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Press review: Rumor abounds on DPRK ammo rounds and US mulls 'Hail Mary' ATACMS for Kiev

Top stories from the Russian press on Wednesday, September 13th

MOSCOW, September 13. /TASS/. US spin about Russian-North Korean military cooperation may play to Moscow’s hand; Washington mulling arming the Kiev regime with long-range ATACMS missiles to compensate for failed counteroffensive; US strikes prisoner swap and asset transfer deal with Iran. These stories topped Wednesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Izvestia: US spin about Russia-North Korea military cooperation may end up helping Moscow

Speculation surrounding the supply of Russian military technologies to North Korea may be part of a US tactic to put pressure on South Korea in order to push Seoul into sending heavy-duty armaments to the Kiev regime, experts told Izvestia on the eve of talks between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, rumors about Moscow’s intention to share its military know-how with Pyongyang may end up playing into Russia’s hands as well.

According to Professor Andrey Lankov at Kookmin University in Seoul, all such speculation by the US side about alleged deliveries of North Korean munitions to Russia, which have never come to pass, especially rumors about Moscow transferring its weapons or technologies to Pyongyang, have turned out to be rather useful for Russia.

"All of this talk serves as a means of exerting diplomatic pressure. Russia can also use such means to put pressure on South Korea, where there is strong support for sending large batches of weapons and munitions to Ukraine, by letting it be known that if Seoul sends arms to Kiev, then Russia will also deliver military technologies to North [Korea] and buy shells from it. But, if South Korea continues to limit its assistance to Ukraine to non-lethal aid, then Russia won’t have to repay Seoul in kind," the expert told Izvestia.

In his opinion, Russia will not actually share any military technologies with Pyongyang for a number of important reasons. "Any technologies shared with North Korea, first of all, would not be paid for, and, secondly, could be transferred by the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea - TASS) itself, and for big money at that, to a third party, including to a country that may be on very poor terms with Russia. Additionally, [copy-cat] weapons systems based on Russian technologies could be developed [by Pyongyang] with which the North Koreans could then enter the global [arms] market and thus squeeze Russia out of the relevant segment," Lankov reasoned.

The prospects of the DPRK sending munitions to Russia are also doubtful. According to the expert, the North Korean arms industry has rather weak capacities, while the North Koreans would not risk shipping their warehoused stocks of munitions abroad in any large quantities because they may well need them themselves. Recently, Russian Ambassador to the DPRK Alexander Matsegora voiced the same opinion, noting that North Korea itself is virtually in a pre-war situation and, thus, needs its stockpile of weapons for its own defense.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US considering sending flailing Kiev ATACMS missiles as last-ditch "Hail Mary" pass

The US is considering providing the Ukrainian armed forces with ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) missiles capable of surgical strikes on targets up to 300 km away. The US Department of State and the Pentagon are attempting to convince President Joe Biden to sign off on such deliveries, citing Ukraine’s failed counteroffensive. According to experts, this could complicate the missions being carried out by Russian forces in the special military operation zone, but is unlikely to be a "game changer" that could dramatically shift the situation on the line of contact in Ukraine’s favor.

"Ukrainian troops have already received Storm Shadow cruise missiles from the UK, and a version of this type of weapon, SCALP, from France, with a strike radius of 250 km," military expert Lieutenant General (Ret.) Yury Netkachev told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "Some important targets were hit with these missiles, including the Chongar Bridge, which had led to snarled traffic along this route for some time. But, then the Russian military quickly set up pontoons, while we are not seeing any fundamental success by the Ukrainian army on the frontline as a result of using these weapons. The same will happen if the Kiev regime receives the ATACMS type missiles," he explained.

Another military expert, Colonel (Ret.) Vladimir Popov, thinks that Kiev is betting on the ATACMS missiles, hoping that they will bring it success on the battlefield. "After the Ukrainian army received HIMARS rockets, in the fall of 2022, Ukrainian troops took over Kherson and almost all of the Kharkov Region," he recounted. "The Ukrainian army now needs ATACMS missiles to break through to the Sea of Azov and try to take over Tokmak, Melitopol, and so on. But the summer combat period is coming to an end. For instance, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley said that there are about 30-40 days left for the Ukrainian counteroffensive until the weather turns [unfavorable for combat]," the expert added.

Popov cited forecasts by Germany’s Bild newspaper, which estimates that "the probability of the Ukrainian army reaching the Sea of Azov during the counteroffensive this year is less than 10%," while the likelihood of it taking over at least one major city in the south is "less than 30%." He also noted that, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, "the Ukrainian counteroffensive resulted in nothing, Ukrainian losses in personnel during the advance have amounted to 71,000 people," while Russia is continuing to bolster its defenses and accumulate reserves.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US makes major concessions to Iran in swap deal to get citizens back

The US has agreed to swap prisoners with Iran on a "five-to-five" basis and has also authorized banks to transfer Iranian assets to the tune of $6 bln from South Korea to Qatar for humanitarian use by the Iranians. Tehran has slowed down its uranium enrichment process while the US is refraining from using any anti-Iranian rhetoric at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Five years after breaking off the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear program (JCPOA), the sides now have an opportunity to reach a compromise and pave the way for European business to re-enter the Iranian market.

"Oman and Qatar, supporting decreased tensions, served as intermediaries in talks between Iran and the US. Doha will make sure that the funds won’t be spent on armaments. The Iranians largely agreed to the deal because of a difficult economic situation shaped after the JCPOA fell through in 2018," Vladimir Sazhin, senior research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Eastern Studies, said.

In a conversation with the newspaper, the expert stressed that deciding not to enrich uranium by more than 60% was an important step on the part of Tehran.

"It is not even excluded that such uranium will be completely taken out of circulation. And the Americans, in turn, at the latest session of the IAEA Board of Governors, did not put forth any of its usual anti-Iranian resolutions. In general, the Middle East has become less interesting for the US amid [Washington’s preoccupation with] issues pertaining to China and Russia, in spite the fact that about 50,000 US troops are still stationed in the region. It is mutually beneficial now for Tehran and Washington to improve their relations," Sazhin explained.

He added that while the revival of the JCPOA is not on the table anymore, the sides have moved significantly closer to a compromise in negotiations. Which, in turn, may pave the way for Iran’s cooperation with those European countries that have an interest in working with Tehran.

"It is necessary to understand that while the level of anti-American rhetoric and propaganda in the Islamic Republic [of Iran] may even be on the rise, even a conservative regime [in Tehran] is capable of conducting behind-the-scenes negotiations [when necessary]," the expert opined.


Izvestia: NATO not seeking to absorb Armenia

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is currently not considering expanding the bloc to take in Armenia, while Yerevan itself has not applied to join, the military alliance told Izvestia. Moreover, NATO has distanced itself from a statement by Gunther Fehlinger, chair of the European Committee for NATO Enlargement, who earlier urged the South Caucasus country to join the bloc. That said, Moscow does not think that Armenia is re-orienting itself toward the West.

Currently, there are no real conditions for Armenia to leave the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and apply to join NATO, said Denis Denisov, an expert at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation.

"First of all, this would mean a very serious aggravation in relations with Russia. Secondly, this is a process which would begin to alter the security architecture in the South Caucasus region. Simply going ahead and changing a key security partner can frequently be fraught even with some sort of catastrophe," he cautioned in a conversation with Izvestia.

Speaking about the possibility of Armenia joining the North Atlantic Alliance, the expert reiterated that Turkey, which is Azerbaijan’s key partner and ally, remains one of the member states. That said, one should not forget that a theoretical exit from the CSTO does not necessarily mean automatic acceptance into NATO membership.

"In the North Atlantic Alliance, many countries would have to think for a while about the practicability of accepting a country like Armenia into the organization," Denisov added.


Vedomosti: Share of foreign pharmaceutical companies in state procurement market grows

In spite of public statements by many foreign pharmaceutical companies about reducing their footprint in the Russian market, their share in the domestic state procurement market has grown by 6.7 percentage points over the first seven months of this year versus the same period in 2022, reaching 63.4%, according to the DSM Group, an analytical firm. It says that this has been the highest marker for at least the past six years (the company did not provide any earlier data). In monetary equivalent, this amounts to 294 bln rubles (about $3.1 bln).

Global Big Pharma does not wish to lose such a large market as Russia, experts explained. According to DSM Group Director General Sergey Shulyak, after the first six months of 2023, its total volume amounted to 424 bln rubles (over $4.4 bln).

RNC Pharma Development Director Nikolay Bespalov concurred. According to him, over the past several years, the state segment has even displayed a trend toward expansion, among other things, because the Russian state budget is financing the treatment of a number of serious diseases which, in turn, require expensive drugs. And, given that four new regions joined Russia recently, the number of people in need of such support is only increasing, he pointed out.

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