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In 2011 Russia was a passenger on a runaway train – in 2017 Russia is a geo-political driver

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Many contemporary writings on Russia tend to paint the years between 1991 and 2000 as uniformly bad, while painting the events which transpired between 2000 and the present day as uniformly good. I am personally the first to agree that the 1990s was a uniformly hellish time for Russia and that while the over all trajectory of the years since 2000 has been largely positive, people forget that late into the Presidency of Dmitry Medvedev, Russia was in a very different geo-political place than it is today.

2011 was a year of reckoning for the wider world, but particularly for the Middle East. It was in 2011, when the western powers unleashed a war on Libya and simultaneous proxy ‘regime change’ conflicts in Syria, Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen.

Medvedev who has always been accused of harbouring some latent liberal tendencies, famously allowed the western bloc to pass UN Security Council Resolution 1973 which allowed NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya while authorising NATO the powers to “protect civilians in any capacity”. At the time, alarm bells should have rung the world over and in many parts of the Russian press, they most certainly did. But under Medvedev, Russia merely abstained from voting on the resolution when the use of Russia’s veto would have not only been appropriate, but necessary in terms of offering a peaceful alternative to NATO’s disastrous war on Libya, an  innocent country that had gone out of its way to meet western demands.

Many in the west felt duped. A generation of leaders who campaigned vowing not to repeat the mistakes of the Bush-Blair war on Iraq, did the same thing to Libya only with the slightest amendments to the language used to justify their atrocity. For Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicholas Sarkozy, it was 2003 all over again and yet another prosperous Arab state was reduced to rubble as a result. Unlike Iraq, Libya shows no signs of recovery. The country with the highest living standards in the history of Africa, is now a failed state with several competing governments and many more terrorist groups running wild.

It was in the aftermath of the 2007/2008 global recession that many in Russia seemed to lose confidence in Russia’s own ability to create prosperous and economically sound conditions for its people. In an age before the unveiling of One Belt–One Road and a Chinese leadership under Hu Jintao that was markedly less assertive than today’s China under the towering figure of Xi Jinping, many in Russia felt that playing ball with the neo-liberals was the only road to salvation.

In reality, Russia’s careful management of fiscal and monetary policies led Russia to weather the storm of the global financial crisis far better than most European states. With the benefit of hindsight, it is now possible to say that the fears surrounding Russia’s ability to recover were all fatuous. In reality, the financial crash of 2007/2008 has led to the rise of multiple anti-neo-liberal parties and movements in Europe and the United States, whilst in Russia, a broadly conservative style of economic management has been roundly vindicated.

Returning to the fateful year 2011, Russia’s influence in the Middle East was space. Traditional allies were left largely to their own devices and the idea of cementing partnerships with traditional US allies in the region was unthinkable to many.

Today, the story has changed and the turning points were in the years 2014 and 2015. In 2012, Vladimir Putin once again became President and since then, Russia has not looked back to the comparatively indecisive Presidency of Medvedev whose only major accomplishment was preventing blood-shed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008, early into his Presdiency. As it stands, most people have concluded that then Prime Minister Putin and his colleagues were largely responsible for the effectiveness of the security operations against the ethnic-cleansing of the Georgian regime.

In 2014, many fears among Russian politicians, notably those of Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the opposition LDPR, were vindicated when the US brought its ‘projects regime change’ to Kiev in the historic heart of Russian territory and on the doorstep of the modern Russian Federation.

Those like Zhirinovsky who warned that the US would use proxy conflicts on Russia’s borderlands to foment a larger conflict against Russia were once dismissed as mere purveyors of hyperbolic doom and gloom. Many in Russia, particularly those of the Medvedev style of politics, let alone out-and-out liberals, never thought the US would ‘actually do it’.

In 2014, when US proxies in the Ukrainian neo-Nazi right overthrow the Ukrainian government, Russia acted decisively to recognise the democratic vote among Crimeans to re-join Russia. While many in Russia believe the same settlement should have been offered to the Donbass republics, in the eyes of the wider world, there was a point of no return, nevertheless.. The US hit out at Russia directly by engineering a coup in Kiev and as a result, Russia allowed the peaceful return of part of its historic territory, rather than allow the US backed fascist regime in Kiev to wage war on Crimea.

The following year, Russia decided to heed the request of its long-time Syrian ally and conduct military operations against terrorism in Syria.

Two years later, Syria stands on the verge of total victory while its alliance with Moscow is stronger than ever. Moreover, Russia is now the de-facto problem solver for most of the Middle East. Russia has strengthened its partnership with Iran, revitalised an historic friendship with Iraq, continues to become more engaged in partnerships with Lebanon, re-booted relations with Egypt, all while establishing historically good ties to all members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Russia’s rise in Eurasia, the Middle East, East Asia and South East Asia has directly parcelled the inauguration of China’s One Belt–One Road in 2013. Where in 2013, many were sceptical of how lasting and strong Russia’s post-Cold War partnership with China could be, today, Russia and China are both superpowers and form the most important bilateral partnership in the world. For most countries outside of the EU, US and scant parts of the white majority states of the former British Empire, China’s One Belt–One Road is not just a preferred economic and development model but the model. Russia of course is the largest participating member in One Belt–One Road.

Today, Russia has important partnerships with not only Turkey and Iran, two historical adversaries, but also with Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea, while retaining historically good ties with Vietnam and in many respects, also with India. Relations with Japan are also far better than at any time in late-modern history.

Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union looks to further intensify partnerships with South East Asia in a manner that is harmonious with the leg of China’s One Belt–One Road that looks to cover this economically dynamic region.

Russia has come a long way since 2011. In 2001, many Russians felt that while it was possible to restore the internal economic order, improve living standards and protect Russian citizens under attack in places like South Ossetia and Abkhazia, that Russia did not have a wider role to play in the world.

Today, the opposite is happening. Russia’s dynamic, pragmatic and anti-ideological diplomatic model has put Russia into the geo-political driver’s seat in, a vehicle powered by the Chinese economy. That being said, Russia’s economy is becoming increasingly diversified and powerful while China is becoming increasingly assertive in global diplomacy.

At the same time, the US is losing many of the allies it once took for granted, at the same time that such countries pivot east. Turkey, Pakistan and Philippines are just three large countries that the US once took for granted. It is not able to do so anymore. Many other countries in the Arab world and South East Asia may soon join this list.

Political changes in Cambodia should make the US nervous about its Vietnam policy

While many continue to speculate on whether President Vladimir Putin will seek another term in office, his legacy is already solidified one way or another. His initial period in office was devoted mostly to fixing the domestic and economic problems of the Yeltsin years. During his current term, Russia has gone from a country focused on solving its own problems to a country invited by the rest of the world, to solve global crises.

Between 2012 and the present day, Putin’s current term in office, Russia has gone from a tentative re-emerging superpower to an undisputed superpower that is not only rivalling but eclipsing the United States in many areas.

In the year 2000, many people thought Russia’s best days were behind her and that all a good leader could do was control the speed and severity of the decline. Today, similar statements are being said, only in another geo-political giant of modern history. Sentiments about managed decline being more realistic than global dominance are now on the tips of tongues among the more rational observers of and in US politics.

The tables have turned radically in a very short period of time.

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Photos of new Iskander base near Ukrainian border creates media hype

But research into the photos and cross-checking of news reports reveals only the standard anti-Russian narrative that has gone on for years.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Fox News obtained satellite photos that claim that Russia has recently installed new Iskander missile batteries, one of them “near” to the Ukrainian border. However, what the Fox article does not say is left for the reader to discover: that in regards to Ukraine, these missiles are probably not that significant, unless the missiles are much longer range than reported:

The intelligence report provided to Fox by Imagesat International showed the new deployment in Krasnodar, 270 miles from the Ukrainian border. In the images is visible what appears to be an Iskander compound, with a few bunkers and another compound of hangars. There is a second new installation that was discovered by satellite photos, but this one is much farther to the east, in the region relatively near to Ulan-Ude, a city relatively close to the Mongolian border.

Both Ukraine and Mongolia are nations that have good relations with the West, but Mongolia has good relations with both its immediate neighbors, Russia and China, and in fact participated with both countries in the massive Vostok-2018 military war-games earlier this year.

Fox News provided these photos of the Iskander emplacement near Krasnodar:

Imagesat International

Fox annotated this photo in this way:

Near the launcher, there is a transloader vehicle which enables quick reloading of the missiles into the launcher. One of the bunker’s door is open, and another reloading vehicle is seen exiting from it.

[Fox:] The Iskander ballistic missile has a range up to 310 miles, and can carry both unconventional as well as nuclear warheads, putting most of America’s NATO allies at risk. The second deployment is near the border with Mongolia, in Ulan-Ude in Sothern Russia, where there are four launchers and another reloading vehicle.

[Fox:] Earlier this week, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said authorities of the former Soviet republic are being “controlled” by the West, warning it stands to lose its independence and identity as a consequence. “The continuation of such policy by the Kiev authorities can contribute to the loss of Ukraine’s statehood,” Mr Patrushev told Rossiyskaya Gazeta, according to Russian news agency TASS.

This situation was placed by Fox in context with the Kerch Strait incident, in which three Ukrainian vessels and twenty-four crew and soldiers were fired upon by Russian coast guard ships as they manuevered in the Kerch Strait without permission from Russian authorities based in Crimea. There are many indications that this incident was a deliberate attempt on the part of Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko, to create a sensational incident, possibly to bolster his flagging re-election campaign. After the incident, the President blustered and set ten provinces in Ukraine under martial law for 30 days, insisting to the world, and especially to the United States, that Russia was “preparing to invade” his country.

Russia expressed no such sentiment in any way, but they are holding the soldiers until the end of January. However, on January 17th, a Moscow court extended the detention of eight of these captured Ukrainian sailors despite protests from Kyiv and Washington.

In addition to the tensions in Ukraine, the other significant point of disagreement between the Russian Federation and the US is the US’ plan to withdraw from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Russia sees this treaty as extremely important, but the US point of view expressed by John Bolton, National Security Adviser, is that the treaty is useless because it does not include any other parties that have intermediate range nukes or the capability for them, such as Iran, North Korea, and China. This is an unsolved problem, and it is possible that the moves of the Iskander batteries is a subtle warning from the Russians that they really would rather the US stay in the treaty.

Discussions on this matter at public levels between the Russian government and the US have been very difficult because of the fierce anti-Russia and anti-Trump campaigns in the media and political establishments of the United States. President Putin and President Trump have both expressed the desire to meet, but complications like the Kerch Strait Incident conveniently arise, and have repeatedly disrupted the attempts for these two leaders to meet.

Where Fox News appears to get it wrong shows in a few places:

First, the known range for Iskander missiles maxes at about 310 miles. The placement of the battery near Krasnodar is 270 miles from the eastern Ukrainian border, but the eastern part of Ukraine is Russian-friendly and two provinces, Donetsk and Lugansk, are breakaway provinces acting as independent republics. The battery appears to be no threat to Kyiv or to that part of Ukraine which is aligned with the West. Although the missiles could reach into US ally Georgia, Krasnodar is 376 miles from Tbilisi, and so again it seems that there is no significant target for these missiles. (This is assuming the location given is accurate.)

Second, the location shown in the photo is (44,47,29.440N at 39,13,04.754E). The date on the “Krasnodar” photo is January 17, 2019. However, a photo of the region taken July 24, 2018 reveals a different layout. It takes a moment or two to study this, but there is not much of an exact match here:

Third, Fox News reported of “further Russian troops deployment and S-400 Surface to air missile days after the escalation started, hinting Russia might have orchestrated the naval incident.”

It may be true that Russia deployed weapons to this base area in Crimea, but this is now Russian territory. S-400s can be used offensively, but their primary purpose is defensive. Troops on the Crimean Peninsula, especially at this location far to the north of the area, are not in a position strategically to invade Kherson Oblast (a pushback would probably corner such forces on the Crimean peninsula with nowhere to go except the Black Sea). However, this does look like a possible defense installation should Ukraine’s forces try to invade or bomb Crimea.

Fox has this wrong, but it is no great surprise, because the American stance about Ukraine and Russia is similar – Russia can do no right, and Ukraine can do no wrong. Fox News is not monolithic on this point of view, of course, with anchors and journalists such as Tucker Carlson, who seem willing to acknowledge the US propaganda about the region. However, there are a lot of hawks as well. While photos in the articles about the S-400s and the Russian troops are accurately located, it does appear that the one about Iskanders is not, and that the folks behind this original article are guessing that the photos will not be questioned. After all, no one in the US knows where anything is in Russia and Ukraine, anyway, right?

That there is an issue here is likely. But is it appears that there is strong evidence that it is opposite what Fox reported here, it leaves much to be questioned.

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Vladimir Putin calls new Ukrainian church ‘dangerous politicking’

President Putin said creation of the “Orthodox Church in Ukraine” is against Church canon and that the West drove Constantinople to do it.

Seraphim Hanisch

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In an interview with the Serbian newspapers Politika and Vecernje Novosti ahead of his visit to Serbia, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted the creation of the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine”, a schismatic agglomeration headed by Ukrainian ultra-nationalists was “dangerous politicking.” He further noted that:

The establishment of the new religious entity in Ukraine is nothing but an attempt “to legalize the schismatic communities that exist in Ukraine under the jurisdiction of Istanbul, which is a major violation of Orthodox canons.”

“Yet, hardly anyone in the U.S. or in the Ukrainian leadership worries about this,” Putin said.

“Once again, this has nothing to do with spiritual life; we are dealing here with dangerous and irresponsible politicking,” he said.

President Putin had more things to say in the interview, and we present what he said in full here (emphasis ours), as reported on the Kremlin.ru website:

Question: The Serbian Orthodox Church has taken the side of the Russian Orthodox Church in the context of the ecclesiastical crisis in Ukraine. At the same time, a number of countries are exerting pressure on Patriarch Bartholomew and seek to ensure recognition of Ukrainian ”schismatics“ by Local Orthodox Churches. How do you think the situation will evolve?

Vladimir Putin: I would like to remind your readers, who are greatly concerned about the information regarding the split in the Orthodox community but are probably not fully aware of the situation in Ukraine, what it is all about.

On December 15, 2018, the Ukrainian leaders, actively supported by the USA and the Constantinople Patriarchate, held a so-called “unifying synod”. This synod declared the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, with Patriarch Bartholomew signing the tomos (decree) granting it autocephaly on January 6, 2019. Thus, it was attempted to legalize the schismatic communities that exist in Ukraine under the jurisdiction of Istanbul, which is a major violation of Orthodox canons.

Yet, hardly anyone in the US or in the Ukrainian leadership worries about this, as the new church entity is an entirely political, secular project. Its main aim is to divide the peoples of Russia and Ukraine, sowing seeds of ethnic as well as religious discord. No wonder Kiev has already declared ”obtaining complete independence from Moscow.”

Once again, this has nothing to do with spiritual life; we are dealing here with dangerous and irresponsible politicking. Likewise, we do not speak about the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. It is de-facto fully controlled by Istanbul. Whereas Ukraine’s largest canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has never requested autocephaly from Patriarch Bartholomew, is absolutely independent in its actions. Its connection with the Russian Orthodox Church is purely canonical – but even this causes undisguised irritation of the current Kiev regime.

Because of this, clergymen and laymen of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are being persecuted and deprived of churches and monasteries, and attempts are made to deny the Church its legitimate name, which raises tensions and only leads to further discord in Ukrainian society.

Evidently, Ukraine’s leaders have to understand that any attempts to force the faithful into a different church are fraught with grave consequences. Yet, they are eager to put interconfessional concord in the country at stake in order to conduct the election campaign of the current Ukrainian President based on a search for enemies, and to retain power by all means.

All of this does not go unnoticed by Orthodox Christians.

Naturally, Russia does not intend to interfere in ecclesiastical processes, especially those happening on the territory of a neighboring sovereign state. However, we are aware of the danger posed by such experiments and blatant interference of the state in religious affairs.

The situation continues to degrade in Ukraine, and though the Orthodox faithful of the Autonomous but Moscow-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church are the hardest hit, worry over Ukrainian lawlessless-made-law has the Jewish community in that country nervous as well. This is perhaps to be expected as the Azov Brigade, a neo-Nazi aligned group that is hypernationalist, is a good representation of the character of the “hate Russia at all costs” Ukrainian nationalists. A parallel piece in Interfax made note of this in a piece dated January 17th 2019:

[A] bill passed by the Verkhovna Rada introducing a procedure by which parishes can join the new Ukrainian church makes it easier to seize places of worship, and supporters of autocephaly have already started doing this across the country, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church said.

“They need this law to seize our churches. You can’t just come with a crowbar to someone else’s barn, but now the law allows you to do so. They aren’t creating something of their own, but are trying to steal what’s ours,” Ukrainian Orthodox Church spokesperson Vasyl Anisimov told Interfax on Thursday.

The religious entity set up in December with Constantinople’s involvement and called the Orthodox Church of Ukraine “in fact doesn’t yet exist in nature. It’s fake. It doesn’t have any parishes of its own or government registration,” he said.

However, “the supporters of autocephaly don’t have plans to create anything of their own at all, so they have chosen the path of takeover, and the authorities are helping them in that,” Anisimov said.

“Hence, the legislation passed by the Verkhovna Rada today is in fact absolute lawlessness,” he said.

“If you pass legislation affecting an industry, you should talk to industrialists, and if it’s legislation on the agricultural sector, talk to farmers. And here legislation on a church is passed, and moreover, this legislation is aimed against this church, it is protesting, and Jews are protesting, too, because this legislation may affect them as well – but nobody is listening, and they change the law for the sake of an absolutely absurd and unconstitutional gimmick. But, of course, it’s the people who will ultimately suffer,” Anisimov said.

 

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According to Ukraine, the Crimean Bridge doesn’t exist (VIDEO)

Ukraine tries to deny the reality of the completion and soundness of the Crimean Bridge, though Ukraine was unable to build it, itself.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Russia’s VESTI News is truly an entertaining channel at times. This news service is strongly supported by the Russian government, and one of the criticisms it receives from Russian people is that it is an “extreme” propaganda house, telling all manner of crazy stories to distract its watchers’ attention away from the real problems that Russian people face at home.

No doubt there is truth to this, as this is a technique certainly duplicated in the US, Great Britain and elsewhere. Every nation has the right to its own propaganda. However, Vesti also seems to have a lot of fun making fun of other nations’ propaganda, and here they found a great one. Apparently, Ukraine’s propaganda ministry is trying to make the assertion that the Crimean Bridge collapsed and its debris is floating around in the Kerch Strait, “with the tectonic plates.”

See for yourself.

According to Ukrainian scientists and even “psychics”, this bridge is doomed to fall into the Kerch Strait once a sufficient earthquake hits it. Some claims appear even to say that the bridge already is not there, or at least, is not there in the way the Russian news sources have described it.

Of course, the VESTI team erupts into its famous snark, talking about how the bridge is very much alive and well and that it is the new “pride of Russia,” and so on.

This bridge is indeed quite an engineering feat, being completed only about three years after the rejoining / annexation / invasion / hostile takeover / or was it a voluntary referendum? of Crimea to the Russian Federation. This is a rapid speed for such a major project, but it is not very unusual for such projects to progress rather quickly when they are done with a will.

Burj Khalifa (formerly Burj Dubai) is presently by far the tallest building in the world, reaching skyward 828 meters, over half a mile into the sky. It took a little over four years to construct this landmark building, and it was done steadily and with a will to completion. Its would-be successor is not having as smooth an experience, for the Jeddah Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, has hit problems, and even though this tower is projected to go only about 130 meter higher (reaching a significant milestone of one kilometer tall), its construction started in 2013, and as of the latest update, only 63 floors are completed.

The Crimean Bridge was built with a will to make a point, presumably to Ukraine, the rest of Russia and the world:

This is the New Russia. Look what we can do!

And, they did a marvelous feat of engineering in a very short time.

VESTI indeed does try to make some people feel better by pointing out the problems of other countries. Sometimes that is a distraction. But sometimes it is worth a serious bit of consideration.

Ukraine has a leader most of its people apparently cannot stand, who is a warmonger and a crybaby at the same time, begging the West for help while breathing threats against Russia.

While there are no doubt many, many wonderful people there trying to do wonderful things, it does seem to be that the country is suffering because of its willingness to be a pawn of the West. Russia is feeling the Western squeeze and it is not pleasant, but the Russians also seem to know that they can get themselves through this, and so they have reason to be glad when the country makes a good accomplishment such as the Crimean Bridge. The political and geopolitical importance of this project is such that it is very likely that all sorts of great engineering went into the bridge. It is prudent, and Russians seem to understand prudence very, very well.

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