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Press review: Top Indian diplomat tending Russia ties and Ukraine brass moves to attrition

Top stories from the Russian press on Thursday, December 28th
Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Alexander Shcherbak/TASS
Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
© Alexander Shcherbak/TASS

MOSCOW, December 28. /TASS/. Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar's visit to Russia demonstrates the stability of the ongoing Russian-Indian strategic partnership; Ukraine’s top military command is set to abandon major offensives in favor of a war of attrition strategy; and Turkey may approve Sweden’s bid to join NATO by March 2024. These stories topped Thursday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Vedomosti: Indian foreign minister arrives in Russia on five-day visit, reinforcing ties

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the third day of his visit to Russia. Although the tradition between the Indian and Russian leaders of visiting each other every two years has been disrupted, the length and scope of the visit by New Delhi’s top diplomat demonstrate that India and Russia continue to be bound by a strategic relationship, Vedomosti writes.

During his meeting with the Indian foreign minister, Putin stated that everything was "going well overall" in the Moscow-New Delhi bilateral relationship. Jaishankar had already met with Lavrov, who said during the meeting that the "leaders are setting the tone for all levels of our relations."

According to Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs, relations and contacts between Russia and India are critical. Even if New Delhi makes no special effort in this direction, India’s international status as a large, influential, rapidly developing, autonomous country is growing. Because the India-Russia relationship is one of the pillars of the non-Western world, it is not surprising that New Delhi and Moscow cultivate friendly, cooperative ties, he added. But, there are also certain contradictions within the relationship, as India is suspicious about the Russia-China convergence. In turn, Russia must diversify its interactions in the East, making it imperative to persuade India that Moscow’s collaboration with Beijing will not be detrimental to New Delhi, the expert noted.

Also noteworthy, Lukyanov added, is the recognition that India will not sacrifice its interests for the sake of Russia and may well seek to strike a balance between cooperating with Moscow and cooperating with the West.

According to Andrey Kortunov, head of research at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), Jaishankar's visit is critical because the two countries need to discuss a wide range of topics, including trade and economic issues. It should be noted, however, that, notwithstanding the expansion of economic cooperation and increased trade turnover between Russia and India, viewing the latter as an anti-Western country would be an exaggeration. According to Kortunov, India is pursuing a multi-orientation foreign policy that gives it the room to participate in both the BRICS group and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), as well as Western-oriented blocs such as the anti-Chinese QUAD, or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which includes Australia, India, Japan and the United States.


Izvestia: Kiev’s top brass ditches major offensive, readies to lose more turf, experts say

Armed Forces of Ukraine Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny discussed the reasons why the Ukrainian army is yielding ground, disavowed any role in Kiev’s decision to mobilize another 500,000 recruits, and admitted that any positive forecasts for the forces under his command remain a pipe dream in his first press briefing since the start of the special military operation, Izvestia writes. Experts believe that Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky's generals intend to pull Russia into an attrition-based conflict next year in order to postpone the ultimate demise of the Kiev regime.

The Ukrainian commander-in-chief conceded that the key Donetsk suburb of Marinka was lost to Ukraine forever, and that the Ukrainian army may have to give up Avdeevka as well in two to three months. Zaluzhny identified his greatest mistake as believing that he "could stop Russia," and, according to him, the main current goal is to preserve the lives of Ukrainian soldiers, who are in short supply.

"Zaluzhny did not exaggerate the circumstances. He understands that the end is near. They won't be able to recruit people during the new mobilization. They will be unable to start any aggressive operations next year. And unless the West supplies people and equipment, the front will erode over time," Colonel Alexander Perendzhiev, associate professor at the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, told Izvestia.

According to the expert, the Ukrainian army's challenges are tied to ammunition supplies and replacements for worn-out military equipment. Furthermore, there is another concern now as staffing issues have risen to the fore.

Zaluzhny described a "war of attrition" as the only way to halt the Russian army's progress. "Their goal is simple and obvious - to equalize losses. If they can do this by reducing theirs and increasing ours, they will, as they believe it will put Russia in a no-win situation: no major advances, losses, and the special military operation loses its meaning," military expert Vladislav Shurygin told Izvestia.


Izvestia: Serbian opposition on wane, counted on larger protest wave — Russian ambassador

Serbia will not join the West's anti-Russia sanctions and will maintain direct flights to Moscow, Russian Ambassador to Belgrade Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko said in an interview with Izvestia. According to him, the two countries' trade turnover will be around $3 bln by the end of this year. At the same time, Moscow anticipates that Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic will visit Russia next year. The envoy also surmised that the fervor of anti-government protests may soon wane. In light of this, the Russian embassy does not believe it is necessary to advise Russians to avoid visiting Serbia.

"It is definitely too early to predict that [protests] will vanish, but the question is how much they will expand. I'm hoping that by Sunday (December 31 - Izvestia), they'll have exhausted their options. However, perhaps they will now add new people," he said.

Speaking about potential foreign interference, he noted: "The West has so much experience, and there are numerous examples. First and foremost, there is the Ukrainian Euromaidan. Of course, the West is a part of this and [took part in] planning it. I hope that the Serbian authorities will defend themselves and maintain stability."

"I don't see any indications that Serbia's position will change. Furthermore, the president [Aleksandar Vucic - TASS] has maintained the same stance on sanctions. This is not acceptable in Serbia. This was a critical component of his argument both before and after the elections," the ambassador said in commenting on the possibility that Serbia might join the West’s anti-Russian sanctions regime.

"We've made some headway in the last year. Serbia continues to be a reliable partner with which we can build mutually beneficial relations. Specific examples include the completion of a large-scale reconstruction of the Djerdap-1 hydroelectric power station by Power Machines JSC and the expansion of operations of our joint [oil-and-gas industry] enterprise NIS [Naftna Industrija Srbije - TASS]."


Vedomosti: Turkey may finally approve Sweden’s NATO accession by March 2024

The Foreign Affairs Commission of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly, or unicameral parliament, has approved Sweden's NATO membership application. After a 19-month delay, during which Ankara urged Stockholm to meet the latter’s conditions, the prospect of the North Atlantic Alliance's Nordic-wide expansion has inched closer to becoming a reality. The legislation must now be passed by the entire Grand National Assembly, where pro-government parties hold a majority of the seats. The exact date of the vote is still unclear, writes Vedomosti.

According to Ikbal Durre, associate professor in the Department of Regional Studies at Moscow State Linguistic University, the protocol will most likely be approved by the Grand National Assembly before Turkey’s local elections, which are scheduled for March 2024, so as not to jeopardize Ankara’s relations with the US.

After the start of the special military operation in Ukraine in February 2022, Sweden and Finland abandoned their decades-long neutrality. Finland became the 31st NATO member in April 2023, while Sweden's accession to the alliance faced opposition from both Turkey and Hungary. While Ankara will decide in favor of Sweden’s bid, Budapest will act independently, according to Kirill Teremetsky, an expert at the Higher School of Economics (HSE University). Due to Stockholm's longstanding criticism of Hungary's human rights record, Budapest is refusing to consider Sweden's accession to NATO.

"In recent years, Swedish politicians have frequently spoken negatively about the Hungarian government, labeling it authoritarian," the analyst noted. According to him, the Hungarian government may impose demands on Sweden and the United States next year, including the purchase of Swedish Gripen fighter jets and US HIMARS multiple launch rocket systems. Previously, due to its veto over Sweden's accession to NATO, Washington had banned the sale of 24 HIMARS to Hungary. Teremetsky added that it is not just about bilateral relations, but also about the geopolitical significance of Sweden's NATO membership. Budapest recognizes that the addition of another nation to the alliance will exacerbate the situation in NATO-Russia relations and is trying to play a balancing role.


Kommersant: Russia’s gas output rises in November on back of expanded exports

Russia's gas production rose for the fourth month in a row on an annual basis, but only because of the low base effect. Sources familiar with the figures from the Ministry of Energy told Kommersant that Russia produced about 60 bcm of gas in November, an increase of 6.4% over the previous year. The main reason for the growth was increased production by Gazprom and the Sakhalin-1 PSA project. In January-November, production fell by 3% to 594.5 bln cubic meters, and by the end of the year it could be the lowest since 2016.

Despite the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Russian gas shipments through Ukrainian territory continue, but at a reduced volume. Instead of Europe, Gazprom wants to increase supplies to China, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. According to Sergey Kondratiev from the Institute of Energy and Finance, Gazprom expanded output in response to rising gas demand in the EU and increased gas exports to China.

Novatek, Russia's largest independent gas producer, maintained November output at the same level as last year at 6.83 bcm. Rosneft produced 6.5 bcm of gas in November, 17% more than last year. Gazprom Neft, a Gazprom subsidiary, reduced its November production by 5% to 2.5 bcm. Due to the OPEC+ agreement, Lukoil cut gas production by 3.7% to 1.5 bcm in November last year, while Surgutneftegaz’s November production fell by 17% to 546.7 mcm.

The positive growth dynamic in gas production continued in November, with volumes increasing for the fourth month in a row, although the effect of last year's low base remains the main driver, Kondratiev told the newspaper. However, despite November's growth, absolute levels remain near multi-year lows, with November's result being the lowest in the last decade, with the exception of 2022.

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