MOSCOW, February 6. /TASS/. US congressional Republicans continue to block new US aid package for strapped Kiev; Washington is gradually starting to put pressure on Tel Aviv to settle the Gaza conflict; and Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky admits to Italian TV that he plans to dismiss army chief Valery Zaluzhny. These stories topped Tuesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.
Republican members of the US Congress continue to block bills that include aid for Ukraine. The political impasse in Washington, however, does not affect the European Union, which in its second attempt obtained the unanimous approval of all 27 member states, including inveterate skeptic Hungary, to provide Kiev with 50 bln euros in aid over the next four years, Izvestia writes.
The US Congress is expected to once again try to agree on aid for Ukraine. A bipartisan bill on additional funding to the tune of more than $118 bln has been submitted to the Senate. Slightly over $60 bln is supposed to be earmarked as support for Kiev, with another $14 bln expected to be provided to Israel and a bit over $20 bln to be allocated toward beefing up security on the US southern border with Mexico. The balance of the funds will be spent on supporting civilians in Gaza and US allies in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as on operations against the Yemen-based Houthis in the Red Sea region. However, Professor Saeed Khan of Wayne State University in Detroit told the newspaper that a separate bill on aid for Israel, which would not include Ukrainian assistance, was more likely to be passed.
In the meantime, the European Union has approved 50 bln euros in aid to Ukraine for the next four years. It looks increasingly likely that the US will lose its leading position as financial backer of Ukraine, if it has not already. The reason is that the EU no longer seems to expect the US to take action to provide aid to Kiev, Khan said. The EU is unable to influence the course of domestic US political infighting and, in fact, the Ukraine issue looms larger in importance for Brussels than for Washington, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies expert Pavel Zakharov pointed out.
What complicates the situation is that there are many groups in Congress that are pursuing divergent priorities. Apart from the recalcitrant Republicans, some Democrats are also unhappy with the bill in question. While some in President Joe Biden’s party are not comfortable with strong support for Israel, others believe that the focus should be on confrontation with Russia and China. According to Zakharov, aid for Ukraine will eventually be "pushed through" but the amount will be smaller than the Biden administration requested. After two years, the Ukrainian conflict is gradually disappearing from the front pages of US newspapers. In addition, according to pollsters, the American public is losing interest in the topic. A Pew Research Center survey shows that the share of Americans who believe the US is providing too much aid to Ukraine rose from 7% to 31% between March 2022 and December 2023.
Israel is not considering the dismantling of settlements in the West Bank, Dmitry Gendelman, an advisor at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, told Izvestia. Meanwhile, the administration of US President Joe Biden has imposed sanctions on Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
For decades, Washington has been cooperating with the Jewish state in the field of defense, supporting the country at the political level regardless of who held power in Tel Aviv. After the October 7 attack by radical Palestinian group Hamas on Israeli border communities, the White House sided with Israel unequivocally. However, a prolonged war in the Gaza Strip and the risk of the conflict spreading further seem to be prompting the reliably Israel-friendly US to alter its traditional "Israel can do no wrong" stance somewhat. Washington's new sanctions target four individuals at this point, who have been stripped of access to US real estate, assets and the financial system.
In addition, US officials have started talking actively about formally recognizing Palestine. In an op-ed published in the Washington Post in November, Biden wrote that the Palestinian people deserved their own state. Still, Israel is not yet ready to address the issue. "We will return to discussing the future Palestinian statehood only after complete victory over Hamas in Gaza," Gendelman noted.
The situation points to rising tensions between the Israeli and US governments. Netanyahu’s policy has brought the US nothing but losses over the past several months, Grigory Lukyanov, a researcher with the Center of Arab and Islamic Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, pointed out. In his view, the US is suffering reputational and financial losses, including large-scale ammunition supplies and the need to ensure the safety of its troops and military facilities in the region amid rising escalation with pro-Iranian groups, such as the Houthis, who are carrying out strikes in the Red Sea region, while other Iranian proxies continue to attack US bases in Syria, Iraq and Jordan. The White House is well aware that the current Israeli government is the main obstacle to ending the war in the Gaza Strip, Lukyanov said.
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has for the first confirmed he is considering removing Valery Zaluzhny from his post as commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces. In an interview with Italian broadcaster RAI, Zelensky highlighted the need for changes not only in the military command but in the country’s leadership in general. He also acknowledged that the Ukrainian army was facing difficulties on the frontline, Vedomosti notes.
The media first reported rumors of a conflict between Zelensky and Zaluzhny last fall, following the abysmal failure of Ukraine’s much-hyped counteroffensive, which was launched in June 2023. Reports of Zaluzhny’s future dismissal came from various sources on January 29. Western media outlets said that disagreements between Zelensky and Zaluzhny probably stemmed from their differing approaches to Ukraine’s increasingly desperate mobilization efforts. The army chief has purportedly called for drafting 500,000 more soldiers in a year, while the president views the move as premature.
Ukraine’s political system is overextended but a reshuffle among senior officials is more likely to have negative consequences, said Denis Denisov, an expert at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation. According to him, the political gravitas that career military man Zaluzhny has gained during the military operation is the main reason behind his expected dismissal, as the general is seen as a potential rival to the former comedian now in the president’s seat. If a dismissed Zaluzhny would now choose to embark on a political career of his own, he may become a real problem for the erstwhile entertainer-cum-president. Zelensky will attempt to blame Zaluzhny for the failed counteroffensive even though it was Zelensky who made unrealistic promises about the success of Ukrainian forces.
The Zaluzhny issue points to a system-wide crisis in the Ukrainian leadership, Ivan Skorikov, head of the Ukraine department at the Institute of CIS Studies, noted. The reason why it is taking so long to approve the army chief’s dismissal is because the West, which effectively pulls the strings of its client regime in Kiev, has tacitly bet on Zaluzhny as an alternative to Zelensky’s troublesome team, the expert said.
The crisis in the Middle East has made it impossible to use the alternative routes for delivering oil, gasoline and diesel fuel to Europe that took so much effort to establish last year. After the EU imposed a ban on Russian oil and fuel, European countries started purchasing these commodities from the US, Middle Eastern countries and the Asia-Pacific region, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.
According to Western media outlets, oil flows through the Suez Canal have halved. However, deliveries routed around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope have not risen accordingly. It seems that many suppliers have either held shipments back or redirected them to other markets.
Meanwhile, retail prices for gasoline and diesel fuel are on the rise in Europe. An increase in prices has been recorded mostly in southern and southwestern European countries, for whom the route through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal was the most cost-effective one for fuel imports.
The rise in European prices may also impact the Russian market. Turkey became one of the most important suppliers of gasoline and diesel fuel to Europe following the embargo on Russian products. Ankara did not join sanctions on Moscow, importing diesel fuel from Russia and sending the domestically produced fuel (including that made of Russian oil) to Europe. There is also an option in which Russian oil can be mixed with that from Turkey and other countries, namely Azerbaijan. This would allow Turkey to increase exports and circumvent the EU’s restrictions. In this case, Turkey would be ready to import large amounts of oil and diesel fuel from Russia.
However, Valery Andrianov, associate professor at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, points out that Russia increased diesel exports by 11% in 2023 and there is no guarantee that additional fuel is available to further boost supplies. Moreover, Europe is not the only consumer in need of Russian diesel fuel. In particular, Brazil, which is facing issues with oil products, has been the leading importer of Russian diesel for the past several months.
Media: Who purchased Russian tech giant Yandex and why
Netherlands-registered holding company Yandex N.V. has struck a deal to sell its Russian business to a consortium of private investors and the tech giant’s top managers. The deal amounts to 475 bln rubles ($5 bln), while the equivalent of 230 bln rubles ($2.5 bln) will be paid in Chinese yuan, Vedomosti writes.
A investment community source told the newspaper that the use of a mechanism involving yuan payments was aimed at ensuring that restrictions on international payment systems did not block the transaction.
Under the deal, the Yandex international joint stock company, which replaced Yandex N.V. as the owner of Russian operating company Yandex in late January, was sold to Russian investors.
After the deal was announced, the share price for Yandex’s stock on the Moscow Exchange (MOEX) dropped. "The securities fell because their price had been declared below the current market level due to discounts on an outgoing foreign business, which slightly upset minority investors," Ivolga Capital Managing Director Dmitry Alexandrov explained to Kommersant. Independent financial analyst Andrey Barkhota believes, however, that the price of "Yandex’s shares can be expected to grow up to 20% before the end of February."
Despite the negative market sentiment, the tech company’s stock is most likely to rise in price within a year, Kirill Komarov, head of investment analytics at Tinkoff Investments, told Vedomosti. The very fact that new shareholders have been able to reach an agreement marks a big step towards completing the restructuring process that is keeping the company’s shares from growing, he said.
Before the deal was reached, the assets directly owned by Yandex N.V. had been registered in Russia by Yandex. Finam analyst Leonid Delitsyn told Kommersant that, "the primary goal was to prevent future disputes between the shareholders of the Russian and Dutch companies."
However, even if the company’s projects remain in Russia, "investors will need to return the invested funds," said Kirill Lyakhmanov, chief legal officer for the intellectual property practice at law firm EBR. "We are most likely to see efforts to monetize unprofitable products," he noted. According to the expert, the main thing that Yandex needs to do at the moment is preserve its team of developers and stable of promising products.
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