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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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U.S. May Impose Sanctions Against Turkey Over S-400 “Threat” To F-35

The United States continues to consider the S-400 air defense system a threat to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform.

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Authored by Al Masdar News:


Turkish officials have repeatedly insisted that Ankara’s purchase of the advanced Russian air defense system poses no threat whatsoever to the NATO alliance. Last month, the Turkish defense ministry announced that delivery of S-400s to Turkey would begin in October 2019.

The United States continues to consider the S-400 air defense system a threat to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform, and may impose sanctions against Ankara, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency has reported, citing a high-ranking source in Washington.

“I can’t say for certain whether sanctions will be imposed on Ankara over the S-400 contract, but the possibility is there. The US administration is not optimistic about this issue,” the source said.

While admitting that Turkey was a sovereign state and therefore had the right to make decisions on whom it buys its weapons from, the source stressed that from the perspective of these weapons’ integration with NATO systems, the S-400 was “problematic.”

The source also characterized the deployment of S-400s in areas where US F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighters are set to fly as “a threat,” without elaborating.

Emphasizing that negotiations between Washington and Ankara on the issue were “continuing,” the source said that there were also “positive tendencies” in negotiations between the two countries on the procurement of the Patriot system, Washington’s closest analogue to the S-400 in terms of capabilities.

Designed to stop enemy aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles at ranges of up to 400 km and altitudes of up to 30 km, the S-400 is currently the most advanced mobile air defense system in Russia’s arsenal. Russia and India signed a ruble-denominated contract on the delivery of five regiments of S-400s worth $5 billion late last month.

Last week, the Saudi Ambassador to Russia said that talks on the sale of the system to his country were ongoing. In addition to Russia, S-400s are presently operated by Belarus and China, with Beijing expecting another delivery of S-400s by 2020.

Washington has already slapped China with sanctions over its purchase of S-400s and Su-35 combat aircraft in September. India, however, has voiced confidence that it would not be hit with similar restrictions, which the US Treasury has pursued under the 2017 Counter America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

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The Ukrainian President Signs a Pact With Constantinople – Against the Ukrainian Church

There is still a chance to prevent the schism from occurring.

Dmitry Babich

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Authored by Dmitry Babich via Strategic Culture:


Increasingly tragic and violent events are taking their toll on the plight of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Ukraine . After several fights over control of the church’s property, prohibitions and blacklists are starting to spread, affecting respected church figures coming from Russia to Ukraine. The latest news is that the head of the Moscow Theological Academy, Archbishop Amvrosyi Yermakov, was deported from Ukraine back to Russia. Amvrosyi’s name popped up on the black list of Russian citizens who are not deemed “eligible to visit” Ukraine. Obviously, this happened right before his plane landed in Zhulyany, Kiev’s international airport. After a brief arrest, Amvrosyi was put on a plane and sent back to Moscow. This is not the first such humiliation of the Orthodox Church and its priests that has taken place since the new pro-Western regime came to power in Kiev in 2014. Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church has been declared persona non grata throughout Ukraine since 2014. That decision was made by humiliatingly low-level officials. A department within the Ukrainian ministry of culture published a ruling stating that Kirill’s visit to Ukraine’s capital of Kiev “would not be desirable.”

Since the ancestors of modern Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians were first baptized in 988 in Kiev, the Patriarchs of the Russian Church have never had problems visiting Kiev, the birthplace of their church. Not even under the Bolsheviks did such prohibitions exist. So, for Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church to be denied permission to visit Kiev can only be compared to a possible prohibition against the pope visiting Rome. Since 2014, there have also been several criminal cases filed against the priests of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC MP) because they have called the hostilities in eastern Ukraine a “civil war” and have discouraged the faithful from supporting that war. This has been interpreted by the Ukrainian state authorities as a call for soldiers to desert the army.

Why Poroshenko’s meeting with Bartholomew is ominous

Despite the fact that the UOC MP has become used to all sorts of trouble since 2014, things have been looking even worse for the canonical church lately, as 2018 draws to a close. In early November 2018, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko broke the wall of separation between church and state in the most overt manner possible — he signed “an agreement on cooperation and joint action” between Ukraine and the so called Constantinople Patriarchate, the oldest institution of Orthodox Christianity, which is now based in Turkish Istanbul.

Rostislav Pavlenko, an aide to Poroshenko, wrote on his Facebook page that the agreement (not yet published) is premised on the creation of a new “autocephalous” Orthodox Church of Ukraine — a development that the official, existing Orthodox Churches in Russia and Ukraine view with foreboding as a “schism” that they have done all they can to prevent. Why? Because Poroshenko’s regime, which came to power via a violent coup in Kiev in 2014 on a wave of public anti-Russian sentiment, may try to force the canonical Orthodox Church of Ukraine to merge with other, non-canonical institutions and to surrender to them church buildings, including the famous monasteries in Kiev and Pochai, as well as other property.

President Poroshenko was visibly happy to sign the document — the contents of which have not yet been made public — on cooperation between the Ukrainian state and the Constantinople Patriarchate, in the office of Bartholomew, the head of the Constantinople Patriarchate. Poroshenko smiled and laughed, obviously rejoicing over the fact that the Constantinople Patriarchate is already embroiled in a scandalous rift with the Russian Orthodox Church and its Ukrainian sister church over several of Bartholomew’s recent moves. Bartholomew’s decision to “lift” the excommunication from two of Ukraine’s most prominent schismatic “priests,” in addition to Bartholomew’s declaration that the new church of Ukraine will be under Constantinople’s direct command — these moves were just not acceptable for the canonical Orthodox believers in Russia and Ukraine. Kirill, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), as well as Onufriy, the Metropolitan of Kiev and all Ukraine, are protesting loudly, viewing this situation as a breach of two basic principles. First of all, the Ukrainian state has interfered in the church’s affairs, asking Constantinople to give the Ukrainian church “autocephaly,” which that church never requested. Second, Constantinople itself has interfered in the affairs of two autonomous national churches, the Russian and the Ukrainian. In the eyes of Ukrainian and Russian clergy, Bartholomew is behaving like the Roman pope and not as a true Orthodox leader who respects the autonomy and self-rule of the separate, national Orthodox Churches.

The Russian President sympathizes with the believers’ pain

Two days before Poroshenko made his trip to Istanbul, Russian president Vladimir Putin broke with his usual reserve when commenting on faith issues to bitterly complain about the pain which believers in Russia and Ukraine have experienced from the recent divisions within the triangle of Orthodoxy’s three historic capitals — Constantinople, Kiev, and Moscow.

“Politicking in such a sensitive area as religion has always had grave consequences, first and foremost for the people who engaged in this politicking,” Putin said, addressing the World Congress of Russian Compatriots, an international organization that unites millions of ethnic and cultural Russians from various countries, including Ukraine. Himself a practicing Orthodox believer, Putin lauded Islam and Judaism, while at the same time complaining about the plight of Orthodox believers in Ukraine, where people of Orthodox heritage make up more than 80% of the population and where the church has traditionally acted as a powerful “spiritual link” with Russia.

Despite his complaints about “politicking,” Putin was careful not to go into the details of why exactly the state of affairs in Ukraine is so painful for Orthodox believers. That situation was explained by Patriarch Kirill. After many months of tense silence and an unsuccessful visit to Barthlomew’s office in Istanbul on August 31, Kirill has been literally crying for help in the last few weeks, saying he was “ready to go anywhere and talk to anyone” in order to prevent the destruction of the canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

Politics with a “mystical dimension”

Kirill said the attack against the Orthodox Church in Ukraine “had not only a political, but also a mystical dimension.” Speaking in more earthly terms, there is a danger that the 1,000-year-old historical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) — which now owns 11,392 church buildings, 12,328 parishes, and two world-famous monasteries in Ukraine — will be dissolved. The roots of the UOC MP go back to the pre-Soviet Russian Empire and even further back to the era of Kievan Rus, the proto-state of the Eastern Slavs in the tenth-twelfth centuries AD, when the people who would later become Russians, Ukrainians, and Byelorussians were adopting Orthodox Christianity from the Byzantine Empire. It is by far the biggest church in Ukraine, as Mikhail Denisenko’s non-canonical “alternative” church has only 3,700 parishes that include church buildings (fewer than a third of what is owned by the UOC-MP, despite the fact that Denisenko enjoys official support from the Ukrainian state).

What many Russian and Ukrainian believers fear is that the Istanbul-based Patriarch Bartholomew will eventually grant Kiev what is being called autocephaly. In that event, the UOC-MP may be forced to merge with two other, non-canonical churches in Ukraine that have no apostolic liaison. The apostolic succession of the UOC-MP consists in the historical fact that its first bishops were ordained by medieval bishops from Constantinople, who had in turn been ordained by Christ’s disciples from ancient Israel. Apostolic succession is crucial for the Orthodox Church, where only bishops can ordain new priests and where the church’s connection to the first Christians is reflected in many ways, including in the clergy’s attire.

Metropolitan Hilarion (his secular name is Grigory Alfeyev), the Russian church’s chief spokesman on questions of schism and unity, accused the patriarch of contributing to the schism by officially “lifting” the excommunication from Ukraine’s most prominent schismatic church leader — the defrocked former bishop Mikhail Denisenko. That clergyman stands to gain most from the “autocephaly” promised to Poroshenko by Patriarch Bartholomew. A hierarchical Orthodox Church is considered to have autocephalous status, as its highest bishop does not report to any higher-ranking bishop. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has stated that for Ukraine to be granted autocephaly from Istanbul, this would mean a complete “reformatting” of the country’s religious status quo and the severing of all links to Orthodox Russia and its “demons.”. Most likely, the new “united” church won’t be headed by the UOC MP’s Metropolitan, but by Mikhail Denisenko, who was excommunicated by both the UOC MP and the Russian church back in 1997 and with whom real Orthodox priests can only serve against their will and against the church’s internal rules.

Constantinople’s first dangerous moves

On October 11, 2018, the Constantinople Patriarchate made its first step towards granting autocephaly by repealing its own decision of 1686 that gave the Moscow Patriarch primacy over the Kiev-based Metropolitan. This 17th-century decision reflected the political reality of the merger between the states of Russia and Ukraine and established some order in the matters of church administration. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moscow gave the Ukrainian church complete independence in financial and administrative matters, but the two churches retained their cherished “spiritual unity.” “Constantinople’s decision is aimed at destroying that unity,” the ROC’s Patriarch Kirill explained. “We can’t accept it. That is why our Holy Synod made the decision to end eucharistic communication with the Constantinople Patriarchate.”

How Moscow “excommunicated” Bartholomew

The end of eucharistic communication means that the priests of the two patriarchates (based in Moscow and Istanbul) won’t be able to hold church services together. It will be maintained as long as the threat of autocephaly continues. The Western mainstream media, however, interpreted this decision by the Russian church as a unilateral aggressive act. The NYT and the British tabloid press wrote that it simply reveals Putin’s “desperation” at not being able to keep Ukraine’s religious life under control.

However, Patriarch Bartholomew seems undeterred by the protests from the Russian faithful and the majority of Ukraine’s believers. Bartholomew said in a recent statement that Russia should just follow the example of Constantinople, which once granted autocephaly to the churches of the Balkan nations. Bartholomew’s ambassadors in Kiev do not shy away from communicating with the self-declared “Patriarch” Filaret (Mikhail Denisenko’s adopted religious name from back when he was the UOC MP’s Metropolitan prior to his excommunication in 1997). For true Orthodox believers, any communication with Denisenko has been forbidden since 1992, the year when he founded his own so-called Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP). Unfortunately, Denisenko enjoys the full support of Ukrainian President Poroshenko, and recently the US State Department began encouraging Denisenko, by giving its full support to Ukraine’s autocephaly.

The lifting of Denisenko’s excommunication by Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul both upset and embittered the Orthodox believers in both Ukraine and Moscow, since Denisenko was excommunicated by a joint decision of the Russian church and the UOC MP in 1997, after a five-year wait for his return to the fold of the mother church. So, by undoing that decision, Constantinople has interfered in the canonical territory of both the Ukrainian and the Russian churches.

The UOC-MP protested, accusing not only Patriarch Bartholomew, but also the Ukrainian state of interfering in the church’s affairs. “We are being forced to get involved in politics. The politicians do not want Christ to run our church; they want to do it themselves,” said Metropolitan Onufriy (Onuphrius), the head of the UOC-MP, in an interview with PravMir, an Orthodox website. “Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has been independent. Our church did not ask for autocephaly, because we already have independence. We have our own Synod (church council) and our own church court. Decisions are made by a congress of bishops and priests from all over Ukraine. We have financial and administrative independence, so autocephaly for us will be a limitation, not an expansion of our rights.”

Poroshenko’s premature jubilation

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Poroshenko did not conceal his jubilation about Constantinople’s moves. “This is a victory of good over evil, light over darkness,” Poroshenko said when the news about the lifting of Denisenko’s excomnmunication came from Istanbul in early October.

Poroshenko said he wanted a “united Orthodox Church” for his country, and he openly pressured Patriarch Bartholomew to provide autocephaly to Kiev during his visits to Istanbul in the spring of 2018 and in November of the same year. Meanwhile, Denisenko said that the provision of autocephaly would mean the immediate dispossession of the UOC MP. “This Russian church (UOC MP) will have to cede control of its church buildings and famous monasteries to the new Ukrainian church, which will be ours,” Denisenko was quoted by Ukrainian media as saying. “These monasteries have been owned by the state since Soviet times, and the state gave them to the Russian church for temporary use. Now the state will appoint our communities of believers as the new guardians of this heritage.” Denisenko also made a visit to the US, where he met Undersecretary of State Wess Mitchell, obtaining from him America’s active support for the creation of a “unified” Ukrainian church.

There is still a chance to prevent the schism from occurring. Poroshenko’s presidential aide, Rostislav Pavlenko, made it clear on Tuesday that the actual “tomos” (a letter from the Constantinople Patriarchate allowing the creation of an autocephalous church) will be delivered only IN RESPONSE to a request from a “unifying convention” that represents all of Ukraine’s Orthodox believers in at least some sort of formal manner. This new convention will have to declare the creation of a new church and elect this church’s official head. Only then will Constantinople be able to give that person the cherished “tomos.”

Since the UOC-MP has made it very clear that it won’t participate in any such convention, the chances of the smooth transition and easy victory over the “Muscovite believers” that Poroshenko wants so badly are quite slim. There are big scandals, big fights, and big disappointments ahead.

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Russia’s Next Weapon: A Church

The Russian military plans to build a military church to bolster the spiritual values of its armed forces.

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Authored by Michael Peck via The National Interest:


Meet Vladimir Putin’s newest weapon: a church.

The Russian military plans to build a military church to bolster the spiritual values of its armed forces. Construction will soon begin of the Main Church of the Armed Forces, to be erected in Patriot Park outside Moscow, according to Colonel General Andrei Kartapolov, deputy defense minister and chief of the armed forces’ Main Military-Political Directorate, a new organization responsible for political education of the troops.

The “new church will be one more example of the people’s unity around the idea of patriotism, love, and devotion to our Motherland,” Kartapolov told Russian journalists.

To say the church, dubbed by some as the “Khaki Temple,” will have a martial air would be an understatement.

“The walls of the military church are really made in the color of the standard Russian missile system and armored vehicle,” according to the Russian newspaper The Independent [Google English translation here ] “…From the inside, the walls are decorated with paintings with battle scenes from military history and texts from the Holy Scriptures. The projected height is 95 meters [104 feet] and is designed for 6,000 people.”

“Kartapolov is convinced that the modern Russian serviceman cannot be shaped without shaping lofty spirituality in him,” Russian media said. “Speaking about ideology, the deputy head of the military department pointed out that this will be based on knowledge of the history of our Motherland and people and on historical and cultural traditions.”

“Even though the Russian constitution states that ‘no ideology may be established as state or obligatory,’ the Kremlin continues to search for a unifying set of beliefs,” notes the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office.

Religion has long played a role in Russian military life, first through the Russian Orthodox Church in Tsarist times, and then—in a secular way—through Communism in Soviet times. “In late imperial Russia, when they began to build garrisons, every regiment sought to build a regimental church, but not a synagogue or mosque,” Roger Reese, an historian at Texas A&M University who has written books on the Tsarist and Soviet armed forces, told the National Interest. “In Putin’s Russia, the Orthodox Church seeks every opportunity to represent itself as the national religion and tie itself to the state as it had under the tsars, so this act represents continuity broken temporarily by the Soviet years. Of course the Soviet regime did not build churches for the army, but it did build the ‘House of the Red Army,’ shaped like a star, in Moscow dedicated to the use of the Red Army and its soldiers.

In some respects it was analogous to a USO [United Service Organization that supports American soldiers] building. So Putin’s dedicating one particular building to the use of the Russian Army soldiers for purposes of morale—and morals—is in line with that.”

While the thought of a military church will be distasteful to some, Russia is hardly unique in linking the military and religion.

Many armies, the United States and Israel included, maintain chaplains who wear uniform and hold military rank. Chapels are common on military bases, and soldiers are given time for – and sometimes pressured to – attend religious services. While a Russian military church is likely to favor a specific denomination – Russian Orthodoxy – even that isn’t unique: non-Christian members of the U.S. military have complained of religious discrimination , especially by Christian fundamentalists.

What’s interesting is how little things change. Be it the Tsar’s conscripts, or the Red Army’s draftees or the volunteers who comprise much of modern Russia’s military, some spiritual reinforcement is deemed necessary to get soldiers to fight.

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