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Press review: NATO slips on loose Bundeswehr lips and Israel, Hamas inch toward Gaza truce

Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, March 4th

MOSCOW, March 4. /TASS/. Berlin is looking into the source of a leaked conversation among Bundeswehr officers about delivering Taurus missiles to Ukraine for targeting the Crimean Bridge; Israel and Hamas are ready for a truce agreement; and China’s special envoy visits Moscow for discussions on a settlement to the Ukraine crisis. These stories topped Monday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Media: Germany probing leak of secret top brass talk about missile attack on Crimea bridge

The German Defense Ministry has acknowledged the authenticity of a leaked audio recording in which high-ranking Bundeswehr officers are heard discussing the prospects for delivering long-range Taurus missiles to Ukraine. The possibility of attacking the Crimean Bridge with such missiles features prominently in the confidential conversation. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has vowed to "thoroughly, intensively and swiftly" investigate the leak of such sensitive information. Russian officials are demanding explanations from Germany. Moscow insists that the content of the conversation between the German officers "completely refutes Chancellor Scholz’s claims of Germany’s principled non-participation in the conflict." According to Kommersant, the Russian Foreign Ministry is planning to summon German Ambassador to Moscow Alexander von Lambsdorff.

After Chancellor Scholz, who announced his unwillingness to supply Taurus missiles to Ukraine, confirmed that the leak had occurred, the stance of supporters and opponents of such deliveries remained unchanged, both quantitatively and qualitatively, Artyom Sokolov, researcher at the Center for European Studies at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University), told Vedomosti. But, the very fact itself of such sensitive information, which affects NATO countries participating in the Ukrainian conflict, being leaked calls into question the data protection capabilities of not only the Bundeswehr but all German security structures in general.

According to the expert, the situation will have far-reaching repercussions both in Germany, where reforms of the Bundeswehr involving major investments in communications have been underway for two years, and in the area of foreign policy. The military’s inability to safeguard confidential information is a serious vulnerability for NATO as a whole, which will become a separate issue for bloc allies to discuss with Germany, the expert concluded.

The discussion surrounding the leak may become a part of a "major spy frenzy" in Germany, said Vladislav Belov, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Center for German Studies, in a conversation with Vedomosti. That said, amid all the discussion about the leak, Germany seems to have forgotten Scholz’s message that sending Taurus missiles to Ukraine would mean crossing an "actual red line" that would hasten a direct confrontation between Russia and NATO. The expert added that Scholz is now a target for an active political attack campaign over the long-range missiles. Thus far, the chancellor is holding his ground but there is no certainty that he will continue to do so. However, Belov thinks that Scholz has the last word and may veto any such decision should the Bundestag vote to deliver the Taurus missiles to Ukraine.

According to Alexander Kamkin, senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO RAS), strategically, the decision to supply Ukraine with the Taurus missiles has already been made. The German chancellor was simply lying when he publicly expressed his unwillingness to supply these weapons to Ukraine, the expert asserted. This is evidenced by the leaked discussion itself, in which the Bundeswehr top brass debated the tactical aspects of deploying the missiles in Ukraine. Kamkin said that such discussions are not usually conducted merely as a speculative exercise; the very fact that they took place meant there was consent from the highest level to use the missiles in Ukraine. As a result, NATO is not even concealing anymore its aggressive plans to ramp up support for the Kiev regime.


Vedomosti: Israel ready for ceasefire agreement with Hamas on Gaza truce

Radical Palestinian movement Hamas is ready to conclude a truce agreement with Israel within 24 hours if the Israeli government permits temporarily displaced persons to return to the northern Gaza Strip and increases the volume of humanitarian aid, a Hamas representative told the AFP news agency on March 3. Earlier, Reuters, CNN, the Financial Times (FT), the Associated Press and Bloomberg, quoting a high-ranking White House official, said that Israel was ready to sign a "framework agreement" on a six-week truce in the region in exchange for a list of living hostages being held by Hamas.

The likelihood of a six-week truce is high, thinks Middle Eastern studies expert Kirill Semyonov. According to him, the Israeli leadership has to take this step, first of all, due to their own lack of confidence that they can achieve their goals in a potential military operation in Rafah in southern Gaza. Secondly, Washington is putting serious pressure on the Jewish state to halt combat operations. "By supporting the war of its allies, the US is suffering serious damage to its image and reputation worldwide. Additionally, the Democrats want to temporarily rid themselves of the Gaza issue as the presidential election draws closer," the expert explained.

However, according to him, it is premature to speak of a permanent truce. "Above all, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not interested in it because without a war his political future is quite dubious. I think that during this time period, low-intensity combat will resume in Gaza. Possibly, Tel Aviv will also wage war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. These two fronts are mutually dependent one way or another," the expert thinks.

The internal conditions for an indefinite truce between Hamas and Israel have not yet ripened, Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Program Coordinator Ivan Bocharov concurred. According to the expert, despite the truce agreement, low-intensity combat may resume at any moment. "Everything that could be bombed in Gaza has already been bombed. That said, I wouldn’t exclude any risks of an uncontrolled escalation emerging. Under the conditions of a conflict, there are too many variables which cannot always be controlled," he explained.

According to Bocharov, during the entire truce Israel is likely to retain military control over Gaza. "Today, there is a popular point of view within the expert community that the current war is the result of Israel’s security forces withdrawing from the Palestinian enclave in the mid-2000s. It is premature to speak of any prospects of Israeli troops withdrawing," the expert concluded.


Vedomosti: Chinese special envoy holds Ukraine settlement talks in Moscow

Chinese Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin in Moscow on March 2 as part of Li’s itinerary for his second shuttle diplomacy tour devoted to promoting a peaceful settlement to the Ukrainian crisis.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on its website that during the talks, "it was stated that any discussion of a political and diplomatic settlement is impossible without Russia’s participation and consideration of its interests in the security sphere." During the meeting, the sides also noted that "ultimatums to Russia set forth by Kiev and the West" and related dialogue formats, which presumably implies the so-called Ukrainian "peace formula," only harm the prospects of any settlement and cannot serve as its basis.

Li is a seasoned diplomat who served as Beijing’s ambassador to Russia for 10 years, Andrey Karneyev, head of the School of Asian Studies at the Higher School of Economics (HSE University), said. According to him, China is indeed trying not to give any public assessments of the Ukrainian "peace formula" in order to retain its potential as a mediator.

Beijing has both political and economic interests in helping achieve a settlement to the crisis as, currently, it is suffering serious losses over Chinese companies being blocked from Western markets and pressure from demands by the US financial system not to accept payments from Russia, Alexey Maslov, director of Moscow State University’s Institute of Asian and African Studies, explained. That said, earlier, Chinese diplomats noted that no discussion of the Ukrainian crisis is possible without Russia, Maslov pointed out. Additionally, Beijing is displeased that the West views it merely as a lever of pressure on Russia and not a full-fledged participant in the settlement process, the expert noted.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Ukraine testing Russian air defenses with massive drone swarms

Lacking success on the frontline, Ukrainian forces attempted to deliver the most massive drone strike seen recently on Crimea overnight on March 3. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, air defense systems eliminated 38 Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). During the attack, traffic on the Crimean Bridge was suspended because the Ukrainian leadership has repeatedly voiced its aim of destroying the critical transportation link.

Under these conditions, the bolstering of important facilities in Crimea and other Russian territories with air defense systems becomes of the utmost importance. "The fact that recently practically all drones and projectiles are being taken down over the Crimean Peninsula is undoubtedly the accomplishment of the command and personnel from the 31st Air Defense Division and other units of the Southern Military District ensuring the aerial security of the peninsula and the bridge over the Kerch Strait," military expert Lieutenant General (Ret.) Yury Netkachev told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

"The units armed with Vityaz [surface-to-air missile systems], as well as many newly formed air defense units and formations can be concentrated to protect strategic facilities in the zone of the special military operation and in Central Russia," the expert added. He pointed to the steady operations of Russian air defense systems along the entire line of combat engagement, which is reflected in recent reports by the Russian Defense Ministry. According to him, over the past 24 hours, 143 Ukrainian UAVs, including a Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2, have been taken down in the zone of the special military operation.

Against this background, newly appointed Ukrainian Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Alexander Syrsky has assessed the situation on the frontline as "complex." Official reports from both sides indicate Russia’s progress in the Avdeyevka, Kherson and Zaporozhye areas. According to the newspaper’s sources, the White House is worried that the Ukrainian army will encounter problems due to weak fortifications on the new line of defense, which means that the US is effectively forecasting a new westward advance by Russia.

It seems that the Kiev regime is allowing for such a scenario while still expecting some success from the new commander. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky in a video address to the nation supported Syrsky’s initiatives. According to him, the commander has free reign to carry out staff reshuffles within the Ukrainian army. Zelensky added that following Syrsky’s return from the combat zone, he is expecting to receive a detailed report from the commander as well as specific proposals for further changes and actions.

"It is hardly a coincidence that the Ukrainian frontline began to crumble after the Ukrainian command was changed. The new leadership of the Ukrainian army, represented by Syrsky, is seemingly looking for culprits among brigade commanders who let the retreat happen," Netkachev told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.


Kommersant: WTO ministerial conference fails to revive globalization

The 2024 ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization in Abu Dhabi (MC13) has concluded without any marked results. Its participants managed to approve a joint declaration but did not reach agreement on any controversial issues. The reform of a dispute resolution mechanism has been postponed at least to the end of this year (due to the US presidential election), while other agreements were hindered by the lack of readiness to decrease support for domestic producers, which, in particular, prevented the completion of talks on fishing subsidies as the WTO participants increasingly value the opportunity to use protective measures in their own markets.

The countries failed to reach a consensus on the two most pressing agenda points, the program of future talks on agriculture and fishing subsidies, said Russian Economic Development Minister Maxim Reshetnikov. "There is an almost ready text on fishing subsidies, and on agriculture, but despite the fact that these are old issues, approaches to their resolution are so diametrically opposed that no points of intersection can yet be seen," he added.

Another divergent point is the inclusion of climate regulation issues on the trade agenda, where the stances of EU countries and Russia differ. "We insisted on the balancing wording, which does not allow for ‘legalizing’ such mechanisms; this issue triggered serious differences of opinion," Yekaterina Mayorova, deputy director of the Trade Negotiations Department at the Russian Economic Development Ministry, explained to Kommersant. The conference also discussed initiatives for reducing plastics pollution and the volumes of fuel subsidies, but the final declaration only mentions the role that "international trade can play in achieving sustainable development goals in three dimensions - economic, social and ecological," she added.

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