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Press review: Caracas cozies up to BRICS and Brussels’ 13th sanctions round to swipe China

Top stories from the Russian press on Wednesday, February 21st

MOSCOW, February 21. /TASS/. Venezuela is considering joining BRICS as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visits Caracas on his ongoing three-nation tour of Latin America; the EU intends to slap sanctions on Chinese companies that collaborate with Russia; and Ukraine’s use of chemical weapons raises concerns about CWC violations. These stories topped Wednesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Vedomosti: Venezuela looks to BRICS as Lavrov’s Latin America tour continues

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov flew to Venezuela, the next stop after Cuba on his Latin American tour, where he is expected to meet with President Nicolas Maduro, Vedomosti writes. According to a press release from the Russian Foreign Ministry, Moscow will continue to fully support Caracas in defending Venezuela’s national sovereignty and ability to choose its own path. The Foreign Ministry stressed that Moscow and Caracas have consistently supported the formation of a fairer, multipolar world order; the preservation of the UN’s leading role in world affairs; the supremacy of international law; and the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and the equality of states.

Venezuela is one of Russia’s main Latin American partners, and despite the relatively small volume of bilateral trade, there is still great potential for expanding it, as well as for the development of economic and investment ties between the two countries, Nikolay Kalashnikov of the Institute of Latin America of the Russian Academy of Sciences told Vedomosti. According to the Foreign Ministry, trade turnover between Russia and Venezuela had reached about $150 mln as at the end of 2022. The parties intend to double this figure in the near future.

Lavrov’s arrival in Caracas coincided with a speech by Maduro, in which he confirmed Venezuela’s ambition to "soon" join BRICS, which Russia is chairing in 2024.

Yaroslav Lisovolik, founder of BRICS+ Analytics, stressed that Caracas’ alignment with the expanding intergovernmental organization would benefit both BRICS and Venezuela. The latter would gain an additional platform for advancing international relations, while BRICS would augment the pool of oil exporting countries among its members, thus boosting the BRICS’ weight in global oil markets.

Venezuela’s known oil reserves exceed 300 bln barrels, or more than 19.6% of world reserves, according to OPEC estimates. By this measure, Venezuela ranks first in the world. Saudi Arabia holds 16.7%, followed by Russia with 5.2%. Lisovolik told the newspaper that, in his view, a BRICS expansion to bring in Venezuela would differ from the organization’s previous expansion stages. "Perhaps, first of all, Venezuela will be accepted into the belt of BRICS partners," Lisovolik said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: EU plans to impose sanctions on Chinese companies working with Russia

China stands ready to expand relations with the EU on an equal footing in the name of free trade and economic globalization, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during a visit to Madrid. However, Brussels effectively rejected Beijing’s extended hand by tightening controls over Chinese investments, technologies and companies accused of supplying military equipment to Russia. According to experts, however, the EU’s move will do nothing to benefit Kiev on the battlefield, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

The European Commission has approved a plan to increase controls over foreign investment and technology exchange, which mainly concerns China, Reuters writes. In view of the situation in Ukraine, the relevant document referred to China as an adversary. According to Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the EU proposed imposing restrictions on three mainland Chinese companies and one from Hong Kong in Brussels’ 13th package of anti-Russian sanctions.

"It is possible that some Chinese companies offer dual-use equipment to Russia. The volume of Russian-Chinese trade has exceeded $200 bln. China denies providing military assistance to Russia. But the term ‘dual-use goods’ is imprecise. For example, trucks can be used on the battlefield," Alexander Lukin, research director at the Institute of China and Modern Asia of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

According to the expert, China has even presented its own proposals for a peace settlement, but Ukraine rejected the ideas. "This means that China cannot yet act as a mediator. Perhaps it will be possible after some time," he added.

At the same time, Bob Sawick, senior researcher at the Global Policy Institute in London and visiting professor at the University of Nottingham, believes that increasing sanctions against Russia and pressure on China would eventually lead to a significant increase in tensions near Taiwan and throughout Asia. This, in turn, could push China to expand its cooperation with Russia even further.


Izvestia: Ukraine’s use of chemical weapons raises questions about CWC violations, sources

The United States and Ukraine have frequently violated the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), according to Lieutenant General Igor Kirillov, head of the Russian Armed Forces’ Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) Protection Troops. Last year, the United States formally eliminated chemical weapons, but Moscow continues to question Washington’s sincerity and the transparency of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Izvestia writes. On Monday, it was revealed that the Ukrainian armed forces are ready to use existing chemical bombs in the battle zone.

According to Kirillov, the Russian Defense Ministry has documented yet another case of the US and Ukraine violating the CWC. Facts concerning the frontline use of chemicals banned under the CWC have been documented before, and not only by official sources.

Such chemical weapons, whether chloropicrin or BZ, are extremely difficult to produce locally, Izvestia writes. According to an assessment published by the Russian Defense Ministry, the BZ found in Ukraine has traces linking it back to US sources, specifically showing that it was produced at the Pentagon’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center. According to specialists, despite the reported destruction of all BZ reserves, the US has retained sufficient production capacity to synthesize this substance in quantities of up to several tens of tons per year.

Most likely, harmful compounds are created from precursors supplied to Ukraine from outside, Denis Denisov, an expert at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, told Izvestia. "I believe that in these conditions we are talking about either imported ammunition or the manufacture of weapons from imported components," the expert said.

In addition, it is unclear how much Soviet ammunition was destroyed in Ukraine, as well as in neighboring Bulgaria and Romania, over the course of the 26 years that the CWC has been in force, the newspaper writes.


Vedomosti: Russian fertilizer exports to India increase by 1.5-fold in 2023

Russian fertilizer deliveries to India grew 1.5 times in 2023 compared to 2022, reaching 5.4 mln tons, according to the Indian Ministry of Industry and Trade. The Russian Association of Fertilizer Producers (RAFP) and the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade confirmed an increase in deliveries to India, but did not disclose the amount. According to Vedomosti, discounts and high demand among farmers helped to ensure the positive growth trend.

Fertilizer imports from Russia to India increased 3.2 times in volume to 3.6 mln tons and 5.6 times in value to $2.7 bln in 2022 compared to the previous year.

According to Indian statistics, Russia’s share of total fertilizer imports to India increased from 15% in 2022 to 23.3% in 2023. Despite the increase in supplies, Russia has lost its position as the leading importer of this commodity to India, falling to second place. China became the world’s top fertilizer supplier in 2023, increasing exports 1.6 times from 2022 to 5.44 mln tons. Russia and China combined accounted for half of all fertilizer supplies imported by India.

Due to sanctions imposed in 2022, Russian companies lost access to key Baltic Sea transshipment hubs in Estonia and Latvia, and ammonia supplies via the Tolyatti-Odessa pipeline (capacity 2.5 mln tons per year) through Ukraine were completely halted. Due to problems with fertilizer supplies in the West, Russia began to redirect them to friendly Asian countries, Vedomosti writes.

According to the RAFP, by the end of 2023, the markets of friendly countries will account for fully 75% of Russian exports.

RAFP President Andrey Guryev told Vedomosti that EU countries continue to buy Russian products "because of their quality and environmental friendliness." The trade group sees the countries of the so-called Global South, especially India and Brazil, as new key markets for Russia. The RAFP also sees promise in the African market, where Russian fertilizers currently account for 10% of the market.


Izvestia: Russia hosts world’s first phygital tournament Games of the Future

The Games of the Future tournament held in the Russian city of Kazan is taking place under a novel phygital format, which combines e-sports and actual live sports competitions. The tournament has already been going on for two days, with the formal opening ceremony scheduled for February 21. According to the organizers, the games are expected to become the equivalent of the Olympics in the digital world. The event has already become one of Russia’s major international projects since the West’s imposition of wide-reaching sanctions on Moscow two years ago, Izvestia writes.

According to Igor Stolyarov, leader of the Games of the Future initiative, athletes from over 100 countries are expected to compete in Kazan. "We see that the Kazan airport is working at full capacity; by midday on February 19, about 800 athletes from 57 countries had arrived, and they are still coming. We have not yet seen any significant cases of invited foreigners turning down our invitation to participate. In total, 294 teams from more than 100 countries are expected to compete," he said.

"The Games of the Future are already being broadcast in more than 30 countries around the world. We have around 240 final platforms for broadcasting the competitions, including social networks, streaming platforms, special agreements with TV services as well as with traditional television, and I’m not just talking about Russian [media] resources, but also the international distribution and content network," he added.

The program of the Games features 21 separate sports disciplines, including phygital football, phygital basketball, and similar blends of the two formats in hockey, racing, martial arts, skateboarding, cycling, and BMX cycling.

"This format is being held for the first time both in our country and around the world. However, the phygital movement is already spreading over the globe. Almost all Russian regions have already formed their own federations in this format," Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko said.

"We sincerely hope that, just as the classical Olympics were once born, a new Olympics based on the Games of the Future will be born here in Kazan: the digital Olympics," Kazan Mayor Ilsur Metshin stated.

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