Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations

Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations

Press-Conference by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia on the outcomes of the Russian Presidency in the Security Council in the month of October

Vassily Nebenzia: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen! I'm happy to welcome you at the traditional press conference at the end of the presidency. I'm sorry to keep you late Friday afternoon before the weekend. The reason is that we have just finished our work today, we had the last session at 3 pm. And I will return to that in a few moments.

I want to start by saying that, you know, October was a short month that went very fast. We just started, and now we are already finishing our presidency. We are glad that the Council managed to proceed with the working methods outlined in my letter on October, which supposed having meetings in the Security Council Chamber. We couldn't finish it that way, but we are planning to resume it as soon as the situation permits.

Our Mission made plexiglas partitions for the UNSC Chamber which we have already donated to the United Nations, but we plan to have a short ceremony dedicated to it. But we will do it next time we will be in the council. It was good to return to the chamber, I must tell you. This feeling was shared by all my colleagues. They regret now that they cannot continue in the same manner. But we have opened the gate anyway.

You know that the month of October is traditionally less intensive as compared to September, which holds the high-level week. Yet the Council managed to be dynamic in October with this program of work, all elements of which were implemented. We are particularly satisfied with the signature events we have managed to organize. We were aimed at building a unifying agenda in the Council, as you will see later, we did not succeed completely on that. I will return to that.

First of all, I would like to highlight the VTC debate “Maintenance of international peace and security”, comprehensive review of the situation in the Persian Gulf region that we held on 20 October under the presidency of Minister Sergey Lavrov. We are encouraged that the overwhelming majority of the Council Members expressed a genuine interest in our proposals on the escalation in the region and the establishment of comprehensive security and confidence-building arrangements in the Persian Gulf. We believe that the regional security issues should be resolved by regional means with regional states playing a leading role in the process. However, global players also have a special responsibility to help facilitate long-term arrangements for the regional stabilization.

We see this meeting of the Council as a very first step. We were not naive to suggest that we would solve the situation in the Gulf by the meeting alone, but that was a very first step on this road. We will follow up on it. It would be more than natural, given the repeated requests from participants to explore in practical terms options for confidence-building measures and prevention of unintended escalation. We don't start from scratch here. We had excellent briefers who gave us an overview of how similar things got approached in other regions. They particularly cited the role that the OSCE, at its time, played in Europe. We are ready to continue discussions on this matter with the Council members and regional states.

I'm anticipating your question on the so-called snapback. I would like to note that as President of the Council and just like our predecessors, we continued to proceed from the factual situation that the sanctions regime against Iran was lifted five years ago with the adoption of the UN Security Council resolution 2231, which is fully in force. There are no grounds to raise the issue of the reimposition of those sanctions, either in the Council or elsewhere. All who claim the opposite are misguiding and misleading. In August and September, almost all UNSC members confirmed the opposition to the illegitimate attempts to trigger a so-called snapback. So the snapback did not happen and this is a fait accompli.

The second signature event that we had on 29 October was a VTC debate on women, peace and security in order to commemorate the anniversary of the adoption of the resolution 1325. You know that the written voting procedure for the draft resolution that we prepared has been just completed and the results have been announced. They are as follows: 5 votes in favor, 0 votes against, 10 abstentions, which means that the resolution has not been adopted having failed to obtain the required number of votes.

While working on the draft, we tried to accommodate a broad spectrum of opinions expressed by our Security Council colleagues, as well as to find a balance between short and concise congratulatory draft and the one with the substantive elements. What happens is another proof of a worrying trend. I mean attempts by certain countries to usurp and establish a monopoly on the protection of the rights of women while denying others the right to take part in the dialogue on how to improve the standing of women, how to work on the establishment of terminology and produce recommendations in this regard.

I know that they will present this resolution and its non-adoption to the public at large as a water-down and a departure from previous resolutions. That is not true. First, the resolution refers to all previously adopted resolutions on the subject that retain their validity. Secondly, it was a commemorative text that was not meant to “add to” or “deduct from” the topic. By killing the resolution, these delegations prevented the world community from celebrating this important milestone and sent by this a confusing message. I'm not sure, though, that women will understand their reason, they will have a hard time explaining it. Speaking on this, I will refrain from going into more details. You will see our explanation of vote on that issue shortly. It will be more extensive and will explain what was behind of what happened around this resolution.

I also wanted to single out an open VTC on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, that was an equivalent of the UN Security Council quarterly debate on the subject. It was held on 26 October and was presided by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin who delivered a statement on behalf of Minister Lavrov. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki spoke from Ramallah as well as other high representatives of Tunisia and Vietnam. It was an important meeting in light of regional developments. I mean a recent normalization between a number of Arab states and Israel. We were always saying and we continue to say that whatever normalization we have, it should not be at the expense of the Palestinian people and at the expense of the just settlement. I have an impression that the meeting under our presidency underlined an overwhelming support for the internationally recognized parameters of the Middle East peace process, especially a two-state principle, leading role of the Quartet in promoting settlement of the core Middle Eastern issue, the Palestinian question, on the basis of collective rather than unilateral approach.

The Council has also paid due attention to the files that found their way into our agenda in accordance with the traditional reporting and mandate cycle in October. We discussed quite a number of African dossiers – the situation in the DRC, Mali, Great Lakes region, CAR, Abyei. We listened to the briefing of the chair of the Somalia Sanctions Committee.

The Middle East cluster of our program of work in addition to the quarterly debate on the Middle East included meetings on MINURSO and Yemen, UNDOF and 1559 report. We have conducted a combined meeting on the Syrian political and humanitarian dossiers, which was a logical move since there were no major developments on the ground. We also have the Latin American files, the Council paid attention to Colombia and Haiti. A resolution to extend the mandate of BINUH was adopted.

The Council reacted to urgent matters transpiring throughout the month. On 9 October, we had close consultations and adopted a PRST of the developments around Varosha. We also discussed developments around Nagorno-Karabakh, first in AOB and then there were close consultations under the agenda item “Maintenance of international peace and security”.

You know that we had Syria CW on 5 October. We regret that our Western partners do their best to silence an uncomfortable evidence from independent experts on the Syrian chemical file. In particular, it was regrettable that they blocked with a procedural vote the participation of Jose Bustani, former OPCW Director-General, in the mentioned briefing. Not only voting down a briefer is quite rare, it is nearly unprecedented in the Council history.

Today at the wrap-up session for the Council members my colleague, the German ambassador tried to convince us that once we wanted to do the same with the High Commissioner for Human Rights. I told him that it was not the case. We tried to prevent the agenda item, not a briefer speaking. Well, I remember that he and his colleagues also prevented once representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk from participating in the meeting of the Security Council on the situation in Ukraine. Anyway, Ambassador Bustani, who is a highly experienced professional with an impeccable reputation, also faced a political smear campaign. The opposition to his participation by our Western colleagues was another testimony that they are simply uncomfortable with the truth.

At the same time, during the meeting they repeatedly insisted that there is a need to invite to the Council the current OPCW Director General, Fernando Arias, who is, in their view, the most comprehensively expertized on all matters. We can only welcome such an initiative and we expect that Mr. Arias will join us during the next Council meeting on resolution 2118, which we will insist to call in an open format. We hear some views that we should go closed again, but we do not understand why we should hide our debate on chemical Syria from the general public.

I think I will stop at that. Now I am prepared to answer your questions.

Q: I have a follow-up question and a question on the women, peace and security resolution. The countries that abstained said that they did feel that the resolution was a step back, and it was being watered down because operative paragraphs made no reference to civil society and human rights, which were mentioned in the preamble paragraphs. My second question is a follow-up to the Gulf security discussion that Minister Lavrov chaired. You called it the first step, but the Gulf countries themselves did not participate. What do you see as the second step to try and more broadly include all parties in the region? What kind of a discussion? Thank you.

A: On the first subject. We know the rhetoric that kept coming on women, peace and security. We still believe that it's not convincing. I will not go into detail, but we will try to explain in detail what was in and what was not in our resolution. Civil society, human rights – all was there. We are for the civil society and human rights. I mean, accusing us of trying to strike out references to this is at best unwarranted. For the sake of time, I refer you to the EOV that will appear publicly shortly.

On the meeting on 20 October. As I said, we didn't expect that we would make a revolution, that we would solve the crisis which had been developing for a long time. Both within the Gulf and from the outside, nobody expected miracles. It is important. Well, briefers and countries that spoke offered their recipes. Some spoke of some kind of Helsinki-type conference. Others were saying that we needed to start with small steps. I think both approaches can be explored. But the most important element is the political will to engage. I will refer you to the statement made by Foreign Minister Zarif, who was extremely constructive. He said a few phrases that need to be analyzed very carefully, including what he was saying of the countries of the region’s need to turn over the page, and not start from scratch because history lies behind all these relations, but stop engaging in the rhetoric that everybody has been hearing for a long time. It will help to move forward. These countries will live together. They will not “immigrate” anywhere. They will have to find means to coexist and to create such an architecture of living together that would make null and void things like arms embargo, etc., because if there are comprehensive security guarantees for all in the region, you don't need to go for the arms race to compete. That is the key.

We were encouraging all countries in the region to participate. Some of them chose to do so. Some of them delegated their position to the GCC Secretary-General.That's their right. We cannot make them speak. But we've been working with them and we'll continue working with them, encouraging them to be constructive and indeed to open a new page or at least promote a new page in the relations in the Gulf. That will help solve many other issues, which flare in the Gulf because they are, in fact, products of tensions between the countries. Should these tensions be alleviated, it would be much easier to solve regional crises. We will continue, we are committed to do it and, since we started this process, we now feel an obligation to continue it.

Q: So a quick follow-up first and then my question. The follow-up is on your opening-up of the Security Council and your plexiglas screens. Clearly, there has been a setback with the outbreak at the Niger Mission. I just hope that everyone there is recovering, but also what is the current status of the rest of the Council? You sat next to the ambassador of Niger. Have you been tested? Are you fine? So that's just a quick sort of check on how things are. When will the Council resume its normal business in the chamber? And then my question is actually about something you haven't discussed this month but arguably, it's the most promising thing currently on the Council's agenda, which is Libya, because you put out a statement on Libya. I wonder if you could tell us where things are on Libya with those talks supposed to be approaching and there is still no agreement or an appointment of a new special envoy.

A:  Thank you for inquiring on the situation in the Council. I must tell you, it's not a big secret, that it is not that the total mission that has been infected. Some of them, including those who went to the Security Council, are negative. As far as I understand, most of them are asymptomatic. At our Mission, we did the test the next day, all people who were susceptible. We came negative, all of us.

On the first day we learnt it I did two things. I told my colleagues in the Council that in these circumstances we cannot go to the Council, not because we are scared, but because we cannot operate in the format of 14. Of course, we had to monitor the situation and decide how we proceed further. That was, I think, an informed decision and reasonable precautionary measures. All the meetings for this week we had to switch to the VTC. At the same time, I encouraged my colleagues to do their best as soon as possible. First, to get reassurance. Secondly, to absolve the Security Council Chamber.

It is not the Security Council Chamber that is the reason for the infection. Obviously, our colleagues received that elsewhere. But we cannot return there before we know that the mission of Niger is out. That is at least two weeks since the potential day of infection, which is at least end of the next week. Where we will go from there I don't know yet, we will discuss it.

The mood in the Council is not pessimistic. I don't hear anyone saying that we should now forget the chamber and turn to VTCs. I think everyone enjoyed to be back. There were ideas that we might choose ECOSOC instead of the Security Council Chamber for the time being because it's bigger-distanced. Frankly, I don't see much difference. The question “when will we go to the chamber” is an issue to be reckoned in light of the situation that is developing. I know that next week they will feature in-person meetings of the General Assembly. They are approaching important events, including voting in the committees. I know that the decision to go in person was taken by the President of the General Assembly.

We fully understand the risks. Nobody is totally immune. We can get it wherever. But to presume that the UN premises is the most dangerous place in the city, I think, is a mistake. It is one of the safest places. So without any hubris about it, I believe we should continue to be vigilant and reasonably cautious, but at the same time pragmatic. We should use opportunities that we have to continue our work.

Now on Libya. Indeed, there have been promising developments after a long deadlock in the situation. Now the lights are on the horizon and we see the end of the tunnel. I have to recognize the role that Acting SRSG Stephanie Williams has played. We are hopeful that recent developments, recent understandings that were reached and future political talks will lead to what we have been aspiring to for a long time –unification of the country and establishment of a single Libya. For that purpose, of course, we need a special envoy. It will be a special envoy now. But whatever he or she is called, we need this person to act, especially given the fact that, as we hear, Stephanie Williams will leave sometime, not very far from now. We have been hearing about this for a long time. She has contributed a lot.

This issue is overdue, but to solve it, we need to reach consensus in the Council. We are prepared to support a candidate that will be proposed and put on the table. But so far, I cannot say anything about it because there is no name. There were names floating. There were opinions expressed one way or the other. But it would be premature for me to name anyone at this stage because no name has been proposed to the Council.

Q:  On behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, we appreciate you doing this second time during this month. My question is about the resolution, which you mentioned, on women, peace and security presented in the Security Council. I noticed that the final draft didn't include the topic of ending impunity for rape and other forms of sexual violence, which can constitute a war crime and seems to be quite an important issue, so I wonder why this issue was missing in the resolution and was it something which could provoke countries not to support the text of the resolution?

A:  I'm not surprised by your interest in the WPS issue. You are very attentive, I would say, because we haven't been asked this question by anybody, although we believe that this is an important issue for those delegations that are promoting this. Indeed, we had a paragraph in the resolution that dealt with these issues. We were surprised, frankly, that this issue and the paragraph on ending impunity for sexual violence in conflict was gone and it was not gone because we deleted it. The night before the open debate we received multiple requests from our colleagues, from our partners, from Western colleagues to delete this paragraph and replace it with PP11 of resolution 2467, which in our view has a different focus. But they insisted on it and we complied. I had three or four e-mails specifically asking us about this, we checked it a few times to make sure we were not mistaken. So we, frankly, are quite puzzled by this inexplicable development, which contradicts the basic approach of some countries that they declare consistently. But we did what they said, in accordance with their letters.

Q: On Nagorno-Karabakh – this issue was discussed behind closed doors in the Security Council. There were several attempts for ceasefire, and still the fighting continues. In your opinion, do you think it would help to bring this issue under open discussion in the Security Council, probably bringing representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan?

A: There are three issues here: ceasefire, verification measures, and the political process. Unfortunately, all three are practically absent. Ceasefire is being constantly violated despite the commitments made both in Moscow and Washington. Verification mechanisms and humanitarian pauses are not there. The political process continues with the involvement of the co-Chairs of the Minsk Group. The countries participate, but we must recognize that they are very far apart on how they see the end of this conflict.

As President Putin said recently in one of his interviews, both these countries and peoples are very close to us, so to us this is not an external issue.

It's not a domestic issue either. Though in a way, it is a domestic issue because we have huge diasporas both of Armenians and Azeris in Russia, almost two million Armenians and over one million Azeris. And we have a special relationship with those countries. So for us, it is a special issue, which resonates in our hearts. But as President Putin said, besides this being a very difficult issue, both sides have their own part of truth, to which they stick. How to marry this? It's not an easy task, even given all the background that has been developed up to date, both by the UN and the OSCE Minsk Group co-Chairs.

At a certain point, there was hope that we were very close to a solution of that issue. It was not the case. Now we are having what we are having. I hope that the parties will implement what they agreed to (I mean, first of all, a verifiable ceasefire), and then they will engage in a political process meaningfully.

I cannot exclude that if the situation deteriorates, the Security Council may again return to the issue and look at it. In what form – we will decide as we go. If the situation worsens and if the conflict continues to internationalize, as we hear from many quotes, we'll see what we will do.

We clearly expressed at the Council that we support the work of the co-Chairs. This is one of the issues where Russia, France and the US are united in their facilitation attempts. Soon we'll have another round of meetings by the parties in Geneva. Let's see where we'll go from there.

Q: Two questions regarding collective security in the Gulf region. You mentioned the normalization between Israel and the Arab world in the context of the "Palestinian question". How does that new normalization affect collective security in the Gulf region and Russia's vision for it going forward? And related to that, the maritime border talks between Israel and Lebanon, US-brokered but backed by the UN. Your ally there, Hezbollah, publicly opposes it. Most experts say that they're at least acquiescing, if not implicitly backing it. How could confidence-gathering measures there between Israel and Lebanon also affect Russia's vision for collective security in the Gulf region going forward?

A: I think that it would be a little bit premature to believe that the idea itself of confidence-building measures will facilitate the indirect talks between Israel and Lebanon on the maritime borders. I wish it could, but let's be realistic. Whether the Israeli-Arab normalization is a cube in the puzzle of the regional security - I don't know yet, because we don't know what the puzzle itself will look. I hope it will be one of the elements.

We always favored normalization between the countries in the region. But at the same time we were saying and we continue to say that while others are normalizing their relations, the Palestinian cause shouldn't be forgotten or neglected.

You know that one of the arguments for the good of normalization was that among its conditions was postponement of annexation. To the term "postponement" we prefer complete rejection of annexation. But that was an argument that served to prove that it also helped the Palestinian cause - as the annexation didn't take place. I hope that this normalization between Israel and certain Arab states would also add value to the process of normalization in the Gulf. But it is not limited to this process. It should be much broader.

We know about normalization, say, between Israel and the United Arab Emirates or Bahrain, but Iran and Israel are far from normalization, to put it mildly. Living up to the times when we see normalization between the two is a big task to pursue. We hope that together with the rest of the international community and the Gulf members we will be able to pursue this goal.

Q: I have two questions. On the JCPOA - it just may be reinstituted next year depending on who wins the US election next month. If Iran is complying with all the demands of the JCPOA, what concession do you think it should receive in return? I mean, do you have any suggestions on that?

A: The easiest thing that comes to my mind is that the party that left the JCPOA and reintroduced sanctions on Iran should lift them, because JCPOA was a deal, and a deal suggests that both parties, while compromising, have a share of it. Today the world community has the share of the deal, in the form of Iran complying with non-proliferation and inspection of its nuclear program, and halting any possibilities that might make Iran's nuclear program a problem.

IAEA confirms and has done so many times over that inspections show Iran’s compliance. For this compliance and the obligations that Iran undertook under the JCPOA, it received certain incentives in the form of lifting sanctions, economic opportunities, etc. But Iran has been deprived practically of all that, once the US withdrew. So the easiest way that comes to mind is to restore all that Iran was promised for observing the deal. Frankly, Iran is observing the deal in the absence of any benefits that it is entitled to according to it.

Q: Today and on previous occasions, you have tried to separate human rights from resolutions on peace and security. I'm not sure how that can be done. In the larger sense, it seems that human rights are part of anybody's peace and anybody's security. But could you kindly give us an explanation of your position on that?

A: Yes, of course. Sometimes we are perceived as opposing, fighting and trying to prevent human rights, which is not the case. In any resolution that we negotiate, first of all, we try to be reasonable and meaningful. Of course, human rights may be one of the causes of conflicts, no doubt about it. Although there are many other causes of conflict that can precede human rights and be a more important factor in conflict-building.

To say that any conflict is based on human rights violations is a little bit of an overstatement, which we are trying to avoid. We try to achieve balance in any resolution that we pursue, and give a fair account for all factors that affect this or that conflict.

Some of our partners are indeed trying to put human rights as one and the only reason for any conflict that flares around the globe, which objectively is not the case. There are many conflicts - we can look up and see that there were other reasons that ignited them, although human rights is the primary victim of any conflict. Wherever a conflict begins, human rights are immediately violated because either it's an armed conflict or a civil strife, during which time human rights violations grow. But you may put it the other way round and say that human rights violations are the result of conflict erupting in a country and not vice versa. Situations are different. We cannot put them all under one format and say that we know the reasons for any conflict that erupts in the world. There are different factors, but we recognize that gross human rights violations are one of the reasons why conflicts develop.

Q: It's been nearly a year since Russia and China put forward the resolution proposing sanctions relief for North Korea. Just wondering if any plans to push that further or anything you can tell us about that. And on Libya, one part of the deal that was made the other week was that all foreign fighters, foreign mercenaries, leave Libya within three months. Are you aware of that starting to happen? And do you have a message for countries who might have such fighters in the country? Thanks.

A: On DPRK resolution, we are where we are. It is on the table, but we are realistic and we're not moving anything for the sake of moving. Not much is happening on this track. We have dialogue between the US and the DPRK, let's see what happens. Now we all realize that it is not DPRK, which is the greatest US priority at the moment. The country is in the election mode. Before November it's premature to talk about what will happen next.

On foreign mercenaries in Libya. Yes, there is an appeal in the statement. Let them leave. I may guess what you hinting at, although I will not go any further. But I will tell you that there is a lot of foreign presence on the Libyan soil. And if they went out altogether simultaneously, I think that would help Libya a lot. And this does not concern only those countries who are the usual suspects. We know that there are mercenaries that are imported to Libya, e.g. from the Middle East. There are foreign private companies present at the Libyan territory which come from the countries that are of a habit to accuse other countries of having mercenaries in Libya. There are foreign troops in Libya too.

There are many things and many factors. Let's see how realistic this appeal and call will be.

Q: Just a quick follow-up. Since you mentioned the US election, a few businesses around New York where we're all based have started boarding up their windows ahead of next week. Do you have any concerns about what might happen after Tuesday?

A: Can I leave this question unanswered? Do you prefer to ask me who is winning because I am Russian? You should ask me that after the announcement of the results of the election so that I would be able to tell you that I had known everything before. Look, I wouldn't like to see New York veneering businesses like was in April or later in May. Of course, I would like the city to stay safe and avoid any turmoil whatsoever, for whatever reason. This is a great place. It is a place where we all live. We want it to be safe.

Q: We are expecting the change of the U.S. permanent representative after US elections. Were you able to get along with Ambassador Kelly Craft?

A: My answer is, first of all, why do we expect a change of the US permanent representative? We don't know who the next president of the United States will be. Whoever he is, the change doesn't come overnight. Yes, we are on very good terms with Ambassador Kraft, like she's on very good terms with all other ambassadors in Security Council. I said it before and I will confirm today that we have a very friendly environment and we enjoy a lot of time together outside the Council.

And in particular, I enjoy her company outside the Council bilaterally and in the larger meetings. I think she is enjoying respect from all Council Members in particular for being humain, very kind, very considerate, polite, being lady-like, if you wish. She's a person who you can easily deal with. We understand where we stand. We understand our differences, but we are honest and frank to each other, and we do not do things behind our backs. So yes, I'm on very good terms with her and I appreciate she's been with us in the Council since she arrived.

Q: I would like to know what your assessment is of progress on a new constitution for Syria. There were statements that the Syrian government is trying to delay a new constitution until elections next year. I wonder what you think the progress is and could it happen in the next two or three months so that there would be a new constitution?

A: The elections in Syria that are forthcoming in 2021 are not conditioned by the process in the Constitutional Committee. They will take place anyway. Constitution is not a condition for the elections to be held. That was not the mandate of the Special Envoy. That was not the mandate of the Constitutional Committee, its members fully realize it.

We had a meeting on political Syria the other day. Geir Pedersen briefed us, and he was optimistic enough on the next scheduled meetings of the Constitutional Committee. This was because he had visited Damascus and held meeting with Syrian governmental officials. Of course, he spoke with the opposition that is represented on the Constitutional Committee. He reported that some modus operandi, some compromise on how to proceed further on the agenda and what to discuss, was found. He was optimistic that it will provide for progress on the track of the Constitutional Committee. The meeting is scheduled sometime in November, at least in November. We hope that what Special Envoy reported to us will materialize in Geneva.

Q: I have to ask about the Russian vaccine, bringing which to the United Nations has been discussed with the Secretariat. I wonder if there is any update on this.

A: I have to report to you that I have not to yet been vaccinated. Indeed, the offer was made. But you should realize that the vaccine has not been administered in Russia yet. They are still in clinical trials, although on a massive scale. The Government announced that massive vaccination of the population will start in November, targeted groups first, but then the regular population. Two more vaccines arrive in the meantime. This one is more advanced on the stages of clinical trials. UN recognized this offer, and we engaged in a conversation on that.

But in order to make it the reality a lot of things have to be done, including the WHO prequalification. Besides, there are procedural and health questions around it. It is not an easy question with in any vaccine, not just this one. Any vaccine to be offered to the UN also should go through a process, which does not happen overnight, over a week or even a month.

But we will pursue this issue, if we have an agreement on that, because that's a voluntary thing. We will not be running after UN staff with the syringes, trying to vaccinate them on the go. That's a voluntary exercise. If there is interest and we have the conditions needed, then of course we will do it.

Q.: Why do so many opponents of president Putin end up shot or poisoned?

A.: Name those many.

Q.: Nemtsov, Skripal, Litvinenko, Navalny.

A.: Do I have to deduct that you hint at President Putin being behind those episodes?

Q.: I did not say that. I said “why?” I did not say that he is authorizing.

A.: Just to put things straight, Skripal was not an opponent to President Putin. Secondly, many things happen around the world and people, including politicians, get killed. Somehow nobody accuses the leader of a country where a politician is killed, that the leader gave an order to do this or that assassination. For me even to imply or suggest that President Putin is behind orders or instructions to kill this or that person is an insult.

Unlike those who come with those insinuations, I know how our system works, and even to suggest it is simply improbable. That is unimaginable, but we hear a lot of these things. The general public is infected, unfortunately, with this virus, and after they read the New York Times day after day, they easily believe that, say, President Putin is conducting closed cabinet meetings, you know, on Thursday, to find out who else to target.

This is such rubbish that it's not even worth commenting, but unfortunately, it finds a way to serious media, in particular in the United States. Unfortunately, this hysteria and madness flourish. What can I do to it? I cannot counter it, unfortunately, with this interview. We live in a world which is characterized by a slogan "post-truth world". Many things are said, implied and alleged through media, which cannot be challenged in a normal process, so to say. This is being presented as a fait accompli, as a done deal. Countering it is really denigrating. It defies honor and dignity.

Q.: And the Navalny’s allegation of a weapon-grade Novichok to poison him on the plane, second time for him. I know the government has spoken, but that is what he's alleging, and we saw the video of him on the plane. Why does someone like that get attacked the second time?

A.: What do you mean by the second time?

Q.: Well, it is the second time he has been hospitalized.

A.: Navalny hospitalized for second time? That's news for me. This episode is the first time that they associated with this so-called Novichok.

How the OPCW was involved? What the German government did or did not, despite all our requests to engage? That's yet another matter. But look at the document that the OPCW produced, where they characterized the substance allegedly found in the samples. They say this is a substance which is not on the convention list, but which may be similar to this or that variety of this substance branded Novichok.

So we even don't know what this substance was. We requested the OPCW to tell us what it is - they don't tell us. We invited the OPCW to Russia. Now they are coordinating and agreeing on the modus operandi and the memorandum of what and how OPCW will do in Russia. We are prepared to cooperate, but we are asking our European partners to provide us with conclusions, and they completely refuse.

Even on Skripals, I was saying that to us, this case is not closed. We've been asking so many questions on it that still go unanswered. We are not now at a time when we can discuss it in a reasonable and knowledgeable mode, because we are too far into this press conference. But I am prepared to discuss these things with you separately. If you are interested, I will tell you what we think about it and what questions we are having that still go unanswered, while it is nevertheless presumed that Russia did it, because who else could have? And if it is Russia, than who else but President Putin? This is ridiculous, but unfortunately, we have to face it. But I suggest that we dedicate a special dialogue with you on that issue on a separate occasion.