Russian priority in Ukraine is to ‘complete the liberation of the territories of  Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics'

June 16, 2022

Excerpts from the Q and A at press conference of Maria Zakharova, spokesman of the Russian Foreign Ministry on June 15

Answers to media questions:

Question: When will Russia send its ambassadors to the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics? Have they been appointed? What can you say on this issue? What is the situation?

Maria Zakharova: Yes, we have been receiving these questions since the recognition of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics. I can tell you that work on this matter is in progress.

Our current priority is to complete the liberation of the territories of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics and to rebuild infrastructure, utilities, social and other facilities there. Russian regions have energetically joined in these efforts, together with Russian ministries, agencies, volunteers and regional authorities. The ambassadors of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics, who have been officially accredited in Moscow, are contributing to these efforts. We will provide updates.

I would like to remind everyone that the appointment of ambassadors is the prerogative of the President of Russia.

Question: President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has proposed creating a mechanism for rebuilding Ukraine that would be similar to the Marshall Plan. She said the EU should become the main investor, while rebuilding the country would be in the hands of the Ukrainians themselves. What is the Foreign Ministry’s view of this initiative? Could this be an attempt to establish Western economic diktat in Ukraine after gaining political control of the country?

Maria Zakharova: We have heard many interesting and sometimes shocking statements by EU diplomats. Now they say that the war must go on to the end without examining what this really means, and then they start talking about peaceful reconstruction and “plans.” It looks to me that they don’t have a comprehensive concept, and that they are in a state of absolute uncertainty. There is only certainty regarding our country, which must be “contained,” and their involvement in a hybrid war against us. What about everything else? What about a streamlined ideological and philosophical concept? We regard this as an absolute dichotomy.

As for the “Marshall Plan,” I don’t think that there is a logic behind these historical parallels. This is evidence that obsolete Cold War clichés and the logic of antagonistic relations with Russia are deeply embedded in the minds of the Western political class. A new Marshall Plan is an indicative feature of the period of confrontation between two systems. It’s no secret that the Americans conditioned the allocation of funds to beneficiary countries on a great deal of political and ideological provisions. They divided the world on the either/or principle: either you accept everything we say, become subordinate to us and follow our direct orders, or you don’t get the money. But the conditions were truly draconian. It is believed that this mechanism was extremely instrumental in the post-war reconstruction of Europe, although the European countries that were part of the “Eastern bloc” also reported major achievements in the sphere of industrial development. It is a fact that the United States used the Marshall Plan to keep Western Europe in its sphere of influence. They are now trying to do the same to Ukraine. Their initial plan was to destroy Ukraine, its statehood and civil society, and now we are witnessing its actual destruction.

It has become customary for the current EU politicians and officials (Ursula von der Leyen is not an exception but a striking example of this) to increasingly use the ideological clichés of the most fanatical anti-Russia propagandists of the 20th century. It’s no secret that their promises of selfless assistance to their minions are highly doubtful, if not a lie altogether.

The recent policy of the West towards Ukraine didn’t look like a Marshall Plan but was openly aimed at de-industrialising it and at turning it into a provider of resources. During the Soviet period, Ukraine became a highly industrialised republic with its own science, its own education system, industry and agriculture. We can see now what happened to it over 30 years of its independence, or more precisely, its dependence on Washington. We dutifully supplied resources to Ukraine, which largely accounted for its industrial development.

For many past decades, the EU and the United States have been implementing a geopolitical project in Ukraine aimed at “containing” Russia. This began long before 2014. Billions of dollars have been allocated for this project. As for how much of these funds reach Ukraine and how much return to the source, this remains an open question. It’s clear from the financial information sometimes reported in the media that Ukraine is being used to make a quick profit from these funds, which subsequently return to the provider, with only a few percent of the initial sum ending in Ukraine. It’s just a financial trick. Any other funds approved for Ukraine are not invested in its prosperity but are used to buy weapons.

The EU leadership, while hypocritically speaking about the need for the “reconstruction of Ukraine,” continues sending lethal weapons to it. This amounts to investing in prolonging the hostilities and further destruction of the country.

The underlying logic – raze to the ground first and build anew later – is preposterous for the 21st century. People in Ukraine don’t understand what the West will build in their country, but the West will only build what it itself needs, for example, enterprises that will turn out products for transnational companies, just as this has been done in the EU member states. Many EU countries have abandoned their traditional traditional way of life and their systems of agriculture and industry, which are only staying afloat because of subsidies but are unable to develop normally.

I doubt that this logic meets the interests of Ukrainians and citizens of EU countries who will hardly agree to pay for Brussels’ militaristic plans amid the energy and food crisis provoked by the West.

The European and US political communities are discussing the expropriation of foreign assets belonging to Russian citizens and companies and the frozen funds of the Russian Central Bank for these purposes. I would like to remind everyone that Washington invested its own funds in the Marshall Plan. Will it do so now as well? This question is for them. We believe that it must answer this question, considering that ideology has changed in the West, which intends to use seized funds to implement its geopolitical projects.

It's not just that the West is taking its time to transfer “reconstruction” funds to the current Ukrainian authorities; it’s very unlikely that they will entrust them with the funding at all. I’d like to remind you of a revealing fact:  US President Joe Biden, back when he was Vice President, visited Kiev to “supervise” a strange hybrid event. It was not an ordinary meeting of the Ukrainian government attended by the Ukrainian President, but an event chaired by the US Vice President, who issued instructions to the Ukrainian cabinet. The situation will not change. Everything will go on as before.

If Western politicians and experts agree that it’s impossible to effectively monitor how and where foreign weapons are being used in Ukraine, the fate of the billion-dollar financial support transfers is not in their hands at all.

It is also obvious that not a single dollar or euro of Western assistance will be invested in the development and reconstruction of the Donbass infrastructure, which Kiev has been destroying blow by blow since 2014.

Question: Why were the talks between Moscow and Kiev halted? What are Moscow’s conditions for resuming the talks? Is there even a point in resuming them? 

Maria Zakharova: I want to remind you about the sequence of events. The talks were requested by Ukraine and Russia’s leadership responded affirmatively. A negotiation team was formed. The talks began. Several rounds were held in person and online. We saw many objections: either the place was not right or the team composition was not right or the country should have been different. There were a lot of whims. One way or another, we managed to find opportunities to continue the talks. On one of such occasions, the materials prepared by the Russian side upon Ukraine’s request were sent to the Kiev regime. And that was it. We never heard any signals from them. The talks were essentially (I don’t know, ask them what the right word should be) frozen, stalled, suspended, interrupted or sabotaged. They should tell you what they did to the talks. We have the information indicating that the order came from their American curators. So, the questions are for them to answer.

I would like to note that Sergey Lavrov covered this matter extensively.

1. At a news conference during the New Horizons educational marathon on May 17, 2022: “When they suggested talks, which was soon after the special military operation began, President Putin instructed us to hold the talks. Moreover, we suspended the operation as a gesture of goodwill during the first round, but the Ukrainian side did not reciprocate, acting unscrupulously as usual. Therefore, our troops and the Donetsk and Lugansk militias did not stop the fighting during the subsequent rounds of talks.”

2. In the interview with RT Arabic on May 26, 2022: “After several rounds were held in Belarus and online, the idea of meeting in Istanbul was put forth, and the Ukrainian delegation brought, for the first time, written proposals signed by the head of the delegation to the meeting we held on March 29. <…> We used them to quickly draft an agreement that was based on the Ukrainian proposals and turned it over to the Ukrainian delegation. The following day a flagrant provocation was staged in Bucha.” After that, independently or following instructions from Washington, London or Brussels “the Ukrainians said that they had reviewed their position and would reformulate the principles underlying the agreement. Nevertheless, contacts between us continued.”

3. At a news conference on current international issues on June 6, 2022: “Ukraine is unwilling to hold negotiations. It has declined to do this. We have every reason to believe that in this way Kiev is following the wishes of the Anglo-Saxon leadership of the Western world. We were ready to work honestly based on our Ukrainian colleagues’ proposals. A draft agreement drawn up on the basis of those proposals has been shelved by the Ukrainian side until now.”

4. At a joint news conference following the talks with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on April 26, 2022: “Judging by all appearances, they are not particularly interested in talks. Those insisting that Russia should not be allowed to win,  and, on the contrary, urging [Ukraine] to overpower Russia and destroy it have promised Kiev that they will continue this policy by rushing arms to Ukraine in huge amounts. Right now, the Ukrainian authorities are relying on this. If this continues, the talks are unlikely to have any outcome. But I repeat: we are committed to a negotiated solution and ceasefire. We pursue this daily by announcing humanitarian corridors.”

Question: Sergey Ryabkov has met with the US Ambassador several times in Moscow. These meetings were aimed at scaling down tensions between Moscow and Washington. What topics did they discuss?

Maria Zakharova:  These were routine working contacts and they focused on technical issues of the national embassies’ work in Moscow and Washington.

Question: During his visit to Finland, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that peace in Ukraine was possible, but the main issue is the price to be paid for it. He specified that what he meant by the price was territory, independence, sovereignty, freedom and democracy. According to him, the Alliance will continue to support the authorities in Kiev, but that it will do everything in its power to avoid an escalation with Russia. What do you think about this statement?  

Maria Zakharova: This will not happen, this is not happening today, and this will not happen in the future.  How can one work to escalate the situation, supply weapons and force others to supply weapons, impose sanctions and proclaim the main “goal” as “suffocating” Russia, and try to avoid an escalation at the same time? What is their concept of escalation? It’s not even an attempt to sit on two chairs; it's a dichotomy.

It's hard to imagine peace in a country that receives tonnes of lethal weapons daily, primarily from NATO member states. I believe that it would be better to ask Mr Stoltenberg about the price that he is talking about. In any event, it is obvious that NATO and its Secretary-General care nothing about Ukraine and its citizens if they are talking about a certain “price.” It appears that they are using the destiny of Ukraine and its citizens as a legal tender.

Let’s recall the gist of the problem: NATO perceives confrontation with Russia as an end in itself. NATO is not defending itself from any hypothetical threat. They declared this goal, and they veiled it in PR concepts. Later, all of them started saying openly that their main goal was confrontation with Russia and hostilities, and that the situation on the ground should be resolved by itself, etc. In this case, NATO sees Ukraine and Ukrainian citizens as expendable, as a tool and attendant costs. NATO sees them as convenient assets for achieving its goal. The longer they (I am talking about the armed forces of Ukraine here) conduct hostilities against the Russian armed forces, the better for the Alliance. This justifies NATO’s existence today.

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that this is not my concoction, but a statement by former US President George W. Bush that the mission of Ukraine is to kill as many Russians as possible. I am not saying that he is a very knowledgeable person (I don’t want to discuss this topic right now), but, he is not only a representative of the US “deep state”, he is part and parcel of this “deep state” and its political elite. Their clan governed the state for many years, Bush Sr and Bush Jr served as presidents for a long time. They had tremendous influence within the Republican Party, and they retain this influence today. They are closely linked with intelligence agencies and the defence industry. Naturally, they also control the energy sector. This a classic story. George W. Bush openly voiced an idea that many people still veil in elegant language. He made a straightforward statement that the mission of Ukraine was to kill as many Russians as possible. This is just about it. We need to talk about this. It appears that Mr Stoltenberg has elaborated on this idea, and he has said how much this will cost, and it had its own price. This price includes the lives of people whom the West had simply pitted against each other for many years.  If you ask me about the situation around NATO (your question mentioned this aspect, one way or another), then, in my opinion, they should have thought about the consequences of providing political and material support to the actions of Ukrainian nationalists long ago. Alternatively, they could think about starting to look for ways to prevent an escalation that leads to a confrontation that nobody needs. They should think about these things. I don’t want to advise them here but this is so obvious that I could not help but note this.

Question: The other day McDonald's re-opened for business under a new name in Russia. What are the prospects for this project? Will this model be used for other foreign-owned businesses?

Maria Zakharova:  Business model questions are best directed to the Ministry of Economic Development and, possibly, other agencies.

Our country and economy remain open to foreign investors. We are now in a beautiful showroom in St Petersburg filled with presentation booths about our economy’s capabilities, which attract investors. We are open to foreign investors provided they comply with Russian legislation and corporate and social responsibility standards. This is the banal truth.

Question: My question is about two maternity hospitals in Mariupol and Donetsk that you already mentioned today. The Western media reacted in a radically different manner to this. I remember Sergey Lavrov issuing a warning before the developments in Mariupol that the Ukrainian forces had taken the building. The Western media did not respond to that. You mentioned Kramatorsk and the “adjustments” that followed. Does this mean that there is hope for objective coverage of the situation in Ukraine? What is behind this difference of opinion when the “masks have been torn off,” or are they simply following orders?

Maria Zakharova: With regard to hopes for objectivity, this is a separate matter. Let's face it: objectivity is nonexistent when we talk about the Western media covering this conflict through its eyes, or via screens or newspapers. I read numerous reviews, digests, selected articles, etc. I see the African and Asian media outlets trying to maintain the balanced approach to coverage and to show different points of view with regard to this situation. They are sending their correspondents and asking questions, and doing their best to cover the situation. However, they realise that this is a complicated situation that is not unique in the world. The world has lived through many challenging situations. No doubt, peace and bringing an end to the conflict are everyone's priority. But it's not easy to do. Furthermore, a certain portion of the global political establishment is prepared, as they say, to “go all the way” in implementing their “morbid” ambitions, not being directly involved in this situation, but controlling the Kiev regime behind its back. I see this balance and objectivity in the media that I mentioned. Speaking of the situation in the countries to the west of our country, it is nothing short of a freak show, including Canada, the United States and the EU countries, but not all of them. Many of them are part of the Western information and political mainstream. Do you understand what this is all about? You can argue as much as you like and cite examples, but there is one colourful argument: journalists or publications that interview or publish Russia’s point of view are being blackballed. That is, they are being subjected, at least such attempts are being made, to cancel culture in order to erase and annihilate them. This is what matters. This is an absolutely straightforward position to keep the Russian point of view from reaching the Western mainstream media. So, there can be no talk about objectivity when it comes to the Western media.

This may hold the answer to the question you asked about hope. This should not be our hope. This question is for them to answer. Do they need it or not? They are liberals. Their system is based on democracy as the core value and the freedom of speech that underlies democracy and primacy of liberalism. In fact, though, this is no longer about primacy, but dictate (this matter will be reviewed at our panel tomorrow). This is an existential issue for the West, even if it doesn’t even try to ensure balance and objectivity. What we are witnessing are concrete efforts to remove every bit of dissent from the media space. What are we talking about? The question is best directed to them.

Indeed, it's amazing. As a reminder, the Western media first showed up in southeastern Ukraine, Donbass and at the line of contact in early 2022. What about before then? The major media corporations from the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France and Spain had no staff correspondents there for eight years. I’m well aware of the fact that nothing was reported. As a rule, staff reporters were sent there via Russia, or those who were stationed in Russia were delegated there. Almost all correspondents left Moscow for Ukraine to cover the events in early 2022. Why was nobody sent there for eight years, while 13,000 people were being killed? Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov used multiple opportunities to publicly encourage the correspondents go there. There was one story on the BBC, and then one in the US media. There were no broadcasts from there and no correspondents. They can tell me they weren’t allowed there, but those who wanted went there to work, like the Italian journalists. This is telling. Unfortunately, I have to say for the third time that there has been no objective coverage in the Western media for a long time now.

Was the coverage of Syria, any other conflict or the sanctions objective? Never. However, if there are good faith reporters, working in that country, they must cite direct quotes from the US leaders. Although, for example, when President Trump spoke, they didn’t quote him, or would use a direct quotation and then say that he was talking nonsense that didn’t deserve to be listened to. Now, though, the US media need to listen to what the President of the United States has to say. In all seriousness, they are citing direct quotes to the effect that the rise in petrol and gas prices is a “Putin price hike,” “Putin prices” and “Putin taxes.” Not a single observer or correspondent is even trying to think about what they are blabbering about. You see, this is the question. We see this all the time. Probably, the situation concerning Ukraine has become the most odious in terms of coverage.

Question: The ECHR ruled that the Russian law On Foreign Agents violated human rights and awarded compensation of 10,000 euros to 73 Russian NGOs. Russia refused to comply with this requirement. But the lawsuits were filed with the ECHR long before March 15, when the country withdrew from the Council of Europe (in fact, some as far back as 2013). Does this mean the law has retroactive effect for Russia?

Maria Zakharova: Do you not see what is going on in the world? Do you understand that nothing is left of the law, of international law? And this is partly due to the efforts of certain representatives of the ECHR. Many of their rulings did not just run counter to, but were downright antagonistic to any legal logic. This made Russia withdraw from the Council of Europe. Read the statements we have made on this score. It is entirely politicised. The law serves to fulfil political orders.

I understand that certain people have certain requirements and a different view on this foreign agency situation. We discussed this a year ago, at this same forum. I was the first to say that the foreign agency concept should have become a thing of the past, but we were forced to respond to the West reinstating it. This foreign agency thing is a US invention from the 1930s. They revived it at the beginning of the 21st century, primarily in relation to our country.

And now you’re asking me what we think about this law having retroactive application? You have to be realistic and see what is happening in the world. Things approved by consensus, for example, by the WTO, get cancelled all at once. What kind of law are we talking about when the most active participants violate the WTO rules to ensure themselves advantages they cannot achieve due to free competition?

What else? Who ever heard of media outlets blocked solely on the basis of nationality? This is how policies of genocide originate – with entire information, cultural, humanitarian chunks being simply erased from the landscape of other countries. What kind of law are you talking about? What is it you’re talking about? Show me where it’s written. I can respond by showing you that this is impossible. America has amendments to the Constitution that guarantee freedom of speech. So what? They have been trampled on when Russian journalists, television channels designated as foreign agents have had their bank accounts blocked and their visas denied. Let's talk about the law, shall we? Have you forgotten about it?

We pulled out from the Council of Europe on March 15, 2022, made an official statement. As for the case you are referring to, among other things, the ECHR decision was fully predictable because it was politicised. This destroys the law in principle. It was in line with extremely liberal and neoliberal approaches to regulating civil society, and that was one of the reasons why Russia decided to withdraw from this organisation.

Liberal approaches have nothing to do with freedoms. This is a liberal dictatorship. As the court was reviewing that case, the Russian Federation pointed out how other countries were using the foreign agent term in their laws. They imposed very strict requirements on persons subject to regulation. Do you know what the ECHR said? The court completely ignored these arguments, bypassed our reasoning and indirectly agreed with the claimants and others, participating as a third party, that the US Foreign Agents Registration Act was totally different.

“This is different” seems to be a valid argument when they clamp down on all Russian media, conventional or social media, etc. They say, you aren’t journalists. So much for your laws. You are violating your own rules of regulation. They were told they weren’t journalists. Why is that? We are correspondents, we have been working for 25 years writing reviews, reporting from hot spots, members of the Union of Journalists of Russia or Moscow, or another region. We have international awards, we were nominated in your own countries for international awards in the field of information and journalism. You awarded us. But we aren’t journalists now? No, you aren’t. No longer journalists. What do you think of this?

Therefore, concerning this crisis in the legal sphere, these questions shouldn’t be addressed to me or to us, but to those who destroyed this international law and their own laws.

Remember the concept the West proclaimed five years ago? The rules-based international order. Here lies the answer to what is happening with the law. They are trying to completely destroy it, reduce it to a nice tradition and replace it with rules. These rules today, different ones tomorrow. Therefore, the double standards manifested in the practice of the ECHR fully confirmed that Russia made the correct decision on March 15, 2022 when it withdrew from the Council of Europe. Among other things, I would like to underscore that the President of Russia has signed a law making ECHR decisions non-enforceable. An official report has been released the other day. Changes have been made to the Code of Criminal Procedure and certain federal laws. The State Duma approved the new legislation on June 7, 2022, and the Federation Council, the next day. Russian courts will not have to comply with the ECHR rulings passed after March 15, when Russia decided to withdraw from the Council of Europe.

Everyone dreamed of living according to international law, according to the norms of international organisations, according to officially documented regulations. What has been left of it, with the “new” vision of the international order proclaimed by the “collective West”?

We are witnessing amazing things that are happening with national laws, bilateral agreements, and international legal norms. Will the world return to normal? I have no answer. We would like to have a common legal framework that would help avoid conflicts, suggest ways out of difficult situations, and, in one way or another, glorify equality and justice. What we see now is a reverse process.

Question: Yury Dud, Alexey Pivovarov, Alexey Venediktov and rapper Morgenstern... Personally, do you consider them agents of foreign states? Venediktov appeared to be recognised as a foreign agent because he received a salary from the radio station Ekho Moskvy. Do you personally find these arguments persuasive?

Maria Zakharova: I know many of the people you mentioned only casually, but I worked with some, gave interviews, etc. I believe some of the material published by those people whom I know, and which were written by themselves or by their employees, the teams they led, clearly indicate that they pursued a political line that was formed abroad, was prompted by certain services or countries. Every time I read those materials, I had a lot of questions. And I did put these questions to people I was in touch with, people I worked with in the information field, and so on. But I had more and more questions. It was absolutely obvious to me.

Would you like me to give you a specific example? Alexey Venediktov wrote something that surprised me and continues to surprise me (I have already spoken about this publicly). He holds absolutely pacifist views – he is for peace, against weapons, against violence. And I remember how, three or four years ago, Venediktov published photographs of young Israeli women with weapons in their hands on his social media pages every week, praising the youth and beauty of those defending their homeland. Those people, those young women wearing military uniforms and holding machine guns in their hands, were defending their Motherland – Israel – and that was beautiful, remarkable, a feat, heroism, and self-sacrifice. There were some emotional captions, too. And then something happened in his own country. Young men – probably, women, too – are involved in the special military operation. Tell me, are they not worthy of similar praise? Just as people? Don't they deserve it? Why should there be a change of attitude? If a person stands for peace, for pacifism, this person’s position remains stable and does not change depending on the situation. The most important thing is that they’re Russians, citizens of our country, people who are doing their duty. They deserve a similar kind of support too. But for some reason it's not there. And I wonder why people defending Israel delight the editor-in-chief of a Russian media outlet, as do politicians and leaders of other states, but everything connected with our country causes unfair criticism (this actually happened, and we answered it).

Many things reported by that radio station made me do some fact checking or thinking and give a refutation or, on the contrary, find confirmation. But for the most part, it was an endless “stream of consciousness” (you know who I'm quoting here). This term, stream of consciousness, taken from Western literature, has been often directed at us with a negative connotation. I asked myself these questions all the time.

Question (retranslated): You mentioned international law. We are now at an international forum that is based on rules for the entire world. Clearly, international cooperation is based on respect for sovereignty.  President Putin compared the special military operation to what Peter the Great did during the Great Northern War, meaning that this territory is being returned to Russia by right. Don't you think this constitutes a violation of international law?

Maria Zakharova: An excellent specimen of propaganda work. Have you ever tried to use this high-flown language to ask the US Secretary of State or the US President a question about recognising Kosovo's alleged sovereignty? You could also use this kind of beautiful and pontifical language at a briefing at the State Department or the White House to say that if we, the United States, are holding forums based on international law and norms that imply respect for the existing borders of sovereign states, then how come we, the United States, have been covering heinous crimes in Kosovo, including organ trafficking, and eventually “rewarded” (if I may put it that way) the thugs who ruled the roost there with the title of a sovereign state contrary to the UN Security Council resolution and the will of Belgrade and the people of Serbia, without even asking anyone for their opinion.

When will you start talking like that with your leaders and officials? Are you directing these questions only at us? Everything is fine with international law in our country. We have always upheld it. We are doing our best to put it into practice contrary to what the United States may have planned. I can answer your question. Let's go back to 2014. A referendum was held in Crimea amid an anti-constitutional coup. Lawfully elected President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych, who, regardless of what you may think of him, was recognised by the Western community and was its best friend until late 2013, when he suddenly came up with a question about what he should do with the two CIS integration associations in which his country participates and the ones in the EU that he was invited to join. He wanted a pause of up to six months to harmonise these processes. The next day he woke up as an objectionable “criminal.” The EU stopped talking to him despite the fact that a week before that he was a guest of honour at an EU forum. He was toppled in the most horrifying and bloody manner, with fatalities on the Maidan, with the use of gunmen and the American money and the political support of the EU. Your government has done all of that by precision management. A high-ranking representative of the US State Department personally participated in these events, not just meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs, but leading the political processes that were brewing there with the support of gunmen. Viktor Yanukovych was removed from office.

The regions that you care so much about, the Ukrainian territories with remaining legally and democratically elected power of the people chose not to swear allegiance to the “government” that came to power as a result of this coup. These people decided to keep this legitimate power that was recognised by international law and not to obey the rabid impostors. They began to defend the people's power with the support of the people. Crimea held a referendum. What an endeavour that was! There have always been efforts to block referendums. They held a referendum and Russia was supportive of this decision. Donetsk and Lugansk have also held a referendum. Let's call a spade a spade. They gave the Western community an opportunity to prove themselves on the negotiating track in order to preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the Ukrainian state itself. They came up with the first Minsk Package of Measures and took the declaration of will expressed at that referendum under advisement. They teamed up with the Western community represented by Berlin and Paris in order to work together on the negotiating track. They’ve been putting up with this mayhem for eight years. For eight years, people have been killed there. For eight years we’ve been witnessing and most recently put on record a buildup of the armed forces of all stripes. They were killing civilians and volunteers, the people who were part of the resistance (you called them separatists) and who signed the Minsk Agreements that stated that the DPR and LPR were part of Ukraine. You still called them separatists. Why? They just wanted and tried to live within Ukraine. But you insisted that they were separatists, even after more than 13,000 people died. This is not just hostilities. This is about mass graves and killing children. What about the skyrocketing number of NATO exercises in the Black Sea? In 2021 alone, there were seven of them, and nine more were planned to be held next year. The number of NATO combat units (weapons, instructors and military personnel) increased by an order of magnitude. It was clear which way it was going. After that, we recognised the obvious − the declared independence of the DPR and LPR in order to stop the loss of lives and guarantee them their safety at their own request. What are you talking about? Point me to where this international law was not respected? The references to the UN Charter that we made were exactly the same as NATO and the EU were making when they carried out their operations. Show me where this logic is failing.

Arms, including Soviet ones, are being supplied to Ukraine, which completely violates every obligation ever assumed by the Western countries that are encouraging these supplies. I posted a material to that effect on Telegram. Read it. But you have no interest in that. So, save this language for US politicians and government officials and put these questions to future US presidential candidates and nominees to Congress. Hold them answerable in the same manner.

Question: That doesn’t really answer the question. I would like to remind you that the war in Iraq and Afghanistan was widely covered by the US media. My question is whether taking back and strengthening other countries’ territories constitutes a violation of international law?

Maria Zakharova: I understand that the “#thisisdifferent” topic will start again now. What was the legal basis for invading Iraq? I didn't say anything about Iraq, you mentioned it. Was there any legal basis for invading Iraq? Tell me.

Question: We are not talking about Iraq. What is the difference now? You are invading a sovereign country.

Maria Zakharova: Do you understand what a referendum is? The referendum was held in Donetsk and Lugansk. You just forgot about it.

Question: It has not been recognised.

Maria Zakharova: So, what matters is not the will of the people, but who recognised it or didn’t recognise it? Do I follow your logic?

Question: That’s why the United Nations was founded to recognise or not recognise certain referendums.

Maria Zakharova: What territories are you talking about that we seized and annexed?

Question (retranslated): The entire region of the Azov Sea, Kiev, Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson region and other regions. Many…

Maria Zakharova: The territories of Donetsk and Lugansk?

Question: Not only them, as you are well aware, but also Kiev and Odessa.

Maria Zakharova: The territories that you mentioned are they part of Donetsk and Lugansk?

Question: The Donetsk and Lugansk regions, yes.

Maria Zakharova: We have recognised the territories of Donetsk and Lugansk as sovereign states. They held referendums which, as I said, reflected the will of the people. We took note of this and started a negotiation process on reintegrating these regions with the “Ukrainian statehood” and have been doing this for eight years now. The eight years of talks were not easy. They started out with Ukraine’s unfavourable living conditions. Because of the anti-constitutional coup, Ukraine began to disintegrate. One part held a referendum, which we recognised and we reunited with this territory. I mean Crimea. Other parts − Donetsk and Lugansk − held referendums, and the people had their say, but we gave an opportunity for the Western countries to start the negotiation process in order to have these regions reintegrate with the rest of Ukraine. Aren’t you aware of that? You aren’t aware of what the talks were all about during the eight years? Are you new to this topic? The talks were about giving a new start to life in Ukraine with account taken of the interests and rights of the DPR and the LPR (Donbass. Unfortunately, eight years later the talks came to a dead end not even because of Kiev’s position, but because of the position of Washington, which stood behind the Kiev regime. All this ended with the fact that over the past 18 months the Ukrainian president and officials from the Ukrainian ministries and other agencies have been saying that the Minsk Agreements are no longer valid and are inconsistent with the situation on the ground and they will no longer feel obligated, especially as it was not they themselves who signed them. They say they were signed in circumstances that no longer exist. Kiev has put a stop to the negotiating process. You must make an effort and make sense of the facts. What were the talks about? It's complicated. I understand. When you are not using clichés, but base your reasoning on the facts, it may be a fairly challenging process. But it is there. The negotiating process was about reintegrating the DPR and LPR on certain terms, with which Kiev and Donetsk and Lugansk agreed. The Normandy format members were instrumental in facilitating this process. The talks were not about improving economic life in Donetsk or Lugansk, and not about the humanitarian component of Donbass. They were about ways to reintegrate these territories with Ukraine. It was up to the participants whether this would work or not. It didn't work out because of the Kiev regime, backed by Washington. There’s no need to pretend that this never happened and it all began only in 2022. It’s a long story based on its own logic.

You just mentioned the UN which was created on certain principles. Which country of the collective West, in its policy, has ever shown respect for the fundamental principles of the UN? You say you don't need anyone to tell you about Iraq. Why shouldn’t we tell you about Iraq? We should. These were the coalition members. France and Germany were a rare exception, but these were mostly NATO members and there were others. There was Ukraine, too. Few people remember that now, but Ukraine was also part of the invasion and destruction of a sovereign state. Perhaps, this is the right place to look for the source of disrespect for the UN and its Charter and the fundamental principles. That's why you don't like it when people talk about Iraq. But it started with you. Shall we talk about Libya maybe?

Question (retranslated from English): We can talk about Libya and Afghanistan, but Ukraine is being invaded now, so I propose that we talk about it. You are representing the Russian Foreign Ministry. Let’s talk about Ukraine. Your government said it wanted the Minsk agreements to be relaunched and complied with. When you talk about Donetsk and Lugansk, I’m not sure that their liberation can justify the attacks on Kharkov. Is this the new mantra: the occupation of the territories that were initially Russian? What does it mean? Where will it stop? Isn’t this a violation of international law established after WWII?

Maria Zakharova: You say that I am not answering your question. You don’t like how I am answering, but I am answering. My answer may not be what you want to hear, but it doesn’t mean that I am not answering your question. We can talk again about the fundamental principles. International law is not a smorgasbord from which you choose what you wish and like. International law stipulates rights and duties for all. One of the world’s largest countries has announced that it considers itself to be exceptional and will not comply with international law. Why do you demand that all other countries accept this situation? The United States declared American exceptionalism. We said that it is a faulty concept, and that no country has a right to exclude itself from international law. We also pointed out that the United States and a group of NATO countries are trying to destroy international law, on paper and in practice. We provided many examples of this, and we warned that international law could cease to exist under this system. It is being attacked, and the practical examples of these attacks are the bombing of Belgrade, the occupation of Iraq and the destruction of Libya. You don’t want to talk about this, but I would like to remind you that US forces are currently deployed in Syria. I suggest that you attend to what US troops are doing in Syria. Nobody has invited them there: neither individual regions of that country, nor the government in Damascus or civil society. But the American troops are there. Now, ask yourself if you are complying with international law. If you do, you have a right to demand an answer from other countries as well. Or do you regard international law as an instrument of your policy and think that you have a right to provide moral assessments of all others? There is only one answer to the question about what US troops are doing in Syria: they are trying to seize the resources which belong to the Syrian people and which the United States needs.

You have asked me about the developments in Donetsk, Lugansk and Ukraine. I have told you that over the past eight years the talks failed to produce any concrete political solution to the conflict, which started after the 2014 coup, because of the stand taken by the Kiev regime. Regrettably, an obvious crisis at the talks forced Donetsk and Lugansk to declare their independence. The Russian Federation took into account the slaughter that went on there for eight years, when civilians were killed and a whole generation of children grew up in basements. You can’t understand this. Russia made a decision to recognise these sovereign territories, accepted their ambassadors and provided the assistance they asked for. The West started to pour fuel on the flames by sending more and more weapons and egging the Kiev regime on to wage this proxy war against Russia. I don’t know what else to say to make you understand. If anything is unclear to you, please say what it is exactly that you don’t understand.

Question: I am the editor-in-chief of the Society and Environment newspaper that has been published for 23 years and I am also Chairman of the Union of Donbass People of St Petersburg and the Leningrad Region. I want to thank Sergey Lavrov for his clear civic position. I also would like to recommend that my colleague from CNN travel to Lugansk and Donetsk and talk to ordinary people there.

Maria Zakharova: CNN can’t afford it. CNN’s editorial board is in the United States. They will never be sent there because if they were, they would have to tell the truth.  

You have my permission to interview a representative of Donbass, who is in this building and who is a journalist, your colleague. Start with him, talk to him. You will never be allowed to air this story. You know this better than I do. You know this. These stories will never appear on CNN, because otherwise paid protesters will start encircling the CNN headquarters. And they will cancel you the way they cancel all those who reveal the truth. What permission do you need to interview a man who has come from Donbass? No need for any permission! I have allowed you [to do that]. He is willing as well. Talk to him. He will tell you the truth. After all, you are so fond of showing footage with ordinary people from this or that region. You are so fond of showing the everyday life of an ordinary Ukrainian. Here is an ordinary resident of Donbass for you. He is a colleague of yours. Talk to him.