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Press review: Putin keeps government core intact and Blinken gives Kiev NATO assurances

Top stories from the Russian press on Wednesday, May 15th

MOSCOW, May 15. /TASS/. Taking a look at the new, and mostly old, Putin administration and Russian government; US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reassures Kiev of its NATO future; and Israel expands operation in southern Gaza. These stories topped Wednesday's newspaper headlines across Russia.


Vedomosti: Vladimir Putin maintains continuity in government, administration going forward

President Vladimir Putin, who assumed office for the fifth time on May 7, finished setting up his new team a week later, keeping it mostly intact. There were only targeted replacements - just five people took on new roles in the government and six fresh faces - in the presidential administration, Vedomosti writes.

On the whole, the presidential administration founded in 2016 and the government put in place in 2020 remain, with minor changes being made in connection to Russia’s military special operation, according to the newspaper.

However, Vedomosti insiders are mainly focused on other appointments - Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov was promoted to First Deputy Chairman, while Andrey Belousov, who had previously been First Deputy Prime Minister, was transferred to the Ministry of Defense.

"The issue of supplying the army lies not simply in the sphere of state expenditures as such, but in the ability of the economy to provide a high-quality supply of both military-industrial complex products and civilian products for the needs of the participants of the military special operation," an expert at RANEPA Dmitry Zemlyansky told the newspaper. "Both Belousov and Manturov, on the one hand, know the real state of the economy better than others <...> On the other hand, they see all the pros and cons of government support measures for Russian industry," he added.

That said, Vedomosti’s sources do not rule out that more changes may be on the way after a more detailed assessment of other areas.


Izvestia: Blinken gives Ukraine assurances of bringing it into NATO

During his unannounced visit to Kiev, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Washington remains committed to Ukraine’s NATO membership and will eventually bring it into the alliance. Meetings with Ukraine’s top brass are taking place amid a difficult situation for the Ukrainian armed forces in the Kharkov region, where Russian forces have gone on the offensive, which the diplomat described as a crucial moment, Izvestia writes. The situation is deteriorating for Kiev, and experts believe that the United States will not be able to provide Ukraine with anything more than moral support.

Blinken’s trip is scheduled to last two days. On May 14 the diplomat met with Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky and Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba. According to the media, Blinken’s primary mission is to demonstrate Washington’s firm commitment to Ukraine’s defense, and the visit itself is intended to send a strong signal of support to the Kiev regime. The State Department stated that the visit would focus on the United States’ recent military assistance and its role in helping the Ukrainian Armed Forces turn things around in the special military operation zone.

Taking into account the purpose of Blinken’s trip, Zelensky wasted no time using the meeting to try to speed up the flow of US aid, especially in the form of Patriot air defense systems, Izvestia writes.

Amid the current situation, Blinken’s visit appears to be little more than an attempt to lend minimum moral support to the Kiev regime during a time of despair. According to Peter Kuznick, Professor of History and Director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University, the United States has little to offer Ukraine at this point.

However, the main direction of US diplomacy toward Kiev can be seen in the fact that the US is pushing for the adoption of a new, more strict mobilization law in Ukraine, according to Izvestia.


Vedomosti: Israel expands combat zone in southern Gaza

On May 14, the Israeli military attacked the eastern districts of Rafah in the Gaza Strip and is now cleansing the region of Hamas militants, according to the Israel Defense Forces’ press service. The army also conducted a military operation in the city of Jabalia in the north of the enclave, which has been under Israeli control since last October, Vedomosti writes. According to the report, the Israeli air force targeted more than 100 Hamas locations in the Gaza Strip, killing "dozens of militants."

The Israeli army entered eastern Rafah districts despite US requests not to conduct an operation in the city. Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated on NBC that a full-fledged Israeli military assault on the city would not finish off Hamas. According to Israeli sources, six battalions of Palestinian terrorists remain in the Gaza Strip, four of which are based in Rafah.

NBC reported, citing two unnamed White House officials, that Israel has deployed "enough military forces" to Rafah’s borders to allow them to expand the area of operation in the city, but it remains unclear whether Israel has made a final decision regarding the start, timing, and scope of the invasion.

The Israeli military will continue to expand the combat zone in Rafah, researcher at the Higher School of Economics Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies Lev Sokolshchik told Vedomosti. He believes that continuing the conflict allows the government to take the focus off of domestic problems, relieving opposition pressure. "The scale and intensity of hostilities will be determined by the country’s military capability, international dynamics surrounding the conflict, and Palestinian resistance. There is a possibility of escalation at the regional level," the expert said.

The US, however, is not interested in escalating the confrontation, Sokolshchik noted, as this would damage Washington’s image and pull the US into a pointless war amid the presidential campaign.

At the same time, the analyst noted that if the Israeli army carries out a wide-scale invasion of Rafah, Washington will show restraint in its reaction, but will certainly not be happy.


Izvestia: Georgia adopts new law on foreign agents amid strong public opposition

Georgia has adopted a law on foreign agents. On the day of the document’s third reading, representatives from European countries came to Tbilisi to discuss it, but Georgian leaders declined to meet with them. Meanwhile, the opposition resumed street rallies in Georgia’s capital. Experts told Izvestia they believe that the West will continue to apply pressure on Tbilisi, with an eye toward disrupting the delicate balance of relations that has been established between Georgia and Russia, while the opposition will attempt to escalate protests.

Under the new law, legal non-profits and media outlets that receive more than 20% of their financing from abroad must be registered. In addition, they must declare their revenues. This is the only requirement in the document, making it substantially less stringent than the American FARA (Foreign Agent Registration Act), the newspaper writes.

Throughout the bill’s consideration, there were street protests in which authorities used special equipment on multiple occasions. Participants in the rallies claim that the law is identical to the Russian one, despite the fact that such acts exist not only in Russia but also in the US, Australia, the UK, Israel, and China.

Western governments have already cautioned Tbilisi about potential challenges in its European integration as a result of the law’s adoption. However, there appears to be no consensus on this subject within the EU. According to Politico, EU member countries attempted to reach an agreement on a united statement condemning the Georgian measure, but Hungary, along with Slovakia, opposed it.

According to Vadim Mukhanov, head of the Caucasus department at IMEMO RAS, the bill is unlikely to disrupt relations with Russia. But international pressure on the Georgian government may force its hand, he added "If pressure is applied before the elections scheduled for fall 2024 and brings some results, then, of course, this will affect bilateral relations," the expert told Izvestia.


Kommersant: Potential EU restrictions cast shadow on Russian LNG trade

The EU’s proposed limits on the transshipment of Russian LNG in European ports for re-export to third countries will have a detrimental impact on 11.8 mln tons of contractual obligations at Novatek’s Yamal LNG project, Kommersant writes. If the measure is approved before the end of June, the plant may be obliged to declare force majeure on these volumes. Buyers from China and India will be the most affected, and these supplies will most likely have to be sold on the European spot market, resulting in an increase in Russian LNG imports to the continent, analysts believe.

Victor Katona from Kpler believes that by limiting transshipments rather than prohibiting LNG imports from Russia, Europe is directly contributing to the retention of Yamal LNG shipments on the continent. The conditions of bilateral contracts, including their amendment, are being negotiated between Novatek and its partners, so the new set of penalties will not impede direct shipments to Europe, he told Kommersant.

The expert believes that the Chinese CNPC would face the most restrictions because its contract, which runs until 2038, requires the most transshipments to maintain its LNG flow of 3 mln tons per year. According to the expert, Novatek will most likely amend the contract terms, and Chinese buyers would engage in regional swaps.

According to independent analyst Alexander Sobko, a substantial portion of Yamal LNG supplies are connected to European corporations, thus any limitations mostly affect these companies, which also explains why there have been no sanctions on Russian LNG for a long time.

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