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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  May 20, 2021 4:30am-5:01am BST

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israel intensifies its attacks on the gaza strip as palestinian militants continue to fire rockets at israeli towns. a senior hamas official says that a ceasefire might happen soon. us president, joe biden, has told the israeli prime minister, benjamin netanyahu, that he expects to see a significant de—escalation. in iceland, there's been a thawing in relations between the us and russia. russian foreign minister sergei lavrov on wednesday praised his talks with us secretary of state antony blinken as "constructive" and "useful", saying both sides understand the need to mend ties. —— sergey. the international olympic committee president, thomas bach, is insisting that the tokyo olympic games in a couple of months�* time can go ahead safely. but opposition to the games is intensifying.
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that is it from me. now on bbc news: hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. russia's relations with the west have been poor for some time, but now they've reached a new level of hostility. since the imprisonment of russian opposition leader alexei navalny, new sanctions have been imposed by both the us and the eu. the ukraine conflict, allegations of cyber attack and covert operations, the list of unresolved issues is growing. my guest is russia's eu ambassador, vladimir chizhov. is confrontation with the west president putin's strategic choice?
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ambassador vladimir chizhov in brussels, welcome to hardtalk. thank you. ambassador, you've been in post a long time. i think i'm right in saying 16 years. is this the worst state of russia—eu relations that you can remember? well, actually, is—and—a—half, but never mind. long enough. i would say that our relations have seen their ups and downs over these years and definitely before that. now, they are in what i would call an abnormal state. whether we have a possibility to bottom out in the immediate future, we'll have to see. but that's, at least, my intention and that of my colleagues.
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that phrase you use, "bottom out" — that is, i suppose, see some sort of plateau to the relationship. that's only going to happen if russia changes its stance on the status of alexei navalny, because europe has put that front and centre of the objections it has to the way vladimir putin and the kremlin are handling political opposition in russia. are you and your government ready to change tack? well, i would say that will happen when the west, including the european union, changes its perception of what russia is as a country and what its policies are. you have mentioned an individual by the name of navalny.
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i think it's not only wrong to portray him as the leader of the russian opposition, i would say it's, er... ..it�*s an insult towards real representatives of russian genuine opposition to put somebody who has never had any wide support across the country, and who has been portrayed or, i would say, pumped up by certain forces within and outside primarily of the country. and moreover, to make our relations with the west, including the european union, hostage to the fate of this particular individual who is currently serving a short—term prison sentence for certain crimes he has committed.
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ambassador, let me, let me stop you there, because what you've just said is interesting. i mean, you say he's not a significant opposition leader. to be honest with you, that's not really relevant to the reasons why europe is so concerned about the treatment he has received. they basically see, first, the poisoning of him on russian soil and then the imprisonment of him when he returned to russia. they see both as the most grotesque violations of international norms. as angela merkel has said, "thejudgement of the european court of human rights holds that navalny�*s detention is entirely unjustified and arbitrary." that is why they are so concerned. well, you know, i could say that had there not been a navalny, somebody else
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would have been found, but... ..as a scapegoat or something like that. but i will address the issue from the point of view of substance. you mentioned poisoning, which has yet to be proven because we, as russia, we do not have any shred of evidence that this poisoning had taken place, and that certain so—called military grade... ..military grade poison had been used. now, you mentioned certain events that followed that particular incident, quite unfortunate incident, with him falling ill on a flight from a city in siberia to moscow.
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but you have chosen several events, neglecting others. the first is that he was provided with first—aid assistance. the plane's pilot chose to land immediately at the nearest airport, where he was taken to hospital. afterwards, after having been treated, he was allowed to leave the country and be flown to germany for further treatment, in spite of having an open... ..an open court case against him. so, i do not see in this particular case any serious ground to make, i would say, political conclude... ..to draw political conclusions
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from this criminal case. ambassador... ambassador, it's your... ..if i may say so, ambassador, it's yourjob as a diplomat to read the mood in the european union, because that's your job, as ambassador, to read the wider mood and relay it back to moscow. are you relaying back to moscow that their official account of events, which you've just given to me pretty much, is entirely incredible to european political leaders, to european public opinion, and that unless moscow addresses the concerns expressed by angela merkel, emmanuel macron and a host of other leaders, this crisis, political crisis, which involves sanctions being imposed on key individuals inside your country, is only going to get deeper? well, i'm sure that in the conversation that my president had with both chancellor merkel and president macron, they were given ample explanations on the... ..as far as the russian view
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of this situation is concerned. but they don't believe your explanations, ambassador. i am providing my country, my capital, with all the nuances of the individual reactions here in the european union and its member states. well, in that case, are they listening to you? because, as i look at the situation in moscow today, with vladimir putin apparently determined to keep navalny in prison, and now going much further and pushing for a definition of navalny�*s anti—corruption foundation and his political movement as extremists, akin to terrorists, with all of the members of navalny�*s movement therefore facing the possibility of long—term imprisonment, putin doesn't
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appear to be listening to the european voice at all. well, you'll have to ask my president whether he listens to those voices. i'm sure he has ample information on the case. and, you know, it's again... ..you are overestimating the role of this particular criminal case and its possible political implications. i really doubt that the kremlin is spending all that time on dealing with the navalny case. there are much more important things to do and to discuss with our western partners, including the european union. but that's my very point, ambassador.
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the navalny case clearly is souring the entire relationship right now. i mean, you're much more aware than me of the sanctions imposed in march by the european union as a direct response to the navalny situation, and your own government's counter—response, whereby eight named individuals within the european institutions were given travel bans, including the president of the european parliament and one vice president of the commission. you represent russia in the european union. what you are seeing is that the entire relationship is being poisoned. i will agree with that estimate. yes, it is being poisoned by certain political forces in the european union. and, you know, over all these years, we have not closed any venue, any plank of cooperation with the european union or shut down any format of partnership.
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all that freezing exercise has been committed by the european union. and it didn't start with navalny. it didn't start with the ukrainian crisis. it started early. butjust explain to me, maybe you've done it already to european political leaders, explain to me why it is justified to label alexei navalny�*s anti—corruption foundation as, quote, unquote, "extremist". well, that's a definition according to law, and you don't expect me, not being a lawyer, to present you with all the legal details of that determination. this is a court decision.
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are you satisfied, when you look at what's happening in russia today, that russia is acting in the best interests of its own diplomatic position in the world? i am satisfied with what russia is doing today. perhaps we could do better in certain areas on certain issues, but i am totally dissatisfied with what my partners here, my clients in brussels, are doing. so, when, for example, the overwhelming majority of meps in the european parliament adopt a call for the immediate and unconditional release of navalny, they're whistling in the wind, are they, they're wasting their time? well, they are presenting inadequate knowledge of what division of powers between the various elements of powerare, i mean between thejudicial and the parliamentary and the executive.
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what do you think is going on in russia today? do you think your president, the man you work for, is becoming increasingly fearful of his own population? is that why he's taking the repressive measures that we see today? certainly not. and i do not regard the measures being taken today as repressive. so, you don't regard the description and illegal labelling of an anti—corruption foundation as extremist akin to a terrorist organisation, you don't think that is in any way unreasonable? well, actually, there is a certain difference between a definition of extremists and terrorists. these are two separate articles of the criminal code. well, as i understand it, ambassador, if this measure is indeed enacted, then members of navalny�*s anti—corruption foundation could face up to ten years in prison. well, i wouldn't count the number of years they may be facing, but certainly their activities are in the focus of the russian
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judicial system. let me just quote to you one russia political expert, kirill rogov, who recently wrote, "we're seeing a rapid resurrection of neo—stalinism and its ideology of state terror in russia, directed both against its own citizens and the outside world." again, i put it to you as a man who is paid to read the mood, do you not see that, not only is that a feeling outside the country, increasingly it seems young russians, in particular, are feeling that inside your country? well, definitely not. i don't know who this individual is that you have been quoting, but certainly i'm quite sure he does not rightfully describe the actual situation in the russian society.
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let's talk about ukraine, because, of course, you spend a lot of your time talking to european counterparts about the continued conflict in ukraine. last month, russia amassed more than 100,000 military personnel close to the ukrainian border. it was a move widely condemned in europe and the united states. it was seen as an effort to intimidate, to send a signal that russia might be prepared to invade through the ukrainian border. can you explain to me, what was the motivation? well, i'm sure that those definitions that you have been quoting were deliberately used to... ..to describe the situation in the wrong way, because i'm sure that intelligence services of western countries
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must have known better than to make such claims on what was really happening. actually, what we are talking about was an annual military exercise which did not cover only areas close to the ukrainian border, but many other regions of russia. actually, all across the country, the armed forces were engaged in a major exercise, which is a regular... ..thing that takes place every spring. so, i do not see any particular grounds for anybody to be particularly worried. why? well, i'll tell you who is worried. the president of ukraine, mr zelensky, is worried.
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i interviewed him not so long ago, and he discussed with me the degree to which he was disappointed that for all the high hopes of some sort of relationship, a warmer relationship with mr putin, when he first came to power, mr zelensky sees no evidence of any possibility right now of making good on the minsk peace accords, of making progress toward a lasting peace in ukraine. from your point of view, do you think those minsk accords are basically dead in the water? no, they still remain the only agreed basis for any progress towards settling the ukrainian crisis. and the words of president zelensky, well, he should have addressed them to himself, because he is the one who is procrastinating on delivering on ukraine's commitments on the basis of the minsk agreements. he is on record saying that he doesn't like the minsk
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agreements and he is prepared to tolerate them only because they are a tool of extending sanctions, western sanctions against russia, quote, unquote, practically. so, he should be worried about other things. he should be worried about how his country is failing... ..in economic terms, how it is a total failure in addressing the pandemic, lagging behind practically all other european countries in terms of vaccination and deliberately, for political... well, he's not here, but i suspect he would say you take care of your business and he'll take care of his. but let's talk about a different raft of concerns. let me finish with one, because ukraine has been saying
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that they would refuse any russian vaccine which was offered them free of charge. let's turn to a different area of concern that european that is covert operations, intelligence operations run by russia on european soil. the czech republic recently condemned russia for running an operation in 2014 which they say saw russian agents blow up an explosives factory, killing two people. and as a result, notjust the czech republic but other eu member states took actions against russia, expelling diplomats. it included the baltic states. bulgaria has also expelled a russian diplomat. your formerly relatively warm relations with a number of countries in eastern europe have become very, very chilly indeed. and again, as a diplomat, are you worried about that? of course i'm worried, but as far as this czech
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incident is concerned, you know, i always thought you are a serious analyst. you don't really believe that story. that's a fairy tale that the czechs have produced, misusing eu solidarity, i would say, for somebody�*s political goals and, you know, being overwhelmed by confusion, actually contradicting themselves a number of times. at one point they have one version, then three versions, then two versions. and you mentioned yourself when those explosions took place. it was seven years ago. and until now, after seven years, there is not — to say nothing of a court case — the police investigation has not been concluded.
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but the point is, ambassador, that there is in europe a feeling that russia does run covert operations, not just these physical ones we've talked about. we could also talk about the skripal case in the united kingdom, but also cyberattacks going all the way back to estonia 2007, right through to germany and the cyberattack on the bundestag in 2015. there is a conviction in europe russia is behind an awful lot of cyberwarfare aimed inside the european union. well, there are different schools of thought across europe, i must assure you. but all these events or non—events that you mentioned, there is not a single piece of evidence confirming the case that russia was behind any of them. well, there is evidence. it's just you don't accept it, just as you don't accept the evidence in the skripal case. but there is evidence. well, the skripal case, there was a case when skripal
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was recruited by british intelligence and became a turncoat, and then he was sentenced in russia. and afterwards he was pardoned and released and allowed to go and live in britain. now thatjoe biden is in the white house, and not donald trump... mr biden, of course, memorably recently called vladimir putin a killer. and the americans have said that they will simply no longer roll over in the face of russia's aggression. we're in a different diplomatic world, aren't we, now? the european union sees a much tougher stand from joe biden, and that spells bad news for russia on the diplomatic front. well, i would say that all the problems that had been in our relations with the united states before the changeover of the administration
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are still there, except one — the start iii treaty has been extended for five years, and that's a positive development. i'm not going to dwell on what will happen in russia—us relations in the immediate future. well, i want you to dwell on just one thing before we end, because it's rather important, ambassador, and you're very plugged in. is there going to be a summit next month betweenjoe biden and vladimir putin? there's some talk it might be in switzerland. and if so, what could it achieve? i will certainly know more tomorrow morning, because minister lavrov is meeting secretary blinken in reykjavik today, in the afternoon, perhaps as we speak. they might produce some mutual understanding on a number of issues, including the issue of a possible summit. what would it achieve?
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we'll see. well, with those two words, we must end this interview, ambassador chizhov. i thank you very much for being on hardtalk. thank you. goodbye. hello there. wednesday was another unsettled day. the majority of the showers that formed were across eastern areas through the afternoon, so we had some of these thunderclouds going across the skyline in cambridgeshire. further west, though, wales and western england, well, it was a largely fine afternoon with some long spells of sunshine at last. but it's not going to stay that way. 0n the satellite picture,
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we've already got our next weather system. it's been moving quite quickly across the atlantic, but it's going to put its brakes on and become really quite slow—moving as the low spins its way across the united kingdom. so, we've got rain and strong winds to come for the next couple of days. now, that rain is already beginning to arrive across westernmost areas, and that process will continue for the next few hours. whereas across eastern areas, it stays drier. a dry start to thursday morning and not particularly cold. the winds picking up across the south—west, though, quite quickly in the morning. bright start across eastern areas, and to be honest, there probably won't be that much in the way of rain across the south—east. northern scotland not faring too bad either. but, otherwise, a lot of rain to come across western areas, with some strong winds blowing into the coast of wales in particular. gusts here around 50—60mph. winds that strong will likely bring down a few tree branches. there could be some localised transport disruption. the low pressure�*s still there on friday. heavier rain this time going in across into the south—east of england through the afternoon. and the strongest winds
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going through the english channel. again, we could see some localised disruption, but the majority of the rain will start to spin away from northern ireland. here we'll see some brighter weather pushing in, but probably with a few showers as well. what about the weekend? well, the rain clears, showers follow to saturday. and then we've got another dollop of rain for sunday. so, there's no end in sight, really, to this unsettled run of weather. marginally, saturday looks like being the better of the two days of the weekend, although rain never too far away from the south—east of england. and there will be some heavy showers around as well. still, there will be some areas that get through the gaps between those showers and stay dry with some sunshine. temperatures continue to be pretty disappointing. sunday starts off on a promising note across the east, but we do have this band of rain that's going to be pushing in from the west as the day goes by. so, many of us will see some rain at times, and those temperatures still pretty rubbish for may. what about next week? well, the rain clears, but showers follow. yes, monday and tuesday
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looking pretty unsettled.
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this is bbc news. i'm victoria fritz with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk and around the world. more airstrikes and rocket fire between israel and palestinian militants. attacks continue despite reports that the two sides are close to agreeing a ceasefire. serious differences, but talks are constructive — foreign ministers from the us amd russia meet on the sidelines of the arctic council in iceland. politicians and the ioc insist the tokyo 0lympics are safe, but public opposition intensifys. and american actor billy porter says no to stigma — he shares with the world he's been hiv positive for the past 14—years.

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