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Press review: Donbass eyes referendum to join Russia and why Baku renewed Karabkah gamble

Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, March 28th
Head of Lugansk People’s Republic Leonid Pasechnik Alexander Reka/TASS
Head of Lugansk People’s Republic Leonid Pasechnik
© Alexander Reka/TASS

Izvestia: Lugansk, Donetsk republics may hold referendum to join Russia

The authorities of the Lugansk People's Republic (LPR) do not rule that in the near future a referendum on joining Russia may be held, according to head of the republic Leonid Pasechnik. Russia’s Federation Council has already stated that the LPR has the authority to make any self-sufficient decisions. However, there are those among Russian lawmakers who consider holding any referendums premature. At the same time, a similar initiative by the authorities of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) cannot be ruled out, Izvestia writes. These attempts may result in further anti-Russian sanctions, but Western countries are unlikely to agree to a complete break in diplomatic relations with Russia.

"This initiative is impossible to implement in light of the ongoing hostilities on our territory," adviser to the head of the LPR and representative of the political working group at the Minsk talks Rodion Miroshnik told the newspaper. "We need all our residents to have the opportunity to participate in the referendum, but for now this is impossible," he added.

The Federation Council reacted quickly to Lugansk's initiative, with Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Building Andrey Klishas recalling that Russia recognized the sovereignty of the republics, so their authorities have the right to make any decisions they see fit in accordance with their respective constitutions.

Dmitry Novikov, First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs, told Izvestia that possible referendums and admission might serve as a pretext for further anti-Russian sanctions. However, he stated that these pressure levers are not limitless. The effect of economic impact is mitigated by Moscow's retaliatory actions, as well as steps to support the population and businesses. At the same time, the official stated that political tensions are unlikely to lead to a breakdown in diplomatic relations.


Vedomosti: With Russia distracted by Ukraine crisis, Baku launches renewed gamble in Karabakh

The Azerbaijani army in Nagorno-Karabakh entered the zone of responsibility of the Russian peacekeeping contingent near the settlement of Parukh in the north-east of the region on March 24-25 and set up an observation post, which violated the tripartite ceasefire agreement from November 2020. On the evening of March 27, the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed Azerbaijan had withdrawn its units from the settlement following negotiations. According to experts interviewed by Vedomosti, the new flare-up in Nagorno-Karabakh is linked to Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.

The area around the village of Parukh, where there really was a severe conflict, likely with casualties, is a dominating height above the Askeran region that can be used to control and shoot across the vulnerable plain controlled by the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Director of the Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute Alexander Iskandaryan told the newspaper. Azerbaijan has always had plans, even before the 2020 conflict and especially after it, to gradually and as much as possible use the situation on the ground in its favor, so Baku is striking the iron while it’s hot, according to Ivan Safranchuk, Senior Research Fellow at MGIMO.

It is obvious that Azerbaijan's behavior is related to the situation in Ukraine and Russia's involvement in it; this is a strategic decision made by Baku, according to Iskandaryan. Azerbaijan, the expert noted, "is probing" how far it can go and what benefits it may obtain in this circumstance. Russia is an impediment to its ambitions. "Direct attacks on Russian forces are still seen needless in Baku. However, military activities against Karabakh Armenians can be used to test the limits of what is achievable in terms of Russia's reaction," Iskandaryan added.

In the current situation, Russia does not need to aggravate relations with Turkey, Safranchuk believes. Russia may not be ready to take serious risks over Armenia under the current circumstances. Thus, there is a "certain gap" that Baku is skillfully exploiting, the expert believes.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: West names conditions for easing restrictive measures against Russia amid diplomatic tensions

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss named the key conditions for lifting sanctions against Russia, which include a ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory. Previously, the UK and the US voiced tougher conditions. However, Truss' comments hardly prove that the West is softening its position, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Moreover, in the coming days, the confrontation between Russia and a number of EU countries may even exacerbate, with a break-off of diplomatic relations looming as a possibility.

Comparing Truss' interview with what US Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said in early March, one might get the impression that the West is ready to soften its sanctions policy to some extent in order to bring a ceasefire closer, the newspaper writes. However, the West does not intend to ease the sanctions pressure against Russia in exchange for any concessions before the negotiations, only in case of a complete ceasefire in Ukraine and future guarantees of peace.

In the meantime, there is no guarantee that Russia's diplomatic relations with the West would not deteriorate in the coming days. Although the Czech and Polish Foreign Ministries have stated their disinterest in cutting diplomatic relations with Russia, such threat exists. Forty-five employees of the Russian embassy are leaving Poland on suspicion of espionage trumped up by the country’s authorities. An equally large-scale retaliatory expulsion of Polish diplomats from Russia has not yet been reported, but the Foreign Ministry has already promised a response.

Vice-Chairman of the Association of Russian diplomats Andrey Baklanov told the newspaper that even if it comes to breaking off diplomatic relations, say, with Poland, Russians located in the East European country will not be left without consular assistance. "These things have already been worked out. If the embassy closes, then there is a system of transferring consular functions to a third country," he said.


Vedomosti: Saudi-Houthi flare-up creates new risks for oil market

The Saudi-led coalition, which includes the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, and other countries, launched a military operation against the Yemeni Houthis on March 26 and attacked targets in Yemen. Air strikes hit energy and transport infrastructure. The attack on the Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, including the country's capital Sana'a, was a response to an assault launched by the group on the evening of March 25. Oil prices on Friday rose in response to the flare-up of the conflict. According to experts interviewed by Vedomosti, the oil market is expected to sharply react to the escalation in the Middle East.

The war in Yemen has been raging for seven years and there is no end in sight, despite the seemingly overwhelming superiority of the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia, Director of the Foundation for the Promotion of Technologies of the 21st Century Ivan Konovalov told the newspaper. The expert added that the differences in the Saudi-led coalition, which has modern weapons, "do not contribute to the effectiveness of its actions."

The market reacts sharply to the escalation of the conflict between the Houthis and the Saudis only when there is serious damage to the oil infrastructure, Senior Analyst at the National Energy Security Fund Igor Yushkov told the newspaper. If the attacks stop, then the influence of the Yemeni factor will not be strong, he believes. But if the attacks on oil infrastructure resume, oil prices could easily reach $130 per barrel, the expert added.


Izvestia: UN announces threat of hunger in third world countries due to Ukrainian crisis

Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, as well as several countries in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa could face a catastrophic famine due to the Ukrainian crisis, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) told Izvestia, noting the global trend towards rising costs of basic foodstuffs. Meanwhile, the European Commission assured Izvestia that the EU is not facing a crisis due to dependence on food from Russia and Ukraine.

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) has announced that 2022 will be a year of catastrophic famine - the problem will affect 44 mln people in 38 countries, the organization noted. A representative of FAO agreed with this assessment in an interview with Izvestia. Senior Food Crises Analyst and Team Leader in the Office for Emergency and Resilience at FAO Luca Russo told the newspaper that the WFP estimates probably describe the situation in some countries even before the situation in Ukraine, adding that there are serious fears that the situation there will seriously worsen as a result of the Ukrainian crisis.

Many European politicians also declare that the world is facing a food crisis. Thus, French President Emmanuel Macron called for the development of an urgent international food security plan to prevent famine in vulnerable countries, especially in Africa.

However, the EU is still cautiously talking about a possible crisis. The European Commission told Izvestia that at the moment there is no threat to the food security of the EU, since the countries of the association themselves actively produce grain. Although the EC does not rule out that prices will surge due to disruptions in international trade.

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