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Press review: Russia sees US behind Sevastopol attack and Serbian arms flowing to Kiev

Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, 24th

MOSCOW, June 24. /TASS/. Russia says the US is to blame for Sevastopol missile attack; Serbian weapons may be finding way to Ukraine; and France, Germany voice ambitions to boost ammunition production. These stories topped Monday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Izvestia: Russia blames US for Sevastopol attack

The responsibility for the deliberate attack on civilians in Sevastopol lies with Washington as it is US specialists who program the flight paths for all ATACMS missiles, including those used in the attack, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday. According to the latest updates, as many as 151 people were injured in the deadly attack which killed four others, including two children. The Crimean city was attacked with five US-supplied Army Tactical Missiles equipped with cluster munitions, Russia’s top brass specified.

The United Nations told Izvestia that it wished both sides "took certain steps to avoid casualties among civilians." "As always, we are seeking to put an end to this conflict in line with the UN Charter and [United Nations] General Assembly resolutions," the global organization said.

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova slammed the UN comment as "an acknowledgement of its [the United Nations’] own uselessness."

Russia will reconsider its approaches as part of the special military operation should Ukraine intensify its attacks on Russian civilian infrastructure, Grigory Karasin, head of the international committee of Russia’s Federation Council, or upper house of parliament, told Izvestia.

This latest attack marks the first time Sevastopol has been hit with the ultra-fast ATACMS ballistic missiles, military expert Vasily Dandykin told Izvestia. "They were fired almost to their maximum range, that is 300 km for the ATACMS. And the distance from Odessa to Sevastopol is around 270-280 km," he explained.

"The Sevastopol attack has not so much military as propaganda goals. As the Kiev regime cannot retake Crimea, it seeks to demoralize our society by attacking regions, but fails," believes political analyst Ivan Mezyukho, who heads the Center for Political Education, a Crimean civic organization.

In an interview with Izvestia, Colonel Alexander Perendzhiyev, associate professor at the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, said Western countries, rather than Ukraine, are waging this terrorist war. "This is the highest terrorist threat level as civilians get killed or intimidated, with civilian infrastructure being destroyed by military means," he said. "The United States can say it is against such strikes, but it is US specialists who input the flight coordinates as there is no one to stop them from doing whatever they want," he concluded.


Vedomosti: Serbian weapons finding way to Ukraine

Since the start of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine in 2022, about 800 mln euro worth of ammunition exported by Serbia to Western countries has been funneled to the Ukrainian Army, the Financial Times (FT) reported on Sunday. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic admitted that Serbian weapons may have been resold to Ukraine in an interview with the British newspaper.

A source close to the Russian military says Russian troops in Ukraine have seized 120mm mortar mines and 122mm and 152mm artillery shells with Serbian factory markings on them.

Professor Yekaterina Entina dismissed the FT report as not being based in reality, saying it was aimed at damaging relations between Russia and Serbia. According to her, reports alleging Serbian arms supplies to Ukraine have been floating around in the press for over a year, while the Serbian authorities have repeatedly refuted these claims. "Belgrade has not changed its policy toward Moscow in the past two years," the expert said. The Serbian people, too, oppose distancing the country from Russia: around 84% of respondents are against anti-Russian sanctions, while about 70% believe that NATO is to blame for the Ukraine crisis, she added, citing opinion polls.

Serbia cannot control black market sales of weapons, so its ammunition could be coming to Ukraine via neighboring Balkan countries, believes Polina Sokolova, research fellow at the Department for European Political Studies of IMEMO RAS. Despite its support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, Belgrade has supported Moscow politically as much as possible while sticking to plans to integrate with the European Union, the expert said. "The number of pro-Russian ministers and lawmakers, too, reflects the pro-Russian lean in Serbian politics. Most of them are proponents of a multi-faceted policy, and there is no reason to believe that Vucic will change this approach," she concluded.


Izvestia: EU seeks to boost its weapons production

European weapons producers who failed to deliver on their promise to supply Kiev with 1 million munitions by March 2024 have doubled down on these statements. France and Germany have revealed plans to increase the production of ammunition by manifold by 2026. They may boost their capacities on heavy weapons production, too. Some estimate that, following decades of underfunding, it could take Europe up to 10 years to revive its arms production. Meanwhile, the Russian defense industry has already bolstered its production of weapons and ammunition as it continues to run smoothly.

Defense companies need contracts for longer than three years, and they need large state orders, military expert Vadim Koroshchupov, a junior research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO RAS), explained to Izvestia. New factories must be built to produce heavy weapons, and European countries fell short in this area at the beginning stages of the Ukraine conflict, he recounted. "One can say that the [European] defense sector is gaining momentum, but with the caveat that they are targeting 2026 and that this involves only France’s Nexter and Germany’s Rheinmetall. Others will hardly keep pace," he said.

It's worth mentioning that only France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Spain and Sweden have advanced defense industries. And the efforts being made by Paris and Berlin in the defense sector reflect their desire for dominance in Europe as well as the two countries’ geopolitical rivalry. The latter has intensified amid the Ukraine conflict, French expert in geopolitics Pierre-Emmanuel Thomann, president of Eurocontintent, a Brussels-based international organization, told Izvestia.

Paris supports Ukraine for opportunistic purposes as it is seeking to make European defense less reliant on the United States and position France as the leading defense producer, he explained. "Paris is aiming to prevent Germany from becoming a key EU military power amid the relative withdrawal of the United States," he added.

Meanwhile, the Russian defense sector has been growing steadily since 2021 and it will continue to hum along as long as the special military operation lasts, Russian President Vladimir Putin told a meeting with defense company leaders on May 25. Koroshchupov explains that Russia's command economy is largely behind the successes of its defense industry as the state has a kind of symbiotic relationship with its defense manufacturers.


Vedomosti: US rushes envoy to Vietnam in wake of Putin’s visit to Hanoi

United States Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink visited Vietnam on June 21-22, or immediately after Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a state visit there. The US diplomat reportedly met with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son, who reaffirmed that the United States is still a strategic partner for his country. Hanoi elevated its relations with Washington to the highest level of a comprehensive strategic partnership during Joe Biden’s visit in September 2023. Vietnam maintains the same relations with Russia, China, India and South Korea.

The meeting between Kritenbrink and Thanh discussed bilateral ties, including a coming exchange of high-profile delegations, support for cooperation in trade and investment and ways to overcome the consequences of the Vietnam War. However, the two diplomats may also have exchanged opinions on some international issues of mutual interest.

Following Putin’s negotiations in Vietnam on June 19-20, as many as 15 documents were adopted and signed. Also, a joint statement on deepening the comprehensive strategic partnership was issued. Vietnam’s President To Lam said that Moscow and Hanoi plan to boost cooperation in defense and security and "jointly resist global challenges, new and old, in line with international law."

The Americans have been on tenterhooks since Putin’s visits to North Korea and Vietnam, Dmitry Mosyakov, head of the Center for the Study of Southeast Asia, Australia and Oceania at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, told Vedomosti. While they worry that Russia and North Korea may build a bloc that could counter the US-South Korea-Japan triangle, as regards Vietnam, Washington has been struggling to turn the Southeast Asian nation into a US ally who could help counter Chinese influence since 1995, Mosyakov argues.

Washington now sees this long-standing plan at risk, especially against the backdrop of Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Laos saying they are ready to join BRICS or establish as active cooperation with the grouping as possible, Mosyakov added. Paradoxically, Vietnam has so far not shown this same willingness. While Kritenbrink might have been on a mission to try and influence this country, the latter will continue pursuing its "bamboo diplomacy" which is about maneuvering between global powers, the expert concluded.


Kommersant: Russian vodka manufacturers eyeing South American market

Since the EU and the United States closed their markets to Russian alcohol, Russian distillers have switched their focus to Latin America. Tatspirtprom has sold the first batch of its drinks to Peru, Alcohol Siberian Group (ASG) has entered the Cuban market, and Ladoga is working to distribute its products to Argentina. This subregion has shown more demand for Russian vodka than China and India where lots of other Russian producers have found a foothold amid the military conflict in Ukraine.

Alkopro lobby group secretary Andrey Moskovsky says Latin American countries are more lucrative for Russian alcohol makers than Asia or the Middle East. In China, Russian vodka is unpopular because of its taste, while the same is true for India over high import duties. Meanwhile, the Stolichnaya vodka brand has been popular in Latin America since the Soviet era, the expert said.

However, Ladoga Group President Veniamin Grabar says, it’s hard to certify alcohol, including from Russia, in Latin America. "This may take more than a year," he added. Besides, not a single company from that subregion can make payments to a Russian counterparty directly, he specified. Tatspirtprom Director for Foreign Trade Shamil Kamayev told Kommersant that direct logistics is missing, too.

ASG Director for Import and Export Alexander Kurapov views Africa as another promising market, but this continent has been least explored and least transparent for Russian distillers, he says. Rust Group said in turn that its sales to African countries have shown sizable growth.

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