MOSCOW, February 8. /TASS/. Trump scores a twofer victory with Ukraine aid bill defeat and Nevada primary win; the Houthis will not back down in the Red Sea until Israel withdraws completely from the Gaza Strip; and US attempts to ban Russian food supplies to global markets are threatening poor countries with famine. These stories topped Thursday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.
Further US aid to Ukraine to the tune of about $61 bln will not be forthcoming in the near future. The bill calling for additional financing for both Ukraine and Israel, as well as for reinforcing security measures on the US-Mexican border, will not pass Congress, US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican-Kentucky) acknowledged. This is the result of efforts by former President Donald Trump, who at the same time pulled off another victory by winning the GOP primary in Nevada, a bellwether "purple" state that swings both Democratic (blue) and Republican (red).
Vladimir Vasilyev, senior research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for US and Canadian Studies, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the issue of any large-scale US aid to Ukraine now will be postponed until after the presidential election. "That county will certainly receive something from the US before November - say, five or even ten billion [dollars in aid]. Yet this will be the money needed to stay afloat, nothing more than that. Pre-election factors begin to come into play. American politicians now have no time for Ukraine. It will be set aside until the moment when it becomes clear what the House and Senate will be like and, finally, who will be the new president," the expert said. If the administration of incumbent President Joe Biden tries to change its tactics and break the $118-bln-package down into several pieces, chances are great that the Republicans will set a number of steep conditions for any further financing of Ukraine. "They will propose to set clear goals and targets for the financing, will demand audit reports on how the money provided to Kiev earlier was spent, and will attempt to decrease the amount allocated. The Republicans will inquire why Israel received so little and Ukraine so much. Generally, it is possible to say that the draft bill is [dead and] buried," Vasilyev said.
Regardless, the failure of the bill is an apparent success for Trump and his "Make America Great Again" (MAGA) supporters. And this is their second major advance this week. Trump received good news from Nevada, the next state to hold a primary election or caucus following Iowa and New Hampshire, where Republicans have already voted for their party’s nominee for the general election in November. Trump won Nevada even before the voting started. Thus, by gaining two impressive victories in one week, Trump demonstrated to all of America that there is no alternative to him for Republican voters, while his clout within the Grand Old Party is indisputable.
The Yemen-based Shia movement Ansar Allah, widely known as the Houthis, will not cease its attacks on Israel-bound shipping in the Red Sea even if Israel and Hamas manage to agree on a temporary ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. The Houthis are prepared to stop attacking vessels only when combat in the embattled enclave ceases completely and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops are withdrawn, representatives of Ansar Allah told Izvestia. Moreover, the rebel Houthi movement is ready to participate in combat with Israel if neighboring countries provide a land passage for their fighters. However, such statements are more from the realm of science fiction than reality, and are most likely being made for propagandistic purposes as a display of unwavering support for the Palestinian people in Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet are currently under serious pressure from the Jewish state’s civil society and political opposition, who are demanding that the government begin a dialogue with Hamas in order to liberate the remaining hostages. Apparently, the US, Tel Aviv’s main ally, is also trying to influence Netanyahu, Middle Eastern studies expert Grigory Lukyanov told Izvestia. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is visiting Middle Eastern capitals on February 4-8, having already visited the West Bank and Israel.
"Israel seriously depends on US support in order to implement its security strategy in the north, where clashes with [Lebanon-based Shia group] Hezbollah are underway, and to carry out offensive operations in the Gaza Strip. "Washington aspires to stop this armed conflict or at least decrease the current level of escalation by creating a platform for a new stage in the settlement process, which the [hardline] Israeli cabinet would have no choice but to reckon with," the expert added.
However, the disruption of agreements cannot be ruled out because neither Israel nor Hamas is capable of containing radical right-wing elements within their respective systems that are equally interested in continuing combat, Lukyanov opined.
The initiative in the US Congress to reduce world imports of agricultural products from Russia may trigger a humanitarian catastrophe in some African and Middle Eastern countries, Russia’s largest exporters have cautioned. The No Russian Agriculture Act, a bill recently passed by the lower chamber House of Representatives, would serve to noticeably worsen international food security. The Russian business community has formulated a consolidated stance, based on which appeals will be sent to the UN, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Grains Council.
Such actions by the US would seriously impair the parameters of international food security, Arkady Zlochevsky, president of the Russian Grain Union, told Izvestia. Russia is in the lead in grain supplies, accounting for about 20% of all grain imports in the global market. "We will recommend that the regulators petition international organizations. This involves the UN, the FAO, the International Grains Council and so on," he stressed.
According to Edward Lozansky, president of the American University in Moscow, the US is also disappointed that the majority of countries continue to cooperate with Russia, so all methods are being used, which contradict not only democracy but moral principles in general. Naturally, an attempt to hinder food supplies from Russia to the poorest countries may seriously complicate the humanitarian situation and even result in a catastrophe in some countries, the expert noted.
However, the US initiatives toward reducing food imports from Russia will not negatively impact Russia itself, said Vladimir Kashin, chairman of the Russian State Duma (lower house of parliament) Committee on Agrarian Issues. If the US decides to forbid other countries to buy Russian food products and applies sanctions, it still cannot ban China, our main trade partner, from doing so or Russia’s "Soviet-era friends from Iran to Turkey," Kashin concluded.
A toned-down version of the draft bill setting the legal parameters for Ukraine’s mobilization drive was passed in the first reading by the Verkhovna Rada on February 7, the press service of Ukraine’s unicameral parliament said. It was supported by 243 legislators out of 450, lawmaker Alexey Goncharenko (listed as a terrorist and extremist by Russia's Federal Service for Financial Monitoring) from the European Solidarity faction said. The second reading will be held after February 21, legislator Yaroslav Zheleznyak from the Holos (Voice) faction said.
The finished draft calls for authorizing the courts to order the arrest of bank accounts and impose other asset restrictions on draft dodgers. That said, the lowered mobilization age, from 27 to 25, remained in the new version. Replacing military conscription with mandatory basic combat training also remained. The new bill also contains the requirement for all draft-age males aged 18-60 to always carry their military registration cards on their person.
Even though martial law, which precludes holding any elections, has been extended until May 14, the possibility of elections has not been completely ruled out, said Dmitry Ofitserov-Belsky, senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations. So, the most draconian mobilization scenario has not yet been introduced. However, the expert allowed that legislation may be toughened at a later date.
"Using the recalled more severe variant as an example, Ukrainian society should get used to the idea that there will be further steps and be aware of their approximate essence in order for them to be easier to accept later. This [softening-up process] is precisely what is happening now," the expert said.
According to political scientist Alexander Nemtsev, the new version of the bill is the result of a compromise between the office of Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky and the opposition. This is being done on the eve of the anticipated dismissal of Ukrainian Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny and his potential switch to the opposition ranks, Nemtsev thinks. "It is obvious that the document will still undergo changes," the political scientist concluded.
According to data obtained by Kommersant, Novatek will not be able to begin LNG shipments from the Arctic LNG-2 project earlier than March, when the project’s fleet receives at least one LNG tanker of the Arc7 ice class. US sanctions are significantly slowing the project down because so far clients refuse to take on shipments. Novatek is not going to use the fleet of its other Yamal LNG project. The company expects to receive six tankers from South Korean shipyards by the end of the year, which will carry gas from Arctic LNG-2. According to calculations by Kommersant, in the best-case scenario, these vessels will allow for exporting up to 2 mln tons of LNG in 2024 with the new line’s capacity of 6.6 mln tons.
According to Viktor Katona at commodities data and analytics firm Kpler, Novatek’s main issue is that the productivity of the company’s liquefying lines will grow by 30% once the first line of Arctic LNG-2 is launched, but the number of tankers will remain the same. So Novatek will have to optimize maritime traffic to the utmost and increase the number of transfers. "It is necessary to consider the use of other maritime solutions, including involving companies that have not been previously used in order not to stretch the logistics above the acceptable limit," the expert thinks.
Once navigation along the Northern Sea Route is launched, the delivery time to China will be reduced, but by next winter Novatek will definitely have to find more maritime options than it currently has. Using an outside fleet for transporting gas from Yamal LNG may be a potential solution. "Given the LNG Geneva tanker that nominally belongs to Gunvor, which Novatek recently used for the first time, I wouldn’t be surprised if the company time-charters vessels from international traders," Katona concluded.
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