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Press review: Gaza carnage sinks Israeli narrative and US, EU tell China to end Russia aid

Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, December 4th

MOSCOW, December 4. /TASS/. Israel is facing increasing difficulty in justifying its military operation in Gaza to the international community amid widespread images of carnage and destruction; the US and EU are demanding that Beijing cease its non-lethal military assistance to Moscow; and Venezuela has held a referendum to resolve a border dispute with neighboring Guyana dating back to the colonial era. These stories topped Monday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Kommersant: Israel facing ever tougher sell to justify carnage wrought by Gaza operation

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is urging residents of the embattled Gaza Strip to evacuate amid the resumption of its military operation after a week-long humanitarian pause. Meanwhile, amid widespread images of carnage and destruction, Tel Aviv is finding it increasingly difficult to convince the international community that its use of military force in Gaza is legitimate, Kommersant writes.

Hostilities in the Gaza Strip resumed on Friday morning. The IDF accused the Palestinian movement Hamas of violating the terms of the humanitarian pause, saying that Palestinian militants had shelled Israeli territory and failed to present another list of hostages that they were prepared to release. Hamas, in turn, blamed Israel for violating the ceasefire by demanding, in particular, the release of female IDF members. Israeli troops have been spreading leaflets since Friday, urging Gaza residents to evacuate to "safe areas."

In the meantime, Israel is finding it increasingly difficult to justify its actions in Gaza in the eyes of the international community. Israeli officials’ claims that they are doing everything possible to minimize harm to civilians seem disingenuous amid widespread images of carnage shown in the photos and videos broadcast by Arab media and the mounting number of deaths reported by such outlets. International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan is one of many observers attempting to make sense of the volatile situation as he made his first-ever visit to Israel, although the Jewish state does not fall under the ICC’s jurisdiction as Tel Aviv has never signed the relevant international agreements. Khan also traveled to Palestine, albeit only to the West Bank, as he was unable to enter the Gaza Strip. A statement was issued after his trip that the prosecutor’s office would step up its efforts to advance investigations into possible war crimes committed by Hamas and Israeli forces alike.

Meanwhile, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk has taken a tougher stance toward Israel. He reiterated on Sunday that there were no safe areas within the Gaza Strip for residents to seek refuge in and called on both parties to the conflict to end the violence.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US, EU demand end to Beijing’s non-lethal military aid to Moscow

Russia is purchasing off-road vehicles from China for use in the special military operation in Ukraine, Western media outlets claim. The United States and its allies are determined to increase pressure on Beijing regarding the Ukraine issue, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

China insists that it is not selling weapons to Russia. However, Ukraine and its allies are concerned about Beijing providing Russia with non-lethal goods that can be used on the battlefield. Russia purchased $32 mln worth of vehicles designed to carry heavy loads and trailer trucks in January 2022, and the value of such purchases rose to $378 mln in November 2023. Apart from the US, the European Union is also seeking to ratchet up the pressure on China. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel are expected to visit Beijing this week.

Military expert Colonel (Ret.) Viktor Litovkin speculated that reconnaissance units could use SUVs. "A reconnaissance team comes close to the frontline, leaves the car somewhere and crosses the enemy line. SUV automobiles come in handy when troops need to deliver a guided anti-tank missile to the frontline. The same goes for machine guns," he explained.

Alexander Lomanov, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, points out that, "the West has long been making accusations against China." "They [the Westerners] say that it’s forbidden to provide construction equipment because it’s suitable for trench digging, while troops could use off-road vehicles to get to the frontline. However, these are not weapons. Still, the West’s campaign of pressure on China is gaining momentum. Meanwhile, they mistakenly see China’s desire to improve relations as a sign of weakness. Shortly after the recent meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in San Francisco between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden, Beijing introduced a one-year visa waiver for five European countries, including Germany, France and Italy. So, [it appears that] they came to the conclusion that China is currently very weak and therefore they can now feel free to make demands on it. However, China is behaving cautiously, refraining from sending lethal weapons to Russia. And since the West is unwilling to offer concessions to the Chinese, it is unlikely to get any concessions in return from them," the analyst stressed.


Media: Caracas holds referendum to resolve 200-year-old Venezuela-Guyana border dispute

Venezuela has held a referendum on the disputed territory of Guayana Esequiba, which is claimed by Venezuela but controlled by neighboring Guyana. Virtually everyone in Venezuela today sees the disputed border region as rightfully part of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, voters interviewed in Caracas told Izvestia. However, the disputed region’s residents themselves are not particularly eager to join Venezuela.

The referendum was considered a non-binding consultative vote and, thus, does not automatically authorize the Venezuelan government to make any effort to bring Guayana Esequiba under the jurisdiction of Caracas. However, by holding the vote, Caracas was seeking to get a blank check from the Venezuelan people to develop a strategy for reunification with what it considers to be its historical territory. "Venezuelans of various political views are in consensus on the issue of who Esequiba should belong to," Yegor Lidovskoy, director general of the Hugo Chavez Latin American Cultural Center, said. However, in his view, the vote will not lead to a Venezuelan military intervention in Guyana. Rather, Venezuela’s goal is to create an international coalition to protect its right to bring its historical land back and resolve the issue diplomatically.

In terms of international law, the referendum’s results will not have any impact, Doctor of Law Alexey Ispolinov told Vedomosti. The expert pointed out that, in order to settle the relevant territorial disputes, in the 19th century the parties originally went before the International Court of Arbitration, which ruled that then-UK colony British Guiana (since 1970 the independent Co-operative Republic of Guyana - TASS) should occupy more than 90% of the Essequibo River valley with the rest going to Venezuela. "The United Nations International Court of Justice upheld the International Court of Arbitration’s decision in the mid-20th century, and so the territorial dispute is long closed," the analyst noted.

Still, Ispolinov did not rule out that the outcome of the referendum could lead to military hostilities. Such a clash would mean a loss for Guyana, Lazar Kheifets, professor of American Studies at St. Petersburg State University’s Department of International Relations, said. "However, the United Kingdom would hardly accept the occupation of much of its former colony. Moreover, neither Brazil nor Colombia, despite their friendly stance towards Caracas, would accept changes in the regional status quo," he noted. The expert is confident that Moscow would also call for a peaceful solution.


Izvestia: France seeking to expand influence in Asia

NATO’s efforts to promote the bloc’s interests among Southeast Asian nations are raising tensions in the already troubled Asia-Pacific region. In particular, France looks determined to expand its influence by developing more cooperation with the countries of the region, Izvestia notes.

France’s defense and foreign ministers, Sebastien Lecornu and Catherine Colonna, respectively, will make diplomatic visits to the Asia-Pacific region in early December. Paris is seeking to restore relations with Australia following the AUKUS scandal and also strengthen political and military ties with the countries of the region.

It seems that Paris has reconciled itself to Canberra’s decision to reject a contract with France to build submarines for the Royal Australian Navy, which would have greatly benefited French defense industries. "It could also be a sign of France’s willingness to help the US and Western countries in general to boost and advance their positions in the region," Dmitry Mosyakov, head of the Southeast Asia, Australia and Oceania Department at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Asian Studies, pointed out.

Paris has increasingly been making its ambitions clear in the Asia-Pacific region. French President Emmanuel Macron has repeatedly spoken about it in 2023. By enhancing ties with the region, France is in fact implementing a NATO strategy as the alliance is not abandoning its attempts to expand by accepting new members. "The French defense minister’s visit is a continuation of NATO’s strategy aimed at expanding its zone of responsibility to East, Southeast and Northwest Asia. If one looks carefully at an agreement adopted in Madrid in May 2022, it concerns Asia in particular. Five new bases are being set up in the Philippines, designed for the alliance’s forces," Mosyakov emphasized.

All these activities in the Asia-Pacific region boil down to one thing, the containment of China. "At the very least, it is about increasing pressure on China. It is certainly frustrating for Beijing because it had high expectations for Germany as a technologically sovereign country and France, also as a politically sovereign state," said Alexander Lomanov, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

All in all, NATO’s continued expansion does not pave the way to stability and peace but only serves to escalate and expand the potential for conflict, the political scientists concluded.


Kommersant: Russian LNG supplies to Europe hit historical highs

Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplies to Europe in November were the highest ever. Analysts say that Russian LNG exports were redirected because of traffic jams in the Panama Canal, which resulted in exporters preferring the European market to the Asian one, Kommersant writes.

Europe’s gas futures in November were comparable to prices for spot LNG supplies to Asia on some days or trading at even higher levels. This is what is making the European market attractive, along with much lower transportation costs from Russia’s gas-rich Yamal Peninsula, independent expert Alexander Sobko said.

Europe is becoming increasingly dependent on LNG imports because it has to replace the pipeline gas it previously received from Russian gas giant Gazprom, formerly the region’s primary gas supplier. No sanctions were introduced on Russian LNG after the start of military activities in Ukraine, so gas supplies to Europe continued to grow amid high prices. The US recently introduced restrictions on the Arctic LNG 2 project being implemented by Russian gas company Novatek, but their impact on next year’s LNG exports to Europe is still unclear.

Viktor Katona of Kpler attributes increasing LNG supplies to the EU market to traffic jams in the Panama Canal area, which have significantly changed the main LNG flows, with exporters preferring shorter logistics chains. "That said, European customers have taken exports from the relatively close countries to the highest level. Gas supplies from the United States are growing every month, Algeria is still in business and Russia has reached historical highs, while deliveries from Qatar and other outlying countries [with challenging logistics] have dropped,” the expert stressed.

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