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Navalny’s phoney Presidential bid and the Russian Presidential election

Alexander Mercouris

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Alexey Navalny’s attempt to overturn the decision of Russia’s Central Election Commission that he is ineligible to stand in Russia’s Presidential election in March was rejected today by Russia’s Supreme Court.

The Central Election Commission, headed by Ella Pamfilova, ruled unanimously that Navalny is ineligible to stand for election because of a previous unspent conviction for which he has received a suspended prison sentence.

The relevant legal provision would appear to be Article 3(5) of the Law on the Election of the President of the Russian Federation.

This is a Yeltsin era law and its relevant provision reads as follows

5. A citizen of the Russian Federation found incapable by a court or kept in places of confinement under a court sentence shall have no rights to elect or be elected President of the Russian Federation.

This is clear enough, with the Law granting the Central Election Commission no leeway to set the provision aside.

Navalny’s call to the Central Election Commission asking them to set the provision aside was therefore bound to fail.  The Central Election Commission would have acted unlawfully if it had agreed to do it, almost certainly exposing itself to a legal challenge had it done so.

In light of this it is impossible to see how Navalny’s Supreme Court challenge could have succeeded, and of course it has not done so.

These simple facts seem to be lost on the overwhelming majority of Western commentators who have spent the last few weeks discussing Navalny’s foredoomed Presidential bid and debating whether or not he would be “allowed” to stand, and who persist in reporting since the decision of the Central Election Commission that the Russian authorities have “banned” from Navalny from standing in the election.

Navalny has not been “banned” from standing in the election.  He cannot be “banned” from standing in an election he was legally ineligible to stand in in the first place.

Once again Western commentators who continuously demand that Russia abide by the “rule of law” in practice demand that Russia disregard its own law in favour of whatever individual the West chooses to support at any particular time.

That of course does not “support the rule of law in Russia”.  It works to undermine it.

Western commentators are on stronger ground when they say that the European Court of Human Rights overturned Navalny’s first conviction in the Kirovles case – the case in which he has received his suspended sentence – saying that the case against Navalny was politically motivated, having supposedly been brought against Navalny at the instigation of Alexander Bastrykin, the powerful head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, in retaliation for allegations of corruption Navalny had previously made against Bastrykin.

The Russian courts have however retried Navalny in the Kirovles case on the same charge – as they are legally entitled to do – and have re convicted him all over again on the same facts.

Though understandably enough this has come in for much criticism, the Central Election Commission is not a court, and it is not in a position to go behind this decision of the court.

As it happens I took a strong interest in the Kirovles case and conducted an exhaustive analysis of it at the time of the first case.

I reached the clear conclusion that if Navalny had been prosecuted before an English court on the same facts he would have been found guilty of theft, which is essentially the same offence as the one the Russian court has now twice found him guilty on.  Moreover I strongly doubt he would have escaped with only a suspended sentence.

As for Bastrykin’s involvement in the case, that was merely to scold his investigators for their timidity in acting against Navalny despite the strength of the case against him.

The decision of the European Court of Human Rights to set aside Navalny’s conviction and to criticise his prosecution as politically motivated was in my opinion straightforwardly wrong, being merely the latest example of the “lawfare” which is becoming increasingly common in international court cases involving Russia.

The European Court of Human Rights is known to have come under a great deal of criticism from Western governments and Western commentators because of its repeated Judgments against the Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky – another hero of Western governments and of the Western media- who it found had indeed committed the gigantic tax fraud the Russian authorities say he did. Frankly the Judgment in the Kirovles case looks to me like an attempt to counter this criticism.

That this was so is strongly suggested (at least to me) by the European Court of Human Rights’ very different approach in the second criminal case the Russian authorities have brought against Navalny, a case involving an alleged fraud by Navalny and his brother of Yves Rocher Vostok, the Russian subsidiary of the French Yves Rocher company.

To anyone familiar with the facts of the Kirovles case the facts of the Yves Rocher case look very similar and show an almost identical pattern of behaviour.

In both cases a private company was set up to provide a service previously provided by a publicly owned company, in the first case the Kirovles timber company, in the second case Russian Post.

In the Kirovles case Navalny and in the Yves Rocher case his brother had no visible role in the private company but in both cases they in fact controlled it.

In both cases there was an alleged abuse of public office, in the Kirovles case by Navalny himself acting in his capacity as an unpaid adviser of the Kirov Regional Government, in the Yves Rocher case by his brother acting in his capacity as a manager of Russian Post.

In both cases this was done to obtain lucrative contracts for the private company on favourable terms.  In both cases this led to an economic loss, in the first case to Kirovles, in the second case to Yves Rocher Vostok.

In both cases this loss would not have arisen if the contracts had not been made.

As in the Kirovles case the European Court of Human Rights in the Yves Rocher case set aside Navalny’s conviction and the Russian court’s Judgment against him and his brother.  However in this case the panel was far less sympathetic to Navalny than the Court’s panel was in the Kirovles case, as its brief Judgment makes clear.

Not only did the panel flatly refuse to say that the Yves Rocher case was politically motivated (hiding behind a technicality to avoid even looking at the issue) but it also refused to look in any detail into Navalny’s claims that the trial was unfair and rejected other claims he brought as completely unfounded.

The panel moreover limited itself to setting aside the Russian court’s Judgment on a very narrow point: that the contract between the Navalny controlled private company and Yves Rocher Vostok appeared to be lawful on its face, and appeared to have been performed lawfully.

Whilst that may be true, it ignores the circumstances in which the contract was made, which is where the fraud (if it exists) presumably lies. It is after all hardly unusual for thieves and fraudsters to conceal their activities behind a facade of legality, and that presumably is what the Russian authorities and Yves Rocher Vostok allege happened in this case.

That the panel knows this perfectly well and knows that there is more to the case than it chose to see is shown by these otherwise gratuitous words about Navalny which appear in its Judgment

58. In the light of the above-mentioned principles,the Court notes that it is not its task to rule on the applicants’ individual criminal responsibility, that being primarily a matter for the domestic courts, but to consider, from the standpoint of Article 7 § 1 of the Convention, whether the acts the applicants were convicted of fell within a definition of a criminal offence which was sufficiently accessible and foreseeable.

(bold italics added)

These words seem to hint at a criminal side to Navalny’s and his brother’s behaviour despite the Judgment setting aside their conviction, with the panel’s reference in another part of the Judgment to the fact that the Russian authorities intend retry the case perhaps hinting at the same thing.

Claims that the European Court of Human Rights awarded Navalny and his brother record compensation in the case are incidentally untrue.  The Court actually refused most of their claims for compensation and only awarded them compensation of 10,000 euros each.  The much larger sums some have cited conflate the compensation the Court awarded with the payment of legal costs, which they were entitled to because they won the case.

All in all my impression of the Judgment is that the European Court of Human Rights in the face of Western criticism once more bent over backwards to find in Navalny’s favour but on this occasion could not wholly conceal its disquiet at doing so.

Others of course are at liberty to disagree.  However saying that does bring me to what is for me the abiding mystery about Navalny.

This is the sympathy some people still have for him, which turns up in all sorts of unexpected places, despite his deeply unattractive personality as exposed by his behaviour in the two cases which have been brought against him, and in the straightforwardly racist comments he makes from time to time.

In the Kirovles case on the most generous reading Navalny abused his position as an unpaid adviser of the Kirov Regional Government to get Kirovles to hive off part of its business to a private company owned by a friend of his even though he had no authority or remit to do this.  Moreover when complaints about this and about how it was losing Kirovles money began to appear, his first response was to try to get those who were bringing the complaints sacked.  Afterwards, when this failed and the complaints continued, he fled the scene without either resigning his office or explaining himself, leaving behind him a burgeoning financial scandal and a pile of unanswered questions.

As for the Yves Rocher case, here is how the European Court of Human Rights summarises the actions of Navalny’s brother, who it is agreed carried out his actions in close cooperation with Navalny himself

The trial court found in particular that the applicants had set up a “fake company”, GPA, with the intention to use it as an intermediary to offer services to two clients of Russian Post, MPK and Yves Rocher Vostok. It held that Oleg Navalnyy had taken advantage of insider information that Russian Post had ceased to provide the companies with certain services and had convinced those clients to use GPA as a substitute; that he had misled the clients about GPA’s pricing policy and its relationship with Russian Post, thus depriving them of the freedom of choice of service providers; that he had promoted his company’s services while knowing that it would have to subcontract the work to other companies; and that GPA had retained the difference in price between what MPK and Yves Rocher Vostok paid for its services and what GPA paid to its subcontractors.

Note that the Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights does not dispute or cast doubt on any of this.

Even those who profess to see nothing criminal in this behaviour should admit that it is at the very least manipulative and exploitative.

In the Kirovles case Navalny used his position to get Kirovles to give part of its business to the company of a friend of his at a loss to itself.

In the Yves Rocher case the Navalny brothers used Oleg Navalny’s position as a manager of Russian Post to trick Russian Post’s clients into obtaining services from a company the Navalny brothers controlled that were actually being provided by others at a lower cost than the clients were being charged.

I am at a total loss to see how this manipulative and parasitical behaviour – exploiting public office and the hard work of others to make an unearned gain – is remotely appropriate behaviour for someone who poses as an anti-corruption campaigner and as an entrepreneur.

Is this really the sort of behaviour one wants to see from someone who pitches himself as a future President of Russia?

Back in the 1980s Boris Yeltsin rode to power on the claim that he was the implacable enemy of corruption and unearned privilege.  Naive belief in this claim blinded people to the obvious flaws in Yeltsin’s personality as well as to his well established incompetence as a manager.  The result was calamitous, with corruption and unearned privilege increasing under Yeltsin’s rule to levels never seen before in Russia.

It is unnerving that in Navalny’s case there still seem to be people sufficiently blinded by his self-serving anti-corruption rhetoric to make the same mistake all over again.

Having said this, one should not make the mistake of exaggerating Navalny’s popularity and importance.  Whereas Yeltsin in the 1980s managed to achieve a critical mass of support amongst the Russian population, there is no evidence of anything like that happening in Navalny’s case.

Though Navalny continues to be heavily promoted by the Western media, there is no evidence that support for him extends beyond Russia’s tiny and devotedly pro-Western liberal community, which continues to be overwhelmingly concentrated in Moscow.

Even in Moscow the extent of Navalny’s support is exaggerated.  The much cited 27% he won in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election is misleading being entirely the product of an unexpectedly low 33% turnout in the election, which exaggerated the appearance of his support because of the higher turnout of his more highly motivated followers.

In reality the proportion of Moscow’s electorate who voted for Navalny in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election was below the normal range of 11-15% of the Moscow electorate which can usually be relied upon to vote for a liberal candidate.  At 9% it was significantly below what liberal candidates like Yavlinsky and Prokhorov had achieved in previous elections (see my detailed discussion of the 2013 Moscow mayoral election here).

Outside Moscow support for Navalny falls away.  Contrary to what the Western media claims there has been no evidence of any great groundswell of support for him across the country over the last year.  The last (legal) protests he staged in support of his Presidential bid attracted no more than 10,000 people across the whole country, a fact which shows how limited support for him really is.

Which brings me back to the subject of Navalny’s Presidential bid.

Navalny is by training a lawyer and it beggars belief that he has not been aware all along of what Ella Pamfilova the liberal former Yeltsin era minister who heads Russia’s Central Election Commission pointed out to him, which is that he is ineligible to stand for election as Russia’s President.

Notwithstanding this Navalny has for months conducted a Presidential campaign and solicited donations from the Russian public in support of a Presidential bid he must have known would never take place.

This sort of deceitful and manipulative behaviour – so similar to his behaviour in the Kirovles and Yves Rocher cases – is bad enough in itself, and ought in any rational world to put paid to Navalny’s reputation as a fearless anti corruption campaigner.  However in this case it gets worse.

It appears that rather than close down his campaign and refund the money donated for a Presidential bid which can never happen Navalny instead intends to use the money and the organisation he has built up to campaign for an election boycott.  That this is not the purpose for which the money was given appears not to bother him or his admirers at all.

As it happens I suspect that creating a pretext for a campaign to boycott the election was the true purpose of Navalny’s Presidential bid all along.

I also suspect that it was the true reason why the Western media and Western governments have been so noisily backing his bogus Presidential bid: not because they see Navalny as a serious challenger to Putin but because they want to use Navalny’s inevitable exclusion from the election as a pretext to cast doubt on its legitimacy and on the legitimacy of Putin’s re-election when (as everyone expects) it happens.

Whilst that tactic will no doubt work with some people in the West (though I question how many people really care about an election in Russia), I doubt it will impress many people in Russia itself, where most people have long since become wise to this sort of thing.

However it shows yet again that whilst no proof of Russian meddling in any Western elections has ever come to light, Western meddling in Russian elections is not just unashamed and continuous, but happens openly in full light of day.

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Russia’s Rosatom is the world leader in international construction of nuclear power plants

Rosatom is currently constructing the Akkuyu nuclear power plant in Turkey.

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In spite of western sanctions, Russia’s Rosatom is the world’s number two in uranium reserves and has become number one globally in the implementation of nuclear reactor projects. Currently, Rosatom is working on six reactor projects in Russia and 36 abroad. Rosatom has acquired 67 per cent of the world nuclear plant construction market, the orders portfolio exceeding $133 billion. Rosatom is working on nuclear plants in Turkey, China and Bangladesh, to name just a few of the countries, where the Russian corporation is present. Rosatom is highly respected as the global technological leader in high-performance clean energy solutions and was also recently named best Russian employer for the year of 2018 by an international headhunter firm. On the 15th and 16th of April 2019, the eleventh ATOMEXPO FORUM was held in Sochi, Russia, upon invitation by Rosatom.

The Russian State Corporation Rosatom (Росатом), established in 2007, has its headquarters in Moscow. The organization comprises more than 360 enterprises, including scientific research organizations and the world’s only nuclear icebreaker fleet. Since 2016, its General Director is Alexey Likhachev.

Rosatom was ranked number one as best employer of Russia in 2018 by HeadHunter, a top HR management platform and resource centre. In a vote, the company achieved the highest score by employees, candidates and experts out of over 1.000 big Russian companies. Commenting on the accolade, Tatyana Terentyeva, HR Director of Rosatom, said:

“We’re immensely proud of this achievement which is a testament to our strong company culture of always putting our people first. The growth of regional and international projects has given employees and applicants a chance of working in multicultural, cross-divisional and cross-functional project teams. Digitalisation, alone, will open vacancies for 1.000 new specialists this year, from software developers to product and data scientists.”

“We believe that the responsibility lies with human capital stakeholders, such as large multinationals, universities and governments to begin discussing the policy response in earnest. We hope that the gathering of these parties at the global Skills Summit, taking place alongside the WorldSkills 2019 Conference in Kazan this August, to address the global skills gap which affects everyone, will be an important starting point from which companies and governments can work together to help solve this issue”, she further commented (CISTON PR NEWSWIRE, 28.03.2019).

Rosatom is currently constructing the Akkuyu nuclear power plant in Turkey. Laying the foundation has already been completed. The 17.000 cubic metres of self-compacting concrete foundations are due to be followed by the construction of the exterior and interior walls of the reactor. Construction of the concrete bases for the auxiliary reactors and control room have also begun. The work meets International Atomic Energy Agency safety standards.

Rosatom said that the entire first reactor would be finished by the end of the year 2019, with engineering studies for the second reactor already in progress and documentation being prepared to construct the third reactor in Turkey’s Mediterranean province of Mersin. The Russian nuclear utility is due to build four reactors, each with a capacity of 1.2 gigawatts. The plant is anticipated to have a working life of 8.000 hours per year and produce 35 billion kilowatts of electricity at full capacity. That will meet 10 per cent of Turkey’s electrical demands, according to the Turkish authorities. Akkuyu has an operational date for the first reactor in 2023 with full capacity targeted by 2025 (ENERGY REPORTERS, 15.03.2019).

In China, Rosatom built the Tianwan nuclear power plant, Phase I, Phase II and Phase III. Now, the Russians will construct Tianwan Phase IV. The general contract was signed in March this year for the construction of two further Russian-supplied reactors at the Tianwan nuclear power plant in China’s Jiangsu province. In addition, a technical design contract was signed for a second pair of reactors at the Xudabao site in Liaoning province.

Rosatom said that the contracts had been prepared in accordance with the strategic package of agreements signed during a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to China, in June 2018. This package defines cooperation between Russia and China in the nuclear industry for the coming decades.

Tianwan Phase I – units 1 and 2 – was constructed under a 1992 cooperation agreement between China and Russia. The first concrete was poured in October 1999. The units were commissioned in June 2007 and September 2007, respectively. Tianwan Phase II – units 3 and 4 – was constructed from December 2012 until December 2018. Unit 3 entered commercial operation in February 2018, with unit 4 following in December 2018. Tiawan Phase III – units 5 and 6 – both featuring Chinese-designed 1080 MWe ACPR1000 reactors, were begun in December 2015. Units 5 and 6 are planned to go into commercial operation by the end of 2021 (WORLD NUCLEAR NEWS, 12.03.2019).

Another Rosatom construction site is located in Bangladesh. Both Dhaka and Moscow expressed their satisfaction over the progress of construction work of the Rooppur nuclear power plant. It is being implemented under an intergovernmental agreement, signed between Russia and Bangladesh in November 2011. In December 2015, Atomstroyexport, Rosatom’s subsidiary, was appointed as general contractor for the construction of the Rooppur plant with two VVER 1200 power units, each with a capacity of 1.200 megawatts. In 2015 and 2016, preparatory work was carried out at the construction site, working documentation was developed and licencing documents were prepared.

In 2017, the regulatory authority of Bangladesh (BAERA) issued the required licence for the design and construction of the plant. In July 2018, unit 2 also went into the active phase of construction, following the “first concrete”. In August 2018, the installation of the “core catcher”, one of the most important passive safety systems, began at unit 1. The installation of the “core catcher” for unit 2 began in February 2019. Currently, construction of the main buildings of both power units is underway (DHAKA TRIBUNE, 10.03.2019)

Rosatom has further ambitious plans for NPP construction worldwide. Building a network of nuclear reactors across the world will help to extend Moscow’s influence into global energy markets, as it offers competitive deals and comprehensive service, including the provision of plutonium. Kirill Komarov, deputy CEO of Rosatom, told the media:

“We are the ultimate leader in the majority of nuclear sectors. Most of our projects are in the developing world. These are the countries which show the strongest economic growth. China, India, Southeast Asia, countries in the Middle East region. We see countries on the African continent and in Latin America.”

Kirill Komarov explained that “Rosatom is offering solutions for developing countries to enable them negotiating the regulatory challenges involved with going nuclear. Rosatom is a unique company in that we have activities in all areas of the nuclear business; starting with mining of natural uranium, enrichment fuel fabrication, developing our own nuclear equipment, construction of nuclear power plants, decommissioning, waste management … everything” (ENERGY REPORTERS, 05.10.2018).

General Director of Rosatom is Alexey Likhachev. He assumed office in October 2016. Alexey Likhachev graduated from Gorky State University and started his career as an engineer in the Gorky Research Institute of Instrumentation. In 1998, he graduated from the Economic Faculty of Nizhniy Novgorod State University with a Ph.D. in economics.

In 2007, Alexey Likhachev joined the Ministry of Economic Development of Russia, where he held a wide variety of leadership positions. Throughout his career, he held senior positions in other governmental bodies and public organizations as well. He was a member of the State Duma, serving as Deputy Chairman of the Committee for Economic Policy, Entrepreneurship and Tourism, from 2000 to 2007.

According to Alexey Likhachev, Rosatom plans to retain its leading role in nuclear power plant construction worldwide, during the decade of 2020 to 2030. The Russian corporation aims to maintain a portfolio of foreign orders in the amount of at least $130 billion per year.

“Several years ago, we assumed the leading role on the global nuclear power plant construction market,” Alexey Likhachev said. “The market is moving, so our share on the market fluctuates between 68 and 72 per cent. I think we will be able to maintain it above 60 per cent at least, this is how we see our goals for the coming decade” (TASS, 13.01.2019).

Since the beginning of the 21st century, with President Vladimir Putin coming into power, the Russian Federation has moved upwards, building a vast nuclear empire spanning South and North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Rosatom is the government corporation behind this enormous expansion, exporting nuclear technology all over the world, thus becoming the world’s leading nuclear powerhouse.

The International Atomic Energy Agency predicts that nuclear power will continue to grow in the next 15 years. The agency’s latest report puts the low margin of growth at 17 per cent and the high at 94 per cent. The Russian Federation is uniquely positioned to capitalize on this projected growth – it has a rich legacy of research and engineering in the field, as well as a history of cooperation with countries on all continents.

The Russian Federation is ensuring its steady presence on almost every single continent through the export of nuclear power projects, expanding its sphere of influence beyond traditional military and hydrocarbon means. Building nuclear power plants is a geopolitical tool, allowing Russia to tie up strategic foreign governments into long-term cooperation. In this way, Russia is demonstrating its prowess by building nuclear rectors across the world (GEOPOLITICAL MONITOR, 17.05.2016).

With these projects, the Russian Federation is gaining a strong foothold on the ground because nuclear power plants require transfer of technological know-how and long-term engagement of scientists, engineers, diplomats. The plants are, in essence, embassies and commerce chambers, which guarantee Russian access to local governments and politicians. Besides, the Russian Federation is opening its universities for students from future nuclear clients and building networks of cadres across the world.

One of the possiblities for Rosatom to reach foreign government agencies and business people is the international ATOMEXPO Forum, a major event in the global nuclear industry. Upon invitation from Rosatom, the 11th forum took place in Sochi, on the 15th and 16th of April 2019. The forum included an exhibition and a convention with an extensive business programme, centred around a plenary discussion. The forum provided a good opportunity for networking and signing partnership agreements. The forum also offered an entertaining cultural programme with possibilities to visit the beautiful Russian seaside resort of Sochi on the Black Sea and the nearby Caucasus mountains.

Seen in this light, Rosatom functions not only as a powerhouse exporting nuclear power plants but also as a corporation of diplomatic and geopolitical importance for Russia.


Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Moscow.

Her blog: https://olivia2010kroth.wordpress.com

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What’s Really Behind The State Department’s Meddling In Ukraine?

US meddling in Ukraine and support for a schismatic Ukrainian Church is not just about weakening Russia’s ‘soft power’ and geopolitical position but about expanding the reach of the US’s identity, gender and sexual politics

Jim Jatras

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This article is republished with the author’s permission.  Previously published by Chronicles

On March 31 the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election was held. In line with all polls, the top spot (with about 30 percent of the vote) was taken by Volodymyr Zelensky, a comic actor who played President of Ukraine in a popular TV series, making him the leading candidate for the position he once spoofed. He was followed (with about 16 percent) by incumbent President President Poroshenko, known as the oligarchic “Chocolate King” because of his confectionary company, Roshen. Poroshenko has also sought to emulate another king, England’s Henry VIII, through creation of his own Ukrainian church, which late last year Poroshenko declared independent of the Russian Orthodox Church with assistance from an unlikely duo, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Istanbul and the US State Department.

(Trailing behind Poroshenko with about 13 percent was perennial candidate and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, also known as the “Gas Princess” (for her prominent role in the shady natural gas industry), “goddess of the Revolution” (for her firebrand image in Ukraine’s turbulent post-Soviet history), and the “Princess Leia of Ukrainian politics” (for her trademark folk-motif braids). Tymoshenko claims, quite plausibly, that Poroshenko stole the second spot from her but that Ukraine’s judicial system has been “privatized” by Poroshenko and it’s pointless to challenge the results in court.)

Zelensky and Poroshenko will now square off in an April 21 second round. The smart money favors Zelensky, given how badly he trounced Poroshenko in the first round. The smart money is probably wrong. Poroshenko—for whom the stakes are likely either self-imposed exile to avoid prosecution or continued slopping at a lucrative trough—has a lot of cards he can play, both what they call locally “administrative measures” to pad his vote and goodies to get former rivals to support him.

Most of all, he can count on western governments, notably that of the United States, and their hangers-on to not only turn a blind eye but to positively enthuse over Ukraine’s democratic vitality.

In world in which Washington routinely thunders from on high about other countries’ democratic legitimacy, the see-no-evil attitude toward Ukraine speaks volumes. (Imagine if, say, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, or Syria’s Bashar al-Assad had while in office racked up a 10,000 percent income increase, mainly from a shady Zurich-based fund.)

At this point it’s appropriate to stop and ask: why should anyone in the US care about Ukraine and its elections? Perhaps the more important question is, why does the State Department care so much? The answer has many facets: historical, geopolitical, ideological, ethnic, moral, and—perhaps surprisingly for some who may not think of “mere religion” as being particularly important in a postmodern Europe—spiritual.

In fact, upon examination Ukraine is a revealing showcase of all that’s wrong with American global policy, including a fanatical determination to impose a post-Christian moral order on what are still unexpectedly vibrant Christian societies rebounding from decades of communist repression. Sadly, this determination has not slackened under the Trump administration but has continued as though the previous administration had never left. In this regard, whatever his very public professions of his Christian faithwhited sepulchre Secretary Mike Pompeo and his State Department area at the forefront.

One of the major claimed accomplishments of incumbent Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s reelection campaign of “army, language, faith” is creation of an autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church (i.e., completely self-governing, with no tie at all to the Russian Orthodox Church). Western governments and media have uniformly—and inaccurately—hailed this as a reality already fulfilledwith the awarding of a tomos (literally, a small book containing an authoritative pronouncement or declaration) from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople to Poroshenko and religious figures in Ukraine who had up until then been universally shunned as schismatics by all Orthodox jurisdictions. As of this writing, no other autocephalous Church has endorsed Constantinople’s actions, and several, notably the Patriarchates of Belgrade and Antioch—and notably Church of Albania, which is largely Greek by ethnicity—have taken sharp exception to it.

The Ukrainian Church situation is complex and contentious. It will be months if not years before it works itself out. Indeed, it may lead to a permanent split within Orthodoxy, not only in Ukraine but worldwide. Also, despite Patriarch Bartholomew’s stated intention to foster accord and reconciliation in Ukraine, his actions clearly have aggravated already raw feelings among believers there. Far from creating a united Ukrainian autocephalous Church, he has only managed to cobble together a new body under the authority of Constantinople in opposition to the canonical Moscow-linked Church, which continues to exist under its primate Metropolitan Onufriy. Violence in various forms is inevitable as Ukrainian authorities harass the canonical Church and prepare to seize its parishes and monasteries, notably the historic Kiev Perchersk Lavra and the Pochaev Lavra in western Ukraine.

Conspicuously, Poroshenko’s blatant politicking in Church affairs—which has been criticized even from quarters favoring autocephaly—has been applauded by western governments, notably by American officials. Just a few days after a high State Department career officer commendably declared in September 2018 that “any decision on autocephaly is an internal [Orthodox] church matter” he was reversed by endorsements of autocephaly by Secretary Pompeo, US Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker, and US Ambassador in Kiev Marie Yovanovitch (an Obama appointee but still in place). Following the December Robber Council of Kiev on December 15, the US Embassy tweeted out its congratulations in English and in Ukrainian (not in Russian of course). Secretary of State Mike Pompeo placed a personal call to the “newly elected head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine Metropolitan Epifaniy” (Dumenko). US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch extended her congratulations to Dumenko in person. It should also be noted that The Atlantic Council, an über-Establishment Washington-based think tank operating in close coordination with the US government (and heavily funded by US and allied government agencies and contractors), has been an active advocate for autocephaly in the policy community and media.

Moreover, there is reason to believe the US State Department’s involvement was not just hortatory. As reported by this analyst in October 2018, according to an unconfirmed report originating with the members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (an autonomous New York-based part of the Moscow Patriarchate), in July 2018 State Department officials, possibly including Secretary Pompeo personally, warned the scandalridden and broke Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (also based in New York but under authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate) that the US government was aware of the misappropriation of a large amount of money, about $10 million, from an estimated $37 million raised from believers for the (now stalled) construction of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York (to replace the original St. Nicholas church destroyed in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center). 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. Moreover, 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. There are numerous unproven reports of a $25 million payoff to Constantinople from Poroshenko (although allegedly Poroshenko initially attempted to hold back $15 million for himself). Attributions of the original source of that money differ. Some claim it came from organized crime bosses in Dnipro. This analyst was told by an unsolicited, confidential informant in the Greek Archdiocese in New York that the funds came from the State Department.

We may never know the truth about any such payment. But whatever the details, one still has to ask why the US is so keenly committed to creating an autocephalous Church in Ukraine. Aside from the obvious impropriety of the United States’ taking sides in a question of the Orthodox Church’s internal governance, why is the State Department so committed to promoting a transparently political power grab by Poroshenko, the Ukrainian schismatics, and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople?

Given the various lobbies with a lot of influence in Washington, including those of foreign states and ethnic communities, it is natural to look in that direction to identify relevant actors and driving forces on the American side with respect to formulation of policy toward Ukraine. Among those that might come to mind are the Ukrainian diaspora in the United States (just under a million people), the Greek-American community (variously estimated at between one and three million, depending on self-identification), and so forth. There is precedent for such influences on US policy in Eastern Europe. One is reminded of the role the Croatian and Albanian diaspora communities played in the breakup of Yugoslavia. It should be noted that the Yugoslav conflicts took place as the post-Cold War drive for US global hegemony was only beginning to take form, and Bosnia and Kosovo were catalytic in its development.

It is true that some Ukrainian-Americans (heavily weighted by those with western Ukraine origins) have long taken part in activities of various “Captive Nations” and “ethnic heritage” groups operating after World War II, notably the CIA front “American Committee for Liberation from Bolshevism” and the “Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations” (originally spun off by the United Kingdom’s MI6 from the earlier “British League for European Freedom”). Mainly though not exclusively oriented toward the Republican Party they operated under the banner of anti-communism but really (to an extent many non-“ethnic” Americans may not fully have understood) were vehicles for their various ethnic agendas. These agendas related less to communism than dissatisfaction with the territorial arrangements that existed after 1945, giving these groups the character of World War II losers’ associations. Russophobia (and with respect to the Balkans, Serbophobia) was a common point of agreement.

It should also be noted that while American Greeks were not notable in these activities the US government has valued the utility of the Constantinopolitan Patriarchate since at least the 1940s. Today, while his flock within Turkey dwindles to almost nil (in effect, it is what in English parliamentary context was known as a “rotten borough”), Patriarch Bartholomew has sought to expand his profile as a “player” on the world stage, exemplified by his demonstrative environmentalism as “the Green Patriarch” and, together with Pope Francis, welcoming Muslim migrants to Europe through Greece. Moreover, his actions in Ukraine are an expansion of Constantinople’s longstanding quasi-papal ambitions built on uncanonical claims to “universal” status as a kind of “Eastern Pope,” misuse of doctrinally troubling incarnational language, and adoption of a breathtakingly arrogant tone that would cause even the most ultramontane proponent of the Rome’s supremacy to blush.  Given strong support for Ukrainian Orthodox autocephaly from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which now sees a new opportunity for it to be elevated to a patriarchate within Roman Catholicism, Ukraine also advances Constantinople’s warm ecumenical embrace aimed at reunion with the Roman Papacy, with a Ukrainian church in communion with both Rome and Constantinople as a possible catalyst. In short, whatever the carrots and sticks involved, the State Department was pushing on an open door at the Phanar.

However, as described below, by 2005 the ideological and methodological aspects of the US policymaking establishment’s aspirations for global hegemony were already fully formed. A key part of this was turning Ukraine into a forward salient against Russia, as attested to in the “Orange Revolution” of 2004-5 and the 2008 NATO Bucharest declaration regarding Ukraine’s (and Georgia’s) destiny as part of NATO. Today, attacking the Orthodox Church in Ukraine is another logical—and well-targeted—element of that aggressive aim. While some elements in the Greek and (especially) Ukrainian communities no doubt had a hand in it, they don’t have the influence to set the agenda and should be regarded more as implementing a program thought up by others. I would compare the US apparat in this regard to that of the Soviet Union: the imperatives are ideological and bureaucratic; while ethnic lobbies (comparable in their day to pro-Soviet Third World “national liberation movements”) are useful, they are the tools of policy, not its masters.

The origin of the US focus on Ukraine and its religious issues must instead be sought within the larger perspective of American policy since the end of the first Cold War in 1991 and the development of the current one in the course of the 1990s: the American “unipolar moment,” as the bipartisan US policy establishment sought to consolidate and perpetuate its hegemonic control over the entire planet, taking advantage of the vacuum left by the demise of the USSR. Perhaps the fullest expression of this was a 1996 article by neoconservative ideologists William Kristol and Robert Kagan, misleadingly titled “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy,” in which they called for the US to establish and maintain indefinitely “benevolent global hegemony”—American world domination. As scrutinized by this analyst in Chronicles magazine the following year, Kristol and Kagan laid down virtually all of the elements that have guided US foreign policy during the ensuing years. It is no accident that GOP neoconservatives were enthusiastic supporters of Bill Clinton’s Balkan interventions of 1990s, under the guidance of people like then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who once opined regarding the sanctions-related deaths of a half million Iraqi children that “the price is worth it.” In the US establishment, there is little dissent on either side of the partisan aisle with Albright’s sincere conviction that a militant United States has a special wisdom: “If we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future . . . ”

The result is a kind of neo-Bolshevism, where as the vanguard of all progressive humanity the United States sees itself as the midwife of history to advance the principles not of the USSR’s “peace, progress, and socialism” but of a similarly ideologized triad of “democracy, human rights, and free markets.”

Viewed this way, a revived, non-ideological, nationally minded Russia is an obstacle that must be overcome—one way or the other. (A similar attitude exists toward China and Iran.) Recently the administration of US President Donald Trump, who as a candidate repeatedly stated his desire to improve ties with Russia but has been prevented from doing so, has taken to describing the neoconservative program of previous administrations as (in Secretary Pompeo’s words) as reassertion of sovereignty (but only for the US and our allies!) and “reform” of “the liberal international order.” The rhetoric is new but the policies are the same as under Trump’s predecessors.

Sometimes we are told that the current Washington-Moscow standoff is just a turf war, that unlike the 1945-1991 rivalry it “lacks an ideological dimension” beyond the authoritarian determination to elevate “the Russian state, ruled by [Vladimir Putin] and his clan.” Such a view totally dismisses the fact that following the demise of communism as a global power bloc there has been an eerie spiritual role reversal between East and West. While it’s true that during original Cold War the nonreligious ruling cliques in Washington and Moscow held basically compatible progressive values, ordinary Christian Americans (mainly Protestants, with a large number of Roman Catholics) perceived communism as a murderous, godless machine of oppression (think of the Roman Catholic men’s organization Knights of Columbus’ campaign to insert “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance). Conversely, today it is western elites who rely upon an ideological imperative to justify a materialist global empire and endless wars, much like the old Soviet nomenklaturadepended on Marxism-Leninism both as a working methodology and as a justification for their prerogatives and privileges. In that regard, promotion of nihilist, post-Christian morality—especially in sexual matters—under the guise of “democracy and human rights” has become a major item in the West’s toolkit.

This has a special importance with regard to Russia, where under Putin the Orthodox Church has largely resumed its pre-1917 role as the moral anchor of society. This elicits not only political opposition but a genuine and heartfelt hatred from the postmodern elites of an increasingly post-Christian West, not only for Putin personally and Russia generally but against the Russian Orthodox Church—and by extension against Orthodox Christianity itself.

This points to why, from the point of view of the State Department, the Russian Orthodox Church – and hence the canonical autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church—is nothing more than an instrument of the Kremlin’s soft power. According to one person rather new to the relevant issues but nonetheless considered authoritative by the State Department:

‘The Church, for its part, acts as the Russian state’s soft power arm, exerting its authority in ways that assist the Kremlin in spreading Russian influence both in Russia’s immediate neighborhood as well as around the globe. The Kremlin assists the Church, as well, working to increase its reach. Vladimir Yakunin, one of Putin’s inner circle and a devout member of the ROC, facilitated in 2007 the reconciliation of the ROC with the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile (which had separated itself from the Moscow Patriarchate early in the Soviet era so as not to be co-opted by the new Bolshevik state), which reconciliation greatly increased [Patriarch of Moscow] Kirill’s influence and authority outside of Russia. Putin, praising this event, noted the interrelation of the growth of ROC authority abroad with his own international goals: “The revival of the church unity is a crucial condition for revival of lost unity of the whole ‘Russian world’, which has always had the Orthodox faith as one of its foundations.”’

Hence, weaken “Russian state’s soft power arm,” weaken the Russian state.

But there is even more to it than that. The authors of the current US anti-Russia, anti-Orthodox Church policy know, or at least instinctively sense, that the revival of Russia’s Church-State symphonia after a hiatus of eight decades is not just a political alliance of convenience but is the source of deep spiritual, moral, and social strength. This is reflected, for example, in Putin’s warm remarks on the dedication of a Moscow monument to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the acknowledged godfather of Russia’s restoration as a Christian country, on the centenary of the writer’s birth.

In Russia’s reborn symphonia, President and Patriarch speak as one:

‘At the height of the Cold War, it was common for American conservatives to label the officially atheist Soviet Union a “godless nation.”

‘More than two decades on, history has come full circle, as the Kremlin and its allies in the Russian Orthodox Church hurl the same allegation at the West.

‘“Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a recent keynote speech. “Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.” [ . . . ]

Mr. Putin’s views of the West were echoed this month by Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow, the leader of the Orthodox Church, who accused Western countries of engaging in the “spiritual disarmament” of their people.

‘In particular, Patriarch Kirill criticized laws in several European countries that prevent believers from displaying religious symbols, including crosses on necklaces, at work.

‘“The general political direction of the [Western political] elite bears, without doubt, an anti-Christian and anti-religious character,” the patriarch said in comments aired on state-controlled television.

“We have been through an epoch of atheism, and we know what it is to live without God,” Patriarch Kirill said. “We want to shout to the whole world, ‘Stop!’”’ [“Who’s ‘godless’ now?Russia says it’s U.S.: Putin seizes on issue of traditional values,” by Marc Bennetts, The Washington Times, January 28, 2014]

Such sentiments can hardly sit well with Western elites for whom celebration of the same-sex partnerships decried by Putin is a mark of social enlightenment. That’s why an inseparable part of the “European choice” the people of Ukraine supposedly made during the 2014 “Revolution of Dignity” is wholesale acceptance of “European values,” including the kind of “Pride” symbolized by LGBT marches organized over Christian objections in Orthodox cities like AthensBelgradeBucharestKievOdessaPodgoricaSofia, and Tbilisi. (Note that after the march in Odessa in August of this year a priest of the canonical Church targeted by Poroshenko cleansed the street with Holy Water.)

There is no doubt that the moral/sexual component of undermining Orthodox Christianity in Ukraine is a key factor in US policy. There is a curious consistency between advocacy for non-traditional, post-Christian sexual morality and support for the schismatics sponsored by Poroshenko and Patriarch Bartholomew. This is well understood by Constantinople’s pseudo-Church in Ukraine. In December, shortly after his “enthronement,” “Metropolitan Epifaniy” Dumenko responded to a phone caller claiming to be a western parliamentarian (but in fact was a Russian prankster), suggesting that “if the new church will soften its position regarding the LGBT community, the gays of Ukraine, and it will take liberal values, it will be a great stimulus to develop European values. We spoke with Secretary Pompeo and he agrees that you should the increase your LGBT and gay values in the future.” Taking the bait, Dumenko said that “because we are moving towards Europe . . . we should depart from the Russian conservative tradition” and adopt a progressively more “open” position on such matters.

Indeed, the relevant US government officials cheering on Poroshenko and the Ukrainian church schismatics are remarkably up-front and visible in their advocacy of the LGBT agenda in Ukraine. The US Embassy Kiev website displays Pompeo’s declaration on behalf of all Americans that “The United States joins people around the world in celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) Pride Month, and reaffirms its commitment to protecting and defending the human rights of all, including LGBTI persons.”

Ambassador Yovanovitch has really gone the extra mile – literally. Not only did she tweet out her own Pride message, she also participated in the parade (and took 60 Embassy personnel and family members with her!) proudly marching behind the American flag (as shown in this MUST WATCH video tweeted by the embassy—your American tax dollars at work!). Additional videoposted by HromadskeUA, an “independent” Ukrainian media outlet reportedly funded by, among others, the US Embassy, the Canadian Embassy, and George Soros’s International Renaissance Foundation (though the cited HromadskeUA financial reports no longer seem to be available). Both Yovanovitch’s remarks in the video and the posted text draw an explicit connection between the “freedom” of the 2014 regime change and the new sexual morality (Google auto-translation from Ukrainian):

‘The atmosphere is wonderful. It is important for us because we maintain equal rights. In 2014, people in Ukraine were in favor of freedom, and this is an organic continuation—US Ambassador Marie Yovanovich goes to the March of Equality Column. With her together with about 60 representatives of the American embassy.’ [emphasis added]

The locals were quick to make the same connection. “KyivPride,” a local LGBT advocacy group unsurprisingly supported by the US Embassy (again, our tax dollars at work), the Canadian government, the German embassy, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and Freedom House were quick to hail creation of the new pseudo-church, no doubt reflecting the deep Orthodox piety of the group’s members. As posted by OrthoChristian.com, The organization posted a message on several platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, reading:

‘KyivPride congratulates all LGBTI Orthodox believers on the formation of a united and independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church and reminds everyone that love does no harm to others! Also remember that article 35 of the constitution of Ukraine states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of personal philosophy and religion. This right includes the freedom to profess or not to profess any religion.” Human rights above all!’

Last but certainly not least should be noted the involvement of certain fringe elements in the Orthodox Church itself, who perhaps can be compared to the Roman Catholic Church’s far more powerful “Lavender Mafia.” As this analyst warned months ago the Ukrainian church crisis seemingly facilitates the anti-Christian moral agenda of certain marginal “Orthodox” voices like “Orthodoxy in Dialogue,” Fordham University’s “Orthodox Christian Studies Center,” and The Wheel. As Anatoly Karlin points out, “many of the biggest supporters of Ukrainian autocephaly in the West are for all intents and purposes SJWs [social justice warriors]. The website Orthodoxy in Dialogue, for instance, wants Orthodoxy to get with the times and start sanctifying gay marriage:”

‘We pray for the day when we can meet our future partner in church, or bring our partner to church.

‘We pray for the day when our lifelong, monogamous commitment to our partner can be blessed and sanctified in and by the Church.

‘We pray for the day when we can explore as Church, without condemnation, how we Orthodox Christians can best live our life in Christ in the pursuit of holiness, chastity, and perfect love of God and neighbour.

‘We pray for the day when our priests no longer travel around the world to condemn us and mock us and use us as a punching bag.

‘We pray for the day when the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ ceases to be our loneliest closet.’

In sum, US official involvement in Ukrainian Church affairs is not really about Ukraine or Ukrainians at all. It is about hostility to Russia, which in turn reflects Washington’s own drive for unlimited worldwide political and moral supremacy. Breaking Ukraine’s spiritual ties with Russia is at least as important to breaking of political ties and enlisting Ukraine as part of NATO’s anti-Russian deployment. Even something as simple as Poroshenko’s making (western) December 25 Christmas a public holiday with (Orthodox) January 7 is hailed by The Daily Signal, a publication of the Heritage Foundation, as “a leap of faith” towards “ditching Russian influence.”

But underlying this geopolitical aspect is another, darker motive: to inflict on Ukraine and indeed all Orthodoxy the social, especially sexual, pathologies that have wrought havoc in western societies. As an ideological imperative built on Cultural Marxist dichotomies of oppressor and victim classes according to sex, race, language, religion, etc. (as  described by this analyst in Chronicles) this effort to transform all human society supplies a missionary zeal no less relevant to American officials’ and their fellow travelers’ efforts than their aspirations of global political dominion.

Jim Jatras is a former U.S. diplomat and former foreign policy adviser to the Senate GOP leadership. He is the author of a major study, “How American Media Serves as a Transmission Belt for Wars of Choice.” Find him on Twitter @JimJatras.

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German fake news reports Russian invasion of Estonia [Video]

German TV’s Russian invasion ruse meant to uphold the narrative that Russia is evil; Russian reaction is, “just more of the same nonsense.”

Seraphim Hanisch

Published

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Germany’s news media joined the chorus of fake news regarding Russia as “threat” as the 70th anniversary of NATO was being marked by the alliance’s member nations. On the news program “Heute” (English: “Today”) hosted by Claus Kleber, the anchor announced that Russian Armed Forces carried out an invasion of Estonia.

From Sputnik News, this translation:

“The US Army along with German and European allies are heading for Estonia in order to boot out units of the Russian military forces that intruded there just like they did several years ago in Crimea”, RIA Novosti cited Kleber as claiming.

Shortly after inciting an understandably strong reaction from his viewers, Mr. Kleber then simply announced that this was not true, but that it was a description of realistic events.

Ostensibly this act was played out to justify the continued existence of NATO, even as questions rise about the purpose of the alliance now that the Soviet Union (which it was intended to ward off) is no more.

The Russian news media and political spokesmen were not happy about this. Apparently, neither was NATO itself, as General Petr Pavel, the chairman of the NATO Military Committee went on record specifically saying that the alliance does not see any open aggression from Russia regarding the Baltic states.

Vesti News made their own set of comments about this stunt:

According to the website www.tellerreport.com, the Chairman of the Russian Federation’s Council’s committee on Information Policy, Alexei Pushkov, had some things to say about this event:

The Russian senator in his Twitter noted that “Russia has not invaded and will not invade Estonia.”

In his opinion, the statement of the German TV channel is an “information provocation” in order to “play along” with the North Atlantic Alliance.

And since Russia has no aggressive plans, they need to be invented. In this and only this is the meaning of information provocation on the ZDF channel. Play up NATO, demonize Russia.The attack on the brain is in the spirit of the current information war, ”he wrote.

It would appear that this assessment is correct. Russia has repeatedly noted it has no intentions or desires to exceed its borders for any reason. However, the country has developed an array of extremely powerful weapons, from tsunami-causing nuclear torpedos to hypersonic missiles that cannot be stopped.

While the Western angle on this weapons development has not quite established a footing on the claim that these weapons developments are aggressive in nature, the media seems eager to push as close as they can to making such a claim. This “report” by the German anchorman is a good example of when this desire for sensationalism and perhaps some further scapegoating exceeds its bounds.

Relations between Russia and the West began to sour at least as early as 2014, when Russia’s President Vladimir Putin forbade homosexuals to be anywhere near children at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. (The common narrative blames the Maidan Revolution and the rejoining of Crimea to Russia as the cause of pressure, but these are likely only to be the “acceptable” excuses for the increasing pressure not only on Russia, but on its Orthodox Church, and all Orthodoxy Christianity in general.)

A very nasty ideological war is simmering right now between Russia and the West, and military action would actually be a distraction from that war. Still, agitprop is the weapon of choice by the West to isolate Russia for not going the way of the world.

 

 

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