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First sign of end to Afrin crisis as Kurds call on Assad for help

As Turkish offensive bogs down in Afrin and with policy chaos in Washington route opens for Moscow to broker a compromise

Alexander Mercouris

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Though it is extremely difficult to get a clear sense of the state of the fighting between the Turkish military and the Kurds in northern Syria in the hotly contested district of Afrin, the growing impression is of a Turkish military offensive which has become bogged down.

This has been a constantly recurring feature of Turkish military operations in Syria over the last two years.  Though they invariably begin with confident predictions of rapid victory, in practice they quickly run into the sand as the Turkish military and its Jihadi allies struggle to overcome the resistance of the seasoned fighters of ISIS and of the Kurdish militia the YPG.

The reason for these failures was discussed by me in an article published by The Duran on 19th February 2017 in which I discussed the succession of defeats inflicted on the Turkish military by ISIS over the course of the battle for the strategically important Syrian town of Al-Bab.

The Turkish force that is besieging Al-Bab is comparatively small.  It is also unbalanced, with barely any Turkish infantry to support the tanks, and with such Turkish infantry as is there consisting mainly of Special Forces, who are few in number and who are not generally used to support tanks.

The reason for this is that for domestic political reasons President Erdogan’s government is unwilling to send Turkish infantry into Syria.  Turkish infantry units are generally manned by conscripts, and President Erdogan does not want to face the public opposition he might provoke if he sent young Turkish conscripts to Syria to fight the hardened veterans of ISIS and the Kurdish YPG.

The result however is that the Turkish military besieging Al-Bab has to rely for infantry support on the Jihadi fighters of the so-called ‘Free Syrian Army’, who have proved consistently unable to stand up in a fight against any one of their enemies, be they the Syrian army, ISIS or the YPG.

Pictures which have appeared of the Turkish forces which have been sent to Afrin suggest that the same pattern is repeating itself, with the forces looking excessively tank heavy and over reliant for infantry support on Turkey’s local Jihadi allies who have repeatedly shown themselves incapable of standing up in actual fighting against either ISIS or the YPG.

The Turkish military’s moves against Afrin have been made more difficult by the redeployment of YPG fighters from Raqqa and other places where they were previously fighting ISIS to Afrin.

According to some reports these YPG fighters are reaching Afrin by crossing Syrian government controlled territory, indicating the existence of some sort of presumably Russian brokered deal between the YPG and the Syrian government in Damascus.

Meanwhile there are also reports that the US is itself stepping supplies of anti tank missiles to the Kurds.

If the picture on the ground looks excessively complicated and difficult to understand, it has not been made any clearer by the high level diplomacy Turkish President Erdogan has engaged in over the last few days.

On Tuesday 23rd January 2018 Erdogan had a telephone conversation with President Putin of Russia.  The Kremlin’s summary of this call suggests that its tone was at least cordial even if it is not at all clear what if anything was agreed

The two presidents exchanged opinions on the situation in Syria, including in Afrin in the northwest Syria, where Turkey is conducting a military operation. They focused on the importance of continuing joint efforts to settle the Syrian crisis based on respect for Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

The two leaders also talked about preparations for the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi, which has entered the home stretch. Mr Putin and Mr Erdogan expressed hope that the congress would be representative and would help find a lasting political solution to the crisis in keeping with the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the agreements reached in Astana.

Both presidents pointed out their satisfaction with the positive development of Russian-Turkish relations in various spheres.

The same is not true of President Erdogan’s telephone conversation on the following day with President Trump of the United States.

The Moon of Alabama has discussed the bizarre and contradictory reports from Washington and Ankara about what passed during this call in a masterly way

Yesterday President Trump and Erdogan had a phonecall to discuss the situation. It did not help. The White House readout for the call includes some noticeably harsh language:

President Donald J. Trump spoke today with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. President Trump relayed concerns that escalating violence in Afrin, Syria, risks undercutting our shared goals in Syria. He urged Turkey to deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties and increases to displaced persons and refugees.

President Trump also expressed concern about destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey, and about United States citizens and local employees detained under the prolonged State of Emergency in Turkey.The Turkish side denied that such language and these issues were part of the talk:

The White House’s written statement differs from the truth discussed between the Turkish and U.S. Presidents’ phone conversation on Wednesday, according to Anadolu Agency sources.Speaking on the condition of anonymity due to restrictions on talking to the media, the sources said President Donald Trump did not discuss any concerns ‘of escalating violence in Afrin’ during the phone call with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The sources also stressed that President Trump did not use the words “destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey.”

They also said that there was no discussion of the ongoing state of emergency in Turkey.

It is very unusual to dispute the content of such readouts. Is Turkey obfuscating here or did someone in the White House put harsher language into the readout than was actually used in the call?

Trump had in general good relations with Erdogan and the readout language does not sound like him. The Turkish side also added this:

“In an answer to President Erdogan’s highlighting request from Washington to stop providing arms to the PYD/YPG terrorists in Syria within the scope of fighting against terrorism, President Trump said the United States are no longer providing PYD/YPG with weapons,” the sources added.Already in November the Turks had said that Trump promised to stop the delivery of weapons to the YPG forces in east-Syria. But the White House was evasive on the issue and the U.S. military Central Command has acted contrary to that promise. If the Magnier report is correct CentCom also delivered anti-tank missiles to the Kurds in Afrin.

(highlighting in the original)

In contrast to the Moon of Alabama, I think the White House readout does provide an accurate summary of what passed between Trump and Erdogan during the call.

It appears that there was a furious row between Trump and Erdogan, with Trump telling Erdogan to stop his operation against the Kurds in Afrin and with Erdogan refusing to do so.

An angry and humiliated Erdogan has subsequently tried to conceal the extent of the row by claiming that the readout is inaccurate so as to pretend that the row never took place.

This brings up again the question of the seemingly confused state of US policy on the Kurdish question.

The article by the Moon of Alabama discusses this extensively, and analyses in detail and once more in a masterly way the all too obvious split in Washington between pro-Turkish and pro-Kurdish factions.

I have for some time presumed that are different opinions in the White House and especially in the Pentagon with regards to Turkey and the Kurds. The realist-hawks and NATO proponents are on Turkey’s side while the neoconservative “liberal” forces are on the Kurdish side. Yesterday the NYT noted the split:

The White House sent out a message aimed at mollifying Turkey’s president on Tuesday, suggesting that the United States was easing off its support for the Syrian Kurds.That message was quickly contradicted by the Pentagon, which said it would continue to stand by the Kurds, even as Turkey invaded their stronghold in northwestern Syria.

The former director of the Council of Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, takes the pro-Kurdish position. Linking to the NYT piece above he says:

Richard N. Haass‏ @RichardHaass – 12:00 PM – 24 Jan 2018
Pentagon right; US should be working w Kurds in Syria for moral and strategic reasons alike. A break with Erdogan’s Turkey is inevitable, if not over this than over other differences. Time for DoD to come up with plan to substitute for Incirlik access.It is not only the Incirlik air-base which is irreplaceable for NATO’s southern command. Turkey also controls the access to the Black Sea and has thereby a say over potential NATO operations against southern Russia and Crimea.

In a Bloomberg oped former U.S. Supreme Commander of NATO Stavridis takes a pro-Turkish position:

At the moment, Washington is trying to sail a narrow passage between supporting its erstwhile Kurdish combat partners and not blowing up the relationship with Turkey. But the room for maneuver is closing and a choice is looming. What should the U.S. do?

[W]e simply cannot afford to “lose” Turkey.

The Turks have a strong and diversified economy, a young and growing population, and have stood alongside the U.S. for much of the post-World War II era. Their importance both regionally and globally will continue to grow in the 21st century. Yes, U.S. officials can and should criticize Turkish actions where they violate international law or human rights — but in private, at least at this stage of the situation.

[T]he overall U.S. strategic interest lies in keeping Turkey aligned with NATO and the trans-Atlantic community. It would be a geopolitical mistake of near-epic proportions to see Turkey drift out of that orbit and end up aligned with Russia and Iran in the Levant.

In passing the article in the Moon of Alabama also confirms what I have said previously, that the US’s Plan C – the plan to  use the Kurds to destabilise President Assad’s government in Syria by carving out a Kurdish statelet in northern Syria – was not properly discussed within the US government or agreed within the administration, but was cooked up instead by a small but influential group of Washington officials who did not discuss it with their seniors in the State Department, the Pentagon and the White House

It is unclear where in the Trump administration the split between pro-Kurdish and pro-Turkish positions actually is. (Or is it all around chaos?) On which side, for example, is Secretary of Defense Mattis and on which side is the National Security Advisor McMaster? This clip from the NYT piece above lets one assume that they pull in opposite directions:

For its part, the White House disavowed a plan by the American military to create a Kurdish-led force in northeastern Syria, which Turkey has vehemently opposed.

That plan, a senior administration official said Tuesday, originated with midlevel military planners in the field, and was never seriously debated, or even formally introduced, at senior levels in the White House or the National Security Council.

But the Pentagon issued its own statement on Tuesday standing by its decision to create the Kurdish-led force.

(bold italics added)

Compare these words with what I said about the lack of discussion with the US government about the new policy (Plan C) of backing the Kurds in the article in which I discussed this subject dated 8th October 2017

Policy instability in Washington

Firstly, though I have no doubt that Plan C exists and is both calculated and supported by some influential people in Washington – including within the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon – I doubt there is any consensus within the US government behind it.

There has never been any sign of any properly structured discussion within the US government about the sort of strategy the US should be following in Syria, whether conducted through the vehicle of the National Security Council or through any other format.  In my opinion the US government is now too disorganised and dysfunctional to be capable of carrying out such a discussion.  That was already the case under the Obama administration, and the current political chaos in Washington has made the situation worse.

The result is that many senior officials within the US – including I suspect President Trump himself, and quite possibly his ‘realist’ Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – have not been consulted about the new strategy and may not even know about it.

My strong impression is that US policy in the Middle East has for some time been run by a small but powerful cabal of officials inside the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon, who have strong links to various neoliberal/neoconservative groups working in US academia, various Washington think-tanks, and the media, and who also have strong personal and organisational links to the governments of the US’s two major allies in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Needless to say, since policy is made in this way with no proper discussion behind it, the new policy of supporting the Kurds (like the previous policies of seeking regime change in Syria and Iraq, and of partitioning Syria on religious lines) has not been properly thought through, and is not being executed in a consistent or organised way.

It is in fact all too easy to understand what has happened.

As happens all too often now, a middle ranking group of influential people on the ground in Syria and in Washington have committed the US to a policy aiming at the fragmentation of Syria which was never fully or properly discussed within the US government.  As a result the obvious flaws in the policy went by undetected.

Now however that those flaws have risen to the surface – threatening a major crisis between the US and its key NATO ally Turkey – the US finds it impossible – or at any rate extremely difficult – to change course.

Rather than do so resort is made instead to the classic Washington bureaucrat’s device of putting the US President on the telephone to President Erdogan to try to warn him off so that the policy can continue unchanged.

Needless to say that is more likely to aggravate the crisis than to end it.

By contrast in Moscow – where policy most definitely is discussed thoroughly within the government and is properly thought through (Russia’s Security Council met to discuss the gathering Afrin crisis as well as Ukrainian developments on 19th January 2018) – a clear policy has been agreed, enabling President Putin to have a cordial and constructive discussion with President Erdogan on Tuesday (see above).

As a matter of fact the first indications have now emerged of a possible resolution of the crisis.

The BBC is now reporting that the Kurdish authorities in Afrin are calling on the Syrian government to deploy its troops to Afrin to defend the local population from the Turkish military

Kurdish authorities in Syria’s northern Afrin enclave have called on Syrian troops to defend the region’s border, as a Turkish offensive continues there.

They said the “aim of this (Turkish) aggression is to cut more Syrian land by occupying Afrin”.

Turkish-led forces began their assault in north-western Syria on Saturday.

Ankara regards Kurdish YPG fighters in Afrin as terrorists, and says they are linked to Kurdish PKK guerrillas who operate in Turkey itself.

Forty-eight Turkish-backed rebels and 42 YPG fighters have been killed in the fighting since Saturday, says the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group.

Immediately prior to the Turkish attack on Afrin there were what appeared to be reliable reports that the Russians had advised the Kurds to transfer Afrin to the Syrian army’s control in order to avert the Turkish attack.

The Kurds – over confident of US protection – rejected this advice, with the result that as the promise of US protection has proved to be a dead letter they have been left to fight the Turkish military in Afrin on their own.

The BBC report does not say that the Kurds have reversed their position and are now accepting the Russian advice.

The Russian proposal was that the Kurds hand over control of Afrin to the Syrian army, whereas what the Kurds are now asking for is that the Syrian army come to their defence in Afrin by sending its troops there to fight alongside them against the Turks.

It is inconceivable that either Moscow or Damascus would ever countenance such an idea.

However the Kurdish plea to Damascus for Syrian protection does represent an explicit acknowledgement of Syrian sovereignty over Kurdish controlled territory.

As such it is also an implicit acknowledgement that ultimate authority over Kurdish controlled territory belongs to the Syrian government.

However cynical or opportunistic this move is, it appears to accept that independence or even semi independence for a YPG governed Kurdish statelet carved out of Syrian territory is not an option.

That does suggest a possible way out of this crisis.

It is probably too late now to save Afrin.  Erdogan’s prestige is too bound up in its conquest for him to be persuaded to back off.

However it is conceivable that the Russians could persuade Erdogan to stop at Afrin if the Kurds fully accept the authority of the Syrian government in Damascus and allow the Syrian army into the rest of the territory which they control.

In return the Russians might be able to secure some sort of representation for the Kurds in the Syrian peace conference which they are trying to arrange in Sochi, as they have in fact been trying to do for some time. Possibly in return for a Kurdish withdrawal from Afrin they might be able to persuade Erdogan to agree to it.

In return the Russians would redeploy their observers to Afrin to provide protection to the local Kurdish population who are understandably enough nervous of the Turkish military and its Jihadi allies.

Whilst there would be many difficulties in the way of such a compromise, brokering it is precisely the sort of diplomatic work at which the Russians excel.

Moreover working in favour of such a compromise is the fact that every party to it would come away with something: Turkey would have gained control of Afrin and would have prevented the emergence of a large heavily armed YPG controlled Kurdish statelet on its southern border; the Syrian government would have restored its authority over the fifth of Syrian territory which is presently controlled by the YPG; and the Kurds would have gained safety from Turkey and a say in the future of Syria.

After a time further negotiations – in Sochi or Astana rather than in Geneva – would restore Afrin to Syrian control, in return for some sort of role for Turkey in northern Syria.

A big step would thereby be taken towards restoring Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over the whole of its territory, something to which the Russians – as the Kremlin summary of  Putin’s telephone conversation with Erdogan shows – attach high priority (see the Kremlin’s summary of the call above), bringing closer a final end to the war.

The one obvious loser from such a compromise would of course be the United States.

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Whose Money Stoked Religious Strife in Ukraine – and Who Tried to Steal It?

Was $25 million in American tax dollars allocated for a payoff to stir up religious turmoil and violence in Ukraine?

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via Strategic Culture:


Was $25 million in American tax dollars allocated for a payoff to stir up religious turmoil and violence in Ukraine? Did Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (unsuccessfully) attempt to divert most of it into his own pocket?

Last month the worldwide Orthodox Christian communion was plunged into crisis by the decision of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Constantinople to recognize as legitimate schismatic pseudo-bishops anathematized by the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is an autonomous part of the Russian Orthodox Church. In so doing not only has Patriarch Bartholomew besmirched the global witness of Orthodoxy’s two-millennia old Apostolic faith, he has set the stage for religious strife in Ukraine and fratricidal violence – which has already begun.

Starting in July, when few were paying attention, this analyst warned about the impending dispute and how it facilitated the anti-Christian moral agenda of certain marginal “Orthodox” voices like “Orthodoxy in Dialogue,” Fordham University’s “Orthodox Christian Studies Center,” and The Wheel. These “self-professed teachers presume to challenge the moral teachings of the faith” (in the words of Fr. John Parker) and “prowl around, wolves in sheep’s clothing, forming and shaping false ideas about the reality of our life in Christ.” Unsurprisingly such groups have embraced Constantinople’s neopapal self-aggrandizement and support for the Ukrainian schismatics.

No one – and certainly not this analyst – would accuse Patriarch Bartholomew, most Ukrainian politicians, or even the Ukrainian schismatics of sympathizing with advocacy of such anti-Orthodox values. And yet these advocates know they cannot advance their goals if the conciliar and traditional structure of Orthodoxy remains intact. Thus they welcome efforts by Constantinople to centralize power while throwing the Church into discord, especially the Russian Church, which is vilified in some Western circles precisely because it is a global beacon of traditional Christian moral witness.

This aspect points to another reason for Western governments to support Ukrainian autocephaly as a spiritual offensive against Russia and Orthodoxy. The post-Maidan leadership harp on the “European choice” the people of Ukraine supposedly made in 2014, but they soft-pedal the accompanying moral baggage the West demands, symbolized by “gay” marches organized over Christian objections in Orthodox cities like AthensBelgradeBucharestKievOdessaPodgoricaSofia, and Tbilisi. Even under the Trump administration, the US is in lockstep with our European Union friends in pressuring countries liberated from communism to adopt such nihilistic “democratic, European values.”

Perhaps even more important to its initiators, the row over Ukraine aims to break what they see as the “soft power” of the Russian Federation, of which the Orthodox Church is the spiritual heart and soul. As explained by Valeria Z. Nollan, professor emerita of Russian Studies at Rhodes College:

‘The real goal of the quest for autocephaly [i.e., complete self-governing status independent of the Moscow Patriarchate] of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a de facto coup: a political coup already took place in 2014, poisoning the relations between western Ukraine and Russia, and thus another type of coup – a religious one – similarly seeks to undermine the canonical relationship between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Moscow.’

In furthering these twin objectives (morally, the degrading of Orthodox Christianity; politically, undermining the Russian state as Orthodoxy’s powerful traditional protector) it is increasingly clear that the United States government – and specifically the Department of State – has become a hands-on fomenter of conflict. After a short period of appropriately declaring that “any decision on autocephaly is an internal [Orthodox] church matter,” the Department within days reversed its position and issued a formal statement (in the name of Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, but clearly drafted by the European bureau) that skirted a direct call for autocephaly but gave the unmistakable impression of such backing. This is exactly how it was reported in the media, for example, “US backs Ukrainian Church bid for autocephaly.” Finally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo weighed in personally with his own endorsement as did the US Reichskommissar for UkraineKurt Volker.

The Threat…

There soon became reason to believe that the State Department’s involvement was not limited to exhortations. As reported by this analyst in October, according to an unconfirmed report originating with the members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (an autonomous New York-based jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate), in July of this year State Department officials (possibly including Secretary Pompeo personally) warned the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (also based in New York but part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate) that the US government was aware of the misappropriation of a large amount of money, about $10 million, from estimated $37 million raised from believers for the construction of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York. The State Department warning also reportedly noted that federal prosecutors have documentary evidence confirming the withdrawal of these funds abroad on the orders of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. It was suggested that Secretary Pompeo would “close his eyes” to this theft in exchange for movement by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in favor of Ukrainian autocephaly, which helped set Patriarch Bartholomew on his current course.

[Further details on the St. Nicholas scandal are available here, but in summary: Only one place of worship of any faith was destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attack in New York and only one building not part of the World Trade Center complex was completely destroyed. That was St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, a small urban parish church established at the end of World War I and dedicated to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, who is very popular with Greeks as the patron of sailors. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, and following a lengthy legal battle with the Port Authority, which opposed rebuilding the church, in 2011 the Greek Archdiocese launched an extensive campaign to raise funds for a brilliant innovative design by the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava based on traditional Byzantine forms. Wealthy donors and those of modest means alike enthusiastically contributed millions to the effort. Then – poof! In December 2017, suddenly all construction was halted for lack of funds and remains stalled to this day. Resumption would require having an estimated $2 million on hand. Despite the Archdiocese’s calling in a major accounting firm to conduct an audit, there’s been no clear answer to what happened to the money. Both the US Attorney and New York state authorities are investigating.]

This is where things get back to Ukraine. If the State Department wanted to find the right button to push to spur Patriarch Bartholomew to move on the question of autocephaly, the Greek Archdiocese in the US is it. Let’s keep in mind that in his home country, Turkey, Patriarch Bartholomew has virtually no local flock – only a few hundred mostly elderly Greeks left huddled in Istanbul’s Phanar district. (Sometimes the Patriarchate is referred to simply as “the Phanar,” much as “the Vatican” is shorthand for the Roman Catholic papacy.) Whatever funds the Patriarchate derives from other sources (the Greek government, the Roman Catholic Church, the World Council of Churches), the Phanar’s financial lifeline is the ethnic Greek community (including this analyst) in what is still quaintly called the “Diaspora” in places like America, Australia, and New Zealand. And of these, the biggest cash cow is the Greek-Americans.

That’s why, when Patriarch Bartholomew issued a call in 2016 for what was billed as an Orthodox “Eighth Ecumenical Council” (the first one since the year 787!), the funds largely came from America, to the tune of up to $8 million according to the same confidential source as will be noted below. Intended by some as a modernizing Orthodox “Vatican II,” the event was doomed to failure by a boycott organized by Moscow over what the latter saw as Patriarch Bartholomew’s adopting papal or even imperial prerogatives – now sadly coming to bear in Ukraine.

…and the Payoff

On top of the foregoing, it now appears that the State Department’s direct hand in this sordid business may not have consisted solely of wielding the “stick” of legal threat: there’s reason to believe there was a “carrot” too. It very recently came to the attention of this analyst, via an unsolicited, confidential source in the Greek Archdiocese in New York, that a payment of $25 million in US government money was made to Constantinople to encourage Patriarch Bartholomew to move forward on Ukraine.

The source for this confidential report was unaware of earlier media reports that the same figure – $25 million – was paid by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to the Phanar as an incentive for Patriarch Bartholomew to move forward on creating an independent Ukrainian church. Moreover, Poroshenko evidently tried to shortchange the payment:

‘Peter [Petro] Poroshenko — the president of Ukraine — was obligated to return $15 million US dollars to the Patriarch of Constantinople, which he had appropriated for himself.

‘As reported by Izvestia, this occurred after the story about Bartholomew’s bribe and a “vanishing” large sum designated for the creation of a Unified Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine surfaced in the mass media.

‘As reported, on the eve of Poroshenko’s visit in Istanbul, a few wealthy people of Ukraine “chipped in” in order to hasten the process of creating a Unified Local Orthodox Church. About $25 million was collected. They were supposed to go to the award ceremony for Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople for the issuing of a tomos of autocephaly. [A tomos is a small book containing a formal announcement.] However, in the words of people close to the backer, during the visit on April 9, Poroshenko handed over only $10 million.

‘As a result, having learned of the deal, Bartholomew cancelled the participation of the delegation of the Phanar – the residence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, in the celebration of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia on July 27 in Kiev.

‘”Such a decision from Bartholomew’s side was nothing other than a strong ultimatum to Poroshenko to return the stolen money. Of course, in order to not lose his face in light of the stark revelations of the creation of the tomos of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Peter Alexeevich [Poroshenko] had to just return those $15 million for the needs of Constantinople,” a trusted source explained to reporters.

‘For preliminary information, only after receiving the remaining sum, did Bartholomew finally give his consent to sending a delegation of the Phanar to Kiev … ‘

Now, it’s possible that the two identical figures of $25 million refer to two different pots of money (a cool $50 million!) but that seems unlikely. It’s more probable the reports refer to the same sum as viewed from the sending side (the State Department, the Greek Archdiocese) and the delivery side (Poroshenko, Constantinople).

Lending credibility to the confidential information from New York and pointing to the probability that it refers to the same payment that Poroshenko reportedly sought to raid for himself are the following observations:

  • When Poroshenko generously offered Patriarch Bartholomew $10 million, the latter was aware that the full amount was $25 million and demanded the $15 million Poroshenko had held back. How did the Patriarch know that, unless he was informed via New York of the full sum?
  • If the earlier-reported $25 million was really collected from “a few wealthy people of Ukraine” who “chipped in,” given the cutthroat nature of disputes among Ukrainian oligarchs would Poroshenko (an oligarch in his own right) have risked trying to shortchange the payment? Why has not even one such Ukrainian donor been identified?
  • Without going into all the details, the Phanar and the Greek Archdiocese have a long relationship with US administrations of both parties going back at least to the Truman administration, encompassing some decidedly unattractive episodes. In such a history, a mere bribe for a geopolitical shot against Moscow would hardly be a first instance or the worst.

As one of this analyst’s Greek-American connections puts it: “It’s easy to comprehend the Patriarchate bowing to the pressure of State Dept. blackmail… not overly savory, but understandable. However, it’s another thing altogether if Kiev truly “purchased” their autocephalous status from an all too willing Patriarchate … which would relegate the Patriarch to ‘salesman’ status and leave the faithful wondering what else might be offered to the highest bidder the next time it became convenient to hold a Patriarchal ‘fire sale’ at the Phanar?!”

To add insult to injury, you’d think Constantinople at least could pay back some of the $7-8 million wasted on the Crete 2016 debacle to restart the St. Nicholas project in New York. Evidently the Phanar has better things to spend it on, like the demonstrative environmentalism of “the Green Patriarch” and, together with Pope Francis, welcoming Muslim migrants to Europe through Greece. Of course maybe there’s no need to worry, as the Ukraine “sale” was consistent with Constantinople’s papal ambitions, an uncanonical claim to “universal” status, and misuse of incarnational language and adoption of a breathtakingly arrogant tone that would cause even the most ultramontane proponent of the Rome’s supremacy to blush.

Finally, it seems that, for the time being at least, Constantinople doesn’t intend to create an independent Ukrainian church but rather an autonomous church under its own authority. It’s unclear whether or not Poroshenko or the State Department, in such event, would believe they had gotten their money’s worth. Perhaps they would. After all, the issue here is less what is appropriate for Ukraine than what strikes at Russia and injures the worldwide Christian witness of the Orthodox Church. To that end, it doesn’t matter whether the new illegal body is Constantinopolitan or Kievan, just so long as it isn’t a “Moskal church” linked to Russia.

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EU Army: Fact or Fiction? (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 152.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and International Affairs and Security Analyst via Moscow, Mark Sleboda discuss the possibility, and feasibility, of putting together an EU army, as French President Macron is now boasting about.

Will an EU Army replace, rival, or fold into NATO? How will the US respond to Europe’s military initiative, and how will Russia deal an EU army?

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Via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


“Insulting” – that’s how US President Donald Trump sharply reacted to the idea of a “real European army” proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron.

And it was how Macron rationalized the need for an independent military force for Europe that perhaps most irked the American leader.

Speaking on a tour of World War I battlefields in northern France last week, Macron said that Europe needed to defend itself from “China, Russia and even the United States of America”.

It was a pretty extraordinary choice of words by the French leader. To frame the US among an array of perceived foreign enemy powers was a devastating blow to the concept of a much-vaunted transatlantic alliance.

Since the Second World War, ending 1945, the concept of an American-European alliance has been the bedrock of a supposed inviolable, mutual defense pact. That nearly seven-decade alliance is now being questioned more than ever.

Macron’s call for a European army was further backed up by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who also pointedly said this week that Europe can no longer rely on the US for its defense.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has welcomed the proposal for Europe to form its own military organization, independent from Washington. No doubt, Moscow views such a development as augmenting a move towards a multipolar international order, which Russia and China, among others, have been advocating in opposition to American ambitions of unipolar dominance.

When Trump arrived in Paris last weekend along with dozens of other world leaders, including Putin, to commemorate the centennial anniversary marking the end of World War I, there was a notable frostiness between Macron and the American president. Only a few months ago, Macron and Trump had appeared the best of friends in what some observers referred to as a “bromance”.

During the Paris events, Macron sought to placate Trump by saying that the European army proposal would have a “complementary” role to the US-led NATO military alliance. However, their relationship further soured when Macron later delivered a speech in which he made a veiled rebuke of Trump’s “nationalist” politics.

Days later, on returning to Washington, Trump then fired off a fusillade of angry tweets attacking Macron in very personal terms over a range of issues, including “unfair” economic trade and France’s alleged ungrateful attitude towards the US liberation of Paris from Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

The rift between the US and Europe has been brewing even before Trump’s presidency. For years, Washington has been carping that the Europeans need to spend more on military defense, claiming that the US has been shouldering the burden for too long. Trump has taken the griping to a new, higher level. Recall that he has threatened to pull out of NATO because the Europeans were “free loading” on American “protection”.

The irony is that now the French and German leaders are talking about setting up their own military defenses, Trump has blown a fuse.

Evidently, the American contention is not about “burden sharing” of defense. If Washington was genuinely aggrieved about supposedly defending Europe at too much of its own expense, then Trump, one would think, would be only too glad to hear that the Europeans were at last making their own military arrangements, and taking the burden off Washington.

This gets to the heart of the matter about the real purpose of NATO and presence of tens of thousands of US troops stationed in bases across Europe since 1945. American military presence in Europe is not about “protecting” its supposed allies. It is, and always has been, about projecting American power over Europe. In reality, American troops and bases in Europe are more functioning as an occupying force, keeping the Europeans in line with Washington’s strategic objectives of hegemony over the continent.

Macron and Merkel’s vision of a European army is probably fanciful anyway, without any real prospect of materializing. How such a new defense arrangement would work independently from the 29-member NATO alliance led by the US seems unwieldy and impractical.

But the latest tensions between Washington and European leaders over military organization demonstrate the real nature of America’s relationship to Europe. It is about domination by Washington over Europe and has little to do with partnership and protection.

When Trump and previous US presidents have urged greater military spending by Europe the ulterior agenda is for Europeans to pay more to underpin American military presence, not for Europeans to find their own independent defense arrangement.

Tensions in the transatlantic axis seem to be coming to a head, heightened by Trump’s nationalistic “America First” policy. Rivalries are sharpening over trade, US sanctions on Iran, Trump’s threats against European energy plans with Russia, the Paris Climate Accord, and squabbling over NATO expenditures.

There is nothing progressive about Macron or Merkel’s call for a European army. It is more to do with France and Germany wanting to assert themselves as great powers and to shake off American tutelage out of frustration with Trump’s domineering petulance.

Only last week, Macron caused controversy when he praised French military general Philippe Pétain who collaborated with Nazi Germany as leader of Vichy France (1940-44). Macron wants a European army to satisfy his own nationalistic ambitions of revamping French global power. This week, he spent the night onboard a refurbished French aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, from which he gave a media interview saying that being “an ally of America meant not being a vassal”. Touché!

A progressive challenge from Europe to American power would not involve setting up a new army. Instead it would involve Europeans pushing for the disbandment of NATO as an obsolete organization and for the withdrawal of US-led forces which are dangerously amassing on Russia’s border.

Nonetheless, the one positive thing to emerge from the transatlantic spat over military defenses is that it illustrates more than ever how European protection is not the real purpose of Washington’s relationship to the continent. The purpose is one of using Europe as a platform for projecting America’s power, in particular against Russia.

The recent announcement by the Trump administration that it is willing to rip up yet another nuclear arms control treaty – the INF following the ABM in 2002 – clearly shows that Washington, ultimately, has recklessly scant concern for Europe’s security with regard to a possible future war with Russia.

For Washington, despite all the chivalrous rhetoric, Europe is not a partner nor even an ally. It is a vassal. Admittedly, thousands of American troops died while bravely fighting wars in Europe. But they are distinct from the US ruling class. At bottom, Europe is merely a battlefield for American military power, just as it was in two previous world wars. One hundred years after the end of World War I, the same callous calculus for the imperial planners in Washington is at play.

European ideas for independent defense is why Washington has reacted so furiously. It’s not willing to give up its European front.

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Zuckerberg Clings To Power While Sandberg Claims Ignorance After Damaging NYT Report

The New York Times reported that Facebook hired GOP PR firm, Defenders, to smear liberal detractors as Soros operatives. 

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Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg are battling backlash over an explosive investigation by the New York Times into Facebook’s mercenary damage control tactics in the wake of several major scandals.

Despite fresh calls from investors for Zuckerberg to step down in his dual role as CEO and chairman and appoint an independent director to oversee the board, the 34-year-old tech titan brushed off the suggestion during a Thursday call with journalists.

“A company with Facebook’s massive reach and influence requires robust oversight and that can only be achieved through an independent chair who is empowered to provide critical checks on company leadership,” said New York City comptroller, Scott Stringer.

Zuckerberg disagrees. “I don’t think that that specific proposal is the right way to go,” said the Facebook CEO when asked if he would consider stepping down, adding that other initiatives had been launched to “get more independence into our systems.”

The measures include creating an independent body to advise the company on decisions over whether controversial content should remain on the site.

Ultimately, he said Facebook is never going to eradicate mistakes. “We’re never going to get to the point where there are no errors,” he told reporters. “I’m trying to set up the company so that way we have our board, and we report on our financial results and do a call every quarter, but that also we have this independent oversight that is just focused on the community.” –Business Insider

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, meanwhile, is claiming ignorance – telling CBS This Morning co-host Norah O’Donnell “we absolutely did not pay anyone to create fake news – that they have assured me was not happening.”

In their Wednesday exposé – the culmination of interviews with over 50 current and former company executives, lawmakers, government officials, lobbyists and congressional staff members,the New York Times reported that Facebook had hired GOP PR firm, Defenders, which smeared liberal detractors as Soros operatives – and worked with a sister company to create negative propaganda about competitors Google and Apple.

Mr. Kaplan prevailed on Ms. Sandberg to promote Kevin Martin, a former Federal Communications Commission chairman and fellow Bush administration veteran, to lead the company’s American lobbying efforts. Facebook also expanded its work with Definers.

On a conservative news site called the NTK Network, dozens of articles blasted Google and Apple for unsavory business practices. One story called Mr. Cook hypocritical for chiding Facebook over privacy, noting that Apple also collects reams of data from users. Another played down the impact of the Russians’ use of Facebook.

The rash of news coverage was no accident: NTK is an affiliate of Definers, sharing offices and staff with the public relations firm in Arlington, Va. Many NTK Network stories are written by staff members at Definers or America Rising, the company’s political opposition-research arm, to attack their clients’ enemies. –NYT

Meanwhile, Sandberg stressed that Facebook was undertaking new security measures, telling O’Donnell: “Our strategy was to shore up the security on Facebook and make major investments there,” and that the company had made significant investments in combatting fake news and foreign influence.

“It was not what I was doing nor was it the company’s strategy to deflect, to deny or to hire PR firms to do things. That’s not the strategy. And I was part of none of that. We’ve taken great steps, we’ve made huge investments. We’ve invested a ton in AI and technology and if you were following us before the election you saw those efforts pay off. We were able to take down lots of stuff over and over, over and over because we were now focused on this,” said Sandberg.

When asked if rank-and-file employees are confident in her, Sandberg replied: “Yes, I believe so.

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