MOSCOW, February 16. /TASS/. NATO expects Sweden and Finland to be accepted into the organization by the fall, Russian lawmakers are seeking an international probe into the Nord Stream sabotage, while the WHO has suspended its investigation into the origins of COVID-19. These stories dominated Thursday’s newspaper headlines across Russia. On Wednesday, NATO defense chiefs wrapped up their special meeting, which was attended by representatives of Sweden and Finland who are seeking to join the alliance. At a press conference, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that both should be accepted into the alliance by the fall. According to him, everything will depend on individual decisions by Turkey and Hungary who have yet to ratify the two Nordic countries’ applications. On Thursday, Stoltenberg will visit Ankara to discuss the issue with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.However, experts believe that Stockholm and Helsinki’s accession to NATO is a foregone conclusion.Of course, pressure will be exerted on Turkey so that the accession of the two countries can be announced at the next summit, Russian International Affairs Council Director Andrey Kortunov told Izvestia. Erdogan is facing an election soon, and he has to preserve his image as a hard-line politician, including on the question of Sweden joining NATO. However, the fact that Stockholm has been playing an active role in relief efforts in the wake of the earthquakes may make Erdogan change his mind, the expert said.Roman Plyusnin, research fellow of the Center for Nordic Studies of the Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences, says Finland could become a NATO member before Sweden. Besides, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson himself said on Wednesday that joining the alliance separately “would not be a failure.”To Head of the Center for Belarusian Studies at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences Nikolay Mezhevich, Sweden and Finland are effectively NATO members already. De jure, the bloc’s charter does not cover them, but their infrastructure and weapons systems have long been readjusting to NATO standards, he said. NATO’s powerful intel centers are active in both Stockholm and Helsinki, and all it takes is signing a formal document, the expert told Izvestia. According to him, Moscow already views the two countries’ accession as a potential threat, for Sweden is a high-tech power, while the land border between Finland and Russia is some 1,300 km long. Grigory Karasin, chairman of the international committee of Russia’s Federation Council, called on the upper parliament house to address the Russian Foreign Ministry with an initiative to launch an independent international investigation into the sabotage on the Nord Stream gas pipelines that occurred in late September. The senator referred to US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh who, citing an unidentified source, published an article on February 8 claiming that explosives had been planted under the Russian pipelines by the United States and Norway.A day before Karasin’s speech, the same initiative was put forward by the State Duma’s International Affairs Committee, which endorsed a draft appeal to the United Nations to the lower house, also referring to Hersh’s story. According to lawmakers, the article by the US journalist should “be a pretext for a thorough international probe, punishment of those behind the sabotage and compensation for the damage caused.” However, before the start of any investigation, the committee blamed the Biden administration for causing billions of dollars worth of damage to the energy infrastructure of Russia, Germany, France, and the Netherlands.Soon after the draft appeal to the UN was put on the State Duma’s register, Stephane Dujarric, the Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, said the international organization was not authorized to conduct any probe and that it would need to be given a mandate from a UN legislative body to investigate the blasts.One cannot expect such initiatives calling for an international probe to have any meaningful impact, Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the Russia in Global Affairs journal, told Vedomosti. “There will be no follow-up to these initiatives, and it is clear how the West will react to this – by ignoring it. They have already dismissed it [Hersh’s story] as merely the conspiracy theories of an elderly journalist. But it’s right to draw attention to this,” he said. The World Health Organization has declared that it will shelve its investigation into the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Vladimir Dedkov, Russia’s WHO mission member, told Izvestia that the process had already been on hold for two years. He said this was because the international organization disagreed with the conclusions made by its own experts following their first trip to Wuhan in February 2021. China’s refusal to cooperate with the WHO also hampered the probe.However, Dedkov said, the fact that the WHO has abandoned its probe does not mean that somebody else can’t launch an investigation on their own. “Perhaps, China will continue its own investigation. One day, we may get some results, as long as the virus is circulating in nature,” the researcher said. A group of countries could also continue the investigation, he believes. This is not the first time in history when the expert community does not know where a pathogen came from or where it circulates in nature, he added.So far, there is still no direct evidence showing whether the origin of the virus was natural or artificial. Virologist Pavel Volchkov told Izvestia that the SARS-CoV-2 virus could have escaped from the laboratory in Wuhan, as he referred to the geographical location of the outburst. According to the expert, it occurred exactly where the world’s largest coronavirus lab is located.Immunology researcher Mikhail Bolkov says the origin of COVID-19 could be mixed: at first, it was natural, but then the virus found itself in a lab where it was analyzed and cultivated. From there it might have spread globally, the expert argues. According to all reports, the disease began to spread before November 2019, gradually gaining strength, and the Wuhan incident was the second event that triggered the pandemic, he concluded. The state visit by the Iranian president, which began on Wednesday, is the first such event in 20 years, although Ebrahim Raisi had met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping before, according to the IRNA news agency. China supports Iran in safeguarding its national sovereignty and in resisting unilateralism and intimidation, CCTV quoted Xi as saying on its website.On the first day of the visit, on February 14, the two sides signed as many as 20 agreements in the spheres of tourism, IT, trade, intellectual property, agriculture, exports, culture and healthcare. This came as a follow-up to the efforts to implement a 25-year agreement on comprehensive cooperation between Iran and China that was signed by the two countries’ foreign ministers in 2021. However, Tehran and Beijing would rather not make the details of these agreements public.Even with no text being published, assumptions can be made that the 25-year cooperation agreement requires clarifying documents, Adlan Margoyev, a research fellow at the Center for Middle East and Africa Studies at Moscow State Institute of International Relations, told Vedomosti. According to the expert, almost all documents in this chain will likely remain unpublished amid heightened sanctions risks. Therefore, Margoyev insists, it would be better to track practical cooperation between Beijing and Tehran than to guess what their intentions are or give any forecasts in the absence of accurate documentation. Regardless of their political preferences, the Iranian elite needs a strong economic partnership with China, who remains Tehran’s key trade partner, Margoyev argues.As long as the Raisi administration promotes the country’s turn to the East, Tehran will need to boost the axis of its economic cooperation with Beijing and the military-political one with Moscow, and the state visit is an instrument for that, the expert assured. The United States is mulling sending Ukraine a cache of arms originally meant for rebels in Yemen, officials told the Wall Street Journal. These could include batches of assault rifles, cartridges and antitank missiles the US has seized off the Arabian Peninsula in recent months.Military expert Yury Lyamin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the United States and the European Union may also consider transferring those weapons to Ukraine that interested countries have been sending to Libya. “A UN arms embargo is still in force against the parties to the conflict in Libya, and ships of the EU Navy are operating off the country’s coasts, trying to intercept military shipments,” the expert said. At the same time, the search for external donors may be wider than it seems, according to Lyamin. The US and their allies and special services are actively cooperating with African, Asian and Latin American countries while searching for weapons and especially ammunition for Ukraine, he said. While some of them have refused to cooperate, others may succumb to threats and bribery, paving the way for tacit resales of Soviet-and Russian-made weapons as well as arms made in Iran, North Korea or China, he argues.In his turn, an expert on Libya, Jalel Harsaui, specified in an interview with the newspaper that seaborne cargoes being sent to Libya are not the largest ones. They are mostly assistance from the UAE, he said. “Even by redirecting Iran’s Yemen-bound deliveries to Ukraine, the US is making only a symbolic gesture, while in real life this is a mere trifle,” he concluded.TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in these press reviews