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Press review: Israel to move Rafah residents before IDF sweep and EU stalls on Ukraine bid

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, April 2nd

MOSCOW, April 2. /TASS/. Israel plans to relocate 1 mln Palestinians from Rafah before launching military operation on south Gaza city and remaining Hamas stronghold; Brussels is purposely stalling talks with Kiev on Ukraine’s accession to the EU as European Parliament elections loom; and opposition mayoral wins in Turkey’s municipal elections show strength of protest vote against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s 20-year grip on power. These stories topped Tuesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Vedomosti: Israel plans to relocate 1 mln Palestinians from Rafah to northern Gaza

Israeli authorities are planning to evacuate civilians from the Palestinian city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip before launching a military operation there, necessitating the relocation of over 1 mln residents, Bloomberg said. On March 31, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted, without revealing any details of the evacuation plan, that civilians will be provided with everything necessary and removed from the city to allow the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to begin clearing Rafah of Hamas militants, who Israel estimates number 5,000-8,000. On March 14, IDF Spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari spoke about the planned relocation of the population of Rafah to "humanitarian enclaves" without specifying any details.

Israel is intent on carrying out a military operation in Rafah, because, from Tel Aviv’s viewpoint, this is necessary for national security and for the complete elimination of Hamas’ capabilities in Gaza, said Lyudmila Samarskaya, researcher at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO RAS). In addition to Netanyahu’s own stance, he is under pressure from his far right-wing coalition partners, who are unlikely to consent to canceling the operation. Moreover, Israeli society in general also favors carrying out the operation. That said, the forced relocation of such an enormous number of Palestinians entails significant logistical and humanitarian difficulties, especially given substantial destruction in northern Gaza. It is possible that talks between Israel and the US are focused on the operation’s format and timeframe, Samarskaya thinks.

The task of relocating so many residents from Rafah appears to be complex and its actual implementation is doubtful given the presence of Hamas militants in the city and the need to filter them out, said Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) expert Kirill Semyonov. The fact that currently the military operation has practically halted may be linked to pressure by Washington and the fact that this benefits Netanyahu. According to the expert, the Israeli prime minister realizes that there are practically no real chances of defeating Hamas and that one must reach a deal with the Palestinian movement one way or another. Therefore, a reduction in the intensity of combat for as long as possible suits Netanyahu. Additionally, once combat operations end, it is likely that an investigation will be opened into allegations of wrongdoing by Netanyahu, and so he may simply be stalling for time with talk about the Rafah operation, the expert added.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kiev-Brussels talks on Ukraine joining EU stall as EP elections loom

No decisions on launching talks about Ukraine’s accession to the EU, which had been slated for March, have been made. That said, the necessary work to be undertaken by Kiev toward meeting Brussels’ recommendations has frequently been replaced by hollow populist rhetoric, thus resulting in a missed opportunity as the window to take action before the European Parliament (EP) elections in June is now closing, former Ukrainian Ambassador to the EU and New Solutions Center Chairman Konstantin Yeliseyev said in an article.

The process of acceding to the EU is usually lengthy and, in the best case scenario, takes 5-10 years, Stanislav Tkachenko, professor of European Studies at St. Petersburg State University, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. According to him, it is not surprising that a certain lack of haste is being seen in talks with Kiev. The other issue is that such a lull allows the EU leadership in Brussels to conceal its unwillingness or unpreparedness to actually accept Ukraine into the fold as Kiev is far from fulfilling the EU’s criteria. "And, apparently, Yeliseyev, as a seasoned diplomat, did a better job of reading the signs coming from Brussels. Obviously, so far the EU intends to stall and simply go through the motions of holding talks with Kiev," the expert said.

As for the upcoming elections to the European Parliament, in Tkachenko’s opinion, there are serious grounds to think that the next makeup of the EP will take a more cautious stance toward the EU’s Ukraine policy. "The Europeans tend to think in terms of projects; they invest money in order to achieve something. Yet it is already clear that they won’t attain a strategic defeat of Russia in Ukraine. While on its own, Ukraine isn’t of much concern to them. Western Balkan countries are already standing in line to join the EU, which already has 27 member states. Quality, not quantity, is what is important for Brussels nowadays. So, they would accept Switzerland or, say, Norway, with pleasure, but hardly Ukraine," Tkachenko explained.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Turkey’s local elections turn into tool of protest against Erdogan

Political allies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lost the March 31 local elections to the opposition in a majority of cities and municipalities. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) received its weakest level of public support in the past 20 years. Its rival, the Republican People's Party (CHP), managed to garner a substantial number of mayoral seats, also retaining the mayor’s office in such politically important metropolitan areas as Istanbul and Ankara. Experts link the poor results for the AKP as a protest vote stemming from the severe economic situation in the country.

"In my opinion, the economic situation in Turkey, which has not improved at all since [Erdogan’s re-election in] the general election last May, was the decisive factor in these elections," Eastern studies scholar Ruslan Suleymanov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "Even increasing the interest rate from 8.5% to 50% did not impact the high level of inflation or the falling exchange rate of the Turkish lira in any way. Playing up to voters by raising pensions and salaries of state employees as well as constant pre-election promises to improve the situation do not work anymore. The Turkish population wants real changes. And the people see the Republican People's Party as an alternative, which rectified its mistakes last year, for instance, by changing its chairman," the expert explained.

He expressed doubts that Erdogan might move to toughen his domestic policy in response to the voters’ displeasure. "This way, he would only worsen his situation," Suleymanov said. "The only way out for him now is not to meddle in the economy as he has been doing over recent years, but to entrust this area completely to technocratic specialists, such as Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek," he added.

In turn, Anton Mardasov, a Middle East expert, told the newspaper that the municipal elections had initially been viewed as a stress test of sorts for the current state system. "However, two opposing views existed on Turkey’s future had the ruling party won in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir," he noted. "Some specialists were saying that it would consolidate the presidential system and toughen measures even more, while others, on the contrary, were predicting a ‘thaw,’ wherein Erdogan, having rid himself of strong rivals such as [incumbent Istanbul Mayor Ekrem] Imamoglu and concerned over his legacy, would allow a policy toward warmer relations with Greece, the US and the Kurdish community," the expert explained.


Izvestia: Indonesia mulls joining BRICS following election

Following Indonesia’s presidential election in February, Jakarta is continuing to consider joining BRICS, the country’s embassy in Moscow told Izvestia. That said, Jakarta is following events as they unfold, included within the intergovernmental structure itself. According to experts, on the one hand, Indonesia is trying to remain neutral, giving priority to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) instead of the pro-US QUAD, but at the same time being unwilling to turn toward China. That said, in January, Jakarta applied to join the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a counterbalance to BRICS of sorts.

So far, Jakarta is quite happy with the BRICS+ format, stressed Pavel Shaternikov of the Center for Vietnam and ASEAN Studies at the Institute of China and Contemporary Asia of the Russian Academy of Sciences. "There are no obvious benefits seen for it from membership in BRICS itself. On the other hand, joining BRICS may become the first international image-building step of the new president, Prabowo Subianto, which would display the country’s independent course. In the future, Indonesia might be interested in [the planned] BRICS currency because this is a step toward independence from the dollar and, simultaneously, a step toward boosting the country’s sovereignty," he added.

According to a number of experts, there are plenty of economic benefits for Jakarta. They appear because of exclusive cooperation among BRICS members in the fields of economy, trade, currency stability, bilateral and multilateral loans, Yevgeny Dumalkin, head of the National Coordination Center for International Business Cooperation, told Izvestia.

"There are at least three potential advantages - increased export and import with existing and new markets, increased direct foreign investments as well as financing sources for the state and private sectors. The Indonesian rupiah will also become more stable against the risk of currency fluctuations, especially with introducing payments in local currencies, accepted by BRICS member states," he said.

The New Development Bank, created by the BRICS member states, will provide extensive financial opportunities, noted Alexander Rudoy, international cooperation expert at the State University of Management. Cooperation with BRICS will be useful in utilizing natural resources, developing the mining industry and exporting raw materials. The accession of southeast Asia’s largest economy would also be profitable for the current BRICS member states.


Vedomosti: Novatek sharply cuts gas production at Arctic LNG-2

Gas production within the framework of Novatek’s Arctic LNG-2, in which foreign investors had previously suspended their participation, sharply dropped in February 2024 against delayed shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG), two sources familiar with the Energy Ministry’s statistics told Vedomosti.

According to them, gas production within the framework of the project in February amounted merely to 83 mln cubic meters, which is three times less than this January and five times less than in December 2023 when the first volumes of LNG were produced at the plant.

The delay in the full launch of the Arctic LNG-2 plant is due to the fact that Novatek lacks gas-carrying tankers for the project, analysts say. Since the company is currently unable to ship already produced LNG, its production must be suspended for some time, said BCS World of Investments senior oil and gas analyst Ronald Smith. In March, gas will be produced only for the plant’s own needs - its energy supply, infrastructure and the maintenance of sufficiently low temperatures at LNG storage reservoirs, said National Energy Security Fund lead analyst Igor Yushkov.

According to Finam analyst Sergey Kaufman, Novatek may begin shipping LNG from the Arctic LNG-2 plant in the next 1-3 months, while Smith does not rule out that the project may not receive a single tanker to ship LNG until the end of this year.

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