Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations

Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations

Press Briefing by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia on 29 October 2021

Vassily Nebenzia: It is end of the month, and traditionally I am happy to meet you. This month there were events in Sudan and the Council successfully came to a consensus on a press statement on Sudan.

Then we just had voting on Western Sahara, which we would have preferred to be unanimous. But it was not the case for a number of reasons, which we commented in our EOV at the adoption of this resolution.

My next point is a little bit outside of the activities of the Security Council, but I wanted to draw your attention to this, especially since it has been already circulated and commented in the press.

I sent a letter to the Secretary-General as well as to Henrietta Fore of UNICEF. It's a letter written by a 12-year old girl from Donbass whose name is Faina Savenkova. She is a well-known child writer of fairy tales and science fiction. She was listed on the so-called Mirotvorets (which means "peacemaker" in English, although it's mocking the concept). It is a site in Ukraine which publishes personal data and names of the so-called "enemies of Ukraine".

So Faina Savenkova is a 12-year old girl who was listed as an "enemy of Ukraine" with her personal data published. In my opinion, this is simply inadmissible, and I wanted to draw your attention to this. I also drew the attention of the Secretary-General as well as UNICEF. And she did it herself. She registered on the UNICEF site, which is dedicated to addressing such situations. All right. Now, I am ready to take your questions.

Q: Thank you for this press conference. We always appreciate it. My question is on COP26. What do you expect from the summit? Do you think it's possible to reach an agreement among the States on the objectives to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years? Also, how important is the fact that very important leaders like President Putin and President Xi won't attend the summit? Thank you so much.

A: Many summits are now held in a hybrid format. As for president Putin, I don't know whether he will address it virtually, I don't have that information. But the decision has been made that he's not going there. But the Russian delegation, of course, will be there. It will participate.

Nothing is impossible. We have the Paris Agreement, which was a hard-won compromise. There are various ideas on how ambitious we should be on climate goals, on reducing the degree of warming, which is also debated by the way. But the Secretary-General is insisting on 1.5 degrees. It was not exactly the recommendation of the scientific circles. In any case, I cannot prejudge or preempt the results of Glasgow, but I do not promise that it will be an easy ride. Every climate conference is a battle because it's not just climate, it's economy, it's social issues. It's a complex thing.

Q: I have two questions about climate issue. On the Security Council, I want to know your thoughts on a scale of 1 to 10 how relevant you think the issue of climate is? How urgent to the international peace and security? And do you think the Security Council should be as involved as it does with, let's say, a conflict that's evolving. And my second question. Russia is a major player in the fossil fuel industry globally, you know gas and oil. Given the fact that it's a major impact on climate change, do you think United Nations and international bodies should actively engage and work against those fossil fuel industries in order to mitigate the impact of climate change?

A: On the role of the Security Council regarding climate and security. It has not been a secret that we have always maintained the position that the SC major mandate is to deal with immediate conflicts we are facing. And in as much as climate relates to the factors that provoke that conflict that's fine, but that should be country- or region-specific. What we object to is using climate -- which of course, for many, if I may use this word, is a sexy subject -- generically as a factor behind peace and security. Here, we are not convinced. We are trying to make our point. We are not the only ones who are not convinced by that issue. It is not limited to the current members of the Security Council.

There are other countries among the UN members who challenge the concept as such. So, we are not favoring making that subject a generic issue in the Security Council. For example, we are not in favor of appointing so-called climate advisers to peacekeeping missions. We believe that this issue, which is primarily scientific, should be discussed at an appropriate forum by people who are trained and prepared to discuss the issue scientifically and meaningfully.

On fossil fuels. Russia adopted a strategy to become carbon-neutral, I believe by 2060. It was recently announced by President Putin and we're working in that direction. In fact, we are contributing substantially to reducing greenhouse gas emissions owing to the simple fact that our boreal forests are the lungs of the planet and they absorb more of these greenhouse gas emissions than perhaps through any man-made efforts.

That's an issue which is debated by modern scientists themselves. I'm not a climate specialist, but I know that a singular eruption of a volcano produces so much emissions that sometimes it's not comparable with the anthropogenic impact of immense human activities.

Fossil fuels will not go away whether you want to fight them or not, because all serious economists and people who deal with energy say that at least until 2050 fossil fuels will continue to play a primary role in the energy mix. And that is not limited to 2050.

On the other hand, of course, we need to develop clean energy. We fully recognize it. What is clean energy? Although many disagree, atomic energy, if properly managed and safe, is an example of clean energy. Then take natural gas, which is next to clean energy. Other non-traditional new sources of energy, like wind, solar, etc, are being developed. That's fine. Let everything blossom. But the thought that you can simply erase fossil fuels from the energy mix is unrealistic. They are here to stay for a foreseeable future.

Q: My question was, do you think the United Nations and other international bodies should work against the fossil fuel industry to mitigate climate change? For example, encourage countries to not have subsidies for the industry. Do you think the UN and other international bodies should have that role against the industry?

A: I think that the UN cannot and should not work against fossil fuels. The UN should encourage countries to make their energy mix different. But it's not always realistic, because if you take developed countries, they have means technology and resources for that. But if you take developing countries, you would deprive them of their rights and their obligation to develop their economy in order to fight things which are perhaps more important than the energy mix: poverty, inequality, raising people's standards of living, etc.

Q: My question is on Afghanistan. The UN is increasingly alarmed about the humanitarian situation. Do you favor more funding going to the Taliban? And I know that Russia is on the Credentials Committee. Has a meeting been scheduled on that? What's Russia's position on recognizing the Taliban at the United Nations?

A: Well, today everybody is trying to solve the Afghanistan issue. If I were the one who could offer you a “miracle key”, I would not be sitting here. People wiser than me are trying to approach the issue, but they don't have answers to all the questions that you are asking. Of course, the primary thing today is to stabilize the country. We want stability in Afghanistan. We want to see the current authorities de facto deliver on the promises they made public. That includes things which are of great concern for our colleagues and for us as well, such as human rights, the rights of women and girls. But now it is even more important to make sure that Afghanistan does not become a platform for spreading terrorist activities either in the nearby region or around the world; that it fights terrorist organizations which it committed to fight, including ISIS-Khorasan, for example; that it deals with the drug situation – the drug export and the drug economy in Afghanistan, which they also pledged; that they deliver on making the country and its state institutions run.

They face tremendous problems. Beside the humanitarian issue, which is an immediate one, it's economy which is on the verge of collapse and lacking resources that have been frozen and not being released anytime soon judging by the statements that we hear. To a large extent, that is a failure of our Western partners, including the US and NATO, which had been trying to reform Afghanistan for 20 years. I'm not rejoicing at that, but these attempts failed miserably, unfortunately.

On the recognition – we say that nobody is in a hurry to recognize. Everybody though understands that we are dealing with real, de facto authorities of the country. You have to be realistic about it and to take that factor into account. The Taliban, by the way, is on Russia’s sanctions list. Some of the organizations, which are also part of the bigger structure, are on the US sanctions list. We have 1267 Committee. That is another issue to which we'll have to attend to at a certain point, but perhaps not right away.

The question of recognition will arise when the international community makes sure that the authorities have delivered on promises and commitments made, try to make their country a viable partner, and procure for their people; and also when the global community ensures that the government which rules Afghanistan is indeed inclusive as they had promised. Let's see what happens at the elections which they promised to hold in a half year.

On the Credentials Committee – indeed there will be an issue. The Credentials Committee will convene in November. I will not be prejudging and telling you what the results will be. Afghanistan is not the only issue on the Credentials Committee’s agenda. Let's talk about it in November.

Q: My question is on the Iran nuclear deal. There seems to be some agreement. Iran has said it would return to talks in November. But there does seem to be an impasse between what the US and Iran are saying, about what goes next. Some people are calling it dead. What's your strategy to get it going?

A: I'm so happy that Iran is not my “piece of cake” anymore. It used to be last year. If you remember, we dealt a lot with JCPOA and the whole thing. This issue is very intensively discussed and debated between the participants of the JCPOA, including Iran and the United States. We are glad that our US partners demonstrate seriousness and willingness to return to the JCPOA. We know that after the elections in Iran, there was an impasse for a while -- when they were reviewing and gathering the team.

Iranians were criticized for not being quick enough to go back to negotiations. To that I was telling our American colleagues that when the Biden Administration came to the White House and announced that they were willing to resume negotiations on the JCPOA and get back to fulfilling obligations under the Agreement, we encouraged them to do it as soon as possible, to which they were saying: “Look, we just came to the office. We need to review. We need to get together, we need to regroup, we have to understand”. This process had taken a few months, by the way, before the actual negotiations resumed in various forms. Then Iran claimed the same when they had elections. They said recently that they were on the verge of forming the negotiating team. Experience shows that exerting pressure on Iran – like on any other country – in order to speed up the process doesn't help – whether you do it by letter, in the Commission or through the IAEA.

We encourage them as well. We are telling them that we have to sit down and finally get back to the deal. Let's hope that it happens soon. Recently there have been issues between Iran and the IAEA. Director General Grossi is personally involved in resolving them. We hope that these issues will be resolved and we will be able to restart negotiations.

Q: I have a follow-up on climate and a separate question on Syria.

A: I'm not prepared to talk about climate today. Whatever I'm saying on climate is an impromptu, improvisation.

Q: Just a quick follow-up. You defined atomic energy as a clean energy. Do you believe that it could be managed safely? And my second question will be on Syria. UN Special Envoy for Syria Pedersen expressed disappointment following the Constitutional Committee talks in Geneva. It's been more than two years since the Committee was established, and there's been no progress. We haven't seen any progress. Do you think it's failing? And also the Syrian government has been criticized for buying time in Geneva at the Constitutional Committee talks. What is your response to that?

A: I do believe that atomic energy can be safe. The experience of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima, for example, taught us a lot about the safety of nuclear energy.

Without being a sales agent, I can tell you that Russian latest-generation reactors are, without exaggeration, the safest in the world. At least, we can ensure the safety of peaceful atomic reactors. It is best demonstrated by the fact that many countries around the world are buying this technological product of Russia. Russians export, build atomic plants in many countries. Of course, we have to bear in mind that nuclear energy should be safely guarded and all safety precautions should be made. But I think that at this stage atomic scientists, engineers and the whole industry learned how to manage it.

On Syrian Constitutional Committee. We saw comments by Geir Pedersen. Nobody promised that the work of the Constitutional Committee would be easy. The level of mistrust between the sides is still high, but this time there was a visible progress in the beginning, they started discussing specific things. Then – well, I can only speculate – happened such things as the terrorist attack in Damascus and the incident in Idlib. We said to Geir Pedersen that he should not be totally disappointed because they had made some progress initially. They are now talking about the continuation, when the next round will take place. Whatever happens, this is the only format in which the political settlement can be meaningfully discussed by Syrians themselves, because even UNSCR 2254 provides for this issue to be resolved by Syrians themselves without imposing on them whatever decisions they have to make.

Q: Just a couple of follow-ups on Afghanistan. First of all, on credentials. Is there a date set for that meeting?

A: Not that I know. I know that it's November, but I'm not sure that there is a date.

Q: You've just signaled to us that Russia doesn't seem to think that the Taliban should get the seat at the UN yet? Is that a fair assessment?

A: When credentials are presented, they're presented on behalf of a head of a state. I'm speculating now: if it is presented on behalf of a state which nobody recognizes, then make your conclusions yourself. But that's a sensitive topic, I agree. That applies not just to Afghanistan. We faced that issue with a few other countries. I cannot prejudge how the discussion will go. We managed to find a sort of a compromise during the high-level, but the Committee will have to decide what to do one way or the other.

Q: What about that when it comes to Myanmar? Does Russia – I'm not asking about the Committee – think that the junta should get the seat at the UN?

A: Well, you're calling them “junta”, but you are missing the point that this part of Myanmar’s political landscape has always been in the political game in the country. They are not just de facto authority, they have been authority, they have the constitutional provisions to be in the political domain of Myanmar. So calling them simply “junta” is a little bit of simplifying things.

I must tell you, it's no secret that Myanmar’s diplomatic corps is also split. There are countries where Myanmese ambassadors recognize the current authorities and it is them whom they represent in embassies around the world to which they had arrived before these events took place. The situation here is different. There are legal and political aspects of this situation. I cannot tell you definitively and one-sidedly what will happen at the Credentials Committee and what the school of thought will be and how we will resolve the issue.

Q: Just one last question on Afghanistan and the economy. You mentioned how it's in dire straits. One immediate problem for the UN is physically getting cash into the country. How do you think that problem can be addressed?

A: The UN established this Trust Fund for Afghanistan, as you know, and we welcome that thing. We hope that this will allow to channel physical actual money to the country which it badly needs. As you all know, we had a meeting of the Moscow Format on 20 October where the Taliban delegation came. There was an initiative to convene under the UN auspices a conference on Afghanistan’s economic and humanitarian situation, because today they are inseparable in a way – perhaps on economy first and then on humanitarian, because we already had a humanitarian conference in September in Geneva.

Now we have to deal with how to address the economy that has been totally shattered, how to ensure that this situation does not provoke massive migration from the country, how to help Afghanistan.

On 27 October, there was a conference of the neighbors of Afghanistan in Tehran where we participated, and where those issues were addressed. Perhaps to carry cash by planes like some of them did is not the best solution, but the UN is addressing the issue the way it can.

I fully agree that it is a legitimate issue that should be resolved but it's not just about finding channels for moving money from Point A to Point B. There is also an issue of frozen Afghan assets which have to be released in order to help the people of Afghanistan. The European Union and in particular Germany are thinking about how to provide for educational and medical workers, for example doctors. We welcome it. Recently we had consultations with the German representative on Afghanistan in Moscow, these issues were discussed and we had a very constructive meeting.

Q: You mentioned flying in planes loaded with cash. Do you see any other way to solve the problem aside from that?

A: I'm not very good in financial transactions. If I were, perhaps, I wouldn't be here. Let professionals figure out how to do it better.

Q: To follow up on the JCPOA. The United States has spoken wanting to do something about Iranian militias scattered through the Middle East. Do you think that's a deal breaker, or do you see that moving along?

A: We have to separate two things. One is JCPOA, which is non-negotiable in a sense that provisions which are in the JCPOA should be reinstalled, recommitted to and reimplemented by all participants of the Plan. US was the first to withdraw from the JCPOA. Whatever Iran did afterwards was a reaction, and it waited for quite a long time in a sort of a futile hope that things would change. Nothing changed, and Iran started to gradually introduce measures to demonstrate that it was intolerable. It is all reversible, that is a first thing. Iran says that as soon as they get the deal back, they will reverse, revert and cancel whatever they did in reaction to the US non-compliance with the JCPOA. Second thing: there are provisions in the JCPOA which have had a timeline. They were adopted in 2015. Neither them are negotiable.

There is a third thing, which is the situation in the region and the role played not just by Iran but by other countries as well in how the region is doing. We would be happy to discuss it in an appropriate forum. We've been offering our Concept of peace and security in the Persian Gulf. We renewed that document. We circulated it. We have the Chinese plan which is similar to ours. I recall Iranians were saying something in that regard. There is a resolution of the Security Council, which I cite in every statement I make on the situation in the Middle East from time immemorial. It is UNSCR 598, where the then Secretary-General proposed to discuss peace and security in that region. But first of all, there should be an agreement and consensus on holding such a dialogue which we would welcome. Second, it should be separated from negotiations on the JCPOA which stands alone.

Q: What if the United States insisted on keeping the non-nuclear issues? Is that a deal breaker for Iran?

A: That is a matter of negotiations that have to resume. And then we'll see where and how far they can go on it. But Iranians were pretty clear that they are not prepared to discuss that in conjunction with the JCPOA.

Q: Have you seen any improvement in US-Russian relations under President Biden? And, secondly, we've seen no action in the Security Council on really pressing issues, including Tigray and Myanmar, where the outgoing UN Special Envoy says civil war is intensifying. The Secretary-General has expressed concern about divisions among the P5. How do you respond? Just generally on divisions within the Security Council basically blocking actions.

A: There have always been divisions in Security Council, not just recently, but throughout its already long life. That will not surprise anyone. There are divisions. There are various assessments of situations here and there. When I started I recalled that despite the divisions we managed, for example, to adopt a press statement on Sudan which proves that there can be a way if there is a will.

On Ethiopia, we discussed the situation recently at a lunch with the Secretary-General that took place last week. Nobody then had a clue, and nobody had a solution. Of course, if four months ago the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) had agreed to negotiations offered by Addis Ababa, perhaps we would have been in a different situation. But back then they were counting on a military success, which they achieved partly. The other side was regrouping and now they are trying to win on the battlefield that they think they can do. And that, of course, does not make us closer to any negotiated solutions between the two sides.

We know that some of our partners, including among the Security Council P5, have an appetite for imposing sanctions, thinking that sanctions might be a game changer. We are not very big champions and fans of sanctioning whatever comes our way. I ask one simple question. Who do we sanction then? Who are the bad guys and who are the good guys there? I think that for both sides negotiated solution is the only way to get out of this crisis.

Mediation efforts by the African Union are underway. We have the African Union envoy to the African Horn, President Obasanjo. I understand that he published a report by the African Union on the implementation of his mandate. We are waiting for the results of what he can achieve. Once there is a will on both sides to sit at the table, while realizing that what they are trying to achieve on the battlefield is not achievable, then we can talk about some kind of dialogue and a negotiated solution.

In the meantime, the humanitarian situation, of course, remains dire. There are issues on both sides with that. But here we are fully on board with the rest on the point that having access to the civilian population in need is badly needed. Of course, we have to do everything to ensure that. I discussed it with the Secretary-General. I discussed it with Martin Griffiths. I know that my colleagues are talking to them on that issue. No doubt we have to help the people.

Q: On my question about US-Russian relations under Biden.

A: Again, it is not exactly my piece of cake. I can responsibly answer about our relations here at the United Nations. Personally, with Linda [Thomas-Greenfield, PR of the United States], we have good relations. She's a professional. She comes from the State Department. She knows how to address the issues. She understands the language in which we communicate. She's responsive. We had a few opportunities to make sure that we can deal. As President Trump liked to say, we can make deals.

In general, I would say there are things which did move since the previous administration. There are a couple of dialogues that started, and they are both very important, one of them on strategic stability. There were, I think, a couple of rounds already. And from the reports I was receiving, I understand that the dialogue develops in a business-like manner and it's not politicized. People who are there, they are professionals, they speak at the same level. Of course, the issues are very complex but this dialogue has been resumed, and that's very important.

We value that the Biden Administration reconfirmed the famous Gorbachev-Reagan formula that a nuclear war will not witness winners, that nobody will win if, God forbid, there's a nuclear war. That is a very positive signal.

Then we have, for example, dialogue on cybersecurity, an issue which was a tug of war, an issue and sort of omen for the US policy, including domestic policy. It has become a factor in the US. And back then, before Biden came to the office, we offered many times a meaningful dialogue on cybersecurity. We were refused. Now we have restarted. We have that dialogue which we hold. We agreed, as far as I know, that we'll be informing each other of whatever incidents in cyberspace that are of concern to both sides.

Before that, when the US was accusing us of malicious activities of Russian hackers against some sausage factories or whatever it was, I cannot recall now, President Putin was sincerely amazed, because he did not even know what that meant. We have our own concerns addressed to the US side, and we agreed that we will do our best to inform the other side on the concerns that have been raised.

Besides, there is general dialogue on cybersecurity at the level of national security advisers and their offices.

It is a big breakthrough that this year we will co-sponsor together with the United States a resolution on information security in the First Committee. And that is a big thing, I must tell you, because only a year ago nobody could even dream thinking about it. So in that sense, there are certain areas where the dialogue is developing.

But there are, of course, issues which remain and do not move at our bilateral track: on visas, on our property, on the functioning of our diplomatic representations, primarily embassies, of course.

On visa issues there is some piecemeal, I would call it, progress but the problem generically is not solved. We have dozens of my colleagues who do not have an extension of their visas. They are sitting here without US visas. I can give you just one example: there is a colleague of mine in the mission whose mother died and he could not go to the funeral because if he went there, he would never get a visa back. And that's the reality which we are facing with visas for the replacement, visas for the members of the UN delegations, although I must admit that this year the situation has become better and I pay tribute to the efforts of Linda [Thomas-Greenfield], who said she would be doing all she can to facilitate. However we are still far from the state of relations which can be called normal and befitting the two great States which the US and Russia are.

Q: The tone and the substance of the Russian statements before the agreement on the statement in the Security Council on the situation in Sudan was far from what we saw in the language in the statement in the Council, especially when it comes to restoring the civilian-led government. Russia criticized the government and you believe that the military is part of the transitional government already. So what's your message now to the military leadership in Sudan, do you call them to restore the civilian-led government? What's the next step now after the Council's action?

A: I think that the former Higher Transitional Council, they canceled the name as far as I know, already committed to first convening a technocratic government. Because the main concern and claim to the government of Prime Minister Hamdok was that it had failed the Sudanese economy, that promises and commitments that were made were never realized, that the socio-economic situation in the country was dire. So they said they will establish technocratic government. They committed to general elections sometime in 2023. We know that the situation there is not calm, although initially it was more tense, but then things subsided a little bit

First of all, we need to prevent escalation from whatever side it comes. We would not welcome any appeals for further violence. We've seen it enough in fact, in Sudan. I don't think that the international community can solve for the Sudanese the problems they are facing. It is our long-standing position that we say: let them sort it out themselves primarily. First of all, let's see how these pledges that the military made will transpire, how they will be implemented.

You are asking how we treat the civilian government and what we say in that regard, aren’t you? I can cite the Security Council press statement, which is consensual, which means that we signed up to it. It says that the members of the Security Council called upon Sudan's military authorities to restore the civilian-led transitional government on the basis of the constitutional document . So that speaks for itself.

I don't know what the chances are for A.Hamdok himself to come back to the government but he was cited, and the coalition that brought him to power was cited to not fulfil what they had promised to the Sudanese people. As far as I remember and know, the Sudanese military are planning to establish a government that would include other political forces in Sudan. That would be, in that sense, more representative, so to say. Let's see, I cannot give you an outline as to when it will be established, who the new Prime Minister will be, and how it will be formatted in general. We are just at the beginning of the process that started on Monday. But I think that the Security Council sent a unanimous and unequivocal message on the issue.

Q: How much time do you think they have until they start taking action to form a new technocratic government?

A: I think they have to do it early. That’s clear

Q: This morning there was a Security Council vote on Western Sahara. There was an abstention of Russia. Can we know why? On a related subject – what do you think of roundtables suggested by the Secretary-General? Another question regarding Turkey. Do you hold Turkey responsible for any escalation between you and Ukraine because of the sale of a military drone? And last question if you allow me, since technically everyone is vaccinated here in the UN, do you think the mask mandate is necessary?

A: On Western Sahara, we were not alone to abstain. As far as I know, Tunisia abstained as well. In my memory this is not the first time we abstained on this resolution. I think iIt's the third time. I would refer you to the EOV delivered by my First Deputy Ambassador Polyanskiy after the adoption. Firstly, we proposed some amendments to the draft resolution which would bring us back to the agreed language that used to be part and parcel of the settlement in the past, having changed quite recently, in fact a couple of renewals ago.

Secondly, this resolution does not refer to any developments that have happened on the ground since November, and largely changed the situation.

Yes, we all look forward to hearing what Staffan de Mistura will offer. I think he will be here some time in early November. I'm sure I will see him, as he wanted to arrange a meeting. I don't think that he can offer anything miraculous immediately. But our position is very clear. The issue can be solved only as a result of direct talks between Morocco and Polisario. All the rest can be helpful, facilitative, et cetera. But if there is no direct dialogue, we will not achieve anything. We will accept, like in the situations with all other conflicts that exist, a solution that must be based on the international law which is qualified in the UN resolutions, and that must be acceptable to the both parties, Morocco and Polisario. They were brought to the round tables held by former Special Envoy Horst Köhler. Perhaps it was a good initiative that gave some fruit, but it was not continued.

I would like to ask, where are those round tables now? And who can guarantee that they will gather the same number of participants that used to come before? We hear statements by some neighboring countries that they do not consider themselves a part of the conflict, and they leave it with the protagonists and let them solve it themselves. There are issues on the ground which are related to MINURSO itself, which is headed now by former deputy head of mission, Mr.Alexander Ivanko, who is a Russian national

He visited New York and met with the members of the Security Council. There are practical day-to-day issues that the mission has to resolve. That's another side of the story, in addition to the political settlement process. Although, of course you cannot fully separate one from the other.

On wearing masks at the UNHQ. I personally do not enjoy masks too much because they blur my vision. But I can't deny the medical value of these things. Perhaps it's the smallest sacrifice that we can make for the pleasure of being at the UN building again.

There was a time when masks were not even on the agenda. We were discussing whether we are ever returning back to the Council and to the General Assembly. But there is something strange about wearing masks which I have to recognize. We are here debating the format in which we are sitting in the General Assembly at various conferences, combining a few conference-rooms. But if you go to any New York restaurant, you sit at the table this close, wearing no mask. I mean, you come into a restaurant and demonstrate your QR code, which is also a debatable thing, by the way. Then you sit down, take off your mask and you are in no social distance at all. Then I let me recall how many of you were watching the opening of the General Assembly. You remember what happened in the General Assembly room and what happened to all the recommendations that had been provided to us by the Secretariat on social distancing - the Hall was packed, packed completely.

I'm not a COVID dissident, not at all. And I recognize that there are certain simple measures, including wearing masks, that help prevent things.

Today there is a spike of COVID and Russia. It's already close to 40,000 a day, and we have it every day on the State TV. The major TV programs first tell of the situation, and then show interviews with people who acquired COVID, through not being vaccinated. All of them say: "What a fool I was. If I knew what it meant to actually have COVID, I would have got my vaccine 100%”.

On drones, Ukraine and Russia. First, for the record, whether you agree or disagree -- we are not a party to the conflict in Ukraine.

Yes, we sympathize with the people of Donbass who were neglected, abandoned, and attacked and still are being attacked, who lost so much of civilian population during that conflict. When my Ukrainian colleagues say that the total number of victims of that conflict is around 14,000, I am always tempted to ask them: “Can you do a breakdown, please? Which belongs to which side? Where the majority are civilians and not the military personnel?” That is in Donbass.

Yes, I saw reports about these "Bayraktar" drones. One of them was used to bomb an artillery position of the rebels. I think that's a very dangerous game by Ukrainians. Recently, Ukrainian Chief of the Armed Forces V.Zaluzhniy announced that now the Ukrainian military do not have to ask for a permission to strike. They can do it on their own initiative, which of course, contradicts the agreements on the ceasefire that have been reached.

The game with the drones may lead to consequences which Ukrainian side may not even imagine. That's a dangerous game, and I think that they should realize it, although I'm not optimistic they will.