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Press review: Avdeyevka freed, opens road to Russian offensive and China ready to mediate

Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, February 19th

MOSCOW, February 19. /TASS/. The liberation of Avdeyevka takes shelling pressure off of neighboring Donetsk and opens the door for a future Russian offensive; Beijing reiterates its readiness to play a mediator role in settling the Russia-Ukraine conflict; and Ecuador does a sudden about-face on plan to transfer Soviet military equipment to the US for Ukraine’s armed forces. These stories topped Monday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Izvestia: Liberation of Avdeyevka opens path for future Russian offensive, relieves Donetsk

The battle for Avdeyevka ended in a catastrophic loss for the Ukrainian armed forces. Since 2014, they had been reinforcing the strategic Donetsk suburb as a massive defense bulwark. In the face of a rapid advance by Russian units, however, the Ukrainian armed forces were unable to organize an orderly retreat and ended up abandoning the city in a chaotic rout. Experts interviewed by Izvestia believe that the liberation of Avdeyevka will relieve Donetsk from the most intense Ukrainian shelling of the city, which had been originating from the suburb, while also laying the groundwork for a future Russian offensive.

On the morning of February 17, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov informed President Vladimir Putin of the liberation of Avdeyevka. The next day, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that troops from Battlegroup Center had completely freed the city of Avdeyevka in the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR). At the same time, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky stated that the decision to withdraw Kiev’s forces had been correct and logical, while also criticizing Western countries for not offering adequate support.

Military analyst Yuri Lyamin described the liberation of Avdeyevka as a serious defeat for the Ukrainian forces. He stated that they were compelled to stage a hasty retreat, leaving behind valuable ammunition, vehicles and equipment. "There was a threat of complete encirclement for the Ukrainian formations. According to official data, the enemy's losses were more than 1,500 people per day, which is a lot for such a period of time," he told Izvestia. "Avdeyevka was like a knife pointed at Donetsk, as it was the nearest Ukrainian position from which they [routinely] blasted the city with artillery fire. Its liberation will dramatically reduce the number of such strikes," the expert added.

According to military expert Vasily Dandykin, the newly liberated Avdeyevka opens up access to other cities.

Bogdan Bezpalko, a member of the Russian Presidential Council on Interethnic Relations, told Izvestia that further support for Kiev from the West could be limited. "If we look at it from a purely logical perspective, why should the West invest in the losing team? The investment is not justified. On the other hand, the West sees any support for Ukraine as also intended to weaken and choke off Russia's potential. But I doubt that [further] assistance [for Ukraine] will be widespread and extensive," he said.

At the same time, the defeat of the Ukrainian armed forces in Avdeyevka may provoke rancorous rumblings among the Kiev regime's Western allies in light of Russia's high-profile battlefield success, German Member of the European Parliament Gunnar Beck told Izvestia.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Beijing reiterates readiness to play mediator in Russia-Ukraine clash

On the sidelines of the annual Munich Security Conference, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmitry Kuleba. Kiev’s idea to organize a Ukrainian summit in Switzerland was specifically mentioned. According to experts, the United States and its allies are seeking for a way to engage Beijing in putting pressure on Moscow. However, China understands that this would impair its position as a global power and hence it will not participate, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

China sees Russia as a strategic partner; last year, Beijing proposed a peace plan that includes a ceasefire, negotiations and the lifting of sanctions against Russia. Speaking in Munich, Wang reiterated that China follows its historical policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations, while upholding its image as a responsible power advocating for the resumption of talks as soon as possible.

Alexander Lomanov, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO RAS), told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that, "No one in the West will allow China to play the role of a mediator in Ukraine. The West needs someone to carry out its objectives. Let’s take the Middle East as an example. Following the events in Gaza, China was accused of not supporting Israel and failing to criticize Hamas. If China claims to be a leading world power, it must exert pressure on Iran and the Houthis. The picture is similar to Ukraine. The West wants China to limit its cooperation with Russia in order to exert political pressure on [the latter]. But then China would become a tool in someone else's game and it would not agree to this since it would harm its international reputation. Beijing is prepared to act as a mediator [but only] if the warring parties so desire."

As for the summit in Switzerland, China sees no benefit in participating. Ukraine’s patrons in the West want to take advantage of China. "I think that, as in the case of [the] Iran-Saudi Arabia [rapprochement], China will participate in such a forum only if both Ukraine and Russia are ready for it," the expert concluded.


Vedomosti: Ecuador does about-face on transfer of Soviet military equipment to US for Kiev

Ecuador has abandoned its earlier decision to provide old Soviet-type military equipment to the United States in exchange for new US-made models, Russian Ambassador to Quito Vladimir Sprinchan said, adding that during the negotiations, Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa stated that his country is neutral and, thus, "cannot allow itself to be drawn into conflict." According to Vedomosti, Moscow’s prompt reaction, which threatened Ecuador’s revenues from its massive banana exports, spooked Quito, resulting in a hasty reversal of the decision.

Ecuador had intended to ship old Soviet-type military equipment to the United States in exchange for new analogous models worth $200 mln by the end of January. The Russian embassy in Quito cautioned, however, that any potential arms shipment to the US would be considered an "unfriendly step."

In light of this, Russia’s agricultural regulator, the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance (Rosselkhoznadzor), wrote to the Ecuadorian Agriculture and Livestock Ministry requesting that it suspend certification of bananas exported by five local growers, effective February 5. Ecuadorian Foreign Trade Minister Sonsoles Garcia stated that the suspension of Ecuadorian banana imports by Russia could impact 25,000 jobs and over 3,000 small enterprises. On February 16, an Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry delegation reportedly arrived in Moscow to negotiate lifting the banana import restrictions. Rosselkhoznadzor later approved five Ecuadorian growers as sellers of bananas to Russia based on Quito's pledges.

Russia is the largest buyer of bananas from Ecuador. According to Mikhail Burmistrov, general director of Infoline Analytics, last year the South American country shipped $680 mln worth of the fruit to the Russian market; the United States ranked second with imports worth $563 mln.

The potential transfer of Soviet-model weapons to the US would have violated the terms of the Russian-Ecuadorian equipment supply contract, which prohibits their supply to third countries without the consent of the Russian manufacturer of the weapons, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Yan Burlyai, who serves as director of the Center for Ibero-American Programs at Moscow State Linguistic University, told the newspaper.

According to the expert, Quito's original decision to transfer the Soviet-type military gear was impulsive and not-well-thought-out. "As a result, the arms transfer deal was cancelled, which speaks to the pragmatism of the leader of Ecuador and his ability to reconsider decisions affecting even countries such as Russia and the United States," he said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: NATO supports both Armenia, Azerbaijan

Special Representative of the NATO Secretary General for the Caucasus and Central Asia Javier Colomina stated that the North Atlantic Alliance actively supports the normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan amid the talks between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev at the Munich Security Conference. Previously, they met in July 2023, after which the Azerbaijani authorities began to decline invitations, asserting a bias against them, Kommersant writes.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz served as the mediator between Baku and Yerevan. According to him, the two sides pledged to handle contentious problems peacefully. Scholz encouraged them to sign a peace treaty as quickly as possible. The parties agreed to hold a meeting of foreign ministers in the near future to continue discussions on this subject.

"In truth, the peace does exist. Unfortunately, it is occasionally obscured by specific episodes, but the situation is generally steady," Azerbaijani political scientist Ilgar Velizade told the newspaper. "Baku requires a peace treaty to resolve the problem in the long run. At the same time, I would avoid discussing ‘reanimating’ the negotiation process. To begin, thus far, we have only seen the heads of state take advantage of the occasion to meet. Second, slow debates have persisted even without this. For example, the parties are exchanging recommendations for a draft peace treaty," the analyst added.

Velizade believes that Armenia and Azerbaijan may not resume negotiations like they did in 2023. According to him, international mediators are no longer required because the focus of the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute has shifted to the regional level.

"Aliyev recognized that Western countries were promising Armenia the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, thus he eagerly participated in their negotiation processes. As soon as he got what he wanted, he ended the negotiations," Armenian political scientist Tigran Kocharyan told Kommersant. "First, the West has nothing more to offer him. Second, mediation by NATO members may undermine relations between Baku and Moscow," he added.


Vedomosti: Russia may contribute to growth in global gas output in 2024

Global gas production is expected to increase by 3% to 4.16 trillion cubic meters in 2024, driven by rising demand and falling fuel prices, according to the monthly report of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum. The analysis noted that global gas production levels were generally stable between 2022 and 2023. In 2022, production will decline by 0.2% annually to 4.02 trillion cubic meters, while in 2023 it will increase by only 0.8% to 4.05 trillion cubic meters. According to experts interviewed by Vedomosti, Russia can make a significant contribution to the dynamics of global gas output growth.

Finam analyst Sergey Kaufman stated in 2022-2023 the world suffered from a stagnation in gas demand as a result of abnormally high fuel prices, with the EU being the most affected. According to Kaufman, a decline in Russian gas production due to Gazprom's export problems also had a significant negative impact on global production in 2022-2023. In addition, during the coronavirus pandemic, a number of LNG production projects were postponed, affecting the volume of fuel supplies in the market, he told the newspaper.

According to Finam, the United States, Russia, China, and several countries in the Middle East will experience the greatest absolute growth in output in 2024. Ronald Smith, senior analyst at BCS World of Investments, expects the United States to have the largest increase in production. At the same time, he believes that Europe's gas demand will never fully recover to 2021 levels.

Experts predict that Russia's gas production will increase in 2024 as a result of planned increased exports to China via the Power of Siberia gas pipeline, the commissioning of the first stage of Novatek's Arctic LNG 2 plant, and growth in domestic demand as a result of the regional gasification program. Kaufman expects production to grow by about 4% to 660 bln cubic meters. PSB forecasts production of 664 bln cubic meters. Kaufman estimates that gas production growth is likely to slow down to 1.5% in 2025, compared to 670 bln cubic meters in 2024. A complete or significant reduction in Russian gas transit through Ukraine will have a negative impact on production in 2025.

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