Paris using Olympics as pretext to create obstacles for Moscow’s diplomats — Russian envoy

  MOSCOW:  Russian security structures name accessories to the deadly terrorist attack near Moscow, say Kiev’s fingerprints likely to turn u...


MOSCOW:  Russian security structures name accessories to the deadly terrorist attack near Moscow, say Kiev’s fingerprints likely to turn up as probe progresses; a London court has ruled against extraditing Julian Assange to face charges in the United States; and the UK Parliament is not up to the task of drafting an unimpeachable legal basis for confiscating frozen Russian assets. These stories topped Wednesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.

Vedomosti: Russian FSB names accessories to Crocus attack, puppet-masters still unknown

The US, UK and Ukrainian intelligence services may have been complicit in the terror attack on March 22 on a crowded concert at the Crocus City Hall music venue in suburban Moscow, but the identities of the behind-the-scenes string-pullers who ordered it have yet to be established, Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Alexander Bortnikov said on March 26. He added that the investigation is underway and authorities will continue to identify those who abetted the perpetrators, TASS reported.

According to the FSB chief, although the deadly terror attack on the Moscow outskirts appears to have been plotted and perpetrated by radical Islamists, Ukrainian intelligence may still have been involved. "At this time, I can only say that we received preliminary information pointing to the engagement of that side in organizing this act," he explained.

Bortnikov stressed that representatives of Ukrainian security structures had trained militants in the Middle East. After the terrorist attack was carried out, the Ukrainian side was ready to welcome the terrorists "as heroes," he added. Given this, the FSB head proposed designating the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) as a terrorist organization.

On the same day, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev said, "Ukraine, of course," in replying to a journalist’s question as to whether the Islamic State (IS, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, before 2014; outlawed in Russia) terrorist group or Ukraine was behind the tragedy.

Accusations implicating Kiev of being involved in the terrorist attack will do nothing to dent Ukraine’s international image, however, if the information remains uncorroborated and is based solely on witness testimony, said Vladimir Bruter, an expert at the International Institute for Humanitarian-Political Studies. In his opinion, the West will still continue to provide financial and military assistance to the Kiev regime. "For them, Ukraine serves as cannon fodder helping to contain Russia. The West will need this conflict even if Moscow is winning. The main thing is for the situation not to collapse completely for Ukraine," the expert explained.

Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly denied having any involvement in the attack.

Vedomosti: UK court rules against WikiLeaks founder Assange’s immediate extradition to US

On March 26, England’s High Court of Justice ruled against the immediate extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States, where he is facing up to 175 years in prison for publishing tens of thousands of classified US documents. According to Reuters, the court granted the US Department of Justice (DOJ) three weeks to come up with sufficient guarantees that during court proceedings in the US, the Australian journalist would enjoy free speech protections under the First Amendment to the US Constitution, and that the court would neither be biased due to his Australian citizenship nor hand down a death sentence.

The British would like to see a US ruling on Assange that accounts for their interests, said Sergey Shein, a researcher at the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies (CCEIS) at the Higher School of Economics (HSE University). It is important for the UK political elite, led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, to avoid anything on the international stage that could be interpreted as a defeat in order not to further deflate the ruling Conservative Party’s already sinking poll numbers. Thus, an extremely cautious, purely British strategy will be followed even in a matter that pertains to the US, London’s closest ally, Shein noted.

The US will not accept the High Court’s current ruling and will try to have its way, potentially using political pressure tactics, said CCEIS Deputy Director Dmitry Suslov. From official Washington’s point of view, Assange damaged US national security, and any US administration, regardless of who is in the White House, would continue to press for his extradition. According to Suslov, the US is not going to execute Assange, but it is clear that he if ends up in US custody he will never be released.

Izvestia: UK Parliament turns down bill on confiscating Russian assets

Great Britain is unable to formulate a legal foundation for confiscating Russian assets. Currently, Parliament is not reviewing any bills on this matter, while the one introduced in 2023 has been rejected, the press service of the lower chamber House of Commons told Izvestia. The upper chamber House of Lords told the newspaper that lawyers from the Foreign Office as well as the Bank of England are concerned over the precedent that such a move would create. Experts think that this year British lawmakers will be unable to pass any law green-lighting the confiscation of Russian property, while Russia has branded any attempt by Western countries to infringe on its ownership rights to frozen assets as blatant theft.

"First of all, the draft bill was introduced by an ordinary MP from the opposition Labour Party, and these days such bills are approved very seldom; secondly, it does not propose any specific measures on confiscating the assets, but merely calls for the Conservatives in power to set forth their options," Igor Kovalev, first deputy dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Politics at the Higher School of Economics (HSE University), told Izvestia.

According to him, both main UK parties - Conservative and Labour - are permeated by anti-Russian sentiments but, so far, neither the UK nor the EU nor the US have been able to come up with an unimpeachably legal means to simply take somebody else’s money.

"Given that the traditions of inviolability, I would even say, the sacrosanct nature of property rights, are strong in the Anglo-Saxon world, I think that it will be very difficult to find legal grounds for the expropriation of Russian sovereign assets in 2024," the expert stressed.

Izvestia: What drove Zelensky to sack Ukrainian security chief

The reshuffling in the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (NSDCU) is indicative of increased British pressure on the country’s leadership, experts think. The background of Alexander Litvinenko, the newly minted head of the NSDCU appointed by Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, points to this because he attended the Royal College of Defense Studies (RCDS) and interacted closely with British intelligence operatives in his former role as the director of the Ukrainian Foreign Intelligence Service. The experts link the sacking of Litvinenko’s controversial predecessor, Alexey Danilov, to his offensive public statements that disparaged, for example, China’s special envoy for reaching a settlement to the Ukraine crisis. Danilov himself, upon stepping down, practically branded the situation that the Kiev regime finds itself in as "bleak."

"Litvinenko can be seen as a ‘pro-British’ person," political scientist Alexander Dudchak told Izvestia. "He led the Foreign Intelligence Service and went to the British Royal College of Defense Studies. Overall, Zelensky’s entire office, with some exceptions, is the domain of British intelligence. Essentially, this is about the UK’s increased influence," the expert explained.

So far this year, the Kiev regime’s security structures have already experienced at least one other headline-making dismissal. On February 8, Zelensky fired Ukrainian Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny, replacing him with Alexander Syrsky, who was in charge of Ukraine’s ground troops. Following this, a February 15 survey by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) revealed that the Ukrainian president’s confidence rating had plummeted by 13%.

Kommersant: Gas production in Russia up 14% in January-February

Gas production in Russia has been on the rise since the beginning of the year: in February, Russian companies produced 64.5 bln cubic meters of gas, representing 13.8% year-on-year growth. The production in January-February went up by 10% year on year, to 131.5 bln cubic meters, mainly attributable to Gazprom. That said, independent producers have noticeably lowered their daily average gas production while Rosneft, which was in the lead in Russia last year, has increased its output only by 2.8%, having stabilized production at the Kharampur and Rospan gas projects.

The dynamics of gas output in February turned out to be high even with adjustments for the extra day in leap year 2024, noted Sergey Kondratyev, an expert at the Institute of Energy and Finance Foundation. That said, in February, the average daily gas production by Novatek and oil majors decreased and the growth was ensured by "other producers," above all, by Gazprom, he believes.

The expert added that it is hard to assess the exact output trendline at Gazprom’s fields, but it may surpass 14% year on year. The substantial increase has also been partially triggered by the base effect: in February 2023, production dropped by 11.6% year on year. Also, the increased output may be related to high demand in the domestic market; in February 2024, according to the Russian energy system operator, the average temperature in Russia was -9.4°С, which is 0.7°С lower than a year earlier.

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Local Glob: Paris using Olympics as pretext to create obstacles for Moscow’s diplomats — Russian envoy
Paris using Olympics as pretext to create obstacles for Moscow’s diplomats — Russian envoy
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