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Press review: Vladimir Putin sworn in for fifth term and EU, Ukraine talk arms deal

Top stories from the Russian press on Wednesday, May 8th

MOSCOW, May 8. /TASS/. Vladimir Putin maps out Russia’s future in his inauguration speech; West not moved by Russia’s nuclear exercises, will continue to supply arms to Ukraine; and Chinese President Xi Jinping wraps up visit to France in first leg of European tour. These stories topped Wednesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Izvestia: Vladimir Putin sworn in for fifth term, charts Russia’s path forward in inauguration speech

Vladimir Putin was sworn in as President of Russia during his inauguration ceremony on May 7. As the current president begins his fifth term, experts believe that over the next six years, Vladimir Putin will continue to realign Russia’s position in the global landscape, Izvestia writes.

In his speech, the president addressed the Russian people, thanking everyone who voted for him during the election and expressing confidence that the country would grow even stronger after overcoming the current difficult period. At the same time, Vladimir Putin addressed Western countries, stating that Russia is open to talking with them, especially on the topics of security and strategic stability.

On May 7, the Russian government handed over power to the newly elected president, as required by law. Experts told Izvestia they expect the president to pick a candidate for prime minister either on inauguration day or the day after. Chairwoman of the Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko announced some personnel changes but emphasized that the "backbone" of the government would remain in place.

According to Vladimir Volokh, professor at the State University of Management and a member of the Russian Presidential Council on Interethnic Relations, the country’s primary goal going forward will be to resolve issues related to the special military operation, in addition to further improving the country’s socioeconomic situation.

At the same time, political expert Dmitry Fetisov pointed out that Russia’s growth strategy was previously based on its position in the oil and gas markets. According to the expert, the country is now moving away from this, but foreign policy will continue to be at the top of the agenda for the incoming president.

The majority of Western countries refused to send representatives to the inauguration. According to the US media, France (whose President Emmanuel Macron has recently been the EU’s major hawk), Hungary, Slovakia, Greece, Malta, and Cyprus were the only countries to come to the Kremlin Palace on May 7. According to Evgeny Minchenko, Head of the International Institute of Political Expertise, the West is trying to send a message that Moscow is on its own. "But this is not very important now for Russia, given the fact that these countries have taken a mostly hostile position towards it," the expert noted.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: EU countries plan to meet Ukrainian Armed Forces’ demand for ammunition

In his inauguration speech, President Vladimir Putin stated that Russia is willing to negotiate security and strategic stability with the West. However, it appears that the West was unimpressed by the news of Russia’s non-strategic nuclear force exercises, which the Kremlin says are meant to deter the US and NATO from getting further involved in the Ukraine crisis, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. The EU did not respond to the news about the exercises, but on May 6-7 representatives of 140 factories from 25 EU countries discussed cooperation with Kiev in the production of ammunition and other weapons that, according to Ukraine’s Minister of Strategic Industry Alexander Kamyshin, Ukrainian troops need to carry on fighting.

According to military expert Nikolay Shulgin, Moscow’s preparations to undertake drills involving the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons were made "to cool down the ‘hot heads’ in the West."

Shulgin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta he believes that if Western assistance for the Ukrainian Armed Forces threatens important state and military facilities, or compromises Russia’s integrity and sovereignty, the country is sure to use its tactical nuclear weapons against the enemy. "In Ukraine, these targets for Russian non-strategic nuclear forces include control points, basing and launching long-range precision weapons from France and the UK, as well as US ATACMS operational-strategic missiles, which will most likely be staffed by foreign experts and consultants. This will also apply to Ukrainian Armed Forces military airfields, where F-16 jets, which are regarded as potential nuclear carriers in Russia, will be stationed," Shulgin said.

Meanwhile, the media reported that Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has submitted proposals to the Verkhovna Rada to prolong martial law and general mobilization for another three months beginning May 14. These documents were authorized by the Verkhovna Rada Defense Committee on May 7, and experts expect the Ukrainian Parliament to vote on them on May 8.


Vedomosti: Xi Jinping asserts neutrality in Ukraine conflict during Paris talks

Chinese President Xi Jinping concluded his visit to France on May 7. Following that, the Chinese leader paid his first visit to Serbia in eight years, on the 25th anniversary of the US bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. The day prior, Macron and Xi gave a joint press conference, where Xi advocated for convening an international peace conference that would be recognized by both Russia and Ukraine and have equal participation from all parties and an unbiased discussion of all settlement proposals. Thus, China is unlikely to endorse the conference scheduled for mid-June in Switzerland, to which no Russian delegates have been invited, Vedomosti writes.

Xi also stated that Beijing cannot be considered an instigator or a party to the Ukrainian conflict as he rejected using the Ukrainian situation to smear any third countries or start a "new Cold War." In turn, Macron stated that France respects the long-standing ties between China and Russia and the efforts undertaken to stabilize those relations. Furthermore, Macron said during a press conference that France is not at war with Russia or its people, and it is not seeking a change in the political regime there.

The Chinese leader’s European tour will continue with a stop in Serbia, where officials from both countries intend to sign more than 30 agreements, according to Tanjug news agency.

Experienced observers could have predicted that China’s attitude on Ukraine would remain unchanged following the meeting between Xi and Macron, Head of the School of Oriental Studies at the National Research University Higher School of Economics Andrey Karneev told Vedomosti. "The Chinese leader said nothing new in France," the expert said. As for Serbia, it is one of the few European countries with which China has excellent relations, and it is looking to attract Chinese investment, Karneev added.


Vedomosti: Israeli forces take control of Rafah checkpoint, exacerbating humanitarian concerns

The Israeli military took control of the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt on the morning of May 7, according to the Israel Defense Forces’ press service. The Rafah crossing, along with the Kerem Shalom checkpoint in the sector’s north, is an important corridor for humanitarian goods reaching the Palestinian enclave. The Israeli offensive occurred a day after Tel Aviv urged Palestinians to leave the beleaguered city’s eastern areas, Vedomosti writes.

Hamas representatives confirmed the takeover of the Rafah border crossing. They said that its closure will result in a humanitarian catastrophe affecting 2.5 million Palestinians. The movement also urged the White House and the international community to put pressure on Israel to end the military escalation that threatens hundreds of thousands of displaced people in the Gaza Strip.

The Rafah operation has most certainly exacerbated tensions between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden. In a phone call on May 6, Biden repeated his objection to Israel’s plans to launch a ground operation in the city. Head of the EU diplomacy Josep Borrell also condemned the IDF offensive in Rafah.

According to Andrey Zeltyn, senior lecturer at the School of Oriental Studies at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, a short-term truce would run counter to Netanyahu’s political ambitions and seems improbable at this point. According to him, the prime minister’s resignation is unlikely because he still has support in the country. "In addition, the region’s Arab political establishment is not exerting significant pressure on Israel, which is far more important to Israeli authorities than criticism from outside the region. Israel’s battle against Hamas one way or another coincides with the political goals of the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and Jordan," the analyst noted.

According to Zeltyn, the Israeli military is unlikely to leave the Rafah border crossing area in the near future because they want to maintain control over as much territory in Gaza as possible. The violence in the Gaza Strip will continue until Tel Aviv has a firm grasp over the enclave’s post-war organization, according to the expert.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia’s fuel market oversaturated amid continuing attacks from Ukraine

Ukrainian forces’ attempts to destroy the Russian fuel complex have failed, as fuel supplies to the Russian domestic market exceed last year’s levels. Russian authorities have already begun discussing easing the restriction on gasoline exports from the country, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. At the same time, not all oil refineries in Russia have been repaired after the attacks. However, in general, the impact of Ukrainian strikes on refineries is exaggerated in the media and has minimal influence on gasoline availability in Russia.

Since mid-January 2024, Ukrainian special forces have launched a series of air strikes on Russian industrial installations, oil refineries, metallurgical plants, and fuel storage facilities. Western sources reported that Russian oil refining capacity was reduced by 30% during the peak of these strikes. The Russian government declared a ban on gasoline exports beginning March 1.

The Russian Ministry of Energy announced that the lost fuel production levels had already been compensated for by April 2024. "The domestic market was secured, among other things, thanks to a decrease in exports, which made it possible not only to compensate for repairs, but also to maintain a high level of fuel reserves," the ministry stated.

The Financial Times reported in March that Washington was dissatisfied with the increased dangers of rising global gasoline prices caused by Ukrainian strikes on Russian oil facilities and refineries. Warnings from American officials concerning the dangers of destroying Russia’s oil infrastructure were brought to the attention of Ukraine’s Security Service and the Main Intelligence Directorate. However, The Economist claimed in April that Kiev was defying US negotiators’ appeals to stop using drones to strike Russian infrastructure.

On Tuesday, May 7, Acting Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak announced that the Russian Ministry of Energy had contacted the government with a proposal to temporarily lift the gasoline export ban, which has been in place since March. According to him, the Russian gasoline market is oversaturated. Over the last month, exchange rates for gasoline in Russia have dropped by 13-17% for various brands.

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