Press review: Berlin leery amid Russia probe and Slovakia elects Euroskeptic leader

  MOSCOW: Germany is facing a political dilemma as Russia demands clarity on US, Ukrainian involvement in Russian attacks; a Euroskeptic can...


MOSCOW: Germany is facing a political dilemma as Russia demands clarity on US, Ukrainian involvement in Russian attacks; a Euroskeptic candidate wins Slovakia’s presidential runoff; and Japan focuses on high-tech collaboration as it inches closer to joining AUKUS. These stories topped Monday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.

Izvestia: Berlin walking diplomatic tightrope as Russia presses for probe into US, Ukraine connections in European terror

In late March, a group of State Duma members addressed prosecutor general’s offices in five concerned countries, namely Russia, the United States, Germany, France and Cyprus, asking for their assistance in investigating the role of the US leadership in terrorist attacks in Europe. The lower house of Russia’s parliament believes that such requests may start a public discourse in the West about the possible involvement of the US, Europe and Ukraine in the crimes.

Earlier this month, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office sent these requests to the competent authorities in the US, Germany, France and Cyprus. The Russian Foreign Ministry said it would monitor the international response to those requests. However, the initial reaction has been rather guarded. The Justice Ministry of the Republic of Cyprus hastened to say that it had not received any requests from Russia, while German officials refused to publicly comment on the request from Russian prosecutors.

The German authorities are afraid to discuss the probe into the sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines and other terrorist attacks in which Western leaders may be involved, as the role of either Ukraine or Germany’s closest allies, including the United States, as the sponsor of the crimes may come to light, Wolfgang Wiehle, a member of the German Bundestag, told Izvestia. "I think that the German authorities are going through the motions with this probe as, I am afraid, they are not much interested in uncovering the facts. There will be a big uproar if it turns out that one of Germany’s allies paid the criminals or that they arrived from that country. And I don’t think the government wants that," he said.

Despite the facts pointing to the potential involvement of the United States and Ukraine in the terrorist attacks on the gas pipelines, Washington will try to put pressure on European countries to sweep any compromising evidence under the rug, Michalis Philaniotis from the Board of the Cyprus-Russia Friendship Society, agrees. "Cyprus and other European countries will do whatever the EU leaders or the Americans tell them to do. If they forbid [Cyprus] to take part in the investigation, it would obey," he told Izvestia.

Vedomosti: Euroskeptic Pellegrini wins presidential election in Slovakia

Euroskeptic Peter Pellegrini from the ruling Hlas party, speaker of the National Council of the Slovak Republic, won the presidential runoff on April 6, an outcome that has been officially confirmed by the country’s top election authority. Pellegrini scored 53.12% of the vote, with Ivan Korcok, a former pro-Western foreign minister, coming in second with 46.88% of the vote.

Pellegrini’s win means incumbent Prime Minister Robert Fico now has a strong ally in the highest office. Fico is a staunch opponent of the current EU policy course on Ukraine. Moreover, it is under Fico that Slovakia stopped sending weapons to Ukraine from its reserves for free, instead choosing to execute contracts that had been paid for, including for the delivery of self-propelled howitzers. Before Fico took office last fall, Slovakia had sent 671 mln euro worth of weapons, ammunition and equipment to Ukraine.

Pellegrini’s victory will hardly cause any major tensions between Slovakia and the European Union, as the relationship between Bratislava and Brussels has been icy since Fico’s election to office, said Russia in Global Affairs Editor-in-Chief Fyodor Lukyanov. Slovakia has been quite careful in how it confronts the EU, the expert continued. However, in electing Pellegrini, voters have in essence voiced their desire to end the war in Ukraine.

The relations between Brussels and Bratislava are going the way of those between Brussels and Budapest to Artyom Sokolov, researcher at the Center for European Studies at the Institute of International Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO RAS). And the outcome of the election did nothing to buck this trend, the expert said. While Hungary and Slovakia may not put up a united front against the EU’s policy on Ukraine, a group of EU countries who hold a position that differs from the pan-European agenda and insist on putting an end to the war is certainly in the making, he concluded.

Izvestia: Japan inches closer to AUKUS with focus on high-tech synergy

While Japan has not yet made a final decision on joining AUKUS, it is set to continue working with the alliance’s members, the Japanese embassy told Izvestia. Later this week, US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will discuss technical cooperation within the alliance with the leader of the Philippines. Tokyo is expected to take part in the second pillar of the AUKUS agreement that envisages military technology sharing rather than membership.

An official invitation may be extended as early as this month, US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell hinted, possibly after Biden-Kishida talks in Washington. And on April 11, the United States will host the first ever trilateral summit with Japan and the Philippines to discuss security in the Asia-Pacific. According to Campbell, Japan made it clear that it is not interested in building nuclear submarines together but that there are spheres in which the country could provide a great benefit. The senior US diplomat mentioned leading robotics, initiatives in the cyber sphere and anti-submarine defense technology.

Japan is unlikely to take part in the nuclear subs project, as it sticks to the Three Non-Nuclear Principles of non-possession, non-production, and non-introduction of nuclear weapons, Oleg Kazakov, senior researcher at the Center for Japanese Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Izvestia. Besides, the country’s participation in military nuclear projects may be perceived very negatively by the Japanese people themselves, let alone countries whose leaders are not so fond of Japan.

Meanwhile, joining high-tech initiatives would meet Japan’s current interests, given the trend toward increasing its military power amid the alleged growing threat from North Korea and China, Kazakov added. "This would give it access to the member countries’ know-how, given how sensitive the topic is and that the Americans, for one, seldom share their secrets," he said. The expert believes that including Tokyo in the latest innovative projects may be discussed in Washington, taking into account the country’s highly advanced expertise in technology, especially in cybersecurity, robotics, AI and various unmanned vehicles.

Media: Yellen raises alarm on China's production output

On April 4-9, US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen is making her second visit to China. Her first visit to the East Asian country in July 2023 was not fruitful despite what she called a "warm welcome." This time around, she has discussed China’s excess capacity at meetings with Chinese Premier Li Qiang and other high-profile officials.

The Chinese themselves have been sporadically cutting their excessive industrial capacity as part of what they call "supply-side structural reform" under Xi Jinping, director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics (HSE University), told Vedomosti. So, what Yellen is calling on China to do is in line with Chinese macroeconomic policy, and Chinese exports have recently fallen in almost all directions, except for Russia, Central Asia and India, the expert added.

Also on the agenda is alleged material support from Chinese companies to the Russian defense industry, something the Chinese media failed to mention. Yellen warned China of "significant consequences" in what the Financial Times said was one of Washington’s sharpest messages to Beijing. According to her, China assured her that it is their policy not to provide military support to Russia.

In an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Kashin said: "This topic has been ever present in the media. In their propaganda, the United States exaggerates China’s contribution to the [Russian] special military operation. Judging from Western media reports, China has increased its support to Russia." Commenting on this, Kashin said one should not make comparisons between the assistance the West has provided to Ukraine and the amount of aid China has delivered to Russia. According to him, everything China has sent has been on a commercial basis, and Chinese companies make good money on such deliveries.

Alexander Lukin, research director at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of China and Contemporary Asia, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that, ahead of the November election, it is important for US President Joe Biden to show that he has made some headway with the Chinese, and therefore, he would tout Yellen’s trip as a success. "Russia has sent weapons to China before, while China has not supplied Russia with [any weapons]. And it claims it is not sending any now. And it is not clear what is really going on in that sphere. We can only be guided by official statements," he said.

Vedomosti: EU sitting on record gas reserves as heating season ends

The European Union finished the 2023-2024 heating season with 64.3 bln cubic meters of natural gas reserves at its underground gas storage (UGS) facilities, a record amount, according to data from the Gas Infrastructure Europe.

The volume was 4 bln cubic meters higher than at the end of the previous heating season, or a 6.6% increase. As of the end of the 2023-2024 heating season, EU-wide UGS facilities were filled to 58.3%.

In 2024, the bloc’s demand for gas for filling its UGS facilities will be lower than last year, Ronald Smith, a senior analyst at BCS World of Investments, told Vedomosti. At that, general consumption in the EU will depend on how fast industrial demand revives, as well as the weather and the situation on the Asian gas market, National Energy Security Fund lead analyst Igor Yushkov explained.

As regards demand for Russian natural gas, it will mostly depend on political aspects, experts said. According to Yushkov, Russian fuel is competitive in terms of price, judging from the increase in Russian gas exports in the first quarter. However, Sergey Kaufman, an analyst at Finam, sees the risk of European customers refusing to buy Russian gas via Ukrainian transit for political reasons, in the event of a surplus on the European market.

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Local Glob: Press review: Berlin leery amid Russia probe and Slovakia elects Euroskeptic leader
Press review: Berlin leery amid Russia probe and Slovakia elects Euroskeptic leader
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