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Press review: US throws Russia New START curveball and Washington's aid balancing act

Top stories from the Russian press on Wednesday, April 17th

MOSCOW, April 17. /TASS/. The United States is calling on Russia to participate in the New START treaty; The US Congress plans to consider separate bills on assistance to Ukraine and Israel; and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz wants to strengthen economic ties with China. These stories topped Wednesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US bid to resume New START talks with Russia raises eyebrows

As the US Congress gets ready to deliberate on the Biden administration’s latest proposal for aid to Ukraine, the US State Department produced a report in which it stated that it is prepared to cancel countermeasures under the Russian-US Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) if Russia does the same. According to experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta, this comes out of left field, as Moscow suspended its participation in New START precisely because of Washington's support for Kiev.

The Russian leadership has frequently said that talks on this issue with the US are impossible as long as they back Ukraine. At the same time, concerns over Russia's suspension from the New START deal are not stopping the US from preparing a new aid package for Ukraine. The expert community believes there are a few reasons why Washington may be looking to comply with New START. "First, this could be viewed as a pre-election tactic from Biden, as he seeks to pacify the American public, which is concerned about global nuclear detente issues," military expert, retired Lieutenant General Yuri Netkachev told the newspaper. "Second, New START is advantageous to Washington from a military standpoint, as its tactical nuclear weapons, which cannot be numbered and are stationed at NATO airfields in Europe, play a strategic role when used by alliance aircraft. On day X, the enemy can begin attacks on all strategic targets in Central Russia without warning, using F-16 fighters (which have been transferred to Ukraine). In this regard, New START is not a barrier for the US," he added.

Netkachev believes that the US is failing to fulfill its disarmament treaty responsibilities to Russia. He noted that the United States unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), and drew attention to an American media report that Lockheed Martin had received a Pentagon contract worth $17 bln to develop a new generation of interception systems for intercontinental ballistic missiles. This amount is way less than what Russia spends for the same purposes. "The US missile defense system, of course, is largely aimed at us. And only secondarily against China, Iran, and so on," Netkachev said.


Vedomosti: US juggles support for Israel, Ukraine

Separate bills on assistance for Ukraine and Israel will go to the US Congress for consideration this week, Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson announced on April 16 on the social network X. At the same time, he stated that Republicans intend to explore loan options for Ukraine. According to experts interviewed by Vedomosti, the US’ top priority is clearly supporting ally Israel, followed by Taiwan and then Ukraine.

Since the end of October 2023, US President Joe Biden has advocated for a single package of assistance for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and border security. At the time he demanded approximately $106 bln, $61 bln of which was to be allocated for military support to Ukraine. However, former President Donald Trump’s bosom buddies in the Republican Party opposed the package's ratification.

As The Hill reported on April 16, Republicans intend to put forward four separate packages for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and national security. CNN, citing sources, said that the bills could be introduced on Friday. On April 16, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky commented on the proposed separation of aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, calling it a "shame."

Separate voting benefits Republicans, researcher at the Higher School of Economics' Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies Lev Sokolshchik told Vedomosti. Meanwhile, in terms of priorities, the Ukrainian conflict has long faded into the background for the United States: in the run-up to the election, American voters are more interested in domestic problems and the economy. Moreover, in terms of international events - the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has grabbed the spotlight. "Ukraine losing ground here is also supported by the fact that, according to American media sources, Kiev has recently begun to yield to Russia on the battlefield, and Washington is dissatisfied with Ukraine's level of corruption. As a result, the US may take only symbolic steps to assist Ukraine," the expert said.

It is clear that their first priority is to protect Israel as an American ally, followed by Taiwan and Ukraine, political strategist and CEO of Dubravsky Consulting Pavel Dubravsky told the newspaper. According to him, voting separately for each country will speed up money allocation.


Izvestia: Scholz wants to strengthen economic ties with China

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has arrived for a three-day visit to China, his longest foreign trip since assuming office in December 2021. The politician faces a difficult task: on the one hand, he must deepen collaboration with Germany's largest economic partner, while also reducing dependence on China, something the EU is adamant about, Izvestia writes.

During the talks, Scholz and Xi Jinping stated that they were against attacks on nuclear facilities used for peaceful reasons and opposed using nuclear weapons. The Chinese leader said that in order to prevent the conflict in Ukraine from spiraling out of control and get a peace deal done as soon as possible, all parties must work together and not pursue selfish interests.

According to Politico, Scholz should not be expected to take a harsh stance toward China. Scholz needs China because, with just over a year until the next Bundestag elections, the leader is running out of time to turn around his government's bad predicament, Politico said.

"It is important for Berlin to find a balance in trade and economic interaction, address ongoing concerns about safeguarding its own market from China, and support its own producers, which do not suit German partners," researcher at the Center for European Studies at the Institute of International Studies of MGIMO Artem Sokolov told Izvestia. The expert noted that at the same time, Scholz will work to ensure that geopolitical difficulties have little impact on commercial and economic relations between China and Germany.

Elena Panina, Director of the Institute of International Political and Economic Strategies - RUSSTRAT, believes that Scholz "can only resolve issues at a tactical level in China." "Berlin simply cannot offer anything serious, particularly to China. As a result, Scholz will be received in China and given due consideration. But they will stick to their guns," the expert added, stressing that German businesses need the Chinese market.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Ukraine backs out of Black Sea Treaty

Representatives from Moscow and Kiev reached an agreement on the potential of free commercial navigation in the Black Sea through Ankara's mediation, but Ukraine backed out of the deal at the last minute, Reuters reported noting that the parties have not officially confirmed this. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, if the aforementioned events occurred, they once again demonstrate Moscow's willingness to negotiate at various levels, as opposed to Kiev's unwillingness to reach agreements, experts emphasized.

According to Reuters, the negotiation process to ensure the safety of commercial navigation in the Black Sea has been going on for two months. It was mediated by Turkey with the support of the United Nations. An agreement was reached in March. Kiev did not want to officially sign the document, but agreed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would announce the agreements reached on March 30. However, at the last moment the Ukrainian side unexpectedly withdrew from the negotiations and therefore the agreement fell through, the agency's source explained. It was also noted that the agreements were supposed to guarantee the safety of commercial traffic in the Black Sea on both sides, ensuring that search ships with civilian cargo would not be attacked. The agreements did not apply to warships and civilian transport with military cargo.

Nikolai Silaev, leading researcher at the MGIMO Institute of International Studies, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that assuming some negotiations on this issue took place, we can say that Turkey obviously wanted to reach some kind of agreement, even a symbolic one. "Such an outcome would be a win for Turkish diplomacy, which, like any other, seeks to make tangible progress in its mediation efforts. It's just that Ankara still doesn't know who they're dealing with in Kiev. Perhaps this story has opened their eyes," Silaev said.

In turn, the analyst noted, Russia's alleged participation in the negotiations is evidence that Russia is open to talking and uses every opportunity to agree on something. In order to achieve this goal, Moscow is ready to deal with all conscientious partners, he added.


Vedomosti: Exports of Russian fertilizers from Baltic ports rise around 1.5-fold

Transshipment of fertilizers for export in Russian ports of the Baltic basin in Q1 of 2024 increased by 43% in annual terms and amounted to 7.7 mln tons, according to the Association of Commercial Sea Ports. This is the only route that can be used to increase supplies at the moment, Vedomosti writes.

The Baltic Basin includes the major port of St. Petersburg, as well as ports in Ust-Luga, Vyborg, Vysotsk, Kaliningrad, and Primorsk. In January-March, most of the fertilizers were transhipped through these ports for exports abroad. Total exports of this product through all Russian ports in the past three months reached 9.07 mln tons - 22% more than a year earlier.

Before the start of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine in 2022, Russian companies exported some of the fertilizers through the ports of neighboring countries. But in 2022, the Baltic countries restricted access to their ports for Russian companies amid sanctions. As a result, fertilizer producers had to reconfigure their logistics to Russian ports.

The total export of fertilizers from Russia in 2024 will remain at the level of last year, a source told Vedomosti. At the end of 2023, President of the Russian Fertilizers Producers Association Andrey Guryev said that the export of these products in 2023 returned to the level of 2021 - 37.5 mln tons in physical weight.

The capacity of the Baltic ports is the main resource for increasing the export of fertilizers from Russia, they already account for three-quarters of supplies abroad, head of the securities markets analysis department at Alfa Bank Boris Krasnozhenov told Vedomosti. Transit through Belarus (which, like Russia, has lost access to European ports) has also made it possible to increase exports through these ports, the expert added.

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