Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, May 23, 2018

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Mozambique Jose Pacheco’s visit to Russia

From May 24 to 29, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Mozambique Jose Pacheco will visit Russia. On May 24-26, he will head the delegation of Mozambique at the 22nd St Petersburg International Economic Forum. On May 28, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with his counterpart from Mozambique. The ministers plan to discuss the state and prospects of bilateral relations with an emphasis on expanding economic cooperation following the first session of the Russia-Mozambique Intergovernmental Commission on Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, which took place in Maputo in April. We also hope to exchange views on a broad range of African and international issues.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the Republic of Belarus

On May 29, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to Minsk, where he will hold talks with his Belarusian counterpart Vladimir Makey. Mr Lavrov will also deliver a speech at the Academy of Administration under the aegis of the President of the Republic of Belarus.

The agenda of the talks includes a broad range of issues of bilateral cooperation, primarily in the context of implementing the 2018-2019 Programme of Coordinated Foreign Policy Actions by the member states of the Treaty on the Creation of the Union State. Special attention will be paid to ensuring equal rights for the citizens of Russia and Belarus, forming a common migration space and expanding the contractual basis of bilateral relations.

The sides will exchange views on developing cooperation in the Union State, the EAEU, the CSTO and the CIS, and coordinating their efforts at the UN, OSCE and other international venues. The foreign ministers will discuss global and regional issues of mutual interest.

Russia and Belarus are strategic allies advocating the formation of a fair multipolar system of international relations. Their constructive dialogue is based on identical or similar positions on a broad range of pressing international issues.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the Primakov Readings

On May 30, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the Primakov Readings International Forum, which has been organised to commemorate Yevgeny Primakov, an outstanding statesman and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

It has become traditional to invite respected Russian and international academics, politicians, diplomats and journalists to this forum. The main theme of this year’s forum, Hedging the Risks of an Unstable World Order, reflects the ongoing transformation of international relations.

The two-day readings will take place at the World Trade Centre in Moscow. Sergey Lavrov will speak about our view of the key global processes and the positions of the Russian foreign policy department on the main issues on the international agenda.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in a BRICS Council of Foreign Ministers meeting

On June 4, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend a meeting of the BRICS Council of Foreign Ministers held in Pretoria, South Africa.

The BRICS ministers will discuss a wide range of issues pertaining to the maintenance of international peace and stability, the global economy, interaction between the BRICS countries and the coordination of their positions in the complicated conditions of global political turbulence. They will hold in-depth talks on the situation in the world’s trouble spots and common goals in the face of new challenges and threats, primarily efforts against international terrorism and for international information security. The ministers will highlight preparations for the 10th BRICS summit, which will take place in Johannesburg on July 25-27.

One of Russia’s priorities is to promote strategic partnership among the BRICS countries. Over the past years, this group of five large rising economies has developed from an interest club into a comprehensive mechanism of multifaceted strategic partnership. The BRICS leaders meet twice a year, once for their summit meeting and also on the sidelines of the G20 meetings, as well as holding some 100 official events, including about 20 ministerial meetings. The group has developed a network of industry-specific cooperation, contacts and cooperation between their business and research communities and civil societies.

The five BRICS countries are working towards indivisible security, stronger international stability in all dimensions, collective efforts to settle crises by political and diplomatic means, and multilateralism. They reject military interventions, unilateral economic enforcement measures, protectionism and unfair competition. The BRICS countries are working together to protect the system of multilateral trade based on the central role of the WTO as the only universal platform for formulating the rules of global trade.

The BRICS countries are working to find new sources of economic growth. The group played a major role in promoting the reform of the IMF. It has created the New Development Bank and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement to help modernise the architecture of global governance and financial security. The five BRICS countries support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

The BRICS countries are focused on consolidating and diversifying the mechanisms of multifaceted cooperation and finding new spheres of cooperation. BRICS is open to the world and is consistently expanding its ties with concerned countries and integration associations.

Outcome of the G20 ministerial meeting

A meeting of foreign ministers from the G20 countries was held in Buenos Aires on May 21 as part of the 2018 Argentine G20 Presidency. Russia was represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Pankin.

The foreign ministers’ meeting confirmed the common opinion that there is no alternative to finding multilateral solutions to global problems. The ministers highlighted the importance of such discussions in light of the weakening of international institutions, which should be adjusted to new realities. Many of them pointed out the futility of unilateral actions and the damage of increasing protectionism for global economic development. At the same time, they spoke about the importance of the social aspects of the global economic agenda and the role of international consensus, which are among the priorities of the Argentine presidency and are consistent with Russia’s views on interaction within the framework of the G20.

The ministers also discussed other current international challenges, such as conflicts, terrorism and corruption, international information security and forced migration.

Full-scale meetings of the G20 foreign ministers were held during the Mexican (2012) and German (2017) presidencies. The G20 foreign ministers’ talks, organised by Argentina this year, confirmed that the G20 continues to operate as a vital platform complementing the UN efforts to promote an open, constructive and mutually respectful dialogue on a broad range of global issues of economic and political importance. The attention given at the G20 to political matters and the consequences of economic actions is evidence of the forum’s growing prestige and the importance of maintaining its potential for coordination.

Japan, which will take over the G20 presidency later this year, has announced the intention to hold the next meeting of the G20 foreign ministers in Nagoya on November 22-23.

Developments in Syria

The situation in Syria continued to change rapidly over the past week. Improvements were reported on the ground.

The Syrian authorities have moved forward in driving terrorists out of the Damascus suburbs from where they had launched rockets and mortars at the city, resulting in civilian casualties. The situation in the Yarmouk camp of Palestinian refugees has been quiet since May 19. A counterterrorist operation in the nearby Damascus suburb of Al-Hajar al-Aswad has entered its final phase. The remaining terrorists, who have been forced to retreat to a small area of less than 1 square kilometre, are using snipers and mine traps to repel the attacks of the Syrian army in close urban conditions.

The Syrian authorities report on restoration work in the area of Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahem in the vicinity of Yarmouk, where government control was reasserted last week. Expecting civilians to return to these areas, the authorities are working rapidly to restore urban infrastructure, medical centres, schools and shops.

The military situation in the capital region has stabilised. Overall, nearly 90 percent of Syrians now live in government-controlled regions, thanks to the Syrian army.

National and municipal facilities are reopening in the northern and north-western parts of Homs, where peace was restored only recently. Work is underway in this former de-escalation zone to rebuild electricity lines with large allocations from the national budget. On May 20, local residents received a large batch of humanitarian assistance from the Syrian Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection. Centres for the legal status of repentant fighters, who have made use of the presidential amnesty, have opened in several Syrian cities. Over 3,000 people have undergone this process in May.

Sporadic clashes have been reported between government forces and ISIS west of Palmyra in eastern Homs. Witnesses say they saw aircraft of the US-led counterterrorism coalition flying over the battlefield.

Verdicts against Russian citizens passed by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq

On May 16, the Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI) reviewed the case of Khasan Tagirov (born on May 25, 1986). He was accused of taking part in the activities of the ISIS terrorist organisation. The defendant was sentenced to capital punishment.

In addition, on May 20 the same court sentenced to five years in prison Russian minors Ms Volkhina (born on March 3, 2000 – she was a minor when criminal charges were brought against her) and Ms Arsanukayeva (March 8, 2002). The time they spent in Iraqi detention will be deducted from their sentences.

I would like to note that these Russian citizens received the minimum sentence under Iraqi law. The maximum sentence is 15 years.

Another Russian citizen, Ms Davletshina (born on September 30, 2003), was charged with illegally crossing the border and staying on Iraqi territory without the required permit. She was sentenced to nine months in prison, counting eight months she has already spent in detention.

According to Iraqi law, all these verdicts are not considered final until they are reviewed by a court of appeal within six months of their adoption.

We would like to note that employees of the Russian Embassy in Baghdad attended court hearings on the cases of these Russian citizens and will continue closely monitoring the situation to protect their lawful rights and interests and take proper measures of consular and legal aid in conformity with Russian and Iraqi law.

Special session of the conference of Chemical Weapons Convention participants

We are well aware that the US and Britain, joined by France, Germany, Canada and Australia, have started yet another anti-Syrian and anti-Russian risky undertaking to the detriment of the integrity of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the prestige of the relevant international organisation – OPCW.

The afore-mentioned “friends of Syria” launched a massive campaign in the capitals to convene a special session of the signatories to the Chemical Weapons Convention that is the supreme governing body of the OPCW. In this context, I would like to recall that CWC signatories resorted to such an extraordinary step only once – in 2002, when a similar event was staged at the initiative of the United States and its closest allies to remove the “objectionable” OPCW Technical Secretariat Director-General Jose Bustani.

The action that is so harmful for the convention and the OPCW is to be taken in the year when a regular meeting of the CWC participants and the 4th Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention will be held in The Hague in November. This time it is justified by seemingly more noble goals – to remove the alleged threat to the regime of global chemical disarmament and non-proliferation of chemical weapons as soon as possible. But the real reason for this move is nothing new, though in this case the attack is aimed at Bashar al-Assad, who is unacceptable to the US and its allies, and Russia that is allegedly covering up his “chemical crimes.” The authors of the unanimous version told by NATO and the EU are also accusing Russia of some responsibility for the use of the Novichok toxic chemical in the London-inspired Skripal case.

 In its typical manner of staging a geopolitical thriller, the West mentions as the refrain the chemical terrorism of ISIS and the poisoning of the half-brother of the North Korean leader in the airport of Kuala Lumpur. In a word, the gist of the future play on the OPCW stage is so obvious that it suggests a question: are the initiators of this risky undertaking so confident in their own exceptionalism, infallibility and free hand that they do not understand at all how pernicious their actions are to the existing mechanisms for the prohibition of chemical weapons? Or is their goal of stopping the emergence of a multipolar world order at all cost simply depriving them of their analytical faculty and their orientation in the developing geopolitical space?

We are sure that the overwhelming majority of the CWC signatories understand full well the gist of the plans of these six powers, notably, to assign to the OPCW Fact Finding Mission (FFM) in Syria attributive functions to determine those responsible for such crimes, which are not envisaged by the relevant convention. In other words, this amounts to the cloning, within the framework of the purely technical OPCW, of a structure similar to the former discredited OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism. To our great regret, until November 2017 this mechanism obediently fulfilled the West’s political order to smear the Bashar al-Assad government and blame him without any grounds for endless provocations involving the use of toxic chemicals and full-fledged chemical agents, which were staged by the Syrian armed opposition and affiliated NGOs like the notorious White Helmets.

We hope that despite unprecedented pressure (we have information to prove it) and overt blackmail, the CWC signatories will disassociate themselves from this “innovative” political project as regards the convention and the OPCW. This project is fraught with irreparable consequences for global chemical disarmament and non-proliferation of chemical weapons, which was established and successfully functioned for many decades despite political turbulence.  

The situation in Venezuela

We’ve been asked to comment on the developments in Venezuela following the presidential elections held in that country on May 20, which brought victory to current head of state Nicolas Maduro.

We have already released a comment to that effect. I would like to go over the basic theses of our approach again and once again answer the questions that we received.

We operate on the premise that the election has taken place. This is the will expressed by the Venezuelans who, having demonstrated their adherence to the democratic procedure of expression of will, came to polling stations. This will, expressed in accordance with the law, must be respected. This is democracy.

Of course, the fact of the elections does not provide a solution to the problems facing Venezuela. The socioeconomic situation there needs to be radically improved. To achieve progress in this area, it is necessary to unite the efforts of all constructively minded groups of Venezuelan society, including those who do not share the current government’s policy. The situation is at a point where it is no longer possible to divide the nation into "our people" and "other people." It is imperative to resume the national dialogue.

Against this backdrop, public official statements by a number of countries which assess the level of democracy of the electoral process in Venezuela and do not recognise the voting results, as well as the steps they are taking to curtail diplomatic contacts, are at least counterproductive and lead nowhere.

Washington’s decision to impose unilateral sanctions on Venezuela and its financial system are absolutely hypocritical. In fact, seeking to punish certain politicians, these measures are designed to block the external financing channels and sources and thereby lead to the worsening of the country's already difficult economic situation in general and ordinary Venezuelans’ living conditions.

Russia strongly opposes arbitrary and illegitimate restrictive measures, embargoes and sanctions against sovereign states in circumvention of the UN Charter. With reference to Venezuela, we will analyse to what extent they may affect the implementation of specific economic projects with that country.

At the same time, we would like to issue a clear warning about the danger of creating a "besieged fortress" situation around Venezuela. We believe it’s impossible to accomplish in current circumstances. Caracas has good standing in the international community and is a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement.

For my part, I can remind you of President Putin’s words, who, in his message to Nicolas Maduro, noted Russia's willingness to continue joint work on the bilateral and international agenda in the interest of promoting strategic partnership between Russia and Venezuela.

Ukrainian President Poroshenko’s statement on Ukraine discontinuing its participation in the work of the CIS statutory bodies

We noted the statement by President Poroshenko of Ukraine about Kiev terminating its participation in the work of statutory bodies of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and closing Ukraine’s permanent office at this Organisation.

In this regard, we would like to note the following. The participation of member states in the Commonwealth activities is voluntary, and each one of them independently decides on its membership. Since cooperation within the CIS is mutually beneficial, all partners are interested in Ukraine keeping its ties with this integration association.

However, over the past few years, Kiev has virtually stopped its participation in the Commonwealth activities. Following the 2014 coup, Ukraine renounced its chairmanship of the organisation, withdrew its permanent CIS representative and its representatives from the quota-based positions at the CIS Executive Committee, did not sign a single resolution of the CIS highest statutory bodies and minimised its participation in their meetings. Since 2017, when the chairmanship in the organisation went to Russia, it stopped sending its representatives to meetings at the high and highest levels altogether. In addition, in four-plus years, Ukraine has not contributed a single kopeck to the common budget of the CIS bodies, thus creating significant financial difficulties in the organisation’s activities. To date, the total amount of arrears owed by Ukraine is over 300 million roubles.

So, Kiev's participation in the work of the CIS statutory bodies, which President Poroshenko is about to stop, has long been non-existent. In practice, the aforementioned decision of the Ukrainian authorities boils down to closing the country's permanent mission at the CIS headquarters in Minsk and withdrawing two diplomats still working in it.

As for Kiev's purported intention to initiate a procedure of formal withdrawal from the CIS, this process, if approached in a civilised manner, will take about a year.

We consider the Ukrainian President’s statement as another showy move designed to impress the country’s Western patrons. Sadly, these clearly politicised actions by Kiev will affect ordinary citizens of Ukraine, who are told that leaving the Commonwealth is the only way to make advances on the path to the cherished goal of integration with the European Union. In fact, the CIS did not prevent Ukraine from getting there. On the contrary, we believe that regional cooperation resources available within the organisation would only strengthen that country's domestic potential, improve its economy and help fight corruption. However, it appears that the incumbent Ukrainian authorities do not take these circumstances into account and are rather guided by the geopolitical goal of the masterminds behind the events in Ukraine, which is to completely break off Ukraine's relations with Russia and the CIS.

US Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker’s visit to Ukraine

The US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, Kurt Volker, has recently visited Ukraine once again. He inspected the situation “on the ground” once again “to learn about the humanitarian crisis in Donbass,” as he wrote.

Regrettably, instead of demanding that Kiev stop the conflict escalation and urging it to honour its commitments under the Minsk Agreements, Kurt Volker traditionally made a number of odious statements. These include the US Special Representative’s refusal to accept the existence of the Donbass republics, which means that he did not read the Minsk Agreements or does not want to see the obvious – the signatures of Donetsk and Lugansk representatives under these documents. Any moves towards a settlement of this conflict, such as political and security measures or discussions on the deployment of UN forces in the region, are impossible without a direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk.

By playing to Kiev’s militarist sentiments and openly advocating the delivery of lethal weapons to Ukraine, Mr Volker has poured fuel onto the flames and openly supported one of the conflicting sides. This is undermining his claimed role as an intermediary in the settlement of the internal Ukrainian crisis. It is not a coincidence that soon after his departure the Ukrainian Armed Forces enhanced military provocations around the Donetsk Filtration Plant and near Gorlovka and several other populated areas. The Ukrainian authorities see Mr Volker’s support for Kiev as permission to take opportunistic military action.

We believe that there is no military solution to the conflict in Donbass, which can and must be settled peacefully on the basis of the Minsk Agreements. The Western representatives who make “inspection” trips to Ukraine should remind Kiev more often that it must strictly comply with these agreements.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s remarks regarding Iran’s nuclear programme

We are concerned about the snowballing anti-Iran campaign in the United States, which has obviously opted for a policy of ultimatums and threats against Iran. It certainly contradicts the spirit of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme and goes beyond the framework of normal interstate relations. Moreover, the US administration not only withdrew from the Iran deal in violation of international norms, but has also advanced patently unacceptable conditions to Tehran.

However, the statement made on the same day by Federica Mogherini, the JCPOA coordinator and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, sounds reassuring. We see that the other parties want to preserve this arrangement. We will continue to work towards this goal. It is important that Iran is strictly complying with its obligations, as the IAEA has reaffirmed more than once.

JCPOA’s future will be discussed at a meeting of the Joint Commission in Vienna on May 25. It will be the first such meeting held without the United States.

We have not supported and will never support the policy of unilateral sanctions, which we view as illegitimate. We are resolved to promote our multifaceted cooperation with Iran.

Handbook by Norwegian NGOs for journalists covering the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia

This summer’s FIFA World Cup, which is to be hosted by the Russian Federation, seems to be haunting our partners. We cannot fail to enjoy the handbooks, guidelines and warnings of all sorts, allegedly issued in various countries by NGOs representing civil society. In reality, these publications are funded by the state. Let me provide a concrete example.

There are some eye-popping recommendations. Argentina’s advice to avoid beautiful women in Russia really caught my attention. As usual, Ukraine tries to scare people with the idea that they could be kidnapped in Russia. It seems that Ukrainians cannot be frightened by beautiful women, while politicians excel in making up stories of political repression. It is unfortunate that Great Britain released a series of instructions on how British fans should consume alcohol during the World Cup, noting that they would be better not to try to match Russians in this respect. Overall, we are witnessing a robust propaganda effort employing every possible means in an effort to turn people away from the World Cup or scare them. I think that people have already grown used to the debates and media skirmishes they are witnessing. They are coming to Russia and getting the necessary documents.

We have taken note of the handbook for journalists covering the 2018 World Cup in Russia, prepared by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee with input from a number of other NGOs.

What seemed at first glance a positive initiative designed to help sports journalists prepare for the main football event that is played every four years, turned out to be just another anti-Russia document. It is a media guide for denigrating our country and discrediting the upcoming World Cup. This so-called Handbook for journalists covering the 2018 World Cup in Russia contains a banal set of anti-Russia stereotypes that have nothing to do with sports journalism. The key element in the handbook’s design is an image of barbed wire with stadiums in the background. This goes beyond anything reasonable or ethical. This handbook targets journalists who are expected to have an unbiased perspective. What is the reason for this horrible activity?

It is appalling that the Norwegian authorities not only turn a blind eye to publications of this kind, but also allocate substantial resources to them (the Norwegian Helsinki Committee will get $4.3 million from Norway’s Foreign Ministry in 2018). These funds are then used to publish leaflets showing barbed wire around stadiums, and all this is presented as reference material on the Russian Federation and the upcoming event.

We regard the publication of this Handbook as yet another unfriendly move by Norway as part of the Western anti-Russia campaign. Nevertheless, we still hope that common sense, impartiality and professionalism will prevail among journalists, so that Norwegian fans and readers can enjoy the beauty of the world’s largest football event. On the other hand, there is also a positive side to this story. More intimidation and anti-Russia campaigning ahead of the World Cup means that people will be genuinely surprised when they find out there is no barbed wire at the stadiums. They will not understand why someone tried to scare them about Russian women and their unique beauty as if it was malevolent. We constantly face these stereotypes.

Latest developments in the so-called Skripal case following Sergey Skripal’s discharge from hospital

We continue to closely monitor developments in the so-called Skripal case.

President Vladimir Putin made exhaustive comments during a joint news conference with Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel on May 18 in Sochi regarding the latest media reports about Sergey Skripal’s discharge from hospital. He put forth our views on the investigation of the incident in Britain.

I would like to say that it is unacceptable that Russian officials and the victims’ family are not informed about such events by the British authorities through an established procedure, but instead learn about them from the media. We continue to insist that Britain should comply with its international commitments regarding consular access to Sergey and Yulia Skripal. We certainly want to see for ourselves that everything is well with our citizens and that they have not been forcibly detained or kept in isolation. This is why we insist that the issue of personal access [to Skripals] is not open to question at this stage, and that we will no longer take any statements made by UK officials on trust. This is because many fraudulent statements by UK officials have been exposed and laid bare not only in Russia but also in other countries and organisations, many of them in Britain.

Communication between the Russian Embassy in London and the UK Foreign Office regarding the so-called Skripal case

It is true that our British colleagues refuse to communicate with Russian officials in connection with the so-called Skripal case involving Russian citizens who were allegedly injured in a poisoning attack. Regrettably, we have to use the words “so-called” and “allegedly” in connection with the Skripals because we do not know what really happened. Was it an attack, an attempted murder, a sham or a provocation?  We still do not know exactly how these Russian citizens were attacked, if at all.

There is only one obvious and undeniable fact, which we have pointed out: we have been denied access to Russian citizens for two months.

These Russian citizens are being prevented from any contact, one way or another, possibly forcibly, and are being kept in an unknown location and their [physical] condition cannot be ascertained. It cannot be ruled out that they are being kept away from the press. We know nothing about their condition. These are the hard facts.

There was nothing to stop London from giving Russian representatives access to Russian citizens. Likewise, when it was announced that she was feeling better, there was nothing to prevent London from organising Yulia Skripal’s meeting with the media so that she could make a statement. The longer the Skripals are denied access to Russian officials or the press and the longer they are kept away from everyone, the more questions we have about what the British intelligence service are doing with them. As I said, it’s been over two months. Nobody has seen these people for two months. Anything could happen to the physical, moral and psychological state of these people in such conditions and circumstances. 

Russia is concerned about the health and state of these Russian citizens. Our Embassy in London continues to demand that the UK Foreign Office provide substantive answers regarding all aspects of the situation.

Unfortunately, we have only received formal and far from diplomatic replies from the UK Foreign Office. In a recent letter to Ambassador Yakovenko, FCO Minister of State for Europe and the Americas Alan Duncan distorted facts in the so-called Skripal case and used not simply counterproductive but openly derisive rhetoric. He inferred that Russia had put forward a lot of scenarios regarding the incident in order to muddy the waters and to shift the blame onto London. We understand that the Minister of State preferred to disregard our clear and open denial of any involvement in the incident. Moreover, as we see it, Minister Duncan does not read the British press, which gave dozens of scenarios in connection with this incident, based on leaks from British intelligence and government agencies.

Of course, we have not left this FCO insinuation unanswered. We wrote in a letter of reply that the information vacuum created by the British intelligence services regarding the real situation surrounding Sergey and Yulia Skripal is generating a discussion of numerous scenarios in the media and the UK is using this to confuse the public. We also sent the FCO a list of scenarios connected with the Salisbury incident published in the British media, as well as the full list of requests made by the Russian Embassy regarding the so-called Skripal case, the majority of which remained unanswered. Overall, we have sent more than 40 notes with some 60 questions. The British have not replied to 40 of them and sent only formal replies to the other 20. We post all this information on the Foreign Ministry’s website.

As for establishing the truth, we see that Britain has problems with this. The media have recently published interesting statistics, according to which over 250 officers from across the counter-terrorism policing network, alongside over 160 officers from Wiltshire Police have been involved in the inquiry into the Salisbury incident. They are analysing more than 5,000 hours of CCTV as well as more than 1,350 pieces of evidence and interviewing around 500 witnesses.

This means that despite the sweeping effort, the UK police have not found any evidence to prove the scenario of the incident which the UK political leaders have forced on the world.

According to other data, Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police Kier Pritchard said that some 100 Wiltshire police officers and staff, including himself, have sought psychological support after the Salisbury attack. Some of them reported feeling “disorientated” and “anxious”, but was it really a side effect of exposure to the Novichok agent?

Ofcom’s new RT probe series

We cannot ignore the British media regulator Ofcom’s announcement that it has opened three new investigations into the Russia Today TV channel over alleged violation of the broadcasting code and the licence terms. Ofcom said it had begun the investigations because of possible violation of the standards set for radio and television broadcasters by the content of two RT news releases, aired on April 26 and May 4, and the Crosstalk socio-political show on April 20. Ofcom did not bother to explain the essence of its claims as regards the content.

I would like to remind you that the British regulator has already opened about seven investigations into RT’s activities since the events in Salisbury in April, accusing the Russian TV and radio company of failing to remain unbiased in its coverage of the Skripal case. Meanwhile, no one seemed interested in how objective the British media reports were, neither the Minister of State, nor Ofcom. It is amazing. What objectivity is there among British newspapers and TV channels? Few British media were interested in creating a more or less broad picture and including comments from the Russian side. Few bothered to even wonder what had actually happened. Most were mainstream.

We have no doubt that this is yet another attempt by the British regulator to restrict the activities of our media in the UK and prevent them from publishing truths that are uncomfortable for the British authorities, using the pretext of inconsistency with certain ‘standards.’ These actions fit seamlessly into the general pattern of the anti-Russian campaign in Britain.

I can confirm that there will be a tough response to this entire spectacle and its outcome. Russia’s specialised agencies have begun to closely study the content of the British media in the Russian Federation. This is not our choice at all. We have never done this. If the British media published inaccurate information, distorted facts, or overdid propaganda, we preferred to go out to you and talk about it publicly and publish the materials. We have never resorted to the kind of moves that London, one of the most ardent fighters against the Russian media, is using against our journalists. Therefore, we will respond in the same style.

Reports from US sources on official Washington’s de facto assistance to Taliban

We have taken note of a piece by American researcher Michael Hughes from the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington (Hughes M. U.S. Extends “Blame Russia” Strategy to Afghanistan // Afghan Online Press, 2018, April 1). Based on data from the Pentagon and other documents, the author comes to the conclusion that the United States actually provides assistance in Afghanistan to its adversary, the Taliban Movement (TM), since it is to the Taliban that a large part of the US aid goes.

So, the Pentagon is not sure of the appropriate spending of the $3.1 billion allocated to Kabul in 2014-2017 to strengthen that country’s security forces. It is noted that Afghan military and security officials commonly use the practice of prematurely writing-off military property, such as ammunition, fuel and vehicles.

The US Department of Defence has found a shortfall of 95,000 vehicles delivered to Afghanistan since 2005. I remember how the US and British media counted on their fingers the tanks that supposedly prowled on the Russian-Ukrainian border. No one saw them, but they constantly wrote about them. In 2016, one Pentagon report mentioned the loss of almost 1.5 million pieces of small arms allocated to Iraq and Afghanistan. The DoD suggested these weapons could have gone to the Taliban or ISIS militants.

Hughes also refers to the investigation by US journalist Douglas Wissing (Douglas Wissing, Funding the Enemy: How U.S. Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban, 2012), who calculated that the Taliban annually appropriates up to $1 billion from US financial assistance to Afghanistan. The money just flows from poorly controlled funds created by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in that country.

Summarising the available data, the author comes to the conclusion that US assistance has become one of the main sources of modern weaponry and money for the Taliban in recent years. The accusations regularly voiced by US officials that Russia allegedly supplies the Taliban with weapons and money sound especially strange in this context.

US-NATO activities in the Baltics to contain Russia

Regrettably, the military and political situation in Europe is constantly deteriorating against the backdrop of NATO’s relentless attempts to strengthen its military potential on the “Eastern flank.” The militarisation of the Baltic space, primarily Baltic countries and Poland, is the most apparent example. Several days ago, the largest military drills in Estonia’s history, involving 18,000 military personnel from 19 countries, were completed in the country’s south.

The region that used to be quite calm in military terms has rapidly turned into a “frontline area” where local residents are persuaded to fear the far-fetched “Moscow threat.” We have taken note of the fact that Sweden and Finland, which are not members of any military alliances, are being involved in the implementation of the US-NATO containment policy.

We call on NATO leaders to be mindful of the fact that further escalation of military tension near Russia’s borders will only increase security risks for all Baltic countries without exception.

Russian information presence in the Baltics

We have taken note of the latest unfriendly actions taken by the authorities in some of the Baltic countries to reduce Russia’s information presence in the region. Latvia and Lithuania continue to tighten the screws on what they view as Kremlin propaganda.

Latvian lawmakers requested that the National Electronic Mass Media Council be more active in exercising its authority as a regulator and suspend broadcasts by television networks, if any violations are discovered in their broadcasts. This clearly implies new restrictive measures against Russian television networks, so that the majority of Russian-language television channels and programmes will be excluded from the main feature package of Latvian cable operators.

It is obvious that these initiatives primarily target the Russian-speaking audience in Latvia, and above all its least protected members. The implementation of this legislative initiative would deprive pensioners and war veterans of access to the majority of Russian television channels together with programmes included in the cheapest packages on offer.

It should be said that the recent policy towards Russian media in Latvia and Lithuania has been far from objective. In January, TV Centre and VGTRK journalists were deported from Latvia without any explanations. The broadcasting rights of the TV Centre were suspended in Lithuania for six months on September 20, 2017, and RTR Planeta was suspended for 12 months in February 2018.

The attacks on RTR Planeta continued recently when Lithuania’s Radio and Television Commission (LRTK) imposed a fine of 150,000 euros, which is a lot of money in Lithuania, on the cable operator Init for retransmitting RTR Planeta programmes. Considering the Lithuanian courts’ apparent dependence on the policy of the country’s authorities, they will hardly grant the appeal filed by the cable operator against the regulator’s decision.

Authorities in Baltic countries continue with their long-standing policy of abusing the rights of Russian mass media and fighting the Russian media. Ultimately, these efforts infringe on the interests of Latvia’s Russian-speaking population.

In this connection, let me remind our Baltic partners that specialised international organisations condemned on multiple occasions all bans and restrictions of this kind, and made calls for media pluralism and enabling people to access a variety of information sources.

Desecration of memorial cemetery for Red Army soldiers in Warsaw

Another outrageous act of vandalism has been committed in Poland with regard to Soviet war memorials. This time, hooligans desecrated the largest memorial cemetery for Red Army soldiers on Zwirki i Wigury Street in Warsaw. Unknown persons painted insulting slogans on the central monument.

We are once again forced to note with regret that the anti-Russian policy of Polish authorities continues to yield negative results. The rejection of the Red Army’s liberating role by Warsaw encourages vandals and allows them to feel unpunished. Therefore the burial places of Soviet soldiers, who perished for the sake of the Polish nation’s life and freedom, are being subjected to barbaric attacks. In the past three years alone, the Warsaw memorial has been repeatedly desecrated. Although video surveillance cameras are installed there, the law enforcement agencies are unable to guarantee immunity to this facility, to find and punish the culprits.

We resolutely demand that the culprits be found, and that the monument be restored back to its original state. We insist that the Polish authorities take exhaustive action to protect Russian memorials in Poland, including the military cemetery in Warsaw, the focus of Russian memorial events in the Polish capital.  

Polish authorities arrest and expel Russian citizens

Over a period of the past few days alone, the Polish secret services have arrested a Russian citizen and expelled her from the country. Another Russian citizen has been placed in a detention centre for foreigners in Przemysl, and the possibility of her deportation is being discussed. Three other Russian citizens are forbidden to enter Poland. These outrageous incidents are motivated by groundless accusations of their complicity in the so-called “hybrid operations” allegedly threatening the Polish state’s interests and security. It is alleged that all these people are involved in the so-called information war against Poland. For example, they allegedly incited anti-Ukrainian moods among local society, discredited the so-called historical policy of Warsaw, etc.

According to official Polish comments, specific actions will not boil down to the expulsion of unwelcome Russian citizens. Polish authorities will continue to “thwart illegal activities,” also cracking down on Polish citizens. The people of Poland are told that it is necessary to “display vigilance” and to react cautiously to any initiatives that may allegedly conceal subversive and destabilising intentions of Moscow and its “agents.”

The absurd nature of these calls is compounded by the fact that accusations with regard to Russian citizens are mostly motivated by their active efforts to protect Soviet war memorials in Poland, their open disagreement with official Warsaw’s line to distort the history of the country’s liberation by the Red Army in 1944-1945 and by their work linked with the renovation and restoration of Soviet memorials and burial places in Poland.

We would like to specially note that, as usual, the statements made by the Polish secret services are not backed by specific facts that might at least partially justify such tough actions with regard to Russian citizens. Therefore the presence of persons who disagree with the policy of confronting Russia being cultivated by the government and who advocate expanded cooperation and neighbourliness should be perceived as a certain criminal challenge to the state. In effect, dissent doubting Warsaw’s deleterious anti-Russian line is being outlawed. At the same time, any reasonable initiative is a priori perceived as a “Kremlin order” if it runs counter to the official line.

We are urging the Polish authorities to stop this “witch hunt” which mostly uses such tools as intimidation and deportation, to stop the flow of vicious rhetoric and attacks leading to a further decline in bilateral relations.

Russian member of FWN Rapide vessel’s crew released

According to the Russian Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, the crew of Dutch cargo ship FWN Rapide, including its captain, Russian citizen Mr Kolodko, who were arrested on April 21 in Nigeria’s coastal waters, have been released with the help of Nigerian law enforcement agencies and the company owning the ship.

Mr. Kolodko is in good health, and he will soon leave Nigeria.

The Russian Embassy did its best to secure his fastest possible release, maintained telephone communications with him and also maintained close contacts with representatives of the local law enforcement services as well as the ship-owner.

Holding the 6th season of Football for Friendship international social programme for children

Between June 8-5, Moscow will host the 6th season of the Football for Friendship international social programme for children. Sponsored by Gazprom, this annual event has expanded from eight countries and regions to 211 over a period of the past six years.

The programme focuses on friendship, equality, justice, health, peace, loyalty, victory, traditions and honour. It involves young football players, including those with disabilities, as well as young journalists from the International Children’s Press Centre covering its key aspects. 

The annual international children’s forum, the main project event, involves young football players, journalists and famous athletes who discuss matters of promoting and expanding the values of the programme, part of the 2018 FIFA World Cup schedule and supported by UEFA, FIFA, the Olympic Committee of Russia, various national football federations, international children’s charity foundations and leading global football clubs.  

Today, the international community perceives the Football for Friendship programme as an important cultural-humanitarian aspect of Russia’s international social policy.

Issue of the yearend Diplomatic Bulletin for 2017

The 2017 edition of the Diplomatic Journal has come out. Traditionally, the 13th edition features remarks, interviews and articles by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, classified by sections, on the key foreign policy matters of 2017.

It is issued both in Russian and English and is based on Foreign Ministry publications and photo stories. The Bulletin is available in print and also on CD.

The Bulletin is prepared by the ministry’s Information and Press Department and is designed above all for diplomats, foreign affairs experts, researchers and students of international relations at various levels. It will also be interesting to those who want to know more about Russia’s current foreign policy.

The online version of the journal is available at the Foreign Ministry’s website in the Press Service section.

 

From answers to media questions:

Question: There are signs indicating the beginning of a new and more active phase in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement, where Russia could play first fiddle. Are there reasons for this supposition?

Maria Zakharova: I would like to say that Russia has always been active. We have no desire to play first or any other fiddle in the numerical order. But we do want to bring about a settlement through methods that are considered to be civilised and have proved effective. We played a very active role in this, as you know. We will continue to do so in close contact with all the parties involved.

Question: A meeting will be held in Prague tomorrow between [Deputy Foreign Minister] Grigory Karasin and [Georgian Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Russia] Zurab Abashidze. Is there any agreement on the establishment of the customs border in the territory of South Ossetia and Abkhazia?

Maria Zakharova: We will provide detailed comments after this round of the talks is over. As a rule, we make no comments ahead of such meetings; we only confirm the agreement to hold talks. Immediately after them, we will provide detailed comments, which will include the parameters that are of interest to you. At this stage, I have no information regarding this.

Question: First of all, I would like to congratulate Sergey Lavrov on his appointment as foreign minister again. Will there be any changes in the ministry’s policy, and which issue will you prioritise in connection with the current situation in global politics?

Maria Zakharova: Thank you for your kind words regarding the ministry’s leadership. I don’t think I need to pass them over, because this is a live broadcast.

As for possible changes in the Russian foreign policy, this is determined by the Russian Foreign Policy Concept, which has been approved by the President of Russia. It is a fundamental document regulating and providing substantiation for the practical implementation of our policy. However, you said justly that the rapid changes in the international situation call for a prompt reaction. All of this goes together. There are basic documents setting out the direction of our foreign policy. We implement our foreign policy based on the provisions of the Foreign Policy Concept, and we react to changes in the international agenda with due regard to these provisions.

Question: Taking into consideration the tension between the EU and the US on three issues - tariffs, the Iran nuclear deal and the escalation in Gaza - can we expect a rapprochement between the EU and Russia, especially since three leaders of the European Union have recently been to Russia? I am referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President of Bulgaria Rumen Radev, who currently presides in the EU, and President of France Emmanuel Macron.

Maria Zakharova: Speaking of the possible rapprochement between Russia and the EU against the backdrop of turbulence on the Iran nuclear deal, for example, we believe that a rapprochement should never result from deterioration in relations with anybody else on the international stage. Our official position is that we should not wait for the EU to have problems with the US, as is apparently the case with the Iran deal. On the contrary, we believe in the inherent value of our relations with the EU, and call for stepping up these relations in order to lead them out of the current impasse, although this situation was not our fault.

There is no need to wait for a chance, such as something negative happening in the relations between the EU and some of its partners. We believe that our goal is to improve these relations and take them to a new level regardless of any negative developments in the EU’s relations with its other partners.

We also need to understand that it was a US initiative that was not supported by any other parties to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that put the European Union in the current position. The Foreign Ministry has issued statements to this effect on a number of occasions. After the announcement by the US of its new policy there is no turning back. The positions of Russia and the European Union were part of the negotiating process. So I would not tend to see any link here.

Let me reiterate that Russia wants to improve its relations with the EU. After all, we are moving in this direction not because of any deterioration in its relations with anyone, but out of the geopolitical, national, economic and humanitarian interests of our peoples.

Question: Tomorrow Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe will arrive in Russia. How does the Foreign Ministry think Japan and Russia should work together on North Korea? Does Russia intend to do everything it can in order to re-launch the six-party talks on DPRK?

Maria Zakharova: We must be proactive in our efforts, since this regional issue has taken on a global dimension. This topic was inscribed on the international agenda. The entire international community is watching the turbulence that unfortunately regularly occurs in this area. We must be proactive, and this is what we are doing. So far, I cannot give you any specific information, but what I can say is that Russia has planned a number of initiatives, including contacts aimed at promoting a settlement in the region in the context of the situation on the Korean Peninsula. We are hard at work on this issue.

I think that I will be able to share more information on this subject in the near future.

As for your second question, this was not a proper way to frame it. We have an understanding of the fact that we must be proactive in our bilateral contacts, as well as in multilateral formats. This is the way we operate. We proposed initiatives that were implemented in one way or another. In fact, the initiative to have a “double freeze” was put forward by Russia and China. Even if we omit that it was a Russian-Chinese initiative, the fact that the events are developing along these lines yields results. The positive trends we are seeing and the positive news on the upcoming meetings became possible only after an actual freeze, since it helped ease tension. You are free to draw your own conclusions. This goes to say that Russia is proactive in a number of areas.

Question: On May 28, the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry will host a forum on the adaptation of immigrants in Russia, “The Migration Policy of the Russian Federation, its Impact on Economic Growth, the Business Climate and Social Development of Russia.” Will Foreign Ministry representatives be there?

On May 17, the UN reported a demographic crisis in Russia, with the country’s population expected to fall to 133 million people by 2050. Could you comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: Commenting on demographic policy is up to the relevant government agencies.

As for the forum on migration, I will inquire at what level the Russian Foreign Ministry will be represented.

Question: I join in my colleague’s congratulations on Sergey Lavrov’s appointment.

Three days ago, our Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper was the first to report that the famous Italian politician and leader of the Forza Italia party Silvio Berlusconi referred to Crimea as the most beautiful part of Russia in a public statement. Do you welcome our Italian partners’ position? Is it possible to say that the foreign policy blockade around the peninsula is showing cracks?

Maria Zakharova: This foreign policy blockade is based on pressure by force. Otherwise, if people were not threatened with repressive measures, with force, not blackmailed, there would have been no real blockade, because this is the reality, this was people’s free will documented, and then implemented on a daily basis for several years. On the other hand, there is the forceful pressure from a number of countries trying to deny this obvious reality, to stop it from being perceived as reality.

The main idea of all these information campaigns is to substitute the real view of the situation, in particular, in the region you are talking about (Crimea), with some kind of virtual agenda, virtual problems, virtual future, and virtual politics. Ukraine has a number of incumbent government officials who call themselves ministers for Crimean affairs. But what they actually do is just maintain and support this ritual and virtual chimera. People who do not fall under influence, who want to be objective, perfectly understand what is happening. They come to Crimea, participate in forums held there, and visit local cities.

The situation with the Crimean Bridge, speaks for itself, as far as I see it. I could not phrase it better. For two years, they tried to persuade us that there is no bridge at all, simply because it is impossible and because it is Russian propaganda. As soon as they realised they could not go any farther with this claim, they changed their tune, now saying it is illegal. They actually went so far as to call for its physical destruction, at the level of terrorist attacks.

This is a classic story – first deny reality, and then, when reality becomes undeniable and can no longer be hidden, or when propaganda stops working (even on the scale we are witnessing), call for use of force and more intimidation. Yet, more and more politicians, representatives of civil society, and journalists understand the reality. That's all. You can have your attitude, you can give it a legal assessment, but you cannot deny it.

Question: The US is threatening North Korea again. President Trump and a number of high-ranking members of his administration have threatened Pyongyang with the so-called “Libyan scenario.” This happened after the latest joint US-South Korean military exercises. As of this moment, the Kim Jong Un-Trump meeting is in jeopardy. Do you think that the situation can yet be saved? What can Russia do about this?

Maria Zakharova: I saw all these statements and the headlines that the US had threatened North Korea with a Libyan scenario. I have many questions to ask the US expert community. I think you do too. Whom did the “Libyan scenario” harm more? Muammar Gaddafi is dead. The people of Libya? Yes. But if we speak about the Western world, didn’t it suffer too? The first sufferer is Italy that for a number of years doesn’t know how many more international forums to hold to solve the problem of the “Libyan scenario.” In fact, while threatening North Korea with the “Libyan scenario,” the US is threatening the entire region, not only Pyongyang alone.

I am not even mentioning the neighboring countries because, as we understand, it is increasingly clear that the US doesn’t think that people who live in countries other than NATO members are human at all. It gives no thought at all to what harm the “Libyan scenario” inflicted on the countries in the region. This is not on its agenda. But you and we know full well what suffering the situation in Libya is causing to the Arab world, the Middle East, and northern Africa. And even if we speak about the NATO member-countries, they are facing a huge immigration collapse, which no one in Europe can cope with.

To reiterate: please read through rather than between the lines the statements made by the United States. In this case, by threatening Pyongyang with the “Libyan scenario,” the US describes what will be unfolding in the region in the case of a strong-arm scenario. It’s a good question why it is doing this? Is it thinking about the possible consequences? Again, we know that the US prioritises the interests of the political elite that are currently in power rather than the US national interests. If the “Libyan scenario” meets the interests of the US political elite, this does not mean at all that this conforms to the US national interests, the national interests of the people who live in the United States, and the national interests of countries in the region and the world in general. 

Question: I would like to hear a Foreign Ministry comment on the situation with issuing British visas to Russians. There have been some difficulties lately.

Maria Zakharova: Only lately, you think?

Question: The most recent cases affected people who work in culture and the arts.

Maria Zakharova: I cannot agree with this. Russians always had these problems. There were not so many cases maybe, and the British side’s motives were not so obvious. I will cite an example, which also involves people in culture and the arts. When we talk about them, we need to understand that there are more of them than just internationally known stars. These are people who take part in less popular concerts and events that are not widely covered by the media. For many years, these people regularly faced problems with obtaining a British visa. Neither can I agree that those were isolated incidents. True, the British side always insisted it had objective reasons for denials, such as insufficient income for the cost of living in the UK. Or the British Embassy consular officers do not have a clear understanding of the origin of the money the applicant has to travel to the UK. This happened with ordinary people who wanted to come to the UK to study English, for tourism, or to attend specific events. It was a big problem that concerned a lot of people. Now they just stopped explaining their motives, they stopped giving any more or less realistic reasons. Now this is obvious.

Unfortunately, London seems to consider the issue of visas and the attitude to the media as a means of political pressure on the country and the people. Incidentally, this also goes against Britain’s EU membership obligations. But this is not just about the EU; this is about human rights in general. The UK has a commitment not to interfere with the freedom of contact and travel of absolutely ordinary law-abiding people who are ready to report their incomes from top to bottom. Yet, while until recently, people were at least given some real reasons for refusal or the endless complications of the visa process, now no one is even hiding it. Have you ever applied for a British visa? Have you seen the multi-page questionnaire that you have to fill out again and again? This is one clear sign, let alone the processing period.

We certainly see how these issues are being politicised. We certainly regret this and think that this does not align with Britain’s obligations and violates its commitments. I repeat, it is one thing when someone tries to illegally cross the border and threatens the security of a state, but people who are respectable and law-abiding and travel to the UK as tourists or to visit relatives are a different story.

Question: Previously, it did not apply to figures such as Roman Abramovich and the rest of our oligarchic elite who operate businesses, own real estate, or otherwise are connected to Great Britain. The other day, the British refused to renew the visa for Roman Abramovich. It is still unknown whether it is a temporary decision or not. What can you say about this?

Maria Zakharova: You see, this is the information that you are aware of. However, we are aware of instances where affluent and respectable people ran into problems with obtaining visas to the United States or Great Britain.

You mentioned just one case, but we commented on and raised this issue during talks on many occasions. We had similar issues with our US colleagues, where they were unable to provide intelligible explanations as to why certain individuals, such as people from show business or entrepreneurs, were denied visas. It’s a never-ending story. So, there’s nothing new about that. They simply stopped bothering themselves with any kind of intelligible explanations.

In an interview with British channels two years ago, I mentioned that the UK acts strangely when it doesn’t issue visas to people such as a teacher of English who has been teaching English for years and now wants to finally see what the capital of the Great Britain looks like in real life. On the other hand, it may not just readily issue a visa, but goes ahead and provides all kinds of protection to a person clearly connected with the underworld, terrorism and so on. Look at the number of criminals, including those charged with corruption, who have British citizenship. Who has ever been bothered with that? Russia has been trying for many years to have them extradited, but the UK doesn’t comply. We are now witnessing new high-profile cases in the context of parliamentary reports, which are one way or another tied to a certain “clean money” drive currently underway in Britain. This is ridiculous. What kind of “clean money” are we talking about when it comes to the UK? Money per se is all that matters to them. And this has always been the case. Over the centuries, it was state policy to draw in the money regardless of its origin.

Thanks for asking. I can prepare a historical factsheet for the next briefing or a bit later and provide concrete examples. We are all aware of them. When, for instance, Boris Berezovsky and his “team” resided in the UK without hiding their wealth and clout, no one was asking them about the origin of their wealth. We are all perfectly aware of the charges the official Russian Federation brought against them. We realise that people from this environment could never be referred to as law-abiding, and no one had any doubts about the unclean origin of their capital. Everyone knew perfectly well whom the issue was about. I'm not talking about the people involved in the situation which, unfortunately, we had in the North Caucasus in the 1990s. This money, which, among other countries, the UK provided a haven to, is directly linked to terrorist cells. This didn’t bother anyone, either. The UK upper crust provided them all kinds of support, including informational, political and public. Nothing bothered them. This is a big part of the overall picture. Unfortunately, we observed these less visible manifestations earlier. No clarifications were provided. We could not get them from Britain, either.

Take, for instance, the situation with Russian diplomats. I understand that the issue is not about tourist or business visas. It's a kind of a canon following which visas are issued to diplomats around the world. It was the UK that introduced an absolutely weird system of delaying visa issuance to Russian diplomats. Did it start now? No, it started several years ago. The attempts to unblock this situation began only a year or two ago. Since the attempts to unblock it were taken two-plus years ago, it means that this problem had surfaced a while ago. That’s the way it is. This is either failure to issue visas, or impossible six-month delays and a year taken to examine the documents of a diplomat. Understandably, a diplomat is a person who not only pursues a career, but also has a family. If these people remain uncertain about their future for a year, they change the area of their activities. Or, take for instance, a Russian diplomat who already resides in the country and his visa expires. The Foreign Office used to delay visa renewal, or didn’t renew it altogether, thereby taking over our exclusive function and prerogative which is to regulate the period of stay of a Russian diplomat in that country. They are not entitled to make this kind of decisions. This is done directly by the Russian authorities. Here’s another example showing that this has always been the case. We have excellent examples of interaction, in particular, with the United States, as regards the issuance of visas. It took quite reasonable amounts of time to issue one, and there were no manifest delays. There were instances of refusal to issue a visa for unknown reasons.

One way or another, there were good periods of Russia-US relations where this problem was not rife. Things are a little bit different with Britain. I remember well 2004 when I tried to obtain a tourist visa to the UK. I waited for several months for no particular reason. When I came to the embassy for an interview, I was told (I think it was humiliating and rude) that I cannot go to their country with my kind of income. I remember well what I told them. Back then, I was the second or the first secretary at the Foreign Ministry, and I told them that I promise that there will come a time in our country when diplomats will be paid decent salaries. So it happened later. Truth be told, I was issued a visa then. I went to my friends, and we travelled around the UK without doing anything reprehensible, and everything was wonderful. Even I, having visited the UK as part of official delegations, ran into some impossible difficulties when applying for a UK tourist visa in 2004.

Question: You knew of these cases before, but they remained “off-screen,” didn’t get so much publicity, and were not so widely discussed. How can the diplomats cooperate with the British colleagues, Foreign Office, when this already looks like open rudeness?

Maria Zakharova: We say publicly that we have practically no constructive cooperation on many issues with the British side. You must be a rare guest here. We say so all the time. Take any area: the British side has brought the official contacts to naught, including on visa issues.

Let me give you just one example: it may shock you but hang on. When UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was visiting Moscow, we made another attempt to resolve the visa problems (many issues, including those related to visas, were discussed), specifically difficulties with diplomatic visas were mentioned. He said he would do anything with pleasure, but this was not within his authority. So much for constructive cooperation – that’s what the head of Foreign Office said. At that time, there was no Salisbury agenda, no other outstanding issues.

It’s an illusion that there were no problems; they did exist, with the British side, regrettably, as we understand today, creating them with an ulterior motive. But at that time, some attempts were made not to put this into so obvious a political context. The British Parliament published a report the other day. Its authors did not even take pains to invent any explanations apart from the need to put pressure to bear on our country.

If I were to give you a brief answer, it would be: “The British have thrown off their masks.” But these difficulties never ceased to exist. I gave you just a few very concrete examples. Do you believe that the head of the Foreign Office has nothing to do with visa issues related to diplomatic work? We asked him who did. We were told they would certainly try to find these people. This answer was given by an official British delegation led by the Foreign Secretary. This is a very clear example of how all our attempts to start a constructive dialogue on issues that, in our view, had no political underpinnings ran into this kind of treatment.

We hear new statements to the effect that Russian diplomats interfered in Britain’s internal affairs. I know about the other side of it – how London interfered with the Russian diplomats’ work by refusing to issue or extend their visas and thus regulating their stay in the UK, after which it went on to their expulsion.