Question: Commenting on the murder of Pavel Sheremet yesterday, you said that the Ukrainian political system is turning into a “mass grave” for journalists. This has provoked an outcry online. For example, Viktor Shenderovich got personal, saying in his Facebook post that you are an unscrupulous person. Have you seen that post? If not, can you comment on the negative reaction to your statement?
Maria Zakharova: I don’t understand your question. I have said everything I wanted to say about the horrible death of Pavel Sheremet, a Russian citizen and a true professional. It was not a simple official statement; I spoke sincerely. Those who sometimes, or rather, who often go against the mainstream inspire respect, irrespective of whether you agree with them or not. Their professionalism and conviction backed by professional work can and should be respected. Yesterday we said everything we wanted to on this matter. I would like to express condolences again to Pavel Sheremet’s family and the professional community, because his death is a major loss.
What is happening to journalists and journalism is terrible. It is a red light indicating that Ukraine has approached and has possibly crossed the danger line. It did not take it long to reach this line. Very many journalists have died over the past two years. You know the names of the Russian journalists who have died there. The day before yesterday I was interviewed by Anna Shafran from Vesti FM. When I was leaving the building of the VGTRK radio and television company, I noticed a memorial plaque [for Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin] at the entrance. As I stood before it, I had the same feeling that we all had when it happened. And the next day Pavel Sheremet was killed. To say that we are shocked is an understatement. Yesterday I talked and corresponded with many of those who knew Pavel personally or worked with him. I was in a state of shock. It was one of those things that are not supposed to happen.
The problem is that many people are using this [my statement] for political purposes, or interpret it as an attack on Ukraine. But this is not the point. Unfortunately, we can only take pity on Ukraine in its current state. Something must be done now not against Ukraine and the Ukrainian system, but to ensure that the journalists who are working there will not face such danger as now.
The Russian Foreign Ministry not only makes statements on this matter but has also taken many practical steps. We have developed permanent dialogue with the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović. We provide facts, figures and specific stories of what happens to journalists in Ukraine. As I said, we are not doing this to prove that Ukraine or the Ukrainian system is bad. We say that there are problems in Ukraine, for example, problems with the safety of journalists. You know this. I remember the marathon hosted by Andrei Malakhov on his show on Channel One when our colleagues were seized and beaten up. It was only the beginning. All of us thought then that this would be the beginning and end of it, because it was an unprecedented case, meaning beatings, kidnapping and deportation. The country rallied to help our guys. It later turned out that it was only the beginning. We make statements, write letters and discuss each of these cases at the talks [with our Ukrainian partners]. Unfortunately, the trend has taken a negative turn: personal security is rapidly worsening.
When we say that it is unsafe in Ukraine, we don’t do this to criticise Ukraine or mock at its problems, or out of snobbism. We do this because we hope to influence the situation. Not only Russians and Ukrainians but also journalists from other countries have died in Ukraine. No one is safe. Take the explosion of Sheremet’s car it the centre of Kiev. There could have been other people, other journalists with him in the car. We must exert our influence to ensure that this terrible case is investigated as objectively as possible and – you will say I’m dreaming – with as little political bias as possible. This must be done so that we learn who stands behind this tragedy and why it happened, and draw conclusions from this. This is my answer to your question, even though I haven’t fully understood it.