Russia Watch Team: Arnaud Huss, Nicolas Girard, Corentin Delon, Anastasia K., Erwann Leyral, Olga Shevchuk, led by Ilinka Léger and Enzo Padovan.
04/12/2022: Hungary is exempted from respecting the price cap on Russian oil – Enzo Padovan and Arnaud Huss
On 4th December, Péter Szijjártó, the Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced on Facebook that his country was exempted from respecting the designated cap on Russian oil’s price. This cap came into force this week, within EU Member-States and the G7; BBC indicated in an article that the price was set at 60 dollars per petrol barrel. However, Hungary managed to negotiate an exception for its own economy. “During the negotiations over the oil cap, we fought a lot for Hungarian interests, and we succeeded”, the Minister declared on Facebook.
Since the beginning of the war, according to the International Institute of Finance, Russia has earned $74 billion in profits from its oil export sales: two-thirds of it to Western countries. According to the Moscow Times, this measure creates an impact on the Kremlin’s financial resources. On the other hand, some Russian officials have said that the government has already planned to make up for the shortfall by turning to the Chinese and Indian markets. TASS reported that the Russian authorities had prepared for this decision, which would allow the “Russification” of oil transport, without using foreign transport companies. The risk for foreign companies would be the seizure of the tanker for 90 days. According to Le Monde, more than 90% of insurance payments come from companies in G7 countries, which is a key factor in maritime transport.
The Hungarian negotiations take place in a context of uncertainty, regarding Moscow’s fuel deliveries. Meduza, a news outlet opposed to Vladimir Putin’s regime, shared in an article the declarations of Alexander Novak, the Russian Deputy Prime Minister: the countries who accepted the financial cap will not receive petroleum coming from Russian refineries. Hungary, just like Slovakia, is crossed by the Druzhba pipeline, which still supplies a consequent quantity of oil, as the British agency Reuters reveals. This explains partly their position on petroleum prices, and their blockage against new EU financial aids to help Ukraine, in the same week. These aids, according to Euronews, could amount up to 18 billion Euros.
05/12/2022: Ukrainian drones strike on Russian rear air bases – Anastasia K.
On 5 December, two military airfields “Dyadilevo” and “Engels” were hit on Russian territory. According to the French newspaper Le Parisien, the Russian Ministry of Defense accused Kiev of carrying out these attacks using jet drones. The Ukrainian authorities have kept silent, because officially Ukraine does not have such means of striking. According to the media Radio Svoboda, these strikes would constitute a new stage in the war between Russia and Ukraine; for the first time, Ukrainian forces would have attacked Russian infrastructure located respectively at 500 km and 700 km from the Russian-Ukrainian borders.
These attacks would have made it possible to destroy strategic bombers (Tu-95 MC, Tu-160, Tu-22M3) that Russia no longer produces since the fall of the Soviet Union and that the Russian army uses to strike Ukrainian territory. The destruction of several of these bombers would have made it possible to reduce the number of strikes on the same day. Not only will Russian forces have to focus more on securing these airfields (including relocating them, moving the bombers and strengthening anti-aircraft systems), but more globally rethink the security of other Belarusian and Russian airfields, which are located within the minimum 700 km radius. Finally, military expert Igor Levchenko added that the Russian government, when preparing the invasion of Ukraine, would not have considered the possibility of being attacked on its own soil.
06/12/2022: Russian strikes on Ukraine’s energy grid cause power outages – Erwann Leyral
On 6 December, the Russian General Staff explained on the Defense Ministry’s Telegram channel that strikes successfully hit Ukraine’s “energy and military units” with “high-precision […] weapons.” Energy occupies a central place in modern conflicts, both for its military and civilian use. Energy production infrastructure has been affected and a drop in electricity production is expected according to Ukrenergo, which however claimed in its Telegram channel that “Ukraine’s energy system [has] preserved its integrity and [continues] to operate synchronously with the grid of mainland Europe.”
The national energy company says that “repair teams are doing their best to provide energy via backup circuits.” Some areas are working around the clock, such as Kiev and Odessa. Despite these efforts, the situation remains precarious: power cuts to stabilize the country’s energy deficit are already taking place. At last news, on 9 December in the morning, Energoatom, the National Nuclear Power Company of Ukraine, deplored via its Telegram channel the particularly difficult weather conditions, especially in the east: “Currently, the most difficult situation remains in the eastern region.“
06/12/2022: Latvia has canceled the broadcasting license of the Russian private television channel “Dozhd” – Olga Shevchuk
On 6 December, the Latvian National Electronic Media Council revoked the broadcasting licence of the channel Dozhd (TV Rain), owned by a private Russian company. The channel has been based in Riga since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, due to criminal persecution in Russia for criticism of the authorities’ actions.
The decision was taken because of a threat to national security, according to the Latvian authorities. On 1 December, Dozhd host Alexei Korostelev said: “We hope that we have been able to help many servicemen“. The Latvian state security service then opened an investigation into suspicions that the TV station was providing aid to the Russian military.
“All must respect the laws of Latvia” – said Council President Ivar Abolins on Twitter. After the revocation of the license in Latvia, the TV channel will not be able to broadcast on cable networks throughout the European Union. The editors said they intend to continue the work. Its founder, Natalya Sindeeva, said on her Telegram channel that the newsroom will receive a licence in another country.
06/12/2022: Oil giant Rosneft says it is little affected by German trusteeship – Corentin Delon
On 7 December, the results for the third half of 2022 were published on the Rosneft.com website of the Russian oil group of the same name. As the group’s official report indicates, revenues in rubles rose by 15.7% in the third half of the year, despite the government’s seizures of refineries in Germany. The English-language media outlet Moscow Times relayed the oil giant’s official statement, saying that “[i]n the third quarter of 2022, the most significant negative impact on revenues came from the transfer of the company’s assets to Germany… Which resulted in the recognition of an additional loss of 56 billion rubles (about $889 million).”
The German government (heavily dependent on Russian hydrocarbons) had therefore placed Rosneft’s subsidiaries located on its territory under forced “fiduciary administration” as of September 2022. The media (Figaro, Moscow Times) announced that these subsidiaries represented 12% of the country’s refining capacity. These measures by the government are part of the continuity of a particular desire to secure its energy supply that began in April with the takeover of the German subsidiary of gas giant Gazprom.
The Rosneft group, which had lodged an appeal against the German state for the trusteeship of its activities, nevertheless announced in its official report that it had increased its deliveries to Asia by a third. The report added that the company had “completely offset the decline in deliveries to European buyers“.
08/12/2022: Russia denounces UN data on HIV spread in the country as “propaganda” – Enzo Padovan
On 8th December, the Russian Ministry of Health commented on the data published by UNAIDS, the UN program dedicated to fighting the spread of AIDS. The program thus revealed, in a study published earlier this year that approximately 1.5 million people have contracted HIV in 2021. Amongst those, 3.9% of new patients live in Russia, which makes it one of the most affected countries by the disease’s propagation. Other data, jointly shared by the WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, confirm this statement. Still in 2021, over a population of 100,000 Russian, 40.2 of them were infected with a form of HIV, which makes it the highest rate out of all Eastern European countries.
According to the Russian Ministry of Health, who responded through a press release, the data published by UNAIDS and the WHO represent “another propagandist provocation aimed against our nation”. Although the Ministry did confirm the incidence of 40.2 HIV diagnoses for 100,000 Russians, it also reminded that this incidence was reduced by 31.4% in the last three years: in 2018, this number had reached 58.6 AIDS patients for 100,000 inhabitants. If the Ministry’s sources are to be trusted, 0.58% of the national population (or 851,754 people) are currently affected with HIV. Thus, the Kremlin considers that “these data do not allow us to assess the situation with the spread of HIV infection in Russia”.
08/12/2022: Basketball player Brittney Griner traded for arms dealer Viktor Bout – Erwann Leyral
On 8th December, after about nine months of detention for drug trafficking considered “unfair” and “in intolerable circumstances” by the American president Joe Biden, Brittney Griner was able to return to the United States as a result of a prisoner exchange between Moscow and Washington (Le Figaro). The arms trafficker Viktor Bout, described as a “merchant of death” by the Moscow Times, was also able to return to Russia. Convicted respectively to 9 and 25 years in prison, the two detainees were the object of an exchange, which Vladimir Putin, according to the Russian governmental press agency Ria Novosti, has not ruled out the possibility of being replicated in the future.