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Press review: Blinken to visit China and Netanyahu seeks allies to take on Iran

Top stories from the Russian press on Friday, February 3rd
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Atef Safadi/Pool Photo via AP, File
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
© Atef Safadi/Pool Photo via AP, File

MOSCOW, February 3. /TASS/. The European Union plans to discuss Ukraine's admission to the bloc, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken sets out to repair Chinese-US relations, and Turkey may resume discussions with Sweden on the Scandinavian country’s NATO bid. These stories dominated Friday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Vedomosti: Ukraine once again promised support, but without EU membership

President of the European Commission (EC) Ursula von der Leyen arrived in Kiev on February 2 ahead of the EU-Ukraine summit set for February 3 in the country's capital, pledging to strengthen the EU’s support. The issue of the country's membership in the EU is expected to be one of the main topics for discussion. According to experts interviewed by Vedomosti, the country’s membership in the Union could be a long way off.

There is skepticism over Ukraine's fast membership into the European Union among European politicians. Spain’s El Pais quoted an unnamed European ambassador saying that the process of admitting Ukraine to the union might linger indefinitely.

The EC will also announce a new aid package for Ukraine to the tune of €400 mln. According to Commissioner for Budget and Administration Johannes Hahn, the package includes €145 mln for humanitarian aid.

Von der Leyen's visit to Kiev is designed to reassert the European Union's commitment to Ukraine and its people, expert from the Financial University under the Russian Government Denis Denisov told Vedomosti. Even though the EU ranks second after the US in backing Ukraine, Brussels has not offered Kiev with a roadmap for joining the union.

Denisov explained that this is due to a lack of unanimity among European powers, since in addition to the apparent military risks, there are issues with the Ukrainian economy and corruption in the Ukrainian government. All of this would be extremely tough to overcome, he added.

Membership in the EU for Kiev is, in theory, exceedingly unlikely, senior researcher at the sector of Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine at IMEMO Dmitry Ofitserov-Belsky believes. Even if Russian assets are used to help Ukraine, Kiev would not be able to develop a modern economy any time soon, which would demand significant resources from the EU, the expert added.


Izvestia: US hopes to patch up troubled relationship with China

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to visit China later this week. The first visit to Beijing in four years by Washington’s top diplomat will focus on trade obstacles and climate change, as well as events in Ukraine and, of course, Taiwan, Izvestia writes. Experts predict no breakthroughs because the US and China are too far apart on most unresolved bilateral issues for their relations to noticeably improve. However, Blinken still may be able to negotiate the reopening of communication channels with China, which were cut off during Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, as well as enhance US-China collaboration in some limited but critical sectors.

Problematic topics such as higher taxes on Chinese exports and the United States' objective of technical containment of China are also challenging, the newspaper writes. The United States imposed export limits on the supply of microchips to China in October, threatening to severely hinder the country's semiconductor industry's expansion.

Another source of friction in Sino-American relations is China's relationship with Russia in the context of the conflict in Ukraine. According to US press reports, the secretary of state will undoubtedly raise the issue of whether any Chinese companies are offering help to Russia.

The future of Taiwan is the most difficult subject in US-China relations, research fellow for the Initiative for US-China Dialogue on Global Issues at Georgetown University Dennis Wilder told Izvestia. The visit of the US Secretary of State, on the other hand, could be an opportunity to deepen US-China collaboration in some specific but crucial sectors. Joint efforts to battle emerging pandemics, as well as the resolution of a variety of visa concerns, may become areas of development, according to the expert.


Izvestia: Ankara does not rule out resuming talks with Sweden

Sweden's NATO membership bid is expected to be settled within the scope of the Madrid Memorandum, a road map for the admission procedure to the US-led military bloc, the Turkish parliament told Izvestia, adding that talks between Ankara and Stockholm could restart despite the current difficulties. Following the burning of the Koran in Sweden, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the membership bid into doubt, delaying discussions.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Foreign Ministry reminded Izvestia that joining NATO is a question of national security. Stockholm has already passed legislation that experts interviewed by the newspaper describe as a step toward Ankara. So far, Russia is reacting with caution to the Nordic nations' bid to join the military bloc, the newspaper writes.

The problem of Sweden's NATO membership will be settled in some way within the scope of the large Madrid Memorandum, which was agreed upon last year, and the talks will be resumed, member of the country’s parliament and head of the Innovation Party Ozturk Yilmaz told Izvestia.

Turkish political analyst Kerim Has believes that Erdogan is leveraging the topic of Sweden and Finland joining NATO in his election campaign. According to the political scientist, if Erdogan wins the presidential elections in May, he would support Sweden and Finland's entry to the bloc. Furthermore, the expert community does not rule out that Ankara may be forced to turn to Stockholm as a result of the controversy, Izvestia writes.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Netanyahu looking for allies to fight Tehran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting France amid important news coming from the Middle East. Iran formally accused Israel of attacking a military plant in Isfahan, which exacerbated the situation in the Gaza Strip. In the meantime, a visit to meet French President Emmanuel Macron, who sees himself as the only Western European leader seeking to maintain contact with the Kremlin, may be linked to Netanyahu's declaration that he is willing to mediate in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict as long as Moscow does not support Iran, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

According to Netanyahu, the main topic of conversation will be Iran and combined efforts to confront its aggression and nuclear weapons. At the same time, it is possible that Ukraine was also in the center of attention of both leaders. In any case, in an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Netanyahu actually linked the topic of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and the current aggravation of Israeli-Iranian relations.

France is now playing a crucial role in shaping the European Union's policy in relation to the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, while Macron continues to show willingness to broker a resolution. However, he is unlikely to satisfy the Kremlin as an intermediary, leading researcher at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences Sergey Fedorov told the newspaper. Macron has largely discredited himself as a negotiating partner after publicly revealing the content of his confidential conversation with Vladimir Putin, he added.

Previous attempts at negotiations between Russia and Ukraine were mediated by Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not giving up hope of getting the honor of peacemaker who ends the crisis between Moscow and Kiev. According to the expert, he is unlikely to share it with Netanyahu.


Vedomosti: LNG exports from Russia start to decline in January

The export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Russia in January 2023 decreased by 4% in annual terms and amounted to 3.8 bln cubic meters (bcm), according to B1 Moscow Energy Center’s figures. In 2022, LNG exports showed a positive trend, increasing by 8% to 44.2 bcm at the end of the year. According to experts interviewed by the newspaper, there is growth potential for future LNG exports in addition to new possible routes.

Meanwhile, due to declining pipeline gas supplies, LNG shipments from Russia to EU countries and the UK at the end of 2022 climbed by 19% year-on-year. According to the report, Belgium, France, and Spain contributed to the positive dynamics, while other EU members lowered LNG imports from Russia. That said, fresh supply routes emerged in early 2022: 0.1 bcm of Russian LNG were transferred to Egypt in January and another 0.6 bcm of LNG was sent to unidentified customers.

There were no outright bans on the supply of Russian gas to the EU as part of several packages of sanctions. But individual countries have taken the initiative to abandon Russian LNG.

According to Alfa Bank Senior Analyst Nikita Blokhin, due to unusually mild weather and lower gas use in the industry, demand for LNG in Europe fell by 5% in January 2023, affecting supply dynamics. According to his estimations, Russian LNG production and exports in 2023 will remain at the level of 2022 and there is "growth potential" in 2024-2025 due to the introduction of the first stage of the Novatek project Arctic LNG - 2. "In the absence of sanctions and European consumers' sustained interest in Russian LNG shipments, we may talk about some stability in this export direction in the future," he added.

Expert at the Institute for the Development of Fuel and Energy Complex Technologies Kirill Rodionov believes that the average price of gas in Europe, including LNG, in 2023 will be in the range of $750-800 per 1,000 cubic meters, thus, slightly higher than in 2021, but "guaranteed lower than in 2022."

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