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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, March 12, 2021

12 March 202115:25

Table of contents

  1. PACE President Rik Daems' visit to Russia
  2. Foreign Minister of Israel Gabi Ashkenazi's visit to Russia
  3. The expanded "troika" meeting on peaceful settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan
  4. A letter of thanks from the Moscow diplomatic corps' doyen
  5. Foreign Ministry statement on the 10th anniversary of the start of anti-government demonstrations in Syria
  6. Western countries manipulating the OPCW
  7. The possibility of deploying US land-based intermediate-range missiles in Japan
  8. Norway's plans to open new blocks for oil and gas development within the area covered by the 1920 Spitsbergen Treaty
  9. Leonid Kravchuk's statements on "radical steps" by Kiev if Russia fails to declare itself a party to the conflict in Donbass
  10. Situation concerning UN Disarmament Commission
  11. Man-made disaster in the Republic of Equatorial Guinea
  12. Developments in Haiti
  13. Polish-American "fake history"
  14. Renaming a public garden in Bucharest
  15. Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe resolution on the implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities by Latvia 
  16. The Lithuanian Court of Appeal's ruling to extend Russian national Yury Mel's jail term
  17. 100th anniversary of the signing of the Russian-British Trade Agreement
  18. British media

Answers to media questions:

  1. Statements by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev at the online OECD meeting on March 5, 2021
  2. Military exercises to start in Azerbaijan on March 15
  3. Yet another act of vandalism on a memorial to the victims of the Great Patriotic War
  4. The practice of German secret services shaping public opinion in Germany
  5. Educational programmes to counter "fake news"
  6. Russia's response to US sanctions
  7. Russia's position on establishing a transitional coalition government in Afghanistan


PACE President Rik Daems' visit to Russia

As we announced, on March 15-16, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Rik Daems will be in Moscow on a working visit at the invitation of Vyacheslav Volodin, Speaker of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly. Mr Daems will also meet with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss developments in the Council of Europe and current international issues on the organisation's agenda.

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Foreign Minister of Israel Gabi Ashkenazi's visit to Russia

On March 17, Foreign Minister of Israel Gabi Ashkenazi will be in Moscow on a working visit and will hold talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the restoration of Russian-Israeli diplomatic relations, the ministers plan to hold an in-depth discussion on the current issues on the bilateral agenda, including the development of ties between foreign ministries, the activities of the Joint Russian-Israeli Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation with a view to strengthening business interaction, which has been damaged during the coronavirus pandemic, and humanitarian ties.

The ministers will exchange views on international and regional issues, focusing on a Middle East settlement. The Russian side will reaffirm its commitment to boosting the efforts of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators towards resuming the peace process through a direct Israeli-Palestinian dialogue based on the universally recognised principles of international law.

They will also highlight the coordination of measures to curb any attempts to revise the history and results of WWII and prevent the glorification of Nazis and their accomplices and the denial of the Holocaust.

We would like to mention the intensive character of the multifaceted Russian-Israeli dialogue that is based on mutual respect and interest in attaining mutual understanding on issues under discussion in the best interests of our peoples.

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The expanded "troika" meeting on peaceful settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan

A regular expanded "troika" meeting at the level of special representatives from Russia, China, the United States and Pakistan to discuss the intra-Afghan settlement will be held in Moscow on March 18. The delegations of the Afghan government, the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation and prominent Afghan political figures, as well as the Taliban Movement and, as an honoured guest, Qatar are expected to attend as well. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will deliver a message of greetings.

The participants will discuss ways to advance the intra-Afghan talks in Doha, to reduce the level of violence and to end the armed conflict in Afghanistan, as well as to help that country become an independent, peaceful and self-sufficient state, free from terrorism and drug-related crime.

A joint statement will be adopted based on the outcome of the meeting.

Rossiya Segodnya asked us before the briefing whether Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov would have any pull-asides on the sidelines of the meeting. It's possible provided there are relevant requests. The schedule is still in the works.

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A letter of thanks from the Moscow diplomatic corps' doyen

I would like to say a few words about the international community's joint efforts and our country's contribution to fighting the pandemic.

Russia has offered free Sputnik V vaccines to employees of embassies accredited in Russia and their families. We are doing this based on corresponding international legal documents and diplomatic rules and traditions. Many foreign diplomats have already had the Russian vaccine.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov received a thank-you letter from the Ambassador of Azerbaijan, Polad Bulbuloglu, who is also doyen of the Moscow diplomatic corps which emphasises that "the Russian Foreign Ministry's initiative deserves profound respect and was highly appreciated by the entire diplomatic corps."

I would like to remind you that the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine has an excellent track record in Russia and internationally. It has been approved for use in 50 countries, which makes it the world's second most widely registered vaccine. Other domestic vaccines are on track to become registered as well.

We are definitely not going to politicise this issue and we are not participating in any political races, let alone the infodemia. We hope we are immune to this – I'm talking about the vast amount of fake material. Unfortunately, we have become an object of lies and large amounts of unreliable information, including about the Russian-made vaccine and our country's efforts in this area. The attempts aimed at discrediting Russia and Russia's contribution to the global fight against the pandemic do work, but they work against those who are making them.

We are confident that the international community must act as one and coordinate its efforts if we want to overcome the coronavirus pandemic and provide the earliest possible alleviation of its widespread socioeconomic fallout. The Russian vaccines (this is a reminder for those who come up with all sorts of fabrications or publish offensive or misleading materials) are part of the overall effort to beat the pandemic. I would like to believe that, realising the importance of progress in immunising the global population, our foreign partners will stop wasting their energy on politicising this issue and building more barriers, and instead focus on a positive agenda serving our common interests.

We are not only open and ready to talk, interact and cooperate. We are also working energetically to this end, on which we regularly keep you informed.

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Foreign Ministry statement on the 10th anniversary of the start of anti-government demonstrations in Syria

I would like to read the Foreign Ministry's statement on the 10th anniversary of the start of anti-government demonstrations in Syria. This document will be published on the Foreign Ministry website.

On March 15, it will be ten years since the beginning of civil disorder in the Syrian Arab Republic. Due to outside interference, the domestic political process rapidly turned into an armed conflict, in which illegal armed groups moved to the fore. The country was subjected to unprecedented aggression by international terrorism.

Owing to Russia's decisive contribution, ISIS was defeated and irreparable damage was done to other international terrorist groups. As a result of the concerted efforts of the Astana format partners – Russia, Iran and Turkey – a sustainable ceasefire is ensured in the larger part of Syrian territory. At the same time, there are still isolated hotbeds of tension in Idlib, where the terrorists of Jabhat al-Nusra and its allied gangs have entrenched themselves, as well as in the areas with an illegal US military presence – east of the Euphrates and At-Tanf.

Occupying an uncompromising position on international terrorism in all forms and manifestations and rendering military assistance to help eradicate terrorism in Syria, Russia firmly and consistently advocates a political settlement to the internal conflict in Syria. We are firmly convinced that there cannot be a military solution to it. We are committed to a political process led and implemented by the Syrians themselves in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254. We  are doing all we can to promote this process in our contacts with the Syrian government and opposition representatives.

We actively facilitate the work of the Syrian Constitutional Committee in Geneva, which was set up following the decision of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress held in Sochi in 2018. We encourage the involved Syrian parties to conduct regular constructive discussions in Geneva. That said, we are convinced that the Syrians must independently work out a common vision for the future of their homeland without external pressure or artificial deadlines for a final result.

Respect for sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic has always been and remains an imperative of our policy in Syria.

On the tragic anniversary of the start of the destructive and bloody events in Syria we are bound to recall the numerous atrocities committed by terrorists against peaceful civilians and provocations staged by pseudo-humanitarians from the White Helmets with the use of chemical agents, which were inspired by their Western patrons. It is public knowledge that it was the far-fetched accusations of the Syrian Government of war crimes that were repeatedly used by the Americans and their allies to justify strikes at Syrian territory in violation of international law and in circumvention of the UN Security Council.  

We believe assistance to the voluntary and safe return home of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons is a major step towards restoring national unity in Syria. We are convinced that the entire international community must make vigorous efforts to resolve the urgent humanitarian task of providing acceptable living conditions for the millions of Syrians that have suffered in alien lands.

Unfortunately, the positive trends in Syria are not welcomed by everyone. After the failure of the long-standing previous attempts by anti-Syrian forces to achieve the overthrow of the lawful Syrian government by force, using criminals and terrorists as proxies, they have moved to financial and economic strangling. To achieve this, they are using unilateral restrictions, blocking external aid and creating obstacles for the return of refugees and IDPs to Syrian government controlled territories. In the process, the selective assistance rendered by the Western countries to their clients in Syria, can only perpetuate the existing dividing lines in Syrian society and stimulate separatist attitudes in the areas that are being artificially isolated today.

We consider the approaches by those who make political demands on the provision of humanitarian assistance to the Syrians anti-humane and unconstructive, all the more so during the coronavirus pandemic. In effect, the Syrians are being punished because they did not want to live according to the patterns imposed on them from the outside. We see this as yet further evidence of the double standards that are used by our opponents in Syria. They are trying to make Syria hostage to narrow self-serving geopolitical interests and turn it into a territory of permanent domestic conflict and an arena for the settling of accounts by external forces. It is no surprise that this position is held by the states that took a direct part in fanning the flames in Syria and that have supported anti-government forces, including terrorists. It is they who are primarily responsible for the ongoing Syrian tragedy.

We urge all those who are really interested in settling the crisis in Syria as soon as possible to give up politicised approaches and take an active part in rendering international assistance to the Syrian people, primarily in resolving urgent socio-economic problems and parrying humanitarian challenges.

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Western countries manipulating the OPCW

This is not the first time that the United States and other "like-minded" OPCW members have used this technical platform for groundlessly accusing Syria of using chemical weapons. Taking advantage of procedural tricks, the Western countries have blocked Russia's proposal to review, during the current session of the OPCW Executive Council, a French draft sanctions decision against Damascus for the alleged use, on three occasions, of chemical warfare agents by the Syrian army outside ​​Al-Latamna in March 2017.

The OPCW's investigations in Syria are politicised and lost any credibility a long time ago. Suffice it to recall the fabricated report on the alleged chemical incident in Douma in April 2018 and the provocation a year before that in the town of Khan Shaykhun, where the White Helmets used sarin. Both episodes were conclusively refuted by Russian military experts who presented technical details on ballistics, demining and chemical protection. They did this openly without using information influence techniques, held press conferences, gave interviews and published corresponding materials. Based on the objective monitoring data published by the United States itself, they showed that the mainstream Western narrative describing the bombing of Khan Shaykhun is at odds with the elementary laws of physics.

To divert the international community's attention from the facts of exposing the West's "fake news," Washington and its allies then tried to bring up the alleged chemical incidents at Al-Latamna. The fabricated report, compiled to a corresponding "order," turned out to be biased, unconvincing and, ultimately, unprofessional.

Despite that, in July 2020, Syria was presented, with a minimal majority of votes, with intentionally impracticable demands to come forward with the allegedly undeclared production and storage facilities for chemical weapons. The fact that Syria's chemical warfare programme had been scrapped under strict international control, which was confirmed by the OPCW more than once, was simply ignored.

Cynically violating the Chemical Weapons Convention, the collective West, in circumvention of the organisation's Executive Council, is seeking to impose sanctions on Damascus at the upcoming Conference of the States Parties to the Convention. The scenarios remain unchanged. The names of the countries that become targets of the staged information and political campaigns may change, but the methods remain the same. We will work to counter this approach. We state that through the efforts of the United States and the US-manipulated Technical Secretariat, the OPCW has become a tool to service the geopolitical interests of a small group of "chosen" countries, whose notorious "solidarity" is nothing more than complicity which is increasingly replacing common sense and a sense of reality. Unfortunately, the OPCW does not do much in areas that are more constructive and important, even though its name is the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Isn't it time for you to start implementing your immediate responsibilities? As you are aware, the United States has not destroyed its chemical weapons despite its obligation to do so. OPCW Technical Secretariat, would you please pay attention to this flagrant violation of international law?

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The possibility of deploying US land-based intermediate-range missiles in Japan

We noted the reports in the Japanese media saying that Tokyo and Washington might soon be discussing the prospects of deploying US missiles in Japan. Judging by the context, these reports are most likely about land-based intermediate-range missiles, which earlier were banned under the INF Treaty.

In this connection, we want to point out again that the deployment of American land-based intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, regardless of what they carry, in various parts of the world, including in the Asia-Pacific Region, would have an immensely destabilising effect, in terms of international and regional security. This would provoke a new round of the arms race, the implications of which can hardly be predicted. Obviously, this scenario would do nothing to enhance the security of either the United States or its allies.

At the same time, the additional threat that the deployment of these missiles poses to Russia will certainly provoke a reaction from us.

We are calling again on all interested parties to start seeking ways of reaching a political and diplomatic settlement of the situation that has evolved since Washington dismantled the INF Treaty. Let me remind you that despite destructive actions by the United States, Russia has announced a unilateral moratorium on the deployment of land-based intermediate- and shorter-range missiles in the regions where Americans do not deploy similar missile systems. Our commitment has remained in force. We are still open to constructive efforts on an equal footing to restore confidence and strengthen global security and strategic stability "in the post-INF Treaty world".

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Norway's plans to open new blocks for oil and gas development within the area covered by the 1920 Spitsbergen Treaty

We have noted the information about the Norwegian authorities' plans as part of the latest licensing round for continental shelf exploration, including in the predefined areas in the Barents Sea, to open nine more blocks for oil and gas development in the area covered by the 1920 Spitsbergen Treaty.

We proceed from the fact that the legal regime established by the 1920 Spitsbergen Treaty fully applies to the archipelago's continental shelf. It follows, in particular, that mineral exploration and production on the shelf around Spitsbergen should be conducted in accordance with the above-mentioned Treaty and the 1925 Mining Code for Spitsbergen in order to guarantee that individuals and entities from all the states parties to the 1920 Treaty can exercise their rights and legitimate interests.

We strongly urge Norway to strictly comply with the Treaty, which is the basis for the Kingdom's sovereignty over the archipelago under international law.

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Leonid Kravchuk's statements on "radical steps" by Kiev if Russia fails to declare itself a party to the conflict in Donbass

We have received many questions regarding statements by Leonid Kravchuk, head of the Ukrainian delegation at the talks within the Contact Group, on Kiev taking "radical steps" should Russia fail to recognize itself as a party to the conflict in Donbass.

Unfortunately, Ukrainian officials have tried, with amazing regularity, especially of late, to cover their inaction and overt sabotage of the previously reached agreements on a settlement in the east of Ukraine with accusations against Russia and to shift the responsibility to us for actually driving negotiations into a dead-end. In so doing, Kiev is trying to persuade everybody that Moscow is allegedly a party to the conflict, that it supposedly has some obligations under the Minsk package of measures. As if they don't have that document in front of their eyes and can't see whose signatures are on it.

I want to remind those who have forgotten: the parties to the conflict were clearly identified in the document approved by a UN Security Council resolution. They are Kiev, on one side, and Donetsk and Lugansk, on the other. It is precisely a reluctance to recognize this fact by Ukraine's negotiators and their lack of will to come to terms with Donbass that is the reason for the lack of sustainable peace in the region.

The aggressive and hostile rhetoric outside the legal context, at a time when the security situation is clearly degrading, makes us seriously consider Kiev's real intentions at this given period of history. Moreover, Ukraine has actually withdrawn from the supplementary agreements on a cease-fire signed last July. The number of artillery attacks, including against civilian infrastructure, is growing, and this issue is becoming even more relevant. In this respect, we would like to warn Kiev and the "hotheads" manipulating or serving it from further escalation and attempts to use force in Donbass.

We urge the Ukrainian authorities, once again, to stop inventing "new understandings" and documents, and start fulfilling their obligations under the Minsk agreements in good faith.

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Situation concerning UN Disarmament Commission

We view the United Nations Disarmament Commission (UNDC) as a crucial element of the UN disarmament triad which, in addition to the UNDC, includes the First Committee of the UN General Assembly and the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Russia has consistently upheld the full-format character of the commission's activities and the scrupulous observance of its mandate – drafting recommendations on arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation (ACDNP). We are interested in continuing a detailed discussion of the issues on the UNDC's agenda.

Russia, like many other UN member states, used to send qualified experts to UNDC sessions in New York in view of the importance and particular specifics of ACDNP issues. However, in 2019, this practice was suspended. As a reminder, US authorities failed to issue an entrance visa to the head of the Russian delegation under a far-fetched pretext, and they have continued doing this. This critical situation with the UNDC is not an isolated case but rather the result of Washington's system-wide illegal visa control practices with regard to experts from the UN member states that are delegates to UN events. As a result, the UNDC's substantive work has, in fact, stalled.  

The US authorities have grossly violated their obligations under the 1947 Agreement Regarding the Headquarters of the United Nations and have ignored the key provisions of the UNGA Resolution 75/146 Report of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country approved by consensus, which also means with Washington's support. Under Article IV of the above agreement, "the United States shall not impose any impediments to transit to or from the Headquarters district of Representatives or Members of the United Nations," and also visas "shall be granted without charge and as promptly as possible." Let me remind you that visas were denied in 2019, and now it is 2021. This regards the "prompt granting of visas" by the Americans to experts who are not traveling to the United States but to the UN, which is located on US territory. The provisions of the Article shall be applicable irrespective of the relations between the Governments of the persons and the Government of the United States.

UNGA Resolution 75/146 states that US authorities are expected to promptly issue entrance visas to all UN member states' representatives so they can come to New York on official matters of the United Nations Organisation. In addition, the resolution reaffirms that there is an unrestricted right of persons to enter the United States for the purpose of proceeding to the Headquarters district.  

The US's neglect of its obligations as a host country for UN Headquarters has become a factor which impedes the UNDC's work and discredits its status as a key element of the UN disarmament mechanism. When it is impossible to ensure the participation of respective experts of the UN member states in the work of the commission, the "added value" of its recommendations is debased.

In addition, Washington's actions undermine the established procedural peculiarities of the UNDC's operation, primarily the practice of consensus decision making, the basic principle which guarantees a balance of interests for all member states and the universal nature of the recommendations designed by the UNDC. Holding the commission's organisational and substantive sessions loses its sense of purpose once equal conditions for work within the UNDC format have not been provided for all experts of the UN member states.

In view of the above, we demand that the US authorities reconsider their approach and return to responsible compliance with its obligations as the UN Headquarters Host Country by ensuring entrance to the US for the head of the Russian delegation to participate in the UNDC. 

I know that the UN Secretariat is also engaged in resolving this predicament, which is due to illegal actions by the US government.

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Man-made disaster in the Republic of Equatorial Guinea

On March 7 of this year, a number of powerful explosions took place on the Nkoantoma military base in Bata, the economic capital of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea. According to officials, the tragedy was caused by the inflammation of ammunition stored at this facility. Initial estimates put the death toll at 105 people. Over 600 people were injured to one extent or another. Residential buildings were destroyed and city infrastructure damaged in neighbouring areas.

The Russian Embassy in Yaoundé (accredited in the REG concurrently) reported there were no Russian citizens among the victims of the disaster.

The leaders of Equatorial Guinea declared national days of mourning on March 10-12, 2021.

We express our sincere condolences to the families and friends of the deceased and wish early recovery to the wounded.

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Developments in Haiti

We have received many questions about the developments in Haiti. I would like to give a generalised response to them.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council (apparently, this is why we were asked so many questions in this context), we are closely following the events in Haiti, which cause our concern. At present, this Caribbean state is going through a new round of political instability that has lasted for over a quarter century. Haiti is in the grips of a major social and economic crisis. This situation, with some changes to this or the other side has become a constant way of life for the Haitians.

It would be natural to ask what the sources of this predicament are? Once a rich territory, Haiti was called a Caribbean pearl in the 18th century. It was the first Latin American country to win independence and set an example for progressive development. Why is it now permanently beset with grievous problems and is one of the region's poorest and most unstable countries, and a special concern of the UN Security Council?

There are many reasons for this. They include the consequences of its colonial past. The internal problems of organisation and governance are natural. There have been natural disasters, the most dramatic of which was the earthquake in January 2010. However, a different and absolutely artificial destructive factor for Haiti is invariably playing the main role in its troubles. I am referring to imposed external influence.

How else can one qualify the permanent "big stick of democracy-making" used by Haiti's northern neighbour that calls itself the most democratic state in the world? What other result could have been expected from such external "assistance" as the long-standing absolute power of the Washington-backed Duvalier clan and two foreign military invasions – in 1915 and 1994 – in one century? These questions are not rhetorical but have answers. What other result can come of an external presence that is continuously permeating all areas of Haiti's economic and political life that comes with the imposition of direct rule through the instigation of conflict between the national elites?

Such political and social engineering always exacerbates the problems but never helps to resolve them, especially during the current pandemic. World practice has proven more than once that any export of foreign development models, not to mention imposition by force, with no regard for specific peculiarities, traditions, attitudes or national historical roots of the people in any country can only be fraught with the introduction of an imbalance in the backbone elements of state development, the destruction of development guidelines and disruption of natural economic bonds.

All this is becoming even more obvious against the blatant practice of double standards. We are seeing this in Venezuela, Cuba, Syria and a number of other countries in different parts of the world. It is sad that open use is made of the dual morality that erodes international principles (if it can be called morality at all) and that democracy is interpreted only through Western rendition and largely as an excuse for interference. Hence, the challenges that we are discussing today with respect to Haiti and the responsibility of foreign states for their part in exacerbating these challenges.

We are convinced that these countries should ask themselves many unpleasant questions and try to reach at least some sensible conclusions. The main point is to realise that the true goal of aid is not to impose foreign patterns but to help people decide their destiny themselves via an inclusive dialogue, the formation of a public and political consensus based on their domestic law and international standards and without outside interference. These are common truths that are fixed in the UN Charter. However, we often see them violated and even forgotten by many global players.

Russia advocates this approach. Being invariably committed to the principles of the UN Charter, we are willing to continue rendering the needed assistance to the Haitians both bilaterally and under the auspices of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti. We intend to help Haiti restore political stability in the country, maintain its domestic security, train its personnel, maintain peace and ensure human rights.

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Polish-American "fake history"

Unfortunately, I have to spend a moment discussing a subject that has become almost an integral part of our briefings. I'm talking about the distorted interpretation of history and the rewriting of history. In this particular case, we will focus on Polish-American history-related "fake news."

Sometimes the lies coming from Eastern European state entities and the Western media make it possible to reveal the mechanism behind the falsification of history and the distortion of the outcome of WWII. The US media published materials about Polish archaeologists who unearthed nuns "killed by Russian soldiers in 1945." These unconfirmed "data" came from the infamous Polish Institute of National Remembrance which is responsible for destroying hundreds of memorials to over 600,000 Soviet soldiers who died liberating Poland.

The US media is saying that the Red Army invaded Poland in 1944, after it had been occupied by Germany, in hopes of establishing control by imprisoning, banishing and eliminating Polish soldiers, civilians and religious communities. There's an even more bone-chilling statement to the effect that the brutal Soviet occupation of the war-torn country was established when Nazi Germany withdrew its troops. At the suggestion of some Polish organisations, US audiences are being told that the Soviet Union "occupied" Poland when it was at war with Germany. This transcends fabrication. This is a dangerous insanity.

It is claimed that the Red Army captured the Polish towns of Gdansk, Olsztyn and Orneta in February 1945. The Polish Institute may try to mislead incompetent US journalists, but the historical facts cannot be argued with. The above cities became Polish cities by Yalta Conference decision. Before that, they were called Danzig, Allenstein and Wormditt, respectively. The last two were in East Prussia. Incidentally, World War II began by firing shots in Danzig in 1939. And it was liberated in March, not in February. The First Army of the Polish Armed Forces fought there alongside the 2nd and 1st Byelorussian fronts of the Red Army. So, the Poles occupied Poland as well? This is impossible.

As you may be aware, the Red Army lost 127,000 soldiers in the East Prussian Offensive and 53,000 soldiers in the East Pomeranian Offensive. Our Polish allies lost 9,000 soldiers.

As absurd as modern historiography may be in the minds of Western journalists, it appears that in the course of the joint Soviet-Polish capture of Poland, the Red Army still managed to liberate the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. We are all aware of this fact, which is marked annually on January 27.

However, Poland tried to argue the international community out of this as well. Remember Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna saying in 2015 that Auschwitz was liberated by the Ukrainians? Moreover, the US ambassadors, taking the cue from President Obama in 2008, claimed from time to time that Auschwitz was liberated by the US Army. Playing with history is a dangerous and insane endeavour.

Let's go back to the excavations in former East Prussia, which became Polish territory thanks to Soviet troops. The incumbent authorities in Warsaw aren't satisfied with demolishing monuments to those who saved the Polish nation from annihilation. This is not just about memorials outside burial sites. A mass grave of 56 Soviet soldiers and a mausoleum were destroyed without conducting archaeological excavations in the town of Czarnkow in 2017. As we see, the Institute of National Remembrance is making serious efforts to tarnish the memory of the dead soldiers and is doing so not only in Poland, but also abroad with the help of Western NGOs and the media.

We will continue to expose the activities of this pseudo-historical society. We will issue refutations and send corresponding letters to the editorial offices of the US media, if they still remember the meaning of the word "reputation." We suggest that they avoid talking with this "institute" led by ultra-right activists who practice Nazi greetings. We will conduct targeted work with the US media on this matter.

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Renaming a public garden in Bucharest

We were stunned by the news that the municipal council of one of Bucharest's districts demanded that the public garden in the central part of the city named after Marshal Fyodor Tolbukhin be renamed under the pretext that the Soviet commander had allegedly been involved in changing the political system in Romania. This is not the first time that attempts have been made to erase his name from the map of the Romanian capital: in 2017, similar plans failed. 

It would be appropriate to remember that as World War II drew to a close, our distinguished military commander led the operation to drive Nazi troops out of Romania, and in May 1947 the King of Romania awarded him the Order of Michael the Brave for his outstanding service to that country during the liberation of Romania from the Nazi invaders. 

Clearly, this is yet another example of revisionism, an unscrupulous attempt by the masterminds of this plan to gain prominence by taking an anti-Russia, Russophobic stance that, regrettably, is popular today in certain circles. 

We must not forget that mocking the history and the memory of true heroes who fought against Nazism is a morally flawed and reprehensible act. These cheap escapades look particularly dishonorable in the year when we mark 80 years since the attack of Nazi Germany and its allies on the USSR. 

We hope that the Bucharest authorities will yet again show common sense and will not bow to the instigators. We and our Romanian colleagues have many interests and objectives that are knit together in the military and memorial field.

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Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe resolution on the implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities by Latvia 

On March 3, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution on the implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities by Latvia. 

The document notes that the Latvian authorities are not fully delivering on their obligations. This concerns, first, restrictions on receiving an education in a minority language, violating the rights of the non-Latvian population to full participation in the country's cultural, economic, social and political life, and the prohibition of using national minority languages in dealings with regional and administrative authorities.

In this connection, immediate action is needed to rectify the situation. In part, the following recommendations should be considered:

- promote the integration of society as a whole with an understanding that the process is not limited to the promotion of proficiency in the state language;

- ensure the continued availability of teaching and learning in the languages of national minorities throughout the country with a view to meeting existing demand;

- ensure the inclusion of national minorities in decision making;

- combat stereotypes and prejudices in political discourse and counteract manifestations of xenophobia in society;

- reconsider the approach to the quota requirements in the broadcast media and pursue efforts to promote the state language through incentive-based methods rather than through the imposition of language bans.

We note that the above approach and the qualifications of the Council of Ministers are consonant with Russia's assessments of Riga's comprehensive violations of the rights of Russian speaking citizens.

We hope the Latvian authorities will heed these recommendations and will bring their policy in line with their international commitments.

For our part, we would like to emphasise that protection of the rights of our compatriots and, generally, Russian-speaking citizens in the Baltic states and Ukraine remain a priority of Russian foreign policy.

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The Lithuanian Court of Appeal's ruling to extend Russian national Yury Mel's jail term

We are indignant at the lawlessness taking place in Lithuania with respect to Russian Army reserve officer Yury Mel, who was sentenced by Lithuanian justice, if we may say so, as part of the a politically motivated trial of the tragic events of January 13, 1991 in Vilnius.  

This Russian prisoner has already spent seven years in jail in Lithuania, that is, his full prison term under the Vilnius District Court's ruling of March 27, 2019; he was to be released on March 12. However, in a move to play up to the Russophobic sentiments of the Lithuanian political establishment, the court of appeals in this country has ruled to leave Yury Mel in jail until a ruling is announced on the appeal filed by the Lithuanian Prosecutor General's Office, which is seeking a tougher jail sentence by extending it for another three years. The verdict will be announced on March 31 this year.

Why is this taking place in a country that associates itself with democratic values and endlessly tries to lecture others as well as talks about justice and the need to comply with the law where other countries are concerned? Where is Brussels? Where are the tweets by the Brussels authorities? Where is the European ombudsman? I want to ask them if they see what is happening. Don't you understand that this is a true reprisal? This is just a desire to show, with one specific individual as an example, how one's life can be ruined… Where are all these lofty words that are spoken at EU headquarters? How are they translated into real life?

Let's call a spade a spade. The Lithuanian authorities are blinded by the thirst for political revenge, while the judges who are subordinate to them are ignoring elementary universal human rights standards. We are addressing this commentary directly to Brussels, the EU authorities and the many institutions that must and are expected to oversee law and order, as well as compliance with fundamental democratic principles in the EU member countries. You are so fond of speculating on the issue of human rights. Here is a person who is simply being bullied.

I will remind you that Yury Mel suffers from a grave condition caused by pancreatic diabetes. This makes all the lawlessness he has already been subjected to even worse. The repeated requests by his lawyer that at least his jail sentence be changed to house arrest have been turned down. I want to repeat that all this is taking place in a country that positions itself as all but a model of democracy. So, this is the democracy you have, if [Lithuania] is the standard. Then you should not preach democratic values because nobody needs such democracy Live it yourself.  

We will not allow these kinds of stories to be overlooked. We will continue to draw the attention of the EU institutions to this manifestation of lawlessness. We demand that an end be put to the cynical efforts to defame justice and an actual person. The authorities in Vilnius should understand that these games will have consequences.

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100th anniversary of the signing of the Russian-British Trade Agreement

March 16 marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Trade Agreement between the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic and the United Kingdom. Commissar of Foreign Trade Leonid Krasin and Chancellor of the Exchequer Robert Horne signed the document in London.

The agreement was not only commercial but also political in nature. Its fundamental principles, such as the mutual commitment to refrain from hostile acts and propaganda (the key word) against each other, are still relevant today.

This document amounted to de facto recognition of the Soviet government and was the first treaty concluded by Soviet Russia with a Western power.

We consider the upcoming anniversary as a practical confirmation of the history of relations between our countries. At the same time, we have to state that today Russian-British relations are going through difficult times, to put it mildly. We remain ready to normalise our relations with the UK to the degree that London is ready to do so.

In the context of the upcoming anniversary and the very provisions laid out in the document that the parties undertake to refrain from propaganda against each other, we would like to draw attention to a very important problem – how the UK does not honour its commitment to non-interference in media activities, thereby making its own media no longer independent.

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British media

We have received many requests to comment on the high profile interview of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex on a CBS television show. We are not really interested in such things and won't comment on them. This is not our business.

However, we are very interested in and concerned about everything that is linked with British propaganda and the undermining of freedom of speech in Britain. We paid some attention to this interview in this context.

First, we are perplexed by some very specific "modalities" of British media performance, This is what the Duke of Sussex said: "There is this invisible contract behind closed doors, behind the institution (monarchy) and UK tabloids. Well, to simplify it, it's a case of, if you, as a family member, are willing to wine, dine, and give full access to these reporters, then you will get better press." As we understand it, in this case "the institution" means the office serving the Royal Court and the family of the head of state, or, to be more precise, the heads of state in 16 countries (Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Great Britain, Grenada, Canada, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kits and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Jamaica).

I have some questions in connection with the "revelations" we heard in this interview. Do we understand it correctly that this implies collusion between the power institutions in Britain and the media? This is exactly what our colleagues in London like to accuse others of, calling themselves "the champions of free press."

During the conversation, the Duchess of Sussex openly admits that British tabloids cast everyone in a role ("a standard" as the interviewer says). This is hardly the same as the principle of unbiased press, which can be found in the fifth section of the guidelines in the British Ofcom regulations (meanwhile, based on these guidelines, RT was fined in July 2019).

If the Duke of Sussex indicated collusion between the institution of the monarchy and the press, and that the Duchess of Sussex had to follow different rules. She was "given a very clear directive from the moment the world knew Harry and I were dating to always say, 'No comment.'" So, they were silent. Is this true democracy and freedom of the media, British style?

All this is taking place against the backdrop of leaks about the enormous funds that the British authorities spend to shatter the situation in other countries, primarily in our country, using both the Western and Russian-language information space. All this is taking place against the backdrop of endless accusations hurled by the Foggy Albion at any "objectionable" media that are called "biased," "non-transparent," "closed" and "propaganda-oriented." So, on the one hand, there is collusion between the institutions of authority and the media, whereas on the other, each representative of the political establishment has been assigned a role to play in these tabloids. On top of all that, there is a direct instruction for them to remain silent. This is taking place while at the same time tremendous amounts of money from the British budget are being spent on promoting freedom of speech in other countries.

The Russian Embassy in Britain recently notified the British Foreign Office about its documents on the internet, which reveal the existence of the British government's large programme of systematic influence on the Russian language media space. These documents point to the existence of fairly destructive propaganda campaigns. Based on these documents, projects have been carried out on the order of the Foreign Office for several years in Russia and neighbouring countries. These projects are pompously presented as support for Russian-language "independent media," and "efforts to ensure a balanced media" and the like.

Let's return to the start of the interview by the Duke and the Duchess. They told us about the "independent" media, British style, "a balanced media" and "freedom of speech."

This is not about encouraging sound competition among journalists although it seems that they could figure out how to do their job without instructions from British government institutions. The professional community has adopted a host of documents and regulations. There are many valid international legal documents in this area. I would like to ask a reasonable question: why should British officials send money to support "freedom of speech" (as they see it) to other countries? Do they think journalists will not figure it out without them? If there had been a decent example to follow; but this doesn't exist, as it follows, based on the recent interview with Oprah Winfrey. All this shows that targeted support is meant only for media that promote British and generally Western political ideas. To counter the "Kremlin's propaganda and disinformation" they work to reduce the influence of Russian media resources that are, incidentally, operating on legal grounds.

London does not comment on documents that are not published by the British government "in the established procedure." But it does not deny the existence of the above programmes and its subversive activities in the media space. It justifies this as "support for freedom of the media." From the above interview, we know what "freedom" and what media are being referred to.

The interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex was a sensation. It clearly showed what an unsightly (to put it mildly) role the pocket media are playing in the British political machine.

In fact, the British establishment has admitted to the whole world that their media mechanisms are opaque and uncivilised, and the people behind the mass media in the UK stick to very dubious principles. Can we trust British journalists after this? Is it still possible?

For decades, the British media were seen as the benchmark of journalism like London itself wanted everyone to believe. They tried to convince us over many years that the British mass media are keepers of profound traditions and are guided by lofty ethical standards, of which impartiality is a key.

During our briefings, we have repeatedly mentioned the British media, mostly because of their blatantly biased approach.

However, recent revelations by the royal family gave us an idea of how deep the problem lies. It has nothing to do with Russia. What they said vividly showed that Britain, in particular, its media, has not been impartial for a long time, perhaps ever. I cannot say how deep this goes in history, but there clearly has not been any such thing as impartiality in recent history.

Instead, the "unwavering traditions of professionalism" of the British media, stemming from their close ties with the British political establishment, are nothing more than a mixture of hypocrisy and double standards wrapped in custom-made snobbery and imperial phantom pains. As a result, the world is held hostage by the never-ending manipulation of public opinion, the juggling of facts, and the fabrications and unscrupulousness of the British media.

Russia has long realised this and cited many examples in recent years, including dirty anti-Russia information campaigns in recent years such as the cases of Alexander Litvinenko, Boris Berezovsky, the Skripals, the Winter Olympics in Sochi and accusations of Kremlin propaganda, to name a few. All of that shows the people who are well-versed in the matter, what the UK mainstream media's objectivity is really worth. But no one believed us back then. Now, the British political elite have spoken. You now have other examples which you can use to draw your own conclusions. Anyone who does not fit into the Western mainstream mould can instantly fall victim to a smear campaign ordered by the political establishment and obligingly carried out by the pseudo-impartial media in the worst traditions of propaganda, in this case, British propaganda.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: What comments can you make about the March 5, 2021 statements made by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev at an online meeting of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries? At that time, he said that Zangezur was a territory of Azerbaijan, and that the November 10, 2020 statement stipulated the creation of a transport corridor. Don't you think that Ilham Aliyev's statement about Zangezur or the Syunik Province of the Republic of Armenia grossly violates international law and encroaches on the internationally recognised sovereign borders of the Republic of Armenia? Does not the statement made by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev violate the trilateral Statement, signed on November 9, 2020, its Paragraph 9 that calls for de-blocking regional transport lines of communication and routes, rather than establishing a "corridor?"

Maria Zakharova: On the whole, we note a constructive mood being displayed by Baku and Yerevan within the trilateral Working Group chaired by Russian, Azerbaijani and Armenian deputy prime ministers. Its main task is to implement top-level agreements on de-blocking all economic and transport ties in the region.

We hope that the same desire to achieve positive results and to search for mutually acceptable points of contact will prevail in official comments and media outlets of Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Question: At the March 5, 2020 online meeting of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev invited OECD member countries to use the "Zangezur corridor," which will link Azerbaijan and Turkey. "Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran have a common position regarding the implementation of transport projects in the region," President Aliyev said. How can you comment on the fact that Ilham Aliyev did not mention Russia in his statement about lines of communication?

Maria Zakharova: It would be strange if I commented on statements made by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. We maintain and develop relations with this state, including in the economic sphere. Regarding the regional situation, I have already replied to this question in the first part.

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Question: A regular military exercise involving over 10,000 service personnel, aircraft and artillery systems is getting underway on March 15 in Azerbaijan. Can this hamper the implementation of the trilateral Statement? Is official Moscow concerned about this, and what are the real goals of this exercise?

Maria Zakharova: All South Caucasus states conduct military exercises on a regular basis. The concerned parties get the relevant information in advance.

According to our sources, this is a scheduled exercise aiming to improve the standard of combat readiness, and it does not create any risks for regional stability and security.

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Question: Could you comment on the latest act of vandalism committed by Azerbaijani servicemen at the monument to victims of the Great Patriotic War in the village of Karin Tak in Artsakh? In Shusha, Azerbaijanis have destroyed the monument to the Hero of Socialist Labour Ivan (Hovhannes) Tevosian and the monument to Shusha local, twice Hero of the Soviet Union Nelson Stepanyan.

Maria Zakharova: I have commented numerous times on the subject of the destruction of monuments. I will repeat again what I have already said at every briefing. We regard as absolutely unacceptable and amoral any form of abuse of the memory of those who heroically fought against Nazism during the Great Patriotic War.

The information you have mentioned is being verified. We hope that if there are facts to confirm it, the Azerbaijani authorities will take measures to remedy the situation.

I would like to remind you that Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia agree that victory over Nazism was achieved through the heroic efforts of all nations of the Soviet Union. It is our duty to reserve this memory for future generations. President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan and President of Russia Vladimir Putin pointed this out on numerous occasions.

I mentioned this during my briefings and my meetings with Armenian journalists when I visited Armenia, as well as with members of the press from the other post-Soviet republics. I believe that the subject of the desecration of monuments to Red Army and Soviet soldiers has not been properly covered in the media or society. We have already addressed today the topic of the Great Patriotic War, WWII and the monuments, memorials and graves of Soviet soldiers.

Regrettably, journalists or media outlets do not give this topic a whole lot of support. Likewise, I do not see your concern regarding the developments involving the monuments, memorials and graves of Soviet servicemen, for example in EU countries, although we raise this matter every time. Monuments to the Red Army and its soldiers are located not only in the regions you have mentioned. A huge number of such monuments, including to Armenians, have been demolished.

We urge you to respond collectively to every event of this nature. This will make our voice stronger. We have always said and promoted the idea that Victory over Nazism is indivisible. Likewise, the protection of historical truth must not be divided either, contrary to what we are encouraged to do, for example, by Polish colleagues who claim that "Auschwitz was liberated by Ukrainians."

There are unmarked graves all across Eastern Europe, and there are graves with the names of Red Army soldiers on them. They were of different nationalities, as you can see from their names. Let's join forces to respond to every case of desecration instead of highlighting the elements that have political relevance for you. This can become an important unifying basis for precluding the desecration of monuments anywhere.

I would like to bring this up once again: I really do believe that not enough attention is being given to this matter, including by the media. In Russia, any act of vandalism, attempted or committed, against monuments to Soviet soldiers, who came from different nationalities, is considered an emergency.

This is reported and widely covered, demanding a response and practical actions. We do indeed respond and act. We write notes, help restore damaged monuments and work together with public organisations to preserve memory and to maintain monuments. This is part of our diplomatic work. Regrettably, our voice remains desolate in most instances. This must not be the case: it must be a strong chorus of voices.

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Question: Welt am Sonntag obtained an internal German Federal Ministry of Defence document stating that Russia is pursuing the destabilisation and weakening of NATO while China is seeking to build a world order to meet its own interests. What comment does Russia have on such allegations?

Maria Zakharova: This is not a matter of allegations but an information campaign tactic. Arranging "leaks" of classified documents to the media is a favoured practice of the German intelligence agencies, used to form public opinion in Germany. Information is "planted" like this in Germany on a regular basis. Obviously, the initiators and executors of such propaganda operations refer to such materials as "classified" in order to attach higher significance to the distributed statements, to make them sound more convincing and justify them in the eyes of the German public. In this case, the message is old: Germans are being inculcated to believe that Russia poses a real threat to NATO countries (the notorious "Eastern threat").

This example fully corresponds with the German government's increasingly obvious positioning of our country as an enemy, which Moscow is clearly observing. This anti-Russia vision is being reinforced in Germany (as proven by the said document of the Federal Ministry of Defence, among other things) at the doctrinal and strategic level. Similar statements are being made by top German officials and politicians. Public and semi-public analytics centres are releasing reports and research pieces one after another to diligently substantiate the course selected by Berlin. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has spoken on this issue at length during his press conferences and interviews.

Russia takes this reality into account when considering its relationship with Germany.

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Question: The United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) plans to carry out educational programmes "to support freedom of speech" and "to support independent media outlets" across the world, including Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Is Russia going to provide Russian and foreign media outlets with an opportunity to take part in training programmes on countering fake news and hostile propaganda?

Maria Zakharova: First of all, this question should be addressed to the Russian Union of Journalists and other professional associations actively involved in this area.

Throughout 2020, as part of the All Russia 2020 national media festival that took place in Sochi in September 2020, the Russian Union of Journalists conducted a series of online and offline workshops and seminars on countering fake news, misinformation and infodemics. The same topic has been covered by sessions of the Inforum training programme that has been running since 2019, including in the regional branches of the union. Similar courses are offered by other professional associations.

If there is interest in engaging the Russian Foreign Ministry in visa support (because crossing borders is currently restricted) or offering expert views, we will gladly participate in such events.

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Question: Why does Russia not respond to US sanctions pressure, and why does it not declare sanctions against the United States in connection with the US side's actions in the field of biosecurity, the Ukrainian domestic conflict and human rights violations, freedom of speech and attempts to torpedo the Nord Stream 2 project, etc.? 

Maria Zakharova: We can list many spheres where our US partners behave unlawfully, strangely and where they largely contradict themselves. We have a clear approach towards this matter: unilateral sanctions are illegal. Only those sanctions that are declared by the relevant and duly authorised international organisations, vested with these functions (the UN Security Council) are legal. Unilateral sanctions by countries through mutual collusion are not legitimate. This is our basic and principled approach.

Retaliatory sanctions, among other things, aim to highlight the unbecoming behaviour of partners and to warn them against such actions in the future. Unfortunately, we are forced to respond. We can see the unconstructive and illegal approach of some countries where the United States is playing a leading role. We would like this to take place in other spheres, but the US believes that they should lead the way in the policy of sanctions.  Such is reality.

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Question: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has sent a letter to President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani, suggesting the establishment of an interim coalition government. The Afghan side resolutely turned down this proposal. What is Russia's position regarding this situation?   

Maria Zakharova: We believe that the people of Afghanistan themselves should decide on establishing an interim government during national reconciliation talks. The establishment of an all-inclusive interim administration could help resolve the problem of the Taliban's integration in the peaceful political life of Afghanistan.


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