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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, Moscow, March 26, 2021

26 March 202119:37

Table of contents

  1. Upcoming meeting of MGIMO University Supervisory Board and Board of Trustees
  2. Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan Rashid Meredov to visit the Russian Federation
  3. Sergey Lavrov to participate in special session of Valdai Discussion Club
  4. Sergey Lavrov to take part in the CIS Council of Foreign Ministers meeting
  5. Update on the coronavirus
  6. Overview: "Foreign policy and diplomatic activities of the Russian Federation in 2020"
  7. The status of the implementation of a joint Russia-UN World Food Program (WFP) project to develop a school meal system in the Republic of Tajikistan
  8. Update on EU sanctions decisions
  9. New anti-Russia sanctions in Ukraine
  10. Meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Ministers of Foreign Affairs
  11. UK Defence Ministry white paper on defence and military capability development
  12. Illegal US operations
  13. Russian assessment of Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights performance
  14. UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights evaluation of findings on ethnic and language minorities in Latvia
  15. Results of the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council
  16. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's statement on Russia using misinformation
  17. EU officials' statements about Russia's Sputnik V vaccine
  18. The decision of residents of Afghanistan's Uruzgan Province to file a lawsuit following Royal Netherlands Air Force attack
  19. Amnesty International calls for thorough investigation into lawfulness and validity of Dutch police methods used in detaining protesters on March 14
  20. Anniversary of NATO aggression against Yugoslavia
  21. Terrorist attacks in Niger
  22. Wirecard insolvency
  23. Desecration of a Russian monument in Moldova
  24. The decision of Polish authorities to rename a street in Inowroclaw that bore the name of a Hero of the Soviet Union
  25. Presentation of memorial album, They Are Remembered in Russia and China
  26. The 7th International Motorcycle Race "Roads of Victory: Homecoming 2021"
  27. Celebration of the 200th anniversary of the start of the Greek national liberation struggle
  28. Independence Day celebrations in Bangladesh
  29. Opening of an exhibition on the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and Panama

Answers to media questions:

  1. Bulgarian authorities declaring two diplomats of the Russian Embassy personae nоn grata
  2. High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell's statements on ways to interact with Russia
  3. Future of Bulgaria-Russia relations in view of mutual expulsion of diplomats
  4. Outlook of the work of the Middle East Quartet of International Mediators comprising Russia, the United States, the UN and EU
  5. Results of Israel's snap election to parliament
  6. Joe Biden's news conference
  7. Cancellation of the sale of Norwegian Bergen Engines plant to Russia's Transmashholging company
  8. NATO's increased military presence in the Black Sea

Upcoming meeting of MGIMO University Supervisory Board and Board of Trustees

On March 31, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will chair a joint meeting of the Supervisory Board and the Board of Trustees of MGIMO University under the Russian Foreign Ministry.

The university will present its 2020 performance report and announce goals and objectives for 2021. The participants will also consider the implementation of the University Development Strategy, and other matters such as the school's long-term projects.

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Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan Rashid Meredov to visit the Russian Federation

On March 30 - April 2, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan Rashid Meredov will pay a working visit to the Russian Federation and meet with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The visiting official will also attend a meeting of the Council of CIS Foreign Ministers, and will consider the key issues on the agenda of the Russian-Turkmen Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation, a body he co-chairs.

The parties plan to discuss key topics of bilateral cooperation, current matters of regional and global security, as well as interaction at interstate organisations. The two foreign ministers are also ready to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of Turkmenistan on biological safety.

The Russian side views the upcoming visit as an important component of the comprehensive effort to deepen the bilateral strategic partnership as stipulated by the Strategic Partnership Treaty signed by the heads of Russia and Turkmenistan at the initiative of President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.

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Sergey Lavrov to participate in special session of Valdai Discussion Club

On March 31, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in a special session, Russia in the Middle East, held as part of the Middle East in Search of Lost Awakening conference organised by the Valdai International Discussion Club.

In his remarks, Sergey Lavrov will outline Russian diplomacy's principled approaches to current Middle East problems with an emphasis on the situation in Syria, Libya, the Arab-Israeli peace process and the Persian Gulf zone.

He will reaffirm the need for a political resolution to the conflicts that persist in the region, strict observance of the relevant norms of international law, respect for the principles of sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of states and non-interference in their internal affairs.

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Sergey Lavrov to take part in the CIS Council of Foreign Ministers meeting

A regular meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States will take place in Moscow on April 2. The Republic of Belarus is chairing the CIS this year.

The agenda includes issues that cover the main areas of interaction within the CIS. The parties will exchange views on current regional and international topics, discuss prospects for deeper multifaceted cooperation in this format, including in law enforcement and in the humanitarian sphere.

The ministers will sum up the results of the Action Programme to step up the partnership between foreign ministries that was adopted to promote the member countries' positions on the global stage, and the plan for multilevel consultations between CIS foreign ministries for 2020.

The CIS foreign ministers will consider a draft appeal by the heads of the CIS member states to the peoples of the CIS and the international community in connection with the upcoming 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, in 2021.

A number of draft documents adopted at the end of the meeting will be submitted for approval by the CIS Council of Heads of Government (May 28, 2021, Minsk) and the CIS Heads of State Council (October 15, 2021, Minsk).

As for planned meetings on the sidelines of the CIS Council of Foreign Ministers, Sergey Lavrov will possibly meet with Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Jeyhun Bayramov and Foreign Minister of Armenia Ara Ayvazyan.

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Update on the coronavirus

The global epidemiological situation with COVID-19 remains ambiguous and is still fairly alarming in some countries. As of March 26, the number of infected people reached 126 million. Some 46 million people have been infected this year alone. Total human losses since the beginning of the pandemic has exceeded 2.7 million.

The curve of the daily infection rate in the world has again started to climb up, whereas the daily death rate from the coronavirus shows an unsteady reduction trend. Concern is evoked by the load on medical institutions in some countries (up to 80 percent), where healthcare systems are stretched to the limit.

The British, South African and Brazilian coronavirus strains continue spreading on the planet. The authorities consider the preservation of emergency rules primarily as a preventive measure aimed at minimising the risks of a repeated spike in the epidemic, which may be provoked by spring increases in the disease rate, mainly in large metropolises.

The approach to anti-pandemic measures in different countries changes almost every day. Some measures are cancelled while others are supplemented, and new ones are introduced. This is taking place not just every day but almost every hour.

We are recording the difficulties faced by the vaccination in the world. A number of states, primarily in the West lack consistency. They do not understand the order of priority for the vaccination and have problems with vaccines. I am saying this not just to note once again the crisis phenomenon in many Western countries but also to warn people before potential foreign travel. This is the start of the holiday season and it is necessary to have an objective approach to the epidemiological situation and the prospects of traveling abroad.

In Russia the vaccination campaign is taking its course and continues gaining momentum, embracing more and more age groups. President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin was vaccinated early this week.

I would like to remind you that three coronavirus vaccines are registered in Russia today –Sputnik Vfrom the Gamaleya Centre,Epivaccoronafrom the Novosibirsk Vektor Centre andCovivakfrom the RAS Chumakov Centre. On March 25, Deputy Health Minister Pavel Pugachev said the following: "All three vaccines are equally effective, so there is no sense in waiting for another vaccine. It is perfectly safe to be vaccinated by any of these three."

I would also like to say a few words about the attention the Russian vaccine is receiving abroad. The demand for Sputnik V is fairly high in the world. Every day we receive new requests or confirmations for using our vaccine. This vaccine was certified on a bilateral basis by 57 countries; 21 countries are buying it in large amounts and some countries are ready to organise production at home. The number of positive responses by foreign officials is growing. The media are publishing more objective articles about our vaccine. We are waiting for the completion of the registration of Sputnik V by the WHO and the European Union.

The Response Centre to prevent the import and spread of the coronavirus infection in the Russian Federation continues exercising special control over the assessment of the epidemiological situation in the world. It regularly makes decisions that are required by the circumstances. Thus, on March 25, it announced the resumption of regular roundtrip flights, starting on April 1, with Venezuela, Germany, Syria, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Sri Lanka. The number of regular flights to/from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Cuba and the UAE will be increased starting on the same date. Finally, flying abroad from the airports in Barnaul, Belgorod, Volgograd, Voronezh, Kaluga, Krasnodar, Lipetsk, Nalchik, Orenburg, Saratov, Sochi, Tyumen and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk will also resume April 1. Needless to say, established sanitary and epidemiological requirements must be observed.

Once again, we would like to draw the attention to the Foreign Ministry's recommendations to those who want to travel abroad. We urge them to take these trips only after making a well-balanced and well thought-out analysis, not to subject themselves to unjustified risk and, if possible, to adjust their travel plans accordingly, considering the circumstances, and paying priority attention to their own life and health and those of their families and friends. With consideration for the circumstances and recommendations of the Response Centre and the Health Ministry, we urge these people to get vaccinated, especially older people. You must understand that you are subjecting yourself to the additional risk linked with logistics and staying abroad. Let me emphasise this once again: you are seeing that the dynamics of infection and the problem of free beds, which is sometimes becoming critical in healthcare facilities, are really alarming in every country. In this context, you must do all you can to protect yourselves and your families and friends, if you plan to travel abroad.

We also advise you to follow the latest news on the Foreign Ministry website, our embassies' pages on the internet, and on social media.

We again recommend that travelers abroad download the Foreign Ministry's official mobile applicationЗарубежныйпомощник(Foreign Assistant). It publishes the latest materials and contact information and is regularly updated.

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Overview: "Foreign policy and diplomatic activities of the Russian Federation in 2020"

An overview titled "Foreign policy and diplomatic activities of the Russian Federation in 2020" is now available on the ministry's website.

The review was drafted by the ministry and highlights the key areas of Russia's foreign policy in 2020, aimed, among other things, at mitigating international crises and expanding cooperation with the stakeholders in order to help ensure our country's security and socioeconomic progress.

The Foreign Ministry's most important areas of activity in 2020 included state-to-state interaction based on the generally recognised principles and norms of international law with the UN playing the central coordinating role, efforts to bring Russian citizens back home and to support the ones stranded abroad, involvement in the settlement of a number of regional conflicts and crises, and dealing with issues of chairing interstate associations such as BRICS, the RIC group, the CSTO and the SCO. Importantly, Russia's efforts in economic diplomacy have led to stable prices on the global hydrocarbon market and the adjustment of agreements on the avoidance of double taxation with a number of states. In addition, in the context of celebrating the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII and the creation of the UN, large-scale work was conducted abroad, including on international platforms, to perpetuate the memory of the victims of the war and to prevent the glorification of Nazism and the falsification of history.

We encourage journalists and anyone interested in international matters to read this overview.

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The status of the implementation of a joint Russia-UN World Food Program (WFP) project to develop a school meal system in the Republic of Tajikistan

In conjunction with the UN World Food Program (WFP), the Russian Federation is doing much to improve the material and technical capacity of the school meal system in the Republic of Tajikistan. Over 600,000 primary school students in 52 rural Tajik districts receive food aid under this programme yearly.

Notably, Russia allocated $17.1 million to the WFP for these purposes from 2013 to 2019. Last year, a new phase in this project was launched for 2020-2023 with Russian funding in the amount of $11.2 million.

On March 20 an opening ceremony for a new bread baking facility with modern equipment was held in the village of Pyanj, Khatlon region, which will supply fresh bread to almost 9,000 schoolchildren in 31 schools in the Pyanj region.

In addition, Russia has been providing large-scale food aid in excess of $87.5 million to Tajikistan through the WFP since 2005.

We are committed to ensuring the sustainable development of that friendly state. I think that the above facts clearly demonstrate our solidarity with Tajikistan in its care for young people.

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Update on EU sanctions decisions

There are destructive elements or factors on the international agenda as well. In contrast to humanitarian, and not just humanitarian, but normal cooperation in international affairs, the West has come up with a policy of unilateral sanctions.

We are not surprised by the EU Council's decision of March 22 to impose more restrictive measures on two Russian citizens and representatives of a number of other states under the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime. The European Union continues its illegal policy of imposing unilateral sanctions which runs contrary to international law. This policy leads to destructive trends and chaos in international affairs. It is fraught with increased confrontation and degradation of relations between the involved countries. This kind of policy is outdated. This must be understood. It is unacceptable and illegal.

We are strongly against the politicisation of human rights. The EU must abandon its claims to leadership and exceptionalism when it comes to protecting human rights, and not turn a blind eye to the human rights problems in its member states. It is important to develop common approaches to human rights, which are free of double standards, in all countries, and show respect for their cultural and civilisational specifics, traditions, diversity and the path of their choice. It is impossible to endlessly try to teach others things that you unable to achieve yourself. This directly applies to the EU and Brussels. We are witnessing a crisis unfolding in human rights right before our eyes. This is not only about the severe suppression of dissent in the form of protest sentiment, in particular, regarding pandemic-related restrictive measures, not only severe suppression of dissent through blocking or selective policies with regard to the media, but also a completely unacceptable situation in connection with the mass migration from African countries, the Middle East and North Africa, and a huge number of human rights-related problems, including the ones stemming from racism, nationalism, neo-Nazism. This is a tangle of concerns that the EU is not in a position to resolve. However, it is pretending that these problems simply do not exist. At the same time, the EU tries to teach these things to other countries, regions and continents. It just doesn't work that way. This is a strange, dead-end, absolutely hopeless and very dangerous policy. We have provided our assessment of these steps.

To reiterate, as is always the case, the unfriendly steps by the EU against Russia will not be left without a proportionate response.

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New anti-Russia sanctions in Ukraine

For a while now Brussels has been a co-sponsor of all the "changes" that are taking place in Ukraine, and given that Brussels is supporting the Kiev regime in everything that is presented as a move towards Western values and the foundations of democracy, it could have responded (at least publicly) to the fact that on March 23 of this year, President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky put in force the decision of the Ukrainian Council of National Security and Defence to introduce sanctions for three years against 26 Russian citizens, 81 Russian companies and a number of Russian media outlets. The latter include the Rossiya Segodnya news agency, the news websites Lenta.ru and Gazeta.ru, plus some news aggregators.

I have the impression that by taking these measures, the Ukrainian regime is researching "the bottom" of democracy in Ukraine. The problem is that these restrictions include the blocking of assets, the limitation or suspension of telecommunication services and the use of telecommunications networks in general. Internet providers are also banned from providing users with access to the above resources.

This new set of sanctions has supplemented the already alarming statistics of the past month when over 400 internet resources and seven television channels were shut down. In other words, the striving for democracy in Ukraine has a clear tendency towards decline. We consider such moves to be at variance with the fundamental principles of freedom of speech and pluralism of opinion. They also contradict the spirit of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Probably, Ukraine will soon impose a ban on reading this document because it will be clear to anyone who reads it that Ukraine is moving in the opposite direction.

We see this as the continuation of Kiev's line on imposing censorship, clearing its information space from objectionable media, discriminating against Russian speaking citizens in their country, and intimidating all dissidents and those who object to what is happening in Ukraine.

Let me recall that since 2014 when the coup took place in Kiev, as a result of which Ukrainian leadership decided to sever all ties with Russia, Ukraine has already conducted several campaigns on restricting Russian and a Russian language presence on its territory. By different estimates, Ukraine has imposed unlawful sanctions on about 2,300 individuals and over 1,000 companies from Russia. I would also like to remind you that Kiev considers institutions like Moscow State University, the Hermitage State Museum, and the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, to name a few, objectionable.

To justify its onslaught on alternative information sources, Kiev has reformed Ukrainian legislation. It was an obstacle, so it was changed. The already adopted legal documents and those that are still being drafted contain obvious discriminatory provisions, but Kiev is getting away with all of this. Brussels is busy with its own approach; it is spending time on illegal unilateral sanctions against Moscow and disseminating myths about some kind of Russian threat.

In this latest example, since March 23, we have not seen any response to Ukraine's unlawful restrictions from representatives of agencies that monitor freedom of the media and human rights in the OSCE, UN, Council of Europe or UNESCO.

We urge the international community to give up this policy of not just double standards but the refusal to take effective measures against this obvious onslaught on democratic principles and give an unbiased assessment to the numerous cases of murder, intimidation and criminal prosecution of dissidents and other forms of harassing journalists in Ukraine. For our part, we are certainly sending all relevant materials to the above international agencies and will continue doing so in the future.

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Meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Ministers of Foreign Affairs

On March 23 and 24, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) held a meeting at the level of Ministers of Foreign Affairs. The course of the discussion and the outcome of the meeting were hardly surprising. Once again we saw the Alliance's inability to make sense of its further existence or to put together a positive agenda. The participants of the meeting agreed on the need to continue treating Russia as a major challenge to the security of the collective West. Not the pandemic or the infodemic, international terrorism, migration issues, or the economic and financial crisis in their own countries – none of the above was named by the Alliance as a major threat not just at the current moment but even in the period of its existence.

Brussels keeps using the mythical Russian aggression to justify an increase in its funding and the strengthening of its military potential, the biggest since the Cold War, including on the eastern flank. An attempt was also undertaken to blame our country for the collapse of the INF Treaty. This was done even though, contrary to the Alliance's loud claims about the need to de-escalate tensions on the European continent, NATO consistently keeps ignoring our proposals on the renewal of substantive professional discussions on stability and security in the Euro-Atlantic region.

As we have repeatedly said before, we will take the NATO's confrontational stand into account in our foreign policy and military planning.

All those claims by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that Russia rejects dialogue are a lie. Substantive talks have been proposed, enough to say lest we wander into the politicised PR history our Western partners are so notorious for. We called for holding detailed talks with the participation of experts, including military experts, on a wide range of issues. All these proposals remain on Mr Stoltenberg's desk. He can find them and stop spreading disinformation about Russia's alleged refusal to engage in dialogue. What Russia refuses to do is to play a part in a pre-concocted PR campaign. This can be offered to someone else, but definitely not to us. Whereas a substantive, detailed and concrete discussion, let me reiterate, with invited military experts is what we have offered to you, so why should we turn it down.

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UK Defence Ministry white paper on defence and military capability development

We noted the Defence Command Paper on defence and military development released by the UK Defence Ministry, which provides a detailed description of the directions and stages of the further military buildup and modernisation. We state that the document which attempts a global reach, is of an aggressive nature.

Moscow is obviously the main target, as has been traditional for London for quite some time. To protect itself from Moscow's scheming, the UK should develop an offensive rather than defensive potential, including by establishing special operations forces which were immediately labelled by the media as "anti-Russia special forces."

The document by the British Defence Ministry replicates tough confrontational beliefs and once again presents our country as the main factor forcing London towards military build-up and modernisation and projecting it onto remote theatres of military operations. It is not hard to guess where they are located, though.

Ben Wallace, Secretary of State for Defence, shamelessly declared during the presentation of the Defence Command Paper in the UK parliament, as he was answering a question from his fellow MPs, that the document was a result of analysis of Russia's military build-up and "subversive" activities, including in Crimea, the collapse of the INF Treaty, and the use by Moscow of a wide range of "hybrid" forms of confrontation.

I have a question to UK's Secretary of State for Defence. Does London remember that the United States of America still exists? If they do, how do the British assess the actions and activities of that nation in international space? Or have they forgotten about it? I can remind them if they have.

We view the publication of the Defence Command Paper and respective statements by the British Secretary of Defence as further confirmation of official London's trajectory towards political hostilities and confrontation.

This is what real aggression is. Today it is on paper, but these plans are quite real in London's thoughts, ideology and mentality, judging from what we read. We cannot but feel grave concern due to the British authorities assigning Russia the status of the "enemy" at the doctrinal level.

We would like to believe that the survival instinct will still prevail in the heads of the London hawks.

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Illegal US operations

We would like to tell London and NATO about what really threatened the world in the historical context, and not in a remote period but in a quite recent one. I am referring to US activities. Since the United States, NATO and Britain continue accusing Russia of all manner of sins, claiming that we are engaging in hybrid warfare, trying to undermine Western democracies and to influence the outcome of elections, I would like to say the following.

The US elites and ordinary Americans believe that the United States is destined to play a special role in the world, a kind of American messianism. A belief that the United States has the right to interfere in any affairs around the world is accepted as justification for its attempts to influence developments in other countries. They believe that they have a right to dictate their will to others, to lecture them and even to force American views regarding the development path that other countries, peoples, civil societies and the world as a whole must follow.

I would like to repeat now what our country and our leaders have said on numerous occasions. We do not engage in regime changes, do not interfere in the internal affairs of other states and do not orchestrate protests in other countries. We call for respect of and compliance with the fundamental provisions of the UN Charter. Everything is there. At the same time, we take note of the fact that the technologies I mentioned have been perfected by those who accuse us of using them, in particular, the United States, which has accumulated substantial experience in this sphere. The list of its pseudo-achievements and wrongdoing around the world is truly impressive. We had misgivings about making this public before, but we will now definitely devote part of our briefings to such examples.

The United States regularly violates the national sovereignty of other states and interferes in their internal affairs. The favourite method of the US intelligence agencies is interference in elections and coups staged to replaced undesirable governments.

This has been recognised by experts and retired intelligence officers. Steven L. Hall, a former CIA head of Russian operations, said in an interview with The New York Times in 2017 that "the United States 'absolutely' has carried out such election influence operations historically and I hope we keep doing it." The newspaper also cited Professor Loch Johnson at the University of Georgia: "We've been doing this kind of thing since the CIA was created in 1947."

According to a study by Carnegie Mellon University researcher Dov Levin based on declassified US intelligence data, the United States more than 80 times tried to influence the outcome of elections in 45 countries worldwide between 1946 and 2000, and this data only covers so-called "peaceful" operations and does not include the organisation of military coups and colour revolutions. These secret operations included funding and organising election campaigns, providing exposes/disinformation and propaganda aid, as well as putting economic pressure on the incumbent governments. According to Mr Levin, the Americans reached the desired effect in 59 percent of such operations.

Independent experts, such as Nick Turse, an investigative journalist, the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow at The Nation Institute, say that the United States is waging covert warfare in 141 out of 190 countries across the world. This opinion is shared by other researchers. Another TomDispatch regular, William Hartung, Arms and Security Project Director at the Centre for International Policy, said: "Most Americans would be amazed to learn that US Special Operations Forces have been deployed to three quarters of the nations on the planet. There is little or no transparency as to what they are doing in these countries and whether their efforts are promoting security or provoking further tension and conflict."

"Outside of Russia and Belarus we train with virtually every country in Europe either bilaterally or through various multinational events," said Major Michael Weisman, a spokesman for US Special Operations Command Europe. "US Special Operations Forces have been deployed persistently and at the invitation of our allies in the Baltic States and Poland since 2014 as part of the broader US European Command and Department of Defence European Deterrence Initiative. The persistent presence of US SOF alongside our allies sends a clear message of US commitment to our allies and the defence of our NATO alliance," he said.

Did the NATO foreign ministers discuss this information at their recent meeting, or is the United States an exception that is never discussed?

In 2019, the Joint Special Operations University of the US Special Operations Command published a 250-page report with a telling headline, Support to Resistance: Strategic Purpose and Effectiveness, in which Will Irwing, a retired US Army Special Forces officer, provided a detailed analysis of the purpose, practice and ultimate outcome of known cases of direct US interference in the internal affairs of other states.

Mr Irwing noted that he drew information from open sources and declassified archival documents and that the facts he cited are only a small part of the overall picture of the Pentagon's support to resistance (STR) operations in other countries. His work is full of hackneyed propaganda clichés. The forces supported by the United States are referred to as "insurgencies" or "resistance movements," although many of them are Pentagon or CIA minions. On the other hand, this is yet another factual proof of disruptive US activities, interference in other states' internal affairs and hands-on management of elections in countries that claim to be democracies.

The report is clear proof that the US policy towards other countries has always been based on Washington's "exceptionalism" and hence the declared "legitimate right" to interfere in the internal affairs of other states. The point is not that one must not interfere in the internal affairs of others, but that the United States is the only country allowed to do this. Washington believes that the United States can absolutely do this because it is exceptional and is the only country that knows how the world must develop.

To justify his lop-sided position, Mr Irwing resorted to lies, claiming that at the time of US special operations "the targeted state was ruled by a repressive authoritarian regime" or, when this sounds absolutely absurd, "by an unfriendly occupying force." In fact, members of the US establishment often use this argument even when normal democratic procedures take place in the "targeted state."

The author also pointed out that he did not include in his report "operations still in progress at the time of writing for reasons of security classification and uncertainty of outcome." Mr Irwing also admitted that since WWII, "even presidents who, prior to their election, looked upon such [STR] activity with disfavour, found themselves compelled to use it after taking office."

Here is a perfect illustration of Washington's readiness to interfere, by employing its army or special services working under diplomatic cover, in nearly all processes and political disputes around the world. It is a joke that has unfortunately become reality: "Do you know why coups never happen in Washington? The answer is because there is no US embassy there."

The events of the early 2021 have shown that the Americans prefer to close their eyes to domestic problems, which is why they have invented a special term for them: "domestic terrorism," which sounds simultaneously funny and horrible. I would like to say once again that we will provide regular coverage of this subject. Our American partners have left us no other choice.

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Russian assessment of Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights performance

It has become a long and familiar tale how we keep discussing our Western partners' attitude toward human rights issues rather than the human rights problems themselves.

We noted a statement posted on March 18 on the website of Dunja Mijatović, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, regarding the human rights situation in Chechnya. Skipping over the content of the text and the wording used by the Commissioner, we would like to say the following.

Dunja Mijatović's performance as Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe can hardly be viewed as satisfactory. We consider her policies biased and not corresponding to human rights standards. First of all, it concerns how the Commissioner fails to react to problems in other countries, including segregation of "non-citizens" in the Baltic countries; suppression of human rights of the Russian-speaking residents of Ukraine; extrajudicial ban on broadcasting by opposition media outlets in Ukraine; the introduction of TV censorship in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia; the suppression of dissent and any attempts to reach out to the authorities in a number of countries in Europe; and, outrageous violations of human rights in EU countries. None of this is professionally and publicly commented on the global level. When we ask why there is no assessment of certain events, we are told that all these problems are being resolved on a bilateral basis: they hold discussions, offer information and try to influence these countries so that the latter rectify the situation. So why then in Russia's case, as well as in the cases of some other countries, this doesn't happen in a bilateral format, but rather through endless threads in social network accounts before eventually ending up in front of a microphone? There is no answer to this question, although it is obvious.

To reiterate, there has been no public response to a whole "bouquet" of problems in the EU, even over the past month. Meanwhile, there is excessive zeal in commenting on the human rights situation in our country. This happened, in particular, with regard to the actions of Russian law enforcement personnel during unauthorised protests in January and February of this year.

We expect the Commissioner to promptly correct the above-mentioned policies, which so far have been far from objective. And we are not alone. The entire world is watching whether international organisations can uphold their messianic role in the contemporary world or will they collapse under crackdowns and pressure, whether they remain impartial and independent and follow international law or become a "tool" in the hands of various states. There are many who are watching closely: regional actors and associations of countries. We will move forward in building up our relations with the Commissioner on a pragmatic basis, on condition that she rids herself of the selective and discriminatory line mentioned above. Such a lop-sided approach is a blow to all international organisations.

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UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights evaluation of findings on ethnic and language minorities in Latvia

We were alarmed to read the review by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) of Latvia's second periodic report on Riga's compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The assessments by the UN experts cause serious concern. Thus, the Committee's experts stated the prevalence of prejudice and discrimination based on colour, language, religion, national or ethnic origin as well as the absence of a comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation and policy aimed at ensuring equality and non-discrimination in access to all economic, social and cultural rights.

The report also noted that Latvian authorities' policy with regard to minorities is discriminatory, including in ensuring their economic, social and cultural rights, which impedes their access to health services and social benefits, and places barriers for employment in both the private and public sectors.

Apart from other problems, the UN Committee pointed out that Latvia still has the disgraceful legal category of "non-citizens" and discrimination against such persons continues. In particular, the experts concluded that non-citizens are more likely to suffer from unemployment. In this connection the UN experts recommended that the Latvian authorities intensify their efforts to facilitate access to naturalisation and take targeted measures to ensure that those who currently hold non-citizen status have non-discriminatory access to economic, social and cultural rights.

The Committee dedicated a special section to Riga's language policy in education. The UN experts' conclusions are unequivocal: Latvia's approaches to the issues of language are fraught with negative consequences for persons belonging to minorities in the enjoyment of their economic, social and cultural rights. Moreover, recent amendments to the Education Law and Cabinet Regulation No. 716 of November 21, 2018 have discriminatory effect on minority groups and create undue restrictions on teaching of and in minority languages in preschool and primary education in both public and private schools.

In this regard, the Committee recommended that Latvian authorities consider revising their language policies and laws on education in order to promote the teaching of and teaching in minority languages and to ensure that they do not affect negatively the educational performance of children belonging to minority groups.

The Committee's conclusions are consonant with assessments of Riga's systematic and gross violations of human rights of Russian speakers that have been repeatedly voiced at events held by the UN, OSCE and Council of Europe.

We insist that Latvian authorities heed the opinion of the international monitoring mechanisms regarding human rights, including that of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and take due and effective measures at the legislative and political levels to comply with their international obligations regarding human rights.

We would like to underscore once again that Russia will continue upholding the rights of its compatriots wherever they might be. We are closely monitoring the situation with Russian speakers in the Baltic countries and Ukraine.

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Results of the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council

The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) met for its 46th session on February 22 - March 24 in Geneva, via remote participation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attended its high-level segment.

During the session, the parties considered a wide range of issues on the international human rights agenda. These included equal access to the coronavirus vaccines, the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on human rights, cooperation in the field of human rights, ensuring freedom of religion, democracy and the rule of law, as well as matters involving economic, social and cultural rights and other current topics.

The HRC adopted more than 30 resolutions at the end of the session, including on the human rights situation in Belarus, Iran, North Korea, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Syria, Sri Lanka, South Sudan and the occupied Palestinian territories, and approved the results of the Universal Periodic Review of Andorra, Belarus, Bulgaria, Honduras, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Panama, the United States, Croatia and Jamaica.

Experts have been appointed to serve as Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions and on Cambodia, as well as to the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Returning to the Council as a full member after a four-year hiatus, the Russian delegation used the session as a platform to make its partners see the importance of establishing a constructive international dialogue on the promotion and protection of human rights, and respect for the national, cultural and historical features of each state in the process of democratic transformation, without impelling anyone to borrow any value systems. The Russian delegation also underscored that using the notorious policy of double standards and adding any political agenda to the Council's activity was unacceptable. Russia resolutely resisted the attempts, by a number of Western states, to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign states through HRC decisions, to put pressure on national governments and put forward their territorial claims.

The HRC adopted a Russia-sponsored joint statement, for the first time since it was established, in which a group of states expressed concern about the human rights situation in the European Union countries and the United Kingdom.

During the session, the Russian Federation repeatedly highlighted the unacceptable situation when in the 21st century, European countries that have been most strongly affected by the Nazi ideology are pursuing policies of segregation on ethnic and religious grounds. Together with the Non-Aligned Movement member states, the Russian side sharply confronted the HRC about the illegality and negative impact on human rights of unilateral coercive measures, including with regard to Ukraine cutting off water supply to Crimea.

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's statement on Russia using misinformation

We have been surprised by a statement made by the head of the State Department Antony Blinken about Russia's alleged "use of disinformation to erode confidence in safe, effective (coronavirus) vaccines." What does Russia have to do with this? Why don't you show some specific facts at least to your media? We are witnessing a lot of mutual complaints from our Western partners against each other concerning vaccination and the activities of their own pharmaceutical companies. Russia is not interfering with the delivery schedules or the vaccine rollout in any Western countries, and is not involved in the licensing of Western medications or the suspension of their use. We can only read about what is happening, and primarily in the Western mainstream media.

This is even more absurd given that Russia is consistently showing a totally depoliticised approach and willingness to openly collaborate with all interested parties in the supply of vaccines, joint research into their efficacy, and launching local production in various regions around the world.

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EU officials' statements about Russia's Sputnik V vaccine

We have noted the public statements by a number of European Commission officials, including European Commissioner for Internal MarketThierry Breton, that there is no need for the European Union to make centralised purchases of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine.

In this connection, we regret to say that the European Commission continues its initially faulty policy of cooperating only with Western companies. The EU has signed centralized vaccine supply contracts with EU, US and UK manufacturers only.

We would like to point out that the Russian Ministry of Health registered the Sputnik V vaccine in August 2020. The Russian authorities then suggested that interested foreign partners can take part in joint vaccine research projects, coordinate delivery parameters and even consider the possibility of production localisation. Nevertheless, although no one doubts the efficiency and safety of the Sputnik V vaccine anymore and global demand for COVID-19 vaccines is soaring, including in the EU countries, Mr Breton flatly denies any EU demand for the Russian vaccine. Isn't this a politically motivated approach?

We hope that the European Commission's attitude towards Sputnik V and, actually, towards its own citizens will not affect the pace of reviewing Russia's application for registering its vaccine by the European Medicines Agency, especially considering the fact that many EU member countries are interested in the Russian vaccine and in view of the statements by Dr Hans Henri Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, about the real European demand for the Russian vaccine.

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The decision of residents of Afghanistan's Uruzgan Province to file a lawsuit following Royal Netherlands Air Force attack

We have noted a recent decision by residents of Uruzgan Province to file a lawsuit with the International Criminal Court in connection with the bombing of civilian facilities by the Royal Netherlands Air Force in the early hours of June 17, 2007. The attack killed 250 civilians.

Russia has repeatedly noted substantial Afghan civilian casualties caused by the international coalition's air strikes. At the same time, we have never heard that those guilty of killing civilians have been brought to justice. There is a certain imbalance in our Western partners' assessment of human rights. On the one hand, they are concerned over the situation in peaceful regions that are not affected by armed conflicts, and at the same time, they don't see that the unlawful operations of their own forces kill thousands of civilians.

We resolutely denounce crimes against Afghan civilians, and we urge the Netherlands to conduct an objective and all-round investigation of this incident and to bring the culprits to account. We call on all the concerned parties, including the international coalition forces, to take exhaustive action to prevent the loss of life among Afghan civilians. We are convinced that this would prevent the spread of radicalism in Afghan society.

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Amnesty International calls for thorough investigation into lawfulness and validity of Dutch police methods used in detaining protesters on March 14

The entire world shuddered watching the level of inhuman cruelty displayed by the Dutch law enforcement authorities in suppressing the recent Hague protests against restrictions in view of the coronavirus applicable in the Netherlands. The released footage was more than eloquent: the demonstrators were dispersed by water jet cannons, baited, beaten with truncheons on their heads, and one woman was even pushed under a car. And all this happened in a state that unilaterally proclaims itself a model of democracy and human rights observation, and a legal Mecca of the world.

It was not the first case that the Dutch police administer order in such a way. Just recall what happened during the protests in January, when dozens of people were injured and hundreds detained.

However, this time the Dutch police went too far even by the standards of Amnesty International, which has opted to stay silent so far. Human rights activists were shocked by such atrocities and called for a thorough investigation of such actions in terms of lawfulness and validity.

And what about the authorities? The government has refused any substantive comments. The only response to what has happened was the Health Minister's statement that he regrets the fact that people protest against the measures to restrain the coronavirus. Instead of apologies, head of the Dutch police accused the protesters of "asking for" aggressive actions and said that the released shocking videos were "taken out of context". So, this is the Dutch style of democracy and human rights protection.

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Anniversary of NATO aggression against Yugoslavia

On March 24, 1999, NATO began bombing of Yugoslavia.

An act of aggression against a sovereign independent state was perpetrated in Europe for the first time since World War II. NATO rudely violated fundamental principles of international law, formalised in the UN Charter, and turned the Balkans into a testing site for the streamlining of modern methods of warfare against an inherently weaker country. The process of substituting legitimate mechanisms regulating international relations with a certain rules-based order was launched at that time. In reality, this amounted to cynical arbitrary rule, concealed by fake-news propaganda about an alleged humanitarian disaster in Serbia's Autonomous Province of Kosovo.

About 2,000 civilians were killed during the 78-day NATO campaign, and many facilities in dozens of cities, including Belgrade, were destroyed or damaged. The use of depleted-uranium munitions contaminated large territories and caused an unprecedented surge in cancer cases. People, including service personnel from the Kosovo Force (KFOR), deployed there by the UN Security Council decision following the war, continue to suffer from malignant tumours to this day. Over 200,000 non-Albanian residents left their places of residence and have been unable to return, primarily for safety reasons.

Acting under the cover of NATO's aggression, militants from the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army committed horrendous crimes, including the abduction of Serbians whose organs were subsequently removed and sold. Many culprits remain at large, although all of them must stand trial, regardless of their current status and influence.

Conducted over 20 years ago, NATO's military operation against sovereign Yugoslavia became a tragedy whose long-term and diverse consequences are still being felt. One of its main lessons is that lawlessness and arbitrary rule are unable to solve even a single problem and merely aggravate the situation. This is confirmed by permanent delays in resolving the Kosovo problem.

The issue of NATO Allies' responsibility for the damage they inflicted on international relations and one specific country remains open.

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Terrorist attacks in Niger

We are extremely concerned over the continued wave of terrorist attacks in the Republic of the Niger, a country friendly to Russia. On March 21, 2021, unknown armed persons attacked a number of villages in the Tahoua Region near the Mali border and killed 137 Nigeriens. This is the fourth major terrorist attack against civilians since December 2020, with total fatalities exceeding 300 people.

Moscow resolutely denounces the inhuman deeds of extremists. We support the desire of Niger's leaders to take all necessary action in order to guarantee security, arrest those guilty of the crimes committed and bring them to justice.

We would like to note that the current upsurge in terrorist attacks in Niger coincides with a highly important period when parliamentary and presidential elections are being held. We are convinced that, despite obstacles being created by extremists, Niger's society will continue to move along the road of sustainable democratic development.

We offer condolences to the families and friends of the deceased, and we wish a speedy recovery to those wounded during yet another horrendous terrorist attack in Niger.

Russia is firmly determined to continue making a constructive contribution to international efforts to ensure peace and security in the Sahara-Sahel region and to assist countries, including Niger, in expanding the combat capability of their armed forces, and training service personnel and law enforcement officers.

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Wirecard insolvency

As you know, the inquiry into the insolvency of German financial corporation Wirecard, which happened in 2020, continues in Germany. The Bundestag created a special committee to investigate this company's operations. Wirecard former COO Jan Marsalek, an Austrian citizen, who fled from justice, was charged by the German authorities with conducting fraud as part of an organised crime group, which resulted in large-scale damage of around 2.8 billion euros.

In September 2020, the Russian Prosecutor General's Office received a request from the Munich prosecution authorities on establishing the whereabouts of Jan Marsalek, detaining and placing him in custody for later extradition to Germany in the event that he were found in Russia. The German side did not provide any data confirming the fact that the Austrian citizen was in our country. The enquiry is being processed by the Russian competent authorities and the German side was informed about this in a preliminary response via diplomatic channels.

In this context, we cannot help but be perplexed by the speculation that continues to publicly circulate in Germany as well as claims by several members of the German parliament about alleged close links between Jan Marsalek and the Russian intelligence agencies. We hope that Berlin does not intend to find a "Russian trace" in this case as well. This is to warn the German side against further politicisation of this case and using it to set off another spiral of anti-Russia hysteria.

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Desecration of a Russian monument in Moldova

On March 20, 2021, the memorial to the troops of the 2nd Cavalry Corps who were killed in battles with Nazi invaders in the summer of 1941, was destroyed near the village of Ivancea in the Orhei District of Moldova. Vandals sawed through the base of the spire-shaped stainless steel monument and it broke as it collapsed.

As far as we know, Moldovan law enforcement agencies are currently collecting evidence to establish the circumstances of the incident.

We strongly condemn this act of vandalism. It should not be forgotten that Moldova is a member of the Treaty on Perpetuating the Memory of Courage and Heroism of the CIS Nations during the 1941−1945 Great Patriotic War, signed on September 3, 2011, according to which the parties ensure "the security and preservation of war graves and military memorials on their territories."

We expect that the Republic of Moldova comply with this international obligation and the incident will be thoroughly investigated, with perpetrators identified and held accountable while the damaged memorial is restored.

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The decision of Polish authorities to rename a street in Inowroclaw that bore the name of a Hero of the Soviet Union

Here is yet another example of the so-called historical policy of the Polish authorities. At the recommendation of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance, Iwan Alejnik Street in Inowroclaw, for many years bearing the name of Hero of the Soviet Union Ivan Aleinik (the correct spelling is Aleinikov), a brave Soviet officer who gave his life for the liberation of Europe from Nazism, has been renamed. It seems that Poland prefers to get rid of such memories.

Here is a short historical summary: on January 21, 1945, Guards Lieutenant Ivan Aleinikov, commander of a T-34 tank, continued fulfilling his combat duty during the Red Army's Warsaw-Poznan offensive after he was wounded, but his tank was set afire and the commander and the crew were burned alive. For his model performance in battle, as well as his heroism and courage, he was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union (posthumously). Aleinikov was buried in a mass grave of Soviet Army soldiers and war prisoners at a Catholic cemetery in Inowroclaw.

Now, the former Iwan Alejnik Street bears the name of an honourary resident of Inowroclaw, entrepreneur and philanthropist Tadeusz Chesy. This case shows the cynicism of the Polish authorities who easily discard any appreciation or respect for Soviet liberators thanks to whom Poland is still present on the world map and, by the way, thanks to whom Poland has the city of Inowroclaw, which was part of Germany until 1945 under the name Hohensalza.

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Presentation of memorial album, They Are Remembered in Russia and China

On March 16, 2021, the Russian Embassy in China presented the memorial album, They Are Remembered in Russia and China, in Russian and Chinese, at the Jintai art gallery in Beijing.

The 200-page illustrated album describes in detail the main events related to the Soviet Union's participation in the liberation of China from Japanese invaders in 1937-1945. Unique archive documents and photos from the Central Military Archive of the Russian Defence Ministry and the Russian State Military Archive, many published for the first time, were used in the album.

As a thank you to Chinese colleagues for their contribution to memorialising the Soviet soldiers and officers killed in China during the resistance against the Japanese aggression, Russian Ambassador to China Andrey Denisov presented the medals of the Russian Defence Ministry and the Russian Organising Committee Victory to several local residents and museums.

Amid the pandemic restrictions, the presentation became one of the largest events organised by the Russian Embassy in China of late, and was widely praised by the Chinese media.

Russia maintains close cooperation with China on military-memorial issues. We share an active and positive stance to make this area of bilateral relations a strong tie that binds our peoples and improves Russia-China strategic partnership.

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The 7th International Motorcycle Race "Roads of Victory: Homecoming 2021"

The Roads of Victory section of the All-Russian Motorcycle Club Night Wolves and the Foundation for Supporting and Expanding the Patriotic Motorcycle Movement Roads of Victory are planning to hold the 7th International Motorcycle Race "Roads of Victory: Homecoming 2021" to mark the 76th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.

For the first time in the past few years, the motorcycle race will begin in a number of European countries and will end in Russia, thus symbolising the Soviet soldiers-liberators' road home. Members of foreign motorcycle clubs from Germany, The Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland, Montenegro, the Czech Republic and other countries will join the Russian participants in St Petersburg where the event will be officially launched on May 2, and they will finish in Moscow on May 9.

We believe that the successful implementation of this project will help preserve the historical memory of the Soviet people's heroic feat during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 and this country's role in defeating Nazism, as well as promote the patriotic education of the younger generation.

As in previous years, we will be ready to provide the required information, consular and other assistance to the international motorcycle race's organisers and participants.

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Celebration of the 200th anniversary of the start of the Greek national liberation struggle

On March 25, 2021, the Hellenic Republic celebrated the 200th anniversary of the start of the Greek national liberation struggle that culminated in the establishment of an independent state.

The Russian Empire did everything possible to help Greece obtain an independent status and preserve its uniqueness, culture and religion. It is deeply symbolic that Count Ioannis Kapodistrias, a Russian statesman of Greek descent and Foreign Minister of Russia, became the first head of state of the liberated Greece.

The current open and dynamic Russian-Greek partnership rests on large historical grounds. Both countries maintain regular political dialogue despite the complicated conditions of the coronavirus pandemic. They discuss measures to stimulate trade and economic cooperation and cultural and humanitarian exchanges. Russia and Greece are implementing an agreement on holding the Cross Year of Russian and Greek History in 2021 and have also launched constructive cooperation in multilateral formats, including the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the Black Sea Economic Cooperation. Governor of the First Hellenic Republic

On March 24-25, 2021, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin attended the main celebrations in Athens marking the 200th anniversary of the start of the Greek national liberation struggle. This confirmed the significance of expanding relations with the Hellenic Republic.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sent greetings to the organisers of and participants in the Public Diplomacy Forum dedicated to this event.

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Independence Day celebrations in Bangladesh

On March 26, the People's Republic of Bangladesh marks the 50th anniversary of its independence.

Over the recent half a century, Bangladesh has achieved significant success. The country is steadily moving along a progressive road and is taking part in trying to solve present day global problems. This includes combatting poverty and climate change. The country is also one of the major suppliers of military units for UN peacekeeping missions.

Russia and Bangladesh are tied together by friendly relations, the foundation of which took place between 1971 and 1972. Our country was one of the first to recognise Bangladesh's independence and applied its authority on the world arena to support the newly born state. At the request of the Bangladesh Government, Soviet Navy sailors cleared the Chittagong port of mines and sunken ships. The USSR rendered considerable assistance to the people of Bangladesh in the restoration of their national economy ruined during the independence war and in training personnel.

Currently, Bangladesh is one of Russia's important trading partners in South Asia. The proximity of approaches to many issues on the international agenda enables us to fruitfully interact within the framework of the United Nations and other multilateral organisations. We plan to make our cooperation still broader and stronger in the future.

We congratulate our Bangladeshi friends on their remarkable jubilee and wish them peace, prosperity and wellbeing.

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Opening of an exhibition on the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and Panama

On March 29, Russia and Panama mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Over this period of time our countries have managed to carry out a serious and effective job when it comes to establishing bilateral relations based on solid traditions of equal and mutually respectful cooperation.

As a rule, our Ministry accompanies such landmark anniversaries with some major exhibitions. However, given the current situation with the coronavirus pandemic, such an event devoted to this will go online and be posted on the Ministry's website. It includes basic documents, rare historical photos and other material from the Foreign Policy Archives of the Russian Federation revealing some of the most graphic episodes in the history of Russian-Panamanian interaction.

The E-exhibition will open with congratulatory remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, addressed to Foreign Minister of Panama Erika Mouynes, and a video address by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: I would like to ask you about yet another story concerning an alleged Russian spy ring circulating in Bulgaria and the deliberate aggravation of the spy mania. The spy sensation was made public in Bulgaria on the 7th anniversary of Crimea's reunification with Russia. Sofia later announced that two Russian diplomats would be expelled from the country. Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko warned earlier that this action would be reciprocated. Bulgarians are worried that this will affect bilateral relations; they understand that this spy scandal is the result of outside pressure.

What response actions will Russia take towards Bulgaria? What can be done to prevent the worsening of bilateral ties considering that this is the goal of third countries, which would like to see an increase in anti-Russia rhetoric in the Balkans?

Maria Zakharova: We have already commented on this topic many times. Too many destructive events that are not in the interests of our peoples are taking place in bilateral relations, not through Moscow's fault. We have to respond to all of them.

On March 23, we posted a Ministry comment on this subject. I can repeat that on March 22, the Foreign Ministry of Bulgaria declared two diplomats at the Russian Embassy in Sofia personae non gratae. It is the fifth such case during the past 18 months, and no proof has been provided this time either.

This decision was preceded by a vociferous campaign when the Bulgarian prosecutor's office disclosed that a group of persons who allegedly spied for Russia had been exposed in the country's defence and security services. This looked like preparations for declaring Russian diplomats personae non gratae.

We regard this as yet another aggravation of the anti-Russia spy mania in Bulgaria that happened, for some reason, ahead of the April 4 parliamentary election and against the backdrop of an outbreak of Russophobia in the West, primarily in the United States.

We have again urged Sofia to stop taking part in politicised campaigns orchestrated by Western countries or associations and to stop the witch-hunt, which are damaging Bulgaria's national interests and its relations with Russia. It is necessary to resume a constructive agenda, which is much more natural for Russian-Bulgarian ties.

However, such actions call for a response. The Russian Federation reserves the right to take reciprocal measures. We say this every time this happens. Unfortunately, such events keep happening again and again.

I fully agree with you that this contradicts the interests of the Bulgarian people. These actions and steps are most likely encouraged by external forces and cannot be explained by Bulgaria's natural national interests.

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Question: EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell has said: "We have to look for communication channels with Russia. Russia is a neighbour, a dangerous neighbour, but we have to share with it some issues in which we have common interests, like the nuclear agreement with Iran or climate change. But, above all that, we have to contain Russia, to push back Russia."

What is the Ministry's attitude to this statement? Is it possible that the anti-Russia rhetoric is given special emphasis for a reason? How does Russia see its future interaction with Europe in these circumstances?

Maria Zakharova: We regularly comment on these topics.

It is not wise at all to say that Russia is a dangerous neighbour. Looking at the situation in a historical context, the EU foreign policy chief is bound to know that it is the EU countries that have themselves to blame for their problems and never Russia. Historically speaking, Russia has suffered aggression from these states all the time.

Josep Borrell should look at the situation realistically to determine who is indeed a dangerous neighbour within the EU, instead of inventing what never actually happened.

Our European colleagues say (the British said this when they were in the EU, and since then many others have taken up the idea) that Russia has always been aggressive and will likely act in the same manner in future as well. But there is no proof of this. Russia has never launched world wars. During such conflicts, Russia waged liberation operations, helping people to liberate from the aggressors not only its own national territory but also other countries, while at the same time suffering from aggression towards it. This is our historical experience, our national character and our mission.

Who has given Mr Borrell the right to speak with the people of Russia like that? He describes Russia as a "dangerous neighbour," but he surely must be acquainted with history. The witnesses of 20th century history are still alive. Historical proof has not disappeared even though some European countries have tried to tear these pages from the historical context. I have already spoken about this today: they are destroying monuments, renaming streets and erecting monuments to so-called "heroes" who are definitely not heroes.

He used unacceptable comparisons, expressions and tone. We have commented on this at the level of the national leadership on numerous occasions. We urged the EU to change its accusing tone, to act realistically, to admit their own problems and to stop trying to minimise them by promoting myths of Russia's alleged aggressive role. We called on them many times to start talking with facts in hand. We are ready for this. We told them so during negotiations and publicly. There are many topics for discussion. Confrontation rhetoric must be laid to rest, become a thing of the past. The matter concerns not only relations between Brussels and Moscow. Confrontation rhetoric is delivering a much more destructive blow than they suppose at the reputation of a Western leader who claims to be the "generator of essence." All experts on international affairs know very well that historically Russia has never been an aggressive neighbour. Such statements are not just insulting but also untrue and misinforming.

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Question: How can another spy scandal affect the relationship between Bulgaria and Russia? In your opinion, are regular mutual expulsions (five in the past 18 months) degrading the level of diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and Russia?

Maria Zakharova: These kinds of measures are not bringing any constructive added value or anything positive to our bilateral relations. Obviously, these steps are a blow to Russia-Bulgaria links. They throw our ties back rather than push them forward.

When you say "degrading" or "upgrading" the level of relations, it may sound wonderful in a newspaper article or a commentary. But there are citizens of the two countries and specifically Bulgarian residents who, instead of understanding the nitty-gritty of political terminology, want to simply understand why all of this is happening, who benefits from it and why it has been done. Is the goal to help people who consider their own interests or wish to be politicians, to conveniently promote themselves? Although they must create a positive agenda but this requires some effort, action and results. It is much easier to create this agenda out of nothing, out of the Western anti-Russian state of affairs. Then, Bulgarian citizens could ask these so-called politicians: do they think that by degrading the bilateral relations with Russia they are not bringing any benefits to their own people at all even though they claim to be serving their fellow citizens?

This issue is for an internal discussion inside Bulgaria. It is not up to Russia to answer this question. We have asserted ourselves, in deeds rather than in words, as a reliable and responsible partner of Bulgaria in a whole number of major projects (including economic projects). These are not words or theory but practical cooperation. We confirmed our approach with action. What you are asking about is a matter for an internal Bulgarian dialogue between the citizens and the so-called politicians.

Since you are asking, I believe it is high time that Bulgaria has this internal dialogue. Where and why are these people leading Bulgarian society? What damage are they causing to both our bilateral relations and directly to the Bulgarian people with this kind of actions?

Perhaps they can reveal benefits. I am not ruling this out. Perhaps they can produce, at least for their own public, some convincing facts that will attest to such benefits. Perhaps they have something they are not showing for some reason. This is a question to be addressed to the Bulgarian public.

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Question: Special envoys to the Middle East Quartet of International Mediators (Russia, the EU, the United States and the UN) held a teleconference on March 23.

The parties reaffirmed the unique nature of the Quartet as the only mechanism approved by the UN Security Council to facilitate the peace process in the region.

Does this mean that the current White House administration is moving away from the policy of the previous administration, which proposed the 'deal of the century,' and that the decisions made under President Donald Trump may be revised? Was this topic discussed during the teleconference?

You mentioned today that Sergey Lavrov will take part in the Valdai Club meetings. He has had many meetings in Moscow with his colleagues from the region (including with visiting Israeli Foreign Minister Gabriel Ashkenazi) as well as during his Persian Gulf tour. Does Russia's activity on the Middle East track indicate that Russia is preparing an initiative to revive the process and the Quartet?

Maria Zakharova: You are asking me about the US approach to various matters. Can the current administration's stance be seen as a revised policy of the previous one? The American side should rather answer these questions. I very much hoped that US President Joe Biden would answer this question, as well as touch upon the 'deal of the century,' the Middle East policies, and a whole range of other matters. I followed his news conference very closely, but, unfortunately, none of that seemed to be in the script. In fact, he had a very strict script to follow. Rephrasing a saying, they directed and over-directed it, and played themselves. I have never seen anything like that. A game changer in public events. So please contact the US for a comment on their plans.

What are we hearing in the public landscape? We hear the new American government speak, in particular, of their plans to resume contact with the Palestinian National Authority, which was frozen in the previous period. This implies a reopening of the Palestine Liberation Organisation office in Washington and the US Consulate General in Jerusalem, as well as American humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

Our countries, as co-sponsors, were at the origins of the peace process in the Middle East. It's a complicated story. At the moment, if we talk about our current approaches, as we understand it, Russia and the United States agree that the Palestinian issue should be settled on the basis of the two-state solution approved by the UN Security Council and involving Palestine and Israel coexisting in peace and security; we also agree on recognising the important role of the Quartet.

But so far, this has not gone beyond declared intentions. On our end, there is a public approach. It has been confirmed by the stance we take in the international arena and in international organisations, and by our concrete work. As of today, on the part of the United States, this proximity of approaches is solely supported by intentions in the form of statements. Let's wait for some action. You, as journalists, should rather ask the Americans to get an idea of their strategy in the Middle East. Or wait for a final update of the parameters of their US Middle East policy in their foreign policy review and its practical implementation.

There are opportunities for constructive Russian-American coordination on this track. A regular dialogue has been established between Special Representative of the Foreign Minister on the Middle East Peace Process Vladimir Safronkov and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israel and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr.

There is a whole range of reasons while it is up to the United States to comment on their actions or policies in this area. A new administration, new approaches, a new team. We want certainty. We do not yet feel it one hundred percent. We are writing it off to these approaches still being in the making. But it's time to finally work them out.

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Question: What is your take on the elections to the Israeli Knesset (parliament)?

Maria Zakharova: The early Knesset elections were held on March 23, 2021. According to preliminary results, the leader is the ruling Likud party headed by the incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The vote count continues. It is expected that the 120 members of the newly elected Knesset will include representatives of 13 political parties and blocs.

Once the election results have been confirmed, the process of forming a government coalition will start and a cabinet of ministers will be approved. The cabinet will be responsible for dealing with serious domestic and foreign policy issues, including efforts to ensure peace, stability and security in the Middle East.

We hope that the future government's priorities will include, as before, a further strengthening of friendly and mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and Israel in various areas. We look forward to continuing constructive work with the new composition of the Knesset and the future government of Israel.

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Question: You have already mentioned Joe Biden's news conference. What is the overall opinion of the Foreign Ministry on it?

Maria Zakharova: The news conference was obviously staged. I can tell you that shocked me personally. I did not expect that such thoroughly doctored information campaigns could be organised at this level in the United States. We have so often been lectured about respecting freedom of speech and refraining from any dishonesty when working with the media that it is strange to see Washington engaging in all of this. Everybody has their own customs; but not so long ago, the United States had a tradition of direct communication between official spokespersons and, most importantly, the country's top leaders and the media. Although lately, Russian media outlets have been subject to discrimination. Now we can see that not only foreign media outlets but even American journalists are affected by discrimination. We are witnessing speakers choosing in favour of certain questions and journalists. Representatives of the non-mainstream or a different side of the mainstream journalist community (opposition or else, it is hard to say) were never given the floor. It was shocking. And that was happening not at the level of a state or an agency but at the highest level. This is how the country's leader communicates with the press. If this is the attitude towards journalists, journalism and freedom of speech that we are witnessing at a public media event, my question is: what is happening behind the scenes? It is disturbing to see the methods used by the current officials in Washington. That news conference left a shocking impression.

Question: What is the Russian Foreign Ministry's position on the cancellation of the sale of the Norwegian diesel engine plant Bergen Engines to the Russian company Transmashholding?

Maria Zakharova: This is discouraging news. It was presented under the guise of "protecting national interests."

The arguments that guided the Norwegian side in making this decision are far-fetched. According to repeated confirmations by the Norwegian regulators, the plant's products and projects are not subject to Norwegian export restrictions. The deal was purely commercial in nature, aimed at expanding the Norwegian company's markets, developing new products and securing employment at the facility in Norway – just the business how-to that the Western world has taught us for so many years, working in a non-politicised economy, and avoiding any political agenda in doing business.

The cancellation of the deal with Transmashholding fits with the two-track approach that Oslo has been pursuing in recent years with regard to our country, with an obvious tendency towards containment of Russia. There are other such examples of Oslo blocking commercial contracts. In recent years, Norwegian business has stopped short of implementing new projects with Russian partners, even in areas not covered by sanctions, for fear of such inappropriate political interference in purely business cooperation. Let's look at the results. What has the Norwegian side managed to achieve? We have disastrous figures in bilateral trade, and no significant projects in our trade and economic cooperation, and related internal economic indicators.

We call on the Norwegian side to avoid becoming hostage to political phobias and to follow the rich neighbourly traditions developed over the centuries-old history of relations between the Russian Federation and Norway. And most importantly, revive the mentality that has always been the foundation of the Western world and Western civilisation: democracy, freedom, competition, primacy of and respect for the law, respect for a partner, independence, self-determination and true sovereignty. We must return to this. The question might be asked: what for? But I think the answer is obvious – not so much for Russia or bilateral relations, but for their own interests, for the sake of their own companies and people. This much is obvious.

Question: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told a news briefing the alliance has increased its presence on land, at sea and in the air, but also stepped up cooperation with its partners in Georgia and Ukraine, and is looking into how to further strengthen this partnership, both political and practical support. He added that NATO would not stop there even if there was an escalation in the region. Also recently, the Ukrainian Armed Forces held exercises on the Crimean border to practice strikes against a "manoeuvre enemy." How will Russia respond to NATO's increased presence in the Black Sea region, and what measures can it take to prevent any provocations?

Maria Zakharova: In short, with regard to a response from our own security perspective, the answer is traditional – it will be proportionate.

As for statements about fighting some threats and challenges, I have already commented on those. NATO is looking for threats in the wrong places. New challenges and threats looming over NATO have not come from the eastern flank, not from Moscow or Russia. These new challenges and threats are the pandemic, financial and economic instability, human rights issues and their politicisation, as well as all the unresolved problems in the Western world such as racism, nationalism, discrimination and so on. This is an ideological crisis, a crisis of the political process in many states of the North Atlantic Alliance. Their problems include migration and the attitude towards migrants across NATO countries. Infringement on the freedom of speech, and the unconditional and disproportionate use of information resources, sometimes even beyond the bounds of legality (I mean pressure on the media, and the use of their own media companies for propaganda purposes). Those are the real challenges threatening NATO countries. They have nothing to do with our country at all.

Russia is offering contact, partnership and cooperation, and extends its hand with regard to a whole range of complex and acute issues that really pose a threat to peace and stability not only in NATO, but throughout the world. This includes vaccines, something we have discussed many times today, cybersecurity (our initiatives are well known to everyone), countering international terrorism, and combating and preventing new forms of discrimination, racism and nationalism. We are ready to cooperate, to share our successful practices (and we have accumulated considerable experience). We have made a number of global anti-crisis proposals to the whole world about overcoming the consequences of the pandemic, many of which were ignored by NATO countries, again, doing little good to their peoples and their own citizens. They are looking for threats in the wrong places, and that is also dangerous.

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