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Press review: Why Russia nabbed Ukrainian spy ring and Transnistria up against the wall

Top stories from the Russian press on Friday, December 3rd

How the OPEC+ decision will impact oil prices

The decision by OPEC+ countries to maintain the terms of the deal on the oil production volume will not lead to drastic changes in prices for it. The quotations will remain within $65-75 per barrel range, according to the experts interviewed by Izvestia.

At the ministerial meeting on December 2, the cartel members decided not to change their strategy and to increase oil production by the planned 400,000 barrels per day in January. Analysts believe that this agreement is beneficial to the largest oil exporters - Saudi Arabia and Russia - even considering that it’s a compromise, since, if necessary, the alliance will be able to limit production growth next month.

The decision can only be called a partial compromise. The production guidelines will stay the same so as not to reduce the GDP growth rates of oil-producing countries that have begun to recover," Natalya Milchakova, deputy head of the Alpari IAC, told Izvestia. "This decision is beneficial, first of all, to the largest oil exporters - Saudi Arabia and Russia. It is not very favorable for those countries that cannot quickly increase oil production (Nigeria, Angola) and which already are not fulfilling OPEC+ quotas in full," Milchakova said.

She added that the increase in oil production by the alliance may be suspended next year if it is necessary to avoid an imbalance in the market due to a surplus of supply. However, Milchakova does not foresee sharp changes in prices for oil. "The prices will fluctuate until the end of the year within the $65-75 barrel range," she said. In addition to the OPEC+ decision, the oil market will be affected by the spread of the coronavirus, she added.

Oil prices went down by more than 11% last week amid news of the new Omicron coronavirus strain and the ensuing air travel restrictions by several countries. According to Igbal Guliyev, Deputy Director of the International Institute for Energy Policy and Diplomacy and Advisor to the Center for Sustainable Development and ESG Transformation at MGIMO, the key influence on the quotes was not the spread itself of the new COVID-19 pathogen, but the measures various country governments took. Executive Director of the Capital Market Department at Univer Capital Artem Tuzov added that "the price of oil is sandwiched between supply and demand. If the economy starts to slow down due to the spread of a new strain of coronavirus, then demand will also decline."


Vedomosti: Russian troops sent to Ukrainian border not enough for full-scale war

The Russian leadership has evaluated the likelihood of large-scale hostilities in Ukraine as highly probable, Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on December 2.

"Kiev intends to use all available opportunities, including force, in order to encroach on the Russian region [Crimea]," Peskov said. At the same time, Peskov once again recalled that Moscow is not a party to the conflict in Donbass, but rather the Ukrainian leadership "does not exclude the start of hostilities against the self-proclaimed republics," the newspaper writes.

At the same time, on December 2, the FSB reported on the arrests of Ukrainian citizens in three regions, including Crimea, recruited by the special services of Ukraine, who were supposed to collect information about strategic locations and unleash terrorist attacks using explosive devices.

Vedomosti writes that according to a source close to the intelligence services, the arrest of the potential saboteurs under surveillance is standard practice by intelligence services before the outbreak of a military conflict. But in this case, the detention of the agents was announced in order to corroborate the official statements about the threat posed by Ukraine.

For over a month now, various Western media and officials have been focusing on the transfer of Russian troops to the borders of Ukraine and a possible attack on them. But, according to a source close to the Russian Ministry of Defense, it is no coincidence that all these statements do not indicate a starting point from which the strengthening of the Russian group could be measured, since this does not allow an objective assessment of the situation. According to a Vedomosti source, when compared to 2014, when there were no troops at all on the border with Ukraine, then there was a radical strengthening of the Russian grouping due to the deployment of new formations. Compared to April 2021, when there was a previous "military alert" and accusations that Moscow was concentrating troops, now that amount is smaller, he said. However, these forces are enough to keep the Ukrainian side in suspense and discourage it from the idea of a large-scale offensive in Donbass, the source said.

The Director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies Ruslan Pukhov told Vedomosti that even if the latest figures from the Ukrainian Defense Ministry that 115,000 Russian troops are deployed on the border are not enough to launch any "aggression" that NATO and Ukrainian leaders accuse Moscow of.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Moldovan leader shrugs off negotiations with Transnistria

Transnistria will hold presidential elections on December 12, but Chisinau is not recognizing these elections, said Moldovan President Maia Sandu. The leader of the Social Democratic Party of Moldova, Viktor Shelin, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Sandu wouldn’t meet with the head of Transnistria. He did not rule out that the Transnistrian issue will be resolved by force, given the militarization of the territory around Ukraine, Moldova and Transnistria, and the transfer of US military helicopters from Greece to Romania. And also, the fact that earlier US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin discussed Transnistria with the President of Romania.

Shelin is confident that there will be no civilized relations between Sandu and the leader of Transnistria. He told the newspaper that the negotiations between the parties will be held in the 5 + 2 format (Moldova, Transnistria - the parties, Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE - mediators, the EU and the US - observers). "Sandu will hand over the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict to the government. This issue will be dealt with by the Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration, who has not yet been appointed. It seems that the Transnistrian problem will be solved by force. Considering the militarization of the region around Ukraine, Moldova and Transnistria. And also, the fact that the United States has begun the transfer of combat helicopters from Greece to Romania," the expert noted. Earlier, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin flew to Budapest to discuss Transnistria with Romanian President Klaus Yohanis. It is possible that Romania will be instructed to "resolve" the conflict on the Dniester, Shelin suggested, but then Ukraine may demand to restore the status quo of 1924, when Transnistria was part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Transnistrian political scientist Andrei Safonov believes that a danger is looming for the unrecognized republic. He told the newspaper that "this is a global anti-Russian agenda in the light of the recent visit to Georgia, Ukraine and Romania by US Defense Secretary General Lloyd Austin. "The roles have been cast: Bolton Writes, Austin Acts". Safonov does not exclude "an unprovoked attack on the servicemen of the Russian Operational Group of Forces and Russian peacekeepers in the Transnistrian Moldavian Republic." It is possible that it was with the aim of preparing to repel a possible attack that the Transnistrian authorities recently conducted a mobilization of the male population aged 18 to 60 in Tiraspol.


Kommersant: West slaps stricter sanctions on Minsk

The EU, Great Britain, the United States and Canada responded to the Lukashenko regime’s blatant disregard for international norms and the well-being of its citizens.

The reason for the expansion of the blacklists was the migration crisis, which, as the West is sure, was provoked by Minsk. The authors of the initiative did not forget about the previous pains, in particular, mentioning "about 900 Belarusian political prisoners". By acting simultaneously, Western players independently identified new individuals for their blacklists. London, for example, decided to punish Belaruskali, while Brussels stung Belavia and Grodno Azot. The US and Canada penalized Dmitry Lukashenko, the son of the Belarusian leader. Stating that the "depth of absurdity" of such decisions is already difficult to understand," the republic’s Foreign Ministry promised "tough retaliatory measures".

This is the European Union’s fifth package of restrictions against Minsk since August 2020, when the presidential elections were held in the republic. Another 17 individuals and 11 legal entities have been added to the EU blacklist. Among them are Belarusian Foreign Ministry representative Anatoly Glaz, the head of the State Border Committee Anatoly Lappo, and heads of regional border detachments and judges. In Brussels, they were held responsible for helping the "Lukashenko regime" concerning the migrant crisis, as well as for the persecution of the opposition and human rights violations.

Belorusneft, Belshina, Grodno Azot and its subsidiary the Khimvolokno Plant are now on the EU blacklist. Grodno Azot, one of the largest producers of nitrogen products in the CIS, is no stranger to sanctions: restrictive measures by the United States have been in effect since June 3, 2021. At the same time, in September, the company announced that it was operating as usual, and the management was looking for alternative options under contracts. At the same time, they warned about possibly departing from the traditional sales markets - the Baltic States, Poland and Ukraine. And that this would lead to an increase in prices for nitrogen fertilizers for these countries by at least 25 euro per tonne. On Thursday, Grodno Azot failed to comment on the situation.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: How the Taliban’s demands to return aircraft from Uzbekistan would affect Russia, Central Asia, Ukraine and the US

It seems as though a scandal is flaring up between the Taliban (outlawed in Russia) that took power in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan’s leadership. The media, citing sources in Kabul, report that the current Afghan authorities have demanded that Tashkent return 46 aircraft and helicopters, which were flown to Uzbekistan in September after the fall of the Ghani government. American publications reported that Washington plans to transfer some of them to Ukraine. Three "Afghan" Mi-17 helicopters in mid-November already arrived from Bukhara to the Davis Mountain US Air Force Base in Arizona.

Tashkent’s reaction to Kabul’s claims has not been officially reported. It’s obvious that media reports of Afghan helicopters being sent to the United States have raised concerns among the Taliban. On December 1, during contacts with an Uzbek delegation headed by special envoy Ismatulla Irgashev, who arrived in the Afghan capital, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, deputy head of the Taliban interim government, called on Uzbekistan to return the planes and helicopters.

Also, on December 1, Director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov, held a working visit to Tashkent. He met with President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev. According to the presidential press service, in addition to discussing general issues, "there was also an exchange of views on the situation in the region in the context of the current developments in Afghanistan." Military aviation could also come up for discussion, the newspaper writes.

On the one hand, returning a large number of serviceable combat vehicles to the Taliban is a factor that could adversely affect security in Central Asia. For both Russia and Uzbekistan, who are allies, the return of aircraft to Kabul is clearly unfavorable. But on the other hand, if Afghan warplanes and helicopters, mediated by the United States, are transferred to the United States, then they can be sent in the form of assistance to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which threatens Russian interests in Crimea and Donbass.

"According to the UN, before the US and NATO contingents left the country, the Afghan Air Force had almost 200 helicopters and more than 70 assault and military transport aircraft of various classes," military expert Nikolai Shulgin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "At the same time, the most combat-ready units, and a fourth of all aviation, were relocated to Uzbekistan and partly to Tajikistan at the beginning of autumn. I say this based on the data of the inspector general for the reconstruction of Afghanistan," he specified. According to the expert, the fleet of 46 combat helicopters and aircraft would evoke the envy of not only Central Asian nations, but also Europe, including Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, and it should be under special supervision. "And the main thing is for Moscow to control it. It's not good when the allies are making unfriendly gestures right under the Kremlin’s nose," Shulgin said.

TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in these press reviews.