MOSCOW, December 11. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin has kicked off his campaign for re-election in March 2024; the EU may ban the import of Russian gas; and Moscow plans to deploy dual-use naval assets to freeze NATO out of the Arctic. These stories topped Monday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.
Media: President Vladimir Putin de facto kicks off 2024 election campaign for fifth term
Vladimir Putin is running for Russia’s highest office for the fifth time. He announced his intention to run on December 8, following an awards ceremony marking Heroes of the Fatherland Day.
Putin may be considered an official candidate only once he files formal nominating papers with Russia’s Central Election Commission (CEC), including notarized minutes of an assembly of voters who support his nomination, a statement of consent to run for the office, and personal documents, political lawyer Oleg Zakharov told Vedomosti.
"[The ruling] United Russia [party] will undoubtedly support Vladimir Putin’s presidential candidacy at its congress on December 17. That said, however, in my view, it is most likely that Putin will run as an independent [not formally affiliated with any party]. Having declared that United Russia and [its auxiliary organization the All-Russia] People’s Front will gather signatures in Putin’s support, [United Russia General Council Secretary] Andrey Turchak has indirectly but quite clearly confirmed this," Dmitry Orlov, director general of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications (APEK), told Izvestia.
Political consultant Dmitry Fetisov concurs that, even given the announcement on the gathering of nomination signatures, there is no scenario under which Putin will run under the United Russia banner in the election. "It is important for the president to emphasize yet again the consolidation of society and all political forces amid the special military operation," he noted.
United Russia will support the incumbent president but he will run as an independent, agrees Pavel Danilin, director of the Center for Political Analysis and Social Research. However, the experts expect that, compared to the previous presidential election in 2018, United Russia will play an even more substantial role in this campaign. "This is already obvious from the way in which the party leadership has gotten involved in the campaign," Fetisov noted. Danilin agrees that the ruling party will play a major part in Putin’s presidential campaign. "And the extent of this (United Russia’s involvement - TASS) will be clear after the [party] congress because many things are likely to be announced there," the expert thinks.
The United Russia congress will be held on December 17. Among other things, the delegates will discuss the party’s position "on key issues in the life of the country," the United Russia press service told Izvestia.
The Council of the European Union and the European Parliament have come to a preliminary agreement on large-scale restrictions on suppliers of Russian gas, which above all may affect Russian gas giants Gazprom and Novatek. If approved, EU countries may prohibit, at the national level, Russian suppliers from accessing gas transportation infrastructure, including liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals. This means that European companies will have the option of breaking long-term contracts with Russian suppliers while minimizing the risks of paying multi-billion-euro penalties. While experts think that none of the current recipients of Russian gas wish to reject such supplies, the existence of such an opportunity to do so is fraught with its potential use for applying political pressure.
According to Sergey Kondratyev, an expert at the Institute of Energy and Finance Foundation, the restrictions are being introduced only for Russia and Belarus, and thus are clearly of a discriminatory nature. The European Commission justifies this measure by the need to "ensure security," noting, however, that such restrictions should not contravene the EU’s international obligations while implementing them at the national level will be possible only after studying their risks, including for other members of the bloc. Therefore, the expert thinks that, currently, the risk is minimal that EU countries will actually make use of the new regulation to reject supplies from Russia.
"Those that wanted to reject Russian gas imports have already done so, and those that continue importing are not bound by this document to refuse [further supplies]," Kondratyev thinks. He notes that, formally, this document gives more leeway to transit countries, such as Bulgaria and Slovakia, to limit or suspend the transit of Russian gas but recipient countries are likely to be against such measures.
Russia is working on counteracting the activity of NATO forces in the Arctic. As early as 2027, the Russian Defense Ministry is planning on increasing the zone of continuous radar control in the region by several fold, Russian Navy Commander-in-Chief Admiral Nikolay Yevmenov said at the "Arctic: Today and the Future" forum. According to him, the Northern Fleet will also be substantially beefed up. This may also involve Russia formally withdrawing from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which limits its full control to a 12-mile zone of territorial waters only, lawmakers told Izvestia. The newspaper’s sources also noted the active development of dual-use infrastructure in the region.
"Until the Americans came up with this 1982 convention, the entire Arctic was divided up into sections. There are only five Arctic states: Russia, Denmark, Norway, Canada and the US. Yet this did not suit the Americans, because Russia had over 60% of the Arctic coast while they had merely 7%. They came up with this convention and we thoughtlessly ratified it. Undoubtedly, it is necessary to raise the issue of us leaving the convention because the Northern Sea Route is our internal transport artery. Since 2012, we have enshrined this in several presidential decrees but the Americans do not agree with this," Vice Admiral Anatoly Shevchenko, Russian Navy deputy commander-in-chief for Arctic issues, told Izvestia.
In the near future, the relevant committees in the State Duma (lower house of parliament) will take up the issue of Russia formally denouncing the UNCLOS and include it in the legislative agenda, Russian lawmaker Nikolay Novichkov told Izvestia.
"Given that, following approval of the 2020 Constitutional amendments, we placed national law above international law, nobody is preventing us from ignoring this requirement [the part of the UNCLOS concerning the 12-mile zone of territorial waters] even now," he noted.
The newspaper’s source in security structures, who is familiar with the issue, said that Russia, much like NATO, is actively developing dual-use infrastructure in the region. "For example, we can outfit an icebreaker with strike drones and even with strike missiles. During ordinary times, the ship will fulfill its duties on ice escorts via the Northern Sea Route, but during times of heightened threat it will transform into a battleship of the Northern Fleet to carry out missions aimed at containing the potential adversary. The same applies for rescue and supply bases, observation posts and airfields. In the Arctic, military and civilian infrastructure complement each other; it has been this way historically and it will continue to be so," the source told Izvestia.
The US has vetoed a draft resolution at the UN Security Council demanding an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and the release of all hostages (the vote took place on December 8). That said, the document co-authored by 97 countries, which was submitted to a vote by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), was supported by 13 out of 15 members of the Security Council with the UK being the only country to abstain. Russia and China criticized the stance of Washington, which has consistently vetoed resolutions preventing Israel’s military actions in Palestine.
The Biden administration is currently between a rock and a hard place, says Vladimir Vasilyev, senior research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for US and Canadian Studies. On the one hand, it is being pressured by pro-Arab forces and a significant part of American society demanding a truce and a ceasefire, while, on the other hand, there is the pro-Israel lobby, which is fully in synch with the position of Netanyahu’s cabinet with regard to the current conflict. According to the expert, the administration has found a way out of the situation by giving Israel carte blanche to resolve the issue militarily over the next three weeks. If the Israeli army fails to achieve its goals in fighting Hamas during this time, Tel Aviv will be pressured into a ceasefire. However, the Biden administration is still confident in its margin of political strength, and therefore is not responding to the left wing within President Joe Biden’s own Democratic Party, which is demanding a truce, the expert said.
Decisions by the UN, including the Security Council, are seldom implemented normally, said Dmitry Maryasis, lead researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Eastern Studies. Given the current stance of the UN leadership, which irritates both the Israeli authorities and the general public, it is possible to presume that this resolution would not have been implemented even without the veto. This is also not about the US being fatigued from this conflict. For Washington, a ceasefire right now is disadvantageous; additionally, the US also has a "matter of honor" to take up because American citizens were among those killed or taken hostage by Hamas. Naturally, the administration is not thrilled with the war or victims among civilians, but this does not spell out the end of US support for Israel, the expert concluded.
The European Union is not planning on holding military drills with Armenia or training Armenian troops on its soil, Peter Stano, the European Commission’s Lead Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, told Izvestia. According to him, Brussels also intends to stick to non-lethal support. In turn, the Bundestag (German parliament - TASS) noted that Berlin has no plans to deliver weapons to Armenia, which recently announced its intention to diversify its foreign-policy security system. France remains the only EU country supplying arms to Yerevan. Paris’ actions, however, are having a negative impact on French-Azerbaijani ties.
"There are 'friends of Azerbaijan' in the European Union who are blocking France’s most radical initiatives. Mostly, these are Eastern European countries such as Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, as well as Italy and Greece. They do not let France use the European Union’s entire arsenal against Azerbaijan. That is, those are the countries that are buying gas from Azerbaijan," Farhad Mammadov, director of the Center for South Caucasus Studies, told Izvestia.
"[Armenian Prime Minister Nikol] Pashinyan has adopted a course toward a multi-vector orientation and is attempting to settle a number of issues, relying on the West’s support. Here, France is one of the leading players, considering that the community of ethnic Armenians in France is rather large, about 400,000. Many Armenians are major politicians, not to mention cultural figures and businessmen," Sergey Fyodorov, lead researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe, explained to Izvestia.
According to Edward Lozansky, president of the American University in Moscow, the US would not want to ruin its relations with Azerbaijan, an important player in the energy market. For this reason, Washington will not wager on militarizing Armenia with its weapons and building closer ties with Yerevan in this field. The expert thinks that, currently, the US is instead trying to act as the main peacekeeper capable of reconciling Armenia and Azerbaijan.
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