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Press review: Knee-jerk US strikes fan Mideast flames and West uses Ukraine as weapons lab

Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, February 5th

MOSCOW, February 5. /TASS/. Washington continues to pour gasoline on the volatile situation in the Middle East with its ineffective, knee-jerk retaliatory air strikes; the West is using Ukraine as a live combat proving ground for its myriad weapons systems; and the US House of Representatives wants to give more aid to Israel in an attempt to trip up US President Joe Biden as the presidential election heats up. These stories topped Monday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Izvestia: US keeps feeding flames of volatile Mideast situation with knee-jerk air strikes

The US will not succeed in altering the situation in the Middle East by delivering large-scale retaliatory strikes on sovereign countries, but will only further blemish its already stained reputation. Over the weekend, the US Air Force took out the facilities of pro-Iranian formations in three countries at once, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, as Washington vowed to continue the strikes. For its part, Tehran is thus far merely publicly condemning the US actions.

"Since 2015, when Saudi Arabia and the UAE sent troops to Yemen, there have been regular large-scale missile strikes on the Houthis, which, however, failed to defeat them militarily or politically. Now, no matter how powerful US strikes are, they are insufficient for tipping the balance of forces within the Yemeni conflict. Moreover, despite the strikes on infrastructure, the Houthis are bolstering their reputation both in Yemen and across the Arab world," Grigory Lukyanov, senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, told Izvestia.

"Iran has never mentioned any ‘red lines’ in its foreign policy track. We can only assert that they involve strikes directly on Iranian territory. And this is out of the question now. Since the first strikes on Yemen and US bases in Syria and Iraq back in 2023, the US has been publicly discussing the possibility of delivering such strikes [on Iran]; however, not a single responsible political leader was saying such a scenario was on the table. At least for the foreseeable future," Lukyanov added.

"This is rather a controlled escalation. The leadership of Iran, Iraq, Yemen and Syria one way or another has an understanding of the general trajectory of the escalation. There are also the dynamics of US-Iranian relations, which have their own rules, albeit unwritten and barely palpable. In particular, neither Tehran nor Washington wants any direct strikes," said Ruslan Mamedov, head of research at the Primakov Center for Foreign Policy Cooperation.

Amid the general escalation in the Middle East, a number of internal regional processes are intersecting. For example, Baghdad wants US troops to pull out completely from Iraq and the aggravation of relations with the US may speed this process up. Mamedov stresses that all actions taken by the US in the region are part of the global strategy to support Israel, whose conflict with Hamas is already spilling outside of the Gaza Strip. And mutual strikes are the inevitable price to pay.

According to Lukyanov, Washington is also interested in saving face and the US strikes are largely meant for domestic consumption as a means of impressing the voting public in a presidential election year that incumbent US President Joe Biden is "doing something" in response to attacks on US bases in the Middle East that have killed American military personnel. However, as Mamedov noted, so far the Americans have only been worsening their own stance by delivering strikes on sovereign countries.


Izvestia: West using Ukraine as live combat proving ground for myriad weapons systems

The West is using Ukrainian soil as a location to test its weapons systems, experts polled by Izvestia said. Against this background, the US and its NATO allies are intentionally drawing the conflict out because they benefit from the opportunity to upgrade their own armies by testing new types of weapons under real combat conditions. For instance, the US recently announced plans to supply Ukraine with updated ground-launched small diameter bombs (GLSDBs) capable of striking targets 150 km away. Experts stress that some military hardware and munitions have been used on Ukrainian territory for the first time ever.

The deliveries of high-precision weapons to Ukraine will only expand, said Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of National Defense magazine.

"Supplies of the most effective and lethal [Western] arms still lie ahead. The issue for Russia is how best to counter these new capacities that Ukraine is being given," he told Izvestia.

Yury Lyamin, an expert at the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, noted that Germany’s military industry, in particular, the Rheinmetall company, are reaping substantial benefits from the Ukrainian conflict. Recently, it became known that the Dusseldorf-based arms manufacturer intends to increase the production of 155 mm artillery shells to 200,000 units by 2025.

"Ukraine is receiving weapons that Western armies have either never been equipped with themselves or have just begun to receive in their own arsenals. Ukraine welcomes this. It is even asking Western companies to send it various samples to test them out in real combat conditions. For example, the first deliveries of German Skynex air defense systems were made precisely for Ukraine. The first use of the IRIS-T SLM artillery system also took place in Ukraine. Germany sent it to Ukraine at its own expense even though the Bundeswehr itself does not have it at its own disposal," Lyamin said in a conversation with Izvestia.

Andrey Klintsevich, head of the Center for Military and Political Studies, emphasized that the Americans compelled the Europeans to hand over their old inventories of Soviet-made arms and then purchase newer US analogues on credit as replacements.

"For example, in 2023, the Poles gave T-72 tanks to Ukraine and in return got 250 used Abrams tanks for $1.5 bln," the expert reiterated to Izvestia. Wielding the threat of a ‘Russian attack,’ the Americans make European countries dip deeply into their often pinched defense budgets. For example, the Czech Republic, which is still not the most developed economy and has a rather problematic social sector, has just ordered F-35 aircraft to the tune of $14 bln. ‘Neutral’ Switzerland did likewise. [Bern] also decided to order $10 bln worth of F-35s."


Vedomosti: Republican-controlled US House wants to help Israel to spite Biden

This week, the lower congressional chamber US House of Representatives may vote on a bill for providing an additional military aid package to Israel worth $17.6 bln, according to a February 3 letter from House Speaker Mike Johnson (Republican-Louisiana) to congressmen. The previous attempt to approve a $14.3 bln aid package for Israel in November 2023 fell through because the Democrats disagreed with the GOP’s proposed approach of appropriating funds for Tel Aviv that would have come at the expense of cutting the budget of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the US tax authority.

For US political circles, Israel remains a more important issue than Ukraine because there is not such a sharp divide in society over the Ukrainian issue than there is over Israel, said Andrey Kortunov, research director of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC). The recent attack on a US military base in Jordan will hasten the process of the US withdrawing troops from Iraq and Syria. So increasing aid to Israel may serve as a compensation of sorts for the decreased US military presence in the region, Kortunov thinks. Speaker Johnson’s proposal is a gesture meant to appeal to Republican voters, who overwhelmingly support unstinting aid for Israel, with many among the still-powerful "religious right" faction of the GOP, to which Johnson has a close affinity, even seeing helping Israel as a necessity dictated by Biblical prophecy, Dmitry Suslov, deputy director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics (HSE University), pointed out.

That said, he stressed that the speaker’s actions should be viewed in the context of the presidential race. Johnson intends to stall in order not to discuss immigration reform and earmarking funds for Ukraine before the election, Suslov thinks. "Another attempt to approve a separate aid package for Israel is a signal that a bipartisan deal in the Senate on the border issue stands no chance," the political scientist explained.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Georgia’s new government to build bridges with China

The political scene in Georgia promises to be particularly lively this week. The Georgian parliament has approved the new Georgian Dream party government led by Irakli Kobakhidze, who has already presented his agenda on "building a European state." The main difference between his government’s strategy and that of the previous cabinet is the new emphasis on bolstering relations with China.

The Georgian media attributes the unexpected departure of outgoing Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili from office to accusations of corruption, which have become more frequent recently, and preparations for parliamentary elections later this year. Given this, billionaire founder of Georgian Dream and former Prime Minister (2012-2013) Bidzina Ivanishvili decided to swap Garibashvili for Kobakhidze, who had been party chairman. Both loyal party men accepted the reshuffle gratefully and unquestioningly.

According to Vadim Mukhanov, head of the Caucasus Department at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO RAS), Georgia’s foreign policy will not change under the new premier. The expert stressed that, for years, Ivanishvili’s team has been successfully conducting a pragmatic foreign policy line, simultaneously maintaining business relations with the US, the EU and Russia, seeking to avoid excesses when their interests overlapped. In this sense, the development of a strategic partnership with China will bring things to a whole new level.

Shota Apkhaidze, an expert at the Financial Academy under the Government of the Russian Federation, thinks that the appointment of the new prime minister is related to Garibashvili’s principled stance with regard to the West. He was disliked by US and EU officials, and, so, in order to defuse tensions, Ivanishvili decided to promote Kobakhidze. He has similar views to Garibashvili, but the swap will still give Georgian Dream some time to avoid escalating the conflict. "In its foreign policy, Tbilisi will continue claiming adherence to the Euro-Atlantic path of development, but, in practice, another policy track will be followed. The country is building strategic relations with China, which the US considers its main threat. Georgia will build mutually beneficial relations with all of its partners, while realizing that for economic reasons it is better to cooperate with Beijing than with Washington," the expert stressed.


Vedomosti: EU almost doubles gas withdrawal from storage in January

EU countries increased gas extraction from underground storage facilities in January 2024 by almost 1.9 times versus the same month last year, up to 18.2 bln cubic meters, according to calculations by Vedomosti based on data by Gas Infrastructure Europe (GIE).

Finam analyst Sergey Kaufman added that, in January, EU countries decreased the import of liquefied natural gas (LNG) approximately by 6% versus December, which also increased the gas withdrawal level. The expert explained that tankers carrying LNG were headed to Asian markets, where currently gas is more expensive (the so-called "Asian premium"). According to assessments by Platts and Vedomosti, the price of gas in Asia on February 1 (last available data) amounted to $338 per 1,000 cubic meters. The expert also does not rule out that demand on the part of EU industry may also rise somewhat amid the gradual normalization of prices.

According to Igor Yushkov, senior analyst at the National Energy Security Fund, another factor driving the growing level of gas extraction from storage may be the aspiration of European traders to sell accumulated gas volumes before an anticipated drop in fuel prices.

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