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Press review: Macron waxes Napoleonic with troop talk and Houthi whodunit on Red Sea cable

Top stories from the Russian press on Wednesday, February 28th
French President Emmanuel Macron Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool via AP
French President Emmanuel Macron
© Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool via AP

MOSCOW, February 28. /TASS/. The West is starting to say the quiet part out loud with French President Emmanuel Macron suggesting that European nations send their own troops to Ukraine; Yemen’s Houthi rebels face accusations of being behind the sabotage of a critical Internet communications cable in the Red Sea; and the EU continues to suffer from sanctions delirium as the bloc begins to plan for imposing its 14th package of anti-Russian restrictions in June. These stories topped Wednesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Media: West says quiet part out loud with talk of sending own troops to Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron suggested that Western countries could dispatch their own troops to Ukraine. According to him, there is no consensus on the issue at this point but "nothing can be ruled out" in the future. Russia has repeatedly made it clear that the direct participation of NATO in military operations may lead to a nuclear war, Izvestia notes.

Sergey Fyodorov, leading researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe, says that Moscow should prepare for the worst-case scenario. "The French president is acting like a hawk, trying on Napoleon’s full-dress uniform, which has been [gathering dust] in a museum for a long time already. This is a very dangerous game that most French people will not support. It deprives France of its role as a mediator in various crises, which is what it has always been proud of," the expert explained.

"If the French army and the armies of other European countries get directly involved in the conflict, it would definitely escalate into a large-scale European war with the risk of it reaching the nuclear level. I think that France is aware of this threat and would hardly take such a risky step," Andrey Kortunov, research director of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), pointed out.

Macron is seeking to show off as Europe’s leading politician, which is why he alternates between the "good cop" role of top peacemaker, calling for maintaining contact with Russia, and the "bad cop" role of the continent’s top hawk, Alexander Yermakov, a researcher with the Department of Military and Economic Security Research at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO RAS), told Vedomosti.

According to the expert, Macron’s only goal in making the statement was to draw media attention in order to either push the parties to the conflict toward finding a compromise under psychological pressure or, on the contrary, to compel Europe to send weapons to Ukraine by highlighting the potential alternative. It is hard to imagine Europe going for an open armed confrontation in a situation where it cannot bring itself even to provide Kiev with additional weapons from its dwindling stockpiles, Yermakov said.


Izvestia: Houthi whodunit: who’s behind sabotage of communication cable in Red Sea

Israeli media outlets claim that Yemen-based Houthi rebels from the Ansar Allah movement have hit underwater communication cables in the Red Sea. However, Ansar Allah representatives rejected these allegations in a conversation with Izvestia, putting the blame on Washington and Tel Aviv.

For three months, the Houthis have been attacking Israeli ships in the region in protest against Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip. Still, there is no direct evidence of their involvement in the incident involving the communication cable. Meanwhile, Israeli newspaper Globes writes that the damage done to the cables has led to disruptions in Internet traffic between Europe and Asia, with users in the Gulf states and India suffering the most.

This damaged unit is part of the three main routes of global underwater communication cables connecting continents, which are in fact the backbone of the Internet, Leonid Konik, editor-in-chief of the CоmNews group of companies, noted. It is a bridge between Europe and Asia with the cables running under the Indian Ocean toward Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan to the east, and passing right through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal to Europe to the west. This is the second most important route after the Pacific route, and is bigger even than the trans-Atlantic route. According to the expert, "even if all cables in the Red Sea are destroyed, Internet traffic will be redirected through the Pacific and the Atlantic routes." How it might affect prices is another question altogether, however, Konik added.

As for Russian users, they have nothing to worry about. Konik points out that a less powerful but reliable land route from Europe to Asia runs through Russia.

The Globes estimates that it will take at least two months to repair the cables. What complicates such efforts are regional risks stemming from ongoing attacks by the Houthis and the US military operation against them.


Izvestia: EU sanctions fever not abating as bloc to pass 14th anti-Russian package in June

The European Union plans to impose its 14th package of sanctions on Russia by June, members of the European Parliament (MEP) told Izvestia. Experts believe that the EU is determined to impose more and more restrictions on Moscow even though they are negatively affecting its own member states. The US in particular is pushing the EU toward taking such steps as Washington does not want economic ties between Russia and Europe to be restored.

Another package of sanctions on Russia is likely to be approved before the European Parliament elections, which are set for June 6-9, Croatian MEP Vilibor Sincic said. About half of EU citizens surveyed support sanctions and so politicians would like to shore up their support among this voting bloc, the lawmaker told Izvestia.

Experts believe that even an end to active military operations in Ukraine would be unlikely to stop the constant flow of restrictions coming from Brussels. The European Union is largely doing the bidding of the United States, Eike Hamer, economist and editor of German business newsletter Wirtschaft Aktuell, noted. The goal of sanctions is to prevent Europe and Russia from ever creating a peaceful alliance, he stressed.

"The European Union does not seem to run out of imagination as far as sanctions are concerned. From its point of view, there still are areas where trade and economic cooperation with Russia continues but it’s hard to introduce restrictions there because of coalitions formed within the EU. There are countries that will never support sanctions on the nuclear industry, namely France and Hungary," Sergey Shein, a researcher at the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies of the Higher School of Economics (HSE University), pointed out. "Since the process of agreeing upon measures has become longer and more complicated, the EU will seek to expand its sanctions policy and develop mechanisms for imposing secondary restrictions," he added.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Experts seek secret to Russia’s sanctions-proof economic resilience

Experts from the Civil Society Development Foundation gathered at a roundtable event to discuss the reasons behind Russia’s economic resilience amid unprecedented Western sanctions. They pointed out that the Russian government was successfully coping with challenges while solving economic problems, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.

In recent decades, the Russian government has become more and more involved in economic processes in the country, Doctor of Economics Nikita Krichevsky pointed out. In his view, Russian society is positive about such an approach because it is in line with the features of the nation’s millennium-old economic system.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic and sanctions on Moscow, the country’s economy is steadily developing with Russia becoming Europe’s No. 1 economy in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP) and the world’s fifth-largest economy. "The system of public administration institutions has adapted to extreme external conditions. That said, there is growing confidence that our market will be more or less stable even under sanctions," Krichevsky concluded.

Political scientist Konstantin Simonov, in turn, acknowledged that the government’s role often came down to state property issues, but its regulatory functions were far more important. If companies ignored environmental problems and did not upgrade their equipment, then the government’s tax revenues would have been higher in the short term. "However, we realize that the public good is at stake and the Russian government has recently been preventing businesses from acting that way," Simonov explained.

The political scientist also emphasized the need to get rid of the concept of "the resource curse" imposed from outside. "The sanctions themselves are aimed at driving Russia out of the hydrocarbons market, undermining the foundations of the state. However, we don’t seem to have been pushed out as we have fully rebuilt our logistics system and maritime exports have grown in the past two years," he noted.


Vedomosti: Gaza war causes Israel’s public debt to skyrocket amid sagging economy

Israel intends to increase its public debt, which currently stands at $219 bln, by $60 bln this year, Vedomosti writes, citing the Financial Times. The reason lies in growing defense spending. The country’s budget deficit is expected to reach 6.6% of GDP in 2024, while the GDP growth rate will slow down to 1.6%.

The call-up of 300,000 Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reservists following the start of military operations in the Gaza Strip, the evacuation of about 120,000 people from the country’s northern and southern areas, and entry restrictions for Palestinian workers from the West Bank, which led to a shortage of labor across Israel, are all factors that have negatively affected the economy. In addition, Israel’s foreign trade has collapsed.

The Israeli economy is capable of surviving long-term military activities as under no condition will the US government and private funds leave the Jewish state without financial and military assistance, Andrey Zeltyn, senior lecturer at the Higher School of Economics’ School of Asian Studies, noted.

Israel created a sufficient safety margin during its two decades of robust economic growth, Filipp Malakhov, a lecturer with the Department of Judaic Studies at Moscow State University’s Institute of Asian and African Studies, said. The country has accumulated major gold and currency reserves and its sovereign wealth fund is growing following the recent discovery of a gas field in the Mediterranean Sea. Investment by Western corporations - one of the important sources of growth for the Israeli economy - have not stopped, the expert added. According to Malakhov, human resources are the main cause of the current economic problems. "The total number of mobilized soldiers, people evacuated from border areas and workers on unpaid leave exceeds 500,000, which is why unemployment has increased in the country for the first time in many years and small businesses have started facing labor problems," he noted.

"An early end to the war is in everyone’s interest. Talks are already underway on establishing a ceasefire for the [Muslim holy] month of Ramadan, which begins on March 10. They may become the basis for the termination of armed clashes," Zeltyn said.

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