By Işıkgün Akfırat, Vladivostok/Russia
We continue our series “Impressions of the Vladivostok Eastern Economic Forum” organized by Russia with the emphasis on “On the Path to a Multipolar World”. Apart from meeting Lavrov at the Presidential Session, we had the chance to talk with Foreign Spokesperson Zakharova about Darya Dugina.
The Eastern Economic Forum, one of Russia’s most important international events, was held in the easternmost city of the country, Vladivostok, on September 5-8. More than 4,000 delegates and media representatives attended the forum titled “On the Path to a Multipolar World”, mostly from Asia-Pacific countries. As part of the “Friends for Leadership” (FFL), which was established by the Roscongress Foundation (the organizer of the event) to bring together young leaders from around the world, I attended the forum on behalf of Türkiye as the Chief of Aydınlık Foreign News Service.
Previously, I was unable to attend the Presidential Session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) due to a cyber-attack and had to follow President Putin’s manifesto-like speech from outside. This time I was lucky. Not only did we watch Putin’s speech from the hall, but we also had the chance to meet Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and have a long conversation with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova.
Zakharova, the star of the forum
It has become a custom that Putin’s speech starts later than the scheduled time. We started to enter the hall early for the Presidential Session, which was announced to start at 15:00, but everyone was taking their seats slowly as they were used to the delay. After a brief conversation with Lavrov, whom we met by chance together with my friend Salaheddin Tiar, the “Youth Ambassador” from Algeria, we headed towards the hall. Then we waited for the Heads of State and Government who will take their places on the platform in about an hour.
At that moment we grabbed the opportunity to meet Maria Zakharova with 35 young people from the “Leaders for Friendship”. Zakharova warmly welcomed the attention of the youth and chatted with each of them individually. Friends from India talk about their initiatives and friends from Africa share their concerns. There are no bodyguards around her chasing us or glaring at us to imply “keep it short”. Zakharova answers questions at length, makes jokes, poses for photographs.
In the centre of the hall where the Presidential Session is to take place, there is a crowd of youth around Zakharova. African youth attending the session in their traditional costumes are in the spotlight. Of course, the media does not miss this scene either. Well-known channels such as RT, Channel 1, TASS recorded those moments. Later on, we learned that the pictures were published with the headline “Maria Zakharova was again the favourite of the forum.”
More sanctions more friends
In that crowd, I was waiting in line to say a few words and have a souvenir photo taken, but some of our friends were dragging the conservation out. Finally, I interjected, “Sorry to tire you out,” and Zakharova shook her head as if to say that it was no big deal and made a joke: “More sanctions, more friends!” The answer brings a smile to everyone’s face. This is indeed one of the main messages of the forum. Those facing Western sanctions are gathered together. As sanctions increase, friendships grow deepen.
I tell Zakharova that I am from Türkiye, that I work for Aydınlık newspaper. I tell her that we were together with our recently deceased friend Darya Dugina at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, that we participated in a joint session. I mentioned that I had interviewed Darya Dugina three times. I stated that my newspaper considers Darya to be a martyr not only of Russia, but also of Türkiye, Asia and humanity.
Darya endeavoured with her friends to serve Russia
Showing Aydınlık’s headline on Darya Dugina, I said that she has been working especially hard for the strategic partnership between Türkiye and Russia in recent times, and that for us this assassination was also aimed at Turkish-Russian friendship. Zakharova replied, “Darya was wholeheartedly devoted to her homeland. She was really focused on promoting our national interests, in close contact with our friends abroad.” Zakharova too emphasized the connection Darya established between Russia’s national interests and those of Russia’s friends.
Zakharova expressed what Darya means to her in the following words:
“She was a bright, young star of Russian society. I don’t think that she was only a politician. She was a young leader and a real representative of civil society. She represented not only herself, but groups, peoples and ideas. She was not interested in power, in reaching positions and candidacies. What was important for her was to work for her country, to be beneficial to her people.”
One of the most important spokespersons of the Russian state describes Darya as a “bright star”, praises her character and what she has done for her country. These words refute the views (which partially influenced the Turkish press as well) that try to diminish the importance of Aleksandr Dugin and Darya Dugina. It also explains why Darya was targeted in a treacherous attack.
Zakharova expresses her gratitude for the headline in Aydınlık and my words about Darya. We then took our seats to follow the Presidential Debate.