Press Briefing by First Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy on 29 April 2021
Dmitry Polyanskiy: Welcome everyone. I hope our events are well perceived in your journalist community and that you need them. I decided to introduce a little bit of new practice today. I will start with a quote of the month and a tweet of the month as I see them. The quote of the month is attributed to a famous Polish Jewish philosopher Stanisław Jerzy Lec. He lived in the first half of last century and said a very cute thing: “We thought we had hit rock bottom, and then someone knocked from below,” – this is about Russia-West relations during this month. I can elaborate on this if somebody wants me to do so. And then a tweet of the month. The “Oscar” goes to State Department Spokesman Ned Price, I will quote his tweet from 15th April: “We are sending a clear message to Moscow: we are holding you to account for your role in the SolarWinds intrusion, the reports of bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, and attempts to interfere in the 2020 U.S. elections”. It seems to be quite a normal tweet, but I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we are being held accountable for the reports on bounties on U.S. soldiers. This is a direct citation from Mr. Blinken's speech, Mr. Price was quoting his boss. So, this is a new chapter of manipulations that used to have a form of “highly likely”. There is no other plausible explanation. Now, only some “reports” are needed. It means that you can report something on me, and I might be sanctioned because of your reports. Nobody will ask me whether it is true or not. This is really a new chapter of disinformation. I think that this quotation deserves to be a tweet of the month.
Now let’s focus on your questions. We have received quite a lot of them, I'll try to be as brief as possible. I’ll start with the first question: “Some sources said that Wagner elements were combating with Chad rebels, coming from Libya, who are trying to take power in N’Djamena. I know you said Wagner don’t represent the Russian government but you didn’t exclude that some Russian citizens were in Libya. Did you have any information about the possibility for Wagner members to join Chad rebels?”
This looks like a very fascinating Hollywood script, but it has nothing to do with reality. This is all about reports that I mentioned at the beginning of my press conference. I do not exclude that these reports might also become a basis for some action against Russia because this campaign against a “malign influence of Russia in Africa” was launched by the United States a couple of years ago, maybe even earlier. Now it has become a crusade. It is very clear that we might be sanctioned because of these reports if we rely on Mr. Price and Mr. Blinken's opinion. There are no facts. There are only reports. They are being spread right now.
I faced a similar situation a couple years ago in the Security Council when there were allegations about “Russian mercenaries torturing people in the Central African Republic”. There was a person claiming that Russian mercenaries had tortured him, cut off his finger, and committed many other atrocities. Fortunately, just before the start of our meeting, there were revelations by the same person that he had been approached by Western Special Services. I will not name the country, but you understand which state I have in mind. These people not only paid money to him so that he would pretend to have been tortured by Russian mercenaries, to have had his finger cut off (though he had lost it in combats against the government forces), but also blackmailed him regarding the fate of his relatives. This is a very dirty story. There was no continuation, it was a big fiasco of a Western propaganda operation in the Central African Republic.
I see a lot of similarities in those cases. The situation in Chad is very precarious and fragile. There are a lot of rebels and a lot of military formations. The situation with all those military groups began 10 years ago when NATO and the United States bombed Libya in violation of the international law, in clear breach of the decision of the Security Council. We have had this mess until today because of these events that our Western colleagues do not like to recollect. I can't exclude that there might be Russian citizens in Africa. There are a lot of Russians travelling abroad. They have different things to do. I can't exclude that some of them fight for money. We are not the only country whose citizens are involved in these activities and we are not responsible for these citizens, they do whatever they do. Russia is a free country. If our colleagues present us concrete facts, then, of course, we will study them and proceed in a necessary way. But so far there have been no facts in the reports. Again, I refer to Ned Price’s tweet.
The second question: “There is this Thursday a SC interactive meeting organized, I believe, by Niger on the future of African armed groups deployed in Libya. Are you going to participate to this meeting and what proposals your country has to reduce the threat of those African armed groups who can go to destabilize others countries in the region, especially in the Sahel region?”
Well, indeed, there is a meeting. Frankly speaking, I haven't heard that it would be specifically on the future of the African armed groups. It was presented to us as an informal interactive dialogue on Libya. I think it's a closed meeting. My colleague Anna Evstigneeva will participate in this meeting in one hour. Of course, we have our position. We are very much worried. I will try to explain our analysis of why there are a lot of armed groups right now in Libya.
We believe that the more situation in Libya and elsewhere in the Sahel is stabilized, the fewer opportunities there are for the armed groups to survive and function. A very important precondition for stabilization would be to stop any foreign interference into the affairs of these countries. So far it has not been the case. We clearly see that there are interests of big countries behind a lot of conflicts in Africa. This situation continues. We always appeal to our colleagues to stop interfering, stop meddling into the internal affairs of other states. They are very keen on and very energetic in accusing Russia of such things, but they are very modest when it comes to their own involvement in different situations in Africa or elsewhere.
Another question: “Ukraine has dammed the Dnieper to prevent water reaching people in Crimea. How can Russia counteract this and why is it not discussed at the Security Council?”
Crimea is not the issue for the Security Council. This is a part of the Russian Federation. There was a referendum, and people decided to rejoin Russia. We have spent many hours explaining the reasoning of such a step, we have had several events. We will have more events to explain the real situation in Crimea, the real situation in Ukraine and the motivation why citizens of Crimea made such a decision.
Indeed, Ukraine has been blocking water from reaching Crimea for five years or more so far. But it's not the only blockade that's been imposed. It started with the electricity blockades. We have managed to help our compatriots in Crimea. It is now not dependent on Ukraine, neither on electricity nor on water. A lot of facilities are put in service, and this year or maybe at the beginning of the next year, we will reach a total water independence from Ukraine. But this is a very important situation. As you know, Ukraine used to be part of the same country, the Soviet Union. All the facilities were built for everybody, water pipes and channel in Ukraine were built specifically to provide water to Crimea. Now Ukraine decides that citizens of Crimea do not deserve to have water from Ukraine, from the facility that was built specifically for citizens of Crimea.
At the same time, I would like to point out a very big contradiction in the position of Ukraine. It is appealing to residents of Crimea, residents of the east of Ukraine, saying that they are a part of this country and Kiev wants them back. Well, the question of Crimea is closed. The question of Donbass is not closed, but the door is almost shut because people there receive bullets and shells from the Ukrainian forces on the daily basis and they have a very little motivation to go back. So, if this is a message to convince the rebellious regions to come back to Ukraine, this is a very dubious policy, but it's up to Kiev to decide.
The next question is on Iraq: “The president of Kurdistan region sent a letter to the Russian mission and other members of the Security Council asking for a broader UN role in Iraq, especially in terms of Erbil-Baghdad relations and the upcoming national elections. I attached a copy of the letter. Any responds to those requests by President Barzani? Given the vote to renew UNAMI is just two weeks away, what is Russia's position in terms of expanding the role of the UN mission in Iraq as it is requested by President Barzani and the Iraqi Prime Minister?”
Iraq is a constant topic for my press conferences. Our position is that the mandate of UNAMI is flexible and considerable enough. It gives the possibility to Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert to provide good offices, both in dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil, and to render technical assistance in the organization of the elections. We think that strengthening of interaction between Baghdad and Erbil will contribute to the overall stabilization of the country. But this is an internal dialogue and it has certain rules and traditions. The central role in this dialogue belongs to Iraqis. There is no doubt on this. We will study in the Security Council the demands of the Iraqi side in connection to the elections, and we will have to decide how to better help the Iraqi government to conduct the elections. So, this discussion is ongoing, I would rather not give any details so far. I can assure you that this is in the center of the attention of the members of the Security Council.
The nest question: “Many say that China along with Russia are increasing their influence at the United Nations challenging the US and Western decades-long dominance. Do you agree with that assessment? If yes, what kind of UN Russia aspires to see?”
This is a very big one. Of course, Russia aspires to see the UN as a symbol and a stronghold of multilateralism, because this is the only universal organization where every country, no matter how big or small it is, has a role to play. We think we should continue like this.
And we think that the Security Council and General Assembly are the only organs that have total legitimacy in world affairs. It applies to the use of force, sanctions, and everything else. Of course, it doesn't prevent individual countries from introducing sanctions and punitive measures, and waging wars. But this is the outside of the scope of international relations and international law. That's why the Security Council and General Assembly are important, especially for this.
Of course, specialized agencies play a very important role in such questions as health care, climate, development. We do not underestimate this role. On the contrary -- we are on board and cooperating. The problem is that some countries today really want to build another club of the like-minded, where nobody dares raise voice against them or swim against the stream. Of course, they would prefer to have the United Nations without such uncomfortable members like China and Russia, have the prerogative not only to argue, but to block the decisions that they see go against their national interests.
By doing what we do, we think not only about Russia and China, but also about other countries that are not represented in the Security Council. I wouldn't say that we want to challenge the US and Western decades-long dominance. We just want to create a fair world that everybody deserves, where everybody's voice will be heard.
The United Nations is very important for this. There is no other framework where we could put to life this dream of many generations. We have all the chances right now, because we have absolutely no reasons to see another Cold War. We don't have any ideological difficulties and divergences, which was the case back then. We might have a little different view on social issues, on the way the states should be organized, but it doesn't prevent us from being a reliable and open-minded and good-willing countries.
We still have this golden chance to make the world a better place. We will oppose the attempts to burn the international cooperation down to the level where certain that like-minded so-called democracies, would try to impose their will on everybody else, and lecture everybody on how they should behave and live. If you call this challenging the US and Western decades-long dominance, so be it.
Next question: “The President of the United States ordered the cessation of support for the Saudi coalition in the invasion of Yemen. Do you assess whether this command has been executed or not?”
It's very difficult for me to see whether this command was executed or not because we are not meddling in the internal affairs of the United States and we don't have inside information on what commands are given and how they're executed. But we see that the situation in Yemen is still very precarious. We supported the Saudi peace initiative and I think everybody also supported it. Now there are very intensive and very difficult negotiations, which we fully support, in order to bring a long-lasting peace to Yemen. I think this country deserves this. It's very difficult for me to judge how the United States will be acting or should be acting or whether there are changes in its attitude towards the conflict in Yemen. There are a lot of encouraging words. We are watching what's happening on the ground. But I think that our American colleagues are the best party to address this kind of question to.
Next question: “Both Russia and Iran have called for the United Nations to play a role in regional dialogue, in particular under UNSC resolution 598. Why hasn’t the United Nations done any tangible action in this regard yet? How the Security Council can encourage the Secretary General to be more attentive to this idea?”
There is a lot of activity around possible regional cooperation, regional dialogue, including under resolution 598. You know that there are a lot of initiatives proposed by many countries, including my own country, about organizational and regional security, confidence-building measures, measures intended to boost the dialogue between the neighbors. And we are not the only ones who are thinking along these lines. Of course, there are Western countries. There is China, there are regionals themselves. I believe there is a lot of thinking around this issue right now. And maybe we will see some kind of practical and tangible results in the nearest future.
But one thing that is very important to understand before we can proceed with this kind of exercise is the fate of the JCPOA. There are very intensive negotiations underway in Vienna. And we all want to understand how the United States will return to the JCPOA, what will be practical steps in this regard. I know that the United States and Iran are both engaged so far indirectly. Nevertheless, we are helping these two sides to come to a common understanding and, of course, the restoration of JCPOA in its previous edition with the United States complying with its obligations and with Iran complying with its obligations, and with everybody complying with its obligations. It will be a very important breakthrough and an important building block for any regional dialogue to proceed in the Persian Gulf and even in a bigger geographic scope.
Q: In that leaked tape, Javad Zarif said that Russia didn't want the JCPOA to happen and pretty much sabotaged it. Your comment?
A: Well, it's very difficult to comment on tapes and reports, you better ask the American colleagues. They like reports, tapes, and scandals. We're commenting on facts. The fact is that we are together in the JCPOA and Iran was complying with JCPOA for a long time. Iran is a very important partners for Russia. The first and the most important breach of the JCPOA was the United States when it decided to withdraw and triggered a lot of other events. There can be a lot of emotions around this issue. There can be a lot of national positions which were never considered to be unified. But nevertheless, we're looking at facts. And the fact is that JCPOA has survived. Iran is a member of JCPOA. Iran stands ready to remain a member of JCPOA and to play a positive role. In this regard, I believe this is much more important than any tape, scandal, or report. Of course, we will discuss this issue bilaterally with our Iranian colleagues. We already have discussed it. We will judge on the importance of any steps or reports by actions rather than by words or claims.
Q: It doesn't sound like a denial, Ambassador.
A: I'm not Javad Zarif to deny. If it were my leaked tapes, then I would be the right person to address this question. But how can I comment on somebody else's tapes? This is very much above my payroll. Sorry.
Q: Congratulations, on the upcoming Orthodox Easter. My question on Iran was already asked. But I have another question. I just saw that Maria Zakharova announced the visit of the Secretary-General to Moscow. Do you have any information for us on what specific topics they will focus on during their discussion there?
A: Well, indeed, the Secretary-General will visit Moscow. He will be there on May 12-13. As you know, the Secretary-General regularly visits Moscow, as well as other important capitals of the world and other cities as much as he can. During such visits, we have this comparison of notes or touching base with the SG on different international issues, and this time is not an exception. We expect very fruitful negotiations with Foreign Minister Lavrov, first and foremost, this will be the core of SG’s visit. We are always glad to welcome the Secretary-General and his team in Moscow. And I hope that there will be a very intensive diplomatic and cultural program for him. Moscow is very beautiful at this time of the year. So I am really very envious of the Secretary-General in this regard.
Q: Can I follow up, please? Can you tell if this time it will be more focused on Ukraine or Syria or any other issues?
A: All these topics will be covered. Ukraine, Syria, other issues, Libya, climate, whatever. Such negotiations always cover a very wide agenda.
Another question: “The United States, on the one hand, imposed sanctions on Russia and on the other hand offers the meeting with President Putin, to what extent is this action of the Biden Administration to influence U.S. domestic policy?”
Again, I'm far from claiming that I am an expert on the US domestic policy, and I frankly try to be as far from it as possible. This is a messy thing. As for international relations, and US-Russia relations, you know that we formulated our approach towards the United States in these particular circumstances. We are ready to be a reliable partner of the United States, of everybody else, to the extent that the United States will be a reliable and a good-willing partner to us.
As the quote from Mr. Jerzy Lec goes, so far we have reached the bottom, but then somebody knocked from beneath. That's about our relations. Really, there are a lot of things that we don't understand, there are a lot of things that the United States claims to have happened and provides no proof about these very poisonous actions to any bilateral relations, including relations between Russia and the United States. As you know, both our ambassadors now are in their respective capitals consulting with relevant agencies on how to proceed further. Is it the lowest point? I don't know. We hope that it is the lowest point, but it takes two to tango.
If the United States wants further escalation of the situation, we have a lot of measures to offer in counterbalance. We were very pragmatic in our approach. We accepted the idea of a summit because we are always for the dialogue, but we will see how it will all be prepared. Remember how it was with the Trump Administration, when the sole issue of President Trump meeting President Putin was already considered a national treason. He was almost prosecuted for this. I remember that at the beginning of his presidency some of members of his staff were also criticized and prosecuted for meeting the then Russian Ambassador, Mr.Kislyak.
I don't know what kind of approach the US Administration will take this time. If it's constructive and forward-looking, if it's about cooperating on a lot of important issues where we can cooperate, then we are there. If it's about blackmailing, blaming and trying (as in those tweets that I quoted), to make Russia responsible for the reports, then this is a one-sided game. We don't need to play it. The United States sets the rules itself, so it's up to it to play.
Q: Given the kind of context of the last few weeks with multiple envoys being expelled in tit-for-tat moves between Moscow and Washington and a number of European capitals, how would you characterize the current state of relations between Russia and the West? And what practical implications is the closure of some of these diplomatic channels having on international diplomacy? Are you concerned?
A: Of course, we are concerned. And again, I have to repeat for the third time the quote that I started with. We thought that we had reached the bottom, but then somebody knocked from beneath. And that's really the situation. We thought we were at the lowest point. But it seems that our Western colleagues and partners have a lot of other instruments in their toolbox to try to expose Russia, its malign behavior, its role as an enemy of humanity, a rogue state, you name it.
This was a very strange month, not only because of the actions of the US. As you know, we declared countermeasures and we're now going to implement them step by step. They are all clear and transparent. We were also a bit surprised by the actions of some of the United States henchmen in Europe. They also started to expel Russian diplomats. I think they did this in order to show their loyalty their patron, and frankly, this is very ridiculous. Let's take the situation in the Czech Republic when the country itself cannot understand what happened seven years ago. There are a lot of theories about this, a lot of versions, but no proofs or facts. There are only very questionable photos of passports. But those identities have been already denied by the relevant countries. And on the basis of these claims and allegations, this country decided that it was reasonable enough to introduce such measures against Russia. Again, it takes two to tango. If the Czech Republic wants to diminish our relations to a zero, we will follow suit, it's reasonable.
The Czech Republic expelled a lot of our diplomats without proving any their involvement in malign or any other activity. We have big interests in the Czech Republic. We used to have a lot of citizens who visit the Czech Republic. I don't know how it will happen now.
We need a lot of presence in the Czech Republic to accommodate the interests of our tourists coming to that country. What if the flow is zero? Well, maybe we will not need so many people there, but it's not up to me to decide. We'll see how things will proceed. But the authorities also mentioned the word ‘parity’.
As you may have noticed, there is no such notion as parity in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic and Consular Relations, if the Czech Republic understands parity by keeping the same number of diplomats in respective capitals, then okay, but it's not our choice.
We made a very logical assumption regarding parity. We do not have any local staff in any country of the world (with very few exceptions in some African and Asian countries). For example, here in New York, we have our own drivers, cleaning ladies, etc. -- we do everything ourselves, we don't hire a single American here in the United States. Neither does the Russian Embassy in Washington, neither does the Russian Embassy in Prague. But the Czech Republic has several hundreds, as far as I understand, or hundred something employees hired in Moscow who are doing other basic things. They have Russian drivers, Russian cleaning personnel, Russian assistance to diplomats. But parity is parity. If we don't have this supporting staff, then the Czech Republic will also not have then. We were not the first to use the word parity. Every action has its implications and meaning for the overall context of the relations.
Q: And if I might just ask by way of a really quick follow-up. Moscow reacted quite strongly to the expulsion of diplomats from Prague, say Prague, I think, expelled 18 envoys, and Moscow responded by expelling 20, which the Czech Republic has since said was a stronger reaction than anticipated, and looked to their allies for support. And is Moscow sending a message? What's the rationale behind that asymmetrical approach?
A: Do you mean that we should have expelled 18 instead of 20?
Q: I think they indicated that it was a stronger reaction that they had expected and they were expecting a tit-for-tat rather than an asymmetrical response.
A: You know, at school or at the university, arithmetics was not my favorite subject. And I got really bad marks. I don't think that you should consider diplomats to be very good in these exact sciences. It's not the question of exact number, it's the question of signal. Of course, we think that the Czech Republic thought there were 18 people doing something the Czechs didn’t like. We found out that there were 20 Czechs doing something that we didn't like.Given that we are not too big specialists in arithmetics, I think you should forgive us for this a little bit in-advance step.
The situation is the same with several other countries -- Poland, the Baltic states, Bulgaria. It's the question of attitudes and intention rather than the question of number. So by doing so, the Czech Republic and other countries, they clearly show to us that they have no intention to develop bilateral relations with Russia on a goodwill basis. Then the numbers do not play a very big role, frankly speaking.
We'll see how we tackle the parity and how many people will be left from the Czech Embassy, and who will clean their floors after all the supporting staff leaves.
Q: You talked about US-Russian relations, you start hitting rock bottom and going below the rock bottom. What steps do you think that the United States, the Biden Administration, could or should take to try and restore those relations? And what could Russia also do? Thank you.
A: This is a bit of a provocative question because I'm far from giving instructions to the Biden Administration. As you know, we are different from the United States by the fact that we do not teach other people or governments as to what we should or should not do. The fact is that the United States decided to break these relations, to downgrade them.
The drastic movement towards the escalation happened at the last days of the Obama Administration, when there was a big expulsion of diplomats, a confiscation, de facto stealing of our property, which is still in the American hands in Maryland and the Long Island.
Then there were these developments on the Skripal case, where we have about two hundred questions unanswered by the two sides. And everything is top secret and classified. And it is all highly likely and there is no other plausible explanation.
Then step by step, any interaction with Russia (e.g. President Trump's desire to meet President Putin in Helsinki) was regarded as an act of national treason. Meeting with Ambassador Kislyak was also fatal for some members of the Trump Administration.
Quite clearly, it was the United States’ line of action. And it's up to the United States to correct this line of action. I don't know what kind of steps they have to they have to take if they want to correct this line of action. But it's up to them to decide and it's not up to us to give any advice. I would say that it's quite clear for anybody who is more or less an expert in diplomatic relations: when a country is doing some steps of goodwill and when a country wants to escalate the situation.
As for us, Russia has always kept the door open. We are not shutting the door right now. We are ready to interact and engage on the issues of mutual interest. If the United States wants to perceive us as an enemy and a threat, it's a worse scenario for the United States, but we will accept it. If the United States is ready to cooperate and really solve international issues together, then we are ready, you know where to call us.
Our position has not changed, it is very consistent. We were always supportive of a positive scenario for relations with the United States and with the West in general. Again, sorry for repeating many times it takes two to tango. So far there is no music playing and no dance on the dance floor.
The next question: “What would Russia like to see as a fair and equitable resolution of the Cyprus dispute? And does Russia believe that Turkey’s thousands of occupation troops still stationed in northern Cyprus may violate international law?”
Cyprus is the hot issue nowadays. You know that there is a conference in Geneva with the Secretary-General participating. And we really wish him good luck. I know that he already hosted a press conference. I had some time to browse it. There seems to be no solution in sight for the time being, which is very deplorable.
As for Russia, we stick to the internationally acknowledged and UNSC-supported basis for the settlement in Cyprus with the bicommunal, bizonal federation. There is no shift in our policy. We are closely following the development of the situation. On several occasions we remarked that maybe we should think about reforming this system of guarantors because sometimes they become part of the problem, not part of the solution. That was our assessment, we do not conceal it. Maybe the solution lies there, but it's up to the sides to decide what they want.
The next question that I have is: “What can you tell us about the Security Council meeting on Friday on Myanmar? What outcome do you expect?”
Yes, we are holding an informal meeting. I think it is an open dialogue on Myanmar with participation of some ASEAN countries, which is logical. This meeting is important to support the recent summit of ASEAN countries on 24 April, which finished with a very important declaration and the five-point plan of action. We totally support these decisions. We think that ASEAN is playing and has to play a very important role in providing good services to the parties in Myanmar. The situation there is still quite dire. Since the very beginning, we were appealing for the end of foreign interference, we were against any incitement to violence. Our position was that all sides should refrain from violence, provocative actions, and meet at the negotiation table.
The ASEAN position goes very much along these lines, and we would welcome any further involvement of ASEAN. And of course, we would welcome a peaceful resolution of the current crisis in Myanmar with full respect for its laws, the aspirations of the people of Myanmar, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of that country.
I exhausted the questions that were sent to me. Thank you very much for sending them in advance. And I think we have ten more minutes for questions from the floor.
Q: My question is about Afghanistan. As you know, the UN played a role a little over a year ago in endorsing or adopting the US Taliban deal. And you heard from President Biden last night that the US is beginning the withdrawal of US forces around the beginning of May. What do you think? What is Russia’s position? What is your country's position on the US withdrawal and what happens next? And one quick follow-up on the Biden-Putin summit. Can you say if it's been welcomed and where it might be, RIA reported yesterday, it's tentatively set for June 15 to 16. Where do you think that's going and where might it be? Last time it was in Helsinki. Thank you so much.
A: I will start from the second question. I don't think that logistics is as important. They can meet wherever they want if there is a will from the two parties. As I said, the last experience of Russia-US summit was that President Trump was accused of national treason and he had enormous headaches because of saying that it was OK to meet with President Putin. So I don't know how it will happen with President Biden. But we were never avoiding summit. We were never avoiding dialogue. We are ready to engage on whatever issues the two sides find constructive. The problem was created by the United States. It's up to the United States to clear this mess. If they want normal relations, then we will wait, no problem. We are there, President Putin is ready to meet, as his spokesman said repeatedly. So I think logistics is secondary in this regard. When and where is not a problem for our side, I assure you. And we have no preconditions.
As for Afghanistan, it is indeed a very precarious situation. We follow the ups and downs of the US negotiations with Taliban. We try to be very instrumental and make our input. As you know, the extended ‘troika’ with Afghan parties recently met in Moscow. And we had a very good declaration which was distributed as a document of the United Nations, as far as I understand.
Our position is quite clear - we want peace and stability in Afghanistan. We are ready to contribute to further efforts to bring peace to that country. But of course, it's first and foremost the solution for Afghanis and by Afghanis, and they need to come to terms themselves. We are trying to facilitate this issue. And of course it is up to Washington to determine how, when and in what form the United States is going to end its presence in Afghanistan. As I quoted at the beginning of this conference, we were already sanctioned for the reports about Russia paying bounties to Taliban fighters, even though the intelligence, journalists, fact finders, everybody repeatedly refuted those reports.
I can assure you that we always played and will be playing a very constructive role in Afghanistan. We want to see the end of the US presence when US and Afghanis find it comfortable and reasonable to do so. But it's up to them to decide.
Q: My question is about the Secretary-General renewal process this year. This year there are a lot of self-assessed candidates. And we were wondering if Russia has already decided to endorse any candidate. If I'm not wrong China and the UK have already endorsed the current SG. And what does Russia think about all of these new self-proclaimed candidates or applicants?
A:. We heard that there are several self appointed, I would say, candidates stepping in the race for the Secretary-General’s office, but it's a very clear position that was expressed in the common letter by the President of the Security Council and PGA, that the candidates should be presented by countries. That's why we respect, of course, the position and the desire of those who asked for becoming candidates for the Secretary-General's position. But so far, as far as we understand, technically, there is only one candidate, Secretary-General Guterres. We are now finalizing our position on his reelection. I think that A.Guterres’s visit to Moscow would be a very good opportunity to hear his plans for the next four years if he is reelected, to make him understand our preoccupations, our views on certain issues. And hopefully after this exchange, we will be able to make our position more clear and more vocal. Thank you.
Q: When is he going?
A: He is going on 12-13 of May.
Q: I just wanted to know specifically Vice President of Ecuador just said she's going to run Rosalia Artiaga. So I was just wondering, you know, considering she really has experience and she's sort of a heavyweight candidate, does that change your position at all? Do you think she should be considered because she's different from the other six self-nominated candidates?
A: If she's supported by Ecuador as a country, if there is a letter of support saying that Ecuador presents her as a candidate for nomination, then of course we will consider. But so far, correct me if I'm wrong, all the people that are in the news, they are self-nominated candidates, they are not supported by any government.
The UN is not a governmental organization. There are maybe no clear rules of this, no constitution to determine how the Secretary-General be elected. But there are certain basic things. And if you attentively read the letters that are circulated in this regard, you will clearly see that support of national governments is a very important criterion.
Q: Ambassador, you said Russia is a free country. This morning, Mr. Navalny in his court hearing in Moscow, called President Putin the naked king. He said, “I would like to say your king is naked, and more than one little boy is shouting about it. It’s now millions of people who are already shouting about it. It's quite obvious -- 20 years of incompetent rule have come to this. There is a crown sliding from his ears. Your naked king wants to rule until the end. He doesn't care about the country, has clung to power and wants to rule indefinitely”. Your comment, please. Is this true?
A: What is true? Do you mean the words of Mr. Navalny in the court or the part about Russia being a free country? I think that your quote proves that Russia is a free country, because Mr. Navalny, despite the fact that he's a convicted criminal spending his time in prison right now, is allowed to say such things. And you can quote him. By the way, this is not the case in many of so-called developed democracies. I haven't heard a lot of quotes by e.g. Julian Assange recently. No quotes about his views on Western countries and the Western democracies. I haven't heard anybody asking questions about his state of health and why he's being jailed. It's not that I'm comparing the two of them. Of course, Mr. Navalny has nothing to do with Julian Assange.
Q: Can you comment on his quote?
A: About the President being a naked king?
A: I think you chose a wrong a clubhouse discussion. To seek comments on such quotes, you need to find one on psychology and on people whose mind is not very sane I would say. But this press conference is about political issues. Mr. Navalny is a Russian citizen. He faces criminal charges on several cases. He's now in prison, convicted. He comes to court and he makes certain statements. Well, it's up to him. Maybe he read this tale in the prison recently and is very much inspired by it. Again, the fact that he makes quotes and you spread them and ask me questions about them is the best proof that Russia is a free country.
Q: In the UN peacekeeping missions, are there Russian official troops as a part of it? Because they're very well-educated -- the Russian troops. I mean those African countries where there are conflicts.
A: As far as I'm informed, there are Russian policemen in a lot of missions, but not Russian troops. Russia is not contributing military for peacekeeping operations.
Maybe I am not aware of a handful of such people, but mostly those are other countries who contribute contingents for different reasons, --economic, language reasons, etc. But we are mostly concentrating on sending policemen in peacekeeping missions.
Q: My other question is which countries, to your knowledge, are responsible for selling arms to all of these rebels in the Chad region and in all those areas of Africa where there are all these rebellions? Who is selling weapons to them?
A: It’s difficult to say. But there are sanctions committees that try to determine in different configurations who is selling arms. There are non-party subjects who are also trying to make profits out of this. It's very difficult to say and to comment.
Q: On Syria and the issue of the cross-border resolution. Is there any formula under which Russia will agree to more than one crossing? Like an additional crossing to ‘Bab Al-Hawa’ that we have now. Or is it that you don't want even ‘Bab Al-Hawa’ to be renewed? Thank you.
A: As far as we see, one border crossing is more than enough. We really haven't even seen enough proofs that it is indispensable, given the fact that the attempts to launch cross-line deliveries are being sabotaged. So we have the impression that people are doing this on purpose to highlight the fact that allegedly the cross-border scheme is indispensable and there is no other way out. This is not convincing to us. So far we are continuing discussions in the Security Council.
There are a lot of grey zones about cross-border deliveries. We also raised this issue in the Security Council. If you look through the statement Ambassador Nebenzia made yesterday on the humanitarian Syrian issue, you will find many answers there.
Q: One last follow-up on Myanmar. In your view, would sanctions inflame the situation or would some sort of Security Council sanctions be a signal with a positive effect? Is this something that you're considering?
A: Well, we are no big fans of sanctions as you might conclude from our statements. We think it's the ultimate tool which we need to use with great caution. It's very difficult to make targeted sanctions -- even against individuals. Then still, they would affect the population.
We see a very bad example of that in Syria, which is under individual sanctions from Western countries with asset freezing and so on and so forth. And they say that there are humanitarian exemptions. But this is not the case. Yesterday even USG Lowcock acknowledged the fact that the situation is far from what's being depicted to us in terms of the sanctions.
It's very easy to introduce sanctions, launch these procedure. But it's very difficult to lift the sanctions and also to see whether they are bringing results or not.
In case of Myanmar we doubt it very much. We think that by making pressure on only one side and supporting the other side of this crisis in Myanmar, we are not helping to find the solution. The first thing is to stop violence, to sit down at the table and to understand what has happened, understand the reasoning of the military, the approaches of the opposition, and the position of the civil society. I think we can do it.
We have all the tools in our toolbox for this. But some countries say that we immediately need to introduce sanctions. Well, Myanmar lived under sanctions, (not SC-imposed, but individual) for dozens of years, and it didn't change much. Why do you think it should be introduced now and why would it change something for that country? It would isolate it, make it rely upon itself. It would give us less leverage in terms of influencing the situation there and trying to be helpful in bringing together the different parties.
So we really are not supportive of this scenario, especially for Myanmar in the current circumstances. Having learned about the results of the ASEAN summit, we are more enthusiastic and more optimistic because we see the regional approach. We see this trend for dialogue and involvement. This resonates very much with our position. Those speaking about sanctions in this context, maybe they have something else in mind? Some objectives other than reestablishing dialogue and cooperation within Myanmar?
Q: Just wanted to ask you a follow-up to A.Guterres's visit to Moscow and Moscow wanting to hear his plans for the next five years. So could you just provide a quick summary on what Moscow would like to hear from SG Guterres?
A: It could be how he views his work as the Secretary-General in these turbulent times, what efforts he would do to preserve multipolarity , the international diplomacy and the United Nations. What is the place of the United Nations in the world, according to him? And what are his immediate plans? What are his priorities, political, economic, cultural or social? It's a very broad discussion.
And of course, he is not an unknown figure to us. It's not that we are now meeting him for the first time and are going to put questions like “what's your name, date of birth, and so on”. Of course not. But now he has experience of almost five years. He has a lot of things to process and a lot of things to share with us. And we need to understand what his conclusions for this first term were and what changes (if any) he intends to make during the second term, how he will interact with the different countries and initiatives.
The SG office is a very important position. Much depends on the Secretary-General and the Secretariat. That's why we're very keen to engage in a very constructive and open-minded discussion on these issues. We are very glad to welcome him in Moscow.