Press review: EU split on Ukraine hitting Russia and Israeli tanks roll deep into Rafah

MOSCOW: EU split on whether to let Ukraine use Western-supplied weapons to strike Russian territory; tanks roll into heart of Rafah as Israe...


MOSCOW: EU split on whether to let Ukraine use Western-supplied weapons to strike Russian territory; tanks roll into heart of Rafah as Israeli offensive escalates; and Georgian parliament keeps foreign agent law alive, leading to concerns about Western sanctions. These stories topped Wednesday's newspaper headlines across Russia.

Izvestia: EU split over restrictions on Ukraine striking Russian soil

The European Union is divided over whether Kiev should be allowed to use Western-supplied weapons to strike Russia. The rift became clear when EU defense ministers met on Tuesday to discuss the consequences of such a decision, if any is ever made. All this comes against the backdrop of Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s European tour.

Not all European governments are opposed to the idea of giving their approval to Zelensky. Thus, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Poland, Estonia and Latvia believe that Kiev has the right to use weapons against targets on Russian soil, while Spain, Germany, Italy and Belgium are against.

Alexey Chikhachev, a researcher at the MGIMO Laboratory of International Trends Analysis (LITRA), says the divisions in the camp of Zelensky’s supporters are due to differing views about the associated risks. "The fear of these weapons being used leading to an understandable response from Russia and causing irreparable damage to the European countries themselves certainly remains a major deterrent," he told Izvestia.

According to Chikhachev, in many nations, the desire to win over voters overshadows any fears about Russia, prompting their leaders to make increasingly hostile statements about Moscow. However, in the end, much will depend on where Washington comes out on the issue, the expert maintained.

In this context, rhetoric by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stands out, since he speaks on behalf of the entire alliance, German political analyst and economist Eike Hamer told Izvestia. Commenting on statements by several Bundestag members who are pushing to lift the restrictions on Ukraine using Western weapons for strikes on Russia, the expert recounted the Two Plus Four agreement that was signed in September 1990 by the German Democratic Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany, the USSR, France, Britain and the United States. Under it, Germany cannot be hostile toward the winning countries in WWII, he said.

Vedomosti: Israeli tanks advance into central Rafah

Israeli tanks have pushed deep into Rafah in the central Gaza Strip, Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing locals. Fighting is currently taking place between Hamas militants and the Israeli military in the heart of Rafah.

The Israeli offensive in Rafah comes less than a day after the Jewish state’s air force struck a tent camp for Palestinian refugees, killing at least 45 people, including 20 women, seniors and

The Israeli airstrike sparked outrage from Western countries. White House Adviser John Kirby urged Israel to take precautionary measures to protect civilians. French President Emmanuel Macron called on the Israeli leadership to immediately stop the military operation in Rafah on his page on X. The German Foreign Ministry and the EU’s diplomacy chief Josep Borrell issued a similar statement. Hamas officials told mediators after the Israeli strike that they would no longer participate in any peace talks with Israel.

While Israel’s actions and international pressure have caused a dent in the United States’ global image, Washington will under no circumstances reconsider its strategic relationship with the Jewish state, researcher at the Higher School of Economics Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies Lev Sokolshchik told Vedomosti. "True, the Americans may withhold some arms transfers to the Israelis for tactical reasons or exert diplomatic pressure on them to somehow alleviate the impact of supporting Israel, but even despite the international criticism, this country will remain Washington’s ally in the Middle East regardless," the expert added.

The risk of the escalation spiraling out of control amid the Israeli military operation in Gaza is growing, but the likelihood of other countries joining this war is minimal, says Ivan Bocharov, program coordinator at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC). According to him, the most opportune moment for that was missed back in October 2023. Even if the military operation in Rafah is a success, Israel cannot claim a military victory over Hamas for the time being, Bocharov argues. "Hamas still maintains a substantial presence in the Palestinian enclave," the expert explains.

Izvestia: Experts weigh in on potential Western sanctions on Georgia

The Georgian parliament has overridden the veto imposed by its president on the country's controversial foreign agent law. The decision was made against the background of weeks of opposition protests and threats on the part of the EU and the US.

European leaders have repeatedly warned Tbilisi that passing the law on the transparency of foreign influence may hamper the country’s European integration. The adoption of the bill will "negatively impact" Georgia’s EU path, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell wrote on May 28 as he said that the Foreign Affairs Council would discuss the EU’s response at a meeting next month.

Washington, too, has hinted that it may revisit its relations with Tbilisi. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the White House may introduce a new visa policy on any individuals, their families included, who upend democracy in Georgia.

Experts say that Brussels’ threats to deny Tbilisi EU accession are its main instrument of pressure. But this will not work, German political scientist Alexander Rahr said. His Georgian counterpart, Archil Sikharulidze, agrees that Georgia knows very well that it still has a long way to go to be admitted. "The issue of Georgia’s accession to the EU will not be resolved by 2030, as many expect. And the adoption of the law does not affect the decision on Georgia’s membership in the European Union," he told Izvestia.

However, no US or European influence is great enough for any sanctions to cause a collapse of Georgia, Sikharulidze continued, as the country earns export revenues mostly from Russia, Turkey, Iran and China. "I doubt that very harsh sanctions will be imposed, as they may push Georgia to turn away from Brussels to embrace active rapprochement with Russia," Rarh said, commenting on potential Western sanctions.

Vedomosti: Belgium to boost Ukraine's military arsenal over next four years with 30 F-16s

By 2028, Belgium will send 30 F-16 fighter jets to Kiev, the kingdom’s foreign minister, Hadja Lahbib, told Bel RTL radio, as stipulated in the 10-year agreement signed by Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on Tuesday. Under it, Belgium will give Ukraine at least 977 mln euro (around $1 bln) in military aid this year. De Croo stressed that the weapons his country was transferring to Ukraine are for use on its soil only.

According to Flight Global, there are 2,810 F-16s in service with global armies. This is the most commonly used single-engine fighter jet, designed in the US in the 1970s. It was first manufactured in 1979, seeing many upgrades since then.

When it comes to F-16s for Ukraine, these will be quite outdated aircraft, Alexander Yermakov, a military expert with the Russian International Affairs Council, noted. Their adoption by the Ukrainian armed forces would facilitate the use of Western weapons, mostly air-to-ground ones, but nobody will throw F-16s into air battles against Russia’s more superior Su-35 jets, he argues. According to Yermakov, the transfer of F-16s to Ukraine comes as European countries renew their aircraft fleets, replacing them with more advanced US-made F-35 fighters. As the Belgians have delayed their switch to F-35s, they will not be able to send the aircraft to Ukraine before 2026, the expert concluded.

The delivery of this old fleet of European fighter jets will not be a gamechanger for Ukraine in the military conflict, Ilya Kramnik, research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, maintains.

However, an official close to the Russian Defense Ministry told Vedomosti that the aircraft cannot be underestimated and that the Russian Aerospace Forces are making preparations to counter them in the skies. Currently, Ukraine has several dozen Soviet-era Su-27, MiG-29, Su-24 and Su-25 aircraft at its disposal, but their service life will soon expire, while the F-16s being delivered to Ukraine are 30 to 40 years old. While frequent duels against Russian fighter jets should not be expected, he continued, strikes on ground targets as well as attempts to intercept Russian attack and fighter aircraft and drones using F-16s may occur.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: CBR may lift key rate amid overheated economy

The Bank of Russia is facing a tough choice of whether to admit to being unable to keep inflation at bay or raise interest rates again. Central Bank officials have pointed to an overheated economy, which usually foreshadows a rate hike.

Price growth has intensified between May 3 and May 20, with consumer prices rising by a total of 0.37% against a 0.26% price rise in the previous three weeks, the Center for Macroeconomic Analysis and Short-Term Forecasting (TsMAKP) said in its latest inflation report. "It’s worth noting that inflation has not reversed course, despite the tight monetary policy," TsMAKP experts say.

However, lending growth remains high amid the abnormally high lending rates, the CBR said on Tuesday. Earlier, CBR officials said their business climate indicator has seen an uptick in May and is hovering near 12-year highs. "The intensive growth of business activity continues. <…> Investment activity expectations for the second quarter of 2024 hit a new high," the Bank of Russia said.

Meanwhile, some bankers are hoping the CBR will refrain from changing the key rate. VTB CEO Andrey Kostin expects the key interest rate to remain unchanged at 16%. "I don’t see any reason for the Central Bank to hike its rate," he said.

However, some market players have pointed to interbank rates being above the 16% key rate, which, they argue, may indicate that lenders are foreseeing another CBR hike.


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Local Glob: Press review: EU split on Ukraine hitting Russia and Israeli tanks roll deep into Rafah
Press review: EU split on Ukraine hitting Russia and Israeli tanks roll deep into Rafah
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