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As landmark INF treaty closes in on 30 years, will it survive? (Part III)

Ratcheting tensions between the US and Russia leave the future of the Cold War pact in doubt

Alex Christoforou

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(Oriental Review) – Part 3. Russia’s stance on the future of the INF Treaty

Russia feels that the current, inauspicious environment of noncompliance with the INF Treaty is cause for alarm, given Washington’s continued, systematic, and methodical chipping away at this system of global strategic stability.

The onset of that process began in 2002, when Washington unilaterally withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which ensured strategic stability through the creation of a strategic balance of offensive and defensive weapons.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has repeatedly criticized the State Department reports, Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments, which, among other things, voiced grievances against Russia owing to the supposed breaches of its commitments under the INF Treaty.

Moscow has primarily taken issue with these documents because they have never offered any specific details to back up these claims, instead merely reiterating the main articles of the 1987 treaty and adding various unproven allegations.

There has never been any clarification of the substance of either the American complaints or the comments of US officials who refer to some sort of “classified intelligence.” For this reason the Russian Foreign Ministry has declared its willingness to help the American diplomats correct this omission, at one time reminding them that objectivity and accuracy should always be prioritized over creative writing.

Russia contends that the “information” that the US previously submitted to Moscow via diplomatic channels, which allegedly should have made it possible for the Russians to identify the missile in question, was in fact incomplete, fragmentary data that in no way clarified the basis for the American complaints. In Russian governmental and political circles, it is a matter of serious concern that representatives of a number of US agencies are using these “facts” as a pretext for trotting out yet another justification for potential “countermeasures” in response to Russian “violations” of the 1987 treaty.

Russia has often stated that the two types of Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles cited by the US as “violations” of the INF Treaty, namely the mobile, ground-based RS-12M or Topol-M (SS-25) missiles, as well as the new RS-26 ICBM also known as the Rubezh, have never been classified as intermediate- or short-range missiles, since their flying range exceeds the maximum ceiling of 5,500 km defined by the Gorbachev-Reagan agreement. For this reason, these two ICBMs are only subject to the terms of a treaty of a different format and content, namely New START, which was signed in 2010.

The mobile launcher for RS-26 Rubezh

The mobile launcher for RS-26 Rubezh

Likewise, the 1987 agreement is in no way applicable to the operational R-500 missile, nor does that missile have anything to do with that agreement, since its maximum firing range falls below the minimum of 500 km, as defined by that treaty.

Moreover, the Russians have long reminded Washington that it is in fact the US that is breaching its treaty commitments under quite a number of arms-control agreements.

As early as Jan. 4, 2001, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued its first statement noting that the US, in violation of the INF Treaty, has a history of manufacturing a new type of ground-based, medium-range ballistic target missiles, known as Hera, based on the second and third stages of the Minuteman II ICBMs. However, the US side has offered no satisfactory response to this charge yet.

A similar statement, but broader in scope, was made by the Russian Foreign Ministry nine years later. In August 2010, it announced that the US were systematically violating the main provisions of the INF Treaty by using target missiles to fine-tune components of their missile-defense systems that simulate not only ballistic missiles such as Hera, but also LRALTs (long-range air-launch target missiles) and MRTs (medium-range targets). The Russian diplomatic office pointed out that under the 1987 agreement, the launch of such missiles qualifies as a test of a “new type” of intermediate-range land-based missile, which is a violation of Article VI of that treaty.

During the presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the United States armed forces have often stated that they have routinely used short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles (the American side defines medium-range as between 1,000 and 3,000 km, while intermediate-range is 3,000–5,500) as target missiles while conducting operational tests to assess the effectiveness of the interceptors that are part of the US global missile-defense system.

This has been confirmed by official statements made by every director of the Missile Defense Agency of the US Department of Defense since 2001 at hearings before various Senate and House committees. On an ongoing basis since 2001, i.e., since active testing began of missile-defense systems in the US, the Pentagon has conducted 92 tests of its “missile shield,” using a full array of short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles as targets for its intercept tests.

Similar tests will continue in the US in 2018, and, hence, so will their violations of the INF Treaty, since the same types of dummy missiles of this range will again be used as targets for interception.

Moscow has been reminding Washington that the MK 41 multi-mission launchersused at American missile-defense sites in Romania and Poland that are equipped with the Aegis Ashore command and control system will be used to launch intermediate-range, land-based cruise missiles – a direct violation of the INF Treaty. It is important to remember that similar launchers were positioned in Romania back in May of 2016 and more should be in place in Poland by December of 2018.

US combat drones, which can also be loaded into the MK 41 launchers, are another problem for the INF Treaty, as they meet the 1987 agreement’s definition of land-based cruise missiles. The United States has added drones (also known as “unmanned aerial vehicles,” or UAVs) such as the Predator, Raptor, Global Hawk, and others to its arsenal, which under the treaty are all classified as ground-based cruise missiles, regardless of the fact that they were produced and pressed into service after that agreement had been signed. Heavy UAVs of this type, which carry aircraft ordnance, clearly qualify as aerodynamic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 km, which are prohibited by the INF Treaty.

As landmark INF nuclear treaty closes in 30 years, will it survive?

In the future it might well be possible to load “dual-capable” launchers of this type with the high-precision, hypersonic weaponry developed by the Pentagon for its Prompt Global Strike program.

The US has repeatedly provided official confirmation of the fact that it is using short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles as targets to test the effectiveness of its interceptor missile-defense systems.

The US claims that it takes too much time to reload the designated weapons and to change the computer programs required for their launch do not ring true, given the fact that similar types of US Navy sea-based launchers are loaded simultaneously with four types of missiles for various purposes, namely anti-surface, anti-aircraft, anti-submarine, and land attack missiles. No one has to specifically go in and change the electronic programming in order to fire them under combat conditions. That is already included for each missile.

Two central themes can be seen in the attempts of the US side to accuse Russia of “violating” the 1987 treaty: one is designed for a domestic audience, while the other is intended for external consumption.

The domestic motif consists of distracting attention from both the tests of the newest US ballistic missile defense systems as well as from the production of a new intermediate-range, land-based cruise missile.

Prior to the 2016 US presidential election, the Republican lawmakers’ second motif at home was their desire to pressure the Democratic Party by demanding that Barack Obama identify at any cost the ways in which Russia had violated the INF Treaty.

As landmark INF treaty closes in 30 years, will it survive? (Part II)

But once Donald Trump won the election, new faces stepped forward to play the part of the accusers: now the Democrats were the ones heaping abuse on the Republican administration of Donald Trump, claiming that it was not offering a robust response to Russia’s “violations” of the 1987 treaty.

The recurring themes in the foreign policy of the Republican and Democratic congressmen were evident in their attempts to use any means to prevent the Russian Federation from getting highly effective intercontinental missiles that could reliably prevail over any type of integrated American and transatlantic anti-missile system: both by employing a missile-defense system, in the form of sea- and land-based interceptors, that steady advances on the borders of Russia and other states, as well as by relying on the ground-based system that has long been deployed inside the continental US.

This can be seen in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act,, which has its sights squarely set on Russia’s RS-26 ICBM. And one way to get rid of it – which Washington is already using – is easily evident: first, Moscow is forced to believe that the US is prepared to produce a new ground-launched cruise missile, but then Washington is apparently willing to abandon that venture if the Russians will get rid of an already existing missile of an entirely different class. But the days when an obvious trick like that would have worked are long past.

It can also be presumed that the song and dance about Moscow’s alleged ongoing violations of the 1987 treaty is an attempt by the US to distract the global community from the problem of the Americans’ ongoing stockpiling of tactical nuclear weapons on the European continent, despite the fact that Russia already withdrew all its nuclear weapons of that class from three former Soviet republics (Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine) back in the mid-1990s.

The question then arises: why does President Donald Trump need such a clearly counterproductive brouhaha over these unproven Russian violations of the INF Treaty, not to mention the array of threats that no high-ranking American officials had ever before issued in such an openly provocative way? One gets the impression that they are advancing contrived accusations against Russia only to divert attention from the American violations listed above, creating a kind of “smokescreen.”

Clearly there is another, more dangerous implication, when viewed from a foreign-policy perspective.

Washington is looking for a chance to launch a first nuclear strike – without repercussions – against Russia, China, Iran, and other states with their own views about the future world order. The White House, as the American press has noted, is considering three options for its military response to Russia’s INF “violations”: developing defensive, i.e., anti-ballistic systems; launching a preemptive strike against any weapons that violate the treaty; and using “nuclear weapons to destroy military targets” on enemy territory.

At the same time, it must be remembered that US strategic nuclear forces are retaining their same offensive doctrine that allows for a first preemptive or preventative nuclear strike against a whole group of states, while unconstrainedly expanding the capability of their global missile-defense system.

It’s a safe bet that America’s threatening actions within the context of the implementation of the INF Treaty will prompt countermeasures from many states and will heighten the risk of conflicts. When one side makes flagrantly destabilizing moves without taking into account the other side’s security interests, it is natural to see some pushback. As a result, once the balance of power and the strategic equation are restored, it is at a more weaponized level and the balance that is achieved is more precarious. This means a higher risk of a revival of military confrontations such as were seen in Berlin and Cuba.

Russia is still happy to take a look at any tangible evidence that is giving the Americans reason to believe that Moscow has “violated” something under the 1987 treaty. But Moscow has no intention whatsoever of breaking this treaty, which for the last 30 years has been inhibiting the potentially dangerous proliferation of two classes of nuclear weapons within the arsenals of the world’s leading nuclear powers.

In light of the current situation, Russia has plans for discussions with the US on a whole range of substantive issues related to reducing armaments and limiting military interactions between Russia and the United States.

These “other substantive issues” include:

• the fact that since the summer of 2014 all three types of American strategic heavy bombers – the B-1B, B-52H, and B-2A – have been stationed in Europe and have taken part in various NATO military exercises

• the fact that the US is equipping its strategic delivery vehicles with conventionally-armed cruise missiles (four Ohio-class submarines have already been converted, giving each of them the capacity to carry up to 154 such missiles)

• the cache of American tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and Asia that are being radically updated and furnished with more advanced delivery systems

• the potential deployment in Romania and Poland of not only US ground-based missile-defense systems in multi-mission launchers, but also interceptors, long-range cruise missiles, and long-range high-precision hypersonic weapons

• NATO’s significant advantage over Russia in terms of general-purpose forces, the positioning of new military bases and heavy weapons near Russia’s borders, and also the staging of large-scale military exercises of an offensive nature

• the prevention of any weaponization of space.

There are also other issues Moscow might bring up with Washington that are directly tied to the American attempts to avoid resolving a whole host of other arms-control problems. And that includes more than a dozen genuine grievances over US noncompliance with current treaties and agreements, in addition to those problems for which they make no effort to find solutions based on the principle of equality and equal security for all sides.

At the same time, Moscow is still prepared to hold an honest and substantive dialog with the Americans in order to allay any concerns over arms control, which would include any misgivings related to the INF Treaty.

As has been repeatedly pointed out at the highest levels of the Russian government, (in particular, during the Valdai International Discussion Forum in Sochi on Oct. 19, 2017), Moscow does not intend to initiate the termination of the current INF Treaty, but it will respond commensurately should the US move to do so.

Vladimir Putin Valdai Discussion Club 2017

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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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