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Press review: Hungary lets Swedes in final NATO door and IDF Gaza operation to last years

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, February 27th

MOSCOW, February 27. /TASS/. Hungarian parliamentary vote gives long-awaited approval for Sweden’s accession to NATO; Israel’s military operation in Gaza is expected to take several years to complete; and the West cannot agree on a unified approach to providing aid to Ukraine. These stories topped Tuesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Izvestia: Hungarian parliamentary vote opens final door for Sweden’s NATO accession

On February 26, the Hungarian parliament voted to approve Sweden’s accession to NATO, thereby removing the last obstacle to Stockholm’s membership in the North Atlantic Alliance. Budapest, by constantly postponing its review of Sweden’s bid, had effectively been bargaining with other NATO members and playing to the home audience, displaying the government’s readiness to stand up for the national interest. It now appears, experts surmise, that Budapest has now achieved its goals.

In a technical sense, Sweden has already been well-integrated into NATO, political scientist Lydia Sidorova says. According to her, Sweden’s formal accession to the alliance now only triggers new financial and regulatory obligations for Stockholm.

"Sweden has a serious military potential; for a long time it has been bolstering its defense ability, including in cooperation with Finland and Norway. Sweden even periodically prepares its population for combat conditions. Additionally, despite its [traditional] neutrality, Sweden was getting ready to adopt a stance of armed neutrality in case of a military conflict," Sidorova added.

"Sweden’s accession to NATO presents a significant threat to Russia’s security because it will help the US to freely project force up to Russian borders with the Baltic Sea essentially becoming a NATO lake," said Nikita Lipunov, analyst at the Institute for International Studies at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University).

According to the expert, Swedish communications technologies will become a valuable asset for the military bloc, as well as its intelligence data, which Swedish navy vessels gather across the Baltic. Its NATO membership will simplify the defense integration of Northern European countries within the framework of the Nordic Defense Cooperation (NORDEFCO), which includes Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

However, Sidorova thinks that Sweden’s vote in the overall NATO decision-making process is hardly likely to carry much weight.

"A hierarchical structure has emerged within the alliance. Turkey made it clear that Finland and Sweden are junior members. And the bloc’s leadership is not ready to do anything to even this situation out within the alliance of NATO member states with [ostensibly] equal rights. Additionally, nobody expects anything of Sweden and Finland aside from their readiness to provide their territory for deploying some weapons systems," the expert added.

Vladimir Vinokurov, professor at the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy, believes that Washington in general has a "sporting interest" in incorporating all European countries into NATO in order to oppose Russia as a single front. However, this is hardly possible, given that Switzerland or Serbia, for example, would hardly be willing to give up their military neutrality.


Izvestia: Israeli military operation in Gaza Strip expected to last several years

A thorough military mop-up of the Gaza Strip may take the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at least two years to complete, sources within Israeli military circles told Izvestia. Previously, the IDF had insisted that the operation in the Palestinian enclave would be completed by the end of 2024. IDF military units are experiencing problems advancing due to the complex network of underground tunnels that militants of radical Palestinian movement Hamas use to stage incursions behind the Israeli army’s lines.

In the fall of 2023, when Hamas attacked Israel, many expected that the operation in the Gaza Strip would last mere weeks, but those expectations have apparently failed to materialize. "It will take at least a year, most likely, two, in order to destroy Hamas’ military potential. It is very difficult to identify an exact timeframe. One thing is obvious: the war will be very long," a source in Israeli military circles told Izvestia.

Israel has already officially mentioned the protracted nature of the military conflict in Gaza. For example, in January, the IDF said that the deadlines of the operation had been moved and now it is thought that the conflict in the enclave will continue for the duration of 2024.

Political scientist and Middle East area expert Roland Bidzhamov concurs with this potential timeframe. "Everything will depend on how much Hamas and Israel themselves are interested in continuing this conflict," he said.

It is simply impossible to pinpoint with any precision the deadlines for completing the operation, IDF Spokeswoman Anna Ukolova told Izvestia. According to her, the army’s advance will strongly depend on Hamas’ resistance. The IDF is making the utmost effort to avoid losses among civilians. Additionally, the army proceeds from the premise that 134 people are still being held hostage, the Israeli military official stressed.


Media: Unified approach to support for Kiev proves elusive despite West’s best efforts

The West cannot work out a common plan of support for Ukraine amid the Ukrainian army’s battlefield failures and the West’s own problems with sending new weapons, experts polled by Izvestia said. On February 26, Paris hosted a conference designated to yet again demonstrate the West’s readiness to help Ukraine. That said, its strategy is leading to a dead end, the analysts say, because it is impossible to defeat Russia on the battlefield and Western countries will ultimately have to take Russia’s interests in Ukraine into account.

Icelandic journalist and foreign relations expert Haukur Hauksson thinks that the West’s strategy in Ukraine, aimed at dealing Russia a "strategic defeat" on the battlefield, has hit a wall.

He told Izvestia that while the West is taking desperate steps so that Russia does not win in Ukraine, it should understand that there will be no Ukrainian victory. The expert noted that Western countries have already emptied their weapons, hardware and munitions warehouses but all their fervent hopes for Ukrainian martial success ended up being nothing but unattainable "castles in Spain." Hauksson pointed out that, interestingly enough, no one in the West wants to begin peace talks.

German political scientist Alexander Rahr told Izvestia that there is consensus on the necessity of helping Ukraine but issues then arise regarding the nature and extent of such aid. He pointed out that, apparently, certain countries now stand ready to send their own troops to Ukraine. Yet, such a move would be fraught with an escalation of the conflict, leading to a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia. Rahr noted that while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, for example, is against such a scenario, that cannot be said about the UK or certain Eastern European countries.

According to the analyst, Western leaders are facing a serious dilemma: whether to continue flooding the Kiev regime with weapons, which does not change the situation on the battlefield, or deploy their own troops. Thus, a split on support for Ukraine is being seen in the US, where the administration of President Joe Biden, a Democrat, is advocating bolstering military aid to Kiev, while the Republican-led opposition is blocking the immediate allocation of the necessary funds.

"This is not the first time that France is initiating international summits on the Ukrainian issue," Natalya Lapina, head of the Department of Global Problems at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. According to her, Paris’ activity on the Ukrainian track is easily explainable. "Being restricted in conducting domestic policy due to the lack of a majority in parliament, [the government of French President Emmanuel] Macron has focused on foreign policy instead. Such activity boosts the prestige of the French president, which is particularly important on the eve of elections to the European Parliament," Lapina stressed.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: EU’s 13th set of anti-Russian sanctions shows US, EU on varying tracks

The latest sanctions imposed by the US and UK on Russia’s oil and gas sector do not correspond to the initially stated goals of anti-Russian restrictions and directly harm the economy of the European Union. But, it is no accident that the measures taken by Western countries against Russia’s economy, which were previously closely aligned, are now seriously diverging.

The EU’s 13th package of sanctions does not directly impact the export of energy resources from Russia, marking a big difference from the US and UK’s new sanctions. Instead of shrinking Russia’s budget revenues, which was the sanctions’ previously stated goal, they are now affecting the volume of exports of Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG) and oil, which basically frees up the European market for the US and UK’s own energy products by eliminating the competition.

Valery Andrianov, associate professor at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, thinks that pressure on Russian LNG projects will only intensify. The US-initiated sanctions have always had a dual purpose: to undermine Russia’s economy and simultaneously destroy the energy partnership between Europe and Russia. This was done in order to weaken Europe itself and render it incapable of competing with the US, and it is yet to be seen which of these goals is more important.

According to Oleg Abelev, head of research at Ricom-Trust Investment Company, an expansion of the US sanctions against Russian LNG is possible. They may aim to make potential foreign participants of LNG projects wary of secondary sanctions and abandon the projects. Certainly, this does not mean their automatic shutdown as Russian companies will seek partners in friendly countries.

Given the unpredictability of hydrocarbon deliveries from the US, the Europeans find themselves in a very vulnerable situation. For example, the export of US diesel fuel to Europe has dropped almost by half versus January and, quite recently, potential bans or restrictions on LNG exports from the US were discussed. The displeasure of a number of European countries with both the US and EU policy is mounting, both with regard to the economy in general and the energy sector in particular, Andrianov said.

The experts think that response measures may be applied to the assets of Western investors involving Russian securities. "These are rather large volumes, and they are circulating on the market. So, if the West decides on the confiscation [of Russian assets], we have a response ready," explained Nikita Maslennikov,

Overall, Russia can potentially block and seize financial assets belonging to non-residents from unfriendly countries to the tune of $290 bln, noted Ilyas Zaripov of Plekhanov Russian University of Economics. "Yet, this is private money that does not belong to state structures. The funds of Western financial institutions and industrial companies among these assets may be subject to freezing and confiscation," he explained.


Kommersant: Transnistria to present demands on Chisinau, appeal to international community

A summit of legislators at various levels that is slated to be held in the unrecognized Republic of Transnistria on February 28, and which has already created an uproar, does not plan to make any appeals to Moscow requesting that Tiraspol accede to Russia, sources in Transnistria said. Rather, the goal of the upcoming forum is to inform the world of the pressure being put on Tiraspol by Chisinau. For its part, the Moldovan government rejects all accusations of pressure and mounting a blockade on Transnistria.

"Why the summit? Because now the challenges, risks and threats are serious and they surpass the situation in 2006. Chisinau’s policy course is unequivocal, clear and consistent given its opportunities due to the blocked section of the border with Ukraine. If nothing is done now, they will introduce excise duties, taxes and the rest, which will have more serious consequences for the economy," ex-Transnistrian Foreign Minister Vladimir Yastrebchak told Kommersant.

Commenting on the rumor that Tiraspol may appeal to Moscow with a request to incorporate Transnistria into the Russian Federation, Yastrebchak said that, "this would hardly correspond to everyone’s interests, including Russia." "This is likely to trigger the neighbors’ reaction, which may be unpredictable. I don’t think that it is in Russia’s interest to diffuse its focus in various directions. It has much more substantial goals," he concluded.

Igor Shornikov, director of Tiraspol’s Institute for Social and Political Studies and Regional Development, told Kommersant that, currently, such an appeal to Russia "would be dangerous for Transnistria." "If lawmakers appeal to Russia, this immediately opens the second front with Ukraine. Tiraspol realizes this and, more than anything, wants to preserve peace around the republic," he noted. "What can be predicted is that there will be appeals to the international community, explaining the situation around the republic. This will be a signal that the situation can escalate at any moment and that Tiraspol does not want any aggravation," the expert explained.

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