Excerpts from Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova's briefing

Submitted on Wed, 03/30/2022 - 15:28

Question: Can you comment on the Strategic Compass, the EU’s new military and political doctrine approved on March 25?  

Maria Zakharova: The EU’s doctrinal document on security and defence, which Brussels calls the Strategic Compass, and which was approved on March 25, is not, in all fairness, up to the level of an independent strategy and cannot serve as a true and reliable navigator in an increasingly complex geopolitical situation.   

This is yet another indication of the EU’s unwillingness to carry out an unbiased analysis of why the European security situation has deteriorated and to identify ways of normalising it.

Its very first lines declare the intention to build up confrontation with Russia whose international actions have been branded as a long-term and direct threat to European security.  Even this formula is far removed from the realities. We are Europe. Look at the map, at the part of Russia that is European by comparison with the territory occupied by the EU countries? This is where they should start. The EU is trying yet again to shift the blame to our country for the majority of challenges and problems it is facing.  They don’t think it necessary to do justice to Russia’s place and role on the European continent or to recognise the legitimacy of our security interests. They have distorted beyond recognition the circumstances of Mikhail Saakashvili’s military adventure in attacking South Ossetia in August 2008. They are hushing up the facts of the unconstitutional coup in Kiev and the subsequent democratic vote in Crimea in support of its reunification with Russia in 2014.  It is just a false mirror. They are dismissing the stabilising role of Russian peacekeepers in Transnistria.  But Brussels is not ashamed to cover up for its Kiev clients, who spent eight years sabotaging the Minsk Package of Measures for settlement in Donbass and who were nurturing plans to “mop it up” by force.

There is a trend towards the EU’s militarisation and its coalescence with the United States and NATO (if earlier we said that they were twins, today NATO has “gobbled up” the EU ideologically by politicising its agenda, although the EU has been created as an economic community). The Compass describes the two as the most important and reliable strategic partners of Brussels.  Thereby they have made yet another step towards devaluing the ambition to enhance the EU’s own “strategic autonomy,” an ambition its leaders have repeatedly stated. The discrepancy between this claim and the EU’s real-life obedience to Washington with regard to the majority of regional agendas outlined by the document is just one of many contradictions the Compass abounds in.  Brussels declares that there is no room for the use of force in the 21st century but simultaneously has a stake in rushing lethal weapons to third countries and creating a EU combat potential to carry out military interventions elsewhere. They reject the spheres of influence concept, but at the same time set the goal of strengthening their presence in eastern and southern neighbourhood countries lest “others take their place.”  They declare a commitment to free choice of means to ensure states’ own security and yet deny that right to Russia’s ally, Belarus.   

One has to state that the Strategic Compass that is now available to Brussels has failed to meet its main intended purpose of providing a comprehensive analysis of the military and political situation within and outside the EU. It has fallen victim to the anti-Russia anomaly present in the EU space. As a result, they have a time-serving and propaganda-laced document. The compass arrow is hopelessly out of order. The attempt to move in the direction it shows will not lead the EU to peace and stability. This is already obvious.  More likely, it will lead to an escalation of tension, a deeper split on the continent, and the loss of the EU’s own positions and international influence.   

We call on the European Union to renounce its confrontational approach towards Russia and its allies, an approach that is doomed to failure by definition. They should return to the principles of the UN Charter and the 1975 Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe regarding equality, the right of peoples to choose their own destiny, and cooperation between states.

When I first saw the news headlines saying that Brussels now has a “strategic compass,” the name of Jules Verne immediately popped up in my mind. You may remember his fascinating book, A Captain at Fifteen. One of its characters, a Portuguese ruffian, who wanted to get to a slave-trading country, put a hatchet under his ship’s compass. Naturally, the ship changed course. I hope the United States will not put its war hatchet under Brussels’ “strategic compass” so that it can avoid going off course once and for all.

Question: According to media reports, Russia is drafting an executive order on retaliatory visa measures that will limit entry to Russia for citizens of “unfriendly countries.” It is common knowledge that, due to the pandemic, people from a number of other countries had been banned from entering Russia for two years. Now that authorities are easing pandemic-related restrictions, will the same apply to restrictions on entering Russia?

Maria Zakharova: On March 28, 2022, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke at a meeting of the United Russia General Council’s Commission on International Cooperation and Support for Compatriots Abroad. He said a presidential executive order on retaliatory visa measures was in the making. We can give the following explanation.

First of all, this regulatory legal act comes as a response to the European Union’s unfriendly actions. Notably, I am referring to the European Council’s decision to partially suspend the May 25, 2006 agreement between the Russian Federation and the European Community on the facilitation of the issuance of visas to the citizens of the Russian Federation and the European Union. The decision aims to abolish visa-free travel for holders of diplomatic passports, namely, Russian officials, including members of the Government of the Russian Federation, deputies of the State Duma of the Russian Federation and other representatives of the Russian party travelling to Europe on business.

We are noting that, despite Western attempts to complicate people-to-people ties and contacts, to wreck cultural and business ties, the Russian party has no intention of taking it out on ordinary Europeans, even if this would seem like a logical retaliatory step. At the same time, we are telling you that the draft executive order will not apply to foreign citizens already legally staying in the Russian Federation.

Regarding the lifting of restrictions on the entry of foreign citizens to the Russian Federation amid the pandemic, the Emergency Response Centre to prevent the import and spread of the novel coronavirus in Russia reviews the relevant applications.

At the same time, a decision to ease entry regulations for foreign citizens travelling to the Russian Federation is made with due consideration for Rospotrebnadzor’s assessment of the current epidemiological situation in any specific foreign state and the consequences of lifting the relevant restrictions.

To sum up, I would like to point out two things. First, this document is only a draft executive order. These comments are therefore preliminary. President of Russia Vladimir Putin will make the relevant decision. All subsequent comments will therefore follow after the document’s approval. Second, the draft document’s current version will not affect ordinary Europeans.

Question: Following a resolution adopted at the session of the Organisation of Islamic Conference at the initiative of Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan, the UN General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution proclaiming March 15 as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia. What is your opinion of that document? Should a resolution to combat Russophobia be adopted as well?

Maria Zakharova: There are over 190 nationalities and ethnic groups in Russia, where people profess over 60 faiths. We have a thousand years of experience in the coexistence of various faiths based on mutual respect. The principle of non-discrimination on grounds of faith and beliefs is set out in our fundamental law, the Constitution of the Russian Federation, as well as in a number of by-laws.

In light of this, we pay special attention to international cooperation to prevent discrimination on grounds of faith, the persecution of believers and religious leaders, and the desecration of religious facilities. Russia has always favoured a comprehensive approach to religious issues based on equal understanding and attention to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and other traditional religions. At the same time, Russia has consistently called for exchanging experience and best practices to ensure interfaith peace and stability, primarily in multinational and multi-confessional societies.

In practical terms, we have been working on the international stage to implement our strategy against modern forms of racism, xenophobia and intolerance based on anti-Semitism, Christianophobia and Islamophobia, including through the annual initiative for adopting a UN General Assembly Resolution on Combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The last time it was adopted was at the plenary meeting of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly held in New York in December 2021. That Russian initiative was co-authored by 58 countries, including 28 Muslim states.

We have taken note of the rapid growth of anti-Islamic sentiment fuelled by radical nationalist forces in some Western countries, especially in Europe, over the past decades. The growth of anti-Islamic rhetoric and discrimination against Islam as a religion is becoming menacing. We have pointed this out on numerous occasions and have indicated our fundamental policy of rejecting such manifestations.

In light of this, it is logical that Russia joined the group of countries that initiated the resolution on the International Day to Combat Islamophobia. We are convinced that this UN General Assembly resolution will help strengthen interfaith and intercultural dialogue and tolerance in the context of combating hate speech. We believe that religious phobias, such as Islamophobia, Christianophobia that exist in several countries, or anti-Semitism are absolutely unacceptable. We are ready to work with all interested parties to overcome these negative phenomena.

As for Russophobia, which is a form of discrimination against ethnicity, it has not just caused concern but also protests in Russia. We are witnessing an unprecedented wave of anti-Russia hysterics in the West. It has been growing for a long time and has acquired distorted forms. In the past it was presented as the rejection of our policies, but today the ban has been extended to everything Russian. This campaign has been initiated and is being fuelled by the Western elite and is being waged with reliance on the potential of popular social networks, which are controlled by the West. This has given rise to the righteous indignation of Russians and all rational people. Rallies in support of Russia have been held in many European countries. We believe that this Russophobia is a temporary phenomenon that is based on time-serving considerations and that it is being hyped up.

The unacceptability of discrimination on ethnic grounds has been sealed in international law and in special UN General Assembly resolutions on combating racism and discrimination and on protecting national and language minorities. In this context, we do not consider additional UN resolutions on Russophobia necessary at this time. We will wait to see how it goes.