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Press review: US accused of blowing up Nord Streams and Zelensky's visit to London

Top stories from the Russian press on Thursday, February 9th

MOSCOW, February 9. /TASS/. The US is accused of blowing up the Nord Stream pipelines, Biden’s address to Congress and the reason behind Zelensky's visit to Europe. These stories topped Thursday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Izvestia: Journalist accuses US of blowing up Nord Streams

On February 8, American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh published an article asserting that the US was behind the explosions at the Nord Stream gas pipelines. According to his information, US Navy divers laid explosives under the pipelines in June 2022 under the cover of NATO drills and Norwegians activated the bombs three months later. In a conversation with Izvestia, the Pulitzer Prize winner refused to disclose his sources, noting that the article spoke for itself. Official Washington denied the allegations. Experts polled by Izvestia are confident that the article won’t launch any new investigations by Western countries, which still have yet to make any conclusions public.

"Most likely, they will say that this is the journalist’s fabrication and all of this was orchestrated by the Kremlin because official Washington denies any involvement. Even if the Germans, Swedes or Danes themselves found some evidence of the US’ involvement in the explosions, they are unlikely to talk about it since they could not bear such responsibility," Leading Analyst at the National Energy Security Fund Igor Yushkov told Izvestia, adding that any results of investigations should not be expected to be made public in the near future because Western countries are wary of losing their political positions in the current climate. According to him, the article proves that only the US could benefit from the situation. The expert thinks that Hersh’s assertion that the US was concerned that the Nord Stream would limit Germany’s military aid to Ukraine was correct. "This way, the Germans received a message that they shouldn’t even think about returning to gas cooperation with Russia," the expert said.

Deputy Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Europe Vladislav Belov thinks that as of now, the countries participating in the investigations agree on only one thing - Russia is not behind the explosions. "So far, Denmark, Sweden and Germany are concealing information. They are proceeding from the premise that making the facts at hand public may have far-reaching consequences for their relations with third countries and the one directly behind the explosions. The only declared consensus - Russia’s involvement - today is not a subject for discussion. Everything else is speculation," the expert noted.

First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Energy Committee Igor Ananskikh told Izvestia that following the explosions and amidst the energy crisis, it is the US that has increased its gas supplies to the EU while deliveries from Russia have decreased.


Media: What Biden promised in his State of the Union Address

On February 7, US President Joe Biden gave his annual State of the Union Address to Congress. A significant part of his speech was dedicated to listing the achievements of his administration.

The issue of the national debt ceiling is not a long-term concern for the administration, thus it was mentioned only because of the imminent political battle with Republicans on this issue, says head of the Center for North American Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations Viktoria Zhuravleva. The main focus of his speech was on making life easier for the middle class, which was also on Biden’s agenda during the 2020 election. "It is unlikely that the address is a precursor to Biden’s nomination in 2024," the expert told Vedomosti. It is more likely that the US leader is signaling a tough political struggle ahead with the Republicans in the divided Congress.

Apparently, Biden’s address is not about his re-election agenda but about plans for the near future, thinks Director of the Franklin Roosevelt Foundation for United States Studies at Moscow State University Yury Rogulev. His speech has already drawn criticism because of a number of falsifications - for instance, reducing the budget deficit by $2 trln is not the achievement of the Biden administration but was caused by the discontinuation of funding for the stimulus measures adopted during the pandemic.

That said, he noted that the US leader didn’t say anything about the further level of support for Ukraine and the types of weapons that the US might provide to the Kiev regime in the future.

"Although the Republicans support aiding Ukraine, the scale and duration have their limits, especially considering the necessity to resolve the issue of the national debt problem," the expert told Izvestia, adding that reduced spending may also impact aid to Ukraine.


Izvestia: Why Zelensky went to Europe

On February 8, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky paid an unexpected visit to London. It was his second trip abroad since the onset of Russia’s special military operation. His visit was very eventful: Zelensky met with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, visited Buckingham Palace, met with Charles III and addressed the Parliament. Predictably, the visit focused on further military support for the Kiev regime as well as a request to provide fighter planes to Ukraine. As experts told Izvestia, London is unlikely to send its own jets but may persuade its Western partners to do so. After his visit to the British capital, Zelensky is scheduled to visit Paris and Brussels.

The UK’s political establishment has reached a consensus with regards to support for Ukraine, Leading Researcher of the Center for British Studies of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences Kira Godovanyuk told Izvestia. According to her, this is a matter of ensuring political leadership given the 2024 parliamentary elections.

Sergey Shein of the Higher School of Economics concurs that massive and comprehensive support for Kiev will remain in Sunak’s foreign policy. According to him, not even the socio-economic turbulence within the UK will prevent this.

Military expert Dmitry Boltenkov told Izvestia that the UK does not have enough fighter planes to share with Ukraine. He pointed out that the UK is switching to fifth-generation F-35s, which nobody would give to Zelensky while its soon-to-be decommissioned Eurofighter jets are complex and expensive planes that Ukraine lacks the wherewithal to operate. According to him, the UK is more likely to spearhead a coalition to collect simpler fighter planes for Ukraine just as it did with Leopard tanks. However, even if such a decision is made in the near future, these jets are unlikely to be used by Ukraine’s air force earlier than next year.

It is possible that now London will put pressure on its European allies to make a decision on the delivery of jets, for example, by the French or by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz who earlier was basically forced to send Leopard tanks, adds Godovanyuk.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Brussels gears up for 'subsidy race' with Washington

At the EU’s extraordinary summit which will be held in Brussels on February 9-10, leaders from 27 member countries will discuss the possibility of providing state subsidies for businesses in light of the changing global situation. These decisions will be a response to the $420-bln subsidy package provided by the new US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which the EU perceived as a stab in the back. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky is expected to attend the summit.

As Alexey Portansky, Professor at the Higher School of Economics, told the newspaper, the summit is likely to criticize the new American act because its implementation may cause EU industrial companies to flee across the Atlantic for better tax conditions and therefore threatens the entire European economy. He explained that the IRA’s main goal is stimulating the development of green energy by introducing tax exemptions for investments and purchases of eco-friendly products made in the US, Canada or Mexico. According to the expert, the EU thinks that the IRA is blatantly discriminatory against similar products imported from other countries, particularly electric vehicles. "Brussels thinks that the US subsidizing its industry may lead to the de-industrialization of the EU, encouraging European companies to migrate overseas," he explained.

In his opinion, Brussels and Washington will try to resolve these differences through talks. At the very least, the EU would like the exemptions from the IRA to Canada and Mexico to be extended to European companies as well. If negotiations are fruitless, Brussels may consider filing a complaint with the WTO, and does not rule out further retaliatory measures.


Kommersant: Russian oil production, exports grow

According to Kommersant, despite the EU’s embargo on Russian oil and petroleum products, Russia’s oil industry continues to increase production. Over the first week of February, oil companies increased production by almost 1% compared to the average level of January. That said, the production is 1% lower than in February 2022. The increase is due to the fact that under sanctions conditions, oil companies prefer to increase exports by granting bigger discounts.

Sergey Kondratyev from the Institute of Energy and Finance Foundation says that the stability of Russian oil production is related to high discounts which allow for maintaining high physical volumes of export: seaborne export remains at its highest levels over the past six months, thus offsetting the decline in deliveries over the Druzhba oil pipeline. "That said, apparently, oil refineries are also keeping processing at a high level thanks to stable demand on the domestic market and the redirection of supplies of petroleum products to the Middle East and Asia," the expert says. However, in the coming months, Russia may face a scenario where the volume of refining will decrease. In this case, diesel refineries can at least retain the current volume because the current crack spread (the overall price difference between a barrel of crude oil and the petroleum products refined from it) allows many export refineries to feel relatively secure, Kondratyev thinks. In his assessment, the key risks are logistics and the search for new partners in local markets, although it is possible that in February-March 2023, the refineries’ output will be lower than previously expected and won’t surpass 0.1-0.15 mln barrels per day.

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