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Press review: Global fear of Russian bear wanes and IDF’s Rafah strike to spoil Cairo ties

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, February 13th

MOSCOW, February 13. /TASS/. Fears among citizens of most G7 countries about the alleged "Russian threat" are fading, new research shows on the eve of the annual Munich Security Conference; Israel's upcoming ground operation in Rafah may harm its relations with Egypt; and the EU fears that a comeback victory for Kiev aid skeptic Donald Trump in the US presidential election may mean they will end up footing the entire bill for military aid to Ukraine. These stories topped Tuesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Kommersant: Fear of alleged 'Russian threat' fading ahead of Munich Security Conference

The Munich Security Conference kicks off this week, with this year’s meeting marking the 60th anniversary of the event, one of the world's most high-profile forums dedicated to foreign policy and defense issues. On the sidelines of the event, Germany and Ukraine are expected to sign an agreement to strengthen security cooperation. According to German media sources, the agreement will be signed by Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, who is scheduled to speak at the conference. Meanwhile, according to a research report released on Monday, February 12, by the forum's organizers, German citizens along with those of most other G7 members no longer see Russia as their countries’ primary national security threat, Kommersant writes.

The full list of participants has not yet been released, but it is believed that about 150 high-ranking officials, including heads of state and government, foreign and defense ministers, and heads of international organizations, will attend the forum. An agreement between Germany and Ukraine to strengthen security cooperation is also likely to be signed on the sidelines of the event. Russia will again have no official delegation at Munich this year.

However, not everyone agrees with the decision not to invite Russian officials to Munich. Three Western conference participants (one current and two former diplomats) told Kommersant, on conditions of anonymity, that they believe this strategy is wrong. "Yes, the forum will be attended by high-ranking representatives from the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America. But without Russia, the conference risks becoming a club of like-minded people and losing its global significance," one of the sources told Kommersant.

Even without the presence of Russian officials, however, the Munich conference will undoubtedly feature a robust discussion about Russia, Kommersant writes. Last year, the situation in Ukraine was the top issue at the forum. But it appears that the Middle East and the US presidential election will be just as high on the agenda this time around.

Meanwhile, according to the research report released on Monday, in contrast to early 2023, citizens of a majority of G7 member states no longer see Russia as the primary threat to their countries. Ten of the eleven countries surveyed reported a decline in public perceptions of Russia as a danger. The exception was Brazil, where perceptions of Russia as a threat rose slightly but remained at the bottom of the list, in 23rd place out of 32 potential risk factors.


Izvestia: Israel's looming Rafah operation in south Gaza seen dragging Egypt into war

Israel is preparing to launch a ground offensive on Rafah, a city in the southern Gaza Strip that borders on Egypt and is home to more than a million refugees. Against this backdrop, Egypt has begun deploying heavy armored vehicles to the border to prevent a huge wave of Palestinians from seeking to resettle in the Sinai Peninsula. The circumstances of this scenario have the potential to derail Cairo's peace pact with the Jewish state, Izvestia writes. At the same time, according to analysts interviewed by the newspaper, a direct clash between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Egyptian military is still unlikely.

The decision to conduct a ground operation in Rafah could have a negative impact on Israeli-Egyptian relations. Cairo has often warned of the dangers associated with the start of hostilities in the region, which could lead to a wave of Palestinians seeking to resettle in the Sinai Peninsula. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has previously stated that armed action will lead to a humanitarian catastrophe and even more casualties.

"Israel's operation in Rafah could have a very negative impact on its relations with Egypt, because Cairo sees this as harming its national interests," Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Program Coordinator Ivan Bocharov told Izvestia.

Reuters, citing Egyptian sources, reported that Cairo had moved 40 armored vehicles to the Gaza border in the past two weeks and increased patrols in the area. Despite the events, however, political scientist and Middle East area expert Roland Bidzhamov believes that Egypt and Israel will not face off against each other directly. "It is likely that the operation in Rafah will begin. After the suspension of the peace agreements, the Egyptian armed forces will concentrate on the border with Israel," he told Izvestia.

According to Bidzhamov, Egypt's reluctance to allow Palestinians onto its land stems from the tragic historical experience of previous Arab-Israeli wars. In other words, once people leave the Gaza Strip, they cannot return.


Izvestia: EU fears potential Trump victory in US election to mean footing bill for Ukraine

The German government is concerned that the United States may reduce military aid to Ukraine, Bundestag Defense Committee member Herold Otten told Izvestia. According to him, Germany acknowledges that a potential comeback for former US President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, in the November presidential election may result in demands for Berlin to increase its assistance for Kiev. Moreover, cooperation between European countries and the United States within NATO could be jeopardized. The European Parliament is urging the EU to fight for more defense funding, while Poland, Germany and France are exploring the potential for increased military-political cooperation.

Donald Trump has suggested that, if re-elected president, he would limit military aid to Ukraine, Otten told Izvestia. He added that the German public has become weary of the war in Ukraine. At the same time, several EU member states are unwilling to increase their military funding for Kiev, while Germany is paying more than its share, the German politician said.

A comeback victory for Trump in the US presidential election would lead to increased military and financial spending by European countries, Igor Kovalev, first deputy dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Politics at the Higher School of Economics (HSE University), told the newspaper. "If Trump is elected, the United States will force the Europeans to pay even more. The US is methodically weakening Europe and siphoning off its money and resources and will shift the burden mainly onto Germany to provide aid to Ukraine," he told Izvestia.

According to Mateusz Piskorski, a political scientist and columnist for the Mysl Polska newspaper, the US is losing interest in Europe for objective reasons. This trend is expected to worsen if Donald Trump is elected, he told Izvestia. At the same time, the expert believes that EU member states lack the necessary resources to ensure their own strategic autonomy.


Vedomosti: Austrian authorities seek to terminate long-term contract with Gazprom

Vienna will decide whether to terminate the contract between Gazprom and Austrian oil-and-gas company OMV, which is valid until 2040, Austrian Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler confirmed. According to her, Russia's share in Austria's gas imports rose from 76% in November 2023 to a record 98% in December. At the same time, an OMV representative told Vedomosti that Russian gas is not subject to European Union sanctions and is imported from a number of countries via pipelines or as liquefied natural gas (LNG).

"If the legislators want to do without Russian gas, it is necessary to create a legal basis for this," the company representative said, adding that OMV is already diversifying its gas sources and is ready to provide its customers with 100% non-Russian gas.

Before Russia's special military operation, Austria was one of the top five EU importers of Russian pipeline gas. According to the latest data published by Gazprom, it purchased 13.2 bcm in 2020 and 5.4 bcm in the first half of 2022. Despite the expanded scope of anti-Russian sanctions, the EU has not yet imposed special restrictions on Russian gas supplies.

According to Ronald Smith, senior analyst at BCS World of Investments, pipeline supplies from Russia can be replaced by LNG, which must be transported through third countries such as Germany. At the same time, Finam analyst Sergey Kaufman noted that the fundamental problem with that would be the difficulty in transporting such volumes. According to him, transporting regasified LNG through Italy or Germany could lead to higher prices.

Kira Vinokurova, a partner at law firm Pen & Paper, noted that while there are no sanctions against Gazprom in the EU, a legal framework to limit Russian gas supplies is already being developed; on December 8, 2023, an agreement was reached on a new EU regulation creating standard rules for the internal market for renewable and natural gases, as well as hydrogen. According to the expert, the proposed legislation is currently awaiting formal adoption by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.


Vedomosti: Russian gas production may begin to grow in 2024

Gas production in Russia in 2024 may increase by 5% over the previous year to 669 bcm, the Price Index Center (PIC) forecasts in its latest review. Thus, the decline in gas production, which as at year-end 2023 and 2022 amounted to 5.5% and 11.7%, respectively, will be replaced by growth, Vedomosti writes. According to PIC analysts, the positive trend will continue "at least until 2030."

Alexey Belogoriev, research director at the Institute for Energy and Finance Foundation, who participated in drafting the PIC review, told Vedomosti that, by 2025, Russia's production might reach 673 bcm (+6% versus 2023), and 729 bcm by 2030 (+14.5%). However, this would only be possible with the launch of new export liquified natural gas (LNG) projects and continuous growth of domestic gas consumption, he explained.

Pipeline exports, according to PIC analysts, will begin to recover from 2024 due to an increase in supplies to China via the Power of Siberia gas pipeline and to Central Asia via other pipelines. At the same time, Russian gas supplies to Europe will continue to slowly decline, the report said. It was also noted that LNG exports from Russia recovered from a decline due to LNG plant repairs in the spring and summer of 2023, reaching an all-time high of 3.2 mln tons per month in December.

Experts generally agree with the assessment. According to Finam analyst Sergey Kaufman, in 2023 gas production in Russia had already "passed a local minimum" associated with the reduction in exports to the EU.

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