and Sweden.
Let us note that under Article 7, after the entry into force of this Convention, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe may invite any State not a member of the Council of Europe to accede to this Convention.
Antony Blinken's speech at the State Department
I wish I could come up with more positive news ‚Äď I believe there will eventually be good news. Today, however, I will have to engage in a debate with the US State Department, in particular, with Mr Antony Blinken, and with good cause.
Many things that the Secretary of State has said sound correct. One is unlikely to disagree with his statement that democracy must not be promoted through force. However, the reasoning behind this statement gives rise to objection. If you read his speech carefully, it appears that the overthrowing of governments in other countries is not the right thing to do, not because it is a flagrant violation of international law ‚Äď basically, it is a crime ‚Äď but because it is too costly for the American budget that, as is well known, is now coming apart at the seams.
We share any aspirations to build a more sustainable and inclusive global economic system. It is just too bad that our colleagues in Washington have forgotten to clarify how this correlates with the ever-increasing number of US sanctions that are rubber-stamped in an unabashed manner against different countries, Russia included.¬†
The words of Mr Blinken about American democracy being imperfect can be described as positive. This sort of self-criticism is praiseworthy. At last, our colleagues have started to move towards seeing reality. At the same time, it was announced in a characteristic US hypocritical and messianic manner that the US intended to give an example to other countries in order to "incentivise democratic behaviour." What can be more democratic than calling its own citizens "domestic terrorists" for their dissent? We suspect that this is a matter of persecuting those who disagree with the aggressively liberal changes that are being vigorously promoted by the Biden administration.¬†¬†¬†
We are calling on the State Department's team to give up, in actions, rather than in words, attempts at interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. Without considering and having respect for one's partners' interests, declared good intentions will remain just statements. We will remain vigilant. It is necessary to support our colleagues in their efforts to shift to a constructive and realistic approach.
The Atlantic Council's report "Russia after Putin"
Apart from the above, the US has another problem which is the destitution of contemporary Russian studies in the US. The released report is not analytics; it is a manual for the "agents of influence" from among radical and marginal elements. How this correlates with Antony Blinken's statements is also a good question for the State Department and the US political establishment.
The Atlantic Council builds its conclusions (which are, in fact, recommendations) from its illusory and out-of-touch conviction that the United States is capable of dictating its will, as well as a belief in the moral right to lecture the rest of the world on democracy and human rights. The only explanation that holds in this case is that the Atlantic Council released the report prior to Antony Blinken's statement that the US would not impose its will through hard or soft power. Obviously, this report was being prepared based on the previous positions. We hope their next report will take into account the State Department's latest approach.
The US is currently in no position to practice hegemonism or interference in other countries' domestic affairs. This is actually what Antony Blinken said.
We would like to take this opportunity to advise US analysts and experts to focus primarily on system-wide problems of their own political regime which have been exacerbated to the breaking point both in terms of political tension and the scale of scandals, and the scope of police violence and lawlessness. "Recommendations" on improving "democracy" are needed more in the US than in Russia or other countries.
State Department Spokesperson Ned Price's comments regarding freedom of speech in Russia
We cannot neglect US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price's preposterous criticism of the Russian authorities as he expressed concern over the "infringement of journalists' interests" in Russia. By way of examples, he quoted Radio¬†Free¬†Europe/Radio¬†Liberty.
Let's revisit the facts. As a reminder, Radio¬†Free¬†Europe/Radio¬†Liberty has been fined for numerous violations of Russian law regarding the requirement to ensure the basic identification of their materials as those of a foreign agent. At present, 260 administrative cases have been filed against this media outlet and 142 fines have been imposed in an amount which may go well beyond 70 million roubles.¬†
Let me point out that these fines were preceded by repeated notices from related authorities, which were simply ignored by Radio Liberty. This was done deliberately and demonstratively. Such disregard for the laws of the host country is flatly unacceptable. What would follow in the United States if media outlets working there and connected with the governments of other countries in one way or another did not comply with US law?¬† We know the answer: a harsh punitive response.¬†
In addition, the imposed restrictive measure of this illicit activity in no way limits the activities of US journalists or the media outlet's right to freely spread information (the State Department failed to mention this), which is a far cry from the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), a US law applied to Russian media in the US.¬†
In this respect, we see the farfetched claims by the US side as nothing more than Washington's arrogant attempt to interfere in the operations of the judicial system of a sovereign nation. Please respect Russian law.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas's statements on Crimea in the Council of Europe
Germany has also given us an excuse to comment, but unfortunately not on the positive aspects of our relations. Our German colleagues have recently been fixed on the situation in Russian Crimea. First, the German Ambassador to the UN was concerned about the destiny of Crimean Tatars and alleged that international observers had no access to the peninsula (we have commented on this). Later, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas made a statement on the seventh anniversary of Crimea's reunification with Russia as the Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. His statement was a mix of all genres. He talked about the situation on the peninsula, the decision of the ECHR and for some reason, the Minsk agreements on settling the conflict in Donbass.
We urge Mr Maas and other protectors of the destiny of Crimeans to respect the choice they made in 2014 and stop recounting fairytales about the peninsula while punishing them with sanctions, non-recognition of passports and visa denials. If you, Mr Maas, still want to focus on this issue, start with the facts. Tell your audience about the referendum and try to recall where and when referendums were held in the regions whose self-determination you support. Recall the laws introduced after 2014 to support people from different ethnic communities, who speak different languages in Crimea. Finally, send your representatives there, officials (diplomats from the Foreign Ministry). Let them talk to the people there. Stop relying on inventions and fraudulent stories.
Let us recall that Crimea has again become part of Russia in accordance with the principle of the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act on the right of nations to self-determination. The Crimeans implemented this principle in the most democratic way ‚Äď by holding a referendum. Don't forget about this, Mr Maas. This decision is final and is not subject to revision.
We are surprised that Mr Maas, as ex-Justice Minister, so broadly interprets the intermediate ECHR decision of January 14, 2021 on the dispute initiated by Ukraine. In making this decision, the court merely declared its right to consider the case on its merits and concluded that many accusations made by Ukraine against Russia were unfounded. The statement by the Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe looks like an attempt to pressure this judicial body.
Speaking about the Minsk agreements on Donbass, Mr Maas demanded that Russia implement them. Meanwhile, like Germany, France and the OSCE, Russia is just a mediator in the settlement of the conflict between Kiev on the one hand and Donetsk and Lugansk, on the other. This document exists and has been ¬†signed. You know about this, Mr Maas, don't you? Why do you mislead everyone? You probably forgot that the events in Crimea and Donbass were triggered by the coup on Kiev's Maidan Square in February 2014, in which Germany along with France and Poland acted as a mediator between the government and the opposition. They persuaded the lawfully elected president not to use force against the far-from-peaceful protesters. At the same time, Berlin became a guarantor of their agreements but did nothing to protect them when the opposition trampled them underfoot. In effect, the so-called mediators and guarantors became accomplices in the anti-Constitutional armed putsch and seizure of power by the nationalist radicals. You are bound to know and remember this. With the tacit consent of the Western community (Germany was in the centre of these events) "the Maidan winners" first resorted to a crackdown of their opponents and then unleashed an armed conflict in Donbass, which still remains unsettled due to Kiev's reluctance to fulfil the Minsk agreements.¬†This is aggravated by the failure of Germany and France to carry out their part by encouraging Kiev to implement these agreements.
Since Germany is largely responsible for these events, we suggest that Mr Haas address his concerns to himself. We consider his statement to be evidence of Germany's inability to fulfill the functions of "an honest broker" as the Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. This approach will lead to a split in the organisation. It will negatively affect the atmosphere in the Council of Europe and complicate the preparations for the ministerial meeting of the Committee of Ministers in Berlin in May 2021.
Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau's remarks on the "annexation of Crimea"
The Canadian Foreign Minister, Marc Garneau, could not avoid talking about Crimea. He picked up the Canadian authorities' "tradition" of supporting the Kiev regime that is in their fold and came up with another "portion" of remarks about the "illegal annexation and occupation of Crimea."
In this regard, we would like to note once again that, in full compliance with the UN Charter and international law, the Crimeans decided on their future in a national referendum. I want the Foreign Ministry of Canada do us a favour. If and when you are talking about the events of 2014, please mention the referendum as well. The people voted of their own accord. Please cite the statistics, because the overwhelming majority of votes were cast for reunification with Russia. Like other Russian citizens, the Crimeans are guaranteed the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution. This should also be mentioned when making statements like this.
Instead of spreading fabrications and outright disinformation, official Ottawa should worry about the disastrous situation in Ukraine. That is, if you are indeed concerned and worried about the citizens of that country, where dissent is suppressed, certain media outlets are banned, and objectionable politicians are persecuted.
We call on the Canadian authorities to refrain from actions that constitute interference in Russia's internal affairs.
RT DE media bank accounts closed in Germany
Now about the true values ‚Äč‚Äčof democracy and how our Western partners neglect them.
As we learned, on February 26, the German Commerzbank sent a memo notifying RT DE and Ruptly information agencies of the closure of their accounts. These Russian media outlets will not be able to conduct financial transactions in this bank starting on May 31, 2021.
The bank's right to terminate cooperation with a client unilaterally without providing a reason was offered as a formal reason. This has now become a negative tradition. Dozens of large German and international banks, as well as regional financial institutions, which our colleagues from RT contacted, have refused to cooperate with them without providing any reasonable grounds for doing so.
The fact that the media company announced its ambitious plans to launch full German-language television broadcasting in Germany by the end of 2021 speaks volumes in his regard. It has caused irritation and an abrupt stepping up of activities of Russia's ill-wishers from among the German media and political establishment. A witch hunt began. But given that the actions undertaken by the Russian foreign broadcaster were absolutely legitimate, it was decided to make it hard for them by using this Neanderthal trick.
Notably, this is not the first time the FRG has tried to "cut off the air supply" to our journalists. In 2019, the German bank Sparkasse Berlin notified the companies representing the Russian cable channel Russia Today in Germany, namely, Ruptly GmbH, Redfish and M–įffick Media, that their accounts would be closed within two months without giving any reason. Deutsche Bank and the above Commerzbank refused to open an account for Maffick Media substantiating their decision by a "corporate policy." However, thanks to our prompt response, the incident was resolved.
We consider our foreign partners' openly hostile attitude towards the Russian media unacceptable. These media outlets are performing their legitimate professional activities abroad. We regard the steps to close Russian news agency accounts an element of political pressure and a clear violation of Germany's commitment to ensure freedom of speech and of the media. We will not accept any references to "corporate rules," because this is not true.
We earnestly urge Berlin to change its mind and to ensure the normal operations of the above media companies, and to revoke the restrictive measures that impede their work. Otherwise, we will be forced to take tough retaliatory measures against the German media in Russia. Frankly, we do not want to do this. Let's not force it. Germany and Russia must remain committed to their respective obligations to create a proper working environment for journalists in both countries. We do have complaints with regard to the German journalists and media working in Russia. They are aware of that. However, we sort out these issues based on mutual respect and law. We talk and explain things, and we accept the arguments. We would like Germany to reciprocate.
There is yet another important point. Why are they closing or refusing to open accounts for Russian media in Germany and other countries? There are no claims against them. No one can come up with any. Russian media outlets operate in a financially open and transparent manner. They do not finance systemic or non-systemic opposition through their bodies, nor do they engage in any under-the-table dealings. This is yet another important factor behind closing these accounts.
If the media operates openly and honestly based on the host country's laws, the public in that country may wonder what these media outlets are accused of if their financial operations are transparent, clean and legal. Only political motives remain in this instance.
We are sending this message to Berlin and look forward to a favourable solution to the situation.
Faustine Vincent's article The Battle of Languages in Ukraine in Le Monde
We noted Faustine Vincent's article The Battle of Languages in Ukraine, which was published in Le Monde on February 17, 2021, where the author argues that "for the sake of Ukraine's national security and in the face of the Russian threat" it will be appropriate to ban several million people from using the Russian language. We did not believe that such a statement could have been published by a media outlet in France, a democratic country and the cradle of contemporary liberalism. The author goes on to speculate that this "will not give rise to tensions" because the population has "largely responded positively to the new law" and "only" 34 percent reacted negatively.¬†¬†
Head of the press service at the Russian Embassy in France Sergey Parinov sent an open letter to the editorial director of Le Monde on February 24, 2021. Regrettably, we have extensive experience and past record of cooperation with this daily. We are accustomed to receiving no reply to our official letters from the editors, so this time we have posted our open letter on the Foreign Ministry's website.¬†¬†
We suggest that all journalists, including from France, who are accredited in Russia read it. If this matter is truly of interest to the French media, we are ready to answer more questions, hold meetings or help organise meetings. By publicly bringing the attention of the Le Monde correspondent in Moscow to this matter, we are trying yet again to pass our message to editorial director of Le Monde Jerome Fenoglio.
We are looking forward to the response of the reputable French periodical. I want to emphasise again: this is not the first time that the daily has published blatant nonsense and not the first time that it has refused to print our refutation.
Online media outlets blocked in Ukraine
A new attack is underway on online media resources in Ukraine. The National Commission for the State Regulation of Communications and Informatisation has ordered the local internet providers to block four popular Telegram channels and 426 websites in Ukraine, citing a court decision.
This time the Ukrainian authorities attempted to camouflage the country's censorship policy and yet another attempt to remove undesirable media outlets from the national information space. The blocking of media outlets has been explained by court decisions based on proceedings initiated by private individuals and the results of investigations conducted by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) against the allegedly pro-Russian online media resources. All of us know about the "humane" nature of the SBU and its actions to "protect" the freedom of speech and democratic values. Regrettably, such investigations are unlikely to be objective.
The new restrictive measures have been adopted against news, sports and entertainment resources and thematic forums, including Russian outlets such as RBC, Argumenty Nedeli, Inforpressa, Novosti Ukrainy and the Live Journal social network, as well as a number of Ukrainian sources of information. Some of them have initiated counterclaims regarding the illegal restrictions adopted on the basis of far-fetched pretexts.
We have pointed out on numerous occasions the international community's failure to react to Kiev's deliberate policy of infringing on the freedom of speech and journalists' rights. We call on the relevant international platforms not to follow the lead of the Western patrons of Ukraine's pseudo-democracy, who always cover up for their wards' unsavoury deeds, and to give an objective assessment to the offensive on media freedom in Ukraine.
Statements by Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid
We have taken note of the Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid's statements on the occasion of Estonia's Independence Day, which have caused a public outcry in that country.
We regret that when speaking about "a sense of belonging" on the country's Independence Day, the head of state only applied the term to "real Estonian people," focusing not on the real unity of society but on the protection of the Estonian language and culture. It sounds especially destructive in the context of the need to shield Estonia from the alleged threat by a "great foreign power." She mentioned a similar priority in education, saying that non-Estonians have "the obligation to enrol their child in an Estonian-language school." In what age are you living? I would like to remind you that this is 2021. You have adopted and signed a large number of international legal documents that stipulate a tolerant attitude to minorities, the protection of minority languages and an opportunity for people of different nationalities, views and faiths to freely express their opinions. You seem to have forgotten this overnight. This will not do.
In this context, we can understand the sharply negative reaction to the Estonian president's statement not only from our compatriots but also from the leading Estonian political parties. At a time when Russian speakers, who constitute almost a third of the country's population, continue to face discrimination in all spheres of life, they have actually been described as an "inferior" part of Estonian society. It is impossible to interpret this statement in any other way. Just take time to read it. The worst part is that it has been made by the country's president.
Statements by UN special rapporteurs holding Russia responsible for an attempted assassination of Alexey Navalny
We continue to follow another farce now unfolding around the mythical "poisoning" of Alexey Navalny.
We regret to say that the UN Human Rights Council's special rapporteurs, namely, Agnes Callamard,¬†the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and Irene Khan,¬†the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, have contributed to this show.
They simply decided to follow in the wake of the United Kingdom's "highly likely" card-sharking concept and said the other day that the Russian authorities were "very likely" involved in the attempted assassination, presumably at high level. This is very impressive, amounting to an entirely new level of descriptions.
We regret that the UN Human Rights Council's special rapporteurs on human rights whose work should, first of all, be distinguished by a professional and unbiased approach have voiced trite and absolutely unconfirmed accusations, and that they have held this event in line with mainstream Western directives.
I would like to note that no country, organisation or laboratory has so far provided Russia with any evidence of Alexey Navalny's poisoning with some war gas listed by the specialised Chemical Weapons Convention. We got nothing, except tweets, statements, mutual references and formal replies to official requests.
To be quite honest, we should not expect this material to be published. It is hardly surprising that neither Russian, nor German civilian experts found any evidence of the so-called war gases on samples of Alexey Navalny's biological materials. In turn, experts from the Bundeswehr's laboratory have failed to provide any evidence confirming their dubious claims. Nor did the UN Human Rights Council's special rapporteurs receive any similar information from the German party during their so-called investigation.
I would like to note that, acting in the spirit of conscientious and responsible cooperation with UN experts, Russia provided them with exhaustive and timely information regarding this situation. It remains a mystery why they did not use this information, while speaking in Geneva. Our reply said clearly that, on August 20, 2020, after Alexey Navalny's condition deteriorated aboard the aircraft, and after he lost consciousness, doctors at Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1 made a different preliminary diagnosis that suggested, among other things, that the patient's condition might have deteriorated after he took preparations with extremely specific medical properties. ¬†
As we can see, Agnes Callamard and Irene Khan ignored the opinion of Russian medical specialists. I would like to note that all the material was sent to them. We don't understand why they used Western mainstream data alone. We perceive this position of special rapporteurs as biased and politically prejudiced. This position also runs counter to the provisions of the Manual of Operations of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. UN experts should be guided by this document in their work. ¬†
Against this backdrop, we continue to inquire about the relationship between the mandates of Agnes Callamard and Irene Khan who deal with arbitrary executions and freedom of speech and a global political and information campaign that has been unfolding in front of us for the past six months.
We are convinced that the so-called Navalny case is a provocation that has been artificially elevated to an international level, so as to create a false agenda in the media space that would distract the global public from truly topical problems, and that can serve as a tool for interfering in Russia's domestic affairs.
We are insistently urging the UN Human Rights Council to pay attention to the unseemly behaviour of special rapporteurs Agnes Callamard and Irene Khan who have organised a farce in Geneva.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell's statements in the European Parliament
We have noted a series of critical attacks made by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell at the hearings in the European Parliament on March 1. The head of European diplomacy again could not resist the urge to put forth unfounded accusations against our country of spreading misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic. He cobbled together all the old Russophobic clich√©s, myths and hackneyed tales widespread in the Western media. According to him, Russia seeks to undermine the unity and democratic achievements of the European Union, tries to mislead and intimidate ordinary Europeans, and wants to plant in their minds the dangerous idea that wearing masks and observing public health restrictions is useless. Where did Mr Borrell get all this? It is unclear.
The absurdity and cynicism of such attacks really are off the scale. It is time the European Union stopped justifying its own blunders in its pandemic response by 'Moscow's schemes' or other excuses. Try to analyse what is going on with you. Be honest, be realistic. Let me remind you that the European Union has not yet shown us a single convincing piece of evidence in support of any of the accusations it has made.
On the other hand, the European Union, its agencies in Brussels and certain political leaders of EU countries support the non-systemic Russian opposition, the people actually involved in misleading the Russian public and the Western community alike with regard to the pandemic. Remember how in August 2020, Alexey Navalny, who is now supported by a number of politicians in the European Union and the West, said there was no vaccine in Russia, that it was all a lie, that the Russian government was not even thinking about it, and the WHO did not support Moscow in this because, why, Moscow had no vaccine. That was indeed misinformation ‚Äď something you are now accusing official Moscow of doing while at the same time supporting the people who did it. Where, then, are you looking for evidence of misinformation? We have given you the facts, you have them, but not in relation to the people you are accusing.
For our part, we have repeatedly proposed to Brussels establishing a professional dialogue on the misinformation problem, so that our experts could, facts in hand, discuss mutual concerns in this field. We have far more concerns. We have a lot of such evidence in the Published materials that contain false information about Russia section on the Foreign Ministry website, as well as reactions to articles in Western media. Those are attempts to distort reality that Western journalists make. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed our readiness for such a dialogue during a joint news conference following his talks with Josep Borrell on February 5, 2021, in Moscow.
But our colleagues from the EU are stubbornly avoiding an honest and substantive discussion based on facts ‚Äď because there are no facts, I think. All this suggests that in reality, the European Union simply has no arguments. That is why they are reluctant to engage in a dialogue, resorting to unilateral statements and accusations alone. All they seem to want is to keep up anti-Russia propaganda under any, even the most absurd pretexts, believing that would make our country "pay the price" (as Josep Borrell himself put it) for its independent foreign policy line and obvious successes in fighting the pandemic.
Let's get back to the facts. Russia has proven by deeds that it is willing to work together with other countries, including the EU, to fight the global threat. During his visit to Moscow, Josep Borrell publicly acknowledged the Russian virologists' achievement in making an effective anti-COVID vaccine. Sputnik V has already been registered in 39 countries by now, including in two EU states. Any attempts to present this objective reality as Russia's interference in the EU's internal affairs or undermining its unity are inappropriate. European agencies are incessantly trying to attach a political agenda to the coronavirus response effort; that persistence is prompted by unscrupulous competition and is causing additional damage to the image of the European Union itself. Such action can hardly increase trust in the EU as an independent and responsible representative of the international community.
Instead of escalating the coronavirus info-demic, which really threatens people's health around the world, the leaders of the EU diplomacy should instead channel their efforts in overcoming the EU-led crisis in relations with Russia. We suggest the European Union change its public accusatory tone. We call on them to finally start a conversation with facts in hand on all problematic issues. We are ready for this dialogue, including in the public plane. We have much to discuss. And the senseless confrontational rhetoric needs to be renounced so that we can all move on to building a constructive EU-Russia dialogue on an equal and mutually beneficial basis.
As for all the nonsense that is now being issued publicly or through EU institutions' accounts on social media, we will respond to it with clear argumentation and truthful factual information.
Canadian Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations
We have scrutinised the unilateral Canadian government's Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations.
Pretending to be defending justice and human rights, Ottawa has advanced a questionable initiative in the spirit of the rules-based order promoted by the US-led coalition of like-minded countries. This is yet another example of double standards and open hypocrisy used to justify interference in the internal affairs of other countries and to put pressure on those that refuse to yield to the dictate of the "collective West."
Meanwhile, Washington has launched a veritable worldwide hunt for Russians against whom it has some complaints. They are detained arbitrarily and without any reason and subsequently sentenced to long prison terms in inhumane conditions in the United States. But the Canadian and other Western "defenders" of democracy close their eyes to this, of course.
We categorically reject this Canadian initiative, we consider it harmful and believe that it will only aggravate confrontation in international affairs and complicate the already tense Russian-Canadian relations.
20th anniversary of the Declaration on Principles of Friendly Relations and Partnership between Nigeria and Russia
On March 6, we will mark 20 years of the Declaration on Principles of Friendly Relations and Partnership between Nigeria and Russia, which was signed during President Olusegun Obasanjo's visit to Moscow. This document added a new dimension to bilateral cooperation and created conditions for advancing it to a higher level.
Since then, Russian-Nigerian relations have surged ahead in all spheres. Relations between our countries are gaining momentum. We also maintain a positive trend in our political dialogue at the high and highest levels, as evidenced by a meeting held between President Vladimir Putin and President Muhammadu Buhari on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi in October 2019.
A major impetus has been given to the development of bilateral trade, economic, military, military-technical and humanitarian cooperation. Discussions are underway on the implementation of large Russian investment projects in Nigeria, including in the high-tech sectors. Of great importance in this context is the possibility of partnership in the field of nuclear energy, in particular in the possibility of building a nuclear power station and a Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology in Nigeria. The promising fields of cooperation include geological exploration and the joint production and processing of hydrocarbons. We continue to train Nigerian professionals at Russian universities. Overall, we have already trained over 10,000 Nigerian professionals.
Despite the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Russian-Nigerian relations remain one of the main aspects of Russia's foreign policy in Western Africa and the continent as a whole.
We extend our wholehearted greetings to our Nigerian partners on this memorable date in our relations and wish them peace, prosperity and wellbeing.
Celebration of Ghana's Independence Day
On March 6, the Republic of Ghana will celebrate Independence Day.
Europeans came to Ghana in 1482. European countries sought to establish full control of the Gold Coast, as Ghana was known in the past. Britain succeeded in 1901. In 1957, the Ghanaians' liberation struggle led by Kwame Nkrumah resulted in the declaration of the country's independence.
Ties between our countries were established soon after Ghana gained independence. In 1961, we exchanged top-level visits. Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet Leonid Brezhnev visited Ghana, and Ghana's first president, Kwame Nkrumah, came to Moscow. The Soviet Union helped Ghana create the foundations of a modern economy and provided the country with substantial financial support. As the result, Ghana created considerable industrial, research and technological potential. Nuclear energy was a vital sphere of Soviet-Ghanaian cooperation. The Soviet Union provided technical assistance to building Ghana's first research nuclear reactor and trained skilled professionals for this sphere.
Russia and Ghana maintain active political dialogue on a broad international and African agenda and are working consistently to promote the entire range of bilateral relations. Bilateral relations were seriously boosted by the participation of a Ghanaian delegation led by President Nana Akufo-Addo in the Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum held in Sochi in October 2019.
We would like to wholeheartedly congratulate our Ghanaian friends on Independence Day and to wish them wellbeing, peace and prosperity.
Republic of Niger update
According to reports, the developments in the Republic of Niger have¬† escalated over a period of the past few days due to the opposition refusing to recognise the results of the presidential run-off election, published by the Independent National Electoral Commission on February 23, according to which the winner is former interior minister Mohamed Bazoum of the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism with 55.75 percent of the vote. His rival Mahamane Ousmane of the Democratic and Republican Renewal opposition party gained support of 44.25 percent of the voters.
A number of local politicians initiated protests resulting in the deaths of two people as the demonstrators clashed with the police. About 450 rioters have been detained. What is taking shape is aggravated by the growing terrorist activities being carried out by the radical Islamist groups on the territory of the republic.
We urge all the political forces of Niger to show restraint, to act exclusively within the constitutional framework and to resolve all controversial matters in accordance with the country's legislation. We expect Niger and its civic institutions to proceed along a path of stable and democratic development.
Leaked French Foreign Ministry's 1994 correspondence on Rwanda published
We found it most interesting to read about the investigation carried out by the French online outlet, Mediapart, concerning Paris's actions during the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda in 1994, based on the archives of the former African Affairs advisor to the French Presidency Bruno Delaye.
¬†Judging by the released data, the French Foreign Ministry knew that members of the Rwandan leadership responsible for the mass killings of the Tutsis were staying on French-controlled territory. However, Paris "washed its hands" of the matter and urged the aforementioned persons to leave the area of responsibility of the French army instead of handing the perpetrators over to international law.
The genocide in Rwanda which claimed a million lives is a direct consequence of the policy of neo-colonialism pursued by former colonial powers in Africa. We are aware that French historians are currently working on a special report dedicated to France's foreign policy on the Rwanda track in 1990-1994. The report is due to come out on April 7, 2021. We believe the document will make it possible to restore the true picture of the tragedy and give a fair assessment of France's role in those developments.¬†
Answers to media questions:
Question: Regarding the US and EU interference in Russia's internal affairs, despite all Russia's calls and warnings about the sanctions pressure, the United States and the European Union have introduced new anti-Russia restrictions under the pretext of the alleged blogger Alexey Navalny poisoning story. Have Russian-American relations hit their historical low after that? How will the Russian side respond to the new US sanctions?
Maria Zakharova: We have already commented on this. The relevant material was published on the Foreign Ministry website.
Question: About America's 'generosity' in such difficult times. The US Department of Defence announced on March 1 that it was providing another package of military assistance to Ukraine in the amount of $125 million to improve the country's defences, despite all of its internal problems. The Pentagon stressed that the United States would provide defensive flying weapons that would help Ukraine to more effectively defend itself against the 'Russian aggression.'
Are there any mechanisms, under international law, to impose a military embargo against Ukraine in connection with the situation in the Southeast? And if so, who should initiate that process in connection with the violation of human rights in that region?
Maria Zakharova: Your question, and all you have just said, touches on several very difficult topics. I will give a brief answer to some of them because I have repeatedly commented on them.
First, military technical cooperation between two sovereign states is a matter of their agreement. At the same time, it is necessary to understand that when it comes to Ukraine, we mean a country in which an internal conflict is still in its active phase. We are following the developments there. There are many circumstances that do not inspire optimism but, on the contrary, are sending an alarming signal about the state of affairs.
But generally, with regard to the US 'generosity' in supplying weapons to Ukraine, I would like to reiterate ‚Äď it is a matter between the two capitals, the two states. Yet, since you have asked, for some reason it seems to me that in recent months, the citizens of Ukraine have been more in need of vaccinations than weapons. But this is a side note; I'm just saying.
As for your question about a possible military embargo, let me explain the mechanism that is stipulated in international law. A military embargo is one of the coercive measures that can be imposed against any state only by a UN Security Council resolution adopted under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace and Acts of Aggression. As for unilateral embargoes imposed in the absence of a Security Council sanction, we qualify those as interference in the internal affairs of the respective state that is illegal from the standpoint of international law.
The UN Security Council is responsible for identifying any threats to peace, breaches of peace and acts of aggression that could give reason to invoke such measures under the UN Charter.
Question: Yesterday was an important date for Russia and Bulgaria, the 143rd anniversary of the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule as a result of the Russian-Turkish liberation war. Unfortunately, our bilateral relations are now going through a tough time due to the imposed pro-Western course and participation in various organisations. But our people still have respect for their liberator. In this regard, is the Russian Federation ready to consider the possibility of facilitating visa regime with the Republic of Bulgaria? What does the Foreign Ministry think about visa-free travel between our countries to strengthen bilateral relations?
Maria Zakharova: The Russian Federation is a consistent supporter ‚Äď one might use an even stronger term, a lobbyist ‚Äď for the removal of visa barriers in relations with most foreign countries, including Bulgaria. We have long been ready for this process. You know about our long-term negotiations with the European Union, which, unfortunately, has curtailed them at its own initiative, without any correlation with the real situation. For reference, any simplification of visa formalities can only be introduced on a reciprocal basis.
For our part, this step has essentially been taken. After the COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted, we intend to fully launch the electronic visa system, which will greatly facilitate the procedure for obtaining a visa to visit Russia.
Bulgaria is included in the approved list of countries whose citizens will be issued such visas. If there are reciprocal steps, we are always ready to consider any official initiatives from the Bulgarian authorities in this field.
I would like to emphasise that, according to the ethics of international relations, proposals concerning visa liberalisation are not announced in the media; they are made within the framework of a relevant negotiation process.
I would like to stress once again ‚Äď we are ready for dialogue.
Question: From time to time there are incidents in the liberated territories in Azerbaijan when people get blown up by explosive devices. Azerbaijan has repeatedly pointed out that Armenia has not provided Baku with maps of minefields, which could save many lives. Did Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia discuss this matter during their trilateral or bilateral contacts? Is Russia ready to help resolve this matter?
Maria Zakharova: We have stressed on many occasions that these matters are within the remit of peacekeepers and officers of the Russian Emergencies Ministry. They help Armenia and Azerbaijan conduct rescue operations in the region, and they are involved in this work every day. Please address this question to them.
You could also address these questions to Baku and Yerevan. I am always ready to assist in this if you need help in establishing communications, although I don't think this is necessary.
Question: How would you comment on an article in Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozrenie (Independent Military Review) whose author suggests deploying tactical nuclear weapons on the South Kuril Islands to prevent possible Japanese provocations?
Maria Zakharova: We have recently seen discussions in the media about the military aspects of a hypothetical Japanese invasion of Russia's South Kuril Islands. I would like to stress a principled aspect here:¬† this discussion was triggered by the Japanese party's statements, namely, a 2019 statement by Hodaka Maruyama, a member of the Japanese Parliament's House of Representatives, who suggested seizing the islands by force.
We should consider this only as a response to such statements. This highlights the response of journalists, the public at large and experts, rather than that of the Foreign Ministry.
Question: Can you comment on the decision of the EU Council's Committee of Permanent Representatives to adopt new sanctions against Russian individuals over the situation in Ukraine?
Maria Zakharova: Regarding the EU Council's latest portion of sanctions against a number of Russian officials, poet Mikhail Lermontov aptly said, "All this could sometimes be great fun/If were not so much distressing."
I can just add that sanctions seem to be the only remaining method in the EU's political and diplomatic arsenal with respect to Russia. All other methods seem to be stuck, so that they only have this button to press. This is distressing. They push this button with or without any substantiation. They keep telling us that sanctions are being used to punish us, civilise us and force us to change our approaches and behaviour. This is ridiculous rather than distressing.
Washington, Brussels and several other countries, or rather their officials, the EU bureaucracy and American representatives have been saying recently that Russia must change its behaviour. I will not comment this phrase in relation to Russia. We have been doing this often enough. Let us look at the matter logically. If Russia must change its behaviour, does this mean that it should do what the Western countries are doing? Is this right? How should Russia behave if they want us to change our behaviour? Apparently, we must copy their behaviour.
Let us review the biggest achievements of the Western world in recent years.
Intervention: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said only yesterday that the United States would not promote democracy through military interventions. Before that, it adhered to this concept in theory and applied it in practice.
It used armed force to attain its goals and interfered in the internal affairs of other countries. And nobody even pretended that this was not the case.
Today we talked a great deal about Ukraine. France, Germany and Poland, not to mention the United States, have been dictating their will to Kiev for many years, orchestrating and later micromanaging the situation in a foreign country.
Next, we see the persecution of undesirable media outlets. Russian media outlets are far from the only example of this. There are numerous examples in the United States and Britain of the persecution of Chinese media outlets and journalists from other countries and even their own reporters. The latest instances concern the blocking of thousands of not just Russian accounts but also the social network accounts of their own politicians, media outlets and public figures.
Next, unpredictable behaviour on the international stage, when they force others to join the international agreements they want. Later they themselves withdraw from these agreements, leaving the international community wondering what will happen next. They make contributions to international agencies only when they want and stop doing that when it no longer benefits them.
These are only a few examples of the behaviour of the collective West, which tells us that we must change our behaviour. There are many more such examples, both in theory, confirming they are moving in a particular direction, and in practice when they try to replace international law. Has international law been overturned? No. Not a single body of the UN, its Security Council or General Assembly has adopted, separately or collectively, any document that would invalidate the UN Charter, international law or activities based on international law. At the same time, attempts are being made to substitute international law with a rules-based international order. It is one more example of the behaviour of the collective West. I am not talking about their disinformation campaigns. I have mentioned interference in other countries' internal affairs. There is a long list of such examples, from military scenarios like in Libya, to hybrid warfare like in Ukraine, and to the so-called "soft" and "velvet" scenarios, of which we have seen a huge number. The West's own domestic problems and the methods used to deal with them are not worth seeing as examples to emulate.
These are examples of how the collective West behaves. Are we encouraged to emulate it? To do as they are doing? No, this cannot be, it is simply impossible. This runs contrary to our understanding of international relations, of how countries should and can behave and how they should develop relations on the international stage. We must look deeper, asking questions and seeing that when they adopt sanctions and urge Russia to change its behaviour they want us to emulate their own behaviour, which is often completely indecent.
The EU has adopted the new restrictions without the approval of the UN Security Council, which means that they are invalid from the viewpoint of international law. ¬†We are all aware of the circumstances in which the EU adopted this decision. Brussels has actually admitted that it is using human rights issues for political considerations. It is one more distinguishing feature of the collective Western behaviour, when noble messages, goals and ideals are used as the instruments of political fighting.
The EU has again turned a deaf ear to our calls to return to the framework of international law. Instead, it disregarded the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states to adopt one more, a third in a row hastily compiled package of illegitimate sanctions against our compatriots. The Brussels officials claim that the creation of global sanctions mechanisms is strengthening the EU's strategic autonomy. This is a sham, camouflaging the EU's compliance with the trans-Atlantic objective of containing Russia, as has been openly admitted at a recent meeting of the EU foreign ministers in Brussels. This is also one more example of consolidation and common goals and tasks concealing a lack of solidarity and, most importantly, the absence of unity for addressing and solving real problems.
We have noticed that the EU's illegal restrictions have been imposed on the leaders of federal government agencies that are responsible for cooperation with the relevant bodies of the EU and its member states within the framework of the roadmap on the Russian-EU Common Space of Freedom, Security and Justice, as well as other bilateral agreements. By doing this, Brussels has clearly shown that it is not interested in maintaining normal depoliticised interaction in this vital sphere.
We believe that Brussels has missed one more opportunity to abandon its dead-end policy of ultimatums and pressure and to develop, at long last, an equal and mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia.
Russia will not leave this latest unfriendly EU action without a commensurate response.
Question: Does the Russian side have any specific data on how many Armenians are now being held in Azerbaijani captivity?
Maria Zakharova: The sides' approaches to this problem differ significantly. Yerevan keeps changing the figures. Baku reports different information.
Taking into account such discrepancies, I recommend that you address this question to both the Azerbaijani and Armenian sides. I am sure they will be ready to provide their own comprehensive explanations.
To date, through the mediation of Russian peacekeepers, a total of 79 people have been returned: 63 from the Armenian side and 16 from the Azerbaijani side.
For our part, we would like to take this opportunity to once again accentuate the Russian stance on this score. We believe that the all-for-all prisoner exchange formula is the best option and that this problem should be resolved as soon as possible so that the parties are able to turn this tragic page in their relations and concentrate on promoting a positive agenda, including in the economic sphere. This was discussed during the Moscow summit of the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia on January 11.
Question: The agenda of the last meeting of the deputy prime ministers of Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan included the issue of unblocking roads. Has there been any progress regarding this matter?
Maria Zakharova: On February 28, the Russian Government website published a statement by Deputy Prime Minister Alexey Overchuk on the results of that meeting. I would like to suggest you study that document, as it contains all the information.
Question: Troublesome developments have taken shape in Slovakia due to the delivery of the first batch of the Sputnik V vaccine which is not registered in the country. There are apprehensions whether Slovakia can duly store the vaccine. There are fears that the vaccine's mishandling can cause negative consequences. This may be followed by direct accusations that Russia is using this as a weapon for hybrid warfare. Incidentally, Slovakia's Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Ivan Korcok has already made such an official statement. What could you say about this?¬† ¬†
Maria Zakharova: He is not the first or the last person to make such statements that are not worthy of the current global situation in connection with the pandemic. They seem strange and sometimes outrageous. Today, it is necessary to focus on ways of overcoming hurdles, rather than creating new ones. Vaccine deliveries to Slovakia were launched under Bratislava's government request. This violates no norms.
We have noted an emotional response. To put it mildly, statements mentioned by you cause dismay. However, the people of Slovakia have also responded, and they are thanking the Russian Embassy. This is a very sincere and positive response. ¬†
Russian vaccine deliveries have caused political disagreements in Slovakia, and this fact merely shows the existence of such disagreements, including the assessment of Russia's role. What does this have to do with the vaccine?¬† Good question.¬†¬†¬†
Experts should discuss this matter, and politicians should join in only for making professional dialogue easier, rather than putting additional obstacles in the way. We are really happy that we can help a friendly country, and Russia perceives Slovakia as a friendly country, at this difficult time of the new coronavirus infection's critical spread and vaccine shortages. As I see it, specialists, including virologists, biologists, immunologists, representatives of businesses supporting medical cooperation and transport sector representatives should speak their mind. If politicians take the floor, they should think how to make dialogue and people's destinies easier.
Regarding vaccine storage conditions, I hope that the manufacturer will provide the relevant assessments in the near future.
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