MOSCOW, December 22. /TASS/. Zelensky visits Washington, the special military operation in Ukraine is changing Russia’s army and Medvedev brings Putin’s message to Xi Jinping. These stories topped Thursday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.
The White House will provide $1.85 in military aid to Ukraine which will also include the Patriot surface-to-air missile system. This decision was made on the eve of Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s official visit to the US on December 21. Nothing extraordinary should be expected from this trip since the issues discussed at the talks have already become standard - weapons, funding and sanctions against Russia, the State Duma told Izvestia. That said, the question arises as to how Kiev is going to pay for this assistance.
The Ukrainian leader went to Washington in order to display his closeness to the decision-making center, thinks Chair of the Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs Grigory Karasin. "This worries Europe, which understands that things have gone too far, while America becomes a director of some play with an unpredictable ending. Zelensky is a person dependent on the will and plans of Washington and the collective West but nobody knows how far-reaching these plans are," the senator told Izvestia. "Here, this visit triggers a feeling of growing concern for the future fate of the world order and for the fate of the global community in general. The symbiosis of Zelensky and Biden multiplied by information flows consciously launched by the Western media is a very dangerous thing," he explained.
That said, this trip won’t have anything unusual about it, says First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma’s committee on CIS affairs, Eurasian integration and relations with compatriots, Konstantin Zatulin. "The topics are obvious and standard. Any Zelensky’s address or speech ends up seeking arms, money, aid and calls for utterly tough measures against Russia. Sometimes, expressing displeasure that such measures were not taken. That said, Zelensky can use this visit to bolster his positions domestically, in Ukraine," the lawmaker said.
According to President of the American University in Moscow Edward Lozansky, America is already getting weary of the Ukrainian crisis so Zelensky’s arrival and his address to Congress are supposed to energize the masses and legislators so that a vote on the annual budget is smooth and everybody leaves for Christmas break.
According to the expert, the White House hopes that the Ukrainian leader’s speech would help sway wavering congressmen to approve the bill on state funding. That said, he did not rule out that the inflow of funds to Ukraine would continue because the current administration and Biden personally profit if this conflict continues. It helps distract American society from domestic problems and scandals as well as continue the crusade against Russia.
The government won’t start militarizing Russia and its economy, since the current level of the country’s development simply has no need for this, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a board session of the Defense Ministry on December 21. The head of state emphasized that he continues to view the people of Ukraine as a brotherly nation and the events unfolding in the neighboring country as tragic. The ongoing special military operation is the result of third countries’ policy, he asserted. According to Putin, Russia will continue to enhance its armed forces while its modernization will be "calm, gradual, and without any haste." At the same meeting, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu put forth a number of proposals on beefing up border security, including bolstering Russia’s Armed Forces to 1.5 mln troops, raising the conscription age to 21 as well as creating the Moscow and Leningrad military districts. Experts note that such measures have been developed given the special military operation and triggered by NATO approaching Russia’s borders.
According to military historian Dmitry Boltenkov, these proposals were not unexpected. Such ideas emerged in the Defense Ministry long before the special operation in response to the mounting confrontation with NATO. "Since 2017, plans to boost the number of airborne troops have been repeatedly voiced," he told Izvestia.
"Currently, a large percentage of contract servicemen in the Russian Armed Forces are what’s known as alternative servicemen - those who opted to conclude a two-year contract instead of one year of conscription service," says military expert Vladislav Shurygin. He added that thanks to precisely such servicemen it became possible to increase the number of contract troops in the Russian army, so Shoigu’s new proposals are quite understandable. Ideally, in the future, it would be possible to immediately conclude a two-year contract so the duration of military conscription won’t be extended, the expert told Izvestia.
In general, those changes resemble a return to restoring the mobilization-type Soviet Army, Mikhail Barabanov, an expert at the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies told Vedomosti. Yet for the armed forces like this given the continuous promises of major spending on the navy and strategic missile troops, problems with resources may emerge. Equipping new units will demand a serious increase in military spending which is hardly likely within the next two years, the expert concluded.
The December 21 meeting between Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev and China’s leader Xi Jinping in Beijing was unexpected, although not as much as Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s visit to Washington on the same day. The talks themselves at first seemed to be rather routine. The sides discussed the "strategic partnership", "industrial cooperation" and "the broad similarity of approaches." The most pressing question was why precisely Medvedev went to China. The expert community thinks that the key goal of the sudden meeting was Medvedev passing on a message from Russian President Vladimir Putin. And it seems like the Chinese leader also sent some message in response.
According to Director of the Moscow State University’s Asia and Africa Institute Alexey Maslov, it is precisely this message that was the key aspect of the Beijing meeting while Xi’s remarks on the Ukrainian conflict could be his response to the Russian president.
"This is China’s standard rhetoric in absolutely any situation, not just with regards to Russia. Loosely speaking, China is for Russia but against the military operation because it seriously interferes with its plans related to interaction with Europe and the US. Right now, China wouldn’t want to break off with them now, but the Russian operation is in the way of these plans. Additionally, the Chinese foreign policy concept is resolving everything exclusively through dialogue. And this puts Beijing in an uncomfortable position. It supports a country obviously engaged in combat but it cannot stop supporting it because this would put it on the side of the West. China is in a dubious situation, that’s why it calls for peace. In a way, this is a response from Xi," the expert explained.
He reiterated the earlier rumors of a possible meeting between Putin and Xi before the end of the year and speculated that a meeting with Medvedev served as a replacement since no serious agreements at the highest level have been reached. According to Maslov, the talks most likely focused on two serious challenges - "the situation in and around Ukraine, both militarily and economically, and the oil price cap introduced by the West." "China seriously depends on Russian oil and over the past month, Russia and China urgently increased oil and gas deliveries. So the issue of a future price is, of course, a key one," the expert added.
Gazprom has launched gas production at the Kovykta gas condensate field in Eastern Siberia to increase deliveries to China. Gas from Kovykta will join the flow via the Power of Siberia pipeline to increase its capacity to 38 bln cubic meters by 2025. That said, the gas processing part of this project may be problematic because the launch of the Amur GPP may be affected by sanctions.
The increase in eastward exports is particularly important for Gazprom amid a sharp reduction of deliveries to Europe this year and the uncertain fate of its long-term contracts with Western European consumers in the future.
Sergey Kondratyev from the Institute of Energy and Finance Foundation notes that following the drop in exports to the EU, launching the production at the Kovykta gas field is especially important for Gazprom because this year China was pumping gas ahead of schedule. According to him, this trend will remain in 2023 as well while exports via the Power of Siberia may reach 22-25 bln cubic meters. That said, the analyst notes difficulties with the coordinated launch of production, transportation and processing capacities of the Power of Siberia due to sanctions.
Washington announced a lowered price cap on Russian oil which earlier had been set at $60 per barrel. The US is satisfied with the way this restriction is functioning since the first week of restricted prices allegedly has already reduced gas outflows from Russia. While it is possible to doubt a decrease in Russian exports, the devaluation of the ruble is certainly underway.
"It is still early to talk about a stable decrease but it is already possible to say that the sanctions do have an impact," says investment market analyst at BCS World of Investment Igor Galaktionov. "If Russia remains steadfast in its intention not to deliver oil in accordance with the price cap then two options are possible: forming alternative transport infrastructure (tankers, insurance and so on) or reducing production. In the latter case, the global market prices would soar but it is unclear whether this would help under the conditions of the price cap," the expert added.
"The price ceiling does not remove Russian oil from the world market but via the process of redistributing volumes sharply worsens the position of Russian companies and, accordingly, of the Russian budget which with time will lead to a worsened economic situation in Russia," Alexander Potavin, an analyst at Finam, told the newspaper.
"So far, the dropping ruble rate approximately corresponds to market expectations with regards to decreased Russian exports. The results of the first quarter of 2023 will provide more statistics which would help assess the contribution of various factors to the plummeting ruble more adequately," said Sergey Khestanov of Otkritie Investments. In his opinion, so far, the sanctions pressure strategy has been very cautious.
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