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Press review: Putin’s Arab 'blitz' signals global shift and UK seen as conflict instigator

Top stories from the Russian press on Thursday, December 7th
Russian President Vladimir Putin and President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan Sergey Savostyanov/TASS
Russian President Vladimir Putin and President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan
© Sergey Savostyanov/TASS

MOSCOW, December 7. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the UAE and Saudi Arabia for high-level meetings in a one-day "lightning tour;" London is seen as the aggressive junior partner in the US-UK "special relationship" driving conflict worldwide; and China and the EU are slated to hold their first face-to-face post-pandemic summit. These stories topped Thursday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Vedomosti: Putin’s 'lightning tour' of Arab monarchies seen as signal to world community

On December 6, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia for the first time since the pre-pandemic year of 2019. He held talks with his Emirati counterpart, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Saudi Prime Minister and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud. A day earlier, Russian Presidential Aide Yury Ushakov described these visits as a "lightning tour," a "potent round" and a "signal to the international community." Right on the heels of his whirlwind Middle Eastern visit, upon his return to Moscow, Putin will meet with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in the Kremlin on December 7.

The main focus of Putin’s talks with the leaders of the key Arab monarchies was decidedly on issues concerning economic interaction, noted Ivan Bocharov, program coordinator at the Russian International Affairs Council. This was already clear from the make-up of the Russian delegation, which included representatives of the business community, state officials in charge of economic portfolios and executives from state-owned corporations and businesses, but notably no security officials, the expert pointed out. According to him, apparently, in Abu Dhabi the talks covered issues pertaining to technological cooperation in the fields of power generation, the fuel and energy sector, medicine, agriculture and space. In the latter field, the UAE is one of the regional leaders, the expert stressed: "The country is one of Russia’s most important partners in the Arab world." In Bocharov’s opinion, the UAE’s integration into BRICS may provide a fresh impetus for fostering bilateral cooperation.

In Saudi Arabia, the sides placed a greater emphasis on interaction within OPEC+, the expert continued. "In issues of economic cooperation with Russia, the Saudis are cautious. Yet, as Riyadh positions itself as a Muslim leader, it may become Moscow’s window into the Arab world," he explained.

Putin’s second priority in terms of the December 6 talks was the situation in the Middle East and the issue of the post-war development of the Gaza Strip, said Andrey Zeltyn, senior lecturer at the School of Asian Studies of the Higher School of Economics (HSE University). According to him, neither side has any levers of influence over the Israeli leadership, although many Israeli residents have roots in Russia. "It is possible that the Saudi authorities were hoping that, through them (Russian Israelis - TASS), Moscow may have an impact on the Israeli elites." However, he continued that Moscow and Abu Dhabi do have levers for exerting influence on Israel’s nemesis, the radical Palestinian movement Hamas, which has become somewhat of a political pariah in the Arab world in recent years and which the elites of these countries actually would like to dismantle, albeit preferably via a proxy. "Here, Moscow’s stance becomes important: our country remains an influential player in the Middle East. While the Russian authorities are communicating with Palestinian organizations, these talks are of a strategic nature," the expert explained.

The issue of Ukraine was the third important subject on the agenda. According to Ushakov, Putin informed the Arab leaders about the situation there and his take on it. Bocharov reiterated that the UAE and Saudi Arabia had earlier aspired to act as mediators on the Ukrainian track, in terms of POW swaps and attempts at holding unofficial negotiations. Putin’s visit to the Middle East will not seriously affect ties between the United States and the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Zeltyn adds. The expert reiterated that these countries are major buyers of US arms and hosts of US military bases. "The White House is concerned that if it begins to reconsider its partnerships in the Middle East, this would push the Arab monarchies into the embrace of China and Russia," the expert concluded.


Izvestia: Junior partner London wagging US dog to instigate conflict in Ukraine, globally

In Washington, a bipartisan agreement on the latest round of military support for Kiev has still not been reached, as the focus is shifting to the Middle East and the standoff with China. Releasing a new multi-billion-dollar aid package for Kiev, in addition to aid for Israel, has now been made contingent on financing beefed-up security on the US border with Mexico, at the insistence of the intransigent Republicans. Meanwhile, in Japan, G7 leaders discussed the situation in Ukraine with Vladimir Zelensky while top UK diplomat David Cameron will attempt to convince US congressmen of the urgent need to continue funding the Kiev regime.

According to political commentator Alex Krainer, the founder of Krainer Analytics, Great Britain has been the most belligerent of the major Western countries. The analyst told Izvestia that, recently, London has concluded separate defense pacts not only with Ukraine but also with Poland, France and Sweden. In Krainer’s opinion, the escalation of tensions in Ukraine in 2021-early 2022, which ultimately triggered Russia’s involvement, may have been masterminded by London. For instance, in October 2021, Zelensky met with the head of British foreign intelligence agency MI6 and, following the meeting, Ukraine sharply intensified its shelling of the Donbass region. The expert pointed out that Cameron paid his first visit abroad following his appointment as foreign secretary precisely to Kiev, which vividly illustrates the priorities of 10 Downing Street and the Foreign Office.

However, the expert stressed that the UK lacks the military or economic power to have a decisive impact on key events. Thus, London’s "special relationship" with Washington, which Cameron continues to foster, remains the UK’s main instrument of power projection.

Jeremy Kuzmarov, editor-in-chief of Covert Action magazine, stressed that Russia and China are now seen as the "enemies of the free world," and, therefore, the leaders of the US and UK again intend to create an alliance against them. According to him, Russia and China currently enjoy strong trade ties and growing influence worldwide, and the US and UK cannot change this. Therefore, they wish to present their actions in Ukraine as part of some sort of moral crusade. In fact, this is a desperate attempt to regain their evanescent power and return to the age of domination and even colonialism, the expert insisted. Kuzmarov told Izvestia that it is precisely the US and UK that are provoking unnecessary and rather violent conflicts around the world in order to weaken their geopolitical rivals.

"The large-scale transfer of weapons to Ukraine in the first months was related to Americans clearing out their warehouses. By now, the resources have been almost exhausted. And in order to carry out large deliveries, contracts are needed. No business venture will invest in expanded production, if, say, tomorrow the conflict in Ukraine is over," noted Yury Rogulev, director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Foundation for United States Studies.

Krainer pointed out that the price of the events in Ukraine is rather high for the US because, for example, it has spent more money there since February 2022 than on its own bridges and roads. According to the expert, such erroneous priorities trigger discontent and growing pressure to change the policy course. Moreover, the US is encountering problems in the Middle East, and, by all appearances, its political circles profoundly support the standoff with China, he added.

The average American does not understand why his hard-earned money should be spent on supporting a foreign army that botched a counteroffensive and whose leader cheered on a Nazi SS veteran at the Canadian parliament, Kuzmarov added, pointing out that the US has a multitude of other serious issues, such as pressing problems in the fields of education, healthcare and the environment.


Vedomosti: China, EU to hold first face-to-face top-level summit since 2019

A two-day top-level EU-China summit will kick off in Beijing on December 7, which is to be held in a face-to-face format for the first time since 2019. The talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and State Council Premier Li Qiang will be conducted by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Council Charles Michel and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell.

The European Union lacks the ability to have an impact on China’s policy with regard to its most important partners, such as Russia, Vasily Kashin, director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics (HSE University), said. The European delegation may raise pressing issues and inquire about the Chinese take on the situation, but that’s about it, he noted. The expert pointed out that economic issues, such as bilateral trade and market accessibility, will be much more important as topics for discussion.

Above all, both parties are interested in economic cooperation, said Russia in Global Affairs Editor-in-Chief Fyodor Lukyanov. Europe needs the Chinese market and, overall, a clear contradiction is being observed between the unfavorable political atmosphere and the aspiration to preserve economic ties.

In Kashin’s opinion, the summit will discuss supply chain issues as well as a potential agreement on investments. The expert thinks that constructive solutions are quite possible on certain economic issues. Despite the "de-risking" course adopted by Brussels in respect to China, it is simply not possible to wind down such ties quickly.


Izvestia: Threat to Russia’s Baltic Fleet seen in UK-led 20-ship joint naval formation

Protecting the EU’s underwater infrastructure is merely a pretext for beefing up the West’s naval presence in the Baltic Sea, experts told Izvestia, commenting on the group of six ships from the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) sailing into the region. In addition to Royal Navy vessels, the JEF includes naval assets from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. The UK frigate Richmond has already anchored in Sweden’s Gothenburg. The JEF intends to increase its presence in the Baltic Sea to 20 ships. An Izvestia source in the Russian Defense Ministry said that Russian naval forces are on guard near Skagerrak, or the Danish straits, in order to track the group’s movements. Experts asserted that the UK and its allies lack enough vessels to form an effective group in the Baltic region. Additionally, marine targets in that region are easily destroyed by land-based anti-ship missile systems and aviation.

The ships dispatched by NATO to the Baltic Sea do not represent any military threat for Russia, Admiral Valentin Selivanov, former chief of staff of the Russian Navy, told Izvestia.

"They can be eliminated even without engaging the Baltic Fleet ships," he explained. "Toward this end, land-based anti-ship missile systems and aviation would be enough," he added. "It is not difficult to detect and track them so targeting won’t be an issue. During Soviet times, when our fleet was larger and the lion’s share of the Baltic coast belonged to us and the Warsaw Pact, NATO was not even thinking of sending its ships to the Baltic. It was clear to everyone what awaited them," the military expert pointed out.

Protecting underwater infrastructure is merely an excuse to increase the JEF’s presence in the Baltic and the point of these actions is to make a show of force to Russia, Sergey Ordzhonikidze, former Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and former UN Deputy Secretary General, told Izvestia.

"All of this is being done in order to show us that they won’t let the Baltic Fleet function normally," the diplomat explained. "This is not the first or the last demonstration of a threat from the north and support for their eastern allies, the very same Baltic countries. NATO has an edge in the number of ships in the region and it is showing it off. However, all these drills will remain within the framework of an exercise. In reality, in the event of a serious escalation, we will engage our entire arsenal and the situation won’t look the way Western countries would like it to," he added.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Central Bank of Russia planning rate hike to 16-17% by New Year’s

Next week, the Central Bank of Russia is expected to raise its key interest rate from the current 15% to 16% or even 17% per annum. Currently, there are no forecasts that the rate may go down, while those who expect it to remain at the current level are in the minority. Back in the fall, the Bank of Russia cautioned that it would seek to decelerate the economy by lowering the cost of financing. These efforts will become the main New Year’s present that Russians are already getting ready for. The holiday sales boom this year will be quite modest due to Russian consumers cutting back on their spending.

In order to accelerate the process of slowing down the rate of price growth and to ensure price stability, the Central Bank is likely to continue with pursuing a rigorous monetary policy cycle, concurs Mikhail Zeltser, a stock market expert at BCS World of Investments. "The Central Bank making a move for another +100 basic points [b.p.] cannot be ruled out," he added. "Against the background of surpassed inflation values, growing economic activity and lending growth topping the latest forecasts by the Bank of Russia, we think that raising the key rate to 16% is more likely," said Olga Belenkaya, head of Finam’s macroeconomic analysis section.

In the opinion of Maxim Markov, associate professor at the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, in December the Central Bank of Russia will have to raise the key rate, including due to increased consumer activity. "On the part of the population, this will be triggered by annual bonuses as well as preparations for the holiday season. And on the part of business, by the necessity to spend residual funds," he explained.

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