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Old 12 Hours Ago #101
Alex Him
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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at a roundtable discussion with the participants of the Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund in the videoconference format, Moscow, April 21, 2020



21 April 2020 - 14:32






I am grateful to the Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund for inviting me to take part in the discussion that opens, as I understand it, a cycle of lectures the fund will hold online.

Life compels us to find creative ways to continue the discussion on the future of humankind. They are highly relevant under the current conditions.

The coronavirus pandemic has become a major challenge for all countries and many international organisations. It should certainly compel us to ponder over what is happening in the world, and also to understand how we should live in the future and how we should advance to ensure peaceful, safe and stable future for all humankind.

It has long been clear, and the pandemic has confirmed it definitively, that we live in an interdependent and intertwined world. In the age of the free movement of people, capital, services and goods in the whole world, threats also move freely. We have faced terrorism, drug trafficking, other forms of organised crime, the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and now the threat of the pandemic that knows no borders and from which it is impossible to fence ourselves off.

It is clear that under these conditions we must adopt collective approaches to international relations. Concepts and practices of hegemony and domination are absolutely inappropriate in the 21st century. The world is confidently moving towards the formation of a new, more just and democratic system of international relations and a polycentric world order. This is not happening artificially; it is a result of a natural upsurge of many economies and financial centres. Economic and financial influence is naturally followed by influence in international politics. We are seeing these processes primarily in the Asia-Pacific Region, Latin America and also in Africa, whose resources are linked by many with the future of humanity in a very long-term perspective. The countries that are making strides in this way today and strengthening their national economies and financial opportunities also pursue an independent, nationally oriented foreign policy. And I must admit that many achieve quite positive and impressive results in this area.

The attempts we are seeing to impede this process are certainly doomed historically. Understandably, the countries that set the tune in international affairs for almost half a millennium want to preserve their privileged positions when they see their new competitors growing stronger. They are using different instruments, some of which are not absolutely honourable. Let me emphasise once again that the attempts to impede the objective process of the formation of a multipolar system are doomed historically. The understanding of this is reflected in many cases, in part, in the formation and functioning of the G20, where the G7 and BRICS countries are represented. Without their cooperation and consensus it is very difficult to resolve any serious problems in the global economy and finance, or in international politics, by and large.

Other associations in which the Russian Federation takes part also work under the principle of consensus. I would like to mention the SCO and other integration associations in the post-Soviet space – the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the CSTO and the CIS.

I work under the premise that the current coronavirus crisis is compelling us to consider more seriously and probably more quickly the decisions that many international actors have postponed for various reasons. Unlawful unilateral sanctions and sanctions that were taken without regard for the UN Charter are doing tremendous damage to the people in many countries. I am primarily referring to countries like Iran, Syria and North Korea. Even now when these countries badly need equipment, medications and special protection gear to counter the pandemic, they cannot receive them because Western countries, primarily the US are categorically rejecting proposals to take a humanitarian pause and make an exception for goods that are essential for countering the pandemic. This is regrettable. An appeal to this affect has been forwarded by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet also made a similar appeal. At the online G20 summit, President of Russia Vladimir Putin proposed green corridors that would be free of trade wars and sanctions so the countries in need could receive medications, food, equipment and technology.

Before going over to interactive communication, I would like to draw your attention to an important conceptual issue that we have paid much attention to recently. I mean the trend of our Western partners to make fewer references to international law or even remove it from the international lexicon altogether. Instead of the well-established term “international law” they are attempting to use a new expression, “a rules-based order.” We see how this concept is taking shape and being used by our Western partners in practice. Their approach to issues goes beyond universal, multilateral institutions. They want to uphold their exclusive position on these issues and do not want to negotiate.

Note that when there is a problem in well-established and universally recognised mechanisms, on which the West is facing resistance, in many cases it stops seeking consensus and simply takes this problem beyond the framework of multilateral structures. I am referring to what is happening in the OPCW with attempts to initiate votes to change consensus-based Convention documents and many other things.

We will certainly uphold UN-centric universal institutions and the entire system of international ties that have been formed based on the UN Charter. The principles of the Charter, primarily, the sovereign equality of states, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs and peaceful settlement of disputes maintain and even enhance their importance today.

We are celebrating the 75th anniversary of Victory in World War II and the 75th anniversary of the UN. I think this is a good reason for all of us to unite and concentrate on consolidating universal mechanisms rather than on creating flawed alternative structures in order to replace multilateral diplomacy with different terms, such as “a rules-based order” or the newly coined expression, “the Alliance for Multilateralism.”

Those who want to support multilateralism must recognise that the only and true multilateralism is embodied in the UN which has unique legitimacy. Therefore, supporters of multilateralism must come to the UN and come to terms with all other countries there, instead of negotiating within the narrow circle of soulmates and imposing their opinion on others as universal and the only correct approach.

This is what worries us. I am very grateful to have this opportunity to discuss these issues. We are always trying to hear and consider the assessments made by Russian and foreign experts and political scientists.

Thank you very much for your attention. I am ready for more work.







Question:

A question on Libya. Every unbiased person has long recognised that it is owing to the assistance of the Russian Federation that Syria’s legitimate government and the country have been saved. There is another hotbed in the region apart from Syria, that is, Libya. Do you think Russia could build a similar initiative on a specific and efficient settlement of the situation in Libya by creating an international coalition with Egypt, Italy and other countries of the region?



Sergey Lavrov:

We are completely open to developing honest, well-balanced cooperation on any crisis issue, including the settlement of the conflict in Libya. You know this conflict started when our Western colleagues – NATO countries – crudely violated a resolution of the UN Security Council. The resolution was adopted in 2011 and provided for a no-fly zone over Libya. The resolution explained this provision: the air force of Colonel Gaddafi had no right to be in the air, and they did not fly. To secure the no fly zone, the UN Security Council authorised all interested countries to take the necessary measures to prevent Gaddafi’s air force from flying. Its aircraft did not fly. Meanwhile, the West flew NATO aircraft into the air, I believe crudely and brazenly, and started bombing Gaddafi’s army on the ground. In effect, the West acted on the side of the extremists (that were in the majority).

They decided to overthrow the Gaddafi regime, after which Libya turned into a black hole. Smuggled arms, militants and drugs streamed into black Africa, Africa to the south of the Sahara, the Sahara-Sahel region. Many terrorist manifestations that have struck root in Africa are linked with this period. Many illegal migrants moved northward via Libya. Europe is still suffering from this immigration pattern and finds it difficult to resolve the problem.

What can be done now? I am saying this not to continuously return to the question of who is to blame. But the question of what must be done is more important at this point. Russia, our Italian colleagues and many other European states and countries in the region have reached a fairly good understanding. We agree that this conflict does not have a military solution and that it is necessary to come to terms. Russia and many other countries, including Turkey, Egypt, the UAE and Qatar are working to launch a political dialogue. Let me recall that we actively supported the efforts of Ghassan Salame when he was UN special representative on a settlement in Libya. We tried to promote a settlement by proposing our own initiatives when we supported the Berlin process and tried to facilitate the success of the Berlin conference. At that time, we and our Turkish colleagues organised a meeting in Moscow for Marshal Khalifa Haftar, Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj, head of the Presidential Council and the National Unity Government and Aguila Saleh, parliament speaker in Tobruk. Regrettably, at this meeting we did not sign any documents but at least we encouraged them to move towards compromise and consensus. We played the decisive role in persuading our German colleagues not to ignore the Libyan sides in preparing the Berlin conference. At first, they did not want to invite either Sarraj or Haftar, or any other Libyans and even their neighbours. We worked hard to convince them that this would have been a mistake. This is why the main protagonists – Sarraj and Haftar – attended the Berlin conference as well as Libya’s neighbours, including our Egyptian colleagues. To use a common phrase, our main message at the Berlin conference was that we were willing to support any solution if it was backed by Sarraj and Haftar. Regrettably, we did not receive a straight answer to this question in Berlin. So, we supported the ideas that were formulated in Berlin, but with the reservation that they must not be imposed on the sides, that it was necessary to persuade the sides to accept them. Unfortunately, we were right again because now the implementation of the decisions of the Berlin conference is stuck again and hostilities have resumed.

We have one simple initiative: let’s continue the political process once again. Ghassan Salame played an active, if not the main role in the Berlin process, but he resigned as the UN Secretary-General’s special representative on Libya. Now his duties are performed by Stephanie Williams from the US, who was his deputy. I believe it is necessary to appoint a permanent representative on Libya as soon as possible. We are convinced that this representative must come from an African country that is located in the same region as Libya.

Now the European Union has decided to help monitor the observance of the embargo on arms supplies to Libya. This is a noble cause but… we have discussed this issue with our European friends several times in the past few months. I spoke with Josep Borrell, Heiko Maas and Luigi Di Mayo. I think the European Union must go to the Security Council and say, “The Security Council has announced an arms embargo and it must be fulfilled. We, the EU, want to carry out one more special operation on monitoring compliance with this embargo. It consists of such and such parts. We would like to ask the Security Council to support our approach.”

The fact that the EU is doing everything it can to avoid presenting its ideas to the UN Security Council makes us wonder about its motives. I hope we will soon be informed as to what they are thinking.

To sum up my rather lengthy answer, I would like to emphasise again that we support the idea of creating a platform on which all external players can persuade the Libyan parties to come to terms. We have seen attempts to bet on one side or the other in the past. From the beginning of the UN’s efforts to reach a settlement on Libya, we have supported contact with literally all sides. All of them have come to Russia. We have met with each of these political leaders at various multilateral venues. We are now happy to say that our partners who tried initially to take sides with one Libyan leader or another, now understand that it is much more productive to compel all of them to sit at the negotiating table and come to an understanding. This is what I consider necessary for all of us to do on the Libyan crisis.



Question:

As you noted, we have been observing a perfect storm on a global scale since the beginning of 2020. How would you assess these trends’ impact on the EAEU countries in general and on Russia and Kazakhstan in particular? What must we do together?



Sergey Lavrov:

I am confident that only together can the countries in the post-Soviet space get through this time with minimal losses. It so happened that the crisis broke out when we were about to take – and I am sure that this will still happen – very important, new steps in the development of Eurasian integration, where we already have the free movement of people, goods, services and capital. In the next stages, we plan to lift the remaining barriers, including the establishment of a single energy market in a couple of years. I believe that all these plans remain in effect, which was reaffirmed at the recent online summit of the EAEU member countries. Online meetings between prime ministers and ministers of specific sectors are also in the pipeline. I believe that we must strengthen joint multilateral institutions, such as the Eurasian Development Bank and the corresponding Eurasian Fund, which exist, operate and address a lot of issues that are very important for the member countries. I don’t have anything surprising to say here. Meticulous work to strengthen joint institutions. And, of course, we must take into account the experience of other integration associations that were established much earlier than the EAEU, above all the EU. Right now the European Union, like all of us, is going through difficult times, but this crisis coincided with the growing debate about the balance between the functioning of supranational institutions and the responsibilities of national governments. This is a very important issue; we can see how actively Brussels and many capitals are discussing it, including regarding the rights the national governments should have and the rights that are or will be delegated to central, supranational institutions. Of course, we also discuss this issue within the EAEU. We should always learn something useful from a crisis, and the way these issues are solved in the EU will be very useful for us in finding ways to address similar tasks within the EAEU.



Question:

As you may know, some people in Poland believe that bad relations between Russia and the EU is a good thing. Do you think these relations, primarily economic, will normalise during the crisis following the pandemic? And if so, will the Polish government attempt to slow down this normalisation, or will Warsaw decide that the economy is more important than politics under the circumstances?



Sergey Lavrov:

Thank you, this is a very interesting question.

You said there are people in Poland who believe it is a good thing that the relations between Russia and the EU are bad. I can assure you that there are people in Russia who are happy that the relations between Poland and the EU are not so good either. If we keep looking for things to gloat over, then instead of politics we will be engaged in politicking and trying to satisfy our own or someone else’s ambitions.

I remember the time when I became foreign minister. Historically, we have always had very complicated relations with Poland but in that period we probably had more cooperation mechanisms with Poland than with any other European country. We had the Committee for the Russian-Polish Cooperation Strategy headed by foreign ministers with the participation of deputy ministers of the economy, finance, trade and culture. We had a group on difficult problems, where historians would get together to honestly discuss both regrettable and happy pages of the Polish and Russian peoples’ past.

Moreover, some remainder of those relations still remain. Fairly recently, definitely after 2014, a Russian-Polish textbook came out on the history of the period of a century ago. It is not much but it is something. The book had a number of joint articles. Wherever opinions differed, two standpoints were presented – a Russian and a Polish one. It is much better than accusing each other via microphones without a chance to communicate. We used to have a joint award presented by the foreign ministers of Russia and Poland to cultural figures. I remember that together with Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski we presented awards to Barbara Brylska and Viktor Yerofeyev. It was in Warsaw. The ceremony was very heart-warming. There used to be a lot of useful things.

All that is now “frozen”, including visa-free travel between the Kaliningrad Region and the adjacent provinces of Poland. I consider it to be a sad fact. If we all support contacts between people and openness of societies (and I think the Polish leadership also advocates this), how can we shut down visa-free travel? They say it was largely related to commercial interests: some people bought cheaper things abroad and then sold them with a profit at home. But the important thing is that there was communication between people.

Regarding ways for us to get out of this situation. The European Union – and we see and hear this as it is declared publicly – is approaching the moment when it will have to decide whether to review the “five principles” invented by Federica Mogherini for relations with Russia or to leave them intact. I know that Poland stands for keeping them in place. Many other countries also speak in favour of making no changes. A number of other EU members believe that the situation should be considered realistically, basically proceeding from the interests of the EU nations and the EU economies.

We will be ready to speak with the European Union under any conditions. In fact, we are doing it now. But the “five principles” are being employed by some countries to block the resumption of sectoral dialogues, and we used to have over twenty of them: in energy, culture, human rights, transport, healthcare, finance, and so on. We used to have two annual summit meetings. We used to have the Permanent Partnership Council (it exists only on paper now) to review assessments of progress on agreements across the whole scope of our relations. All that is now frozen. We are being accused, including by Poland, that Russia is trying to undermine the EU authority and speaks with the capitals of member-countries – Rome, Paris, Budapest – rather than with Brussels. It is not our malicious intent, it is just the circumstances as they are. If Brussels froze all the channels while the capitals of the member countries advocate the development of bilateral relations, we will definitely respond.

I sincerely hope that we will also overcome the current period with our Polish neighbours and, I dare say, friends (I have many friends in Poland), and attempts to artificially create pretexts for dividing our nations will not prevail. I assure you that you will see a very positive response from us to any proposals that are de-ideologised and are based on the present vital interest of the citizens of Poland and Russia.



Question:

As you know, in the US, there has been a debate for several months about a possible withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty (OST). It is believed that the United States may make an official statement in September. In your opinion, is Russia ready to remain a party to the Treaty in the event the US pulls out? If so, under what conditions is this possible? Can the European partners of the Treaty influence this decision?



Sergey Lavrov:

This issue is gaining relevance, given the timelines you mentioned. Experts who monitor the developments believe that Washington has already taken a decision. We believe that these assessments have a significant element of truth. We draw almost the same conclusions based on our contacts with the Americans, other members of NATO and the OST. Like in the case of the Intermediate-Range Missiles Treaty (INF Treaty) and the Open Skies Treaty, the Americans have already begun to actively (and have been doing so for a long time) advance the argument that Russia violates it. Although they do not have any reliable facts either in this situation or in the case of the INF Treaty. I will not go into details; if you follow this issue, then you know the compromises that have been reached regarding the main claim that the West presented to us. I mean flights over Russian territory near the borders with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We were ready to settle these claims with the understanding that Georgia would also open its skies for such flights. Then we would have opened areas over the territory of the Russian Federation adjacent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Such a compromise was reached, but then the Georgian side rejected it and said that it would not allow our inspectors to fly over its territory. This is the only real claim that remains artificially. It was possible a long time ago to agree on this, as we actually did. But our colleagues did not keep their word.

By the way, the Americans use a similar trick regarding the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Although they officially stated that they would not ratify it, they nevertheless try to use its provisions to accuse us and, more recently, China of violating the CTBT. What is their purpose? As I understand it, the same as in the case of the INF Treaty. But as for the INF Treaty, it was necessary to justify the withdrawal from this Treaty, while in the case of the CTBT, it is necessary to justify why the Americans categorically and already officially stated that they would not join it. The same thing with the Open Skies Treaty. The current US administration conceptually and fundamentally objects to any kind of control over American military activity. Especially when such control is exercised on or over the US territory.

Will other countries follow the Americans? I doubt it. It seems to me that the Europeans understand that the OST has added value as an instrument of trust, predictability and transparency. We consider it as such. Our reaction to Washington’s possible decisions will depend on the wording of this decision, on what it exactly means. Of course, we will see whether any NATO allies will follow Washington, because the very added value that the Treaty now has will depend on it. But we will just have to see how it remains in the light of US plans.



Question:

As the events in recent years have shown, the people in Kyrgyzstan have demonstrated increasingly less support for the EAEU while being more critical, in particular, about the free movement of goods and capital. Russia is providing assistance to our migrant workers but meanwhile, it is the poor performance of our national authorities that has become the subject of such criticism and given rise to scepticism among the population regarding the EAEU’s prospects. Do you think it is time for Russia to adjust its policy in CIS countries, in particular, in Central Asia?



Sergey Lavrov:

What adjustments should be made?



Question:

Stepping up the work with political groups and forces.



Sergey Lavrov:

We are perfectly aware of the importance of our relations with our neighbours in Central Asia, South Caucasus and the European part of the CIS. We see the increased activity by the United States, the EU, Japan, China and Turkey in these regions, including Central Asia. There have been "5+1" formats, with five Central Asian countries and one being the USA, Japan or the EU. The Russian Federation proposed this format, and our Central Asian friends actively supported it. Two meetings have already taken place. This format may seem irrelevant as we have the CIS, the EAEU, the SCO and the CSTO - but none of these organisations allows Russia to directly communicate with all five Central Asian countries. I think that such a "5+1" informal association (Central Asia plus Russia) will be useful. We have already held two meetings of foreign ministers in this format.

As regards the EAEU meeting the expectations of its member states, you know that the organisation is receiving a lot of criticism; much of it comes from our Belarusian neighbours. The EAEU is a rather young association; it is much younger than the EU. Of course, we are making efforts to build on the EU's positive experience, while taking into consideration the mistakes made during the integration process - yet our foreign colleagues' experience will never be enough to solve all issues in the EAEU. We are slowly proceeding towards developing common markets, including energy markets, and this is going to be a crucial, gradual and qualitative stage in our relations. You should just take an objective look at the existing advantages and try not to take this for granted. Migrant workers were active prior to the establishment of the EAEU, and nothing bad happened. There were occasional problems, with an amnesty announced for migrant workers; this has taken place many times, including recently.

What does the EAEU have to do with it? Actually, the EAEU provided a legal framework for these efforts and now reaps the benefits of the movement of the labour force on a totally solid legal basis. We have provided substantial assistance to Kyrgyzstan in building the infrastructure required to ensure the free movement of goods, capital, services and the labour force; we also provide humanitarian support, including assistance to support the country's budget. The sky is the limit. But if there is an increasingly widespread opinion in Kyrgyzstan that something needs to be changed, it could be a reflection of a competitive process, competition for Central Asia in which our western partners have actively engaged. We believe that such competition is counterproductive. It is more efficient to cooperate in order to help Central Asian counties, including Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which are particularly in need of such assistance, develop their economies, and ensure stability in the economic sector in general. We are ready to do this - but regrettably, our western colleagues are not. When the EU proposed its Central Asia strategy, no mention was made of the SCO, the EAEU and the CIS - the organisations in which Central Asian countries are involved in one way or other. They were just briefly mentioned as a warning which claimed that efforts should be made to prevent the EAEU, the SCO and the CSTO from hindering the EU's activities in Central Asia. Similarly, the EU's Eastern Partnership joint initiative for Caucasus and European countries in the CIS territory was aimed at competition and holding back Russia's efforts in these territories.

I would not necessarily see any need to take it into consideration if there is an opinion forming in Kyrgyzstan, due to such programmes and concepts, claiming that changes are needed in the country's relations with Russia. For instance, we are working jointly with China - both within the SCO and as part of cooperation that is developing between the EAEU and Chinese projects under the Belt and Road Initiative - to unite our resources and efforts in order to help Central Asian countries and ensure their national economies' concordant development and their becoming an essential part of the entire Central Asian economic complex. Currently, together with our Kyrgyz and Chinese colleagues, we are seeking a common approach to developing Kyrgyzstan's railway network, which will make the country not simply a point of transit to Uzbekistan but will run through its cities and towns and thus help create concurrent production facilities and economic opportunities.

If you, as a person who monitors these sentiments, have specific ideas as to how the EAEU bodies' activity could be adjusted in Kyrgyzstan or ideas regarding Russia's more efficient cooperation with Kyrgyzstan in stepping up bilateral relations, you can forward them to us; we will be pleased to consider them and then continue our dialogue.



Question:

I would like to thank you for the help Russia renders to Serbia at this difficult time. This year on April 24, the UN will mark the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace for the first time. Do you think multilateralism can become relevant again while the status of Kosovo is being determined?



Sergey Lavrov:

I did not know about this day. In my opening remarks I mentioned the multilateralism development initiative proposed by Germany and France. I am following this initiative closely. If the UN General Assembly has decided to mark this day, which symbolises support for multilateralism and diplomacy for peace, then I am very glad about it. The French-German initiative on setting up a group of friends of multilateralism is developing outside the UN, thereby putting into question the universal nature of the Organisation. I believe that multilateralism is embodied in the UN Charter. Multilateralism based on the principles of sovereign equality of states, non-interference and cooperation for the sake of peaceful settlement of disputes – is an absolute requirement of our time.

Thank you for giving me the lead: I will certainly find out how this day will be marked. We will try to make sure it is marked as widely as possible and help convey the ideas of multilateralism to all nations, so that we use this holiday to strengthen the UN and not to create competitive private mechanisms for promoting dubious ideas.



Question:

Russia is Georgia’s third largest trade partner but the absence of embassy missions and trade offices has become an obstacle for large-scale movement of capital, goods, services and workforce between our countries. Is normalization of bilateral ties something that might be possible to speak about?



Sergey Lavrov:

I fully share your interest in developing cooperation between Russia and Georgia in a big way for the sake of our two nations. It was not us who were responsible for severing our diplomatic relations. By and large, we and you have embassies that are called interest sections. Georgia has an interest section at the Swiss Embassy in Moscow, while Russia has an interest section at the Swiss Embassy in Tbilisi. There are no ambassadors but as I understand, they are headed by minister counsellor level people in both countries. This allows us to maintain ties and not only through our Swiss friends. There are direct contacts both in Moscow and Tbilisi. Life takes over.

Needless to say, if we had proper working embassies, it would be possible to solve the issues concerning economic, trade and cultural cooperation not only faster but also in a better way too. This is why we are prepared to restore diplomatic relations. But since it was not us who were responsible for severing these ties, we will just have to wait for our Georgian colleagues to approach this issue. Trade offices also suggest the existence of some agreements. I don’t think that the opening of a trade mission will make much difference and be of a great benefit but should such an opportunity arise we will most certainly consider this offer.

You mentioned that Russia is Georgia’s third largest trade partner. Georgia receives gas from Gazprom, this is a well-known fact. Regrettably, flights for the time being have been put on hold but I hope we will soon resolve this problem. The most important thing for us is not to be subjected to a Russophobic campaign in Tbilisi. There were excesses during the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy. They made us think about the security of Russian citizens although the Georgians told us later on that they would be safe.

I am closely following the statements by Georgian leaders, including those made by President Salome Zourabichvili. Recently, she came out with a rather crude and aggressive statement about Russia and its goals in the region. Naturally, when it comes to public opinion, such statements do not help create the right atmosphere. When Ms Zourabichvili moved from France and became the foreign minister of Georgia, she visited Moscow and I went to Tbilisi. We discussed the withdrawal of the two remaining Russian military bases from Georgia and finally achieved success. This agreement was later on approved by President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili. A legal document, an agreement with the participation of our defence ministers was drafted on the basis of our declaration. I’d like to recall one interesting moment that shows deal-making skills of the sides and our interest in preserving good relations at that particular time. Let me repeat: we talked about full withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgia. Two bases were withdrawn under the 1999 agreement and two still remained there. A question was raised about them at a round of negotiations and President Putin decided that if Georgia did not want to keep them, we should withdraw them. This was done. Mutual consent to establish a Russia-Georgia anti-terrorist centre near one of these former bases became part of this agreement. Russian and Georgian specialists were supposed to work in it. This was a symbol of our partnership: we are withdrawing bases that have lost their topicality for bilateral relations but we are establishing a centre because terrorism is our common enemy (the situation in the Pankisi Gorge and the rest of the region was turbulent). So, we agreed to establish this centre. All the agreements were signed, the bases were withdrawn but Georgia simply refused to abide by its own decision to set up this Russia-Georgia anti-terrorist centre. I believe that if the achieved agreements were respected, the subsequent course of events could have been different. This would have been a gesture that would have created a foundation for confidence and cooperation in a very sensitive area. This always promotes rapprochement. We are ready to positively respond to all constructive steps made by our Georgian neighbours. We are sincerely interested in this.



Question:

Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Elmar Mammadyarov said that Azerbaijan is waiting for the international community to take effective steps for implementing the UN Security Council’s resolution on resolving the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Do you think there are relevant international institutions capable of living up to these expectations, especially amid the current crisis? Which mechanisms are required to make the adopted but not executed resolutions work?



Sergey Lavrov:

The resolutions you are talking about are well-known documents. They were adopted at the height of the conflict and, above all, stipulated a complete cessation of hostilities and transition to a settlement. Indeed, they reaffirmed the territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan, but they also contained a demand to stop the war and proceed to talks. Since then, talks were launched many times. There were so called Key West agreements of 2001 and subsequent agreements in various formats reached with and without Karabakh’s participation. Now we have a firmly established format of the talks: Baku – Yerevan – OSCE Minsk Group on Nagorno-Karabakh settlement represented by three co-chairs – Russia, France and the United States – and a representative of the current OSCE Chair. It is a good and useful format. It was this format that fulfilled the UN Security Council’s demand to stop the war and begin talks.

There are the Madrid Principles as well as the documents drafted by the Russian Federation in 2010-2011, the so-called Kazan document. There are draft documents disseminated a year ago (April 2019) at the meeting of Russian, Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers as well as the co-chairs in Moscow. They are being discussed now. These documents provide for movement toward a settlement using a stage by stage approach, with the resolution of the most pressing issues at the first stage, such as the liberation of a number of districts around Nagorno-Karabakh and relaunching the transport, economic and other communication lines.

I am sure that when we reach a decision to sign these documents it will be a very important step in implementing the UN Security Council resolution that we are talking about and that, I will say it again, stipulates a cessation of hostilities and the start of talks. The talks have begun. Now the parties need to reach an agreement. This is what we are seeking as co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.



Question:

I would like to ask you a question regarding Spitsbergen, I mean the famous Spitsbergen Treaty signed in Paris in 1920 and our tug-of-war with Norway. The Russian position is clear, as are the Norwegian interests. However, there are over 40 countries that signed the Treaty in addition to Russia and Norway. At present, the world media holds that only Russia is opposing Norway. But in fact there are many more dissatisfied parties. Do you think it is worth joining efforts with other countries and trying to form a coalition with them, given the Treaty violations by Norway?



Sergey Lavrov:

I agree. Actually, we have never rejected such a possibility. We acted in parallel: both within the framework of our relations with Norway and in the course of setting up a coalition in defence of the 1920 Treaty.

As you know, we have not yet established a constructive dialogue with the Norwegians. I have sent several letters to my counterpart, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide, including the latest one this past February in which I quoted specific facts to outline our concerns and named the Treaty’s articles which in our opinion should be observed more scrupulously, and suggested holding consultations. The fact that our Norwegian colleagues and neighbours, who have always been known for their respect for international law, are evading the very idea of consultations does not make their position more convincing.

I will not go into details, but the possibility that you mentioned is in our sights. Those who want to defend the Treaty more vigorously include the parties who are doing it for their own benefit based on the rights provided by the Treaty, and some would like to use the Russia-Norway situation to push us to the forefront and wait for the outcome. There is also a third category of people who very much want the Norwegians to infringe on our rights as much as possible and eventually create conditions for us to wind down our activities: to stop carrying out our tourism projects and producing coal through Arktikugol in Barentsburg. We understand this very well. We can see the entire set of these geopolitical games and the tasks for protecting the status of Spitsbergen based on international law.



Question:

In the context of the Union State, citizens of Russia and Belarus are concerned with the de facto resumption of border control by Russia during the pandemic. Rumours have been circulating that subsequently, there may be a fully-functional border between the two states, which is an apparent step towards disintegration of the union. What is your opinion on the issue?



Sergey Lavrov:

We do not see any grounds for introducing a border regime. Our interests lie in the Union State developing in full compliance with the principles, goals and vectors that were established by the 1999 Union State treaty. Among other principles, the treaty includes the parties’ obligations to create equal conditions for the citizens of Belarus and Russia in any field of activity – be it the economy, culture, legal relations, etc. In the majority of these areas, equal rights were formalised by separate agreements and treaties. Currently, several spheres remain that require equalisation – specifically, healthcare services for Russians in Belarus (conditions for them are slightly different) and hotel prices. But these are minor issues and will most probably be resolved.

As concerns crossing the border, about two and a half years ago, when our Belarusian neighbours unilaterally introduced visa-free entry to Belarus for nationals of around 80 countries, that decision was not agreed upon with us and thus created a situation when foreign nationals that must have a visa to travel to Russia entered Belarus without any visas. With no border control between Belarus and Russia, foreign nationals who must obtain visas to enter Russia, as per the agreement with their country of nationality, could freely and, therefore, illegally enter Russian territory. It was then that we proposed that Russia and Belarus agree on a common visa policy and share the lists of those individuals who are banned from entry, the lists compiled on a mutual and reciprocal basis. We needed a common approach to granting visa-free travel to nationals of respective states. We developed a relevant agreement. It was initialed in December 2018 and has been awaiting signing for almost a year and a half. The Russian Government granted us the power to sign the agreement back in December 2018. I think signing this agreement will, to a large extent, relieve the concerns that you mentioned and remove any remaining reasons for those who wish to create a full-fledged border between the Union State countries.

I think our Belarusian colleagues will, in the short run, somehow communicate their stance to us and confirm the fact that they are ready to sign the document that was initialed a year and a half ago. At any rate, quite recently, Belarus and the European Union (EU) signed an agreement relaxing their visa regime – a readmission agreement. It was a helpful move. We have a similar agreement with the EU. So, the solution to the problem you mentioned has been ready for a year and a half. We have the powers to sign it and hope that our Belarusian colleagues have the powers to do so as well.



Question:

If the European Union falls completely apart, do you think that its current members could be accepted in the EAEU?



Sergey Lavrov:

The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is open for accession to any country that shares the principles set forth in its core documents.

As for the future of the European Union, I cannot imagine such an outcome, even theoretically.

In this context, the best solution would be to establish contacts between the EAEU and the EU. We discussed proposals to this effect back in 2015, and Brussels is still exploring them. The Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) has submitted the corresponding proposals on behalf of the EAEU to the European Commission several times. The response was initially outright negative, but Brussels became more receptive to dialogue with the EEC once it realised that EAEU member countries have delegated many of their functions to the supra-national level. So far this has been limited to technical matters, such as technical regulations, rules governing various sectors, etc. But this is already a start. These are practical steps that we can build upon to build up our cooperation. We stand for promoting a strategic partnership across the Eurasian continent.

After all, Eurasia covers a huge territory shared by the EU, the EAEU, the SCO and many ASEAN countries as well. It is also here that most of the projects as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative are carried out. It is for this reason that back in May 2016 at the Russia-ASEAN Summit held in Sochi President of Russia Vladimir Putin proposed establishing the Greater Eurasian Partnership that would be open to member countries from all these associations, including the EAEU, the SCO, ASEAN, as well as European Union countries and the EU itself.

Sharing this vast territory gives us substantial comparative advantages. It would be strange for us not to benefit from these advantages and instead to continue down the road of confrontation (I have already mentioned the confrontational scenarios, including the Eastern Partnership and EU’s strategy on Central Asia). What we stand for is building a Greater Eurasian Partnership by gradually reaching mutual understanding in an increasing number of spheres with a clear benefit for all the parties involved. I think that moving in this direction would make it easier for the European Union to overcome its internal challenges, while the EAEU will be open to cooperation in the interests of its member countries.



Question:

In the beginning you talked about the common energy market and the need for EAEU countries to work together in order to overcome the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. In this context, I have a question on the price of natural gas. We all know that pricing in this sector is not just a question of business, but largely a political matter. Armenia and Belarus have been watching Russia reduce prices for EU countries, even post factum, for example for Bulgaria. Friendly Moldova currently buys gas at a lower price than Armenia. This begs a question why Russia does not cut prices for EAEU countries first before extending this policy to other countries? After all, this would provide other countries with an incentive to join the EAEU and to work with it, because this would offer major economic benefits.



Sergey Lavrov:

I understand your question and I see your logic, but in this case we need to follow this logic all the way through. When the price for Armenia and the Republic of Belarus was two or three times below market prices it was regarded as a given, and no one treated it as a matter of politics. Everyone said that this is what they are entitled to. I believe that allies are definitely entitled to economic advantages. There is no doubt about this for me. However, considering the current price, there are contractual obligations that have to be honoured. I strongly believe that our allied relations will be taken into consideration when reviewing the recent requests from our Belarusian and Armenian friends. It would be probably unfair to bring this up only when the situation becomes the direct opposite to what was happening three or four years ago when we established this pricing mechanism with due regard for our obligations as allies.

As for Armenia’s case, Russia’s Energy Ministry and Gazprom oversee this matter. Armenia’s domestic tariffs have been one of the recurring problems for the past several years. These tariffs hinder the application of the most beneficial pricing mechanisms. I will not go into any details on this right now.

If we are talking about allied relations, it would be fair to suggest that they should cover all areas. As far as the economy is concerned, we have high hopes that the court proceedings that have been initiated in Armenia over the past few years against joint ventures, including the South Caucasus Railway, will be settled without mixing in things that are unworthy of allies. I am being completely open when mentioning this, since Russian companies faced a number of challenging situations. I hope that we will be able to resolve these matters to our mutual satisfaction.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin recently had a telephone conversation with Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan. They see a path for developing our allied relations and strategic partnership. Let me assure you that both sides are committed to resolving all issues along these lines.



Question:

On behalf of the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, we would like to thank the Foreign Ministry for its assistance with returning our leading Siberian scientists from their business trips abroad, specifically, from the United States.

Currently, international research and technical cooperation projects and programmes are being curtailed. What measures and programmes does the Foreign Ministry plan to use to restore international research links after the coronavirus pandemic? What new opportunities in terms of science diplomacy are opening up for Russia in this situation?



Sergey Lavrov:

The Foreign Ministry is not responsible for orchestrating links in science. We always support scientific ties but they are established directly when a specific research community in our country or abroad asks for our help with finding a partner or communicating certain ideas and proposals to a partner that has already been designated. We always do this and will continue to do it. However, by definition our work does not cover the substantive nature of the contacts between our academic institutions and their partners abroad. It is not our turf, as they say.

If our colleagues in Novosibirsk or any other research centre need our assistance with restoring links or transferring information when this pandemic is over and all the restrictions are lifted (although communications are so developed these days that it should not be a problem at all), we will do our best to help.

Don’t get me wrong, we can’t physically say: “Go ahead, go to Italy or France tomorrow to start developing a vaccine or some new mechanism.” When you feel you are ready and your partners are ready but something is standing in your way, if we can help, we will be happy to do it.

Regarding the second part of your question, I think science diplomacy serves the interests of everybody without exception. During more peaceful times, before we were lumbered with this calamity, science diplomacy was put in the context of soft power: presumably, we can develop contacts and show how open and interesting we are, we can be partners in important matters – and in this way influence the general political situation. I think that now science diplomacy is becoming mainly a tool for creating antidotes for common problems that are threatening the whole of humanity. At the same time, science diplomacy has not lost its function of maintaining contacts between people. But now it is not so much a soft power with which one country can influence another as it has become an instrument for building good neighbourly relations in everyone’s interests. It is not a means of somebody achieving their goals at the expense of somebody else. Therefore, we will support science diplomacy in every possible way.

Once again, it is up to scientists to determine how it should develop and the areas where joint efforts need to be applied. If you keep us informed about your plans, it will be a great help to us when it comes to offering you assistance.



Question:

Thank you for this opportunity to ask a question. It concerns the issue of the Republic of Moldova’s constant neutrality which you are most likely aware of and have heard about in the course of your work. We are always very sensitive about and watching closely the relations between the Russian Federation and the European Union. Any tension between Russia and the EU countries directly affects the situation and sentiments in Moldova as well as Moldova’s relations with Russia. What do you think about the prospects of Moldova’s permanent neutrality? Can we count on Russia’s possible support in this matter, in strengthening this status and promoting it internationally?



Sergey Lavrov:

Not only can you count on our support but you already have it. Since the very beginning of the post-Soviet stage in the history of Moldova, when, thanks to Russia’s involvement, it was possible to settle a fierce conflict in Transnistria; when foundations for solving this problem were built on a steady long-lasting ground, the basic principles determining Russia’s policy were developed. According to these principles, we support resolving the issue of Transnistria’s special status within the framework of a united, territorially integral and sovereign Moldova that ensures respect for its neutrality. In other words, this stance means two very simple things. We will not support attempts to drag Moldova, along with Transnistria, into NATO. This is absolutely out of the question. And we will not support any attempts to take away Moldova’s statehood. Based on these two principles which, in my opinion, fully serve the core interests of Moldova as a state, I guarantee that we will always be able to find a solution to Transnistria’s problem. If all the participants in the 5+2 process acted based on this premise, I think the problem would have been resolved a long time ago. Unfortunately, it is not exactly the case. Some of our Western colleagues are still pursuing a slightly different agenda that is mainly determined by their overwhelming desire to reinforce and expand the North Atlantic Alliance.



Question:

Quite frequently, Russian journalists, scientists, scholars and other people are declared personae non grata in Central Asian countries. One example is Russian anthropologist Sergey Abashin whose stance differs from the official stance of Uzbekistani officials. There have been similar cases affecting French, Azerbaijani and other scholars in Iran, Pakistan as well as some other countries, too. The Russian Foreign Ministry’s response has been slightly different from that of your foreign colleagues. In your opinion, is the MFA limiting its work to consulting in these matters?



Sergey Lavrov:

Frankly speaking, I have not heard about it. If you send me backup material, we will be able to answer your question. Overall, international law and the Vienna conventions stipulate that any country has the right to declare anybody a persona non grata without providing an explanation. To be more specific, I will need more information. Please send me your material on this and we will make sure to give you a response.




The source of information - https://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy...ent/id/4103828






Press release on Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s video conference with Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif and Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavusoglu



22 April 2020 - 17:22



On April 22, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held a video conference with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Turkish Republic Mevlüt Çavusoglu.

The foreign ministers of the Astana format guarantors discussed in detail developments in Syria.

The ministers reaffirmed Russia, Iran and Turkey’s commitment to the unconditional respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic as per UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

They underscored the leading role of the Astana format in promoting the components of the Syrian settlement, including stabilisation on the ground, facilitating the return of the refugees and displaced persons, resolving the humanitarian problems of the civil population, and supporting the intra-Syrian dialogue under the Constitutional Committee in Geneva.

In discussing the Idlib situation, they noted that implementing the March 5 Russian-Turkish protocol made it possible to achieve important results in de-escalating the situation, although Hayat Tahrir al-Sham illegal armed units continue their attempts to obstruct them. They outlined the relevance of further efforts to separate the moderate opposition in the Idlib area from the terrorists.

The ministers agreed to the need to increase the activities of international organisations in rendering humanitarian assistance to the Syrian population, especially during the spread of the coronavirus. In this context, the appeal of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to mitigate and suspend the sanctions that undermine Syria’s ability to combat the epidemic are of special importance.

They welcomed the agreement between the government and the opposition on the agenda of the next meeting of the Constitutional Committee Editorial Team. The ministers of the Astana format expect the meeting to be held, as soon as the epidemiologic situation allows, with the assistance of Geir O. Pedersen, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria, under his mandate.

The parties reaffirmed their intent to continue their effective interaction under the Astana format and join the efforts of Russia, Iran and Turkey for the sake of attaining durable stability and security in Syria and the region in general. The date of the next Astana Three summit, which is to be held in the Islamic Republic of Iran, will be determined later.




The source of information - https://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy...ent/id/4104365






Commentary by the Information and Press Department (MFA of Russia) on Executive Summary of the 2020 Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments (Compliance Report) – United States Department of State



23 April 2020 - 17:43



The Executive Summary of the 2020 Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments (Compliance Report) graphically illustrates the fragmentary, utilitarian and selective approach by the United States to compliance with these commitments. In practical terms, this is the overt undermining of the foundations and logic of multilateral cooperation in this area.

The Department of State is declaring the US’s right to assess the violations or non-compliance with international commitments by other countries through its own criteria, as if it goes without saying. It follows from the text of the report that the Americans themselves do not owe anything to anyone, that they observe everything faultlessly, and if an error is pointed out, they review it and then convince themselves that everything has been done properly (based on US interpretation, of course).

To increase credibility, the US formally equates itself with the majority of other countries that are parties to the relevant treaties and agreements, which strictly observe their commitments and demonstrate their intention to continue discussing these issues. In reality, the US is ostentatiously putting itself in a special category, thereby denying the right of others to critically assess the US’s record. We understand that this is really an attempt to cover up a withdrawal from a treaty if the US considers it beneficial under internal circumstances or for any other subjective reason. As for selective compliance with the provisions of treaties and agreements to which the US remains formally a party, Russia has repeatedly emphasised that this has become common practice when commenting on similar reports by the Department of State in the past few years.

It is no surprise that the shortest section in the report is on the US. Listing the numerous legal instruments on which the world community had questions to the US, this year the authors of the report did not even mention one of the most important agreements of the past few years – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear programme and the UNSC Resolution 2231. During the two years after the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the US’s illegal actions have been resolutely denounced by the international community at many venues, including the UN Security Council. It is well known that the implementation of the JCPOA is primarily impeded by the US’s gross violation of this comprehensive agreement and the UNSC Resolution 2231. The United States has not only violated its own commitments but also threaten others with sanctions to prevent them from carrying out the decisions of the UN Security Council.

Instead of correcting its own behaviour and violations, US “evaluators” prefer to accuse Iran without any grounds and assiduously recreate the threat that supposedly emanates from Iran’s nuclear programme. Of course, the US experts cannot ignore the fact that Iran has long been the most intensively monitored IAEA member. However, as in many other cases, our American colleagues do not want to accept an inconvenient truth. They find it easier to accuse Tehran of non-existent violations: if Iran develops or acquires nuclear weapons in any way, it will violate its obligations under Article II of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. We hope that some politicians in Washington still realise that these attacks against Iran are far-fetched against the backdrop of the US’s widely known violations of the UNSC Resolution 2231.

We noted that the report contains an intricate reservation that “there can sometimes be legal or factual uncertainty as to whether a violation has occurred.” Such an approach allows the Americans to criticize other countries increasingly more often without bothering to support their accusations by actual facts or justified legal arguments. It’s clear that this disclaimer provides just an unlimited opportunity for «accusatory creativity».

This trick is used, in particular, with regard to the INF Treaty. All accusations against Russia are actually based on a simple assertion: “the US has determined.” As usual, the report does not provide any supporting evidence. By all accounts, the authors of the report proceed from the assumption that whatever Washington says should be automatically taken for granted and accepted as an axiom. That said, they preferred to ignore the fact that throughout the entire period of the US’s consecutive preparations to withdraw from the INF Treaty (the authors actually do not deny it was the US initiative to do so) absolutely no evidence was provided to support the US accusations regarding the Russian 9М729 missile that in fact has characteristics fully consistent with the Treaty, as we have repeatedly explained.

Nor did they mention Russia’s well-grounded claims concerning the US compliance – or rather non-compliance - with the Treaty. The report does not contain a single word on the deployment on land of Mk 41 launchers, capable of firing intermediate-range cruise missiles, or on the US’s development of technologies for prohibited classes of ballistic missiles using “missile defense targets”. The report neither contains references to the US armed UAVs that fully meet the Treaty’s definition of intermediate-range ground-based cruise missiles. The developments that followed the US withdrawal from the Treaty have fully confirmed that our concerns were justified and legally accurate. The fact that the US side almost immediately started testing previously banned weapon systems clearly indicates that they were in well-advanced stage of readiness. We have raised all these issues before our colleagues for many years, but our main priority was to preserve the Treaty and its regime. However, it is obvious that Washington had completely different goals.

Regarding the New START Treaty, it should be reminded that starting February 5, 2018 to date the US is exceeding by 101 pieces the aggregate Treaty numbers under the category of “deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, deployed and non-deployed SLBM launchers, and deployed and non-deployed heavy bombers.” The US has neither fulfilled a number of other Treaty provisions. Against this backdrop, Washington’s ambitions to lecture others and “evaluate” their actions are inappropriate, to say the least.

The US’s far-fetched baseless allegations concerning Russia’s approaches to the issues of non-strategic nuclear weapons (NSNW) with references to the “Presidential nuclear initiatives” of 1991-1992 look especially cynical. We remind our American colleagues once again that unlike the US, Russia has not only withdrawn all of its NSNW to its national territory, but also changed their operational status to non-deployed and moved them to centralized storage facilities. These Russian measures remain fully relevant.

Moreover, while implementing the “Presidential nuclear initiatives,” we have significantly reduced the stocks of NSNW – by 75 % as compared to the arsenal of the USSR in 1991.

It is noteworthy that the US’s grievances about Russia’s alleged “deviation” from the “Presidential nuclear initiatives” are being expressed against a backdrop of a consistent revision of US doctrinal principles towards increasing the role of nuclear weapons in various “escalation” scenarios and expanding possibilities of their combat use, which obviously lowers the “nuclear threshold” and increases the threat of a nuclear conflict. Meanwhile, the US has been actively modernizing and expanding its tactical nuclear arsenal, blurring the line between tactical and strategic weapons. A revealing step in this direction was the equipment of some Trident II SLBMs with “tactical-grade” nuclear warheads. Preparations are underway to re-introduce nuclear sea-launched cruise missiles into the US arsenal. The nuclear В61-12 bomb, which has an “adjustable yield” feature and is capable of performing a wide range of both tactical and strategic missions, that is also intended for use by US NATO allies, is about to enter operational service.

The US attempt to “evaluate” other States’ compliance with NPT, exercised in such a selective and manifestly politicized manner, appears to be rather dubious. Meanwhile it sort of goes without saying that the US itself is “above any suspicion” in this area, however, the US not only places its nuclear weapons in other countries, but also envisions using foreign delivery aircrafts and military personnel for combat employment of these weapons within the framework of NATO’s “nuclear sharing” policy. To that effect, the “nuclear sharing” participants provide corresponding technical means, create infrastructure, and hold drills and training. Such practices stand in flagrant violation of the basic provisions of the NPT enshrined in the Treaty’s Articles I and II.

The report also contains insinuations about Russia’s “non-compliance” with the obligations related to the ban on nuclear testing. The allegations revolve around the unsubstantiated claim that Russia “conducted nuclear weapons experiments that are not consistent with the zero-yield standard.” Contradicting themselves, the authors admit that the US does not know how many such tests were carried out and whether they were carried out at all, as well as what kind of tests they were. And despite the fact that this is nonsense, they still conclude that Russia allegedly violates the 1974 Treaty between the USSR and the US on the Limitation of Underground Nuclear Weapon Tests. They claim, that Russia did not notify Washington of such tests as stipulated by this treaty.

First, the US knows but deliberately hushes up the fact that the obligations under the 1974 bilateral treaty are completely overlapped by those of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) signed by both Russia and the US in 1996, which is practically ignored in the Department of State’s report.

Second, we have repeatedly made it known to the United States in various formats and again repeat that we do not intend to discuss compliance with the nuclear test ban with a state that has been delaying the ratification of the CTBT for 25 years, thereby calling into question its entry into force.

Three decades ago, the Russian Federation assumed a unilateral commitment to avoid conducting nuclear tests, and 20 years ago it ratified the CTBT. We do not conduct non-zero-yield tests. We, like the US and other nuclear states, carry out so-called subcritical tests, which in no way run counter to our obligations in this area.

US actions regarding the CTBT cause growing concern in Moscow. While earlier Washington sometimes recalled the possibility of taking a step towards ratifying the Treaty, the current administration has openly declared that there was no such intention. Moreover, the United States is apparently preparing the next destructive step. It is alarming, in particular, that the US Department of Defense’s Nuclear Matters Handbook 2020 directly mentions the possible termination of Washington’s obligations under the Treaty.

In an effort to build an unlawful order based on Washington’s rules rather than international law, the US wants to introduce an «American standard» for zero yield in nuclear testing, which only it can understand. We believe that Washington is seriously considering withdrawing from the CTBT. We would like to warn Washington against this step because it will not be limited to just the ruining of the CTBT. It could lead to very serious consequences for the nuclear non-proliferation regime in general.

We must consider a number of other items that the authors of the report deliberately avoid.

The US was the only P5 country that did not take part in the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction in November 2019. The respective resolution was adopted in 1995 and approved by the US among others. However, there was no progress in this area because of Washington’s position. In other words, the US deliberately undermined the process that it had committed to sponsor.

The US ratified only one protocol out of five that it had signed, notably on granting Negative Security Assurances for treaties on nuclear weapons-free zones. This was a Protocol to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco). The US security assurances to participants of other nuclear weapons-free zones treaties have not entered into force so far. Thus, they are fiction at this point.

Without offering any proof, the authors of the report accuse Russia of violating the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), of being involved in the Britain-inspired Skripal case, concealing information from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on the facilities for the production, development and storage of chemical weapons, assisting Syria in the use of chloride in the city of Douma on April 7, 2018, and of developing chemicals for offensive purposes.

Indicatively, all of these false allegations are being worked out while the US itself delays the completion of its national chemical disarmament programme under far-fetched excuses (lack of funds and production and technological difficulties).

Thus, the US remains the only State possessor of declared stockpiles of chemical weapons. It also regularly reports the destruction of some unidentified chemical agents, in an effort to conceal its previously unannounced activity in this area.

The refusal of the US to dispose chemical weapons it left in Southeast Asia and Panama is a graphic example that Washington systematically breaches its obligation under the CWC. In addition, in 2003-2009 Washington (and London) secretly withdrew from Iraq or destroyed on site about 5,000 chemical agents from the Saddam Hussein ruling time without properly notifying the OPCW.

Since the 1980s, the US and a number of other NATO countries have been conducting research in nerve agents that are classified in the West as «Novichok», and the US alone has over 140 patents linked with the use of these chemical agents for military purposes.

The US continues to maintain reservations to the 1925 Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare preserving the possibility of retaliating with lethal or incapacitating agents, which is banned by the CWC. Moreover, the US allows, by law, the use of riot control agents for military purposes, which is also prohibited by the Convention. There are also serious questions linked with US’s systematic problems with the illegal use of psychotropic pharmaceuticals, such as the phentanyl group.

Assertions that Russia assisted the Syrian authorities on the use of chloride in the city of Douma on April 7, 2018 are unacceptable. Such crimes have been carried out by the Syrian armed opposition that is sponsored from the outside, and by affiliated NGOs like the White Helmets. They do not hide their goals. They want to discredit the legal government of Syria and provoke the US and its allies to attack this sovereign state in violation of the UN Charter and the universally recognized principles of international law.

The report replicates absurd accusations against Russia related to «violations» of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (BTWC). Those include an unproven reference to some sort of military biological programmes that our country allegedly continues to implement.

We consider such ungrounded speculations as an attempt by the US to divert the attention of the international community from its own non-transparent and improper practices in this sensitive area. Russia's activities in the biomedical area are exclusively peaceful and fully correspond to the BTWC provisions.

The position of Washington on the BTWC is inconsistent and controversial. On one hand, the US is formally in favour of strengthening the Convention and declare verification as a guarantee of effectiveness of any arms control and disarmament agreement. On the other hand, since 2001 the United States has been blocking efforts to develop a legally binding protocol to the BTWC with an effective verification mechanism.

Military biological activities of Pentagon in various regions of the world, including those in close proximity to Russia’s borders, raise serious questions. Particularly noteworthy are the activities at the Richard Lugar Centre for Public Health Research in Georgia, where the US military is carrying out dual-purpose programmes on which Washington does not provide any data under the BTWC confidence-building measures.

Given the fact that the US has not so far withdrawn its reservation to the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which, in particular, prohibits the use of bacteriological weapons, there is a logical question with regard to the real objectives of the Pentagon's biological activities on the territory of foreign states.

We urge the US to act responsibly and comply with its BTWC obligations and take concrete steps to address the above-mentioned issues. We expect Washington's support for Russia’s initiatives aimed at strengthening the BTWC regime.

With regard to the conventional arms control as well as confidence- and security-building measures, the published report hardly contains anything new compared to its last year’s extended version. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation has already commented on it in detail (https://www.mid.ru/ru/obycnye-vooruz...ent/id/3793171).

Concerning the two “novelties” that appeared in this report, we would like to note the following.

The Russian Federation did not violate Article VI of the Treaty on Open Skies (OST) by not letting the US-Canadian mission conduct one of the segments of the agreed mission plan in September 2019 during the “Center-2019” military exercise. This restriction was due to the difficulties in ensuring the OST flights safety amid rapidly changing situation during the active phase of the exercise. An alternative time for conducting the flight over the segment was proposed to the observing Party, in accordance with the Treaty. However, this proposal was rejected. Besides, during the recent hearings in the US Congress independent experts have disagreed with the description of Russia’s actions as “violations” of its commitments under the Treaty.

The United States deliberately remains silent on its own numerous OST compliance problems.

First. In 2016, the US failed to ensure the safe arrival of the Russian An-30B observation aircraft at the point of entry/exit, by refusing to provide the required number of intermediate airfields. The US position has not changed as of yet. This constitutes a violation of the Treaty on Open Skies by the United States.

Second. In 2017, the night-time rest stops for observation aircraft crews at the refuelling airfields Robins and Ellsworth were cancelled. This violates the observing Party’s right to conduct observation flights of the established maximum flight distance, taking into account the norms of the crew's workload limits, which directly affects the flight safety.

Third. In violation of the Treaty the United States established the maximum flight distance over the Hawaiian Islands from the Hickam refuelling airfield. However, according to the OST, the maximum flight distance is established only from Open Skies airfields and is calculated by specific rules. The distance limit of 900 kilometres established by the U.S. contrary to the provisions of the OST does not comply with the Treaty in any case as this distance must be at least 1,160 kilometres, if calculated correctly.

Fourth. The United States imposed restrictions on observation flights over the Aleutian Islands, according to which the aircraft of an observing Party always has to remain within the outer border of the adjacent zone, spanning 24 nautical miles from the coast. This restriction, which is not provided for by the Treaty, significantly reduces the effectiveness of the observation flights.

Fifth. The United States imposes restrictions on the altitude of the observation aircraft flights over its territory, which are not provided for by the OST and run contrary to the ICAO norms recommending the allocation of a safe airspace for the military aircraft flights.

Regarding the Vienna Document (VD), the US attempts to question Russia’s compliance with the VD, in particular with its Chapter III “Risk Reduction”, in connection with the incident that occurred near the settlement of Nenoksa in August 2019 are illegitimate. The facility, where the incident occurred, does not fall under the notion “military forces” in the VD context and is not subject to its provisions.

The issues of Russia’s “non-compliance” with the VD, which were included in the report, have never been raised by the United States neither in the OSCE Forum for Security Co-operation nor on other relevant platforms in Vienna, which demonstrates the glaring weakness of the claims made by the US.

The report makes no mention of Kiev’s non-compliance with the VD, or of several NATO Member States having problems with fulfilling their commitments, in particular of their refusal to ratify the Agreement on Adaptation of the CFE Treaty, of NATO Member States’ attempts to circumvent the CFE numerical limitations by admitting new members to the Alliance, etc.

We reserve the right to provide more detailed comments after the US Department of State’s full report is released.




The source of information - https://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy...ent/id/4104977
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Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, April 23, 2020



23 April 2020 - 20:27






Coronavirus update

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Changes in procedure for paying pensions to Russian nationals permanently residing abroad

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Developments around Russian school pupils currently in the US

This issue is under the control of the Russian Foreign Ministry top officials. The Russian Embassy in Washington is taking further efforts to search for Russian school pupils in the United States amidst the grave situation with the spread of COVID-19 in the country. We are speaking about high school pupils who are visiting the US due to various American educational and learning programmes, which were not coordinated with the Russian authorities.

Regrettably, even the organisers themselves and the representatives of the organisations that should be responsible for the youngsters have failed to give a clear response as to how many of the concerned young people got to the US through these channels and also for what purpose. As we have mentioned, the US Department of State reported that some 80 Russian pupils have been in the US since last autumn under the programme (Secondary School Student Program) that invited them through the Department's website. Sadly, the list of the pupils and their contacts have not been provided to us over a period of the past half of this month. We have only received emails from seven US NGOs that accepted school children in different US states; however, not all of them have responded to the urgent requests made by the Russian Embassy.

As we understood, there are plenty of such programmes in the United States that work with Russian young people without any coordination with the Russian government authorities, and the number of Russian pupils currently in the US may be well over 80.

So far, the Embassy has managed to identify over 40 children. We know the names of 42, of whom eight have already returned to Russia and 34 remain all across the US; many of them are willing to travel back as soon as possible. Some of them consider themselves safe and plan to return to their home country as scheduled, in May or June with assistance from their parents.

The location of at least 38 pupils is still unknown. The US authorities are not providing us with any help with our search efforts and their return to Russia; even more, it appears that they are distancing themselves from solving this issue and ignoring the Embassy appeals. Russian diplomats in Washington and in the US on the whole have to act on their own to settle this issue.

Of course, we will make conclusions from such conduct by US officials. We hope that our schools and the families of the children will act more cautiously in the future when seeing ads of such US programmes, and be aware of the possible risks. We strongly believe that taking underage Russian citizens abroad without their parents or other legitimate representatives is unacceptable without proper coordination with relevant Russian agencies.

We would like to once more ask our educational institutions and families, which sent their children to the US who have not yet retuned back, to provide their contacts including mobile phone numbers to the Foreign Ministry.



World Book and Copyright Day

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International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace

International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace will be marked for the second time this year on April 24. This holiday was established on December 12, 2018, by UN General Assembly Resolution 127 drafted by Venezuela as the presiding country of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The task of establishing a truly polycentric world order, taking due account of the interests and approaches of all international community members as well as political and diplomatic settlement of armed conflicts are relevant today as never before, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic. Given this, the importance of the United Nations is growing because it remains an alternative-free mechanism for a just and equal interstate cooperation enjoying universal legitimacy. Undeviating observance of the UN Charter, including the sovereign equality of the states, non-interference in the internal affairs and renunciation of force or threat of force, is a guarantee of international peace and security, progressive socio-economic development and protection of human rights.

Meanwhile, a number of countries, above all in the West, do not stop their attempts to weaken the United Nations’ pivotal coordinating role in the world and to return their lost domination. To this end they are revising the agreed framework of international interaction and trying to replace it with a notorious “rules-based” global order, which implies in part establishing competing mechanisms for promoting dubious ideas. They preserve the destructive practice of unilateral sanctions. All this results only in the augmentation of the conflict potential and paves the way back to the times of confrontation and in no way corresponds to the spirit of multilateralism.

In this situation, it seems very important to intensify steps strengthening polycentric principles in world affairs and concentration of efforts aimed at peaceful dispute settlement and overcoming common challenges and threats based on the UN Charter and other provisions of international law. Russia, as a co-founder of the United Nations, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a responsible member of the international community will continue working in this area together with all interested partners.



Russia’s assistance to Moldova

I would like to tell you about what we had promised to report in more detail, that is, Russia’s assistance to the post-Soviet countries. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov promised to share more information regarding this.

The past week saw notable developments in Russian-Moldovan relations.

On April 17, an intergovernmental agreement was signed in Moscow to provide a Russian state loan to Chisinau. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the agreement was signed via videoconference between Deputy Finance Minister of Russia Timur Maksimov and Moldovan Ambassador to Russia Andrei Neguta.

Russia’s support to Moldova during these difficult times is much needed and timely.

On April 19, Russia and China completed a joint operation to deliver humanitarian aid to Moldova. A Russian An-124 Ruslan military transport aircraft delivered over 50 tonnes of Chinese medical supplies needed to fight the coronavirus from Shanghai to Chisinau, including diagnostic and sanitising equipment, personal protective gear, respirators, etc.

We hope that this assistance will help Moldova to fight the new coronavirus infection and its consequences.



Outcome of the African Union Peace and Security Council’s meeting on the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on peace and security in Africa

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Update on Syria

Work is underway to stabilise the situation in Syria, primarily, on the basis of the guarantor countries’ existing agreements under the Astana format. The developments on the ground, as well as the need to provide the necessary humanitarian aid to the Syrians and to advance the political process were reviewed by the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey in detail yesterday during a telephone conversation. A detailed press release was posted on the Ministry’s website.

In Idlib, the Russian and Turkish military are working to implement the Russian-Turkish Additional Protocol of March 5 to create a security corridor along the M-4 motorway and to establish regular joint patrols. However, this work has run into opposition by the radical units remaining in the de-escalation zone. In this regard, we note Ankara’s efforts to drive the militants out of the areas that are contiguous to the M-4 motorway and we hope that the so-called moderates will distance themselves from the terrorists and the latter will be neutralised.

The situation in northeastern Syria which is home to ISIS prisons and IDP camps with large masses of people and virtually no access from the outside is increasingly causing our concern. Should the coronavirus infection make its way there, the situation may degrade into a disaster and make unbearable the already harsh living conditions there.

Against this alarming background, we noted a number of publications that talk about US assistance to the Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria, which gives rise to a lot of questions. This help really looks weird. Reportedly, in addition to medical disinfection supplies, the Americans also provided the Kurds with means to suppress riots among prisoners, which can hardly be classified as humanitarian aid. In addition to this, there are reports about an explosive spread of coronavirus infection among US troops, and that this is being hushed up.

As is known, the US military presence in Syria is qualified as occupation in accordance with international humanitarian law. This means that Washington bears full responsibility for the civilian population and meeting its humanitarian needs in the areas controlled by it south of the Euphrates River and in ​​Al-Tanf, which is home to the notorious Rukban IDP camp. We have repeatedly voiced our principled position on Rukban, and I would like to reiterate it now. The Rukban problem cannot be resolved by humanitarian convoys. It is necessary to eliminate its root cause which is the 55-km security zone around Al-Tanf which was arbitrarily created by the United States. In addition, as we know from practice, the humanitarian aid never makes it to those who actually need it and is taken over by the militants who hold the refugees hostage.

Providing comprehensive humanitarian aid to all the Syrians who need it without discrimination or any preconditions is an absolute priority amid the pandemic. In this regard, we support UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call to lift or to suspend unilateral sanctions which undermine the ability of many countries, including Syria, to effectively combat the spread of the coronavirus and block the supply of critical medicine and medical supplies. We hope that the UN specialised humanitarian agencies will step up their emergency assistance programmes throughout Syria, without exception or preferences shown to the areas not controlled by Damascus.



Update on Libya

The most recent events in Libya are causing us to be greatly concerned. The intensification of hostilities between the forces supporting the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army shows, in our opinion, that the truce declared in January is no longer observed by the warring parties.

This situation has become particularly dangerous amid the spreading coronavirus epidemic in Libya. Clearly, the government is unable to fight the infection amid the ongoing civil strife.

More than ever before, these developments call for the international community to promote the political settlement of the drawn-out Libya crisis. However, coordinating its efforts is complicated by the fact that the post of the UN Secretary-General’s special representative for Libya remains vacant after Ghassan Salame resigned in March.

We believe it is critically important for the UN Secretary-General to come up with a suitable candidate for this position as soon as possible. Without giving specific names, we believe that, given Libya’s geographical location and Arab affiliation, a representative of a North African country with good standing would be the best choice. That way, the African Union and the League of Arab States, whose mediation potential was not properly used during previous stages, would be closer involved in the process of a Libyan settlement.



Venezuela update

We are forced once again to respond to the developments in Venezuela. On March 31, the US Department of State announced the Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela. During our previous briefings we spoke in detail about why we cannot take a positive attitude to Washington’s innovation, which can hardly be described as innovation because its goals have not changed and boil down to ensuring the removal of the legitimate president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro. We noted that Washington’s allegedly constructive proposal clashed with the US decisions to place a bounty on Nicolas Maduro, who has been accused of all the deadly sins, as well as to hold military exercises in the Caribbean in order to impose a naval blockade on that sovereign country.

As we saw, our objective, balanced, calm and substantive response based on facts has produced some irritation across the ocean. The numerous statements made there were a clear indication of an information war. They started to “interpret” our response.

They claimed that Russia is cutting ties with Nicolas Maduro and that it is only ready to support the Venezuelan leader at the UN while its interest for Caracas is based on purely geopolitical considerations.

All this, and much more has been stated openly but without quoting our response. As we see it, their objective remains to convince the Chavistas of President Maduro’s vulnerability and to encourage them to stand up against him. Their objective is to undermine and to disorganise the Venezuelan authorities at a time when they need to mobilise the response potential of the nation to the coronavirus challenge, as well as to show that the Venezuelan government allegedly has no external support.

We would like to ask our American colleagues to listen carefully to what we say and not to fake our words. Please use only direct quotations. We promptly publish all our statements on the Foreign Ministry’s website and social accounts, and we also provide an English translation of our statements.

I would like to say once again that it is not the United States but the Venezuelans themselves who can and must decide their future through an intra-Venezuelan dialogue without any foreign interference, preconditions and ultimatums. Diktat has never helped to create trust. By the way, the fact that the Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela was announced by the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rather than by the so-called Acting President Juan Guaido is proof that the Americans do not trust their puppet and have essentially decided to write him off.

The comments made in the US refer to the West creating obstacles to foreign investment in the Venezuelan economy and to the conditions for the lifting of US sanctions. This sounds ominous, both overall and amid the coronavirus pandemic. Is the poorly disguised joy at creating problems for Venezuela and at depriving it of access to the international markets of goods and services amid the pandemic, which will target primarily the interests of common people, a responsible and humanitarian political approach? It is evidently not. It is clear to everyone that this approach has nothing to do with humaneness and human rights. Feeling satisfaction at problems created for others is evidence of low morals.

Here is what we suggest: allow Russia to speak for itself. Do not interpret our statements to suit your own or others’ interests. We have been acting consistently; we do not hide our views and we are ready to and will uphold them.

I believe that our American colleagues should learn one thing: It is important to speak for yourself. If you have something to say, then say it. Do not distort or interpret what we say. By the way, if you start speaking for yourself and do so honestly, people may start believing you. I believe that Washington should begin to be honest with the people of Venezuela. Maybe it should stop planning any campaigns to protect the national interests of Venezuela but instead put its cards on the table and act openly.

We are providing support to everyone who is working to contain the spread of the coronavirus infection, which is threatening the entire world, including Latin America. As we have said, the current situation in Venezuela does not appear to be critical, unlike in the neighbouring countries that are criticising Caracas – Brazil, Peru and Ecuador. This proceeds from the data of the Pan American Health Organisation. Evidence of this objective reality is the return of Venezuelan immigrants in Colombia back home.

To conclude, I would like to point out that we are not averse to discussing Venezuelan developments with Washington. But there can be no “deals” paid for with the health and welfare of common people.



Returning notes of protest to Ukrainian Foreign Ministry

This week, the Russian Foreign Ministry returned two notes to its Ukrainian colleagues. In the first note, Kiev expressed protest in relation to archaeological excavations and earthworks in Crimea. In the second one, it demanded that we provide a report on Russia’s measures to fight the coronavirus in Crimea and Donbass.

Such actions by Ukrainian diplomats never fail to amaze us. Against the backdrop of the pandemic in the country and fires in Chernobyl, when Russian planes are transporting Ukrainian citizens home from third countries, and Russian diplomats are providing them with assistance to return home, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spends all of its energy bombarding the ‘aggressor state’, as they call us, with menacing notes of protest.

I am addressing our Ukrainian colleagues, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry: save paper. It seems that Kiev authorities live in a parallel universe. First, they cut Crimea off from water and electricity, launch a blockade of Donbass, and then they demand a report on how Russia protects the residents of these areas from the coronavirus. Let me remind you that Kiev can have a direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk if it is really concerned about the lives and health of their residents. Russia is not a party to the conflict in southeastern Ukraine and does not control the Donbass territory.

We again remind you that the issue of Crimea’ being part of Russia is closed. In 2014, the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol voluntarily re-unified with Russia. All notes of protest about the Russian authorities’ actions related to exercising sovereignty over the Crimean Peninsula, be it official visits, infrastructure development, including archaeological excavations, holding elections, and all other possible events will be again returned to the Ukrainian party due to the lack of grounds for their consideration.



Norway and US military cooperation aimed against Russia

The US RAND Corporation has published a report on the priorities in Norway’s defence policy. It is unremarkable by itself, just one more of the numerous similar documents where Russia is represented as a ‘most dangerous threat’ to counteract which they need, in particular, to strengthen the military coordination between the United States and Norway using, of course, American-made military equipment.

We noted something else here. In recent years, Norway has been assigned a major role in the US and NATO strategists’ foreign policy plans as the frontline for ‘containing Russia’. The country is building up its military potential, modernising relevant infrastructure, opening training centres for the allies’ military, expanding facilities to store American military equipment and marine equipment, and regularly holding major military exercises. Norway is actively engaged in involving non-aligned countries such as Finland and Sweden.

It is regrettable that Norway is enthusiastically participating in various transatlantic anti-Russia scenarios. The centuries old traditions of neighbourly relations have been sacrificed for the interests of the others, including financial interests. Against the backdrop of slowing bilateral interaction, the military flywheel of military preparations against Russia is gaining momentum.

We urge Oslo to reconsider its destructive approaches and build long-term cooperation with our country based on mutual respect and consideration of interests.



Russian-Iraqi cooperation in archaeology

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Paul Whelan’s espionage trial

US officials continue to spout critical statements about the ongoing Paul Whelan’s trial in Moscow on espionage charges. In particular, I am referring to the allegations that an innocent man is being prosecuted, as US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee put it.

I would like to remind you that during Maria Butina’s trial in Washington a year ago – she was sentenced to prison just for being a Russian citizen, as she had committed no other offences – US officials spoke of the ‘independence of the judiciary.’ This was how they answered all our questions. They said that they did not have the right to question any decisions of the American court. Now, for some reason, they are not embarrassed to give assessments to a Russian trial, and just as unfortunately, they are not embarrassed to distort reality.

Paul Whelan was not a tourist, as the US representatives are trying to assert; he arrived in Russia for intelligence purposes and was detained in Moscow on December 29, 2018 – caught red-handed while trying to obtain secret information. He travelled into Russia with an American passport, but prudently also had citizenship in a number of other countries including the UK, Ireland and Canada.

From the moment of his arrest, he has had regular visits – almost every week – from embassies of all the four countries, including ambassadors. They must be well aware that Paul Whelan is in good physical shape and, if necessary, immediately receives qualified medical care at the pre-trial detention centre’s medical unit. Furthermore, a medical examination organised at one of the regular city hospitals did not reveal any serious or dangerous health conditions. We are compelled to speak about this because we keep hearing statements from US representatives about his health condition and examinations. Also in connection with the American statements, I would like to note that he was offered for the option of having a minor surgery if he considered that he needed it. He refused it.

Therefore, the statements that Paul Whelan is denied medical care are not just completely groundless – they are not true.

The court has also allowed him to have telephone calls with members of his family in the United States. We presume that he will speak with his family in the near future.

As for his hearings being held behind closed doors and the US Ambassador not being allowed into the courthouse, well, there is nothing surprising here. In Russia, as in most other countries, restricted access to criminal hearings is common legal practice if the indictment contains classified information. The trial of Paul Whelan, who came to Russia precisely to obtain secret information, is just such a case.

By the way, the trial did not start until March 30 and was actually delayed by the holder of four passports, who took more than six months to study the charges after he was provided with a copy of the final version of the case on August 30, 2019 and had a qualified translator at his disposal. Apparently, as we understand it, he was in no hurry and well aware of the convincing evidence.

Now the coronavirus epidemic has made adjustments to the schedule of hearings, but again, the intervals are also being made at the request of Paul Whelan’s lawyers. Despite these delays, the proceedings are underway. Regular meetings were held on April 20 and 21. As far as we know, they will resume next week. The judge is making decisions. Legal proceedings are conducted in strict accordance with Russian laws, and in compliance with all the appropriate rules and procedures.



US concerns about media and journalists in Russia

We have noted the increasing attempts by our Western and, above all, American partners to cast a negative light on the situation with media freedom in Russia in the challenging times due to the coronavirus pandemic. These unrelated facts become correlated in a strange way. We view this assessment as obviously politicised and based on their own interpretation of articles, statements and interviews rather than on actual facts.

In this regard, we would suggest American partners refrain from any actions that could so easily be interpreted as interference in Russia’s internal affairs. Why don’t they focus on their own problems with media freedom in the United States instead, of which there are loads? They are not at all limited to the negative rhetoric of US officials regarding the press. For example, according to numerous testimonies of international human rights organisations, in particular the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, cases of physical violence against media workers and the use of pressure on the media such as lawsuits for their critical statements continue to be practiced in the United States. The special search procedure for journalists crossing the American border along with pressure to disclose confidential sources of information, which undermines the principles of investigative journalism naturally causes concerns of human rights activists.

As a reminder, certain media outlets are being subjected to open discrimination in the United States, in particular, foreign media. An atmosphere of hostility and mistrust is being actively formed around the Russian news agencies RT and Sputnik. The Russian media are not the only targets; the whole world now knows how the Chinese media are treated in the US. The United States Foreign Agents Registration Act does not allow them or their American media partners to fully carry out their journalistic activities.

There is also an increase in censorship and prosecution of unwanted media online. Here is a fresh example – Google’s move to block the account of the Federal News Agency, a Russian online outlet, as unacceptable on April 17. The corporation also blocked its YouTube account, deleting tens of thousands of the agency’s reports and documentaries.

Paradoxical as it may seem, for some reason, Washington’s mop-ups of the media landscape are not affecting the extremist-aligned website Mirotvorets (Peacemaker), which continues to use American servers and poses a direct threat to all journalists included in its database. This seems to be a really special thing for the US. They see no threat in that; at least no action is being taken.

We expect the United States to move from making a show of concern for freedom of speech around the world, to specific actions to rectify the situation with the media rights and the situation of journalists, primarily in their own country.



Anti-Russia accusations in US Senate

It is mind-boggling that, despite the dire situation with the outbreak of the coronavirus in the US, instead of helping their voters, the senators in Washington find the time to concoct more anti-Russia libel. You have probably heard that the Senate Intelligence Committee on April 21 released the fourth volume of the Report on Russia’s so-called interference in the US election. In this part, the US lawmakers said they had reviewed and generally approved their special services’ methodology to identify Moscow’s destructive activities.

The “methodology” itself is beyond understanding because 90 percent of the report is classified. It predictably cites no evidence. The statements are linked by hackneyed pretty phrases already rammed into the minds of American voters. The only non-classified part of the report is the conclusions – each one more beautiful than the last. In particular, they argue that in the 2016 presidential election, Russia showed “unprecedented aggressiveness” of interference and escalated the “scope of effort.” They also discuss ways to respond to the “threat from future Russian influence operations.”

Reading this for the fourth year in a row is both sad but at the same time rather funny as well. The paranoid insinuations coming out of Washington are obviously a product of the political infighting in the US. With puzzling persistence, they are blaming Russia for their own failures and trying to get additional electoral dividends at our expense, again through an anti-Russia campaign.

I very much doubt that this will bring real dividends to anyone. America has other problems today. From the bottom of our hearts, we sincerely wish that they emerge from this difficult period. We also wish them to finally wake up and understand that no one else is to blame for their present and past problems. They need to take responsibility for their own economic, political and any other troubles. We sincerely hope that American politicians of all stripes and party affiliations will remember that American citizens are now preoccupied with other problems and that they are not even thinking about Russia, but are thinking about how to survive the pandemic.

Amid this new round of hysteria, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to conduct a productive, effective and constructive dialogue with our American partners, including in the interests of addressing real global problems. Let us hope that the American senators will yet come to realise that these actions are pointless as well as harmful.



Dismantling of monument to Marshal Ivan Konev in Prague

Another issue that we will be working on is the situation concerning the monument to Marshal Ivan Konev in Prague. The level and intensity of cynicism that we are seeing there keeps shocking us.

We are carefully analysing the developments around the dismantling of the monument to Marshal of the USSR, Hero of Czechoslovakia, Honorary Citizen of Prague Ivan Konev on April 3. Under his leadership, the troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front liberated Prague from the Nazi occupation in May 1945.

This act of political vandalism is an obvious violation of the 1993 Treaty on Friendly Relations and Cooperation between Russia and the Czech Republic, which is essential for bilateral relations. The agreement obliges the parties to preserve and to maintain military monuments, and also to provide access to them. In this case, there is no more talk about the fulfillment of these obligations by the Czech side.

The obligation to properly implement the above mentioned agreement that was ratified by the Czech Republic, lays on the Government of this country. According to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, each existing treaty is mandatory for all participants and must be properly implemented. References to domestic law and the decisions of the local bodies of authority to justify the non-implementation of the agreement are not acceptable. The Czech authorities not only failed to take measures to prevent illegal actions of the Prague-6 district administration, but turned a blind eye to them. The question about who owns the monument is irrelevant in this case.

It is obvious that the arbitrary dismantling of the monument to Ivan Konev cannot be considered the scrupulous fulfillment of obligations to preserve and to maintain the monument. Given the need to provide access to it, the issue of its location could not be dealt with unilaterally. Article 5 of the agreement stipulates a mechanism of consultations at various levels. It could have been used here.

We urge our partners to return to fulfilling the agreement to the full extent.

We are ready for a meaningful dialogue with the Czech side on the issue which is aggravating bilateral relations.

We consider it overwhelmingly cynical also because we are sad to see that there are several information campaigns unfolding in the Czech Republic rather than one. These campaigns are obviously anti-Russian, political and aimed at striking a blow at bilateral relations. It seems that each factor of bilateral relations is reviewed by some forces in terms of how bilateral ties and contacts could be harmed even more. Even the less problematic subjects and technical issues are turned into political ones in order to complicate bilateral relations as much as possible.



Anti-Russian media campaign following cyberattacks in the Czech Republic

Today several Czech media outlets are promoting a completely ungrounded anti-Russian campaign, devoid of any facts, except the infamous anonymous “leaks” from special services, that accuses Russia of organising cyberattacks on energy and healthcare facilities in the Czech Republic.

We regard these fakes as another step in the dirty work to demonise Russia launched in the West. If there are any facts, first, show them to us. Second, why use leaks? Step up and speak about them. We have embassies, with ambassadors and diplomats, so give them the materials, set up consultations and send diplomatic notes. What is the problem? Why do you once again use the British tool of destroying bilateral relations in the media and endless leaks? As per tradition, those who staged this provocation used the “fake news generator” at full capacity.

It is sad to see that this idea is supported by certain Czech officials. They quickly seized this opportunity to practise their anti-Russian rhetoric and started speaking about cyberattacks from foreign states.

We would like to warn the campaign’s creators against further peddling the topic of mythical Russian hackers, which looks especially cynical during the spread of the coronavirus infection, weakening the united front created by all the countries to counter it.

We find it appropriate to note that according to the 2015 report of the Group of Governmental Experts approved by a consensus and UN General Assembly Resolution 70/237 that codifies its recommendations, any accusations of organising and conducting criminal activities against states must be substantiated.

Russia consistently speaks in favour of using information and communications technology only for peaceful purposes and establishing a professional expert dialogue to ensure international information security both bilaterally and multilaterally. This story has once again proved the inadequacy of such information campaigns without facts and the need to develop universal rules, norms and principles of states’ responsible behaviour in the information space as soon as possible.



Sierra Leone's 59th anniversary of independence

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Answers to media questions:



Question:

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has recently expressed hope that flight service with Georgia will resume soon. How are the talks on this matter proceeding? Are there any signals from Tbilisi?



Maria Zakharova:

I would like to note that Mr Lavrov gave a very detailed comment on the question he received during the roundtable discussion organised by the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund, where he also spoke about the right atmosphere for resolving a range of existing problems.

You can read the transcript at https://www.mid.ru/ru/foreign_policy...ent/id/4103828, including his answer to the question in its entirety.



Question:

Would you comment on the health of Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who is being held prisoner in the US? It was reported that his cellmate died from the coronavirus.



Maria Zakharova:

We continue to closely monitor the state of Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in the US. He has serious health problems, including after the torture he endured during his arrest by officers of the Drug Enforcement Agency in Liberia in 2010.

After reports that the coronavirus epidemic reached the prison holding the Russian citizen, the Russian Embassy in Washington immediately contacted our compatriot. The US authorities have not yet confirmed that a prisoner detained with Konstantin Yaroshenko fell ill. However, the risk of infection remains very high considering that the number of confirmed cases in the US is quickly approaching 900,000.

The general level of medical services at US prisons also raises concern. As we know, there often are even difficulties with getting routine checkups, to say nothing about specific medicines and advanced treatment when necessary.

This is why on March 24 Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sent a verbal message to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, urging him to release Konstantin Yaroshenko as well as other Russians under investigation or sentenced to prison terms in the US for humanitarian reasons. Moreover, on April 18, a diplomatic note was sent to the US Embassy in Moscow, which once again focuses on the need to resolve the issue of returning Russian nationals home as soon as possible. We hope that Washington will respond positively to our requests soon, which would save the Russians’ lives and health.

There is another topic related to the Czech Republic and promoted in the Czech information space in a very odd way.



Question:

Prague City Hall recently decided to rename what was known for decades as ‘Under the Chestnuts Square’ where the Russian Embassy in the Czech Republic is located. The Russian Embassy in turn issued a statement that it will use the address of its consular division, 36 Korunovacni, as the official one. Why was this decision made? And why does the website of the Russian Embassy in the Czech Republic still have the old name, Under the Chestnuts Square?



Maria Zakharova:

I would like to highlight that the Russian Embassy in the Czech Republic regularly and fully comments on everything that happens in bilateral relations or that concerns the Russian foreign mission’s work. News conferences are being held, and social media accounts updated. In addition to this, I can say for my part that changing the address of the Russian Embassy in Prague is a purely technical issue. Any allegations circulating in the media space about a possible transfer of the Russian diplomatic mission to its consular division building are not true.

The thing is that, according to the Prague cadastre, the Embassy officially has two locations – something the City Hall Department of Trade Licence and Civil Law Issues informed us of after renaming Under the Chestnuts Square, which we previously used as the official address of the diplomatic mission. Given the legal equivalence of the two addresses, the Embassy preferred to refrain from using the new name and decided to keep the tradition of using the name that had existed in Prague for years, which is 34 Korunovacni Street.

In accordance with the established practice, the diplomatic mission notified the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a note, and the ministry accepted this purely technical decision. Once the Czech Foreign Ministry sends confirmation, which, we expect, will not take long, the Embassy will post the valid official address on its website.

No need to look for politics where there is none. Better spot it where it really is.



Question:

On March 19, you answered my question about Russia helping Afghanistan in the coronavirus response. You said if there is a request, this possibility will be considered. Now that the official appeal has already been received through the interparliamentary exchange, can they expect a positive answer?



Maria Zakharova:

The Russian side indeed recently received an appeal from the Afghan parliament asking for assistance to Afghanistan in the coronavirus response.

Our country’s fundamental position is that none of the requests for help should be left unattended, and all available opportunities for assistance should be considered. We are confident that this request will be examined from the same perspective.

For our part, we would like to once again urge the warring Afghan parties to prevent the spread of the coronavirus infection in their territories, and the member states of the international coalition operating in Afghanistan, to maintain the volume of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, including supplies needed for combating the pandemic.



Question:

How can you comment on the United States obstructing medical deliveries to Iran?



Maria Zakharova:

We believe that Washington’s course of tightening illegitimate unilateral sanctions against Iran, which has been seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, is unacceptable.

In this context we are guided by the position formulated by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit videoconference on March 26. He stressed the need to establish so-called green corridors and a moratorium on restrictions with regard to the supplies of medicines and essential goods as well as their purchases by the countries hit by the pandemic.

The Russian Federation has repeatedly pointed out the illegitimate nature of unilateral US sanctions against Iran and other countries. We strongly urge the United States to lift the restrictions and not to hinder a comprehensive response to the coronavirus.

Together with like-minded partners we have been campaigning against inhumane sanctions which the United States and some of its allies adopted as their main foreign policy tool. These efforts have brought about certain results. In his written address to the G20 leaders, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on removing the existing sanctions against other countries in order to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. A group of US Democratic senators sent a similar letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet made a critical statement on this subject from the human rights perspective.

The present difficult situation in the world has shown the true face of the Western countries, which often use the terms of humanitarian law. It turns out that most of them prefer a different approach. That is deplorable.



Question:

How would you comment on the fact that the United States is urging the UN Security Council to evaluate whether the launch of Iran’s military satellite, Noor, was consistent with Security Council Resolution 2231? US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this at a briefing on Wednesday.



Maria Zakharova:

This is not the first time that a state which blatantly violates international law and UN Security Council Resolution 2231 tries to shield itself from international blame by groundlessly accusing Iran of non-compliance with Security Council requirements. Such unscrupulous tricks have long discredited themselves and proved their complete inadequacy, which is confirmed by the results of numerous discussions at the UN Security Council on the implementation of Resolution 2231. As you know, neither the resolution itself, nor the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) limit the rights and capabilities of Tehran in its civilian activities in space exploration and the development of relevant national programmes. The futile attempts of some analysts in Washington to present it like Iran’s space rockets can bear nuclear weapons are a pure manipulation that are smashed by reality: Iran has never had and, we hope, will never have nuclear weapons. Iran, as the resolution stipulates, does not develop, test, own or use ballistic missiles that can carry warheads. We want to emphasise that unlike the United States, which surprises the world every day with the news of plans to develop its nuclear potential. Let me remind you that in the past years since the JCPOA was signed, Iran has remained a state with the biggest number of IAEA inspections, who have never found any nuclear weapons there, despite the fact that inspectors are working tirelessly day and night regardless of the coronavirus risks. It seems that somebody in Washington is not very happy that despite unprecedented pressure and difficulties deliberately created by the US authorities Tehran has stubbornly complied with its non-proliferation obligations. Because in this case, the global attention is focused on the faults and violations of the United States itself, which, as always, claims its exceptional nature. In this case, exceptional is the presumptuousness with which the United States manipulates the clauses of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, and the infinitely cynical approach to international law that as our overseas colleagues believe, is mandatory for everyone but them.

This distorted logic became especially clear and vivid in the recent report by the State Department on the implementation of arms control agreements and treaties. Our American colleagues were too shy to mention the JCPOA and Resolution 2231 (apparently, so as not to remind the others about their own violations), but reprimanded Tehran, which, by their own admittance, has not violated anything yet, but in case it does, Washington condemns it beforehand. Unfortunately, US violations of Resolution 2231 are not a forecast, but a diagnosis. Intended for an unprepared audience, the deliberately false statements of high-ranking US officials cannot alter our resolve to continue fighting together with our partners for the preservation of the JCPOA and its implementation in accordance with the agreed goals in a timely manner.




The source of information - https://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy...ent/id/4105092
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Where should they dig the Very Deep Pit?
Piglet said that the best place would be somewhere where a Heffalump was, just before he fell into it, only about a foot farther on.
(c) Alan Alexander Miln
 
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