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Press review: Gaza truce stands on shifting sands and no outside hand in China-Russia ties

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, November 28th

MOSCOW, November 28. /TASS/. The extension of the Gaza ceasefire merely spells a temporary calm before the inevitable renewal of fighting; third parties are having no impact on the full-throttle cooperation between Moscow and Beijing; and a disputed collection of Scythian gold from Crimea awarded to Ukraine by Dutch courts arrives in Kiev. These stories topped Tuesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Vedomosti: Support for extending Gaza truce to bring calm before storm of renewed fighting

Tel Aviv had initially agreed to extend the humanitarian pause in Gaza for another day on the condition that Hamas release at least 10 additional hostages. In all, the truce agreement stipulated the swap of 50 Israeli hostages taken by the Gaza-based Palestinian radical group for 150 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

On the evening of November 27, the Qatari Foreign Ministry announced that the truce had been extended for another 48 hours. Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levi said that the extension was possible only if 50 more individuals held hostage were released. According to him, as of Monday evening, Hamas militants were still holding 184 Israelis in the Gaza Strip.

An extension of the truce is possible, in which the release of the hostages will be the main factor, thinks Lyudmila Samarskaya, a researcher with the Center for Middle East Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations. However, Israel is intent on continuing its military operation in Gaza because, among other reasons, curtailing it now may be perceived as a sign of weakness.

"It is extremely difficult to envision any diplomatic talks at this point," she noted. According to the expert, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s internal political motives as well as the consensus in the "war cabinet" compel him to continue with the operation.

The interests of several regional players collided in the process of arranging for a ceasefire in Gaza, notes Andrey Zeltyn, senior lecturer at the Higher School of Economics’ School of Asian Studies. He points out that the main supporters of the truce are the mediators of the agreement, Egypt and Qatar. Doha is rapidly increasing its clout on the international stage and, moreover, possesses instruments for pressuring Hamas, which is headquartered in Qatar and is financed by the emirate. For its part, Cairo is interested in ensuring that neither extremists nor refugees begin surging over Egypt’s border with Gaza, the expert noted.

However, the main beneficiary of the truce and its extension is Hamas itself, which in this way is seeking to "postpone a settlement" to the conflict and even preserve its military structure, as evidenced by the delays in exchanging detainees over the weekend, the expert said.

In contrast, it is obvious that Israel, which wants to eliminate the radical group, agreed to the truce for liberating hostages merely as a means of mollifying enraged public opinion. However, the annihilation of Hamas would also play into the hands of the ruling elites in most of the Persian Gulf Arab monarchies, which in recent years have been aspiring for a rapprochement with Tel Aviv. "So combat will resume one way or another; the Israelis won’t leave Hamas and Gaza alone in their current state given the virtual inaction of the Arab and Muslim countries, which have [thus far] supported Gaza in word only," without taking any concrete action, Zeltyn concluded.


Izvestia: Beijing-Moscow cooperation not affected by third parties, Chinese envoy asserts

Third parties have no influence over the cooperation between China and Russia, Chinese Ambassador to Moscow Zhang Hanhui said. For instance, currently, trade and economic cooperation between the two countries is developing "both in quantity and quality." The diplomat is confident that the more the international situation changes, the more China and Russia should beef up their cooperation. That said, Beijing is interested in mediating the conflict in the Middle East and decreasing tensions in the South China Sea.

"Cooperation between the two countries is not directed against any third party, much like it is not affected by such third parties. The more the international situation is changing, the more China and Russia should boost [their] cooperation as well as facilitate the development of the multipolarity and democratization of international relations in order to bring more stability to a world engulfed in chaos," the envoy said in an interview with Izvestia.

"Currently, China and Russia’s trade and economic cooperation is being developed both quantitatively and qualitatively. Over the first 10 months of 2023, the trade volume between the two countries reached $196.5 bln, which is an intrinsic [result] of joint efforts by the business communities of both countries. This past May, both sides held a successful Sino-Russian business forum in Shanghai, which was actively attended by government agencies, among others. This was the first large-scale offline business event organized by the two countries after the pandemic and it served as a strong foundation for exchanges between the [two countries’ respective] business communities. In July, the Russia-China EXPO returned after four years. About 400 Chinese companies were present at the Yekaterinburg exhibition while the area taken up by stands and displays became the largest in the entire history of the exhibition," the diplomat noted.

"In the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, China has always been on the side of peace and justice. On November 21, Chinese President Xi Jinping explained China’s stance to a videoconference of BRICS leaders. He stressed that the fundamental reasons for the unfolding events stem from how the Palestinian people’s rights to exist and create their own state have been ignored. Any resolution to the conflict will necessarily primarily involve implementing the ‘two-state solution,’" the Chinese ambassador emphasized.


Izvestia: How Kiev ended up expropriating Crimea’s priceless Scythian gold

Over 2.5 tons of priceless Scythian gold artifacts were transported on November 27 from Amsterdam to Kiev. After nine years of legal wrangling over the collection’s ownership and attempts by the Crimean authorities to have the region’s cultural heritage repatriated, a truck carrying the precious cargo entered the premises of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra monastery, which the Kiev regime recently seized and alienated from the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC). The Ukrainian Customs Service said that it will soon begin the process of cataloguing and registering the cultural artifacts in the Ukrainian Museum of Historical Treasures, which is housed at the monastery.

The collection of Scythian gold, consisting of over 2,000 items unearthed in Scythian burial mounds in Crimea, had been sent on loan in 2014 to be displayed in an exhibit at the Allard Pierson Museum of the University of Amsterdam. Its insurance value had been assessed at 1.5 mln euros, according to the museum’s documents.

First the Amsterdam District Court in 2016 and then the Amsterdam Court of Appeals in 2021 both ruled to hand the Scythian gold over to Ukraine, verdicts which were left standing even after an appeal by Crimean museums to the Supreme Court of the Netherlands in 2022. The Dutch courts opined that since Crimea is not a separate country, it therefore cannot lay claim to any art objects.

Alexey Vyazovsky, vice president of the Zolotaya Plata company, explained that a country that receives another country’s cultural valuables usually provides a letter of guarantee to the owner country transferring the collection. It appears that the judicial decision to return the precious items to Ukraine was made in line with this legalistic logic. Vyazovsky emphasized, however, that he did not consider the current situation as the final outcome of the entire controversy over ownership of the artifacts.

Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Culture said that the Dutch verdict violates the norms of international law and the principles of inter-museum exchanges. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the court decision was biased, while the head of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, stressed that the collection was simply snatched away from Crimean museums. In his opinion, after the handover to Kiev, the Scythian gold will end up being misappropriated and surreptitiously sold off to private collections.


Kommersant: Crimea, Krasnodar Region coping with aftermath of devastating storm

The most powerful storm on record hit southern Russia overnight on Monday. Several fatalities due to the natural disaster have been reported, which may yet grow as the picture of the devastation becomes clearer. About 800 fresh-water animals, including over 50 rare species of fish and turtles, perished at the Sevastopol Marine Aquarium Museum. Almost 2 mln residents of southern Russian regions were left without electric power by hurricane-force winds, according to the Energy Ministry. Following reports of the situation along the Black Sea coast, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued special instructions to the government to deal with the aftermath of the disaster. Russia’s weather authority is cautioning that two more days of inclement weather are to follow.

The extremely stormy weather arrived in southern Russia with a Mediterranean cyclone. On Monday, assessing the damage, Russian Weather Service head Roman Vilfand said that this was the most powerful storm on record since formal meteorological observations began. He cited the Balaklava storm on November 14, 1854, when over 30 vessels sank near the coast during the Crimean War, but stressed that this most recent natural disaster surpassed the scale of even the 1854 storm.

Crimean meteorologists, commenting on the storm for Kommersant, noted another natural disaster in November 2007. However, the peninsula has not previously seen such fierce winds and waves, Crimean State Council Chairman Vladimir Konstantinov said. "There has been something similar, but still not [a storm that had the effect of] smashing everything to pieces, lifting pavestones so they were flying like ordinary pebbles," he explained.


Kommersant: Gas production in Russia up by 11.8% in October

Gas production in Russia has been growing for three straight months due to last year’s low baseline. In October, this figure increased by 11.8%, to 60.13 bln cubic meters, but in January-October it decreased by 4%, falling to 534.5 bln cubic meters. In October, Gazprom increased production by 14.6% at once, to 38.6 bln cubic meters. Analysts think that the trend to restored production is being supported both by growing exports to China and increased domestic consumption.

Sergey Kondratyev from the Institute of Energy and Finance Foundation notes that this trend is related to last year’s low baseline. Additionally, according to him, this trend is being supported by increased exports to China, Central Asia and some growth in supplies to the EU - up to 2.5 bln cubic meters in October versus 2.17 bln cubic meters last year. Increasing deliveries via TurkStream provided for growing supplies to the EU by 0.38 bln cubic meters in October, to 1.29 bln cubic meters.

Growing production is also triggered by high domestic demand for gas, the expert added. In October, the average temperature in Russia was 0.2°С below the values seen in the previous October. That said, he reiterated that in Central Russia, where most of gas is being consumed, the temperature was 1.5°С lower than last year.

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