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Press review: Carlson interviews Putin in narrative snub and Kiev sacks army head Zaluzhny

Top stories from the Russian press on Friday, February 9th
Tucker Carlson and Russian President Vladimir Putin Gavriil Grigorov/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS
Tucker Carlson and Russian President Vladimir Putin
© Gavriil Grigorov/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS

MOSCOW, February 9. /TASS/. Noted US journalist Tucker Carlson conducts a potentially game-changing interview with Vladimir Putin; Kiev finally sacks Valery Zaluzhny as Ukraine’s top armed forces commander in a long-anticipated move; and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects Hamas' truce proposal. These stories topped Friday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Izvestia: Tucker Carlson snubs narrative in potentially game-changing interview with Putin

Even before it was published, Russian President Vladimir Putin's interview with US journalist Tucker Carlson shot straight to the top of the global new cycle. The very fact that it took place to begin with has sparked controversy and a heated debate in the United States, marking yet another bone of political contention between the Republicans and Democrats, Izvestia writes. The much-anticipated interview comes against the backdrop of the latest failure by Congress to pass a "compromise" version of the bill linking beefed-up US border security to continuing support for Ukraine and Israel, as well as former US President Donald Trump's easy victory in the Republican Party caucuses in Nevada.

The reaction of US lawmakers and opinion leaders to Tucker Carlson's mission to Moscow to interview Vladimir Putin was both predictable and revealing, the newspaper writes, adding that US society is becoming even more divided into two irreconcilable camps. At the same time, as in the 2016 presidential campaign, the information noise tends to benefit Trump's supporters, Izvestia noted.

Political analyst Alexander Vorobyov believes that Carlson's journalistic work in Moscow will have an impact on how his large audience perceives the conflict in Ukraine. In his opinion, the "Ukraine case" has turned into a hot potato, a toxic political asset for the administration of President Joe Biden. "Carlson's interview with Putin risks undermining many Americans' simplistic perception of what is going on in Ukraine, in which 'good guys' on one side are fighting 'bad guys' on the other," he told Izvestia, adding that "Kiev's war crimes, corruption and large-scale theft of cash intended as aid to Ukraine will be widely publicized."

"Democrats have not learned their lesson from 2016, and have failed to recover from 'Trump syndrome.' Carlson, like Trump, finds himself in a Kafkaesque environment. The more dirt they pile on him, the more authority he gains," Vladimir Vasiliev, chief researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for US and Canadian Studies, said, noting that he does not rule out the possibility that Carlson could potentially take a position in a second Trump administration, should the former chief executive succeed in his comeback bid.

Putin's interview with Carlson represents another blow to the Biden administration's weak, rudderless foreign policy, as well as a potential catalyst for sparking open domestic conflict in the already volatile US political environment, Izvestia writes, adding that, "this is the first powerful and undoubtedly successful attempt to derail and discredit the [US establishment’s] decades-long [monopoly on the dominant] media narrative."


Vedomosti: Zaluzhny out, Syrsky in as top Ukraine commander as Zelensky 'clings to power'

In a long-anticipated shakeup of Ukraine’s top military brass, Colonel General Alexander Syrsky, commander of Ukrainian ground forces, has been named the new commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces, succeeding the dismissed General Valery Zaluzhny. After Defense Minister Rustem Umerov announced a "change of military leadership" without naming names, Zelensky confirmed the personnel shakeup in the top brass on social media later that evening, attempting to convey that continuity in Ukraine's armed forces had been assured, Vedomosti writes.

Zaluzhny agreed to step down because Washington, which formulates and oversees a substantial portion of Ukraine's military strategy, declined to defend his position, according to Vladimir Bruter, an expert at the International Institute for Humanitarian-Political Studies. The main reason for his expulsion from the post of commander-in-chief of Ukraine's armed forces could be that Zelensky believed it was impossible to deal with Zaluzhny and preferred to have someone in the top military spot with a mindset that is less carved in stone and more flexible. At the same time, the analyst believes that all of the news about Zaluzhny's allegedly high popularity ratings is exaggerated.

Dmitry Ofitserov-Belsky, senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO RAS), told Vedomosti he believes that Zelensky was compelled to dismiss Zaluzhny. In his view, all of the rumors about a confrontation between them were false, and Zaluzhny was effectively a guarantor of Zelensky's security, as he had no intention of engaging in a political conflict with the president. According to Ofitserov-Belsky, relations between Western political elites and the now ex-commander-in-chief of Ukraine's armed forces began to deteriorate in the spring of 2023, when Ukraine was "forced" to launch a counteroffensive. "They (the Ukrainian top commanders - TASS) did not want to actually go all in, but the West still insisted on it," he said.

According to the expert, Zelensky is "clinging to power" under pressure from the West, which wants to see an escalation of the situation on the battlefield.


Vedomosti: Israel’s Netanyahu rejects Hamas' proposed truce terms as 'delusional'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the Palestinian Hamas movement's offer to declare a humanitarian pause and release hostages in the embattled Gaza Strip. He referred to the proposals as "delusional," according to The Times of Israel, and warned that their implementation would result in "new massacres." At the same time, Netanyahu committed to continue Israel’s military offensive until complete triumph, which he believes the Jewish state can achieve in a matter of months, Vedomosti writes.

The Israeli prime minister also stated that he communicated his views to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who had arrived in the country the day before. According to Netanyahu, after the collapse of Hamas, Israel will ensure that Gaza is demilitarized forever.

Reuters published Hamas ceasefire plans on February 7, which included a 4.5-month ceasefire in Gaza and the release of all hostages. The Hamas offer is in response to a proposal submitted last week by Qatari and Egyptian mediators, which was agreed upon by Israel and the US during discussions in Paris in late January.

It is difficult for Hamas and Israel to reach an agreement due to their opposing stances, but all sides are seeking a truce, so the discussion process will continue, Lyudmila Samarskaya, junior researcher at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies Laboratory at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO RAS), told the newspaper. At this point, Israel considers a truce that ends in a total ceasefire unacceptable because they believe it will not allow them to completely eliminate the security threat to themselves, the expert noted.

The sides cannot agree on any way to reconcile their divergent stances: Hamas has rejected short-term truces, while Israel is now rejecting long-term truces for fear that they would become indefinite, according to Kirill Semenov, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC). The expert noted that an indefinite truce and ceasefire are currently unacceptable to Netanyahu because they would effectively imply the end of his government, given the vast number of unanswered questions about its activities in office, including charges of corruption.


Izvestia: Pyongyang breaks off yet another agreement with Seoul

On the Korean Peninsula, tensions are rising between the North and South. North Korea has taken another step toward completely cutting off contact with South Korea as tensions between the two countries rise. The Supreme People's Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has terminated agreements to promote inter-Korean economic cooperation, according to state news agency KCNA. Earlier, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un branded his neighbor the "main enemy" and abandoned the prospect of reunification. Under these conditions, Seoul is stepping up its military cooperation with the United States. At the same time, South Korea appears to be trying to reduce tensions by facilitating an inter-Korean summit without issuing ultimatums in the form of North Korean denuclearization, Izvestia writes.

"Real inter-Korean economic cooperation has long since withered away, so it has become almost impossible to continue working together on these projects. So, they now have roughly the same symbolic significance," Anna Polenova, a Korea researcher and senior lecturer at the Eastern Faculty of the Russian Academy of Sciences' State Agrarian University, told Izvestia.

Seoul responded to Pyongyang's step toward severing ties. The South Korean Ministry of Unification, which oversees inter-Korean relations, said North Korea's actions would only deepen its isolation. However, the ministry stressed that it does not recognize the unilateral cancellation of business agreements and that they will remain in force.

Meanwhile, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol called for dialogue. Polenova argues that, while the statement seems encouraging, it does not provide much optimism for negotiations. At the same time, Alexander Vorontsov, head of the Department of Korean and Mongolian Studies at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, noted that Yoon's speech, which was quite conservative in comparison to his predecessor, sends some signals. According to the analyst, North Korea's recent decisive steps have deeply concerned both Seoul and Washington.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: How Russia’s economy withstands Western sanctions

Advocates of tough sanctions against Russia underestimated the strength of its economy. Two years after the West’s introduction of restrictive measures, it can be concluded that they did not work as intended. Russia’s economy quickly recovered from the shock due to its limited dependence on global finance and stable demand for its goods, and the sanctions ended up hurting their architects, according to experts interviewed by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

Financial, trade and personal sanctions are mainly aimed at reducing revenues accruing to Russia’s federal budget, Mary Valishvili, associate professor in the Department of State and Municipal Finance at Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, told the newspaper. She noted that by the beginning of 2022 it was clear that the Russian economy had withstood the pressure of sanctions. The Russian budget proved impervious to external challenges, thanks in part to accumulated reserves. There was enough money in the financial system, and the Central Bank of Russia acted wisely and quickly to reverse any unfavorable trends, she noted.

According to the expert, the tightening of secondary sanctions against Russia’s overseas trading partners poses significant challenges. "However, the financial and regulatory authorities intend to resolve the problems that have arisen in a timely manner," she continued. Overall, each new package of sanctions appears to be another attempt to undermine the Russian economy, but they all have a detrimental impact on the European economy itself, according to Valishvili.

Boris Kopeikin, first deputy director general of the Center for Social Development, told Rossiyskaya Gazeta that it would be wrong to claim that the restrictive measures of unfriendly Western countries are having no impact on the Russian economy. A large part of Russia's exports and imports were restricted, technological and transport restrictions were imposed, access to the financial systems of Western countries was denied, and Central Bank of Russia funds were frozen. However, the extent of the negative impact turned out to be much less than expected by the proponents of anti-Russian sanctions, he emphasized.

"New logistical solutions and payment methods have been found. Of course, new challenges are emerging every day, but they are undoubtedly manageable. The current situation has also accelerated import substitution processes in a number of areas and contributed to increased investment in the country, as evidenced by statistics," Kopeikin said.

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