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Press review: Russia proposes new gameplan for Middle East and West revisits aid to Kiev

Moscow offers up a new gameplan for the Middle East; the US and Germany revisit military assistance to Ukraine; and North Korea's neighbors are perturbed by its latest rocket launch. These stories topped Wednesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.

Vedomosti: Moscow offers up new gameplan for Middle East

A delegation of top diplomats from Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and League of Arab States (LAS) countries visited Moscow to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The top Russian diplomat suggested creating a new special mechanism of external support, which could be employed following the blocking of the Middle East Quartet (the EU, Russia, the US and the UN), Vedomosti writes.  Arab and Muslim countries want to enlist Russia and China’s help in order to counterbalance the dominant role of the United States, Andrey Kortunov, academic director of the Russian International Affairs Council, pointed out. The Arabs are unwilling to fully rely on the Americans, who currently have the initiative as Middle East mediators. Clearly, Washington is the only one that can put pressure on Israel but it will not act against the Jewish state, Kortunov said.  The Arabs are rightly concerned that the US will try to go back to the Abraham Accords, that is, Israel’s separate agreements with Arab nations. Meanwhile, the Americans will ignore the pro-Palestinian masses in Arab countries, putting pressure on Arab and Muslim elites to accept Tel Aviv’s demands, Kortunov noted. The OIC and LAS "would like to introduce new players into this equation, who would be able to offset US influence." "The list of such players is quite short; it includes Russia, China and Turkey, as well as some countries of the Global South," the expert said.  Russia could benefit from participating in and even hosting such events because it would show the outside world that Moscow is not isolated even though attempts to put it on an island have not stopped since the Ukrainian crisis broke out in 2022, Sergey Balmasov, senior expert at the Institute of the Middle East, noted. According to him, such meetings lay the groundwork for further strengthening Moscow’s ties with the countries of the Middle East and North Africa.

Izvestia: US, Germany revisit military assistance to Ukraine

The German government may cut aid to Ukraine next year because of difficulties with approving the country’s budget, a Bundestag member told Izvestia. Meanwhile, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said in Kiev on November 21 that Berlin would provide Ukraine with another military aid package worth over 1.3 bln euros. Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin, who visited the Ukrainian capital on November 20, pointed out that Kiev had the necessary resources to carry out a winter military campaign.Germany has already sent more than 4.2 bln euros worth of weapons to Ukraine. Pistorius reassured Kiev that Berlin would not stop supplying it with weapons. However, the promised aid package does not contain Taurus long-range missiles, a weapon Kiev has been asking for for months. Bundestag member Eugen Schmidt told Izvestia that Germany doesn’t have the funds to keep supporting Ukraine. "Germany simply has no money left. <...> The government is hastily trying to reduce some expenses in order to make sure that next year’s budget is approved. I don’t rule out that Ukraine aid will also be reduced to a certain extent," the lawmaker said. As for the US, the Kiel Institute for the World Economy estimates that Washington allocated $45.7 bln in military aid to Kiev between January 2022 and September 2023. Austin visited Kiev to test the waters for a possible change in strategy, Vladimir Bruter, an expert with the International Institute for Humanitarian and Political Studies, said. In his view, a ceasefire could be an option for the Biden administration. "On the one hand, the US is short of funds and on the other, the Biden administration wants to make sure that no serious incidents take place in 2024. They need to shake things up. Given Biden’s declining approval rating, they are seeking to stop the wars that hurt his popularity," the expert noted.

Izvestia: North Korea's neighbors perturbed by latest rocket launch

Seoul may withdraw from an inter-Korean agreement following Pyongyang’s launch of a ballistic rocket in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. In this case, South Korea will stop observing restrictions on military activities in border areas. The rocket is believed to have been carrying a reconnaissance probe but this will be difficult to prove because, according to the Japanese Defense Ministry, the carrier rocket’s fragments fell into the East China Sea, Izvestia notes. North Korea says its reconnaissance satellite launched successfully.Military analysts point out that spy satellites are crucial for North Korea’s defense capabilities as they help maintain parity in space. This is confirmed by Pyongyang’s persistent efforts to put them into orbit. According to Andrey Lankov, a professor at Seoul’s Kookmin University, in a bid to reassure the public, South Korea may "target" the inter-Korean agreement, using the probe launch as justification. "I think Seoul will stop complying with restrictions on military activities in the border area. This is because unlike the North Korean capital, the South Korean one is located almost on the border," the expert stressed. Seoul may decide to pull out of the inter-Korean agreement but the thing to note is that even though the document was signed in a totally different international situation, it is still highly important for both parties, and not only as a symbol of the two Korean states’ ability to come to an understanding, Anna Polenova, senior lecturer with the Asian Department at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ State Academic University for the Humanities, noted. First of all, the agreement proved to be an important tool for stabilizing the situation on the border between the two countries, in particular, in the Yellow Sea. However, experts agree that despite continuing acts of provocation from both sides, neither the North nor the South has the opportunity or the desire "to punish" the other party.


Kommersant: Arctic Council resumes activities with Russia in the fold

The Arctic Council - the most important intergovernmental organization in the polar region - is gradually resuming its activities following a long break caused by the seven Western members’ decision to scale down cooperation with Russia due to its military operation in Ukraine. The council is not ready to fully resume work just yet but after Norway took over the organization's chairmanship several months ago, interaction between all members, including Russia, has intensified. A Russian Foreign Ministry official told Kommersant that any attempts to isolate Russia - the largest Arctic power - were bound to fail. In recent weeks, there have been an increasing number of reports that the Arctic Council - a regional organization bringing together eight countries (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States) - is stepping up its work. Representatives of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic have held a meeting, six working groups have resumed contact and an audit of multiple projects is underway in order to continue their implementation. Morten Hoglund, the Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials, pointed out in an interview with Kommersant that Oslo’s main goal was to keep the council cohesive and relevant so that its member states feel it’s beneficial and worthwhile for them to continue working in the organization. He noted that although the council is no longer exactly what it used to be, no one’s rights should be infringed upon. In response to a question about how important the organization was for Russia at this point, a Foreign Ministry official told Kommersant that Moscow saw the Arctic Council "as the leading intergovernmental platform for coordinating international activities across the entire Arctic region for the sake of ensuring its sustainable development." In September, Russia announced its withdrawal from another regional organization, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council established in 1993. Moscow made the decision because just like in the Arctic Council, the organization's activities had been suspended in March 2022 at the initiative of Western countries. That said, the Arctic Council situation is clearly taking a more positive turn.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: France, US creating problems for Russian coal

Developed countries want to sweep the failure of the Paris Climate Agreement under the rug by putting forward new green initiatives, thus creating threats for developing economies. According to media reports, France and the US will call for a ban on private investment in coal power plants at a climate summit in Dubai next week. India’s coal energy industry will be the main target but the ban will also affect Russian coal exports by reducing global demand, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes. The plan to abandon investment in the coal sector may be met with opposition from Asian countries such as India and China whose energy consumption largely depends on coal. About 73% of the energy consumed in India comes from coal. France, on the other hand, hardly uses thermal coal at all because its energy industry is based on nuclear power plants.    Coal-fired power generation remains one of the most readily available and cheapest ways to produce electricity, Daniil Gonenko, associate professor with the Department of Economics and Finances of the Public Sector at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, pointed out. According to him, research confirms that Russian coal exports will not decline in the next 25-30 years and will probably even rise by several percent as there is no appropriate alternative in terms of prices. "This is why rapidly developing countries cannot abandon this cheap method to generate electricity," the expert said.                                                                          "The share of coal in the global energy balance currently stands at about 27-28%. It may drop to 25-26% in the next few years but coal will remain a primary commodity," leading expert at Finam Management Dmitry Baranov added.

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