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Press review: Kiev wipes out own POWs in plane attack and Chadian president visits Moscow

Top stories from the Russian press on Thursday, January 25th
The transitional president of Chad Mahamat Idriss Deby (C) Sergei Guneyev/POOL/TASS
The transitional president of Chad Mahamat Idriss Deby (C)
© Sergei Guneyev/POOL/TASS

MOSCOW, January 25. /TASS/. Wednesday’s terrorist attack by Kiev’s forces on a Russian military plane carrying Ukrainian POWs slated to be exchanged risks freezing the already scarce prisoner swaps between Moscow and Kiev; Russian President Vladimir Putin is hosting Chadian Transitional President Mahamat Deby on the latter’s official visit to Moscow; and Russia is seeking to expand its partnerships across the Middle East and the Arab world as a buffer against Western pressure. These stories topped Thursday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Izvestia: Downing of Russian POW plane by Kiev may freeze already scarce prisoner swaps

The terrorist attack on a Russian Il-76 military plane carrying Ukrainian POWs, evidently by the Ukrainian military itself, may put a total freeze on prisoner exchanges between Russia and Ukraine, which were already few and far between, say experts interviewed by Izvestia. As well, by carrying out such ruthless actions, Kiev is completely closing off any chance of holding peace talks. The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the attack, which killed 65 Ukrainian POWs, six crew members and three accompanying military officials, as an "act of insane barbarism." The air crash caused no civilian casualties in the area near Belgorod where the plane came down thanks to the quick actions of the pilots, who steered the military plane away from populated areas as it fell.

By attacking the Russian plane in the borderline Belgorod Region, Kiev has clearly demonstrated to all its desire to block any peace process or hamper any moves to freeze the conflict, Bogdan Bezpalko, a member of the Russian Presidential Council for Interethnic Relations, told Izvestia. In addition, the attack may lead to a total suspension of the already scarce POW swaps between the two countries, he added.

A preliminary examination of the debris of the Russian plane suggests that the aircraft was shot down with the use of the US-made Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, law enforcement officials familiar with the situation told Izvestia. Alternatively, the missiles may have been fired from the IRIS-T system, experts interviewed by the newspaper said. Military expert Alexey Leonkov recalled that, according to the Ukrainian military’s plans, the Patriot and IRIS-T systems were to have been integrated into Ukraine’s air defense (AD) shield, so a probe should establish exactly which AD system was used to down the Il-76.

Meanwhile, there should be no expectations of any coherent or balanced assessment of the incident from the United States, Russian State Duma (lower house of parliament) Defense Committee Deputy Chairman Yury Shvytkin told Izvestia. According to him, Washington has discredited itself in the eyes of its partners in Europe by similar actions and ignoring the reality on the ground. "As we objectively assess the situation, we cannot but attempt to reach out to all relevant structures [in the West] and let the truth be known. Unfortunately, the United States acts only according to its own script, which is no longer comprehensible to other countries in the rest of the world. They (the United States - TASS) risk finding themselves completely isolated," the senior Russian lawmaker warned.


Vedomosti: Chadian President Mahamat Deby meets with Putin on official visit to Moscow

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Moscow with Transitional President of Chad Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, whose official visit to Russia marks the second trip by a leader of the landlocked central African country since it gained independence from France and the first official visit to Moscow by a Chadian leader in 56 years. At the second Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg last July, Chad was represented by Foreign Minister Mahamat Saleh Annadif, while Mahamat Deby’s father and predecessor as president, Idriss Deby Itno, attended the inaugural summit in 2019 in Sochi.

Chad ranks near the bottom in Africa in terms of economic development and, with a PPP-based GDP per capita of just $1,800, as per World Bank data, is ranked 181st among 189 countries globally. However, according to calculations by oil major BP, the country holds 1.5 bln barrels of proven oil reserves. China’s CNPC has replaced oil majors Chevron, Petronas and Exxon, which had been engaged in oil exploration and production in the country’s oil fields before their exit due to Chadian government policies.

Mahamat Deby’s Moscow trip is driven by pragmatic motivations, says Nikolay Shcherbakov, lead researcher at the Institute of Asia and Africa at Moscow State University. As Chad is experiencing considerable instability, with clashes taking place between Chadian government troops and militants representing cross-border groups, N’Djamena is seeking to diversify ties with forces that can help it tackle this problem, the expert explains.

According to Andrey Maslov, director of the Institute of Asia and Africa at Moscow State University, N’Djamena understands that ensuring stability in the Sahel region without maintaining relations with Russia would be difficult. While France remains the key guarantor of stability in the region, Paris’ opportunities are not limitless, he continued. "Chad has not yet considered expelling the [local] French military [contingent] from the country and is unlikely to do so, but N’Djamena is interested in establishing military cooperation with Moscow," the expert said.

Also, Chad’s agricultural sector has demand for Russian fertilizers, and the country needs vaccines and food. As well, the country is interested in Russian investments in the fuel and energy complex, Maslov added. By visiting Moscow, Mahamat Deby is also seeking to bolster his own authority domestically, the expert maintained, as pro-Russian sentiments are strong in Chadian society. "[Mahamat] Deby is showing that he is not a French puppet and that he is developing relationships with alternative partners," he concluded. For its part, Moscow, Shcherbakov said, is situationally seeking to develop ties in the African direction to make up for its foreign policy losses on other tracks, which is part of a strategy of building a chain of partnerships across the Global South.


Izvestia: Russia deepening ties with Arab states as partners to buffer Western pressure

Russia is actively building up its relations with countries across the Middle East in the context of resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. According to experts interviewed by Izvestia, Moscow’s goal here is to find partner support in its confrontation with the West, including in Ukraine. Finding ways to reduce tensions not only between the Jewish state and radical Palestinian movement Hamas, but also in the region as a whole became a key topic of discussion at a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). In the past two days, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who heads the Russian delegation in New York, has held meetings with delegates from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Turkey, Iran, Lebanon, Algeria, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, all countries that are seeking to find a resolution to the conflict in the Middle East.

The Middle East is becoming a new arena of geopolitical confrontation between Russia and the United States, with each trying to lure regional players as its allies. The struggle to promote their own, very different, approaches to resolving the crisis in the Middle East only highlights the growing geopolitical competition in the region between Moscow and Washington, Alexander Azadgan, a California-based professor of Business Studies and International Political Economy, said. "Russia is trying to embarrass the administration of US President Joe Biden and get closer to the Arab Gulf countries in order to establish closer economic ties with them, circumvent the devastating impact of Western sanctions and neutralize them," the expert told Izvestia. Azadgan sees here specific attempts to destabilize US interests in the Middle East, while Washington is taking similar steps against Moscow in the Ukrainian direction.

Against the backdrop of worsening relations with the West, Russia is looking for ways to find as much support in the Middle East as possible, said Sergey Demidenko, associate professor at the Institute of Social Sciences of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). "On the Middle Eastern track, Russian diplomacy is looking to strengthen ties with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and other countries, our most consistent partners," the expert told Izvestia. In a situation where elites are currently changing in the Middle East, Russia is taking advantage of the situation to expand the pool of its international allies, he added.


Vedomosti: Russia to invite observers from 100 countries for March presidential election

Russia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) has sent invitations to observers in 95 countries, CEC Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova announced on Wednesday. She forecasts that 500 to 1,000 international observers from more than 100 countries will come to Russia to monitor voting in the presidential election on March 15-17. Representatives from some nations will arrive as part of delegations of international organizations.

According to the Russian election chief, the CEC expects that the number of the latter category may be as high as 14. "Judging from how active the process has been and the positive response, we feel that the interest in the coming presidential election is huge," Pamfilova said. The Federation Council, or upper house of Russia’s parliament, has also sent out "a large number of invitations," according to Speaker Valentina Matviyenko, while the lower house State Duma is also authorized to send out invitations.

A CEC official told Vedomosti that Russia has refrained from inviting representatives from unfriendly countries; there are 49 such countries on the government’s blacklist.

The presence of foreign observers at the elections is something that is traditionally associated with democracy, political analyst Alexander Nemtsev said. Independent observation increases the legitimacy of voting, he explains. Numerous representatives from European countries will arrive to monitor the Russian vote, Nemtsev believes. "Perhaps, such political parties as Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Alliance, Alternative for Germany (AfD) and all those who share Russia’s view of global developments will dispatch their poll watchers," he said.

Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the St. Petersburg Politics Foundation, thinks, however, that the presence or absence of international observers will not play any major role in the coming Russian election, as international poll watchers have never played a key role in the Russian electoral process before.


Kommersant: Pentagon signs off on procurement of sixth-generation bomber

The US Department of Defense (DOD) has announced the signing of a procurement contract with US aerospace corporation Northrop Grumman to manufacture the first batch of B-21 Raider strategic bombers. The aircraft, for which the bulk of its performance characteristics are being kept secret, carried out its maiden flight two months ago. The Pentagon believes that the rapid production and deployment of new stealth systems will help the United States to ensure "the guaranteed deterrence of its adversaries."

While the DOD has not elaborated on the sums involved in the contract, or on the production volume and timeframes for potential deliveries, more details about the new contract may emerge later on Thursday, when Northrop Grumman releases its 2023 performance data.

According to Alexander Yermakov, a research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO RAS), "it’s hard to assess the capabilities of the B-21 in detail, as much is still unknown about the program and will be concealed for a longer period for as it is highly classified information." "However, the most important thing is not the performance characteristics of the aircraft itself, or even its stealth capabilities, which are not easy to assess in absentia, even though they should definitely not be inferior to those of the B-2," the expert told Kommersant. "What matters more is the capabilities of the weapons complex, which should include new missiles in the future, including hypersonic ones, and the potential for using them in piloted mode," he explained.

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