Remarks by the Official Spokesperson of the MFA of Russia Maria Zakharova at the Q&A session of side-event “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation in Euro-Atlantic Region”
Q: A question regarding stable Runet law. My understanding is, correct me if I am wrong, that this is an attempt on the part of the Russian Federation to try to protect its sovereignty in the digital domain and, more specifically, in the information space. Are you however concerned that this may impede democratic free flow of information in the Internet domain, particularly at the Russian territory? Thank you.
A: I received many questions about that. Pamela also asked me what this law was about. The thing is, it is not about Russia withdrawing itself from the world’s Internet. Come on, guys, we all have TVs, computers, radio. Just switch any of this on and listen to what Washington is saying about us. Every day during the recent six or seven years we have heard each governmental structure of the U.S. produce aggressive rhetoric towards our country, our people, our way of life. They are very aggressive. They are trying to convince not only themselves, I mean American politicians, but also the rest of the world that Russia is bad, that Russia is not part of the world family, that Russia should withdraw from the banking system, political system, from each and every corner and aspect of our life. They were threatening us and they still are to expel us from the “civil world” as they call it.
So this law is not about Russia leaving the Internet. Of course not, we want to be and we actually are part of this global system, of every of its aspects: education, space, economy, you name it. If those threats about which we hear from people from NATO and others become real, we will have to be prepared as a country. We will need a communication system within our society, our country. We have heard a lot from the Senate, from the White House. Enough is enough. Me and other representatives today mentioned much about democracy, and the United States that was a XX century pioneer in many areas like freedom of speech, freedom of Media. We are very thankful to them because we learned their lessons that enriched our life. For many years, we have had this experience of free speech in front of our eyes. Within 20-30 years, we learned this, and now we continue to move in this direction. We are very grateful that we joined the democratic world.
However, we noticed that while we were developing, making our economy stronger, we ceased to be welcome. It is strange, because only ten years ago globalization was the main trend here at the United Nations. It was presented as our main task and goal that everyone should move towards. Globalization as a concept includes all the fields and corners of our today’s world.
Now we see movement in the opposite direction. Our common world and its information space are divided in different parts.
Once again, it is not about leaving. It is about being prepared. We stress one more time: we want to build a joint open world, but we should do it in a respectful way. We want to be on equal positions with other Members. As a country, we invested a lot in this: in science, education, space that I mentioned. We never started a world war, never were aggressive. We just have our own life experience.
Q: I know the Commission on Disarmament was cancelled because one or many Russian delegates were denied visas by my government. And this denies journalist access to information on the entire Disarmament Commission. De facto, this is a form of limiting access to information. I would like to hear whatever comments you could offer about this visa abuse. Thank you.
A: This is quite right. I would like to support you in these remarks, and I will explain why. One of my Deputies, I mean a Deputy Director of the Information and Press Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry who is actually in charge of international information problems, an active diplomat and a member of global conversation, he was not issued a U.S. visa on time. That is why he could not attend today’s meetings, including this one. He applied on time, but he did not get his visa in due term. In the better case, he will only be able to come tomorrow, though we awaited him yesterday.
About two weeks ago, I had an interesting conversation with a good friend of mine. She is from the U.S. It was a huge surprise for her that the U.S. embassy in Moscow takes so long to issue visas for Russians. Can you imagine? It is 300 days. In 2019. Hello, we discuss latest technology which makes it possible for us to reach out to each other and across the globe on the Internet within one second. At the same time it takes the U.S. embassy in Moscow 300 days to schedule a date for a visa interview. I underline this: 300 days not to issue visa, but just to set the date for the interview. I think what you are saying is absolutely right.
And one last example. It has to do with information, freedom of speech, etc. I mean Crimea. For five years already, everybody has been talking about Crimea: reports, sanctions, conversations, speeches and statements. No one of those who are most active in the discussions visited Crimea. We ask them: please come to Crimea. We will provide assistance, or you can do it on your own. But it is somehow forbidden for international journalists to go there. All right, then we ask them to let the Crimean people come to international fora, meetings, conferences just to present their position on what is going on there. But they cannot receive visas.
About a month ago, I took part in the conversation which was organized in Geneva by the Swiss International Press Center. It had to do with human rights, and one of the topics was Crimea. Journalists from Crimea applied for visas to come and participate in the discussion, but they were denied. The only opportunity for them to reach out to the International Press Center in Geneva was via Internet. We organized live broadcast, but still they could not attend.
I believe your remark is closely connected to the topic of our today’s conversation. What we talk about are cases from the real life. This is what happens in reality.