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Press review: US seeks to plug intel leaks and OPEC+ cuts lift Russian oil in Asia markets

Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, April 10th

MOSCOW, April 10. /TASS/. Top secret Pentagon documents leaked in biggest intel scandal since Snowden; OPEC+ production cut clears path in Asian markets for Russian oil; and Moscow seeks avenues for squeezing US biolabs out of the post-Soviet space. These stories topped Monday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Kommersant: Washington looking to plug leak of sensitive intel data

Last week’s bombshell breaking news story was the leak of over 100 secret Pentagon documents, which appeared online. Some of the documents concern the US and its allies’ military aid to Ukraine and preparations for a counterattack by the Kiev regime. Others contain information pertaining to the Middle East and China as well as surveillance conducted on allies. The incident has been termed the biggest leak of highly classified data since the time of Edward Snowden, a stunning failure on the part of US intelligence and a feather in the cap of Russia’s special services. According to the Western media, the leak has prompted turmoil in the White House and the Pentagon, while the responsible agencies have already launched an investigation. Moscow has been reserved in its reaction to the scandal. According to Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Russia had no doubt even before the leaks about "the direct or indirect involvement of the US and NATO in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine."

The expert consensus has it that, first, the leak may damage Ukraine’s military plans, particularly if Moscow succeeds in blocking sources of information from its own agencies. Second, US allies are already making their displeasure known behind the scenes, questioning Washington’s ability to appropriately handle highly sensitive classified information, according to the New York Times. An anonymous high-ranking Ukrainian official told the Washington Post that the leak had angered the Ukrainian authorities, who are now concerned that their battlefield vulnerabilities are exposed for the world to see.

Retired senior British army intelligence officer Philip Ingram told the Telegraph that the leak was very substantial and points to lapses at the highest levels in the handling of classified information.

The expert pointed out that the leaked files constituted top secret documents intended for high-ranking decision-makers at the level of agency heads or cabinet secretaries, or even potentially for White House officials directly under the president, noting that, if true, this would represent the gravest [intelligence-related] problem for the US since the Edward Snowden revelations [a decade ago].

The conflicting information on combat losses contained in the leaked documents has prompted some analysts to ponder Moscow’s potential involvement in the leak. Anonymous US officials told Reuters that, "Russia or pro-Russian elements are likely behind the leak" of the classified documents, while the New York Times called the incident Russian intelligence’s first breakthrough since the onset of the conflict.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: OPEC+ clears path for Russian oil in Chinese, Indian markets

The controversial decision by the seven OPEC+ countries to reduce oil production following Russia’s example has triggered a strong negative reaction in the US and the EU, and not only because it has led to a hike in price per barrel quotations. The oil output cuts made in May will have the effect of clearing the path for Russian fuel supplies in the markets of China, India and other APAC countries, meaning that it will effectively weaken further the already less-effective-than-expected Western sanctions against Moscow’s oil exports.

Middle Eastern oil producers have already begun cutting supplies to India without waiting until May, when the new quotas will take effect, notes Kirill Rodionov, an expert at the Institute for the Development of Technologies in the Fuel and Energy Complex. That said, according to Kirill Melnikov, head of the Energy Development Center, volumes will be reduced within the framework of sales under short-term contracts and tenders. The overall volume that will not be going to the global market will become a more critical factor, he pointed out.

In fact, since late 2022 oil supplies going to Europe have been reduced more than for other markets. The EU will actively "vacuum up" the market to forestall an oil deficit, buying up Middle Eastern oil and thereby reducing the available supply for APAC countries and, thus, clearing a path in this market for Russian oil exports.

The US could step in to prevent this situation by boosting its domestic oil production or tapping into its strategic reserves. However, according to Melnikov, oil production in the US remains stable and has seen virtually no increase since last year, although prices were higher then. Continued interventions from the US strategic reserve also seem unlikely given its low level, the expert contends.

Rodionov concurs, adding that growth in US oil exports depends on the commissioning of oil terminals capable of servicing VLCC tankers. Construction on a new terminal will begin only in mid-2023 to augment what has been the sole US terminal, in Louisiana, that meets this criteria, so stable growth in US oil exports is hardly possible this year.


Vedomosti: Moscow pondering legal grounds to squeeze US biolabs out of post-Soviet space

This week, Russian lawmakers will discuss the results of the parliamentary commission investigating the activity of biological laboratories operating in Ukraine with US involvement. As Dmitry Gusev, first deputy chairman of the State Duma Control Commission, told Vedomosti, the report prepared by Duma (lower house) lawmakers and (upper house) senators describes the "biological warfare" waged by the West "against Russia and not only against Russia." The report suggests adopting both "domestic countermeasures" and measures on an "international scale."

For example, the legislators propose "expanding interaction in the biological sphere with allies and partners, above all, with CSTO member states and the CIS," as well as with the EAEU. Members of the commission insist on "initiating multilateral talks on developing an international convention on fighting acts of chemical and biological terrorism."

The biological laboratories in the post-Soviet space created with Western, mainly American, participation are informationally closed facilities operating on high-security level protocols, says Stanislav Pritchin, an expert with the Valdai Discussion Club. According to him, at least over the past five years, the Russian authorities have repeatedly expressed concern over these laboratories' activities and demanded detailed information on their operations. "Evidently, the Russian side intends to agree with foreign partners on approving some shared legal norms and include in them measures for limiting the presence and financing of such facilities on the territory of the nearest post-Soviet space, the CSTO, the CIS and the EAEU," the expert says.

An agreement on an international convention for fighting chemical and biological terrorism in the post-Soviet space may not be shared by everyone, but at least would be open for participation by all CIS, CSTO and EAEU countries as well as those beyond these alliances, says Dmitry Ofitserov-Belsky, a researcher at IMEMO. "This is not about creating a new organization for this, but rather about a consultative mechanism, an information exchange and, by default, about ceasing the operations of foreign biolabs in the CIS space."


Izvestia: Berlin flooding Kiev regime with lethal weapons, envoy says

Berlin is ignoring Russian proposals for cooperation in investigating the sabotage at the Nord Stream pipelines, which creates the impression that German authorities are "more interested in hiding inconvenient facts," said Russian Ambassador to Berlin Sergey Nechayev in an interview with Izvestia. Additionally, he stressed that the German government had already crossed all conceivable "red lines" in its aspiration to cause Russia’s strategic defeat.

"We have heard statements by the German leadership about their rejection of the idea for sending combat aircraft to Kiev. The fact is, however, that the assortment of German weapons sent to Ukraine is constantly expanding," the diplomat said. He added that it is unlikely that Germany would sent its own troops to the conflict zone because it would amount to Germany’s direct participation in the armed conflict. "And, it is unlikely that German voters would approve of such plans. It is easier to wage a proxy war," the envoy added.

In response to a question about the access of Russian specialists to the investigation into the Nord Stream blasts, Nechayev noted: "We received no official notifications about this. The access of Russian specialists to establishing the facts of the incident has been and remains our principled requirement given that they possess all the specific knowledge and the necessary qualifications. However, no progress has been observed in this matter."

Speaking about German companies that continue to cooperate with Russian partners, the ambassador noted that such entrepreneurs are under massive pressure. "That said, it is obvious that German business has become entrenched in the Russian market over the few past decades, and now feels quite comfortable and does not wish to leave [the market]. Especially because, as experience shows, Russian enterprises as well as businessmen from third countries are quite ready to immediately occupy any niche that is freed up, which is already happening," he pointed out.


Izvestia: EU may approve eleventh sanctions package as early as April

The EU may approve a new package of anti-Russian sanctions as early as April, sources in the European Parliament told Izvestia. It is expected that Brussels will target mechanisms for skirting those sanctions already in effect, including using third countries. As for personal restrictions, the European Parliament admits that blacklisting the relatives of high-ranking Russian officials is problematic from a legal viewpoint. Sanctions against Rosatom are also possible. However, the expert community thinks that such a move is unlikely due to its practical ineffectiveness.

Gunnar Beck, member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Germany, thinks that measures against circumventing the sanctions may spread to other countries, but they are more likely to be introduced in stages and not all at once. According to Croatian MEP Ivan Vilibor Sincic, the list of affected parties may include Turkey and Kazakhstan, as well as Arab countries. "This will be a desperate move on the part of the West," he told Izvestia, adding that by now there is practically nothing left to sanction.

"Sanctions against Russia turned out to be completely ineffective. The West expected the Russian economy to collapse, creating conditions for a regime change. However, this didn’t happen. Additionally, thanks to this, Russia has won at a strategic level," Sincic noted. Beck concurred that the Western restrictions could not paralyze Russia’s economy, while the EU sanctions hurt many European countries much more than Russia, as Russian trade channels have been redirected from Europe to the Far East, other regions of Asia, and Turkey.

A separate issue is the probability of imposing sanctions on the Russian nuclear sector, in particular against the Rosatom state corporation. "The EU may introduce sanctions against Rosatom because the EU has a developed nuclear industry. However, this mostly concerns France, as nuclear power plants in other EU countries have been closing," says Executive Director of the Capital Markets Department at Iva Partners Artyom Tuzov. He pointed out that it is difficult to find uranium in Europe and it has to be purchased abroad while a substantial part of it is being sold by Rosatom structures. Uranium may grow quite expensive as a result, with KazAtomProm and Rosatom benefiting from the situation.

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