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Press review: Putin praises defense industry and Kiev investigates deadly helicopter crash

Top stories from the Russian press on Thursday, January 19th

MOSCOW, January 19. /TASS/. Russia is focusing on the defense industry in the midst of the special operation, top Ukrainian interior ministry officials were killed in a helicopter crash, and NATO does not anticipate the conflict in Ukraine to end soon. These stories topped Thursday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Vedomosti: Putin names defense industry most important factor in special operation

President Vladimir Putin met with workers at St. Petersburg’s Obukhov Plant on Wednesday and highlighted the importance of the military-industrial complex’s activities as one of the grounds for victory in the military operation. Russia’s arms production rates will continue accelerating throughout the year, Vedomosti writes.

According to the president, "from the point of view <...> of victory, which is inevitable, there are several things that have not gone away and that underlie our victory." "This includes the unity and solidarity of Russians and, in general, the multinational Russian people, the courage and heroism of our fighters in the special military operation and on the frontlines, and, of course, the work of the military-industrial complex, enterprises like yours, and people like you, and the entire economy," he said.

Putin added that the issue of granting a deferment from conscription for military-industrial complex workers is under review and can be addressed in the near future.

The pace of arms production is increasing, but they cannot expand in a few months to fully equip the formations created after the partial mobilization and at the same time make up for losses, a source in the defense industry told the newspaper. The preparation and equipping units is ongoing, noted Viktor Murakhovsky, editor-in-chief of Arsenal of the Fatherland magazine.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Top Ukrainian interior ministry officials killed in helicopter crash

On Wednesday morning, a helicopter carrying Ukraine's Minister of Internal Affairs, his first deputy, and his secretary of state crashed near a kindergarten in Brovary, Kiev Region. As a result, 17 people were killed and 30 others, including children, were injured. According to Ukrainian security officials, all possible scenarios are being looked into. Experts lean towards faulty equipment as the most likely cause of the accident, but did not rule out the possibility of sabotage. Kiev may try to use the situation to blame Russia and gain access to new weapons, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

The Ukrainian Security Service has opened a pre-trial investigation following the crash. There are several possible explanations for the catastrophe, including a breach of flight rules, a technical malfunction of the helicopter, or premeditated attempts to destroy the vehicle.

Given the current realities, the most realistic cause of the accident seems to be a malfunction of equipment, Russian military expert Yuri Knutov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Technical servicing in Ukraine is insufficient, and there are often not enough spare parts or they are manufactured using counterfeit goods. However, the possibility of sabotage cannot be ruled out.

The expert believes that Russia was unlikely involved in the incident since the Russian military would not employ missiles at such a long range, and sending a sabotage force that far inside Ukrainian territory would be unacceptable. Furthermore, knowledge of the helicopter's route, which was kept secret, was required. However, according to Knutov, the Kiev regime may try to blame Russia for what happened in order to create a more favorable environment for themselves at this Friday’s Ramstein summit and obtain a supply of new air defense systems as well as heavy tanks from NATO.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: NATO not expecting quick end to conflict in Ukraine

Russia and Ukraine's armed confrontation is unlikely to end in 2023, which means that NATO should expand its support for Kiev, the parties said at a meeting of the alliance's military committee in Brussels. NATO member countries are being pushed to significantly raise defense spending and make changes in order for them to facilitate waging war in the digital era, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Meetings of the NATO Military Committee are typically followed by the adoption of decisions affecting all members of the bloc. And this time, the chiefs of staff met for two days before the ninth Ramstein conference, where NATO is expected to make a decision on supplying the Ukrainian army with Leopard-2 tanks. Several countries are willing to transfer them, but only with the approval of the manufacturing country, Germany.

NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana encouraged members of NATO's Military Committee to be prepared for the fact that defense spending and arms production will have to increase sharply. He described as outdated the 2% of GDP figure that the alliance member states should spend on defense needs. He called for improving NATO’s production capability for weapons and ammunition and used the Ukrainian-Russian conflict as a lesson. Geoana also warned against underestimating Russia’s military capability and advised everyone to brace themselves for a long conflict.

NATO, in other terms, is expecting to undergo radical restructuring, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. The organization is now evolving into a full-fledged military bloc with a potential foe and objectives to achieve.


Kommersant: Washington tries to normalize relations with Beijing

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Beijing in early February, as agreed upon by US and Chinese leaders at the G20 conference in Bali, according to the US State Department. China also confirmed preparations for the visit, which will be the first attempt to repair relations between Washington and Beijing, which hit rock bottom last year, Kommersant writes. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in Davos also called for resuming dialogue between the two superpowers.

A US State Department representative spoke to the press in Washington about the trip and corroborated the disclosures in the major American media outlets. According to Politico, the talks in Beijing are expected to touch upon the conflict in Ukraine, Beijing's increasing nuclear arsenal, and the fate of US nationals jailed in China. At the same time, the primary irritant in US-Chinese relations, the Taiwan issue, was not mentioned as a topic for the future negotiations.

China is also actively signaling its readiness to receive Secretary of State Blinken and begin rapprochement, according to Kommersant. Spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday that the Chinese diplomatic service and the US State Department are in contact, hammering out the precise specifics of the visit.

Recent news from Switzerland may also confirm a thaw in US-Chinese relations. The parties agreed to prevent rivalry from turning into conflict during a personal meeting between US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, who heads the Chinese mission to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.


Vedomosti: Large Russian banks turn attention to Crimea

Sberbank, Russia's major lender, has declared a return to Crimea, eight years after abandoning the peninsula following its accession to Russia, and nearly a year after blocking sanctions were introduced against the bank. The first offices will open in the first half of 2023, the bank said. According to experts interviewed by Vedomosti, other banks coming to Crimea will depend on their individual strategies - some might be discouraged by the uncertain geopolitical situation.

Sberbank operated services on the peninsula through a Ukrainian subsidiary before Crimea joined Russia, but then suspended all activities due to the possibility of sanctions.

According to Anton Imennov, senior partner at Pen & Paper, the blocking sanctions has made activities in Crimea less toxic for enterprises refocusing on local and "friendly" markets, because it is nearly impossible to make other development choices. The detrimental repercussions that have hindered Sberbank from working in Crimea since 2014 have already happened, head of legal practice at CM Grace Consulting Ekaterina Orlova told the newspaper.

Sberbank's choice is driven by reputational concerns, junior director for banking ratings at Expert RA Anatoly Perfilyev. Given Crimea's tiny percentage of the Russian economy (0.5% in 2020, according to the official statistics office), the impact on the lender’s financial performance is unlikely to be considerable, he believes.

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