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Press review: New Russian air units to face NATO in west and OSCE head woos Central Asia

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, June 6th

MOSCOW, June 6. /TASS/. Russia’s Defense Ministry plans to establish a new aviation-heavy army to counter NATO in the west; the OSCE Secretary General is on a tour of Central Asian countries; and the EU extends restrictions on Ukrainian grain exports until September 15. These stories topped Tuesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Izvestia: New air force and air defense army to cover Russia’s western borders

The Russian Defense Ministry has plans to deploy a new air army to counter NATO, according to Izvestia’s sources in the ministry. It will be formed in the Western strategic direction as part of either the Moscow military district or the Leningrad MD. It is expected to include several jet fighter regiments, bomber regiments, an army aviation brigade, air defense forces, and radio engineering personnel. According to experts, reinforcing the country’s western frontiers has become particularly crucial in light of the accession of Finland, and in the near future Sweden, to NATO.

"Hostilities are now taking place in the west. Additionally, the admission of Finland and Sweden to membership in NATO plays a role. They were neutral, but now we should have our designated grouping [of forces]. Accordingly, there will be NATO bases [in these countries], and our Armed Forces will be stationed opposite to them, including aircraft. Establishing a [designated] army is the correct decision here; the process should have started last year. The only concern is where they will acquire so many planes and, more critically, trained pilots. Measures should have been taken long ago to open more flight schools and train more personnel," former 4th Air Force and Air Defense Army Commander Valery Gorbenko told Izvestia.

"Most likely, the 6th Army, which will be reorganized in the future, will form the backbone of the new air army," military historian Dmitry Boltenkov told the newspaper. "So, the essential personnel, airframes, anti-aircraft missile systems, and radar systems are already available for establishing the new unit. However, Russia’s defense sector will have to work overtime in the future," the expert added.

This is not the first move in recent years by the Defense Ministry to bolster the air power component of forces in the western strategic direction. According to Izvestia, ground assault aviation units equipped with Sukhoi Su-25 Grach attack aircraft, part of the Su-25 family, are expected to appear here this year.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: OSCE head goes on tour of Central Asia, as Russia, Belarus mull exit

Helga Maria Schmid, Secretary General of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), visited Kyrgyzstan on June 5 as part of her Central Asian tour. Her next stop will be Kazakhstan, where she will remind Astana about its objectionable cooperation with Russia and attempt to persuade it to avoid helping Moscow evade sanctions, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. At the same time, experts say, her four-day visit to Turkmenistan, where she presented gifts to President Serdar Berdimuhamedov and opened a new OSCE Center office in Ashgabat, has been the most significant stop in her tour thus far.

"Helga Schmid’s visit to the Central Asian region comes at a difficult time for the OSCE. The Ukrainian crisis, and, more broadly, the problem of cooperation and security in Europe as a whole, resulted in an entirely new reality for the OSCE. Rumors of Russia and Belarus withdrawing from the OSCE heighten the drama of the situation, which places entirely new responsibilities on the organization. With the OSCE completely polarized, Central Asia remains the last region that maintains neutrality, even if it is of a purely declarative nature," Central Asia researcher Serdar Aytakov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

The expert believes that the OSCE’s search for new footholds in the region is more about the survival of the organization than about institutional growth. That is why the ostensibly most critical issues that usually concern the OSCE - democracy and human rights - got short shrift during the visit, he added.

According to Alexander Kobrinsky, director of the Agency for Ethno-National Strategies, Turkmen officials have virtually agreed to the establishment of a "spy network" in their country. "The OSCE is a Western-influenced institution throughout the post-Soviet space, including Central Asia," he told the newspaper. If Russia and Belarus were to leave the organization, the OSCE would be reformed into another organization with goals and objectives defending the interests of peoples in European countries rather than Central Asian countries, he added.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kiev rejects all peace negotiation initiatives, sees 'Russia’s plans'

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi’s peace mission to Kiev as envoy of the Vatican was not announced or discussed in advance. Which is perhaps also why Kiev had rejected all previous peace initiatives. Moreover, Ukrainian Defense Minister Aleksey Reznikov described the latest proposal for a settlement, this time from Indonesia, as "Russia’s plan." According to experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Ukraine’s Western backers are not interested in negotiations because they see Kiev’s positions as disadvantageous and seek to change them for the better on the battlefield.

After the cardinal’s visit to Kiev on June 5-6, he also plans to communicate with Russian representatives, not wanting to exclude anyone from the negotiation process. [The ambiguity surrounding the cardinal’s mission may be attributable to] the potentially [negative] reaction of Kiev [to any and all such initiatives], the newspaper writes.

Aleksey Mukhin, director of the Center for Political Information, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that judging by recent statements, Western sponsors of the Ukrainian project, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, are not interested in the negotiation process at this stage. They may believe that the Ukrainian side is in an extremely vulnerable and disadvantageous position today, and that is why they are trying to change the situation on the battlefield, he added.

"As a result, the United States, the United Kingdom and Poland will become parties to the conflict, regardless of what their leadership says about it. Accordingly, they will lose any future status as negotiators and peacekeepers. Perhaps this is precisely the reason for their skepticism about the peace initiatives of those parties that note the unenviable position of Ukraine," the expert believes.


Vedomosti: EU extends restrictions on Ukrainian grain exports until September 15

The European Commission (EC) has extended the embargo on the supply of wheat, corn, rapeseed, and sunflower seeds from Ukraine to five countries - Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia - until September 15. According to experts interviewed by Vedomosti, Ukraine is willing to accept the ban, as continued weapons supplies are now more important for Kiev.

On June 1, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Moldova and emphasized the importance of removing limitations on imports of Ukrainian agricultural products into Europe. However, Eastern European governments have expressed dissatisfaction with the flow of imported Ukrainian grain since the end of 2022.

According to Alexander Nosovich, editor-in-chief of analytical website, the decision is motivated by the ideology of Eastern European countries, which provide Ukraine with weapons and loans but are unwilling to take actions that would be to the detriment of their own domestic agricultural sectors. At the same time, according to the expert, Kiev has accepted the restriction without trying to create a controversy because it needs the supply of weapons to continue, while expecting that Brussels can somehow pick up the tab for losses incurred by Ukraine’s farm sector.

Kirill Teremetsky, an analyst at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, told the newspaper he thinks the decision to ban grain imports from Ukraine is more of an internal political matter for Poland and Hungary.

According to Vladimir Bruter, an expert at the International Institute for Humanitarian and Political Studies, the possibility of extending the European Commission’s ban on Ukrainian grain imports is the lesser of two evils for European officials, as disgruntled European farmers could undermine Brussels’ policy toward Ukraine, the expert believes.


Vedomosti: Ankara hikes fees for crossing Turkish straits by 8.3% to patch budget holes

Turkey will raise the fees for passing through the Black Sea straits, the Dardanelles and the Bosporus, by 8.3%, from $4.08 to $4.42 per ton of a merchant vessel’s net tonnage, effective July 1, the country's Transportation Ministry said. The last hike in the cost of passage was on October 7, 2022, when the fees saw a record five-fold increase (rising by $3.28 from about $0.8, in the first fee increase since 1936). Higher tariffs will allow Turkey to generate almost $900 million in revenue in 2023, Vedomosti writes.

According to Amur Gadzhiev, a researcher on the Turkish sector at the Institute of Asian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Ankara is trying to raise fees to at least partially cover Turkey’s budget deficit after Recep Tayyip Erdogan's re-election win. The Turkish central government's budget deficit in March 2023 stood at 47.22 billion liras ($2.46 billion), the country's finance minister said in early April.

Mikhail Burmistrov, general director of Infoline-Analytics, told Vedomosti that the tariff hike is due to a decline in traffic to ports in southern Ukraine, which largely ceased operations with the start of Russia's special military operation in February 2022.

According to Vitaly Chernov, head of analytics at Portnews, the current increase does not seem significant, but Turkey clearly continues to take advantage of the geopolitical circumstances associated with the growing trade through the straits against the backdrop of anti-Russian sanctions, extracting the maximum benefit from the situation.

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