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Biden’s mistake, Orbán’s blackmailing, and oil saving Russia: highlights from Western news

Weekly highlights from Western news: a digest

Weekly highlights from Western news: a digest

U.S. President Joe Biden made a mistake when he tied aid to Ukraine to security on the Mexico border. In trying to reach a compromise, he instead drew criticism from both conservatives and liberals.

Meanwhile, global media outlets continue to discuss the problem of draft dodging in Ukraine, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is blackmailing the EU and Ukraine, speculating on the rights of ethnic minorities in particular, and the Russian economy is recovering from sanctions.

The Page offers a digest of Western mass media at the end of the December 4–8, 2023, business week.

Biden’s mistake: attempted compromise turned into a trap

According to The New York Times, U.S. President Joe Biden faces difficult choices because of conservative demands that he choke off the number of migrants admitted to the United States.

The NYT reminds the readers that it was Biden’s idea to tie aid to Ukraine and Israel with allocating money for border security as he sought support from Republicans. However, Republican lawmakers negan demanding broad changes to border policy, causing controversies in the President’s own party.

The president signaled on Wednesday that he was open to further negotiations with Senate Republicans after they blocked his emergency spending bill. He now has to decide how far to go in giving in to conservative demands that he substantially choke off the number of migrants admitted to the United States while their asylum claims are considered.

Quote"The president of the United States should be involved," said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. "Everybody behind me will vote to aid Ukraine if we can get the border right."

The White House has limited time to reach a compromise with a Congress whose members are set to leave for recess next week.

Joe Biden addressing Congress on funding Ukraine as a security need for the United States and NATO, December 6, the White House. Photo: Getty Images

Joe Biden addressing Congress on funding Ukraine as a security need for the United States and NATO, December 6, the White House. Photo: Getty Images

The White House is ready to compromise, but Republicans want more

Senior Biden administration officials have told both sides in the negotiations that the White House is open to making it more difficult to gain asylum in the United States. But Republicans say that is not enough. They want the United States to impose policies that would make most migrants ineligible for asylum and require them to wait in Mexico until their case is processed.

On Wednesday, the president implored Congress to put aside "petty, partisan, angry politics" and pass the $111 billion bill. He said failure to do so could enable President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to reclaim momentum in the war. John Kirby, a White House spokesman, answering a request for aid from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi, said on Thursday that the White House was "not in a position to make that promise to Ukraine, given where things are on the Hill."

Meanwhile, immigration advocates say that Biden never should have paired the wartime funding with immigration reform in the first place.

Quote"Grouping the issues together in the supplemental funding request strategically and substantially was a catastrophic error because it was the signal, it was the beginning of what came to fruition yesterday when the president said immigrant communities are a bargaining chip," said Heidi Altman, the policy director at the liberal National Immigrant Justice Center.

Draft dodgers: a problem no longer possible to hush up

Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service on patrol in the western Chernivtsi region. Photo: the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine

Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service on patrol in the western Chernivtsi region. Photo: the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine

Ukraine needs fighters even more than Western weapons, prompting it to search new ways to mobilize the population and reinforce measures against draft dodgers, The Washington Post reports.

Some men resort to elaborate, even desperate, schemes, trying to sneak out of the country. They either hire guides to lead them through the mountains or try and go alone, swim across the Tysa River, hide in secret compartments in vehicles, pose as clergy members and dress as women. Many rely on fake documents or bogus marriage.

President Volodymyr Zelensky himself has recognized that there is a problem. "Everyone in Ukraine understands that changes are needed in this area," he said last week, adding that the problem goes beyond raw numbers and includes current conditions and terms of service.

Quote"Honestly, we need more soldiers. The professional military personnel are running out," said Dolphin, a 68th Brigade assault team leader. He said too many civilians seem content to leave the fighting to "professional" soldiers like him.

Defense Minister Rustem Umerov recently told a European security forum that Ukraine has 1 million people in military service, including 800,000 in the armed forces. But the toll has been staggering, with U.S. security officials estimating much earlier this year that Ukraine has suffered more than 124,500 casualties, including more than 15,500 killed in action.

Although most Ukrainians remain united in a battle for survival, many draft-age Ukrainian men are less than eager to fight for a military and national government that is viewed as rife with corruption and incompetence, the Post says.

The BBC, citing an analysis based on Eurostat data, said that 650,000 conscription-age men have left Ukraine.

Europe’s Blackmailer: the EU leadership desperately seeks to keep Orbán at bay

Viktor Orban meeting with Vladimir Putin during the latest Belt and Road event in China

Viktor Orban meeting with Vladimir Putin during the latest Belt and Road event in China

The EU is in panic mode, a week before a key summit where it will discuss major decisions for the future of Ukraine, Politico reports. EU diplomats and officials struggle to find ways to influence Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Thus, French President Emmanuel Macron invited Orbán for a dinner on Thursday, December 7, to attempt to forge a compromise ahead of next week’s summit in Brussels. There, EU leaders are set to make a historic decision on bringing Ukraine into the 27-nation club and seal a key budget deal that would throw a €50 billion lifeline to Kyiv’s flailing war economy.

Yet Orbán is threatening to derail the summit, making clear in two letters to European Council President Charles Michel that he opposes accession negotiations with Kyiv and instead wants to have a strategic debate about the bloc’s support for Ukraine.

Quote"We have reached a state where thinking that Orbán is just asking for more money is the ‘optimistic’ take," said a senior EU diplomat.

Earlier this week, Hungarian Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Relations Zoltán Kovács vigorously pushed back against the idea that Orbán is taking such a stand to get the European Council to unlock billions in EU cash for Budapest.

Quote"Why are we discussing Orbán’s psyche? It doesn’t matter whether he’s doing it for the money or principles. The fact is he’s helping Russia," said a EU official anonymously.

Diplomats of the bloc have been considering alternative plans — such as sending the €50 billion lifeline to Ukraine without universal agreement, thereby circumventing Hungary’s veto. Michel could also organize another summit early next year where they could try again.

Ukrainian Hungarians: a discriminated minority or an excuse for blackmailing?

Meanwhile, another controversy is focused on the ethnic Hungarian minority in Ukraine. According to The Guardian, people in numerous villages in the Zakarpattia region watch Hungarian television channels, speak Hungarian everywhere, and even set the clock to Budapest time.

Quote"We are citizens of Ukraine but we want to be able to speak our native language. We are not tourists here," said Zoltán Babják, the mayor of Berehove, a town of 25,000 people with a Hungarian majority.

The dispute over language and other rights for the Hungarian community in Zakarpattia has poisoned relations between Kyiv and Budapest for years. Orbán’s nationalist government has poured money into the region, offering financial subsidies for local Hungarians, as well as passports, technically illegal in Ukraine. Hungarian state television frequently complains about the repression of Hungarians in Ukraine, often in terminology that echoes Russian propaganda about Ukraine.

On Friday, Ukraine’s parliament will discuss a law that will allow schools in Hungarian areas to teach all classes in Hungarian, except Ukrainian language, literature and history. Nevertheless, Orbán still threatens to block Ukraine’s accession to the EU.

Quote"It shows that the language concerns have been bogus all along. This is not about language rights, this is about a dislike of Ukraine and a desire to curry favor with Putin," says an anonymous diplomatic source cited by The Guardian.

David Pressman, the US ambassador in Budapest, said he had repeatedly offered various Hungarian officials "at the seniormost level" help with engaging with the Ukrainian government on the minorities issue, but this proposition remained unanswered.

Russia restores the flow of petrodollars despite sanctions

China enjoys extremely low prices for Russian oil and gas but still wouldn’t help Russia build a new pipeline

China enjoys extremely low prices for Russian oil and gas but still wouldn’t help Russia build a new pipeline

Russia's success in evading a Western oil price cap is helping drive a recovery in economic growth as President Vladimir Putin prepares to run for re-election, Reuters reports.

Russia's parliament has formally set next year's presidential election date for March 17. Putin, who on Thursday said the economy was set to grow 3.5% this year, on Friday said he would run for the next six-year term.

Russia's export-focused, $2.2-trillion economy has ridden the sanctions wave better than it was anticipated. Moscow has redirected exports to destinations such as China and India and used the opaque ownership of so-called shadow fleets of ships to circumvent the West's oil price cap. In November, energy revenues contributed $10.41 billion to Russia's budget.

The Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) said that in October, more than 99% of seaborne exports of Russian crude oil appeared to have been sold above the West's $60 a barrel cap.

Quote"If the oil price stays at the current level, it is extraordinarily comfortable for Russia," said Elina Ribakova, senior fellow at the KSE.

According to Dmitry Kulikov, director at the Moscow-based ACRA ratings agency, Russia’s annual GDP growth rates will fall from around 3% in 2023 to closer to the potential 1-2% due to the workforce shortage.

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