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East Ghouta: the last great battle of the Syrian war?

Jihadi defeat in East Ghouta would spell the end of the regime change war in Syria

Alexander Mercouris

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Reading media reports of the fighting in east Ghouta over the last few days has triggered an eery sense of déjà vu.

It is like taking a time machine back to the autumn of 2016 and listening to all the arguments over the fighting in Aleppo all over again.

Just as in 2016 the reports concern fighting between the Syrian military and a large force of Jihadis – in both cases around 10-15,000 men – trapped in a district of one of Syria’s two main cities.

In 2016 it was eastern Aleppo; this time it is east Ghouta, which is a suburb of Syria’s capital Damascus.

Just as in 2016 the presence of these violent Jihadi terrorists is being ignored, with the fighters ‘defending’ east Ghouta more often referred to in the Western media as ‘moderate rebels’ rather than the Al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliated Jihadi militants that they actually are.

Just as in 2016 the air waves and the presses are full of furious denunciations of Syrian and Russian bombing.

There is again talk of barrel bombs and of the supposedly intentional bombing of hospitals, though the military logic of deliberately bombing hospitals is never explained and entirely escapes me.

As was  the case with the bombing of eastern Aleppo in 2016 much emphasis is given to the killing of children, with vivid pictures plastered all over the media of dead or injured children, to the point where at times it almost seems as if most of the people being killed in east Ghouta are children.

In 2016 there were no Western reporters in eastern Aleppo to observe and report about the bombing there.

Today in east Ghouta there are also no Western reporters present to observe and report about the bombing there.

Just as was the case in eastern Aleppo in 2016 so in east Ghouta today the presence of Western reporters is impossible because the violent Jihadi terrorists who in the autumn of 2016 were in control of eastern Aleppo, and the violent Jihadis who are in control of east Ghouta today, would kill or kidnap without hesitation any Western reporter foolish enough to go there.

The result is that just as was the case in 2016 in Aleppo, the reports of the bombing in east Ghouta come entirely from ‘local sources’ whose accuracy and objectivity (given that they are reporting from an Al-Qaeda controlled area) must be in doubt.

Moreover the same organisation – the White Helmets – is prominently involved in both places and on both occasions.

Just as in 2016 the obvious problems with the accuracy and objectivity of the reporting seems not to worry the Western media at all.

Just as was the case in 2016 in its reporting of the bombing of Aleppo, so in its reporting of the bombing of east Ghouta today,  the Western media simply reproduces the reports it obtains from the ‘local sources’ and the White Helmets without providing any health warning about their objectivity or accuracy, publishing them as if they were proven and true.

This is despite the fact that – as Robert Fisk has pointed out – the propagandist nature of at least some of these reports is made obvious by the fact that they never speak of or show any Jihadi fighters in east Ghouta – just as in 2016 they never spoke of or showed any Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo – despite the large scale presence of Jihadi fighters there.

Just as in 2016 the United Nations Secretariat and the various humanitarian organisations lobby furiously for a ceasefire and for humanitarian corridors to rescue the civilians.

The United Nations Secretariat and the various humanitarian agencies however also give what are grossly inflated estimates of the number of civilians trapped in east Ghouta (“400,000”), just as in 2016 they gave what turned out to be grossly inflated estimates of the number of civilians trapped in eastern Aleppo (“250,000”), a fact which inevitably calls into question their objectivity, as does their failure to acknowledge the presence of Jihadi fighters there.

Moreover just as in 2016 the Syrian authorities claimed – accurately enough as it turned out – that the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo were preventing the civilians from leaving and were using the civilians as human shields, so the Syrian authorities are now claiming that the Jihadis in east Ghouta are preventing the civilians from leaving and are using them as human shields.

Just as in 2016 the Russians are busy brokering agreements for ceasefires, bombing pauses and humanitarian corridors to ease the plight of the civilians, despite the ill-concealed annoyance this causes to the Syrian authorities, whose military operations are thereby being obstructed.  Just as was the case in 2016 the Russians however get absolutely no credit in the West for doing this.

On the contrary the Western media is filled with atrocity stories which are blamed on Russia and on President Putin in particular, with this overblown editorial in the Guardian a typical example.

Just as was the case in 2016 during the fighting in Aleppo the air waves and presses today are full of talk of war crimes, with demands that war crimes prosecutions be brought against the Russians, the Syrians and the Iranians, who are supposedly responsible for the killing of the civilians in east Ghouta and for the bombing.

This is despite the fact that a British parliamentary committee which reported last year on the state of relations between Britain and Russia admitted that the claims that Russia had committed war crimes in 2016 in Aleppo were unverified.

Nor is the fact mentioned – just as it was not mentioned during the fighting in Aleppo in 2016 – that the Jihadis in east Ghouta are known to have engaged in the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, even though the extent of their shelling obviously cannot compare to the scale of the bombing carried out by the Russians and by the Syrian air force.

Just as was the case with the crisis in Aleppo in 2016, the crisis in east Ghouta today is the subject of much handwringing in the Western media.

There are also – just as there were in 2016 – pleas to President Putin to “show mercy”.

In 2016 these pleas came mainly from British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson.  This time they are coming from German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron.

Meanwhile – as in 2016 – there is grandstanding against Russia at the UN Security Council by the US’s UN ambassador.  In 2016 it was Samantha Power; this time it is Nikki Haley.

Just as in 2016 we are now seeing overheated and hysterical demands for ‘military action’ to ‘bring the killing to a stop’, with all concerns about what that might lead to brushed aside.

To complete the truly extraordinary parallels, there has even been a US bombing raid on Syrian forces far away in eastern Syria in Deir Ezzor province, just as there was during the fighting in Aleppo in 2016.

Moreover the Russian response to the US threats and to the US bombing raid appears to be the same as it was in 2016: the deployment of further powerful additional military forces to Syria and to Khmeimim air base.

In 2016 it was S-300VM Antey 2500 anti aircraft missiles; today it is additional S-400 anti aircraft missiles and (reportedly) SU-57 fighters.

As to what is really behind the furious campaign to stop the attack on east Ghouta, it is the same as was the case with the furious campaign to stop the attack on eastern Aleppo in 2016: to prevent a Jihadi enclave which threatens one of Syria’s two great cities – Aleppo in 2016, Damascus today – from being destroyed.

As to what would actually happen if – or rather when – that Jihadi enclave is finally destroyed, I can do no better than quote Marcus Papadopoulos

Once East Ghouta is liberated from Al-Qaeda, the world will see the same response from its inhabitants as the world saw once East Aleppo was liberated: jubilation. And, like with East Aleppo, East Ghouta will serve as another testimony about the facade that is the White Helmets.

Why all these frantic attempts to save an Al-Qaeda controlled Jihadi enclave from being destroyed near Damascus?

The short answer is that just as the destruction in 2016 of the Jihadi enclave in eastern Aleppo showed to the Western ‘democracy promotion’ lobby that their regime change war in Syria could not be won, so the destruction of the Jihadi enclave in east Ghouta near Damascus today would show to the Western ‘democracy promotion’ lobby that their regime change war in Syria is irretrievably lost.

The remaining Jihadi controlled territories in Syria would be reduced to a few fringe areas in remote and impoverished regions of Syria: places like Idlib province in Syria’s northwest, the ISIS holdout areas east of the Euphrates, and the small belt of territory near the increasingly lonely US base close to the Jordanian border at Al-Tanf.

Though fighting would not immediately end, and the massive problem of what to do with Turkey and the Kurds in northern Syria would remain unresolved, it would be increasingly difficult to sustain the fiction that a genuine civil war likely to end in a “rebel” victory was underway.

Over time that would be bound to increase the pressure to withdraw the uninvited foreign troops – US, Turkish and Israeli – currently present on Syrian territory.

At that point the fighting against the Jihadis would be reduced to mopping up operations, and the charade of the ‘peace talks’ in Geneva, Astana and Sochi would end.

However if there are striking similarities between the uproar over the fighting in Aleppo in 2016 and the fighting in east Ghouta today, there is also one very important difference.

This is that this time the uproar lacks conviction.

Following the Syrian army’s victory in Aleppo in 2016, and following the establishment of permanent Russian bases in Syria, there is now no longer any possibility of President Assad being ousted by force.

That means that regime change in Syria is no longer practicable, which begs the question of why the war is being continued at all.

Putting that aside, since the US and the rest of the regime change coalition know that a “rebel” ‘victory’ in Syria is no longer possible, their protests against the Syrian army’s ongoing offensive against the Jihadis in east Ghouta inevitably lack conviction and have none of the force that they did in 2016.

This is what explains the empty Resolution that came out of the UN Security Council on Saturday 24th February 2018.  I reproduce the entire text of the Resolution below, but its key paragraphs are the following

The Security Council

………..

1.   Demands that all parties cease hostilities without delay, and engage immediately to ensure full and comprehensive implementation of this demand by all parties, for a durable humanitarian pause for at least 30 consecutive days throughout Syria, to enable the safe, unimpeded and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and services and medical evacuations of the critically sick and wounded, in accordance with applicable international law;

“2.   Affirms that the cessation of hostilities shall not apply to military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), Al Qaeda and Al Nusra Front (ANF), and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the Security Council;

The key point about paragraph 1 is that though the Resolution “demands that all parties cease hostilities without delay” it sets no date for the cessation of hostilities Ie. for the ceasefire to begin.

Instead the “parties” are to “to engage – (ie. negotiate with each other) – immediately to ensure full and comprehensive implementation of this demand”.

In other words instead of imposing a ceasefire the UN Security Council has actually merely ordered negotiations to achieve one.

Absurdly, the Resolution does not however say who the “parties” are who must negotiate this ceasefire.  The rest of the Resolution makes it clear that one of the “parties” is the Syrian government.  Paragraph 2 makes it clear the “parties” do not include “undertakings and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the Security Council”.  However it is left completely unsaid who in that case is the “party” the Syrian government is supposed to negotiate the ceasefire with.

The reality is that since the Jihadi fighters in east Ghouta are practically by definition members of “undertakings and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL”, who are excluded from the ceasefire, there is no one in east Ghouta to negotiate a ceasefire with.

In the run up to the voting on the Resolution on Saturday the Russians made the point that the draft of the Resolution with which they were presented – officially sponsored by Kuwait and Sweden, but in reality drawn up by the Western powers – failed to identify who the Syrian government is supposed to negotiate the ceasefire with.

Accordingly they apparently successfully objected to the inclusion of a date for the start of the ceasefire.

Since it is impossible to see how negotiations to agree the terms of the ceasefire can happen when one of the parties who is supposed to agree the ceasefire has not been identified and actually does not exist, that renders the whole demand for a ceasefire vacuous.

In fact even as I write this, despite the Resolution’s demand that “hostilities cease without delay” no negotiations to agree the terms of the ceasefire are taking place and the Syrian army’s offensive against the Jihadis in east Ghouta continues unabated.

The Western powers presumably agreed to put the Resolution to the vote in this meaningless form because they intend at some future date to blame the Syrians and the Russians for the “failure” of the ceasefire “demanded” by the Resolution.

That however simply demonstrates the bankruptcy of the West’s Syrian policy.

That the Russians – who have vetoed eleven Resolutions concerning Syria in the UN Security Council since the start of the conflict in 2011 – will simply brush off any more such empty Western criticism ought by now to be obvious.

In fact what the text of the Resolution shows is the weakening of the West’s position on Syria with respect to Russia.

Back in 2016 the Western powers would have rejected the Russian amendment and would have insisted that the Resolution be presented to the UN Security Council in its original form ie. with a start date for the ceasefire.

The Resolution would then almost certainly have gained the necessary votes in the UN Security Council to pass, obliging the Russians to veto it.

That would have led to further furious denunciations and grandstanding in the UN Security Council against Russia.

The fact that the Western powers on this occasion agreed to a Russian amendment which with respect to east Ghouta deprived the Resolution of all meaning shows either that they are tiring of this game, or that they were concerned that the Russian objections were being heeded by the non permanent members of the UN Security Council, so that the Resolution would not have gained enough votes to pass if put to the vote in its original form.

The United Nations’ summary of the debate at the UN Security Council suggests that four UN Security Council members (Russia, China, Bolivia, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia) might have voted against the Resolution or abstained if it had been put to a vote in its original form, with three (Equatorial Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and Peru) having the swing vote

Most probably these three states would have voted for the Resolution, but the statements of their ambassadors during the debate were free of rhetoric and somewhat ambiguous, making it at least possible that some or even all of them might have abstained in a vote.

Since a Resolution requires at least nine votes in the UN Security Council to pass, if only two of these states had abstained the Resolution would have failed without any Russian veto being needed, dealing a massive diplomatic defeat to the US and to the Western powers.

Those who recall the events of the ‘Great Battle of Aleppo’ in 2016 will remember that there were numerous ceasefires or ‘humanitarian pauses’ ordered by President Putin over Syrian objections and over objections from his own military for the purpose of providing relief supplies to the civilians.

The Russians also negotiated strenuously to try to get the Jihadis to leave eastern Aleppo under escort with their families.

All the ceasefires and all the efforts to get the Jihadis to leave eastern Aleppo however ended in failure.

The Jihadis adamantly refused to leave, only finally agreeing to do so when the territory under their control had shrunk to barely a square kilometre and their position had become militarily untenable.

I suspect that something similar will happen in east Ghouta, though with the Syrian army much stronger than it was in Aleppo in 2016, and with the Jihadis in east Ghouta much weaker than were the Jihadis fighting in eastern Aleppo in 2016, I expect the process this time to be much shorter.

Already there are reports of the Syrian army making significant territorial gains as it closes in on the Jihadis in east Ghouta.

As for the Western powers, they have neither the means nor the will to prevent what is going to happen, which is the eventual liberation of east Ghouta from the Al-Qaeda led Jihadi terrorists who control it.

Though it may take a little time I expect the whole of east Ghouta before long to be under the control of the Syrian government.

At that point the Syrian government will be able to turn its full attention to the gathering crisis in Syria’s Kurdish areas far away in Syria’s north.

There now follows the complete text of UN Security Council Resolution 2401 (2018)

The Security Council,

Recalling its resolutions 2042 (2012), 2043 (2012), 2118 (2013), 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2175 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2209 (2015), 2235 (2015), 2249 (2015), 2254 (2015), 2258 (2015), 2268 (2016), 2286 (2016), 2332 (2016), 2336 (2016) and 2393 (2017), and its Presidential Statements of 3 August 2011 (S/PRST/2011/16), 21 March 2012 (S/PRST/2012/6), 5 April 2012 (S/PRST/2012/10), 2 October 2013 (S/PRST/2013/15), 24 April 2015 (S/PRST/2015/10) and 17 August 2015 (S/PRST/2015/15),

Reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria, and to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,

Reiterating its grave distress at the continued severity of the devastating humanitarian situation in Syria, including in Eastern Ghouta, Idlib Governorate, Northern Hama Governorate, Rukhban and Raqqa, and at the fact that urgent humanitarian assistance, including medical assistance, is now required by more than 13.1 million people in Syria, of whom 6.1 million are internally displaced, 2.5 million are living in hard-to-reach areas, including Palestinian refugees, and hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in besieged areas,

Expressing outrage at the unacceptable levels of violence escalating in several parts of the country, in particular in Idlib Governorate and Eastern Ghouta but also Damascus City, including shelling on diplomatic premises, and at attacks against civilians, civilian objects and medical facilities, further compounding suffering and displacing large numbers of people, recalling in this regard the legal obligations of all parties under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, as well as all relevant decisions of the Security Council, especially to cease all attacks against civilians and civilian objects, including those involving attacks on schools and medical facilities,

Expressing concern for those returning to areas, including those retaken from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), that are contaminated by explosive remnants of war and need resilience and stabilization support and expressing disturbance at the humanitarian situation in Raqqa,

Reiterating its deep disturbance at the lack of United Nations humanitarian access to besieged populations in recent months, expressing grave alarm at the dire situation of the hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in besieged areas in the Syrian Arab Republic, especially in Eastern Ghouta, Yarmouk, Foua and Kefraya, and reaffirming that sieges directed against civilian populations in Syria are a violation of international humanitarian law, and calling for the immediate lifting of all sieges,

Expressing its disturbance at the humanitarian situation for the internally displaced persons in Rukhban and stressing in this regard the need to ensure humanitarian access to Rukhban from inside Syria and the need for a sustainable solution,

Noting the ongoing work on de-escalation areas to reduce violence as a step towards a comprehensive nation-wide ceasefire, emphasizing the need for all parties to respect their commitments to existing ceasefire agreements, and that humanitarian access must be granted as part of these efforts in accordance with international humanitarian law,

Reaffirming that Member States must ensure that any measures taken to combat terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law,

Emphasizing that the humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate further in the absence of a political solution to the Syrian conflict in line with resolution 2254 (2015), calling upon all parties to make progress in this regard and to undertake confidence-building measures, including the early release of any arbitrarily detained persons, particularly women and children,

Expressing outrage at the insufficient implementation of its resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015), 2268 (2016), 2332 (2016) and 2393 (2017),

Determining that the devastating humanitarian situation in Syria continues to constitute a threat to peace and security in the region,

Underscoring that Member States are obligated under Article 25 of the Charter of the United Nations to accept and carry out the Council’s decisions,

“1.   Demands that all parties cease hostilities without delay, and engage immediately to ensure full and comprehensive implementation of this demand by all parties, for a durable humanitarian pause for at least 30 consecutive days throughout Syria, to enable the safe, unimpeded and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and services and medical evacuations of the critically sick and wounded, in accordance with applicable international law;

“2.   Affirms that the cessation of hostilities shall not apply to military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), Al Qaeda and Al Nusra Front (ANF), and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the Security Council;

“3.   Calls upon all parties to respect and fulfil their commitments to existing ceasefire agreements, including the full implementation of resolution 2268, furthermore calls upon all Member States to use their influence with the parties to ensure implementation of the cessation of hostilities, the fulfilment of existing commitments and to support efforts to create conditions for a durable and lasting ceasefire and stresses the need for relevant guarantees from those Member States;

“4.   Calls upon all relevant Member States to coordinate efforts to monitor the cessation of hostilities, building on existing arrangements;

“5.   Further demands that, immediately after the start of the cessation of hostilities, all parties shall allow safe, unimpeded and sustained access each week for United Nations’ and their implementing partners’ humanitarian convoys, including medical and surgical supplies, to all requested areas and populations according to United Nations’ assessment of need in all parts of Syria, in particular to those 5.6 million people in 1,244 communities in acute need, including the 2.9 million people in hard-to-reach and besieged locations, subject to standard UN security assessment;

“6.   Demands moreover that, immediately after the start of the cessation of hostilities, all parties shall allow the United Nations and its implementing partners to undertake safe, unconditional medical evacuations, based on medical need and urgency, subject to standard UN security assessment;

“7.   Reiterates its demand, reminding in particular the Syrian authorities, that all parties immediately comply with their obligations under international law, including international human rights law, as applicable, and international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians as well as to ensure the respect and protection of all medical personnel and humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties, their means of transport and equipment, as well as hospitals and other medical facilities, and to fully and immediately implement all provisions of all relevant Security Council resolutions;

“8.   Demands that all parties facilitate safe and unimpeded passage for medical personnel and humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties, their equipment, transport and supplies, including surgical items, to all people in need, consistent with international humanitarian law and reiterates its demand that all parties demilitarize medical facilities, schools and other civilian facilities and avoid establishing military positions in populated areas and desist from attacks directed against civilian objects;

“9.   Takes note with appreciation of the five requests identified by the Emergency Relief Coordinator on 11 January 2018 during his mission to Syria, and calls upon all parties to facilitate the implementation of these five requests and others to ensure principled, sustained and improved humanitarian assistance to Syria in 2018;

“10.  Calls upon all parties to immediately lift the sieges of populated areas, including in Eastern Ghouta, Yarmouk, Foua and Kefraya, and demands that all parties allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance, including medical assistance, cease depriving civilians of food and medicine indispensable to their survival, and enable the rapid, safe and unhindered evacuation of all civilians who wish to leave, and underscores the need for the parties to agree on humanitarian pauses, days of tranquillity, localized ceasefires and truces to allow humanitarian agencies safe and unhindered access to all affected areas in Syria, recalling that starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited by international humanitarian law;

“11.  Calls for humanitarian mine action to be accelerated as a matter of urgency throughout Syria;

“12.  Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Council on the implementation of this resolution, and on compliance by all relevant parties in Syria, within 15 days of adoption of this resolution and thereafter within the framework of its reporting on resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015), 2332 (2016) and 2393 (2017);

“13.  Decides to remain actively seized of the matter.”

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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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May survives ‘no confidence’ vote as UK moves towards March 29 deadline or Article 50 extension (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 168.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the ‘no confidence’ vote that UK Prime Minister May won with the a slim margin…meaning that though few MPs have confidence in her ‘Brexit withdrawal’ negotiating skills, they appear to have no problem allowing May to lead the country towards its Brexit deadline in March, which coincidently may be delayed and eventually scrapped altogether.

Meanwhile Tony Blair is cozying up to Brussels’ oligarchs, working his evil magic to derail the will of the British people, and keep the integrationist ambitions for the UK and Europe on track.

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Via RT


The UK government led by Theresa May, has survived to fight another day, after winning a no-confidence vote, tabled by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, following parliament rejecting the PM’s Brexit deal, earlier on Tuesday evening.

The no-confidence vote was defeated by 19 votes – the government winning by 325 to 306. It’s a rare positive note for May’s Tory cabinet after the humiliating Brexit defeat.

Speaking immediately after the vote, a victorious May said she was “pleased” that the House expressed its confidence in her government. May said she will “continue to work” to deliver on the result of the Brexit referendum and leave the EU.

May invited the leaders of parliamentary parties to meet with her individually, beginning on Wednesday evening.

“I stand ready to work with any member of this House to deliver on Brexit,” she said.

Responding to the vote, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that the House had “emphatically” rejected May’s deal on Tuesday. The government, he said, must now remove “clearly once and for all the prospect of the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit from the EU and all the chaos that would result from that.”

Labour will now have to consider what move to make next. Their official Brexit policy, decided by members at conference in September, states that if a general election cannot be forced, then all options should be left on the table, including calling for a second referendum.

Liberal Democrats MP Ed Davey also called on May to rule out a no deal Brexit.

The way forward for Brexit is not yet clear and May’s options are now limited, given that the Brexit deal she was offering was voted down so dramatically on Tuesday.

Gavin Barrett, a professor at the UCD Sutherland School of Law in Dublin, told RT that May will now have to decide if her second preference is a no-deal Brexit or a second referendum. Her preference will likely be a no-deal Brexit, Barrett said, adding that “since no other option commands a majority in the House” a no-deal exit is now “the default option.”

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Final Steps in Syria’s Successful Struggle for Peace and Sovereignty

The war of aggression against Syria is winding up, and this can be observed by the opening of a series of new embassies in Damascus.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The situation in Syria evolves daily and sees two situations very closely linked to each other, with the US withdrawal from Syria and the consequent expansionist ambitions of Erdogan in Syria and the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) takeover in Idlib that frees the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Russian aviation to liberate the de-escalation zone.

Trump has promised to destroy Turkey economically if he attacks the Kurds, reinforcing his claim that Erdogan will not target the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) once the US withdraws from the area. One of the strongest accusations made against Trump’s withdrawal by his opponents is that no Middle Eastern force will ever trust the US again if they abandon the SDF to its fate, that is, to its annihilation at the hands of the Turkish army and its FSA proxies. This, however, is not possible; not so much because of Trump’s economic threats, but because of Damascus and Moscow being strongly opposed to any Turkish military action in the northeast of Syria.

This is a red line drawn by Putin and Assad, and the Turkish president likely understands the consequences of any wrong moves. It is no coincidence that he stated several times that he had no problems with the “Syrians or Syrian-Kurdish brothers”, and repeated that if the area under the SDF were to come under the control of Damascus, Turkey would have no need to intervene in Syria. Trump’s request that Ankara have a buffer zone of 20 kilometers separating the Kurdish and Turkish forces seems to complement the desire of Damascus and Moscow to avoid a clash between the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and the SDF.

The only party that seems to be secretly encouraging a clash between the SDF and Turkish forces is Israel, criticizing Ankara and singing the praises of the SDF, in order to try and accentuate the tensions between the two sides, though naturally without success. Israel’s continued raids in Syria, though almost constantly failing due to Syrian air defense, and the divide-and-rule policy used against Turkey and the SDF, show that Tel Aviv is now weakened and mostly irrelevant in the Syrian conflict.

In Idlib, the situation seems to be becoming less complicated and difficult to decipher. Russia, Iran and Syria had asked Erdogan to take control of the province through its “moderate jihadists”, sit down at the negotiating table, and resolve the matter through a diplomatic solution. Exactly the opposite happened. The HTS (formerly al-Nusra/al-Qaeda in Syria) has in recent weeks conquered practically the whole province of Idlib, with numerous forces linked to Turkey (Ahrar al-Sham and Nour al-Din al-Zenki) dissolving and merging into HTS. This development puts even more pressure on Erdogan, who is likely to see his influence in Idlib fade away permanently. Moreover, this evolution represents a unique opportunity for Damascus and Moscow to start operations in Idlib with the genuine justification of combating terrorism. It is a repeat of what happened in other de-escalation areas. Moscow and Damascus have repeatedly requested the moderates be separated from the terrorists, so as to approach the situation with a diplomatic negotiation.

In the absence of an effective division of combatants, all are considered terrorists, with the military option replacing the diplomatic. This remains the only feasible option to free the area from terrorists who are not willing to give back territory to the legitimate government in Damascus and are keeping civilians hostages. The Idlib province seems to have experienced the same playbook applied in other de-escalation zones, this time with a clear contrast between Turkey and Saudi Arabia that shows how the struggle between the two countries is much deeper than it appears. The reasons behind the Khashoggi case and the diplomatic confrontation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia were laid bare in the actions of the HTS in Idlib, which has taken control of all the areas previously held by Ankara’s proxies.

It remains to be seen whether Moscow and Damascus would like to encourage Erdogan to recover Idlib through its proxies, trying to encourage jihadists to fight each other as much as possible in order to lighten the task of the SAA, or whether they would prefer to press the advantage themselves and attack while the terrorist front is experiencing internal confusion.

In terms of occupied territory and accounts to be settled, two areas of great importance for the future of Syria remain unresolved, namely al-Tanf, occupied by US forces on the Syrian-Jordanian border, and the area in the north of Syria occupied by Turkish forces and their FSA proxies. It is too early to approach a solution militarily, it being easier for Damascus and Moscow to complete the work to free Syria from the remaining terrorists. Once this has been done, the presence of US or Turkish forces in Syria, whether directly or indirectly, would become all the more difficult to justify. Driving away the US and, above all, Turkey from Syrian territory will be the natural next step in the Syrian conflict.

This is an unequivocal sign that the war of aggression against Syria is winding up, and this can be observed by the opening of a series of new embassies in Damascus. Several countries — including Italy in the near future — will reopen their embassies in Syria to demonstrate that the war, even if not completely over, is effectively won by Damascus and her allies.

For this reason, several countries that were previously opposed to Damascus, like the United Arab Emirates, are understood to have some kind of contact with the government of Damascus. If they intend to become involved in the reconstruction process and any future investment, they will quite naturally need to re-establish diplomatic relations with Damascus. The Arab League is also looking to welcome Syria back into the fold.

Such are signs that Syria is returning to normality, without forgetting which and how many countries have conspired and acted directly against the Syrians for over seven years. An invitation to the Arab League or some embassy being reopened will not be enough to compensate for the damage done over years, but Assad does not preclude any option, and is in the meantime demonstrating to the Israelis, Saudis and the US Deep State that their war has failed and that even their most loyal allies are resuming diplomatic relations with Damascus, a double whammy against the neocons, Wahhabis and Zionists.

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