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 30 June 2021

Vassily Nebenzia: It is so nice to see all of you here. It has been such a long time that I have forgotten how to do press conferences, how to do stakeouts.

Q: My question is on Syria’s cross-border aid. UN, US, and others warn of dire humanitarian consequences for over a million Syrians if all border-crossings are closed. So are there any chances to find a common ground on the draft that would renew the authorization for 12 months before the deadline of 10 July? 

A: I am surprised this question came first. You know that our colleagues in the Security Council, the penholders, produced a draft which will be first discussed today. We told them in the very beginning that what we heard from our colleagues about reopening the closed cross-border points was really a non-starter. We are discussing the one that is remaining in Idlib, “Bab Al-Hawa”. When in 2020 we were extending the cross-border until 10 July this year, we were very clear that, besides the cross-border, we have to ensure stable deliveries from the cross-line, from inside of Syria, as well as to rectify defects of the cross-border, including labeling humanitarian trucks and establishing control over the distribution of assistance. 

We had a meeting on humanitarian Syria the other day. You might have followed it. There was a lady from an NGO which delivers humanitarian assistance to Syria. We were asking her questions: what are her monitoring mechanisms; who are those people who distribute humanitarian assistance? Frankly, we did not get any clear answer on that, except for assurances that this was being done very prudently, that the information was being triangulated, that it was based on people trusted by communities, etc. So the questions are still there. 

Meanwhile, we have been struggling with a single humanitarian convoy, a joint convoy by ICRC/UN/SARC, for which the Syrian government, Damascus, gave permission last April. But still nothing happened, this really became ridiculous. We know who is stalling those deliveries. That brings up a larger question: what will happen to Idlib in general? It is no secret that Idlib is controlled by a terrorist organization listed as such by the Security Council, the organization that presents itself as “the civil administration of Idlib”. We know how they administer Idlib and what they are doing inside of it. It is also no secret that humanitarian aid is of great help not just for the people of Idlib, but for that organization itself, namely “Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham”. 

Now, if we talk about the cross-border in general, we have to recognize that the cross-border in Syria is a unique operation. It is the only humanitarian assistance operation of that nature in the world. Nowhere else in the world the cross-border is being used. It totally contradicts the humanitarian principles of rendering humanitarian assistance and principles of the international humanitarian law for which our partners advocate so rigorously. It also violates another condition, which is a must in any humanitarian operation, - a consent by a recipient government. The Syrian government never liked the cross-border. The Syrian government always said that it was the violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity and that Damascus wanted to close the cross-border.

When we hear that there is no alternative, it is a little bit of slyness. When “Al-Yarubiyah” was closed, we also heard that it would be a disaster for the population of the north-east. Today the facts on the ground indicate, and the UN confirms, that humanitarian assistance to the north-east of Syria through the cooperation with the Syrian government has been increased. In general, humanitarian assistance in Syria, on territories which are controlled by the Syrian government, has improved dramatically since the cross-border operation was introduced. It was introduced in special circumstances when there was no access to many parts of Syria, not just to the north-east. But today it is an outdated operation and eventually it will be closed.

Q: My question is a bigger one. Your President and President Xi extended the friendship treaty. Do you see its impact here, at the United Nations, on Russia-China relations? And can you give an update on Trevor R. Reed, U.S. Marine, who was in jail? I understand you might not know about it, but there was some indication that there might be an exchange of US and Russian people in jail.

A: On the prolongation of the treaty. How will it affect our work here and our relations with the Chinese? I do not see any immediate consequences because our relations with the Chinese had been very close before they prolonged the treaty and they will remain so. 

On the exchange. I do not have much to add. I also read it in the press and in the account of the meeting in Geneva that this issue was discussed and there were indications that there would be a further consideration. But where we are on that now, I have no idea. 

Q: A quick follow-up, then a question. Just want to be absolutely clear on what you said about the cross-border. Are you saying you currently do not see a need for even a single border-crossing? Is that your current position? Because this is coming to a vote very soon.

A: We have to do one thing or another by Saturday, 10 July. I hope we can do it before Saturday. I will not give you any definitive answer at this time. I will only say that we continue consulting on that issue.

Q: My wider question is: there are human rights activists and some Council members who would like to see tougher action, particularly on Tigray (Ethiopia) and Myanmar. They would like to see sanctions in place. There are some Council members, you are one of them, who do not support that policy. Can you explain to us why and whether you see the point made by some that if the Security Council does not take punitive action in cases like this, then it risks becoming toothless and irrelevant?

A: These accusations have been levelled at the Security Council since its inception. The Security Council is a body of collective wisdom or an absence of such in certain cases. So you cannot adopt a decision unless you have a full agreement in the Security Council. You need agreement and consensus. Of course, we view one situation or another in different light. But consensus means that you need to compromise. 

We are most concerned with the humanitarian situation in Tigray. Although we have to recognize that the bulk of humanitarian assistance to Tigray was and still is being provided by the Ethiopian government. As others, we are also advocating the humanitarian access for the international organizations. A unilateral ceasefire that the Ethiopian government has announced in the recent days is a glimmer of hope. There is no solution to this crisis by military means, only a political solution will work. The question is whether it is a temporary lull or does it pave a way for the political settlement? 

Some of our colleagues are advocating an open briefing on the situation in Ethiopia. Most probably, we will have it. But we always say that the Security Council is to discuss threats to international peace and security. And there is a question which is yet to be answered: does the situation in Ethiopia represent a threat to international peace and security? An answer depends on the angle from which you look at the situation. To a large extent, it is a domestic affair. We do not hide that in principle we are opposed to placing domestic issues on the agenda of the Security Council.

Q: A follow-up on Syria. You say you are going to consult on this. Largely, what you have said this morning, would it indicate that you are swaying towards not renewing this cross-border operation? Would that be a fair assessment?

A: I understand you want a definitive answer from me, but I would like to continue the intrigue. 

Q: The United States has said that if it cannot work with Russia to renew this operation, that could impact a further cooperation between the United States and Russia on Syria. How do you interpret that? What areas could be affected?

A: I believe you have to ask those who made that statement. The summit was, by all accounts, a successful event in the sense that it was a professional dialogue without hiding our differences. Agreements or understandings were reached in a few areas, in particular on strategic stability and cybersecurity which we have advocated for a long time. We wanted the United States to engage in discussing cybersecurity much earlier, when they were levelling accusations about cybercrimes that Russia had allegedly committed. Then we asked them to sit at the table and compare notes. Finally, President Biden and his administration agreed to engage in this dialogue. That is a very welcome development.

There was an understanding that we would continue our dialogue on regional situations, including Syria, on bilateral issues, which are still pending and are a very big irritant in our relations. But when the summit was over and it was commented by representatives of the US administration, both in the White House and the State Department, we heard again about some conditions which Russia had to meet before the US engaged on certain issues. We have said many times over and we continue to say that we are prepared to engage and cooperate, but not on the condition of conditions. That's a very clear thing. 

I also heard what you said, that the CBM is a litmus test for our future engagement in Syria. I think that the US is interested in engaging on Syria no less than Russia is, that it is interested in engaging with Russia and the international community at large. So I think that this is not how a mutually respectful cooperation is envisaged. Let's see.

We also have questions for the United States on its engagement in Syria and other regional issues. But we are not putting conditions on the table in order to engage in those consultations. I would like to point your attention to the article that Minister Lavrov wrote the other day for the Russian press. And it is available on the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry. The article is called “Law, Rights and Rules”, and it will give you a clue to many things that we are discussing. To the way the Russian sees the world, to the way Russia sees how it is being approached andlooked at, as well as how we look at those things, such as international cooperation, multilateralism, rules, laws, and rights. I think that you'll be interested to read. I hope you will.

Q: Just one further quick question on Myanmar. The Russian military is boosting its ties with Myanmar, is selling weapons to Myanmar. Does this mean that Russia accepts the coup and doesn't believe that power should be handed back to the civilian government?

A: Let me ask a reciprocal question. Do we have an arms embargo against Myanmar? We do not.

Q: You know that the General Assembly overwhelmingly called for one.

A: You know what the result of the vote was? It was not a unanimous decision by the General Assembly. We are not advocating for any country situation to be discussed in the General Assembly because, frankly, it's not its business, if I may put it bluntly. But that is a trend of the recent years that these country situations and other issues -- that do not belong to the General Assembly, but cannot be addressed through other UN organs that are more appropriate to deal with them -- are being put to the General Assembly with an idea of a sheer majority to adopt one resolution or another. The resolution on Myanmar was one of such resolutions, but it was not adopted with overwhelming majority.

The situation in Myanmar is very difficult. You cannot assess it in black and white. Yes, we are in favor of the restoration of the normal functioning of the country. You know that the military committed to holding elections. But you have to recognize that the military is a part of the Myanmar landscape. It has been this way a long time before the current situation. They will never go anywhere. They will be part of the political landscape of Myanmar in the future. You cannot tell the military to pack their things and go. They will stay there. They will be part of how the country operates. So we shouldn't see the situation in black and white, but rather take all factors into account.

Q: When you talked about the United States putting conditions on certain issues, aside from the cross-border issue, was there anything else that you were thinking of or where you believe that conditions have been imposed. It sounds like you're disappointed in the follow-up to the summit between Presidents Putin and Biden. Are you? And are you concerned that it's not going in the right direction? And then I have a follow-up on Syria, but not on the CBM.

A: I'm not concerned about the follow-up because there was none. It yet has to follow, and I hope it will follow soon. It's not my piece of cake, as you know. It's mostly about bilateral issues and a bilateral dialogue. I know that the dialogue on strategic stability is said to be starting sometime in July. And both sides are working to prepare for it. I read yesterday in the press that Ambassador Sullivan, who arrived back in Moscow, said that was planning to and had already started to discuss bilateral issues with his Russian counterparts. The aim is to normalize our bilateral relations, which are frankly a shame. You cannot recall anything like that in the whole history of the US-Russia bilateral relations, including diplomatic relations. It is unprecedented, and it affects not just the functioning of our diplomatic entities here in the United States, but of US bodies in Moscow as well. It was not our choice. We never aspired for that. And we want to rectify it as soon as possible. I think that the easiest thing to do this is to zero, to null, to cancel what has happened in the last four years in terms of visas, properties, personnel, etc. I hope it can be done.

On cybersecurity, I have no idea when it will start. But the commitment, or at least the pledge, was made. On other issues, on regional issues this dialogue, one way or the other, was happening before. It is not that we're starting from scratch. I hope it will be a more structured dialogue. But let's see where, when, and in what format.

Q: My follow-up on Syria. Special Representative Geir Pedersen is proposing that the international community, a larger group, hold a meeting to actually start discussing steps that could be agreed on and could actually form a basis for an eventual political agreement and peace. Does Russia support this and do you believe that this is a positive way to try overcome the stalemate and move towards peace?

A: Whoever can contribute to the political settlement in Syria is mostly welcome. This eventual format is only an idea that Geir aired, including in the last meeting on political Syria here in the Council. How and if it will work out is a big question.

At present, we basically have two working mechanisms on Syria, on the political and other tracks. The other question is how they are working and I am not touching upon this now. These mechanisms are the Constitutional Committee and the Astana format that will take place July 7-8 (Geir will be there, by the way) which discusses more technical, down-to-earth issues with the Syrian government, the opposition, and the guarantors.

At this moment, the Constitutional Committee is the only body that deals with the political settlement in Syria. Besides, of course, the Security Council that discusses it on a monthly basis. The sixth session of the Constitutional Committee yet has a chance to convene in July. The preparations are still ongoing. G.Pedersen was not elaborating on that when he was in the Security Council, but they are working behind the scenes in order to agree on the format of the meeting. And I personally think, from what I know, that an agreement on how to proceed can be reached. The other thing is that the Constitutional Committee cannot become a hostage of technical issues and technical differences.

We count on G.Pedersen and the UN as a facilitator of that process. Under their mandate they can only facilitate and, of course, cannot impose anything on either side. It's only the Syrians who can, must and are entitled to find a settlement and move the process forward. I cannot provide a definitive answer to your question, because that was an idea. Nothing has been established. Whether it will be helpful, that is yet to be seen. There's nothing yet to discuss because we don't have anything established.

Q: There is a growing connection between Russia and the sub-Saharan countries. Russia was one of the first countries to back the coup in Mali. Let's say to recognize the coup in Mali, to meet with the leaders of the coup in Mali. Your ambassador was the first one to meet with the leaders of the coup. What is the influence of Moscow in Bamako?

A: I saw pictures of Malians demonstrating with a portrait of President Putin. From that I deduced that the influence of Russia in Bamako is high enough. When Myanmar came up, we asked our colleagues in the Security Council if we could compare the two situations, one in Myanmar and the other in Mali. Technically, they are very much alike. Why has there not been such an uproar in connection with Mali, although, of course, nobody was happy about the coup that happened? I was joking at that time that perhaps director of the military academy in Russia, where the leader of the coup was studying, (he was on leave in Mali and, coincidentally, was part of the coup) could have called him earlier back to his lectures so that it could all be prevented. But it happened that others who were in that coup studied in other countries in the West. So it was not just our fault.

We have to deal with de facto authorities. Our ambassador represents our country. Of course, I see nothing criminal in his dealing with the coup. He was reporting to the capital what he heard from the military that had taken power in Mali. It's only natural because it's the job of an ambassador to report to his capital what the situation in the host country is. I hope that the commitments that the military undertook will be fulfilled, and that sooner rather than later Mali will return to the civilian government and democracy.

Q: It appears that there are almost two Security Councils now. When Mr. Boustani was prevented from speaking at an official Security Council, you had an Arria Formula at which he spoke. And then, subsequently, there was another Arria Formula meeting with people who were present during the Maidan coup and that described another point of view from the one that we are generally inundated with and also people who had witnessed the horrible fire in Odessa. So these Arria Formula meetings are presenting us with a very important perspective, which evidently is being blocked at the Security Council. Is this a de facto statement on what the limitations are in the Security Council?

And I have a follow-up since there are a number of very important Arria Formula meetings. There is Dr. Park at Harvard University, the director of the Korea Project there, and he has offered to speak before the Security Council to describe the horrific humanitarian consequences of the sanctions. And I would, based upon past performance, I would expect he might be blocked there. But could you have an Arria Formula meeting at which he could present these facts to confront the Security Council members who are very, very supportive of the sanctions with the fact that there are horrible humanitarian disasters as a result of these?

A: I think you raised that issue before. I remember it. Now we are speaking about the need to separate the political from the humanitarian in North Korea all the time, because it is clear that there is an over-compliance with the sanctions regime that was imposed upon DPRK by the Security Council. And the humanitarian situation there is dire, indeed. As you saw yourselves, the authorities also recognized that the situation is difficult. Together with our partners, we advocate for easing sanctions and increasing humanitarian aid to North Korea, but it doesn't go through yet. We have a Sanctions Committee which convenes from time to time. We are doing our best to promote that. Hopefully, I am right to think that the situation on the humanitarian front can change. I also hope that those who resist it will adapt their approaches. I cannot guarantee it, but I have a feeling that this issue will be addressed in a more pragmatic way.

Now on Arria Formulas. Indeed, you rightly said that some Arria Formula meetings that we held during the pandemic could not have happened before the pandemic for simple reasons. Those people who spoke from the screen would have never been issued visas to attend an Arria Formula meeting. It gave opportunity not just to us, but to many others to raise issues that perhaps could not have been raised in normal days. We are not rejoicing at that, of course, but we would be glad to see those people here live rather than on the screen, because they can share with the international community something which some people and some members of the international community prefer not to notice at all. I was somewhat embarrassed when I heard my colleagues comment on the presentations and briefings by these people, completely ignoring what they were saying, as if nothing had happened, as if they were tokens, Russian puppets who came out to speak our script.

When we organize our Arria Formula meetings and invite briefers to participate, we never tell them what to say. What we do before an Arria Formula is we tell them about the format, how it works, how long they should speak, what the order of the meeting is. We never ever have written any script for them. Whoever spoke was genuine, whether on Ukraine, on the chemical Syria. Once we had an American general who had been part of Colin Powell’s team at that time. He spoke on behalf of himself. I never saw him before. I never saw him after. So much for Arria Formula meetings.

Q: Ambassador, can I do a quick follow-up on North Korea? Kim Jong Un said there's a great crisis happening there at the moment due to the pandemic. Does Russia have any information on whether there is a COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea?

A: Not that I know of. The DPRK authorities were saying they didn't have any cases of COVID-19. Indeed, the country was sealed when the pandemic started. And that was one of the reasons why the situation with humanitarian assistance also deteriorated. Because UN could not operate in the country. Some of the personnel left. That is also an issue that adds to the dire humanitarian situation in that country. But I have no statistics on their COVID-19 situation.

A: A very quick follow-up again on your Arria Formula. Do you believe that anyone who is invited to speak at a meeting should be allowed to attend the UN in New York? Does that apply to Taiwanese officials?

Q: That is a question to be discussed between the People's Republic of China and the host country. Not me. But that depends on who will dare invite a Taiwanese official here. And I would be interested to see how the situation will develop if this is the case.

A: I have two questions, one on the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and one on Palestine. On the Ethiopian dam, the African mediation apparently reached a deadlock and there is no breakthrough. Both Sudan and Egypt wrote to the Security Council to discuss the matter. And it's a crisis in the making and it could boil into an international crisis that threatens peace and security in Africa. So what is your opinion about the Security Council dealing with this question and what can Russia do as a friend of the three countries? That's my question on the on the issue of the Renaissance Dam.

My question about Palestine. Yesterday and today, Israel started demolishing 17 homes in the Bustan neighborhood in Silwan. And that is a major catastrophe for Palestinians. Hundreds of members of families will be displaced. What does the Security Council do, other than calling on Israel to stop the demolishing, stop building settlements, stop doing that, while Israel has never, ever listened to the Security Council?

A: Can I can I ask you a reciprocal question? What do you want the Security Council to do on that issue? I'm not joking. I'm just asking what's your view on that?

Q: To respect its own resolutions. UNSC passed many resolution, including resolution 2334 about settlements. They have been repeating the same thing. And Israel has never listened. You have good relations with Israel and good relations with the Palestinians. The Quartet [of international mediators for the Middle East] has not been doing anything. Russia keeps trying to put some life into the Quartet, but the Quartet is absent. Is it a major failure of the Security Council?

A: The issue of illegal settlements and evictions is a regular thing in the Security Council. It is not on the agenda, but it is in statements by member states. I think we are more or less unanimous on that issue in the Security Council, with small nuances. The overwhelming majority of UNSC members, including the host country, are not happy with the Israeli policy on either settlements or evictions. And of course, we are concerned because we've seen what happened in Gaza recently, what provoked the recent hostilities there, and what consequences they had, including for the Palestinians living in Gaza, and for Israelis who were affected by these events.

Yes, the Security Council has adopted a host of resolutions on the Middle East settlement, on the settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, on what we call an internationally recognized basis for the settlement. And I think it is only on that basis that this conflict can finally be resolved – for the benefit of not just Palestinians, but Israelis themselves. And I think that many in the Israeli society understand the need to find peace with Palestinians and settle that conflict. The fact that Israel continues these activities is not something that we are very happy about, including eviction of people from their homes, which is neither humanitarian nor humane at all. We will continue to work.

You said about the Quartet. Indeed, we've been trying to breathe new life into the Quartet, including during the Trump administration which had its own views on the settlement, as you very well know, and with this administration as well. Now the Quartet is functioning. The US rejoined it. As you know, we proposed an idea of a ministerial Quartet and even a “Quartet+” with participation of some of the Arab countries. This year, we celebrate 30th anniversary of Madrid Agreements. And that is a good opportunity to look back at what happened and what has not happened in the Middle East settlement, which, as we always stress in every statement I do in the Security Council, is a key to any settlement in the Middle East.

We witness a rapprochement between Israel and certain Arab countries. And we think that it is good, but it cannot be done at the expense of the Palestinians and at the expense of settling the decades-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Now, the first question was on the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Indeed, all three countries are our friends. Nobody is happy that they could not yet agree on that issue. We strongly advocate that they do it in a trilateral way, primarily based on the 2015 Khartoum Agreements. We are in contact with them and they are with us on a continuing basis on that issue. I don't think we should discard the African Union mediation on that issue. It is important that the African Union is involved because, as we say, 'African solutions to African problems'. And this is exactly the case.

We hope that the issue will be resolved, we understand how sensitive it is for all three neighboring and friendly countries that play such an important role on the African continent. We will be doing our best. We offered our good offices, including satellite observation of what is happening. We think that the issue should continue being discussed by the three sides, and we hope that an acceptable solution can be found.

Q: Ambassador, is San Pellegrino water sponsor of the Russian Federation? This is not my question, but San Pellegrino water is very happy to have you and to see you drinking it, I'm sure.

My question is about safety and security of journalists around the world. How do you think the Security Council should address the safety and security of journalists around the world, especially for what happened recently in Belarus, also in Hong Kong and before, let's say in Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Do you think this is an issue with the Security Council should address? And what do you think of the freedom of expression around the world at the moment? Is that healthy or not?

A: On the water, Let me tell you an old joke. It is not even Russian, but  Soviet. "They said he was not not ever considered to be an alcoholic, but he was noticed many times greedily drinking water in the mornings."

Of course, we support the freedom of expression. And we condemn any incidents that involve journalists. On the discussion in the Security Council, we do not think, frankly, that journalists is a special category of people. Yes, they are a respected group, respected people who try to bring truth across (most of the time). Sometimes they are punished for that, including severely. They may be killed, because sometimes they work in dangerous areas and in the midst of conflicts. We know that many journalists, unfortunately, die in the line of duty.

I'm glad that you noticed incidents that happened to journalists in the countries that you mentioned. I hope that you would also notice how Russian journalists are not tortured, but are harassed around the world, in particular in the West and here in the United States, what conditions they face in order to work freely and be able to exercise their duties. Hope you notice what conditions the Western Europe, a beacon of democracy, imposes on Russian journalists. Let alone the Baltic states, where the situation for the Russian press sometimes is unbearable. And not only there, by the way. We raise this all the time in international organizations that address these issues, including OSCE and the Council of Europe, for example. Unfortunately, it remains unattended.

On your question to discuss the plight of journalists in the Security Council. If we ever want to discuss this thing in the Security Council, that should be adopted as part of the UNSC mandate. At present, I don't see where is the mandate of the Security Council on that issue in particular.

Q: I would like to ask two questions. One on the Syrian refugees. Do you think that the refugees should wait until the political settlement is agreed on or do you think any progress can be done for the refugees, especially that many of them have voted for President Assad in the recent elections, organized by the Syrian government?

And to Afghanistan. I read here that your colleague in Afghanistan, the Russian ambassador, said that Russia does not see a threat from the Taliban in Afghanistan. I'm quoting the Russian ambassador from some news stories that came from Kabul yesterday. Is this an indication that you are open to review or improve your relation with Taliban after the American withdrawal from Afghanistan? What's Russia's approach for Afghanistan in the coming weeks?

A: The first question was on Syrian refugees. I think that's primarily a personal choice. Each person should evaluate whether he or she can return, willing to return, whether there is a space where to return, whether the return is voluntary and dignified, as  provided for in approaches to the refugee issues. But we believe that in Syria there are conditions for voluntary return of refugees to areas from which they fled at a certain time, and many Syrians are returning.

On the other hand, they are prevented from returning, not physically, but politically. They are told that conditions were not ripe there, that they would be persecuted, conscripted, punished, and would end up in jail. Practice shows that this is not the case. And in the last couple of years, refugees' return to Syria has been rather steady. I think eventually, when Syria is back on track, everyone will return, because it's their country and it's their life. I hope that they will be able to return to places of their residence in a dignified and voluntary manner and live in a country which is their own.

Now on Afghanistan, on Taliban. I didn't see the quote. But I understand this quote was a kind of a comparison between Taliban and ISIS, which is also part of  Afghani landscape, unfortunately. We've been saying that for a long time - since I arrived here. But it was vehemently rejected by our partners. They said there was no ISIS in Afghanistan. Finally, they recognized that. We all know the areas where ISIL operates.

Back to the quote. As far as I understand, that was said in the context that Taliban's aim was their own country, while the aim of ISIL was expansion, jihadist ideology, and the global caliphate.

Now, on the Afghanistan peace settlement. You know that we are dealing with Taliban. We are part of the peace process, including through the so-called extended "troika", which is US, China, Russia and Pakistan. We actively participate in any peace efforts that are being promoted for the eventual settlement of the situation in Afghanistan. And I think that should be done early, because Taliban itself claims that it controls 80 % of the territory of Afghanistan today.

How exact are these figures? It's not for me to comment upon, but there should be a solution and the solution cannot be made without taking into account the fact that Taliban, again, is part of Afghanistan's political landscape. We are doing whatever we can. That is one of the tracks where we've been engaging with the US effectively before and now. And we hope that it will continue to be the case.

Of course, the situation in Afghanistan is evolving, including due to the US withdrawal. We are yet to see how this landscape is going to change after the final US withdrawal. All these factors speak for the need to reach that agreement as soon as possible.

Q: Do you think the two-state solution is dead for Israel and Palestine? And secondly, there's a UN expert report saying that Russian mercenaries are creating havoc in the Central African Republic, especially on human rights violations. Could you comment on both of those?

On the two-state solution. If there is a will, there is a way. I think there is no other way but the-two state solution, if we really want a lasting settlement that meets the aspirations of the two peoples. Palestinians are no less entitled than the Israelis to have their own state. That is the position of the absolute majority of the international community. I hope that eventually we will be able to come to it.

Yesterday, I had a privilege to be meeting with President of Israel Reuven Rivlin. His words were encouraging. He spoke about that, about the need to live with Palestinians together, the inevitability of that. There is no way to divorce, no way to have Palestinians out. There are part of that land. And he was stressing the point. He was stressing that there is a need to live together in peace. And I was encouraged to hear. But let's see what happens in the future. My personal view is that the two-state solution is not dead.

Now, on the Central African Republic, which we heard a lot of in recent days. We spoke extensively on that issue when we discussed the situation in CAR on 23 June. I will not be very much repeating it. I was even surprised that this question hadn’t come earlier, so that I had more time to elaborate on it.

If answering briefly, I could only quote a comment by the Pesidential Spokesperson, Mr. Dmitry Peskov, who said that “Russian military advisers could not and had not participated in killings and robberies. This was another lie.” I have a more extensive answer to that, which really needs a separate dialogue, but we don't have time for it now.

We have seen the report and analyzed what was inside. We provided comments to that report which were completely ignored. And it's the same story: ungrounded accusations, evidence gathered God knows where, evidence by unidentified witnesses, no chain of custody. On the photos, there are people with white skin who are said to be Russians. As if any person with white skin was a Russian. By the way, there are elements of Photoshop.

As I said, we provided comments on every episode that is in the report. I can give you an example. According to the Ministry of Interior and General Security of CAR, in May 2021 a French citizen with a large amount of weapons, field equipment and military uniforms was detained. This is briefly mentioned in para.70 of the body and the annex of the report. And by the way, according to media reports, he traveled in a car with a Russian flag. Does it make him a Russian?

I think I will limit myself to that. I thank you very much.