Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations

Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations

Press Briefing by First Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy on 28 May 2021

Dmitry Polyanskiy: I would like to welcome you at the UN. It seems that you're all early birds because it's 9:00 am only. I really applaud your desire to listen to what I'm saying. I am very much eager to answer your questions.

Just like last time, I will start with the quote and the tweet of the month. The quote of the month goes to the US Energy Secretary. Testifying before the House Science Committee, she said that the natural gas which was supposed to be transported by Nord Stream 2 was four times more harmful for the environment than American liquified gas. This is an extraordinary conclusion given the fact that American liquified gas is produced mainly from shale gas and by cracking. You know how “beneficial” these procedures are for the environment. So I really applaud the creativity of our American colleagues when they want to achieve one-sided advantages in a competition.

The tweet of the month also belongs to the end of May. This is a tweet by our colleagues from the US Mission to the United Nations which was published after our discussion on the situation with the diversion of the Ryanair flight. It accompanies a joint statement on so-called forced diversion of the Ryanair flight to Minsk. It says that several countries strongly condemn the forced landing of the Ryanair flight in Minsk, Belarus. I'm quoting this tweet because it appeared immediately after our close consultations on this issue. I had specifically pointed out to my colleagues that by stating that this was a forced landing, they actually spread fake news.

In order to illustrate my position, I would like to quote some documents to you. The first document is a transcript of a conversation between the crew of Ryanair flight and the control tower in Minsk. It is available on the Internet. The control tower says: “We have information from special services that you have a bomb on board and it can be activated over Vilnius. For security reasons we recommend you to land at the Minsk Airport”. I stress — “we recommend you to land”. The transcript shows that a pilot, after thinking it over, decided to land in Minsk. Was this a forced landing? Now I will give you an example of a forced landing. In 2016, a Belavia flight which started in Kiev and was about to enter the airspace of Belarus received a message from the control tower in Kiev: “Belavia, I have the instructions. You have to return to the airport of Zhulyany. If you do not obey this order, I will raise fire jets to intercept you”. The plane was diverted. It landed in the airport and one of the Ukrainian opposition leaders, Mr. Martirosyan, was intercepted from the plane. There was no international reaction to this.

I gave you this example not to show that everything was OK in Minsk. There will be, of course, a certain investigation. As you know, the International Civil Aviation Organization will look into it. But to say from the outset that this is a forced landing, to condemn this and to introduce sanctions without any investigation, this kind of behavior is absolutely irresponsible. We do not understand the reasoning why our European and American colleagues do such things.

I will not dwell on the details of our position. It's about forced landings and how other countries are trying to intercept planes in the airspace. Recently, there have been a lot of statements from my colleagues in this regard. I received a question related to the situation: “Is there room at the UN to think about the release of reporter Protasevich arrested by the Minsk police authorities? Is Russia ready to commit itself to this through mediation?” There is one thing that is not correct in this question. This is the word “reporter”. Mr Protasevich is a blogger. Before being a blogger, he was a fighter. He was a fighter in Ukraine. He was a fighter in the Azov regiment of neo-Nazi and far-right groups. I think that was the reason why the authorities of Belarus asked an international warrant for his arrest. So, at least, he is an internationally wanted person.

There are some internal procedures in Belarus. Belarus has the right to apply them. Once Mr. Protasevich happened to be on Belarusian soil this way or another, the Belarusian control services obtained the right to arrest him. That's absolutely clear. What will happen after that? We will need to look through the investigation by the Belarusian authorities. They have a legal system which will be enacted to determine how serious Mr. Protasevich’s wrongdoing is. I appeal to you not to call him a reporter because you are reporters, you didn't fight in any far-right battalions and regiments abroad. You are trying to report on the events that happened. Mr. Protasevich was not reporting. He was undermining the Belarusian political system. You can like it or not, but this is another type of activity.

Russia is following this situation very closely. We are in close contact with the Belarusian authorities. As you know, our presidents are meeting today and, of course, this issue will be discussed. What is really astounding is the reaction of our Western colleagues and their desire to spread fake news on the grounds that are very questionable and doubtful, without any investigation and without any formal reasons to do so. This is very deplorable.

Q: Times have changed and we don't have to worry about what happened in 2016. My question on this is: who is investigating? And do you have any fear that any autocrat anywhere in the world would try to do the same thing if Minsk gets away with this?

A: You mean — will there be any countries that would like to follow this example? Well, it's difficult for me to say, I don't have a crystal ball. What we — first of all, the International Organization of Civil Aviation — need to do is to determine what the reasons for grounding this plane were. As far as we are informed and as it looks through the lens of news sources from Belarus, the Belarusian authorities had such reasons as there was an imminent threat to the plane. It was a threat to the country because it was in the airspace of Belarus. There is the Chicago convention, which entitles the country that possesses the airspace to bear full responsibility for flights there. So they had the right to do so. They recommended the pilot to land in Minsk airport. It means that he had other options. He could continue on his way to Vilnius, he could return to Kiev, to Lviv or any other airport, to Warsaw, maybe. There were plenty of choices and at this moment there were no jets in the air to intercept the plane. There was a jet when it was already landing in Minsk. As we were told, that was in accordance with internal procedures of Belarus which are applied when there is a threat of a terrorist attack as it was the case in this situation.

I don't know whether other countries will follow this example or not. There are clear double standards, in retrospect, maybe there will be some similar cases in the future. I am absolutely sure that there will be no outcry if these so-called Western democratic countries do the same thing that was done with the plane of Evo Morales in Vienna in 2013.

Q: What kind of investigation do you foresee, who and when would conduct it?

A: Russia will not conduct any investigation because we are not related there. We had only one Russian citizen on board. We asked for a consular access. I believe we got in touch with her and she assured us that everything was OK. We will continue to follow her fate. This is an internal matter of the Republic of Belarus for sure. From the outset, Belarus was ready to provide all necessary information to anybody. It was clearly seen in the statement by Foreign Minister Makei, for example. I heard that the International Organization of Civil Aviation is also foreseeing a probe in this event. I think it's more than enough for the time being.

But again, the sequence of events is different: there is no investigation so far, but there are already sanctions for this. The conclusion is already made. The culprit is designated. I don't know what is the point in the investigation if Western countries have already decided everything for themselves and if they ignore such things as transcripts of communication with Control Towers, which I quoted to you, — one about the forced landing, another one about the recommendation. Maybe they should sanction Ukraine for what it did in 2016? Then it was clearly a forced landing and the jets were in the air. The plane crew was in danger because of these actions. We don't see such a situation in Belarus. What is the purpose of the investigation if they have already designated the culprits, made conclusions and introduced sanctions?

Russia and Syria face the same situations very often. When there was a strike on Douma, even before inspectors from the OPCW could enter this city, the United States, France and the UK already said that Syrians were guilty and they needed to punish them. This is the logic of the so-called collective West. They know they are right and they impose this on anybody who doesn't agree with them.

Q: If Ryanair [flight] was not a forced landing, was there any reason to believe there was a bomb on board? And was Russia not aware of it, that Protasevich was on board? And were there any Russian agents on board, as the pilot indicated? Thank you so much.

A: We were not aware of this flight at all. We can't monitor every flight that is flying through Belarus or other independent countries of the world. We were absolutely unaware of this. As for the bomb threat, again, I have only the version of the Belarusian authorities. They said that they had received a letter with a threat. It was attributed to Hamas, but Hamas denied it after that. You know, there are a lot of situations when there is a bogus phone call, for example, that there is a bomb in some commercial building and people are getting evacuated before this threat is verified because this is an imminent threat and they need to react. After that it might turn out that it is a work of some crazy person. Well, there are a lot of crazy people in the world, you can't monitor each and every one of them.Every authority treats such threats with full attention and respect because it's about the life of its citizens.

As for the Russian agents on board the plane, this was also fake news that was spread immediately after receiving the news about this incident. I think it was spread by our colleagues from Baltic states’ Foreign Ministries. I'm not sure who exactly, but we can find out the name.

There were allegations that there were four KGB agents on board the plane. First of all, KGB doesn't mean the Russian KGB. For your information, the Russian KGB has ceased to exist about 25 years ago. There's no longer KGB in Russia, but there is KGB in Belarus, which is called formerly KGB. And there were indeed four persons that went down from this plane. But the reason was very simple. They were initially planning to go to Minsk through Vilnius. So once the plane landed in Minsk, of course, it was reasonable for them to say, OK, our journey is over. And they were shown on Belarusian TV. One of them was a foreigner, I think a Greek national with his Belarusian wife. Well, are they KGB agents? It's difficult for me to say. Maybe there were KGB agents among the Ryanair pilots, I don't know. Maybe they were made agents while they flying over the Belarusian airspace. They decided to land, maybe it was due to their allegiance to the Belorusian KGB. I don't know. But our Western colleagues will, of course, find it out very quickly.

Q: Just to clarify, you support the ICAO investigation, correct?

A: Sure. We support the ICAO investigation. We support ICAO and we support Belarus as well. Investigation doesn't mean designation of culprits from the outset. That's what I'm trying to explain.

Q: I understand that the US Ambassador to Greece is Mr. Pyatt. Do you know whether Mr. Protasevich met with him? Because, if you recall, Mr. Pyatt and Victoria Nuland were involved in arranging the new government in Kiev following the overthrow of the democratically elected presidency of Yanukovych.

A: You seem to know much more than I do on this issue. I don't follow it specifically closely. As far as I know from Mr. Protasevich's social network accounts, he has repeatedly been to Ukraine, and also to the United States. For example, there is a publication about him being in the Department of State and saying that he had the most overwhelming and emotional meetings in his lifetime. I don't know how many of you regularly go to the State Department, but I guess that not many, because you work for different agencies and for different reasons. It's up to the Belarusian authorities to determine whether this person has done something wrong, if he is to be blamed for anything.

They said that he's wanted internationally. He arrived, again this way or another. You can claim that it was not lawful, but it was. He arrives in Belarus. He approaches the Belarusian border control. Belarusian control has him listed. So, what's the action of the Belarussian control? Of course, he gets arrested. That's the only way out. There could be no other way. And you saw on those pictures that the Belarusian authorities discharged the plane completely. They took out the luggage and the luggage was checked by the dogs. So, there was a special operation for checking for bombs. It's not like only Mr. Protasevich was taken from the plane and everybody else remained there. No, again, don't believe everything that the Western media publishes on this. I'm sorry to say this in front of some Western media outlets, but still.

Q: What was the stance of the Russian Federation when Western countries expressed their will to discuss this issue among AOB? And do you foresee that some countries will further bring this matter to the Security Council agenda?

A: Every country has the right to raise any issue as AOB. We can't question this, these may be issues related to the agenda of the Security Council or not, as was the case with Belarus. We listen to our colleagues. They were reproducing accusations and threats towards Belarus. I was there. In my statement I really tried to calm them down and ask some questions to show that 99 % of what they were saying was absolutely fake and they were spreading fake news by making such statements. They smiled and then they went in front of you and made a statement, which is also based on fake news. The only conclusion is that they were initially planning to organize this AOB as a pretext to approach you and to cite these statements of several countries, and several other countries joined.

During this meeting, regardless of what they claimed, there was absolutely no unanimity in condemning what Belarus did. There were more appeals from other countries to learn more details, engage in an investigation. Belarusian authorities were ready for this from the very beginning. They said they were ready to share the information with anybody who was interested. However nobody asked them for this information because the culprits were already designated, and the punishment was already formulated. There was no unanimity on this issue at the Security Council.

By making such moves, stepping in front of you and saying that they condemn and so on and so forth, they want to make an impression that this is a kind of a position of the Security Council. This is a trick. And I don't think you will buy this trick. You are experienced people and you understand that these are like-minded countries, some of them obeying the block discipline. This approach is predictable, but it's very regretable that the Security Council is used for such a performance. It serves nobody – neither the Security Council, nor the task of finding out what really happened.

Q: For Russia, what are the salient questions that need to be answered by the ICAO investigation? Just the most important things that need to be resolved.

A: I wasn't there at the meeting of ICAO. I don't know about the exact content of the discussion and the details. I know that there are a lot of technical issues. There is a political issue which is being beefed up by our Western colleagues. And there are very practical issues, e.g. if Belarus had reasons to divert the plane, to advise the crew to land in Minsk and not to continue to Vilnius? This is the main issue. It's up to ICAO to see.

As far as I understand, ICAO should see whether the actions of the Belarusian authorities were in line with the Chicago Convention, which is the basis for international flights. From my humble position, I would also very much welcome the assessment of the steps to boycott the Belarussian airspace that were taken by the Western countries – whether they are legitimate or not, and whether they are compatible with the Chicago convention. I don't have any expertise to see whether they are even related to the Chicago convention. As a normal person, I see it very weird and illogical. And of course, this is not something that is normal for international relations between countries. I'm not an expert in aviation issues and I don't claim to be this way. Let's leave it to ICAO, and the Belarusian authorities.

I received only two questions in advance. I will read it aloud, but it looks more like a statement than a question, frankly: “My question concerns Security Council responsibility for authorizing resolutions used to destroy three countries Libya, Iraq and DPRK. The Security Council should compensate DPRK for obliterating the country in the war. Instead, the Security Council is inflicting sanctions, perpetuating its obliteration of DPRK. This is a criminal violation of international humanitarian law”. So far it is a statement you see? There is no question maybe you could ask it?

Q: The question is, a brilliant new well documented book ‘Immovable Object’ by A.B. Abrams, documents from Western sources and US military sources that the DPRK did not initiate hostilities in 1950. But the Security Council approved not only the obliteration of Korea, but the plan to use nuclear weapons over North Korea and China.

The question is, since Israel was repeatedly granted the right to defend itself, why is North Korea being singled out? It needs to defend itself against potential nuclear Armageddon, which it suffered in 1950. And this is documented by American military sources.

The Chinese Ambassador, when he spoke, said the sanctions have a means to reverse them. Frankly, from a sane point of view, the DPRK is entitled to reparations and so is Iraq and Libya. But instead of giving reparations, they're being sanctioned, which is like a double victimization. Why is this going on? I mean, I've asked this question again and again. The humanitarian exemptions do not work. They're just a cosmetic device.

A: We are with China about humanitarian exemptions, as you know. We always call on our Western colleagues to accept the fact that they do not work. They do not work in the DPRK, they do not work in Syria, in other regions. That's one issue. Another issue is what happened in 1950. I have some knowledge of the fact that I think we were not participating in these debates, the Soviet Union. And the Soviet Union decided, unfortunately, to step out of the discussion. China was a different case. And so, it's very difficult to connect us directly to what has happened. But it happened. That's history.

There are a lot of things that happened in recent 50, 40, 30, 20 years that we might regret, and we might look at them in another way. That's what books are for. There are a lot of authors explaining their opinion, and some of them are very emotional, I would say. And you also get emotional when you read this. And of course, you feel an urge to act and to criticize people like me in the Security Council for not doing enough. But believe me, we are doing enough. And we are discussing these issues with our colleagues. You know that Russia and China are very insistent on the humanitarian aspects, on the DPRK situation. Also, when you refer to sanctions, you should distinguish between sanctions of the Security Council, which are rather restrictions, I would say, and bilateral sanctions, which are much harsher and harder, and which really have an impact on that country. And we are very critical about sanctions of the second type, as you know.

Q: They're using the Security Council as the means of justification.

A: I would advise you also to ask it our American colleagues or European colleagues. These are their sanctions, not ours.

Q: Thank you. I'd like to ask a question about Mali. Is Russia in favor of individual sanctions or would be in favor of those sanctions on the coup leaders?

A: Russia is very cautious about sanctions. As you know, this is an instrument that can backfire easily. It's very easy to introduce sanctions, but it's not very easy to get rid of them afterwards. There are situations when Russia supports sanctions – as part of the activities of the Security Council. Before we come to this stage, we need to be absolutely clear of what's happening and how it impacts the situation in that country.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is, I think, the second coup or, I would say, unfortunate situation with the military in Mali during the recent couple of years or even a year. The situation is very unstable, and it would be very unreasonable for us to rush into actions and to sanction everybody before understanding what's happening. There are other instruments. First and foremost, there is mediation. There are regional organizations that are engaged very intensively. I know that ECOWAS is playing the key role as far as Mali is concerned.

We need more information. Sanctions are what Western countries would like to do. Plane diverted - sanctions. It doesn't matter whether there are reasons for that or not. Plane diverted in Belarus? Ok, sanctions immediately. It's just like knee jerk reflex. Russia? Computer? Sanctions. No, investigation, no facts on the table, just sanctions. That's very simple. It works like this. We need to be very cautious. And we need to understand that when we introduce sanctions, this is really the last resort and the last tool in our toolbox. We are still discussing situation in Mali. That's why I think this is too premature to speak about this.

Q: My First question is on Syria and the second one, as you expect, is on Iraq on the UNAMI vote. The first one on Syria is about the elections. Obviously, Russia is a big supporter of the 2254 for the political transition plan. Where do you see this election falling in terms of that political transition plan? Do you think it's possible for this election result to be annulled if the parties in Geneva, let's say, reached an agreement and decided on another election? I just wanted to know the Russian perspective on this. Then I'm going to ask about Iraq.

A: OK, you asked where it falls in [UNSC resolution] 2254? Nowhere. The answer is very simple. It's not related to this resolution. These elections were foreseen by the internal political process in Syria many years before. These are regular elections and we see absolutely no reason to link them with the political process that's going on in Geneva. Whether it might affect the future perception of these elections or not, it's up to the Syrian parties to decide. I don't exclude any of the scenarios.

So far, what do we have in Syria? We have an independent country which conducted elections, which was ready to conduct elections anywhere, I would say.  But you know that there were problems with this. Germany, for example, did not give an authorization to the Syrian Embassy and consular departments to organize elections on its territory, which was a clear violation of the Vienna Convention.

If I'm not mistaken, there were skirmishes in Beirut, where people who were going to vote were attacked, insulted, and intimidated, which is also very deplorable.

There was a clear pressure on Syrians abroad forcing them either not to vote or to vote in a particular way. But it's the decision of Syrians themselves.

The vote has taken place. We have absolutely no reasons to doubt the vote. We think that this was the choice of the Syrian people at this stage. What will happen after? How will it be related to the political process? Let's see the outcome of the ongoing political process.

Q: My second question is on the UNAMI vote. Some of my Iraqi sources said this was not what we asked for in terms of the election assistance. You know, Iraq asked for assistance, a big role for the United Nations to be supervising the election. This resolution gives them a system for their assistance. But they say it's not enough because of what's happening in Iraq. You know, the lack of transparency and legitimacy. Some parties accuse the local election authorities. What do you think about that? Do you think that the resolution gave the Iraqis the assistance they need in terms of the elections in October?

A: If I'm not mistaken, the Iraqis wanted some monitors for the election. In this resolution, there is a language on authorizing monitoring functions for UNAMI. That's why I think that the result is achieved. You know, monitoring of elections is a very complicated process, and it is potentially a situation which can lead to certain internal political issues and problems. That's why countries are usually very accurate when they speak about elections monitoring. And there should be very long-term work in this regard.

I am far from saying that ODIHR in Europe is a golden standard for monitoring such elections. But at least, for example, this organization has a long-established practice of sending long-term and short-term observers. It happens sometimes in a year span before the elections. There is a clear mechanism and a clear system of how to monitor. This is applicable to the member states of the OSCE. And again, we are not always happy. There are a lot of things that we reproach to ODHIR and you might know about this. They are not always unbiased. Even they are not unbiased, though they are supposed to.

What do you expect of the UN monitors who are not specialists in election monitoring, who are not long-term observers? To expect from them that they would engage in something that is absolutely outside of the framework of their mandate, even theoretically, would be a little bit ungrounded. I think that the resolution, in the way that it was adopted, is a very good result. And it really gives an opportunity for UNAMI to monitor the elections. That's what the Iraqi authorities were asking for from the beginning.

Q: On Syria. Ambassador, you said at these elections the Syrians chose their leader, but more than half of this country, at least the Syrians, did not participate in the election. A big chunk of Syrian society did not just consider Bashar al-Assad a legitimate leader. Some of them even see him as a criminal. How do you reconcile what you said – that the Syrians chose in a normal election? I mean, the country is not even in a normal situation at all.

A: I said that Syrians living in Syria elected Bashar al-Assad their president. And again, there were attempts to reach out to Syrians living abroad. I haven't heard that Syrian authorities prevented anybody, any category of people, from participating in these elections, saying that they could not participate. There were election offices abroad in several countries. I think that Turkey and Germany specifically banned these elections on their territory. I don't know how it is related to the criticism that not every Syrian could take part in these elections. On the one hand, Western countries criticize Syrian authorities that they do not conduct an inclusive process. On the other hand, they ban these elections in Germany and in Turkey, where, theoretically, any Syrian refugee could come and say that he did not want Bashar Assad for president. What was the correlation of this? I don't understand.

If you want to help organize elections in Syria, if you want to give an opportunity to participate to every Syrian abroad, then you do not forbid the country to organize elections on your territory. That's absolutely clear to me. Again, there are a lot of refugees who want to come to Syria but can't do it for so many reasons. Some of them are afraid. Some of them technically can't do it. Some of them are eager to come back, but they are not allowed to come. And there are cases like this. It would be natural to let them come and vote. There was not a problem like this.

Syrian elections were not announced yesterday and conducted tomorrow. There was a long preparation period. And Western countries and the United States, first and foremost, were critical from the very beginning. From the outset, they were saying that they would not recognize these elections, whatever happens. They didn't do anything to help bring Syrians abroad and to help make them vote.

This is not related to the political process that we see in Geneva, which potentially, as you know, will come to certain conclusions, which may change Syria’s legal, political and other landscapes. This is a process which is ongoing, and it is not related directly to what has happened in Syria right now because this country needs to be governed and they have president. The people who live there on the liberated territory voted for this president. So, what's the point of questioning their decision?

Q: Back to Africa. I have a question on Bangui and Central Africa, it's not a surprise for you. There was a request from Bangui to have 600 Russian military, notification has to be done 20 days before the arrival of the military. It was at the beginning of the month. And the notification ended last Monday, but that process was put on hold by several countries. Can you tell us if you are going to wait the lift of the hold before the arrival of the Russian military? Or maybe you can tell us that they already arrived this week. And if you could also tell us, if these military men are armed, are they going to fight? Thank you very much.

A: Some issues that you raised, they are directly related to the work of the relevant Sanctions Committee and I will not comment on this issue. This is a matter of internal discussions. ‘Hold/no hold’ – this is something that we do not comment on.

Same as Russia does not monitor flights to Belarus, we also do not monitor flights to Bangui. I don't have information on how many people came or didn't come there. I'm absolutely sure that they are not armed because they are not supposed to be armed, as far as I understand. They are instructors. Any quantities that you mention, those who came before, they came as instructors. I think they might deal with some armaments when they instruct people, but they are not supposed to fight. They are supposed to train people. That's what I know.

Q: When there is a hold on the notification, it doesn't exclude that you can send military troops to CAR.

A: It looks like you're encouraging us to do it.

Q: No, it's just a question. I don't know how it works.

A: I'm not aware of what's happening right now in this case. Again, with your permission, I will not comment on ‘hold/no hold’. But we are very obedient, and we are very respectful to all the decisions of the Security Council and the Sanctions Committee in this regard. We are very compliant with them.

Q: Russian authorities said that HTS, which is a terrorist group in Syria, accompanied by members of the ‘White Helmets’, transported six containers with toxic substances to an area in Jisr ash-Shugur – a city in Idlib. My question is, do you consider ‘White Helmets’ as a terrorist group like any other ones, or just like an opponents backed by a friend country, which is Turkey? Thank you.

A: We have a very long-established criticism of the ‘White Helmets’. There are different people in this organization. Me personally, I'm absolutely sure that there might be volunteers working there because of the urge of their heart. And they might believe that they are doing the right thing. But the majority of people whom we see on the Internet, or to whom these stories about what's happening in Syria apply, somehow happened to be related to HTS or other terrorist organizations.

And it's on their accounts that quite often our Western colleagues base their criticism of Syria, Russia, or whoever.

In this regard, the ‘White Helmets’ plays a very destructive role and it is clearly a tool in the toolbox of those who are working against Syria and its legitimate authorities. Of course, we do criticize this approach. We can't say that this organization is trustworthy because they were caught with a smoking gun very many times when staging those video reels that then went viral on the Internet. So they can't be considered an unbiased NGO. They just rather do what they are supposed to do by those who backed them.

If you follow the process of repatriation of members of the ‘White Helmets’ from the countries to which they were evacuated after the liberation of vast parts of the Syrian territory, you will see that many of them still remain in these countries of evacuation: nobody wants [to repatriate] them because of their terrorist activities. This is a clear indication that those are not, you know, activists. Those are not the people who wanted to help. But those were the people who were doing something that was supposed for them to be done. And this is very deplorable. That's why, of course, we can't see the ‘White Helmets’ as a reliable source of information either previously or now.

Q: What are you expecting of the Biden-Putin summit?

A: I meeting, first of all. We expect that there will be a meeting. There is still a long way to go and well, we keep our fingers crossed. But you know that our American colleagues are very capricious. They always try to put forward preconditions. There are no preconditions so far.

Minister Lavrov and other members of Russian élite indicated that we would be ready to sit down and discuss everything, provided that there are facts on the table.

Facts – that's what we really expect from this summit. There are no taboo topics. But we will not discuss allegations and claims of the “highly likely” or “there is no other plausible explanation” type. Give us facts. Put them on the table and we will discuss them. So far, there have been no known facts on the episodes that are attributed to Russia by the United States, Great Britain, and some other countries, e.g. Czech Republic.

So we are very keen to engage with the United States (as much as it serves the Russian interests of course) on any issues that are of mutual interest. But seriously, it must be equal-to-equal communication with facts on the table, that's for sure. So let's wait and see. It's not too long to wait.

Q: Do you think that Assad has been re-elected with 95.1 % of the vote? Do you think the elections were free and fair?

A: It's difficult for me to judge about this from New York. I'm not a Western politician that knows from the very beginning whether the results have been faked or not. I heard about these figures, they were put forward by the special agencies that are responsible for elections in Syria.

There are monitors there. As far as I understand it, there are no monitors from Western countries apart from individual monitors. Of course, there are monitors from I think the CIS, from Russia.

So far I haven't heard about any irregularities. Being here in New York, I don't have any reason to doubt the figures that were put forward by Syrian authorities in this regard. I'm not a mathematician, so I don't have any calculations of my own.

I want to thank you all. And I also want to congratulate you on the returning of Security Council to in-person meetings, which happened several days ago.

I pay tribute to the Chinese presidency. As you might have noticed, during the last months my colleagues and me personally all the time pointed out that Security Council meeting online was not normal, when New York was opening and when the General Assembly was working. So we were insistent and appealing to all of our colleagues to come back. And we are very glad that this happened. We are also very glad that Russia contributed to this by installing the plexiglas partitions that Ambassador Nebenzia handed over to Under-Secretary-General Khare yesterday.

These divides contribute to providing a secure environment for us to work in the Security Council chamber.

Thank you.