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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 18, 2021

18 March 202121:27

Table of contents


  1. The forthcoming meeting of the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund's Board of Trustees
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's visits to the People's Republic of China and the Republic of Korea
  3. Seventh anniversary of Crimea's reunification with Russia
  4. UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights' statements on Crimea
  5. Informal Arria-formula meeting of the UN Security Council members on the situation in Crimea
  6. Water blockade of Crimea
  7. Hendrik Weber's book Our Crimea
  8. Developments in connection with the decision of the authorities of Ternopol, Ukraine, to rename the city stadium in honour of notorious Nazi accomplice Shukhevich



The forthcoming meeting of the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund's Board of Trustees


A meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund will take place on March 19 and be chaired by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The participants will review the organisation's activities in 2020 and approve prospective areas of focus for 2022.

The Gorchakov Fund was established in 2010 by presidential executive order to promote public diplomacy, facilitate the participation of non-profit organisations in international cooperation and involve civil society institutions in foreign policy processes. 

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's visits to the People's Republic of China and the Republic of Korea


Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay working visits to the People's Republic of China and the Republic of Korea on March 22-25.

Mr Lavrov will have talks with Foreign Minister of the People's Republic of China Wang Yi in Guilin on March 23 to discuss the current status of and prospects for bilateral relations, including in the context of the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty on Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation between the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China which is marked this year.

The foreign ministers of Russia and China will exchange views on a wide range of important international issues and review interaction between the two countries at various multilateral platforms.

On March 24, in Seoul, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the opening ceremony for the Mutual Exchange Year between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Korea timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations.

On March 25, Seoul will host talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea Chung Eui-yong. The ministers will discuss the promotion of bilateral relations, including cooperation in practical spheres, the situation on the Korean Peninsula, as well as regional and international issues.

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Seventh anniversary of Crimea's reunification with Russia


Before getting to the international agenda, I would like to talk about the domestic agenda, which has an international dimension. Today is the seventh anniversary of Crimea's reunification with Russia.

We are celebrating a historic event, without exaggeration. The treaty on the accession of the Republic of Crimea to the Russian Federation was signed on March 18, 2014. This was a fair and long-awaited decision both for the Crimeans and the citizens of our country.

At the referendum on March 16, 2014, the residents of Crimea made an independent and conscientious choice on the future of their small motherland, their children and the generations to come. This decision required no small courage – we remember how "friendship trains" packed with nationalist hoodlums and weapons were sent to Crimea. Owing to the selfless and responsible behaviour of the Crimeans, peace and order were preserved and plans to turn the peninsula into the "Black Sea coast of the United States" fell through.

Later the Ukrainian authorities made numerous attempts to complicate life in Crimea in many ways and punish the people for their adopted decision. These attempts continue today (the water blockade is a good example). They are accompanied by misleading and hypocritical statements from Kiev who says how much they "care" for the Crimeans and look forward to their return "home."

Much has been done in the ensuing years. Many problems that had accumulated on the peninsula over years of Ukrainian governance have been resolved. The targeted federal programme "Socio-Economic Development of the Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol to 2025" is being successfully carried out. Large-scale projects like the Crimean Bridge (motor and railway) have been completed. The existence of this bridge is still denied by Kiev. Maybe, there is no bridge, but there is traffic on it. The Taurida Highway from Kerch to Sevastopol has been built. The air terminal in Simferopol has been upgraded and receives between 16 and 25 flights from 17 airlines a day.

Over 550 projects will be carried out before 2025. They include the development of the Crimea Railway infrastructure, the modernisation and building of four-lane branch roads from the Taurida Highway to the southern coast of Crimea and upgrading the Artek international children's centre.

The peninsula will have a reliable water supply despite the scheming of the Kiev regime. The Belbek water-intake facility (50,000 cubic metres of water per day) was put into service on March 16 of this year; the construction of the Nezhinsky, Prostornensky and Novogrigoryevsky water supply inlets will be completed before the end of this year. Two desalination units are expected to be put into operation in 2022. They are already being engineered.

Crimea is steadily developing its economy despite the difficulties. The macro indicators for 2020 point to sustainability against the external challenges. Tourism is making rapid headway (6.3 million tourists visited Crimea in 2020).

Despite continued attempts to isolate Crimea, our opponents are finding it more difficult to pursue this course. Interest from the foreign public, political and business circles in developing cooperation with Crimea is steadily growing. Foreign guests (exceeding 160,000 in 2020) saw for themselves what the Russian authorities are doing to ensure diverse development on the peninsula, promote religious peace and protect the rights of the local people. President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin spoke about this today.

Our ill-wishers are annoyed by the issue of Crimea. But despite their efforts to conceal the facts, the true information about the real state of affairs is slowly but steadily breaking the wall of lies and censorship in the Western media. A number of influential foreign politicians support the international recognition of Crimea as part of Russia and favour the lifting of anti-Russia sanctions, and these are not isolated cases.

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UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights' statements on Crimea


On March 12, an Arria-meeting on Crimea: 7 years of violations of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity was held on the sidelines of the UN Security Council. It was initiated by Estonia, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and several other countries known for their highly biased position on Crimea.

During the event, Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and Head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in New York, made yet another statement with unsubstantiated allegations regarding the work of law enforcement agencies in Crimea. According to her, the police, the FSB and members of the local militia (she did not specify who they are; she probably made a mistake) were involved in arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances on the peninsula.

We would like to note that Estonia, which initiated that unofficial meeting, refused to give the floor to Crimea residents. It is the best proof that the agenda promoted by the organisers is a lie. The "advocates" of democracy have yet again demonstrated their coordinated stand in favour of maintaining a full-scale information blockade of the peninsula. The campaign includes systematic efforts to block the operation of the Crimean media and to push them out of the global information space, prevent Crimean residents from taking part in the work of UN bodies (a great deal has been done in this respect) and regional European organisations, as well as procrastinate and deny entry visas for local residents. Many obstacles have been created, but success comes with tenacity.

Nevertheless, the Russian Federation has been working consistently to ensure the right of the Crimean people to present their views at international platforms, including meetings on freedom of the media. We have seen many times that our Western colleagues keep a low profile at events organised by Crimean representatives on the sidelines of multilateral conferences. Moreover, they consider it acceptable to discourage other countries' delegates from attending such meetings.

The West continues to ignore this, to slander the Russian authorities and to accuse them of numerous human rights violations in Crimea, clamping down on independent journalists, intimidating members of the press and preventing the plurality of opinions. Moreover, they are promoting openly fake stories.

We once again invite our colleagues and partners to do the simplest thing – visit Crimea. Come and see for yourselves that there is a huge difference between the allegations you are promoting at international venues and reality. We know that this is exactly why you refuse to go to Crimea. There are no other reasons. A day will come when you will see that this approach has pushed you into a corner.

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Informal Arria-formula meeting of the UN Security Council members on the situation in Crimea


On March 17, Russia initiated an Arria-formula meeting, an informal meeting of the members of the UN Security Council, on the situation in Crimea. The event was held in response to a similar discussion sponsored by Estonia and a number of other Western countries on March 12 on the sidelines of the Security Council, where they blocked the participation of Crimeans.

The informal meeting on March 17 involved a broad participation of Crimean public activists. Rector of the Crimean Engineering and Pedagogical University Chingiz Yakubov, Head of the Ukrainian Community of Crimea Anastasia Gridchina, representatives of Crimean ethnic and cultural communities, as well as Crimean students spoke at the event.

The participants representing Crimea – not people posing as residents of the peninsula who in fact had not even visited the place for  long and never living there at all – shot down in flames all the myths promoted by Kiev and its Western patrons about the unfavourable human rights situation in Crimea, the oppression of Crimean Tatars, and the dysfunctional medical system. At the same time, they recalled the total Ukrainisation of all spheres in Crimea enforced by Kiev before March 2014, a situation that only changed after its reunification with Russia. They sharply criticised the visa barriers imposed against Crimeans, restricting their freedom of movement.

The meeting was widely attended by international representatives – about 40 delegations, including all members of the UN Security Council with the exception of Estonia. Many of them showed an interest in the information provided by the Crimean speakers on the real state of affairs in the Russian region.

On March 12, Estonia hosts a forum on Crimea but shutting out Crimeans. On March 17, another forum on Crimea is held where Crimeans are admitted at the initiative and with vigorous support from Russia, but Estonia is not there. This is the reality of Western-style democracy.

On March 18, Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations Christoph Heusgen again spoke in a tendentious manner on the topic of Crimea – something he has done repeatedly before. He reiterated a standard series of anti-Russia clichés that predictably ran contrary to Crimeans' reports, which presented the real picture. Permanent Representative of France Nicolas de Rivière also used double standards. While saying that the population in Crimea "does not deserve condemnation," he still evaded answering the question about the EU visa restrictions with respect to Crimeans if that is the case. Because there is no answer to this question. This is the punishment of these people for their free and truly democratic choice.

We look forward to the further involvement of Crimean residents in discussions at various multilateral platforms. We will not just do what needs to be done to ensure this; we will leave no stone unturned.

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Water blockade of Crimea


When the water blockade of Crimea started, we could not quite believe that something like this was happening in the 21st century. But what we faced was a state that claims to be "modern" and "forward-looking" and part of the "family of civilised countries" was, in fact, engaging in a water blockade.

By blocking the North Crimean Canal in 2014, Kiev deprived the peninsula of its then primary source of fresh water. Today I have told you about the efforts that were made to turn the situation around. But I still want to get back to this blockade. I have plenty of interesting facts to tell you about it.

Years went by and the office on Bankova Street has a different tenant now but Kiev is not even thinking of dropping the water blockade either in theory or in practice. In fact, it is reinforcing it. Ukrainian officials have announced their plans to secure their "dam victory." Extensive theoretical and hands-on work is being carried out.

Do you think Kiev invented this tactic? Turns out it did not. Do you think it was the first time that people of this and neighbouring regions had been subjected to such humiliating pressure? Not at all.

Here is a quote from a WWII notice: "Water for German soldiers only. Russians who take water from here will be executed. Water for Russians on the other side."

This notice was put up in one of the Donbass villages occupied by the Nazis during WWII. When I saw this photo I thought it was a fake. We checked and it is real.

The invaders were not bluffing. Dozens, hundreds of thousands of Soviet civilians were executed for violating similar rules or simply for allowing themselves to scowl at the aggressors. Of course, we all know episodes from the defence of the Brest Fortress and resistance in the famous Adzhimushkai Quarries when the Nazis shot dead Red Army soldiers and partisans who tried to get water for their dying comrades.  

Decades after those atrocities at the hand of the Ukrainian officials' ideological icons, the Kiev regime decided to punish the Crimeans for their historical choice in favour of Russia by using such a Hitleresque method.

Unfortunately, this move is most illustrative of Kiev's policy. All we can do is express sympathy and pity because condolences to the Kiev regime seem to be the most appropriate reaction here.

If you want to have first-hand knowledge of the state of affairs in Crimea, just go there. There are people who go there on a regular basis – not only out of curiosity but also to be able to communicate the truth about what is really happening there to the Western community. 

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Hendrik Weber's book Our Crimea


To all the statements made by our Western colleagues who say they would love to go to Crimea but they are not allowed to go there (by whom it is not clear though) – Germany's UN Representative Christoph Heusgen recently claimed exactly that – we patiently respond (and Western public figures are helping us now) that all you need is the will and a little money for a ticket.

President of the People's Diplomacy Norway public organisation Hendrik Weber recently published his book, Our Crimea. Moscow publishing company Ketlerov released the book in Russian in 2020.

The book originally came out in German in 2019. It should be an informative read for Germany's UN Representative Christoph Heusgen. You could at least start with the book written in your native German language by a person who has visited Crimea many times. You could call the author. He will tell you that the book is real, it is not fake. And he will tell you where to buy tickets to Crimea and how to get there.

I will not recite the content of the book. You might want to read it yourself. Our Western partners are the ones we want to inform  about it first. Don't tell us about Crimea. We all can travel there and do it with pleasure. Our Western colleagues live in a mythological world they created where they are allegedly prohibited from or completely unable to visit the Crimean peninsula. It is not true. Go there. You will like it.

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Developments in connection with the decision of the authorities of Ternopol, Ukraine, to rename the city stadium in honour of notorious Nazi accomplice Shukhevich


Since we have touched upon the subject of the Kiev regime and have drawn certain historical parallels, so that no one would think that we are over-exaggerating, and that there are no parallels in real life, I would like to say the following.

We have noted media publications in connection with the March 5, 2021 decision of the City Council of Ternopol, Ukraine, to rename the city stadium in honour of Roman Shukhevich, commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.

We unequivocally denounce this decision. The very fact of glorifying Nazi accomplices and collaborationists under the guise of activists of the "national-liberation movement" is absolutely unacceptable. We would like to recall that the glorification of WWII Nazi accomplices who were recognised as criminals by a decision of the Nuremberg Tribunal runs counter to the Tribunal's findings and also violates international law.

Roman Shukhevich, the odious founder of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, Deputy Commander of the Nachtigall Battalion and Hauptmann of the 201st Schutzmannschaft Battalion, gained wide notoriety for his collaboration with the Nazis. First of all, he is known for his complicity in masterminding and carrying out mass murders of Belarusians, Poles, Jews and Ukrainians in Ukraine during WWII.

The decision of the Ternopol city authorities to name a public facility of the municipal infrastructure in honour of an active Nazi accomplice cannot evoke anything else but indignation and outrage. However, the efforts of the Ukrainian authorities to completely whitewash and glorify collaborationists who committed atrocities during the years of Nazi occupation that took on the form of a state policy no longer surprise anyone.

Over a period of the past few years, this country has been exerting all kinds of efforts to justify and glorify Nazism, WWI Nazi accomplices and to falsify the history of those tragic years. In an effort to cultivate nationalist moods among wide population strata, official Kiev implements the most diverse initiatives. They probably believe that it is impossible to unite the country by any other means; at the same time, they are splitting it even further. They regularly draft various regulatory legal documents. A campaign to rename communities and streets has been launched under the de-communisation programme. They actively glorify Nazi accomplices, install memorials in their honour, conduct mass marches and publicly confer reinstated "insurgent awards" on surviving collaborationists. They also actively work with young people, and state funding is allocated for these purposes.  They set up summer camps for children and teenagers and also organise festivals for them. Unlike the national vaccination campaign, the glorification of collaborationists is proceeding smoothly. They hold children's competitions dealing with Ukrainian SS units. Right radical and ultranationalist groups and former participants in the so-called "anti-terrorist operation" in southeastern Ukraine are taking part in "patriotic work."

It should be noted that this work devotes considerable attention to Shukhevich. Numerous monuments are installed, and competitions are organised in his honour. Ternopol has been the venue for numerous youth competitions called the Shukhevich Cup.

Only the other day, deputies of the Lvov City Council joined the relay race and called on the Ukrainian government to name the Lvov Arena stadium after Stepan Bandera. All this resembles a nationwide Banderisation epidemic.

It should be noted that, while glorifying collaborationists, Ukrainian authorities so far shy away from openly declaring their cooperation with the Nazis. Consequently, the official interpretation of history deletes the facts proving Ukrainian nationalists' collaborationism with the Nazis, and textbooks are being modified for these purposes.

By honouring Nazi accomplice Shukhevich, Ukraine chooses such heroes, and it has trouble finding worthy heroes because all of them are linked with Russia, one way or another. Only nationalists whose reputation has been tarnished by the murder of thousands of civilians remain. What will become of the new generation of Ukrainians worshipping such heroes? And what future do Ukrainian leaders hold in store for their country? Ukrainian policies are not confined to the already-mentioned glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism, as well as racial discrimination and xenophobia.

The country-level section of the Foreign Ministry's regular report regarding the situation with the glorification of Nazism and the spread of neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance contains detailed facts on  this subject. These facts are also reflected in a specialised report on human rights in Ukraine. These documents are posted on the Foreign Ministry website, and they highlight Kiev's efforts to falsify the history of WWII and to promote a fake version of the events. They also slander the efforts of the Soviet Union and the Red Army to fight the Nazis and gangs that collaborated with them, as well as to persecute civilian anti-fascist activists. We call on everyone to read these reports.

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Foreign Ministry's report Violations of the Rights of Russian Citizens and Compatriots Abroad


A report Violations of the Rights of Russian Citizens and Compatriots Abroad compiled by the Foreign Ministry's Commissioner for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law was posted on the ministry's website.

The Foreign Ministry pays much attention to protecting the rights of our citizens and compatriots abroad. The problems abound. Increasingly often, Russian citizens are being detained in foreign countries or persecuted for political reasons. The conditions in detention centres also give us cause for concern. The activities of the Russian journalists or journalists representing the Russian media often get obstructed.

The report prepared by the Ministry covers the most acute problems faced by our citizens and compatriots in foreign countries.

We encourage everyone to read the report.


Another case of groundless accusations by the US authorities


Our US partners' remarks have riveted public attention over the past 24 hours.

We are waiting for the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, to come to Moscow in order to analyse and develop new approaches to Russia-US relations, which, unfortunately, have been brought to a dead end by Washington.

The current US administration never ceases to surprise us with its absurd public statements. It's not just about the unseemly attacks against Russia's top officials, but also the absurd accusations of Russia's interference in last year's presidential election in the United States, in which, as you are aware, Joe Biden was the winner.

We consider this yet another fabrication which is built entirely on the groundless belief that "Russian influencers," including Donald Trump's support base and the entire opposition, if you follow this line of thinking, were behind widely circulated online criticism of the Democratic candidate. This sounds strange, especially if you look at this from the US approach to democracy. Meanwhile, if there was anyone who tried to "influence" the voting, it was the pro-Democratic internet juggernauts and digital platforms that blocked the social media accounts of the incumbent president and hundreds of thousands of his supporters. Or, does the US intelligence community also believe that the internet monopolies have connections with Russia? If we follow this absurd logic, which has been replicated by the US authorities for years, we can arrive at this conclusion.

I'd be remiss not to mention the obvious fact that there is no evidence of Russian government agency interference in US domestic affairs, something you can't say about the US officials' endless attempts to control political processes in other countries, including Russia, and to issue direct orders to marginal opposition groups and "agents of influence" in order to sow instability, discord and strife which we can observe around the world.

We clearly saw this in their response to the unauthorised demonstrations in Moscow in January, in which their organisers tried to involve even minors. Unlike the US administration, which declines to provide concrete comments and is unable to answer even the questions posed by its media, we have openly commented on this story.

Now, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has hastily posted his critical remarks on Twitter about the law enforcement agencies that suppressed an illegal gathering in Moscow on March 13, which an objectionable organisation attempted to hold in flagrant violation of the sanitary pandemic-related restrictions. In fact, the head of this foreign department not only encroached on the scope of the duties of our judicial and executive authorities, but also questioned the legality of the epidemiological restrictions during public gatherings.

Unfortunately, the United States is held captive by its own illusions as it strives to unleash a senseless campaign of Russophobic attacks thus leading itself into a dead end. This only further degrades bilateral relations, which contradicts the fundamental interests of the peoples of Russia and the United States. It appears that Washington is not yet in a position to understand the ensuing risks to peace and security.


Libya update


On March 10, 2021, members of the Libyan House of Representatives met in Sirte and passed a confidence vote on the government of Abdul Hamid Dbeibah that should prepare the country for the December 24 general election together with leaders of the Presidential Council, headed by Mohamed al-Menfi.

On March 14, 2021, members of the Presidential Council took an oath of allegiance in Tripoli. On March 15, 2021, members of the National Unity Government did the same in Tobruk. We are noting the important role of the Joint Military Committee, established in the 5 + 5 format on the basis of the decisions of the Berlin peace conference. The committee has successfully resolved various security issues regarding the above-mentioned events.

At the same time, the new interim Libyan authorities have a difficult mission to accomplish. At this stage, their main tasks include the fastest possible normalisation of the national situation, the establishment of joint  governing bodies, the merger and consolidation of state agencies, financial and economic institutions, as well as the establishment of the joint armed forces. It goes without saying that Libyan society will have a difficult time overcoming the problems that have accumulated, as well as mutual mistrust. We believe that it is possible to end this long-standing conflict in a country which is friendly to Russia only through attaining a comprehensive political settlement, the main parameters of which need to be coordinated during an all-inclusive dialogue involving representatives of all regions and influential political forces, including the supporters of the former regime and Khalifa Haftar, Commander of the Libyan National Army.

In turn, Russia is ready to help stabilise the Libyan situation in every way. This will create essential conditions for reinstating mutually beneficial diverse cooperation between our countries.


Russian representative's participation in the ceremony of taking the constitutional oath by the Libyan Government of National Accord


On March 15, 2021, Jamshed Boltayev, the Russian Federation's Charge D'Affaires Ad Interim in Libya, as well as the heads of other foreign diplomatic missions, accredited in Tripoli, attended a meeting of the Libyan Parliament in Tobruk as an invited guest. Members of the Libyan Government of National Accord took the constitutional oath of allegiance during the meeting.

Mr Boltayev met with Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah and some ministers of the new Libyan Government on the sidelines of this event. During their conversations, Russian and Libyan officials reaffirmed their desire to resume and expand mutually beneficial cooperation in various fields. In this context, they discussed the possibility of reopening the Russian Embassy in Tripoli, the capital of Libya, whose personnel was evacuated to neighbouring Tunisia for security reasons in 2014.


NATO Secretary General's Annual Report 2020


Annual Report 2020 has been released and presented by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. It describes the activities of this truly astonishing organisation in 2020. 

The document traditionally accuses Russia of dangerous and destabilising activities in all spheres, including hybrid operations in Libya, Syria and Ukraine, and of conducting large-scale military exercises during the coronavirus pandemic. It accuses Russia of refusing to invite international military observers to attend these exercises, of demolishing important mechanisms and violating arms control agreements. NATO representatives have done a great job. They did not forget to mention the "poisoning" of Alexey Navalny and our CWC obligations in this connection. The report has been written in the best traditions. Good job!

The main claim is that Russia allegedly refuses to conduct dialogue within the Russia-NATO Council. In reality, this is the other way round. I will not comment on the first part; everything is clear with it. The main claim is that, apart from being so horrible, Russia does not want to talk. A year ago, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during their meeting on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference about our readiness to conduct dialogue. It was also noted that truly important matters of mutual interest should be discussed.

 Our proposals for de-escalating military tensions and preventing unintended incidents advanced in 2018 aim to accomplish this task. In May 2020, the Russian Federation called for mutual military restraint during the pandemic. We have so far failed to receive a detailed NATO response. This shows who does want to talk to whom.    

Instead of an unbiased conversation, they are once again trying to impose a discussion of the Ukrainian conflict within the framework of the Russia-NATO Council. What has NATO to do with eastern Ukrainian developments and the implementation of the Minsk agreements, and how does this warrant a mutual discussion? What is the added value of such monologues, rather than discussions, for addressing issues of the Russia-NATO agenda and overall European security?

In his report, the Secretary General recalls that, following the Cold War, NATO and Russia expanded cooperation and even started building strategic partnership. But how does the Alliance's unilateral decision to downsize all political and practical cooperation parameters in 2014 correlate with the spirit of real partnership? The NATO Secretary General does not reply to this question.

In this situation, it is really impossible to resume business as usual. Nevertheless, we do not refrain from dialogue; on the contrary, we remain open to constructive proposals for holding meetings of the Russia-NATO Council and other formats of communication. We hope that NATO will eventually hear our appeals for an honest conversation on urgent matters.


Britain's Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy


On March 16, the UK government released an updated version of the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. In addition to the modernisation and rearmament of the British armed forces, the factor of China, cyber threats and terrorism, the document focuses on Russia.

The review repeatedly refers to our country as the "most acute threat to our [UK] security." At the same time, London is stating its plans to use, in conjunction with its NATO allies, its military, intelligence and diplomatic potential to successfully "deter nuclear, conventional and hybrid threats to our [UK] security, particularly from Russia." In addition to this, the British present as a fact their assumption that Russia will allegedly step up its activities with the aim of "undermining democratic systems and open economies" "around the wider European neighbourhood." The British government has reiterated that "we will uphold international rules and norms and hold Russia to account for breaches of these." How interesting! They keep silent about the international law, because they themselves undermine it. They have coined a new term "international rules and norms" and instantly came up with the idea that Russia is undermining them.

As before, Britain is using the all-too-familiar fakes that are not backed by any convincing evidence to justify its vision of relations with Russia. There is no evidence whatsoever which once again shows that the propaganda spread by the British media has become London's state policy.

Despite our numerous messages about our willingness to turn the page in our bilateral relations and focus on the development which will benefit our nations, as well as our calls to get serious about normalising relations between us and solving the accumulated problems, the British government has taken another step towards dismantling Russian-British ties.

The fact that London continues to formulate its approaches to its relations with Moscow based on the logic of confrontation and the approaches typical of the Russophobic part of the British political establishment is both disquieting and regrettable. London is again ignoring the interests of its own people.

In addition to this, the document in question shows that London has abandoned its previous plans to reduce its nuclear arsenal to 180 warheads and is now talking about building it up by more than 40 percent to a total of 260 nuclear warheads. All of this is presented under the guise of absolutely far-fetched rhetoric about alleged "military threats" coming from Russia.

Clearly, this move is at odds with London's many statements about its commitment to obligations to promote nuclear disarmament under the NPT.

Such plans on the part of Great Britain confirm the growing importance of making the US nuclear allies, who are building up their nuclear arsenals, part of the Russia-US strategic equation. This concerns not only Great Britain, but France as well, which is closely interacting with Washington in the military-nuclear sphere. The British leadership's decisions underscore the urgent need to directly involve US nuclear allies in the efforts to reduce and limit nuclear weapons, which Russia never ends to point out.

We would like the Western nuclear "troika" to act responsibly. Time is ripe for it to abandon its threatening rhetoric and to start practical interaction with Russia in order to improve international security and strategic stability.


Bellingcat's support for terrorists in information landscape


The Bellingcat website is known for its bombshell 'journalistic' investigations, mainly of an anti-Russia nature. Let me remind you that this resource, founded in 2014 by Briton Eliot Higgins, presents itself as an independent publication. In fact, for many years now, it has been juggling facts around and combining them with fake stories, for example, picturing terrorists and radicals as victims while hiding information they find inconvenient from the public. This is not the only thing they do, but I would like to focus on this particular field of ​​their 'creativity.'

The media got hold of Higgins' correspondence, which proves that the head of Bellingcat has deliberately concealed the fact that terrorists in Syria have chemical weapons. The evidence suggests that in 2013, head of the Sons of Liberty International military organisation Matthew VanDyke informed Higgins that the Syrian militants had chemical weapons. Despite this, Bellingcat has repeatedly published material accusing the Syrian authorities of using chemical weapons, although there was no evidence of those facts. One of the most notorious examples of fabricated evidence was the incident in the Syrian city of Douma in 2018, which was then followed by a series of illegal US, French and British airstrikes against sovereign Syria.

Bellingcat is also known for its attempts to show members of the White Helmets, a notorious pseudo-humanitarian group operating in Syria, as selfless rescuers. This organisation is well known for its illegal activities such as robberies, racketeering, staging chemical attacks, air and artillery strikes, and assisting terrorism. Bellingcat investigators compensated their lack of arguments to disprove the White Helmets' crimes with groundless propaganda attacks against Russia and Syria.

But the website's activity involving manipulating public opinion and misinformation does not end there. Bellingcat's close direct and indirect ties with NATO countries' intelligence services are an open secret. The organisation works closely with a number of leading German media, which are regularly used by German intelligence agencies for information 'leaks' and planted stories, as well as for propaganda campaigns, Germany and other EU countries are bashfully disguising as 'strategic communication.' This is their strategic communication at work. In this context, it is quite remarkable that the so-called media resource, Bellingcat, for the most part produces the media product based on Berlin's accusations against Russia – several stories that are being diligently and consistently promoted by the German side. One is the imaginary attack on the Bundestag by some pervasive GRU hackers in 2015; then there's the alleged involvement of Russian officials in the murder of terrorist Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, who legally resided in the German capital, in 2019; and the so-called poisoning of Alexey Navalny's with a chemical agent. These three stories have been vigorously peddled, each of the 'bombshells' (as well as the aforementioned Syrian problems and the British scam with the Skripals) actually signed by ordinary British journalists and their associates from Bellingcat. The latter claim they can find evidence on social media to support just about anything, and even more so what never happened.

This is some perverse dead-end logic. On the one hand, they accuse Moscow of unleashing hundreds of thousands of Russian hackers who can upturn the internal agenda of a major state – the United States. A similar report was released by the intelligence community claiming Russia is interfering on the internet, hackers, bots, etc. This is on the one hand.

On the other hand, some pseudo-media (such as Bellingcat) are telling us they have "dug up" piles of evidence against Russia, because it is all there on social media. Those two points are inconsistent with one another. If hundreds of thousands of Russian hackers are scurrying about online, on social media, why would they be spreading implicating information and filling the social media with anti-Russia content? Or is there actually a lot of anti-Russia content out there, in which case the version about hundreds of thousands of Russian hackers does not hold water. This leads to a deadlock. It sounds like a snake eating its own tail. It is absurd, but there are strategic communications (as NATO puts it) behind this.

For lack of any real facts, sanctions are imposed against Russia based on fabricated investigations by a long-compromised online publication and several crooks behind it.


Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill in the House of Commons


The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill recently submitted by the British government to the House of Commons has come to our attention. It contains provisions designed to toughen British legislation on protest actions and also expands the powers of the local police. Could it be the same country that came with a thunderous response to the illegal actions and unauthorised rallies in our country? Is it the same country that talked about human rights and alleged that Russia is not just experiencing a throwback in democracy, but almost a decline? Why are you then coming up with more laws to toughen the police response during rallies? This is impossible. Or is there something different at play?

In particular, as part of the innovations spearheaded by the British Home Office, plans are in place to make the procedure for coordinating processions and assemblies more complicated, to expand the powers of the police to respond to protests in the event of an increase in public safety risks, and the Home Office Secretary can introduce a definition of "violation of public order." If they continue in this kind of direction, "internal terrorists" are likely to become available in Great Britain as they already have in the United States.

We do not question the UK government's right to independently determine ways to improve national legislation. At the same time, British society had a mixed reaction, to put it mildly, to this initiative. Partly, it is viewed as the British security forces' attempt to gain unlimited freedom of action. At least, that's what British analysts are saying.

We hope that London will be able to maintain a balance of interests and will not allow a situation where the country's international obligations to ensure the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals, as well as the reputation of the British claiming to be a global human rights arbiter, may be questioned.

At the same time, alarming signals coming from the UK in recent days indicate that these concerns are by no means unfounded. The entire world saw the footage of the British security forces and the police allegedly restoring order in the streets of their cities. The disproportionate use of force  and unreasonably brutal actions of the British police in London during the peaceful rally in memory of young British woman Sarah Everard allegedly murdered by a member of the London police force protecting diplomatic missions and government buildings, is alarming. Just like hundreds of thousands of people around the world, we were shocked by the footage of the female mourners subjected to police violence. They were literally dragged by their hair across the asphalt with their arms locked. I'll give it to them, it was done "professionally." I would like to explain the term "professional": clearly, the British police received proper training in using these brutal methods.

Such inhuman ways used by British law enforcement officers have drawn sharp criticism even from local politicians. For example, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that the police actions were unreasonable and disproportionate. The opposition said they want the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick to go. Britain's Home Secretary Minister Priti Patel noted that the scenes captured during the protests were sad. The rhetoric is wrong. You need to be tougher about it. Go ahead and re-read your tweets to Russia's law enforcement agencies. The wording there is much clearer and more colourful.

The above emphasises the need to closely monitor the UK government's actions and initiatives in the law enforcement sphere by London's foreign partners and international organisations, as well as human rights NGOs, to make sure the UK does not fall far back from the democratic standards.


 Iceland's Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson's article Strong Defence as the Basis of Peace


I would like to comment on the article produced by Iceland's Foreign Minister Gulaugur Thor Thordarson published in the newspaper Morgunbladid on March 11, 2021 and titled "Strong Defence as the Basis of Peace."

The minister said that the creation of NATO's nuclear arsenal was a direct consequence of the development of nuclear weapons in the Soviet Union. We double checked it to make sure we read everything correctly. This cannot be! Iceland's Foreign Minister couldn't have written this. It turns out he can. In this regard, we are compelled to remind Mr Thordarson of the historical fact (perhaps, new data has come to light in Iceland, but the world is not aware of it). The United States was the first country to obtain nuclear weapons in 1945 and remains the only country to have used it. Perhaps, this will come as a shock, but the tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is in some way connected with the use of nuclear weapons by the United States. The Soviet Union began to develop its nuclear arsenal precisely in response to a direct threat to its existence.

We believe that the strengthening of international security and strategic stability requires equal commitment of the parties. In this context, we note with satisfaction the extension, in February 2021, of the New START Treaty. I would like to note that Russia spearheaded this decision. For some reason, Mr Thordarson failed to mention this fact, apparently insignificant for him, in his article.

Notably, the minister has nevertheless admitted that reciprocity is a critical factor of international security, and is the only way to achieve nuclear disarmament. Indeed, reciprocity is the cornerstone of the efforts to reduce nuclear arsenals and to ultimately achieve the common goal of a nuclear-free world, and Russia is doing its best to get there. We invariably advocate full compliance by the parties with obligations under agreements in the nuclear missile sphere. We are ready for a substantive dialogue on overcoming the damage that Washington had previously inflicted on the arms control architecture, and on possible new agreements on this track, which would take into account the entire gamut of strategic stability factors.

We urge everyone not to forget about Iceland's constructive role in organising and hosting, in 1986, the historic meeting between Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan, which marked the end of confrontation between the Soviet Union and the collective West, and to refrain from making remarks that create an unfavourable information background, especially ahead of the ministerial session of the Arctic Council in Reykjavik in May 2021.


Hampering RT Deutsch television channel's journalist work


I would like to recall what I have already mentioned at our previous briefings and what I've said at a meeting with representatives of German media outlets. On February 26, 2021, Germany's Commerzbank sent a letter notifying that the bank accounts of the RT Deutsch and Ruptly news agencies would be closed as of May 31. The bank's management cited a right to unilaterally terminate cooperation with clients without having to give any reason for doing so.

Although the bank was asked to answer some questions put to it by the Russian and foreign media outlets in the context of this high-profile case, its representatives declined to do so. They did not comment on the bank's actions. The situation is not being resolved despite our requests that Berlin influence it. Earlier on, similar situations were resolved following our appeals to Berlin. Dozens of other major German and international banks, as well as regional financial institutions contacted by the bureau's management, have refused to cooperate, without offering any justified arguments. This also directly proves that the relevant German agencies are putting pressure on them; or perhaps we will explain this by miracles. The absence of any comments on the part of one bank and all others, which either close the accounts of the Russian media outlets or prevent them from opening such accounts, the absence of comments and information on certain violations of local legislation by Russian media outlets proves convincingly that, first of all, Russian media outlets and journalists did not violate such legislation. Second, this is a politically motivated case.

It is common knowledge that Berlin is seriously irritated by the media company's plans to launch full-fledged German-language television broadcasts in the Federal Republic of Germany before the year is out. The authorities have started openly ostracising the bureau's journalists. Hendrik Zörner, spokesperson for the German Journalists Association, has posted an article on the Association's official website, in which he openly sabotages the process of hiring RT Deutsch personnel and insults numerous employees of the RT holding. This is one of the latest and highly representative examples.

The leader of the professional association of journalists who should understand and comprehend corporate ethics and who should be guided by principles of respect for his colleagues writes that those working for RT have said goodbye to critical and independent journalism. Whether they want this or not, but RT employees are involved in the destabilisation of democracy. He did not make it clear how exactly RT journalists are destabilising democracy, and he did not even specify what he meant by the destabilisation of democracy. Does this amount to having an alternative viewpoint? If so, then this is a pillar of democracy. Quite possibly, people in Germany have either forgotten about this or are trying to do so.  

We consider such outbursts not just counter-productive, but aggressive. We understand the nervousness of Germany's journalist community whose members obviously fear competition on the part of the RT bureau. Nevertheless, it is necessary to stick by the rules and honour ethical and democratic principles. Quite possibly, it would be appropriate to have another read of international obligations of the Federal Republic of Germany as regards compliance with freedom of speech and the prevention of a discriminatory approach towards journalists.

We are indignant in connection with open discrimination with regard to the RT television channel in Germany and the persecution of this media outlet. Germany is not the only country in this respect.

We can see that a number of EU countries display a similar approach towards the Russian journalists of this holding, as well as towards other Russian journalists. The situation differs from country to country. Russian-language media outlets are persecuted in some countries, and certain Russian journalists are harassed elsewhere. Poland has now refused to admit a Russian correspondent under far-fetched pretexts. Earlier, another Russian journalist had trouble obtaining a Polish visa; the visa was revoked, and the Polish authorities also forbade the journalist from entering the country for another five years. This is real obscurantism, rather than double standards. As we can see, entire EU countries have succumbed to such obscurantism. On the one hand, they pay lip service to freedom of speech and human rights, and on the other hand, they flagrantly violate fundamental democratic principles in favour of their time-serving interests.

In this connection, we find it important to emphasise that all actions made by Russia's foreign broadcaster were absolutely legitimate. If you have any other information, please give it to us.  All claims to them are politically motivated and are supported by government institutions of the Federal Republic of Germany.   

Since Berlin has failed to voice a constructive position, we are addressing specialised international human rights organisations. We ask them to respond to the violation of RT journalists' rights in Germany. We will certainly prepare letters and send them to the relevant international agencies.  

We have already said at our previous briefings that Russia would respond appropriately, unless the situation concerning RT in Germany is resolved. In reply, they say they don't like our manner of speaking. And for a long time now, we haven't liked your manner of speaking either.

We will have to respond, unless the situation is resolved.


Opening of Kosovo "diplomatic mission" in Jerusalem 


On March 14, 2021, Kosovo opened an "embassy" in Jerusalem. Needless to say, this step runs counter to UN Security Council Resolution 1244, according to which the status of Kosovo, including its right to have independent diplomatic relations with other countries, has yet to be determined.

In this context, we would like to reaffirm Russia's principled position on Jerusalem. It remains unchanged: the city should become the capital of the two independent states – Palestine and Israel, open to followers of all three monotheistic religions. We proceed from the assumption that the specific parameters of an agreement on the status of Jerusalem will be worked out during direct Palestinian-Israeli talks on a well-known international legal basis, backed by UN Security Council Resolutions 476 and 478, as well as UN General Assembly Resolution 2253.

We will continue to defend this approach in our work with the Palestinians and Israelis, as well as with our other international partners, including in various collective formats, such as the Middle East Quartet of international mediators.

As for the Kosovo issue, we consistently advocate its settlement based on international law, as well as the achievement of a viable and mutually acceptable solution by Belgrade and Pristina, which should be approved by the UN Security Council and which should meet the interests of the people of Serbia.

There were questions about how Belgrade reacted to the opening of the so-called Kosovo embassy. Was a representation made by the Serbian leadership to Israel? Has Serbia send any protest notes? Does Belgrade consider the event as an offence? I leave these questions without comment and address them as intended to Serbia. This is not a question for the Russian Foreign Ministry.


Unveiling the monument to Yuri Gagarin in the Indonesian capital


On March 10, 2021, the monument to Yuri Gagarin was unveiled in Jakarta, which was timed to coincide with his birthday and became a landmark event for the traditionally friendly Russian-Indonesian relations.

The ceremony was attended by Ambassador of Russia to Indonesia Lyudmila Vorobyova, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, First Deputy Foreign Minister of Indonesia Mahendra Siregar. Minister of the Moscow Government Sergey Cheryomin delivered remarks via video linkup.

Yuri Gagarin is well known in the "country of 17,000 islands." In June 1961, two months after the historic space flight, the high state award of Indonesia, the Mahaputra Star, was personally presented to the first cosmonaut by President Sukarno. Some citizens of Indonesia bear the names "Yuri" and "Gagarin".


Pakistan Day


On March 23, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan celebrates Pakistan Day, its national holiday marking the adoption of the Lahore Resolution in 1940, which laid the foundation for the movement to establish an independent state. The occasion also commemorates the adoption of the country's first constitution in 1956. The friendly Pakistani people gained their freedom in 1947 as the result of a difficult struggle against British colonialism.

Pakistan is rightfully respected on the global stage as an independent state playing a significant role in regional and international affairs. The Pakistani people are rightfully proud of their ancient history, cultural heritage and socioeconomic achievements.

Russian-Pakistani relations are friendly and dynamic. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, our countries maintain a regular political dialogue, including at the highest and high levels, as well as constructive interaction at international organisations, including the UN and the SCO. Trade and economic cooperation has significant potential.

We congratulate our Pakistani friends on their national holiday and wish them peace, prosperity and well-being.


Coronavirus update in view of the upcoming tourism season


The summer holiday season is almost upon us. Various countries all over the world are taking steps to revive the tourism industry and are gradually opening borders. Unfortunately, they are also closing them in some regions of the world. This is an ongoing process. It is about opening borders to foreigners. At the same time, uncertainty remains regarding the evolution of the new coronavirus infection on a global scale. Experts note the virus is still active; new variants are being recorded. These are not political assessments, but exclusively expert ones.

We would like to once again draw the attention of our citizens to the need to consider the current epidemiologic situation and to carefully and comprehensively assess all the dangers and risks that may be associated with foreign tourist trips. If you decide to go on a foreign holiday nevertheless, we would ask you not to forget to find out in advance the entry conditions of a particular country and strictly follow the current sanitary requirements, which is necessary for crossing borders and boarding an aircraft, as well as to understand that at any moment (you have seen these examples, there have been a lot of them in recent months) the logistics could change due to the introduction of additional measures and restrictions.

Once again, we remind you about our app, Foreign Assistant. Updates are available on embassies' websites.

I would like to note once again that the situation is rapidly changing in all countries without exception. Almost every day or every week we can see coronavirus-related changes in border crossing procedures, as well as the introduction of additional restrictions or, on the contrary, the lifting of them. We have to be fully prepared, monitor the information, follow the news and calculate all the risks.


Answers to media questions:

Question: Anti-Russia sanctions, moves, statements, steps and rhetoric have been gaining momentum in the past few years, but a direct accusation against the head of the Russian state is, I believe, an unprecedented and hostile action. Do you think US President Joe Biden has taken this step deliberately so as to worsen the already complicated relations between our countries? What effect can this have on the cooperation aspects that remain important to this day? For example, Moscow is hosting a peace conference on Afghanistan today that is being attended by American representatives. There are also other spheres of mutually beneficial cooperation such as counterterrorism, the settlement of regional conflicts, disarmament, and the like.

Maria Zakharova: I have already commented on all these issues, but I can say it again out of regard for you. We have heard a lot of things from the collective West and individual countries, or more precisely from their political leadership, during the past years or even decades.

Our intention to invite Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov to Moscow for consultations on Russian-US relations with various Russian bodies is an unprecedented step we have not taken in the past years, if not decades. There were other examples, but they concerned a specific problem. But doing this in order to analyse the entire range of bilateral relations is truly unprecedented not just in the history of Russian-US relations but in general.

You have mentioned an event on Afghanistan taking place in Moscow, which is being attended by American representatives, and asked about the possible effects on it. I don't understand your logic. You yourself have said that the statements made are unacceptable. That is, some people make unacceptable statements and we should respond by further worsening the already dead-locked bilateral relations? There is absolutely no point in following that logic. Carrying on the destruction, putting spokes in wheels and engaging in intrigue are definitely not Russia's strategy. We need to take up this matter and to thoroughly review the state of our bilateral relations.

Question: The other day a delegation of the Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc in the Lebanese parliament, which represents Hezbollah, visited Moscow. Could you comment on the outcome of that visit and the Lebanese delegation's meetings with the Foreign Ministry leadership? What effect can this visit have on the developments in Lebanon, where a difficult process of forming the government is underway, and in neighbouring Syria, where both sides have been working together successfully against terrorism for many years?

Maria Zakharova: Moscow is satisfied, in general, with the results of the meetings we have had with the leadership of the Lebanese political party Hezbollah during a recent visit by Mohammad Raad, head of the Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc in the Lebanese parliament, and the accompanying delegation. We hope that the exchange of views and the understandings reached during the delegation's meetings in the Foreign Ministry, the State Duma and the Federation Council of Russia's parliament will facilitate an expeditious settlement of the government crisis in Lebanon, progress in the comprehensive peace process in Syria and, overall, security and stability in the Middle East.

Question: Does Russia support the idea of UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen on the need for a new international format for a settlement in Syria, which must include Russia, the US, Iran, Turkey, the EU and Arab countries?

Maria Zakharova: At present, the Astana format remains the only credible international format for facilitating a settlement in Syria. The decisions made in the Astana format with the participation of the two Syrian delegations representing the Syrian Government and the armed opposition and the subsequent well-orchestrated efforts of the guarantor countries (Russia, Iran and Turkey) made it possible to establish and maintain a sustainable ceasefire in the SAR. This saved thousands of lives and paved the way for all-round normalisation in Syria.

I would also like to recall that the above guarantor countries supported the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi in January 2018, the decisions of which led to the formation of the intra-Syrian Constitutional Committee that began functioning in Geneva.

Unfortunately, the process of political settlement in Syria is not moving as fast as we wished it would. This is dragging the suffering of the Syrians, including millions of refuges and internally displaced persons (IDPs), impeding the restoration of the destroyed socio-economic infrastructure and complicating intra-Syrian talks in Geneva. It is easy to find an answer to the question of why this is happening in the recently published joint statement of the foreign ministers of the US, Britain, Germany, Italy and France in connection with the 10th anniversary of the start of the Syrian crisis. This collective demarche makes it clear that the West is not ready to accept the reality that has taken shape in Syria now. It still hopes to turn the situation to its favour and punish "the culprits."

Russia holds a position of principle on this issue, which we express regularly. We have prepared an all-embracing background for the 10th anniversary of the start of the Syrian crisis.

We support the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the SAR. We built our policy on the foundation of basic standards and principles of international law. We give priority to the objective recorded in unanimously adopted UN Security Council Resolution 2254 on the need to support a political process that must be led and carried out by the Syrians themselves. We are facilitating this political settlement and post-conflict reconciliation in the SAR after defeating the international terrorists. To this end, we are working with the Syrian Government and the opposition. In part, we are mobilising international assistance for the Syrian people to help them overcome the consequences of this grievous crisis and, naturally, are providing them with our own humanitarian aid.

We have seen that for some time lately the Western states respond to every step taken by Damascus to find a political solution and achieve stabilisation in the country by toughening the financial and economic blockade of Syria in line with the notorious Caesar Act and other similar decisions. There are continuing provocative appeals to bring to court Syrian political and military leaders for their alleged "war crimes" in fighting the international terrorists.

Indicatively, such positions are promoted by those who made no small "contribution" to the exacerbation of the domestic conflict in Syria and the appearance in that country of tens of thousands of foreign militants who later joined ISIS and other groups, which are qualified as international terrorist organisations by the UN Security Council. I am referring to those who have carried out massive strikes with the latest weapons at facilities in Syria under the pretext of fabricated accusations against the Syrian government of using chemical weapons against their own people. I am also referring to those who are still involved in the unlawful military occupation of a sizeable part of Syrian territory. They are deliberately fueling separatist attitudes and, in parallel, are engaged in the undisguised robbery of the natural resources that belong to the Syrian people.

During Geir Pedersen's recent visit to Moscow, we listened to his wishes on creating a new collective mechanism for facilitating a settlement in Syria with the participation of the states in the Asana format and some members of the so-called Small Group.

I would like to emphasise that efficiency is the main yardstick for any international format. Is it possible to ensure this under the current conditions, considering the openly destructive position of the potential participants that I have already mentioned? The creation of a new format does not automatically entail a change in political approaches. On the contrary, a change in the view of the situation and the attitude towards it could create additional points of contact among the partners that were on different sides of the barricade before.

We have always supported dialogue, but a dialogue that is constructive and based on international law rather than a striving to exclusively implement one's own geopolitical schemes. Otherwise, this is simply not a dialogue.  

Special Envoy Geir Pedersen's idea certainly deserves serious consideration by the countries that are directly involved in the Syrian crisis. In part, they must ponder the following questions: What role in the suggested format would be allotted to the Syrians themselves – the government and those isolated groups that qualify themselves as the opposition? And, will its work be based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254?

Finally, I would like to emphasise again that we have been and remain open to contacts with our international and regional partners on Syria. We are willing to cooperate with all those that are sincerely interested in overcoming the crisis in Syria as soon as possible with due respect for its sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.

Question: Could you comment on a recent article by Japanese political analyst and retired diplomat Akio Kawato, who suggested that Japan must demonstrate its ability to block the La Pérouse and Sangar straits, the supply arteries between mainland Russia and the South Kuril Islands?

Maria Zakharova: I would like to say that you did right to mention that Mr Kawato is a former government official, which it is very important to know in order to understand what he has written for a number of reasons. We analyse all such statements regardless of who makes them. Such attempts at intimidation, which are also presented as a tactical tool to be used at negotiations on a peace treaty, cause nothing but regret.

It is notable that the latest statement was made by a former high-ranking member of the Japanese Foreign Ministry who had been responsible for Japan's policy towards Russia and had been Japan's ambassador to several CIS countries.

This position can only lead bilateral dialogue into a dead-end, but it cannot change the reality. Russia has undeniable sovereignty over the South Kuril Islands.

Question: What do you think of the book titled The Nazi's Granddaughter: How I Discovered My Grandfather was a War Criminal, published in the United States in March by US journalist Silvia Foti, the granddaughter of Lithuanian collaborator Jonas Noreika?

Maria Zakharova: There have been constant attempts in Lithuania to glorify Nazi accomplice Jonas Noreika and to present him as an "independence fighter."  I have already spoken at length on this subject today, but you have provided one more example, this time regarding Lithuania. There are memorial plaques dedicated to him in Vilnius and other Lithuanian cities, and streets and schools bear his name. Moreover, attempts are being made to this day to justify Noreika's crimes based on very strange arguments – that he was not personally involved in the execution of Jews but even allegedly nursed schemes to save them.

However, facts point in the opposite direction. He personally signed documents on the creation of conditions for the massive execution of Jews. He received incentives, including material ones, for doing his horrible job.

The publication of Silvia Foti's book in the United States has been explained as an attempt to tell the Western reader the truth about the crimes against humanity committed in Lithuania during WWII by a leader of the notorious bandits called the Forest Brothers. The author believes that this will recreate or help readers see the real image of that Nazi accomplice. You are well aware of our position of principle, which I have put forth in a digested form once again today.

Question: My question concerns the not very adequate statements made by US President Joe Biden about President Vladimir Putin. What about an apology? We would like to hear the latest news about this scandal.

Maria Zakharova: It is definitely not our scandal. I suggest that you address your question to American representatives. Let them comment. We are surprised that a huge number of all manner of press secretaries, spokespersons and officials in the United States who are responsible for commenting on the White House's official position have buttoned up and are keeping silent on this subject. The question you are asking is not for us. It is for the United States.

You know about our position of principle regarding the development of relations with absolutely all countries, including the United States. Even in the worst periods, when our positions diverged on truly fundamental issues, Russia said that all problems must be settled at the negotiating table. This position does not depend on whether we like or dislike a country or an individual representing it. We understand that politics is about the interests of our nations, and that national interests can and do differ. But we must never forget about the interests of our own people. This has always been our logic.

May I refuse to do their job? Please, ask for comments from the representatives of the country that has always taken pride in its declared commitment to the freedom of expression and respect for the media and journalists. The United States spent a long time trying to teach the world the difference between the "right" and "wrong" journalists, between "propaganda" and "good" media outlets. Let them now prove their attitude to the freedom of speech and to journalists. They must stop evading questions and comment on everything that is going on in their country. I believe this experience will do them good.

There is a wonderful Russian saying, which, I believe, will not be so easy to translate: You say you are a mushroom, so into the basket you go. This is your homework: try to translate it into your national languages.

Question: Please allow me to convey greetings from the Bulgarian audience in connection with the anniversary of the Russia-Crimea reunification.

The first question is related to the blocking of Russian and other objectionable content in social media and other platforms. During the meeting with the heads of the Russian media on February 10, 2021, President Vladimir Putin said that the internet giants would be restricted if they take hostile actions against Russia. 

Will restrictions be applied to individual services and Western platforms if they take hostile actions against Russia (blocking, removing Russian content, etc.)? Is Russia ready to start creating comparable alternatives to these media that would be accessible to all internet users in the world with a view to preserving freedom of speech and the right to information access?

Maria Zakharova: I will reply to your second question first. Russia already has its own platforms that are very popular not only in our country but also abroad, for instance Vkontakte and others. There are others that are still being developed. I think they will be developed even more rapidly now.

As for your first question, we are seeing an absolute backsliding of the internet monopoly and hence, the state because the United States has assumed certain international commitments. This amounts to renunciation of commitments to defend freedom of speech, respecting the plurality of opinions and many other parameters. Mass blockings in which Twitter takes the lead have already been recorded in history. Content blocking, removals and other repressive actions as regards thousands of users are being taken. This applies to ordinary users and public and government figures. In the process, Twitter and the US are accusing Russia, in particular, Roscomnadzor, of some "attack on freedom of speech."

Officially, in response to warnings from Roscomnadzor, Twitter wrote that it continues to advocate an open internet all over the world and is seriously concerned about the more frequent attempts to block or restrict the public online dialogue. This concern is being expressed by a company that has blocked its own president and hundreds of media materials? Are we not confusing anything? How could this be the case?

The US Department of State is the same "alternative universe." It writes about its concern about Russia's intensified attempts to control the internet and online content. It notes that the expression of opinions and differences, including via the internet, consolidates society rather than threatens it. It explains that freedom of self-expression plays a major role in fostering a more tolerant, inclusive society. All this is being expressed by the US State Department, the very same country that blocked its own president on all social media platforms. Moreover, they tried to justify this in some way. There is a difference in our approaches. US internet giants justify the blocking of their president, users in the US and the rest of the world with political considerations, and do not conceal it. Meanwhile, our arguments in our claim to the same Twitter are common knowledge and boil down to violation of Russian laws. For this reason, they are in sharp contrast to the groundless statements of the US side (both the private companies we are talking about and government bodies).

Let me recall that since 2017, Twitter has not deleted content that incites minors to commit suicide, and content containing child pornography and information on using narcotic drugs. As of March 10, 2021, it has not removed 3,168 materials with banned information (including 2,569 with the appeals to minors to commit suicide, 450 with child pornography and 149 with information on drug manufacture and use).

In all, Roscomnadzor has sent over 28,000 initial and repeated demands to remove unlawful links and publications.

Another striking example is complete disregard of regulator demand to remove the incitement for minors to commit mass suicide on March 3, 2021. According to reports by law enforcement bodies, several attempts by minors to commit suicide were prevented on that day. Instead of dealing with urgent issues and countering criminal manifestations on their services, Twitter and other internet platforms continue carrying out "punitive actions," introducing political censorship as regards Russian citizens and organisations.

Today, we talked with our colleagues from Roscomnadzor. Interestingly, Twitter does not remove objectionable content that Russia demands to delete from the Russian internet segment, and at the same time, completely deletes all similar content from its Western section. This is surprising! As if they have other views and laws. No, at home they delete this kind of content, but it appears that it is okay to subject Russian minors to these ineligible actions on the part of the people that are using social networks beyond the law.

When we ask why legitimate content is removed and unlawful content is not, we receive lies. First, they refer to technical errors and then to moderators. Then moderators talk about technical errors again and mention some mysterious algorithms. All this is ridiculous.

According to the opinion expressed by the Twitter administration on February 26, 2021, 100 Russian accounts allegedly "amplified narratives that were aligned with the Russian government," "focused on undermining faith in the NATO alliance and its stability" and trying to "influence efforts targeting the United States and the European Union."  Here's a question for Twitter:  Was French President Emmanuel Macron also blocked in social media? He undermined faith in NATO by saying it was brain dead. No, he continues to be active on social media.

February 13, 2021: the official account of the Russian delegation at the Vienna talks on security and arms control was temporarily blocked. We were told this was a "technical error."

January 14, 2021: the Sputnik V account was temporarily blocked. They said it was an accident.

May 9, 2020: Facebook blocked the account of Rossiya Segodnya journalist Leonid Sviridov for three days after he published a photo depicting the Victory Banner over the Reichstag. This was a mass-scale "punitive action" by the social media outlets. There are many similar examples.

That said, direct threats, including those addressed to Russian diplomats and the Foreign Ministry in general are either not blocked at all (although we point them out) or are only blocked several months later, after our painstaking efforts. We have quoted specific examples.

Unfortunately, American social networks, the internet giants, have themselves created this situation through their illegal actions.

Question: Today, Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan reported that early elections to the parliament will be held next June. What can you tell us about this statement? How will these elections affect the situation in the region, in your opinion?

Maria Zakharova: We consider the decision to hold early parliamentary elections in 2021 to be Armenia's internal affair. We have noted that the sides have come to terms on the date of the elections. We hope the pre-election period will take place in a constructive atmosphere aimed at reaching long-term results.

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