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 24 February 2021

Dmitry Polyanskiy: Good morning! We are starting our press conference. I'm very glad to see you. This is our second press meeting. I hope that it will take place regularly. We try to spare time for answering your questions and speaking to you live. We have received a number of questions. We thank all those who have sent these questions, so I will start with them and then I will make some introductory comments on what we see as highlights of the month or maybe of the week. Then I will be ready to take your direct questions. I count on you understanding – my answers on your very specific questions may be not very much satisfactory and in-depth as you might hope, because I need to have them beforehand in order to do so.

So I will start with the first question which is about steps that Iran and the US should take to be able to go back to the JCPOA. I think everything is clear right now, the situation was clarified when the United States withdrew its initial letter allegedly triggering snapback. We all understood that snapback was not happening, that it was only in the imagination of our American friends. We were very sympathetic with them. We didn't make a fuss about it hoping that they would come to a realistic understanding of the importance of the JCPOA. And that's what happened. We think that's a very right and logical step.

Of course, we also note that Iran has taken a lot of steps that could be viewed as running counter to the JCPOA. But Iran was not, as you know, the first to strike. Iran was not the first to initiate these steps. They were made in response to the American withdrawal from this agreement and because of the sanctions that had been introduced on it. So Iran was responding to these steps. We also take note of reassurances by Iran, as well as by the international agencies, that all these steps which Iran has taken can be repealed. In this context, we were very much encouraged by results of the recent visit of IAEA Director General Mr Grossi to Tehran. He came back with certain reassurances. That's why we are now optimistic. We believe that the situation is quite manageable and sustainable. But nobody should take irresponsible steps.

We need to understand the mechanism how the United States will return to the JCPOA because there is no automatism to this. It should be a common decision of the participants. I think that this work is going on in Vienna. As far as I understand, at least judging from commentaries and from media experts, the big question is who does what and in what consequence, who starts first. Iranians say that the United States should first review its sanctions and repeal them. Europeans also need to take certain steps and then Iran will repeal what has been done. You know that there has been a law that requires certain measures from the Iranian government. The United States is saying that Iran should first repeal these steps and then the United States will think about canceling sanctions and so on. We don't think it's a productive discussion. Some ways how to ensure that the United States returns to the JCPOA and at the same time Iran's positions are not threatened by this can be found. There are means to do so. Our people in Vienna are now busy working on scenarios of how the return can take place. To my mind, the most important thing at this stage is to abstain from any inflammatory rhetoric, from provocations that could endanger the process which we all see as very positive. So let's wait and see, and hopefully in the near future we might have some encouraging news about how it will be done and on what basis.

The second question for me was: “What do you make of the fact that the last week's meeting between the Europeans and the Americans did not include Russia and China?”. I assume that this is also about Iran.

Well, you know, we organize meetings with many countries. Not all of them are all-embracing. So we don't make a problem that Europeans are meeting Americans and are discussing certain issues of their interests. They are allies, they have the right to do so. Sometimes we meet together, sometimes we meet without them. Sometimes they meet without us. So we don't think that this is something that should be exaggerated as important. We don't have any divergences of views so far in New York about what's happening around Iran, around the JCPOA. There might be some nuances. We are different countries and we work in different ways. But in general, there is unity. That's why we're not jealous of some countries meeting and discussing certain things without us. We know that there will be more meetings with us and we are sure that the decisions also will be taken with our full participation.

Let’s go on to the next question: “The General Assembly adopted last year a rule permitting the online vote. Are you in favor of the same rule for the Security Council? If not, why?”

No, we are not in favor and we are not in favor of the GA's decision to vote online. It's not that we want to hamper the activities of the General Assembly and the Security Council, but we think that even at the time of pandemic we should be very responsible and very vigilant as to the way our meetings proceed and our voting procedure goes. You know that nowadays there are a lot of means how to interfere into communications between different parties, how to hack and get some information, how to compromise the information that is being transmitted online. These are all very serious things.

Since the very beginning, we have thought and maintained that it's not by chance that the founding fathers of the United Nations decided to establish permanent representations here, which supposes that we should go and meet personally. Somebody raising a hand or pushing a button when sitting in the hall is not the same as somebody pushing a button through his computer, because you don't know who this person really is and whether he/she is eligible to do so. Is there a quorum for such a decision? Was it himself or was it a third party that compelled him to push the button?

Let's imagine that there is a voting procedure within the Security Council through VTC and people are raising hands. If there are technical glitches and if there is no Internet connection, how do you think the voting should proceed? Shall we wait for the others, shall their hands be counted, even if we don't see them on the screen? These things happen. You follow our VTC meetings, I cannot say they are ideal. We can put up with this when it's about discussing topics, but not when it's about voting, which is a very important procedure.

That's why the Security Council adopted a written voting procedure which ensures that the vote is made by a right party through right channels. Yes, it's a bit lengthy, but it's not the end of the world. The alternative to this will be returning to normalcy and conducting meetings in the Security Council Chamber or in the General Assembly Hall. As we all hope, it will happen quite soon.

Now all of us are dependent on the Internet. Depending on the Internet, we are depending on the host country. One might smile saying that this is all phobias and exaggeration that some representations can be deprived of the Internet, but I can tell you that this is not fairytales. For example, our General Consulate in New York was cut off phone and Internet connections for several days and it still encounters certain glitches in Internet communications which are quite serious. Can you imagine what would happen if the Russian mission was cut off the Internet while we were supposed to take part in the voting? This is a very serious thing. So we are not in favor of relying on the Internet with such important things. There are written procedures which give us additional safeguards in this situation. 

However, we are hoping to get back to normalcy which will solve all our issues. We know that the situation in New York is becoming better, maybe not as quickly as we all want. We don't see any serious problems in returning to the Headquarters if observing all necessary precautions. Russia is always in favor of such a move. Since the very beginning, we have been ready to work in the Security Council Chamber without going online. Unfortunately, it was not shared by our colleagues. We hope that very soon we will be back to the Security Council Chamber and we will see you at the media stakeout which is also a part of a very pleasant routine for us. We miss it incredibly. 

I also have a question about Mali: “After the recent G5 Sahel summit, its participants said they want a more robust mandate for MINUSMA in June. Not anymore the peacekeeping mission, but the mission which will impose peace. Do you agree with this idea and the change of the mandate?”

 Well, it's a tricky issue. On the one hand, there is much feeling that one should be more decisive, more efficient in certain areas of instability. Mali is one of them because of the terrorist activities. On the other hand, it's a very blurred line between helping a country, respecting its sovereignty, and imposing peace as it was formulated. We don't think that a robust mandate is a good answer to the challenges that these countries have. Peacekeepers, first and foremost, are supposed to be neutral and impartial. As for their security, they shouldn't be viewed by any of the parties as a biased side. This might antagonize them with certain groups of the population, as sometimes the situation on the ground in such areas is not very clear to understand. There are a lot of factors that should be taken into consideration when you analyze the situation. We support the current mandate of MINUSMA. Frankly speaking, we don't yet know the details about what was decided during the G5 Sahel Summit.  Nevertheless, you should also remember that we have been always supportive of the G5 Sahel forces. We were in favor of providing them with a UN mandate and UN financing. But as for the robust mandate, we are a bit cautious, we need to see what it is all about.

During the last briefing in January one of the correspondents said that he would give us the number of Russian advisers staying in the Central African Republic. Bur we have never received this information from him. Can you provide us with it? Anyway, we have always informed about sending advisers and instructors to the Central African Republic. We have never concealed these figures and these facts. So, according to the information that we have provided to 2127 Committee, there are 535 advisers and inspectors in this country. They are there on the basis of an official request from the authorities. They are involved in training operations in such areas as technical engineering, medical and topographic tasks, communication, marksmanship,  physical, psychological and logistical training. So far we are quite satisfied with this. I don't have any other figures about the Russian presence in the Central African Republic. That may vary a little bit from what is on the ground, but I don't think there is a big difference.

Then I have questions about Kurds. The first one is on Iraq: “What is Russia's view on growing tensions between the federal government and the Kurdish regional government over budget and deep economic crisis?”

I do think the UNAMI is doing enough to contain this crisis. We know that there are some difficult questions in relations between Baghdad and Erbil about common budget, and distribution of profits from oil. Of course, these are all aggravated by the crisis that Iraq is still witnessing. We know that the government is taking urgent measures to rectify the situation, but it is still very complex and difficult. Urgent and painful reforms are needed in this country. This is also not a secret. We deplore very much that there are certain obstacles in the dialogue between the federal government and the Kurdish authorities, but we don't think it's a tragedy. We think that Iraqis are wise people and they will sort out their differences by themselves in their own way. We also think that the good offices that are being provided by UNAMI are welcome in the country. And we think that UNAMI is doing a good job in this regard. But of course, there are certain limits to its involvement in these processes - not to surpass a certain line, which would mean interference into the internal situation in this country.

The second question on Kurds is about Syria: “The Kurds are still not part of the political process in Geneva. This further pushes them to depend on the presence of the US military in Syria. Is Russia doing anything diplomatically to reassure the Kurds about their future in Syria or this issue is left for the military and people on the ground?”

Well, it's a strange question, frankly speaking, because, as you know, the Kurds are participating in the work of the Constitutional committee, and this was one of the preconditions for Russia to proceed with the assistance in setting up the committee. We were very much insistent on the participation in this process of the religious and ethnic minorities that would reflect the Syrian society. We believe that only on such basis the decisions elaborated by this body will be durable and sustainable. I assume that when you say Kurds you have in mind a certain organization that is representing only a part of the Kurdish population –  “Syrian Democratic Forces”. Indeed, they are relying on the United States. But logic is a bit twisted in your reply, because we think that presence of the United States in the northeast of Syria is the factor that pushes the Kurds to cooperate with the United States and not vice versa. And that creates a lot of risks, including the risks of separatism in these areas.

This is very worrying if we analyze the statements of US representatives responsible for Syria on this issue, for example, James Jeffrey, when he was clearly saying that one of the tasks of the US presence in these areas is not to allow them to return under the control of Damascus. It means the violation of unity and territorial integrity of Syria as foreseen by the resolution 2254. In the meantime, of course, as you know, Americans are exploiting the oil resources on this territory and there are a lot of articles on this issue.

We also know that our military is participating in the patrols in the Kurdish areas in the northeast. They are providing security. They tried to block the possible tensions between the Kurdish detachments and Turkey. They act as intermediaries in many situations when there are also tensions between Kurdish and Arab groups, which traditionally populate these areas. We are engaged in these activities and we will continue them. We also know that there is ongoing diplomatic work. We are speaking with all the parties that are involved in these conflicts, including the Kurds, and we will push them to sort out their differences and to live in one united country, which was the case for many, many years. As you know, for centuries, Kurds and Arabs were living together side by side, and the Syrian Arab Republic existed and will exist on this basis for many years on.

The last question that I have is about Myanmar. “Riot police in Myanmar shot dead anti-coup protesters and injured several others as security forces increased pressure on people that are against the military takeover. This happened after the UN Security Council's press statement that expressed deep concern about the declaration of the state of emergency by the military. Could you tell us what are the prospects of sanctions or next steps by UN Security Council against individuals or entities to stop the shooting and repressions of the peaceful demonstrators and reverse the course?”

Well, the question is formulated very emotionally. It's very difficult to answer without emotions on my side. We all are very worried by what is happening in Myanmar. And you saw our press statement on this issue, and, by the way, many people were doubting that it will be released. There were already certain allegations that the Security Council is split, and that Russia and China do not support the common position on this issue. We do support the common position. We are also very worried, we think that the country should return to normalcy, to the normal rule as soon as possible. But we are not in favor of interfering in the internal affairs of certain states. This is a very easy trap to fall in when you analyze such situations. Myanmar as a country that is not on the agenda of the Security Council. There are a lot of other situations when there are either military coups or protests or something else. It doesn't mean that all of them should be viewed by the Security Council.

We think that the task of the United Nations and Special Envoy Ms. Schraner Burgener is to help the parties come to certain solutions in the interests of Myanmar people that would restore democracy, allow the country to move on, ensure the liberation of those detained and avoid further violence. That's why we would be and are very cautious regarding the steps that could incite this violence, that could show that we are trying to interfere on the side of one or other party in this situation.

This would be only be to the detriment of Myanmar. And it would clearly mean that there is foreign interference into its internal affairs. I think we should avoid such situation. And that's also why we are not a big fan of sanctions, in African context we think that this is a powerful tool and this tool should be used only in a targeted way not to make things worse. While countries introduce sanctions in their own national capacity, they are not UN sanctions, because in the United Nations we need to come to certain common denominator on such issues. And it's not always easy. That's why it takes certain effort.

I'm sure that we will continue discussions on Myanmar, with Myanmar, with regional partners, ASEAN countries, and that we will come to further steps. They might be not as radical as you describe in your question, but we hope that they will be efficient, and they will really be felt on the ground and help the actors in the Myanmar crisis come to a certain solution.

Q: I have two questions. One is a quick one. You have Syria humanitarian meeting tomorrow. In the next few months, we're getting to the renewal of the crossborder resolution. Has Russia come to a position of how many checkpoints should be authorized this time? So that's the quick one. And then the other one is your thoughts on the new US Ambassador. She presents her credentials tomorrow, we are told. What do you hope will come from her presence here in New York, obviously, in the context of President Biden, his speech to the Munich Security Conference a couple of days ago, where he described Russia as attacking our democracies, and weaponization and corruption, fresh sanctions being planned by the US on the SolarWinds cyberattacks. With all that context, how do you see the relationship with this new Ambassador?

A: Thank you for these questions. On the crossborder in Syria. Indeed, the time is coming for us to review the relevant draft resolution on this issue. You know that there is only one border crossing functioning now, and we think that everybody has adapted to this situation. We don't see any major problems that resulted from closing one border crossing Bab al-Salam last time. Not to mention Al Yarubiyah, because the deliveries have already adapted to these developments. You know our basic position that we see the crossborder arrangements as temporary ones, they were very much welcome when Syria was unfortunately very fragmented and when the government had little control over its territory.

Now the situation has changed. We mostly mean Idlib when we speak about cross-border deliveries. We haven't yet looked into this issue deep enough because we want to analyze not only how efficient crossline alternatives are, but how much in demand they were by the actors and how sincere they were in exploring these possibilities.

There is a famous situation about this crossline convoy to Idlib to which Syrian government gave permission almost one year ago in April. There are no obstacles from the part of the Syrian authorities to go there. On the other hand, there are obstacles from those who control Idlib and who do not want to allow such crossline deliveries to this enclave. This is the situation that we will not tolerate. We need to understand and to see serious engagement on this issue. If we see practical problems that arise from crossline deliveries, on the condition that all the parties are engaged in such operations in good faith, it will, of course, influence our position on crossborder in a positive way. Let's put it this way. But if we see that countries are merely sabotaging crossline deliveries, that they just don't want to use this tool because it's not favorable for them for different reasons, mostly for political ones, and they don't want to engage with the Syrian governments just because it's Syrian government, and they are not thinking about people in need, but about political calculations, it will also affect our position. So far, we are evaluating this, we are in contact with all the parties. But the situation with the convoy is not changing and this is ridiculous, we will raise this issue tomorrow for sure.

I know, we will hear a lot of mantras from our Western colleagues but there are issues that should be solved, and we say that crossline deliveries is a good and efficient alternative to crossborder deliveries. The difference is that crossline deliveries respect sovereignty and even territorial integrity of Syria and crossborder do not. That's the starting point of opposition.

As for the US Ambassador, she's mostly welcome. Of course, we know that there is US presidency coming and we are looking forward to interaction with her. We heard that she's a professional. She's one of us, let's put it this way. It's always easier to interact with professionals. You can count on our most favorable attitudes and positive emotions towards her as a member of our Security Council family. We all have very good personal contacts among the permanent representatives and their deputies. And this does not depend on the positions that we take, this is something that goes further. We need to find the common ground, even if our capitals are sometimes far apart on different issues. We also know that the new ambassador will seek guidance in Washington D.C., guidance from President Biden. The things that you mentioned from his Munich speech and from other things, they, of course, raise concerns about how we will interact with the United States. I mean, not with the ambassador here, but with the United States as such, because the main problem is that the logic of containment of Russia is still there. The logic of Russia being an enemy, being a threat is also still there. It's very difficult to imagine how the interaction with us might change with such starting points of the position of the new administration.

As I said last time, we have received certain encouraging positive signals. The START treaty was prolonged. We very much welcome the positive developments on the JCPOA. There are certain other issues that can be highlighted that give reason to certain optimism. But of course, we will judge the new administration by what it does. There are a lot of things that Russia and the United States can do together. We are in favor of cooperation. We're in favor of close contacts on this issue. Again, I'm sorry for citing this all the time, but it takes two to tango. And really, we are ready to dance but we need a good and reliable partner who knows all the moves and respects us as a country with certain positions and who does not view us as a threat, doesn't want to contend everything that we do and doesn't want to see our obvious national interests on many issues. But we are ready to work together and at least on our side there will be no problems with the new ambassador who is coming. Only the red carpets and warm welcome. I'm absolutely sure about this.

Q: Ambassador, we've seen cooperation on arms control. Do you foresee cooperation with the new Biden Administration, with Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield on things like Iran or other more contentious issues issues in terms of US-Russia relations?

A: Surely, we seek such a cooperation. We were seeking it with the Trump Administration, we haven't seized seeking such a cooperation. Our door was always open. It was not us who complicated our bilateral relations. It was not us who adopted endless sanctions. It was not us who dug out certain conspiracy theories about Russia's meddling, Russia's involvement everywhere in all malign activities in the world. We were always there and we are there as we are. We are ready to cooperate. Again, as I already said, there are a lot of things that we can do together, first and foremost in the area of strategic stability. We are ready for serious, meaningful discussion on this. The prolongation of the START treaty is a very good basis.

Q: A quick follow up. What do you think is the biggest challenge for US and Russia at the Security Council coming up?

A: The biggest challenge is the ability to listen to each other and to adapt certain approaches to respect the interests of each other. I remember at times on my shift here when there was too much of megaphone diplomacy, when the countries were just cornered and there were also attempts to corner Russia on certain issues, put in awkward situations for some PR reasons, which is not the diplomacy that we favor. We think that diplomacy is something that is conducted for the sake of reaching an agreement, respecting the interests of each other and finding a way forward. It's not for cornering the countries, humiliating them, finger pointing. We would prefer more of this quiet but efficient diplomacy of coming to terms. Certain issues should be solved, of course. And there are a lot of problems that we face domestically. I mentioned already to you the situation of our colleagues from the Consulate General in New York, which is ridiculous. This is not the most important but very sensitive issue in our relations as well. You know that we still have our property, which we can't use here in Long Island, and nobody can explain us what is happening there. We have no access to this property. And still we are the owners of this property. This is a very strange situation which also needs to be changed. The issue of visas to our representatives here, to our delegates is also very urgent one. The situation was very confusing during the last in-person meeting of the High-Level Week when a lot of members of our delegation were deprived of these visas. We still have a lot of questions and problems in rotating our personnel because of this, but inevitably, because of the mirror principle, Americans have the same problem in Moscow, so it doesn't serve the interest of any country. We are ready to clear away all these heaps of rubbish, I would say, in our relations. But again, I am referring to tango.

Q: Have you approached this issue with the new Biden Administration yet?

A: I'm sure that my colleagues in Washington are approaching this issue. This is their task. They are in a much worse position that we are here in New York. I know that my bosses in Moscow like Sergey Ryabkov, who is Deputy Foreign Minister responsible for relations with the United States and for strategic interests as well, he's also engaged in the consultations with American counterparts. We hope that they will yield some positive results, which will, of course, help us a lot to move forward on the international issues as well. Again, as far as we are concerned here in the Mission, you must be absolutely sure that we will be most welcoming to the new American Ambassador, most ready to work with her. She can count on our support and our understanding, as we hope we can count on hers.

Q: Just got a couple of technical questions about some of the things that are on the Security Council agenda. The first one is the mission to Iraq. Am I right in thinking that there's a debate in the Council as to whether or not to increase the size of the UN mission to Iraq in order to assist with the upcoming elections there? And also, what's the national position of Russia on this one? I understand that you guys are against that extension of the mandate. Second one is, can you just give us an update on this deployment of ceasefire monitors to Libya? What does Moscow see as what should happen there?

A: As far as Iraq is concerned, there is talk about an extension or modification of UNAMI mandate and we are in the middle of the discussions right now. I wouldn't be very keen on displaying our national preferences in this regard. We know that there is a demand in Europe for the United Nations to monitor the elections and we are ready to help this country in elections preparations. It's not arythmetics, it's not 2+2 situation. Otherwise, it would have been very easy. There are a lot of factors that should be taken into consideration. And we are now in contact with the Iraqis, all of us, in an attempt to try to find a formula. The solutions can be different, and that's why I don't want to enumerate them right now.

As for the deployment of Libyan observers, as far as I know there is a reconnaissance mission on the ground. We hope that this country will break the instability that has been encircling it for 10 years by now, since March 2011 when NATO started its operation.

We think that all Libyan actors should be taken on board. And this would be the main "building block" for the future united country, where all tribal groups and actors will have a seat. There is a long way to go, and it will not be easy. We know that elections are planned for December this year. But to make this date feasible, a lot of things need to be done.

I would say 99% of the success depends on Libyans themselves. It should be a Libyan-owned and Libyan-led process. That's how we approach these issues.

Q: Could you confirm that the Security Council has received and is evaluating a dossier on allegation that appointed Libya’s Prime Minister al-Dabaib is involved in corruption and vote-buying episodes during the latest Libyan Political Dialogue Forum?

A: I would not comment on this issue. I haven't heard about these things and, frankly speaking, there is nothing that I can comment on for the press in this regard. Thank you.

Q: Two follow-up questions. On Iran. Assuming that the United States and the Government agree on a "dance" for the Biden Administration to rejoin the JCPOA, does Russia support a follow up, some kind of an agreement on other issues related to Iran, that including ballistic missiles and actions in other countries?

And a follow-up question on Syria. Russia supported the 2015 Geneva agreement, which was enshrined in Security Council, which calls for a whole roadmap leading to UN-supervised elections. Yet we are coming up to elections in Syria in May that are going to be far from UN-supervised, without a revised or a new constitution as also called for in that roadmap. How does Russia view this and how do you view actually ending this conflict with the Constitutional committee and a deadlock or standstill now?

A: We think that these are two different issues. One thing is JCPOA. Its implementation. It has a strict time frame, including UNSC resolution 2231. We are not supportive of any discussions that something should be modified in JCPOA, that there should be more participants in this plan of action.

On the other hand, as you might have noticed, during the Russian Presidency last October, we also promoted the idea of deepening cooperation among the neighbors in the Persian Gulf. We think that there are a lot of issues that should be discussed there by the neighbors – some confidence building measures, arrangements that would avoid any risk of confrontation between neighbors or between external powers.

So we are in favor of promoting such a dialogue which might result in certain formulas that would allow countries of the region to move forward. But again, this is not the JCPOA and it is not JCPOA+. These are two different tracks.

As far as Syria and it's elections are concerned, UNSC resolution 2254 says nothing that Syria is not allowed or not entitled to hold elections before the work of Constitutional committee is completed.

The target is the same - to hold these UN-supervised elections after the formulas of constitutional arrangements are achieved by all Syrians. And this process is going on. But we think that it doesn't affect the oncoming elections, which Syria has all the rights to conduct. And again, there are no provisions that would stipulate otherwise. That's why the elections will be there. And then I assume that there should be other elections on a different basis, on the basis of maybe the new constitution or the new arrangements that will be achieved with the help of Mr. Pederson. But this is another process. And we heard about the plans of some Western countries, who from the outset have been saying that they would not recognize this election, that they were not legitimate and so on and so forth. This is their right to do so, but we think that there are no reasons why such a position. We are looking forward to this elections and we are sure that they will be conducted with due respect for the current Syrian legislation.

If necessary, I think we should all help in organizing the elections. We are aware of the position of some other countries. We regret it, we made it absolutely clear during the relevant meetings, but we can't change it. This is a vicious circle of Western approach towards President Assad and Syria.

Q:  When is the Security Council returning to its Chamber? There was some discussion last week saying that Russia didn't want to return to the UN if it couldn't go into the Chamber. That it was reluctant to go into ECOSOC. And you've mentioned there's a track two on the JCPOA?

A: No, there are no "tracks two" on the JCPOA. There is something bigger on a regional scale apart from the JCPOA. But the Plan itself has only one track and I hope that it will be going very fast with the returning of Americans.

As for our returning to the UNHQ, I think that you misinterpreted our position, as some people do. Since the very beginning you will never find any indication from Ambassador Nebenzia, from me or from anyone from the Russian Mission, that we want to go on-line. Actually, we had a very good alliance with Ambassador Heusgen (whom we miss very much in the Security Council personally) to go back to the Headquarters and to work there.

At some point, the only option for this was the ECOSOC Chamber. And you know that we held several meetings there, which was better than nowhere. But I’m sure you know this feeling when you have your own apartments and you're supposed to leave with your friends. It's very nice, very cozy. You have coffee in the morning, but you still want to return to your own place. And we did a lot of things to ensure this return.

It was Russia who initiated and installed plexiglas dividers in the chamber, and it was absolutely safe to have meetings there, which is an absolutely different picture – the whole world sees a kind of normalcy when UN Security Council sits there discussing things. We are very much in favor of this. So we have had about ten or so meetings since we installed the dividers.

The situation in New York at that time was worse than now. Now the trend is positive, back then it was negative. But it didn't scare us out of the Security Council chamber. There are absolutely no cases of transmission of COVID-19 in the UN building – neither in the General Assembly nor in the Security Council. That's why we see absolutely no reasons to put off the issue of our returning to the Security Council. This is our clear position that we defend. We can do it tomorrow, even today. We understand that the speed of a train is determined by the speed of its slowest van. So we need to take onboard the position of everybody. Some countries are a bit reluctant. Okay, let's wait for them. But I hope that we will make such a return quite soon. Russia is more than everyone else in favor of this.

Q: Does Russia believe that a SC resolution is needed to ensure that people are vaccinated in conflict areas?

A: We are discussing this resolution right now. We are not against it. There are certain technical issues that we are now trying to clarify. Maybe the resolution itself will not be a decisive point in the process of vaccination, because very much will depend on the countries themselves and on different actors. My personal position is that the Security Council may be not the main body with a decisive role in this process.

As for the resolution, we hope that we will be able to agree on it, we continue discussions. There are issues on vaccination in this resolution, and we are working with our British colleagues right now.

I would like to draw your attention to the anniversary that we are having next month. March 4, if I'm not mistaken, is the anniversary of so-called Skripal poisoning in the UK.

I just wanted to flag to you that regardless of what you might read in the media or what our Western colleagues would say, so far we have received no answers to our questions that we posed to our British colleagues. So this case remains a mystery and there are no proofs so far. What we see now is that this case is already being used as a building block (same was with the Litvinenko case where we also see no proofs of our involvement) to formulate more accusations towards Russia, assuming that Russia did it and that there are proofs of Russia standing behind this.

Unfortunately, this is already the practice. I can assure you that there are no proofs so far. There is no cooperation. There is no news about Skripal, and there is no plausible explanation of what has happened. We are very much interested to learn what happened and we totally deny any our involvement in these events. So if possible I would like you, as journalists, not to let this issue go off the pages, because there are pending questions from us to our British and European colleagues that are not answered.

I would say that this scheme was also used in the recent case of so-called Navalny poisoning. We also posed a lot of questions to our German colleagues where we asked for the proofs, but there are no proofs and there are no answers, only accusations. This is becoming a template – how to accuse Russia of something and, while not proving that Russia did it, already make new accusations. This is very frustrating for us. We will not let it go, and will follow up on this issue.

I also count on your interest not to fade vis-a-vis attempts to present Russia as a rogue state, a violator, a criminal state. There are absolutely no reasons for this. And again, when you hear about the Skripal poisoning, please remember that nothing is proven and there are no signs of cooperation with us on this issue to answer our legitimate questions.

One more point I wanted to flag to you. Yesterday we had a very sad discussion in the General Assembly initiated by Ukraine on the so-called temporary occupied territories.

I wanted to draw your attention to my statement in this regard. I think it's self-explanatory. It's on our website. The whole issue is very sad because Ukraine continues to live in some twisted reality about these facts, it still does not engage in dialogue with the people in Donbass. It's not implementing the Minsk Agreements. And I think that settlement prospects get gloomier every day.

Upon our initiative, the Security Council held a special meeting this month devoted to the process of implementation of the Minsk Agreements. We wanted to flag the issue of Ukrainian non-compliance with these agreements, confirmed by the Security Council. This is a very dangerous trend which would result in a very bad situation for Ukraine in the future. We are very much worried about it and we also ask you, if possible, not to decrease your attention to this very deplorable and dangerous situation. It is dangerous because 4 million people in the East of Ukraine are living in very precarious conditions under Ukrainian shellings, and facing total ignorance during the negotiations in Minsk.

Their existence is almost denied by Ukraine which calls them occupants on their own lands. Of course, it is very frustrating for them, it affects their position as to future political settlement.

That's what I wanted to flag. Good day to all of you, and I wish I wish you all to stay healthy.