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Experts warn Ukraine’s nuclear power plants in grave condition

Kiev’s Russophobia is putting the world at risk of multiple nuclear meltdowns

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(Oriental Review) – With the onset of winter and the increasing strain on Ukraine’s energy system, the threat of a new nuclear disaster in Central Europe is becoming more than just a theoretical danger. According to analysts from Energy Research & Social Science(ERSS), there is an 80% probability of a “serious accident” at one of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants before the year 2020. This is due both to the increased burden on the nuclear plants caused by the widespread shutdowns of Ukraine’s thermal power plants (the raw material they consumed – coal from the Donbass – is in critically short supply) and also because of the severe physical deterioration of their Soviet-era nuclear equipment and the catastrophic underfunding of this industry.

Should such an incident occur, the EU would not only be faced with the potential environmental consequences, but also – given the recent introduction of visa-free travel – a large-scale exodus of Ukrainians out of contaminated areas.

Let’s start by taking a brief tour of the Ukrainian nuclear industry:

Ukraine currently has four operating nuclear power plants: the Zaporizhia (the largest in Europe, with six reactors and a combined power output of 6,000 MW), the Rivne (four reactors and a combined power output of 2,880 MW), the Khmelnitskiy (two reactors and a combined power output of 2,000 MW), and the South Ukraine (three reactors and a combined power output of 3,000 MW):

The Chernobyl plant with its four reactors was finally shut down for good in 2000.

Of the 15 nuclear reactors currently operating in Ukraine, 12 were brought online during the Soviet era, prior to 1990. All of them rely on the classic type of VVER nuclear reactors that were designed during the 1960s and 1970s at the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow. Those reactors should have a maximum life expectancy of 30 years. But as of today, 10 of the 15 reactors operating in Ukraine have already outlasted their expected service life.

And all the while, the strain on Ukraine’s crumbling reactors constantly increases due to the dramatic decline in the availability of anthracite reserves from the Donbass at the country’s thermal power plants (by mid-2017, electricity production at Ukraine’s thermal power plants had dropped to almost half of 2013’s output, down to just over 50 billion kWh per year). According to Energoatom, the state company that runs Ukraine’s nuclear plants, in 2016 those plants were operating at only 65.5% of their total capacity, but by January 2017 they were up to 77.6%.During the first half of 2017, Ukraine’s nuclear power plants produced more than 45 billion kWh of electricity (up 13% compared to 2016), which means that they were responsible for 58% – an unprecedented share – of the country’s total energy matrix.

Today Ukraine is desperately squeezing out the last drops of use from its decrepit Soviet-era nuclear facilities.

The situation is being aggravated by Ukrainian energy officials, who are under political pressure to find a substitute for the nuclear fuel made by the Russian company TVEL. Thus at a number of reactors they have made repeated attempts to instead use a product made by the Westinghouse Electric Company, an American-Japanese corporation.

It is astonishing how the Ukrainians have entirely ignored the painful experiences of the Czechs. Back in 1996, the Czech Temelín nuclear plant (built by the Soviet Union) signed a contract with Westinghouse. After the reactors at the plant were fed an American fuel that had been designed to mimic the Russian TVEL product, the plant was forced to repeatedly refuel the reactors ahead of schedule, because the American assemblies leaked and exhibited structural defects. The scientists at Westinghouse could not correct the problem. In addition to the threat of a nuclear accident, the faulty fuel assemblies significantly increased the costs of producing electricity, since the reactors had to be continually shut down to replace the American parts. As a result, after yet another major accident in January 2007, the Czech Republic refused to purchase further fuel from the US and by 2010 Temelín had fully returned to the use of Russian TVEL products.

The Czech Temelin nuclear power station had effectively got rid of the counterfeit Westinghouse fuel by 2010.

Ukraine has been experimenting with American-made clones of Russian fuel assemblies since 2005. That was the year that Energoatom shipped six TVS-WR assemblies manufactured by Westinghouse to the South Ukraine nuclear plant and began their pre-installation inspection. As a result of their experiments, it was concluded that the American fuel assemblies were defective. However, they still decided to proceed to the next stage of the experiment – the annual loading of the reactor using this fuel. In 2008, Energoatom and a Swedish subsidiary of Westinghouse signed an agreement to supply the South Ukraine nuclear plant with enough American fuel for the scheduled annual partial refueling of the three reactors from 2011 to 2015.

However, as early as April 2012, malfunctions in the American assemblies were noted at the reactors of the South Ukraine nuclear plant. In an emergency procedure, all the TVS-WR assemblies were completely unloaded from the reactors after they were found to be damaged, mainly due to structural flaws in the spacer grids. As a result, in 2013, following a thorough inspection, Ukraine’s State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate instituted a total ban on the use of American fuel at Ukrainian nuclear plants.

But the victory of the Revolution of Dignity has once again cleared the path for American TVS-WRs to be used in Ukraine. In April 2014, Kiev carefully reassembled the torn-up scraps of its old contract with Westinghouse and decided to give things another go. The media reported that American fuel was subsequently loaded into reactor no. 3 at the South Ukraine nuclear plant (March 2015), reactor no. 5 at the Zaporizhia nuclear plant (June 2016), and reactor no. 2 at the South Ukraine nuclear plant (August 2017). The consequences were soon evident.

In February 2016 there was an emergency shutdown of reactor no. 3 at the South Ukraine nuclear plant “due to an increase in the level of coolant in the steam generator.” As local residents reported on social media, the area surrounding the nuclear plant was immediately cordoned off by the military. And on March 23, 2016, operations at the South Ukraine nuclear plant were completely suspended for an entire day!

The Zaporizhia nuclear plant has already undergone a dozen emergency shutdowns of its reactors since 2014. For example, in November 2015, military troops in the Zaporizhia region beefed up their safety measures after the reactors at the nuclear plant suffered an emergency power loss – all of the soldiers and officers were issued special equipment to protect themselves from radiation and chemicals. But no official comment was forthcoming about the incident.

Curiously enough, in May 2015 the Guardian published a bombshell report, claiming that over 3,000 spent nuclear fuel rods were being stored in metal casks in an open-air yard on the grounds of the Zaporizhia nuclear plant. Apparently these were Russian TVEL assemblies that had been hastily stored after being replaced with the TVS-WRs. This would seem to indicate that experiments to introduce the defective fuel rods into the reactor cores at the Zaporizhia nuclear plant were being conducted long before the reactor was officially brought online using American fuel in June 2016.

This being the case, the time line of accidents at the Zaporizhia nuclear plant can be viewed in a different light:

Nov. 28, 2014 – There was an emergency shutdown of reactor no. 3 after the automatic system that prevents damage to the core was activated.

July 18, 2015 – There was an emergency shutdown of reactor no. 1 in connection with the automatic shutdown of the pump responsible for cooling the nuclear reactor.

April 11, 2016 – There was an emergency shutdown of reactor no. 6 at the Zaporizhia nuclear plant in connection with the depressurization of the gas system of the turbogenerator. The local media reported a 10-fold increase in radiation levels around the station.

May 18, 2016 – There was an emergency shutdown of reactor no. 4 due to damage to the transformer.

August 14, 2016 – Reactor no. 5, the first at Zaporizhia to have been loaded with the Westinghouse knockoff product, was sent out for repairs.

Sept. 20, 2016 – Reactor no. 6 was taken off-line for “scheduled maintenance” (at the very start of the winter heating season!).

Oct. 24, 2016 – There was an emergency shutdown of reactor no. 2, only two and a half weeks after being overhauled.

In March 2017, at the peak of the energy crisis, that same reactor had to be taken off-line again.

April 18, 2017 – There was yet another emergency shutdown of reactor no. 6.

In early August 2017, reactor no. 4 was taken off-line for “scheduled maintenance work.”

As a result, only two of the six reactors at the Zaporizhia nuclear plant are currently fully serviceable. Overall, the accident rate at Ukraine’s nuclear plants has increased 400% since 2010!

The report from Energy Research & Social Science mentioned above also stressed that “[i]n Ukraine, for example, most nuclear energy accidents and incidents have not been included in databases over the past several years, although state Media confirmed their occurrence.”

In addition to the use of knockoff fuel, the biggest reason for the increased number of incidents at Ukraine’s nuclear plants has been the chronic underfunding of the industry. In the 25 years since the collapse of the USSR, literally not a cent has been invested in that sector. But in the meantime, the reactors that have outlived their 30-year lifespan either need to be closed (which would cost money that Energoatom does not have) or have their service life extended. Naturally, the Ukrainians are pursuing the second option. Ideally, when the operational life of a nuclear plant is extended, that should involve a major overhaul and updates. The estimated costs of extending the lifespan of a single reactor range from $150-180 million. But neither Energoatom nor the government of Ukraine has that kind of money, nor do they expect to find it anytime soon, hence the authorization to extend the operation of the reactors is a pure formality. Judging by publicly-accessible reports, regular 10-year extensions on the service life of Ukrainian nuclear reactors are granted readily and without arguments. However, the internal documents from Energoatom that were released this week by Cyber-Berkut paint quite a different picture.

Cyber-Berkut Documents

Cyber-Berkut obtained access to documents from government offices in Austria, Romania, Moldova, Belarus, Greenpeace, and the Bankwatch network of environmental NGOs, dated from the summer of 2017, which sound the alarm about Energoatom’s plans to prolong the operation of these old reactors.

The most informative of these is a chart drawn up by the Ukrainians listing all the grievances put forth by their foreign partners, plus their own responses (the document is primarily written in Ukrainian).

The first fact that jumps out is that Kiev arbitrarily decided to extend the operation of the reactors back in 2015, but it was not until 2017 – after the fact – that it sent that (pre-approved) program to update the nuclear plants to its neighboring countries and international environmental organizations for study.

This was a simultaneous breach of two UN Conventions that require signatories to obtain public and intergovernmental approval prior to (not after) commencing work at a nuclear power plant: the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment (the 1991 Espoo Convention) and the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the 1998 Aarhus Convention). Jan Haverkamp, a recognized expert in nuclear energy and a Greenpeace staffer, writes about this issue specifically:

The Ukrainian response to him (third column) states, “The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate [the Ukrainian acronym is ДIЯРУ – OR] is an independent body and its actions are not subject to these conventions [!!!-OR]”

Echoing Mr. Haverkamp, Bankwatch’s Romanian representative, Maria Seman, also raises a red flag:

In accordance with the Aarhus Convention, article 6 (4), public participation (along with a cross-border process to allow public participation in the Environmental Impact Assessment – EIA) should take place when all options are still open. In the case of decision-making processes that happen at many different levels, if there was no public participation in previous decisions, the public should once again be invited to take part in those decisions that were made earlier and they should still be viewed as open. This applies to reactors 1 and 2 of the South Ukraine nuclear power plant and reactors 1 and 2 of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, where updates were made and their license was renewed despite the red flags raised by neighboring countries and Espoo Convention Implementation Committee.”

Ukraine offered a simple, straightforward answer:

The answer to this question was provided above.”

Following are more of Maria Seman’s contentions about how Ukraine has violated international legislation: Kiev refused to notify stakeholders before making decisions about nuclear plants and now cannot guarantee that all input will be taken into account as the reactors are being updated:

However, Kiev seems relatively unconcerned, offering only mocking answers to the objections made by the foreign investigators:

Ukraine did not refuse to do anything. A delay occurred. The decisions to extend the licenses were made in accordance with national law and it was not possible to postpone them.”

There may be a conflict between the laws, but the regulatory body that made the decisions on this matter did not violate national law.”

In other words, the Ukrainians call ignoring the demands of the UN – “a conflict between the laws,” and violating the basic principles of environmental oversight – “a delay.”

Ukraine seems unaware that these conventions were created in order to preclude arbitrary actions by political authorities on questions of nuclear energy. Violations of international law are a matter of concern not just for environmentalists. They are a legal issue that calls for investigation, the identification of the perpetrators, and the correction of the transgressions. Where are the international commissions, where are the criminal cases that have been filed, where are the courts and tribunals that should be avidly defending the letter of the law? Why is the Ukrainian government being allowed to ignore UN treaties that it is bound to observe? The Espoo Convention Compliance Committee and other relevant authorities must respond.

According to Mr. Haverkamp, the authors of the program to extend the licenses of the nuclear power plants do not know the first thing about risk assessment and have not learned the lessons of Chernobyl or Fukushima, because the continued use of the reactors at the South Ukraine and Zaporizhia nuclear plants raises the chance of another nuclear disaster:

In turn, the Romanian government has submitted a whole list of transgressions, omissions, and missing information. Here are just two items:

The statements [by the Ukrainians] about their policy in regard to nuclear safety are misleading, incomplete, and not supported with pertinent details …”

The documents submitted by the Ukrainians are missing important information about the assessment of the consequences of potential accidents at the nuclear power plants …”

However, the Ukrainians are not troubled with remorse for their shoddy work – their answer again takes a defiant tone. The experts in Kiev apparently believe that there are not enough qualified investigators in the Romanian government to legitimately request such information:

This information, in our opinion, may be a subject of interest to suitably qualified experts, but for the discussion of the EIA at the state level, it is superfluous.”

Representatives from other neighboring countries also complain about the lack of data necessary to fully evaluate the program to update Ukraine’s nuclear power plants.

In particular, the Ministry of the Environment of the Republic of Moldova has emphasized that the environmental impact assessment does not take into account the physical aging – resulting from bombardment by neutron fluxes – of either the reactors or the components of their radiation shield.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus has requested “comprehensive information regarding the documents on the basis of which the decision was made to extend the service life of the two reactors at the nuclear power plant, as well as information regarding the updates to each reactor,” and so on.

Ukraine’s reaction: That answer lies outside the scope of our authority.

Serious concerns are being raised about the fact that the Ukrainian state agencies responsible for nuclear energy have not yet devised ways to dispose of the spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive waste, now that the service life of the reactors has been extended and given the fact that Ukraine is refusing to use Russian storage facilities. Maria Seman, for example, has this to say:

“The section on radioactive nuclear waste does not provide enough information on the total quantity of waste generated over the course of a year, nor a detailed plan for handling it, which must include storage. The on-site facilities for storing nuclear waste at the nuclear plants are limited, and the transportation of waste and spent fuel to Russia was suspended once the civil war in eastern Ukraine intensified. It is essential to request this information.”

However, Kiev seems less concerned with problem of how to dispose of radioactive waste than with offering its own rhetoric about events in the eastern part of its country. Instead of providing a substantive answer about what to do with the increasing quantity of spent fuel, the officials advised the Romanian investigator on her choice of newspapers:

There is no civil war in Ukraine – only the aggression of the Russian Federation [!!!-OR]. The author should find reliable sources of information.

Among other topics the Europeans raised for discussion with their Ukrainian colleagues: the massive doses that Kiev has decided fall within the bounds of “permissible radioactive contamination,” despite the fact that they are lethal to 50% of the population of the zone that has been thus contaminated; the sources of the funding for the impending programs to take the Ukrainian nuclear power plants off-line in the future; the absence of assessments in Energoatom’s materials regarding the impact of radiation on the rise in leukemia among children living near nuclear power plants; and so on:

Officials in Kiev either evade answering these questions or else play the fool: “What, we should keep records of every case?” (in regard to the incidence of childhood leukemia).

***

All these facts are evidence that Ukraine’s nuclear power plants not only present a genuine threat to Europe’s security, but that given the current economic situation and political instability in Ukraine, they also have no chance of bucking this negative trend. How to effectively cope with this aggravating situation should be a matter of urgent technical and political talks between the Russian and concerned EU states authorities.

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‘Iron’ Mike Pence Stares-Down Putin In APEC Showdown

Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton were seen shaking hands and chatting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Singapore.

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Via Zerohedge


Forget the All-Blacks ‘Haka’, ignore Foreman-Frasier, Drago-Balboa, and Ortiz-Liddell, the honor of the greatest (or perhaps most awkward) staredown in history now goes to US Vice President Mike Pence…

Having been blamed for everything from Trump’s election victory to USA soccer team’s loss to England last week, Russia faced accusations all weekend and was reportedly confronted by the US contingent over “meddling.”

As The Sun reports, Pence and Putin “discussed the upcoming G20 Summit and touched on the issues that will be discussed when President Trump and President Putin are both in Argentina for the summit,” according to the vice president’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah.

An NBC reporter tweeted: “New per the @VP’s Office—> The VP’s office says Vice President Pence directly addressed Russian meddling in the 2016 election in a conversation with Vladimir Putin on Thursday in Singapore.

“The conversation took place following the plenary session this afternoon at ASEAN.”

But, it was the following clash of the titans that caught most people’s attention.

As the Russian president joined the that Pence shook Putin’s ‘deadly’ hand, met his ‘steely KGB-trained’ gaze, and desperately tried not to smile or blink for 20 seconds as Putin appeared to chat amicably with the US VP…

While Putin has (if his accusers are to be believed) grappled his opponents to death with his bare hands (remember he is a sinister KGB agent and jiu-jitsu expert); we suspect the only thing VP Pence has gripped tightly in his hands is his bible.

Sadly, John Bolton then blew the tough guy act (or is he Mike Pence’s ‘good cop’) as he does his best impression of a teenage girl meeting their popstar idol for the first time…

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Orthodox Churches begin to respond forcefully to Ukrainian situation

Two jurisdictions, including one with a difficult history with Russia, move to condemn uncanonical acts in Ukraine.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Two local jurisdictions within the Eastern Orthodox Church announced their refusal to accept the legitimization of two schismatic groups in Ukraine, a move authorized by the Ecumenical Patriarch, but spurred by powers in the United States and Petro Poroshenko’s secularist-oriented Ukraine.

On October 11th, 2018, the Ecumentical Patriarch, Bartholomew I of Constantinople, authorized his legates to pronounce two schismatic Orthodox “churches” in Ukraine to be restored to canonical communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and by extension, across the entire Orthodox world.

This move was strongly condemned by the authorities of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has the only canonically accepted church presence in Ukraine, a situation that the Ecumenical Patriarch himself agreed with only a few years ago.

Russia moved to break communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, creating a split in the Orthodox Church, but a split that at first risked Russia standing alone in their statement of disapproval of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s actions.

For a time the reaction of the other “local” Orthodox Churches was cautious, with the vast majority (excepting only the Greek Church in the USA) coming out in support of the canonical group in Ukraine, but without taking similar action to Moscow.

That appears to be changing.

On November 12 and 16, respectively, the Churches of Serbia and Poland issued strong statements. They both categorically refused to recognize the Ukrainian schismatic groups and they forbade their clergy to concelebrate with the “clergy” within these groups. The Serbs’ statement on this was as follows:

“The Assembly does not recognize the mentioned figures and their followers as Orthodox bishops and clergy and, consequently, does not accept liturgical and canonical communion with them and their supporters.”

The Polish Church made a similar announcement, but with even more force:

“The Holy Bishops’ Council forbids the priests of the Polish Orthodox Church from having liturgical and prayerful contact with the ‘clergy’ of the so-called Kiev Patriarchate and the so-called ‘Autocephalous Orthodox Church,’ which have committed much evil in the past,” the statement reads.

According to the Polish hierarchs, persons deprived of episcopal and clerical ordination cannot be leaders in establishing peace in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Only the observance of the dogmatic and canonical norms of the Church and the preservation of the centuries-old tradition will protect Orthodoxy from severe ecclesiastical consequences on an international scale. The Polish Orthodox Church prays fervently for the unity of the holy Orthodox Church and for peace for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” the message further reads.

And while yet officially under the omophorion of Constantinople, several Greek monasteries on Mount Athos, the Orthodox monastic republic that is the spiritual center of all of Eastern Orthodoxy, inserted special petitions in their services to pray for Metropolitan Onufry and the people of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – that is, the canonical group that is a highly autonomous, or independent, Church while yet under the Moscow Patriarchate.

This is an interesting situation because in terms of ecclesial jurisdiction, Mount Athos is actually under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. However, the monasteries there often are known for taking the hardest of hardline stances when even their own Patriarchate takes actions they feel to be wrong:

Thousands of Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Christians go on pilgrimage to Mt. Athos, which is under the jurisdiction of Constantinople, every year. However, the Russian Church, of which the Ukrainian Church is an autonomous, self-governing part, broke communion with Constantinople on October 15, which the Ukrainian Church confirmed yesterday, due to unilateral Constantinople’s interference in ecclesiastical life in Ukraine.

We know that the majority of the abbots of the Athonite monasteries do not agree with the anti-canonical decisions of the Phanar,” Met. Anthony said.

“In several monasteries—Greek ones, by the way—they have included a special petition in the Litany of Peace in the morning and evening services: ‘For His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry with his suffering flock.,’” he explained, adding, “We are very grateful to the Athonites for their brotherly love and prayers.”

This is a story that it still developing, but the recent moves by Poland and Serbia may be outlining the path that other local Orthodox Churches will take.

That move is to deny recognition to the schismatics that Patriarch Bartholomew lifted the anathemas and depositions for. If this step were to be taken by all the local Churches that have expressed support for the canonical Ukrainian Church, the result would be not much different than where the schismatics were on October 10th:

Filaret Denisenko’s group and Makary’s group would indeed have communion with Constantinople, and presumably the Greek Orthodox Church in the USA, but with no one else.

This move would be a severe repudiation of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s repeated declaration that he has the sole authority to grant autocephaly to anyone anywhere in the Orthodox world (or even to take it away), which is a canonical absurdity.

Given the substantial problems that Filaret Denisenko continues to create, such as refusing to be considered only a Metropolitan (this was the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s order), and to still consider himself a patriarch, blessing a blasphemous “icon” that is really just a monument to Ukrainian ultra-nationalism and secularism (note the neo-Nazi wolfsangel and machine guns in the upper right of this photo:

And given the ideations of Patriarch Bartholomew himself, who is also recently reported to be pushing towards creating unity with the Roman Catholic Church, while acting like a pope himself by insisting that all the local Orthodox Churches will accept his decisions, it does not look like this situation is going to go away by itself.

However, by placing the problem of the schismatics squarely in Patriarch Bartholomew’s hands (since he created the problem), the pressure created by other churches refusing to concelebrate with the Ukrainian schismatics may be enough to isolate the Ecumenical Patriarchate itself, rather than fulfilling the highly likely goal that the US, Ukraine and Patriarch Bartholomew may have had initially – to isolate Russia and create a situation where Russia is made to look like the bad guy, once again.

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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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