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Press review: NATO beefs up recon action near Russia and EU, Belarus raise border stakes

Top stories from the Russian press on Friday, November 12th

Izvestia: NATO expands reconnaissance activities near Russia’s border

The focus of US reconnaissance aircraft activities in the Black Sea region has shifted from Crimea to Russia's southern Krasnodar Region and the North Caucasian coast. In the past 24 hours, several reconnaissance planes were detected above the Black Sea. There is no more doubt that the United States is exploring the region as a possible theater of war, said experts interviewed by Izvestia.

The US and NATO have conducted an aerial operation in the Black Sea region, sources in the Russian Defense Ministry told the newspaper. A refueling aircraft has been deployed to the region, which made it possible for planes to remain in the air almost the entire day. According to the sources, the operation also involved the Ukrainian Armed Forces as Ukraine's Bayraktar drones were seen in the areas where NATO's aircraft conducted their flights. The Russian Defense Ministry stated earlier that NATO countries had stepped up activities involving their naval forces, aerial and maritime reconnaissance means.

NATO is indeed expanding its activities in the region, Deputy Head of the Department of Management and Social Technologies at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration Inna Vetrenko pointed out. "The number of NATO's ships and planes keeps rising. Moreover, they have come really close to our border, as 30 kilometers is nothing. Russia won't take hasty steps in such a situation because chances are that they are pressuring us to make mistakes. However, there will definitely be a well-conceived response," she added.

The United States does view the Black Sea region as a future battlefield, military expert Vladislav Shurygin emphasized. "A strategy is being developed that will cover all possible options for military conflicts in the region," he stressed. "This requires collecting as much intelligence as possible, determining the composition of the Russian group of forces and assessing it. This is what a US command ship and reconnaissance aircraft are engaged in. There are highly qualified specialists on board USS Mount Whitney who are processing the information they are getting," the expert explained. NATO's intelligence is interested not only in military facilities but also in crucial social, industrial and infrastructure ones, Shurygin said.


Vedomosti: Ten-million-dollar monthly contract may put Russia at odds with France

Russian top diplomat Sergey Lavrov and defense chief Sergey Shoigu will hold a meeting with their French counterparts in Paris on November 12. According to the French Foreign Ministry, the situation in West Africa's Sahel region will be one of the issues on the meeting's agenda. Paris has repeatedly expressed concern about Russia's activities in the region that France considers to be its backyard, Vedomosti writes.

In June, Paris announced plans to significantly reduce its participation in a counterterrorism operation in Mali and its neighboring countries, which had been launched in 2014. In August, news came that Mali's authorities had launched talks with the Russian private military company Wagner Group that could replace the French military. Reuters reported that a possible contract could be worth $10.8 mln a month.

Russia is reconsidering its interests in Africa and the first Russia-Africa summit, held in 2019, was an important milestone in the process, Russian Institute of Oriental Studies Researcher Grigory Lukyanov pointed out. The current goal is to boost business ties, particularly in the field of resource extraction and security services, where Russia has competitive advantages. In the future, Mali is capable of becoming a transport hub for commodities coming from the west and south to Africa's north and then to the European Union, so apart from France, China and the US are also interested in it. It's vital for Paris to remain in its former colony and France is reluctant to let other players enter the country, the analyst noted.

The fight against radical Islam is just an excuse that France uses to maintain its hegemony over the region, Africa expert Viktor Vasilyev emphasized. This is the main fundamental difference between France and Russia, whose military specialists have a broader experience of direct armed clashes with jihadists, the expert said.

According to Lukyanov, France views the region as the former outskirts of its empire, while for Russia, Mali is a shady remote country and Moscow could trade activities there for a number of concessions related to other issues, crucial for its relations with France, the EU and the West in general. As far as Paris is concerned, it will most likely replace the current Malian government, which is sending pro-Russian signals, with another one that will better suit its goals, the expert emphasized.


Kommersant: Belarus, EU raising stakes in standoff over migration crisis

The crisis in relations between Belarus and the European Union keeps escalating. Both parties seek to influence the opponent by making increasingly strong threats that directly concern Russia's interests, Kommersant writes.

Belarus and EU countries are raising the stakes in the standoff over the ongoing migration crisis on the Polish border. In response to a bid by EU members to impose more sanctions against Minsk, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said he was ready to suspend the transit of goods to the EU and halt Russian gas supplies through the Yamal-Europe pipeline.

According to Belarusian political analyst Artem Shraibman, on the one hand, the move to shut down gas supplies "looks like something impossible." "However, it's not clear when Lukashenko is bluffing and when he's not. It was ten years ago when he first pointed to the migrant threat but no one believed him until now when it's become a reality," the expert pointed out.

The European Union also continues to make threats. In particular, Polish Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lukasz Jasina told the Ekho Moskvy radio station that Warsaw had information proving that Russia's Aeroflot air carrier was involved in activities raising tensions over the migration crisis. The diplomat confirmed that the EU was considering the possibility of sanctions against the airline. Turkish Airlines has faced similar accusations.

Complaints related to the migrant influx look quite strange from the standpoint of regulations and common sense, Leading Expert at Higher School of Economics' Institute for Transport Economics Andrei Kramarenko emphasized. "An air carrier has to make sure passengers have the right to enter Belarus but it cannot figure out whether they plan to cross the border at night and flee to the EU, let alone be responsible for that," he noted. An exchange of sanctions will economically benefit neither of the parties, the expert added.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: High gas prices mark just the beginning of global energy crisis

Surging gas prices have been at the center of everyone's attention recently but few took note of a nearly 400% hike in lithium prices though it may have a more significant impact on the global energy sector and the modern way of living, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.

Almost all rare-earth metals and other elements that are used for the production of renewable energy and electric vehicles have grown in price, which will directly affect the construction of wind and solar power plants that was expected to reach a record high level in 2021-2024.

The renewable energy sector requires the resources that wind power plants and solar batteries are made of, and those resources are the most expensive part of the generation cost of renewable energy, Head of the National Energy Security Fund Konstantin Simonov explained. The move away from coal, oil and gas is the main reason for a rise in prices of renewable energy components. The environmental agenda and growing renewable energy production made the demand for lithium, cobalt and other elements skyrocket in recent years, which was accordingly reflected in their price.

In addition, their workable deposits are limited and located in just a few countries. Europe's desire to end its commodity dependence on Russia and Middle Eastern countries eventually led to greater dependence, first and foremost, on China, as well as on Australia, Bolivia, Chile, Brazil and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These countries will pursue a tougher price policy than oil, gas and coal producers who have to face greater competition, Simonov pointed out.

All this may result in a global economic crisis that could be prevented only if countries stop mixing energy issues with political ones that largely set the climate agenda, the expert noted.


Kommersant: Ruble remains stable despite dollar hitting new global highs

The dollar's rate on the global market has reached its highest level since July 2020 as the greenback is getting stronger on high inflation data that may cause the Federal Reserve to raise its key interest rate earlier than expected. However, the ruble remains stable with the dollar dropping on the Russian market amid high oil prices and federal bond rates, Kommersant writes.

The ruble fell by just 0.5% against the dollar in the past two days, according to Bloomberg. At the same time, emerging-market currencies dropped by 0.9-2.2% during the same period.

Head of the Office for Market Research and Strategy at Rosbank Yevgeny Koshelev believes that the ruble has been supported by high commodity prices, maintaining good opportunities for investors.

The Russian currency has found additional support in high debt market rates. "The current interest rates, including those related to federal loan bonds, make it possible to strengthen speculative positions within carry-trade strategies," Koshelev pointed out. According to Senior Economist at Otkritie Bank Maxim Petronevich, high interest rates prevent an outflow of capital from the Russian market.

Given the current situation, analysts don't rule out that the ruble will continue to grow. Koshelev noted that positive scenarios were possible based on the Federal Reserve's sustainable policy and a further rise in commodity prices, while negative scenarios could stem from a rise in foreign interest rates and a worsening geopolitical situation. However, in the expert's words, the two trends are currently balancing each other out.

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