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Press review: Israeli PM mulls suspending judicial reform and Hungary decides NATO’s fate

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, March 28th
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Atef Safadi/Pool Photo via AP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
© Atef Safadi/Pool Photo via AP

MOSCOW, March 28. /TASS/. The PM’s potential move to suspend judicial reforms may topple the ruling coalition and mean new elections in Israel, why Hungary approved Finland’s bid to join NATO, and experts wonder where in Belarus Russia will store its nukes. These stories topped Tuesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Vedomosti: Israeli PM may suspend judicial overhaul amid mass protests

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is going to halt the judicial reform that would restrict the Supreme Court in its power to appoint judges, the country’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir told the Kan radio station following talks with the premier. At the consultations, a decision was made to postpone the vote on the controversial overhaul until the parliament’s summer session. Prior to that, Ben-Gvir was resolutely against any delay. The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz reported earlier that Netanyahu would agree to a suspension, while the PM himself had not made any official announcement by the time the story came out.

The judicial reform bill sparked protests, the largest in the past 18 years, which have been going on for three months now. On Sunday, 630,000 people came out to protest and labor unions announced a strike starting March 27. Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant opposed the shake-up.

Netanyahu could hardly have expected such a violent public reaction in a country that has not seen such large-scale protests since at least 2005, when Ariel Sharon’s government ruled to withdraw from Gaza, said Dmitry Maryasis, the leading researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Oriental Studies. But many of Netanyahu’s allies were against suspending the reform, he added. According to the expert, rejecting the reform may topple the ruling coalition, but politically, the Israeli prime minister’s hands are tied, and many politicians are not ready to cooperate with him.

Apart from the pressure being put on Netanyahu by the protests, the opposition and some of his coalition partners, the Biden administration is also unhappy with the reform: Washington believes that the Israeli prime minister should make concessions to the protesters, Ludmila Samarskaya, a researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Vedomosti. According to her, the premier will have to make significant efforts to prevent the government from collapsing. For the first time in years, the majority in the ruling coalition is opposed to the reform, which is why it was so important for Netanyahu to make headway on the issue. The right-wing radicals, including religious extremists, are in favor of limiting judicial power, hence the government is apparently in a rush to push the reform through, despite the protests. Israel’s right-wing camps may not get another chance to restrict the power of the Supreme Court, Samarskaya warned.


Izvestia: Why Budapest approved Finland’s NATO bid, delayed decision on Sweden

Commenting on the Hungarian vote on Monday to allow Finland to join NATO, experts interviewed by Izvestia said that the North Atlantic Alliance’s expansion and the absence of a buffer zone between the bloc and Russia would affect the geopolitical situation in the region. Helsinki has gotten that much closer to joining NATO, as Turkey had given it the go-ahead earlier, too. At the same time, lawmakers in Budapest kept Sweden’s application on ice over concerns about Stockholm’s interference in the affairs of their country.

Vitaly Danilov, Associate Professor at the Department of Theory and History of International Relations at the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN), told Izvestia that Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Alliance, Hungary’s ruling party, is against Sweden’s accession, while Prime Minister Viktor Orban and President Katalin Novak support the two Nordic countries’ admission to NATO. To the expert, this is where the real political bargaining begins, as Sweden is among the countries that is blocking the allocation of EU money to Hungary.

Meanwhile, Finland’s accession to NATO has been on an accelerated path, since Washington views the country as more important because it shares a common border with Russia, the expert said. "This is how they (the West - Izvestia) can ramp up the number of troops on our borders, which will have an immediate impact on the military component of regional geopolitics," Danilov argued. And everything is easier with Sweden, who may not be admitted to NATO for the time being but it is clear that it will be allowed to join the bloc anyway, he concluded.

Turkey is likely to decide whether to let Stockholm join the alliance after the presidential elections in May, and everything will depend on whether President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be re-elected or not, Jan Oberg, director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research (TFF) and Associate Professor at Sweden’s Lund University, told Izvestia. Oberg sees no positives to Sweden joining NATO. To him, it would be better to have "softer" borders, or some buffer zone between the alliance and Russia, besides, Sweden’s joining NATO would mean that the country "would be dragged into all military operations," while the bloc will have more weapons, something the expert called blind militarism.


Kommersant: Where will Russia deploy its nuclear weapons in Belarus?

The world is still discussing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement last weekend that Moscow will deploy nukes in Belarus. While the United States said it saw no sign so far that Russia was ready to make this a reality, Ukraine has already demanded that the UN Security Council discuss the issue at an extraordinary meeting. The European Union has warned it would impose more sanctions on Russia and Belarus, while China told everyone to focus on diplomatic efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis.

Meanwhile, experts are trying to figure out where exactly on Belarusian territory a storage facility for the nukes will be located. Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, who, among other things, analyzes intelligence data from open sources and satellite images, told Kommersant that his team was already looking into the issue. "But it is hard to say what we are looking for or whether construction has begun at all," he said, adding that a new facility may be built or an old nuclear storage complex may be modernized as part of the initiative - Soviet nukes were stored on Belarusian soil until 1996.

"Back in the Soviet era, there were storage facilities in Belarus, but I very much doubt that those have been maintained properly so that it would be faster to put them in order than to build a new facility," said Director of the Russian Nuclear Forces Project, Senior Researcher at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) in Geneva Pavel Podvig. And it will be "extremely difficult" to build a new storage facility within three months, he argued. Podvig believes that it was important for the Kremlin to send a political message to the West and that Russia will hold off on deploying nukes in Belarus.

After the news came out on Monday evening, it became known that the UN Security Council would discuss the issue on Tuesday or Wednesday.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia banned from attending EU gas conference

Russian representatives were not allowed to take part in the annual European Gas Conference taking place in Vienna from March 27-29, where 35 countries will sign off on schemes for supplying energy to Europe without buying resources from Russia.

Meanwhile, Russia is still exporting its pipeline gas to Europe. Another gas route, the Yamal-Europe pipeline, has been unavailable to Gazprom since last May, when Russia imposed counter-sanctions. And the Russian government and Gazprom said the country would be ready to supply natural gas via the undamaged string of Nord Stream 2 pending regulatory approval. And yet, Russia had a tool at its disposal that helped it make up for the loss of pipeline gas supplies, namely liquified gas. Since the time Russia launched its special operation in Ukraine, Europe has reduced Russian pipeline gas imports, increasing its LNG purchases.

In 2022, Russian LNG covered over 7% of Europe’s import needs, and in January-February, Russia became the second-largest supplier to the European LNG market, overtaking Qatar, said Maria Belova, research director at Vygon Consulting.

"For the time being, the US has to put up with Russia’s presence in the EU gas market," Stanislav Mitrakhovich from the National Energy Security Fund, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "Europe cannot currently rely completely on imports from the US and Qatar, and additional gas volumes from the two countries will arrive in Europe in the second half of this decade. So, Europe will have to survive until then <…>. And Russia keeps exporting its gas, via Ukraine, too, as it needs revenues to cover its budget expenditures, including for military needs. Russia itself will not stop these supplies," Mitrakhovich said.

Natalya Milchakova of Freedom Finance Global says there are several potential scenarios regarding Russian gas exports to Europe. For instance, a complete refusal on the part of Russia to supply its gas to Europe cannot be ruled out, she argues. Or Russia could redirect its gas exports, mostly LNG supplies, to other regions outside Europe, North America, and Australia, essentially to places which are unfriendly to the country, Milchakova concluded.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: US banking crisis may push oil prices down

It seems that the US banking crisis is far from over. On Friday night, the Financial Stability Oversight Council convened an emergency meeting. US financial officials were faced with a dilemma - to print more money to rescue the struggling banks or keep inflation in check by adjusting the Federal Reserve’s rates.

The Fed has so far declared its intention to continue combating inflation in accordance with its mandate and is currently taking measures to avoid a systemic financial crisis, Olga Belenkaya, chief macroeconomic analyst at Finam, pointed out. To her, a soft landing is also possible where the cost of funding for lenders will be higher and regulation will be tougher. To her, Russia is fairly well protected against a global collapse of financial markets because of the sanctions. "However, demand for Russian exports, primarily commodity supplies, remains the main channel of influence, and consumption there should drop in the event of a global crisis," Belenkaya warned. This will have a negative impact on Russia’s export revenues, the ruble, inflation and budget revenues, the economist forecasted.

Viktor Grigoryev, an analyst at Bank St. Petersburg, agrees that the potential worsening of the banking crisis will probably have no direct effect on the Russian financial industry, and yet the situation will still affect the Russian economy via commodity prices, he said.

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