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Press review: Airborne objects raising US-China tensions and Kiev vows 'strong message'

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, February 14th

MOSCOW, February 14. /TASS/. Tensions over airborne objects are rising between China and the United States, Kiev vows to send a strong message to Moscow on the anniversary of Russia's special military operation, and experts are looking into another incident on a Russian spaceship. These stories topped Tuesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Media: Tensions over airborne objects rising between China, US

A scandal over the increasing number of presumably reconnaissance devices detected in the airspace of the United States, Canada and China is rapidly gaining momentum. Several incidents involving strange unidentified objects took place over the past weekend alone, Vedomosti writes.

Balloons like the one that the US shot down on February 4 may well gather valuable intelligence, Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics Vasily Kashin points out. However, it is too early to draw conclusions about what the US military downed in all subsequent cases, the expert said. Kashin noted that after losing face in the first incident, the United States is now on high alert for any suspicious things in its airspace. It can be assumed that apart from weather balloons, there are some stray advertising ones in US and Chinese airspace, which no one simply paid attention to before, the expert emphasized.

The objects that the US shot down could have been used for meteorological purposes, like the first Chinese balloon, Russian International Affairs Council expert Alexander Yermakov said. According to the analyst, the United States seeks to demonstrate its determination but in theory, these objects really could have carried out intelligence missions.

"China has recently softened its stance towards the Americans, especially after the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, truly aiming at setting some frames for the confrontation in order to have a chance to maintain normal trade and economic relations. However, it’s difficult to make agreements with the Americans because if you come to an agreement with one group, another one will stage a provocation. Notably, the US failed to present any evidence proving that the balloon indeed was a reconnaissance one though it has been some time since it was shot down. In such a situation, when some allegations are made, the Chinese have to react and make their own accusations. Still, they are doing it unwillingly as they are being denied the opportunity to soften relations," Acting Scientific Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of China and Contemporary Asia Alexander Lukin told Izvestia.

The Americans have set a very bad example by their wave of panic and an escalation of tensions, making it clear that when some unidentified objects appear, the thing to do is make noise, scramble fighter jets and fire missiles, Institute of World Economy and International Relations Deputy Director Alexander Lomanov stressed. Given the increasing military buildup in the region, as well as the ongoing rise in tensions and the level of military preparedness, the number of unexplained objects in the sky will only grow, he noted. Chances are that someone will hit a target that should not be attacked, which will raise the likelihood of tragic incidents in the long term, the expert concluded.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kiev vows strong message to Moscow on special op’s anniversary

Kiev is gearing up to send a strong message to Moscow on the anniversary of its special military operation, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said. The message may include Ukraine’s attempts to remove Russia from the UN Security Council along with US President Joe Biden’s upcoming visit to Poland. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky may join his Polish and US counterparts and talks may touch upon aircraft supplies to Kiev, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

None of these actions will affect Moscow’s policy, Russian International Affairs Council Program Director Ivan Timofeev emphasized. It’s possible to approve a UN General Assembly resolution, which cannot change the already spoiled relations between Russia and the West or impact Moscow’s cooperation with the global majority. It’s also possible to bring up the issue of reforming the UN Security Council, which is not that easy to do, and even arrange a dozen meetings in Warsaw. However, all that will not have any practical impact on resolving the problems that generated the conflict. Nor will the US leader’s trip to Poland influence them. However, there will be attempts to make it seem that it was timed to coincide with the date, as well as to demonstrate unity, Timofeev noted. Clearly, Kiev is interested in raising overall tensions, the analyst noted. The Kiev regime seeks to make sure that everyone remains clinging to the issue of Ukraine, even though this interest has inevitably started to wane.

The planned events look like part of a propaganda campaign, Senior Research Fellow with the Institute for International Studies at Moscow State Institute of International Relations Nikolay Silayev explained. The practical steps that have been taken recently concerned further Western weapons supplies to Kiev, he specified. The parties earlier agreed to send tanks to Ukraine, and now it’s about aircraft supplies. However, it’s important to see the difference between the statements and specific actions. Although if a decision is made this time, it will most likely be about involving Western pilots. In addition, Poland will probably be given a blessing to use its aircraft in Ukraine. Such a decision has not been approved so far but now, it may be agreed on, not only because the anniversary of Russia’s special military operation is drawing near but mostly because of how the conflict is unfolding. This is what worries Western leaders but so far not to the extent where they see a danger for themselves, Silayev emphasized.


Izvestia: What’s behind two consecutive incidents at International Space Station

The February 11 depressurization of the Progress MS-21 cargo spacecraft was most likely caused by a violation of the ISS Russian segments’ production technology, a Roscosmos source told Izvestia. While the investigation is underway, the launch of the Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft, which is supposed to bring three cosmonauts (two Russians and one American) back, has been postponed.

The pressure loss at the Progress ship is the second incident of the kind in less than two months. A similar incident occurred on the Soyuz MS-22 ship on December 15. Officials explained the incident by saying that the spacecraft’s surface had been hit by a micrometeoroid. The same is being considered as the cause of the Progress incident but sources familiar with the situation also gave other explanations. A rocket and space industry representative pointed to a problem in the design of spaceships, which particularly concerns the temperature control system assembled by specialists from the Energia Rocket and Space Corporation.

According to a Roscosmos source, the problem lies in an error "in the spacecraft’s production technology." "I believe it is about some deviation from the technology, when different materials are used, production conditions are slightly changed and the operator is different. As far as the design goes, no changes have been made in this unit [the temperature control system], which operated well for years, so the problem is unlikely to be rooted in its scheme. The Soyuz MS-22 incident occurred after the Progress MS-21 ship had already been launched to the ISS, so it turns out that it was impossible to correct the possible malfunction. I hope that the problem will be solved for the next ships that will be sent to orbit," the source stressed.

Moscow Aviation Institute Associate Professor Alexander Belyavsky explains that the hull of a spaceship is not as thick as it may seem. "A meteorite measuring a few tenths of a millimeter is enough to penetrate through it," the expert stressed. "Besides, microcracks can occur during production," he added. Belyavsky pointed out that technically, it’s impossible to make a complicated device and guarantee that the production was 100% correct. "The more launches are carried out and the wider the research program is, the greater the chance of an incident," the expert explained.

The lack of clarity in terms of the cause of the incident is the reason why the launch of the Soyuz MS-23 ship was postponed to early March. "The ship was filled with fuel components, amine and heptyl, on February 9," the first source told the paper. "A ship can only stay on Earth for as long as about six weeks after fueling, so in theory, late March is the deadline for the Soyuz launch," he noted.

Preparations for launching the Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft were suspended at the Baikonur spaceport on February 13 following an emergency commission’s meeting.


Izvestia: Earthquake aftermath may send Turkey’s economy into nosedive

The recent devastating earthquakes caused great damage to Turkey’s economy. Bloomberg estimates the damage at $84 bln, which is about 10% of the country’s GDP, Izvestia notes.

There are two assessments of the damage that Turkey suffered from the earthquakes, leading economist at Teletrade Alexey Fyodorov said. The first one, made by the United States Geological Survey, is apparently based on information about similar developments in other countries. The US agency estimates the damage at 2% of GDP, or about $17-20 bln. According to the second assessment, which comes from the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists, the damage reached $84 bln, or 10% of Turkey’s GDP, the expert noted.

Given that the first assessment most likely did not take into account the losses that will be caused by the post-quake economic stoppage, as well as the final death toll, the actual damage will exceed two percent of GDP. "However, it’s also hard to agree with the assessment of the Turkish organization, given the emotional aspect and the difficulties that businesses face in carrying out impartial analysis of the aftermath. That said, the 10% damage forecast also cannot be considered correct as it is mostly likely an overestimate. The damage amounting to 4.5-5.5% of Turkey’s GDP looks more realistic, which makes some $40-45 bln," the economist said.

According to private investor and founder of the School of Practical Investment Fyodor Sidorov, had the global economy been steadily growing instead of facing a cyclical slowdown, even such a devastating tragedy would have hardly reduced the yearly GDP figure. "But since there is a risk that the entire world will go through a crisis in 2023, we may see the additional negative aspect cause the biggest drop in Turkey's GDP in the past 17-18 years," the expert stressed.

"The situation in Turkey will remain extremely difficult at least until the end of the year. If the country’s authorities decide to postpone the election that is currently set for May, political and social crises may add to the economic one," Fyodorov noted.


Vedomosti: Who will be affected by new EU sanctions

This week, politicians and experts in the European Union will start discussing the tenth package of sanctions against Russia. According to Politico, the new package, which is expected to be announced by the first anniversary of Russia's special military operation, will include restrictions against journalists from state media outlets, administration officials in the new territories, as well as individuals and companies associated with the Wagner private military company. Financial sanctions will target four banks, of which only Alfa-Bank has been named, Vedomosti writes.

The new restrictions will also include an EU ban on the import of Russian bitumen and rubber. In addition, the export of trucks and construction equipment to Russia will be banned, and additional restrictions will be imposed on the export of electronic devices that may be used for military purposes.

There are no quality changes in the next package of sanctions, Russian International Affairs Council Program Director Ivan Timofeev noted. According to him, the West is diluting its criteria for sanctions. Previously, only state banks could become the target of sanctions but now, having ties to the Russian government is enough. Meanwhile, Brussels seeks to make the tenth package of sanctions look strong in order to ensure a good media coverage in light of the first anniversary of military activities in Ukraine. However, even for Alfa-Bank, the situation will not change after the new restrictions take effect. Given that the bank is already sanctioned by the US, no serious consequences can be expected, Timofeev added.

Sanctions against Alfa-Bank mean that it will be fully blocked in the EU, its assets will be frozen and European residents will be banned from conducting transactions with it, partner at the NSP law firm Sergey Glandin said. In addition, the bank will be cut off from financial messaging services such as SWIFT. However, the bank already faced the risk of being blocked before, the expert noted. In late February and mid-March 2022, Alfa Group shareholders were blacklisted by the EU and the European Commission issued a clarification saying that a bank was considered blocked if restrictions were imposed against its controlling shareholders who, in total, own more than 50% of shares. Back then, the withdrawal of shareholders as owners and a reduction in their shares made it possible to escape the blocking but now the bank will suffer from direct sanctions, Glandin said.

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