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Putin’s State of the Nation address: charting a course for a modern Russia

Alexander Mercouris

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Information about President Putin’s State of the Nation address is still coming through as I write this.

Most world attention has been on the various military developments which President Putin outlined.  Though these are dramatic enough the main focus of the address was on the domestic economy.  That is the part of the address I will discuss in this article.

(1) Increase in economic growth rates in the 2020s

President Putin has charted a very ambitious project of increasing per capita incomes in Russia by 50% by the mid 2020s ie. by roughly the end of his next term as President (assuming he is re-elected), which will be in 2024.

Since the government and the Central Bank forecast economic growth to continue to be low (less than 2% per year) up to 2020, that implies a very rapid increase in economic growth rates after 2020.

This is in fact consistent with the recent discussions of the state of the economy published by the Central Bank.

Briefly, the story of Putin’s third term with respect to the economy has been one of the Russian government sorting out various accumulated problems in the economy in order to prepare for a marked but sustained acceleration in the 2020s.

This has required:

(i) a very tight monetary policy to bring inflation down from its historic double digit annual level to the 2-4% annual range which it has achieved now;

(ii) hard work to improve the business climate, with the World Bank assessing that Russia’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ rating has improved from 120th in the world in 2010 to 35th in the world now;

(iii) the introduction of a floating exchange rate for the rouble (achieved in 2014);

(iv) a steady clear up of the banking system, with a policy of closing down bad banks and consolidating the banking sector into a smaller number of strong banks; and

(v) a programme of fiscal consolidation, whereby the national budget is first balanced and then brought into surplus, with the share of oil and gas revenues further reduced, so that the deficit in the budget once oil and gas revenues are take out of account has already fallen from 15% of GDP in 2015 to 7% now, with plans to reduce it further, with the eventual intention of eliminating it entirely.

The Russian government and the Central Bank have explained that the primary reason for reducing and then eventually eliminating the ‘non-energy revenue’ deficit in the budget is so as to make the national budget invulnerable to falls in energy price movements..

These measures have been accompanied with further technical steps to strengthen the financial system, for example by introducing a Russian alternative to the SWIFT interbank payment system (which Russian officials have confirmed over the last few weeks is not merely ready but is actually operating), a Russian debit and credit card independent of Mastercard and Visa (the Mir card) and by the redirection of the Russian state’s borrowing from foreign to domestic sources (ie. towards ‘rouble bonds’ in place of eurobonds), with Russia however taking control of its own eurobond placements.

This period of sorting out the accumulated problems in the economy – some of which extend back to the late Brezhnev era of the mid to late 1970s – is now practically over, with the Russian government and the Central Bank expecting that the process will be concluded by 2020.

Thereafter, it is hoped that the hard work carried out over the period of Putin’s third term will finally bear fruit, with economic growth rates rising sharply, and doing so in a sustainable way.

Needless to say Putin touched on all of this in his speech, stressing that it is the achievement of macroeconomic stability in Russia that makes the very ambitious economic plans he outlined in his address possible

In the last few years, we have enhanced the sustainability of our economy. The dependence of the economy on hydrocarbon prices has been substantially reduced. We have increased our gold and currency reserves. Inflation has dropped to a record low level – just over two percent. Of course, we all understand that the growth of prices for many basic necessities is much higher. This should be strictly monitored by different agencies, including the Anti-Monopoly Service. But on the whole, this low inflation level creates additional opportunities for development. Let me remind you that quite recently, in 2015, inflation was almost 13 percent – 12.9 percent to be exact.

In effect, Russia has formed a new macroeconomic reality with low inflation and general economic sustainability. For the people this is a condition for real income growth and cheaper mortgage loans. For entrepreneurs it means predictability in business and cheaper loans. Business should also adapt to these new macroeconomic conditions. Finally, it makes it possible to attract long-term loans and private investment into large-scale infrastructure projects.

Now we have an opportunity, without speeding up inflation, and maintaining a careful and responsible approach, to gradually cut interest rates and make loans more affordable. I count on the support of the Bank of Russia in that, while making its decisions, implementing monetary policy measures and developing financial markets, it will work in contact with the Government in the interests of the common goal of creating a proper environment for increasing the economic growth rates.

The major driver of faster economic development will be higher investment and increased productivity, with the stable macroeconomic conditions making it possible to achieve at a sustained level a rate of investment in the economy the like of which it has never experienced in the post-Soviet period

Increased investment is the second source of growth. We have already set the task of bringing it up to 25 percent of the GDP, and then to 27 percent. Unfortunately, this goal has not been achieved yet. To ensure sustainable growth, we need to do so at all costs. I hope that the new Government in conjunction with the Bank of Russia will present a concrete plan of action in this area.

A recent study by the Russian Academy of Sciences has suggested that growth rates in the 2020s could be as high as 4-6% annually, which would certainly be necessary if the increase in per capita income by 50% that Putin is talking about by the mid 2020s is to be achieved.

In his State of the Nation address President Putin spoke of achieving this objective as a difficult one but as an attainable one, and spoke of his confidence in achieving it.

Russia must firmly assert itself among the five largest global economies, and its per-capita GDP must increase by 50 percent by the middle of the next decade. This is a very difficult task. I am confident that we are ready to accomplish it.

I would add that if Russia is able to achieve a growth rate of 4-6% in the 2020s then by the mid 2020s its GDP in purchasing power parity terms its economy will be substantially bigger than Germany’s (thus Putin’s comment about Russia “firmly asserting among the five largest global economies”) and by 2030 it could be close to overtaking – and might have actually overtaken – Japan’s.

At that point Russian living standards would also be at least comparable and possibly higher than living standards in most of Western Europe, with all the huge geopolitical implications that flow from that.

(2) Embrace of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

I have previously written about how Russia’s leaders believe that Russia is strategically exceptionally well placed to exploit the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ and how they believe that it plays to Russia’s strengths.

President Putin has spoken about this repeatedly, and in his State of the Nation address he returned to it and discussed it at length

As I said in the past, the state’s role and positions in the modern world are not determined only or predominantly by natural resources or production capacities; the decisive role is played by the people, as well as conditions for every individual’s development, self-assertion and creativity. Therefore, everything hinges on efforts to preserve the people of Russia and to guarantee the prosperity of our citizens We must achieve a decisive breakthrough in this area.

I repeat, a solid foundation has been created for this. Therefore, we can now set and accomplish new tasks. We already have substantial experience in implementing ambitious programmes and social projects. The Russian economy has proved its resilience, and the current stable macro-economic situation opens up new opportunities for surging ahead and maintaining long-term growth.

Finally, the world is now accumulating a tremendous technological potential making it possible to achieve a real breakthrough in improving the people’s quality of life and modernising the economy, the infrastructure and state governance and administration. How effectively we will able to use the colossal potentialities of the technological revolution, and how we will respond to its challenges depends on us alone. In this sense, the next few years will prove decisive for the country’s future. I reiterate, these years will be decisive……

……today knowledge, technology and expertise make the most important competitive advantages. They are the key to a real breakthrough and improved quality of life.

As soon as possible, we need to develop a progressive legal framework and eliminate all barriers for the development and wide use of robotic equipment, artificial intelligence, unmanned vehicles, e-commerce and Big Data processing technology. And this legal framework must be continuously reviewed and be based on a flexible approach to each area and technology.

We have all the resources to promptly implement 5G and Internet of Things technologies.

We need to build our own digital platforms. It goes without saying that they should be compatible with the global information space. This would pave the way to reorganising manufacturing processes, financial services and logistics, including using blockchain technology, which is very important when it comes to financial transactions, property rights, etc. These initiatives have real-world application.

We need to start making or localising key technologies and solutions, including those used in developing the Arctic and the sea shelf, and building new energy, transport and urban infrastructure systems. This is also important in areas related to improving the quality of life, such as cutting-edge rehabilitation tools for people with disabilities.

It is our duty to support high-technology companies, offer start-ups a favourable environment and introduce new industrial solutions. I am talking about a user-friendly infrastructure, taxation systems, technical regulations and venture financing.

Technological development should be firmly rooted in fundamental research. Over the recent years, we have been able to expand research, and are now leading in a number of areas. The Russian Academy of Sciences and Russia’s leading research institutions made a major contribution to achieving this.

Building on the advances made in the preceding years, including in developing the research infrastructure, we need to take our research to a new level. Projects to build cutting-edge mega science research facilities are already underway in Gatchina and Dubna. The Council for Science and Education has adopted a decision recently to build a powerful synchrotron collider at the Novosibirsk Akademgorodok and a new generation collider in Protvino, Moscow Region.

With these facilities, Russia will become one of the world’s leading countries in terms of the capability and performance of its research infrastructure. These units will give a serious competitive edge to Russian research teams and high-technology companies, for example for developing new medications, materials and microelectronics.

Of course, this infrastructure and ambitious research projects will not fail to attract our compatriots and researchers from abroad. In this regard, we need to create a legal framework that would enable international research teams to operate in Russia.

Large research and education centres should begin working to full capacity. They will integrate the possibilities of universities, academic institutions, and high-tech companies. Such centres are already being set up in Kazan and Samara, Tomsk and Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Tyumen, Vladivostok and Kaliningrad, and other cities.

It is important to focus them on the implementation of major interdisciplinary projects, including in such a promising field as genome research. A cardinal breakthrough in this area will pave the way to developing new methods for diagnosing, preventing and treating many diseases, and will expand the selection possibilities in agriculture.

We need to reinforce the superiority of the national mathematics school. It gives Russia a strong competitive edge in the age of digital economy. International mathematics centres will also provide platforms for such work. These are already operating in Kazan and Novosibirsk. Following the adopted decisions, we will open more in St Petersburg, Moscow and Sochi.

(bold italics added)

However this enthusiastic embrace of the Fourth Industrial Revolution comes with a sharp warning of what will happen if Russia fails to embrace it

What I will say now has no connection to the domestic political cycle or even the presidential election. No matter who is elected President, each Russian citizen and all of us together must be able to see what is going on in the world, what is happening around us, and what challenges we are facing.

The speed of technological progress is accelerating sharply. It is rising dramatically. Those who manage to ride this technological wave will surge far ahead. Those who fail to do this will be submerged and drown in this wave.

Technological lag and dependence translate into reduced security and economic opportunities of the country and, ultimately, the loss of its sovereignty. This is the way things stand now. The lag inevitably weakens and erodes the human potential. Because new jobs, modern companies and an attractive life will develop in other, more successful countries where educated and talented young people will go, thereby draining the society’s vital powers and development energy.

As I have said, changes concern the entire civilization, and the sheer scale of these changes calls for an equally powerful response. We are ready to provide it. We are ready for a genuine breakthrough.

My confidence is based on the results we have achieved together, even though they may seem modest at first glance, as well as on the unity of Russian society and, most importantly, on the huge potential of Russia and our talented and ingenious people.

In order to move forward and to develop dynamically, we must expand freedom in all spheres, strengthen democratic institutions, local governments, civil society institutions and courts, and also open the country to the world and to new ideas and initiatives.

It is high time we take a number of tough decisions that are long overdue. We need to get rid of anything that stands in the way of our development and prevents people from fully unleashing their potential. It is our obligation to focus all resources and summon all our strength and willpower in this daring effort that must yield results.

Otherwise, there will be no future for us, our children or our country. It is not a question of someone conquering or devastating our land. No, that is not the danger. The main threat and our main enemy is the fact that we are falling behind. If we are unable to reverse this trend, we will fall even further behind. This is like a serious chronic disease that steadily saps the energy from the body and destroys it from within step by step. Quite often, this destructive process goes unnoticed by the body.

We need to master creative power and boost development so that no obstacles prevent us from moving forward with confidence and independently. We must take ownership of our destiny

In other words, a failure by Russia to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution would put the whole future of the country and its independence at risk.

As Putin says, Russia has all the resources and potential it needs in order to embrace it successfully.  It would be an unforgivable disaster if it failed to do so.

At a more practical level, what embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution requires is a sharp increase in funding for education and science, and this was indeed an important part of Putin’s address.

(3) Higher education and science spending

One of the most frequent criticisms of Putin which I hear from Russians is that education and science during his time in power have been neglected, with some Russians making unfavourable comparisons with the high priority education and science were accorded during the Soviet era.

There is some force to this argument, though in my opinion it underestimates the pressure on Putin’s government in determining priorities.

Now that macroeconomic stability is close to being achieved Putin clearly recognises the need to accord more budget spending to education and science and his comments about this were lengthy and detailed

International experts agree that Russia has one of the best primary school systems in the world. We will keep up our proactive efforts to develop general education at all levels. Let me emphasise that every child should have access to a quality education. Equal educational opportunities are a powerful driver in terms of promoting national development and social justice.

We need to shift to completely new education methods, including personalised learning, in order to cultivate in our children a readiness for change and creative curiosity, and teach them to work in teams, which is very important in the modern world, and other life skills applicable to the digital era. We will absolutely support talented teachers who are motivated to pursue continuous professional growth. And, of course, we need to build an open and modern system for school management selection and training. School administrators are the ones in charge of building a strong faculty and productive morale.

We will continue to enhance the comprehensive system to support and develop our children’s creative skills and talents. This system must extend to the entire country and incorporate the resources of such projects as Sirius and Quantorium, as well as extracurricular education centres and children’s creative centres all over Russia.

We need to build a modern career guidance system where schools partner with universities, research groups and successful companies. I propose starting a new early career guidance programme for schoolchildren, Ticket to the Future, from the next academic year. The programme will allow kids to try out real jobs in major Russian companies. We will allocate 1 billion rubles for this project this year alone…..

Technological development should be firmly rooted in fundamental research. Over the recent years, we have been able to expand research, and are now leading in a number of areas. The Russian Academy of Sciences and Russia’s leading research institutions made a major contribution to achieving this.

Building on the advances made in the preceding years, including in developing the research infrastructure, we need to take our research to a new level. Projects to build cutting-edge mega science research facilities are already underway in Gatchina and Dubna. The Council for Science and Education has adopted a decision recently to build a powerful synchrotron collider at the Novosibirsk Akademgorodok and a new generation collider in Protvino, Moscow Region.

With these facilities, Russia will become one of the world’s leading countries in terms of the capability and performance of its research infrastructure. These units will give a serious competitive edge to Russian research teams and high-technology companies, for example for developing new medications, materials and microelectronics.

Of course, this infrastructure and ambitious research projects will not fail to attract our compatriots and researchers from abroad. In this regard, we need to create a legal framework that would enable international research teams to operate in Russia.

Large research and education centres should begin working to full capacity. They will integrate the possibilities of universities, academic institutions, and high-tech companies. Such centres are already being set up in Kazan and Samara, Tomsk and Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Tyumen, Vladivostok and Kaliningrad, and other cities.

It is important to focus them on the implementation of major interdisciplinary projects, including in such a promising field as genome research. A cardinal breakthrough in this area will pave the way to developing new methods for diagnosing, preventing and treating many diseases, and will expand the selection possibilities in agriculture.

We need to reinforce the superiority of the national mathematics school. It gives Russia a strong competitive edge in the age of digital economy. International mathematics centres will also provide platforms for such work. These are already operating in Kazan and Novosibirsk. Following the adopted decisions, we will open more in St Petersburg, Moscow and Sochi.

The one point I would make about these plans for higher education and science spending is that they do appear very narrowly focused on turning out more technically qualified workers for the economy.  There is nothing said at all about the humanities, and very little about culture.

I have commented in the past about how the one important constituency in Russia that Putin fails to reach is its large, very articulate and at times absurdly self-important cultural intelligentsia.  This despite the fact that his government provides heavy subsidies to Russian cinema and theatre, and – as he touched on in his address – is actively engaged in museum building.

In my opinion this resentment of the cultural intelligentsia towards Putin is in part the result of his lack of engagement with them, of which his failure to speak about them in his State of the Nation address is another example.

(4) Faster house building

Before discussing this topic, I should say that in my opinion one of the greatest causes of the underestimation of Russia’s GDP relative to those of other developed economies is the undervaluation of Russia’s large and rapidly growing housing stock.

The average price of a home in London is now $680,000, and $300,000 in the Britain as a whole.  Though comparisons with Russia are difficult, with Russians tending to value properties by the cost per metre rather than by the cost per unit, during a recent trip to Moscow I heard that the price of what I suspect was a higher end property in a suburb of Moscow – Russia’s capital and richest city – was below $200,000.

I suspect that high prices in Russia outside Moscow are significantly lower, save in St. Petersburg where a market in luxury homes is apparently emerging, driven it seems mainly by foreign buyers.

Anyway Putin had much to say about the need to increase Russia’s housing stock, with the emphasis in his address being on affordable ie. low end housing

In 2017, three million families in Russia improved their living conditions. Now we need to reach a stable level (I emphasise this: it is the first time in the history of modern Russia) – to a level where at least five million families improve their housing conditions annually. This is a difficult task – to jump from three million to five. We reached 3.1 million last year, but we need to make it five. Yet, it is an attainable goal.

I see three key factors for increasing the affordability of housing. The first is the growth of people’s incomes. I have spoken about this in the past, and we must ensure this. Next, a decrease in mortgage interest rates and, of course, an increased supply in the housing market.

I would like to remind you of something that few people remember, which is that only 4,000 mortgage loans were issued in 2001. Only 4,000. The interest rate was as high as 30 percent, including on foreign currency loans. By the way, half of the mortgage loans were issued in foreign currency. Few people could afford to take out mortgage loans then. Last year, the number of mortgage loans almost reached one million. In December, the average interest rate on ruble loans for the first time decreased to below 10 percent.

We know, of course, that loan terms are individual and may differ from one borrower to another. But we must continue to lower the average interest rate to 7–8 percent. We held long discussions on the figure I should say here. I am sure that the target figure should be 7 percent. In the next six years, mortgage loans must become accessible to the majority of Russian families, working people and young professionals.

Here are some more figures. In the 1950s through 1970s, we annually built approximately 60 million square metres of housing a year. The figure rose to 70 million by the late 1990s. Now we annually build around 80 million square metres of housing every year. We built even more housing in some years, but the average figure is 80 million. We must move forward and reach new heights in this sphere, that is, increase the volume of housing built every year from 80 million to 120 million square metres. This is an ambitious but realistic goal, given new technologies, the experience our construction companies have accumulated, as well as new materials. The rise from 80 to 120 million square metres is what we need and can achieve. I will tell you why: if we want 5 million families to receive new housing every year, we must reach the figure of 120 million square metres.

Those who invest their money in housing projects must be securely protected. We should gradually proceed from unit construction to project financing, when developers and banks, but not people, shoulder the risks.

This is a hugely ambitious housing programme, setting out to improve the housing conditions of five million Russian families each year.

To someone who lives in Britain, where just 184,000 homes were built in England last year (around half the peak levels achieved in the mid 1930s and the mid 1960s) these are staggering figures.

In my experience there is no single more important measure for most people – especially middle and lower income people – when they assess their standard of living than the state of their housing.  If Putin can achieve his target of improving the housing conditions of five million Russian families each year, then he will have made more Russians feel better off each year than any set of statistics can show.

I would add – though Putin did not mention the fact – that the rapid and continuing growth of mortgage lending since 2000 which Putin is referring to in these comments not only shows the immeasurably greater sophistication of the financial system since 2000.  It also greatly strengthens the financial system by providing it with a bedrock of secure mortgage assets which it can leverage in order to make possible higher investment lending.

Obviously this has to be watched closely to avoid the situation which has repeatedly arisen in the US and Britain, where mortgage borrowers repeatedly become over-borrowed, and where excessively low interest rates cause banks to lend to mortgage borrowers in preference to the more productive side of the economy.

However Putin’s comments show that he is aware of this danger, and I would add that the Russian government and the Central Bank’s policy of keeping interest rates positive (ie. higher than the rate of inflation) should allay it anyway.

(5) An infrastructure programme for Russia

In my opinion the single biggest constraint on economic growth in Russia are not the often mentioned ones of corruption, excessive state involvement in the economy, and opacity of laws.  Other economies where these problems arise (and for the record I question whether state involvement in the economy is necessarily a “problem”) have thrived economically despite them.

The single biggest constraint on economic growth in Russia is rather in my opinion the country’s underdeveloped transport and communications infrastructure, which is simply inadequate for such a huge country.

By contrast a visit to China last summer impressed on me the enormous spur to economic growth that China’s massive investment in infrastructure has provided to the Chinese economy.

It would be untrue to say that there have been no improvements to Russia’s communications and transport infrastructure during the Putin era.

The single biggest change – and one whose social importance quite simply cannot be overstated – is that for the first time in Russia’s history the entire population is connected by telephone, with almost 50% of the population now having continuous access to the internet and with more than 70% saying they use the internet regularly, as compared with only 25% who used the internet regularly in 2008.

This in a country where in the 1980s only 20% of the population had personal telephones (though the percentage was much higher in Leningrad and Moscow).

Russia has also witnessed a significant increase in road building and railway construction during the Putin era, and as Putin commented on in his State of the Union address, there has also been a drastic upgrade in the cargo handling capacity of Russia’s port

In 1990, the ports of the Soviet Union had an aggregate capacity of 600 million tonnes, but after the country broke apart, we lost almost half. In the early 2000s, Russian ports could handle only 300 million tonnes. Over the last 17 years, this figure has tripled. In early 2017, the aggregate port capacity in Russia exceeded 1 billion tonnes for the first time in history. As you can see from the charts, this exceeds the level reached by the Soviet Union by more than two thirds. By the way, these are the figures for early 2017, and the capacity currently stands at 1,025 billion tonnes.

Even before today’s State of the Union address the sums allocated for infrastructure development in Russia are staggering

The government is pumping vast amounts of cash into upgrading Russia’s existing ports, railways and roads, or building new sites. By 2030, it is estimated Russia will have spent a monumental $969 billion on infrastructure projects. Over 325 such developments are in the pipeline, helping provide a stronger environment for transport and logistics……

In 2017, Russian Railways (RZA), Russia’s national rail operator, plans to take supply of roughly one million tons of new track. This goes to show the titanic scale of Russia’s rail construction ambitions. By 2030, some $464.2 billion will have been pumped into building fresh railways or existing facility enhancement….

Roads are something of a priority for Russia. Due to its sheer size, the nation needs rugged highways and roads to keep people and goods flowing freely. Over $548 billion has been allocated towards for construction of roads in rural areas, whereas Moscow’s ring road is looking at $1.5 billion in reconstruction investment.

Over 1,000 kilometres of new roads are planned for 2020. 36 individual construction projects, featuring new bridges, are to be implemented before 2030 too, suggesting Russia’s road network will be greatly expanded making road transport an easier, cheaper prospect.

It seems from what Putin said today that the tempo of infrastructure spending is to be increased still further

Overall, in the next six years, we must almost double the spending on road construction and repairs in Russia and to allocate more than 11 trillion roubles for this from all sources. This is a lot; keep in mind that we have allocated 6.4 trillion rubles in 2012–2017, but we need 11 trillion (ie. $193 billion for further road building and repairs over six years – AM)…….

The volume of transit shipments on our railways must grow almost fourfold. This means that Russia will become a global leader in transit shipping between Europe and Asia…..

The Northern Sea Route will be the key to developing the Russian Arctic and Far East. By 2025, cargo traffic along this route will surge tenfold to 80 million tonnes. Our goal is to make it a truly global and competitive transport route. Let me remind you that the Northern Sea Route was used more actively in Soviet times compared to how we have been using it so far. We will definitely develop this route and reach new horizons. I have no doubt about it……

We will renovate and expand the network of regional airports across Russia. In six years, half of the regions will be connected between each other by direct flights. The situation where you had to make a connection in Moscow when flying to a neighbouring region will become a thing of the past. We are already working on this. This includes efforts to develop aviation and airports.

…….we must introduce new technologies for the generation, storage and relay of energy. In the next six years, we plan to attract some 1.5 trillion rubles in private investment for modernising our power generation sector. All power systems throughout the country must convert to digital technology. We must use the so-called distributed generation method to supply electricity to remote areas.

By 2024, high-speed internet will be available throughout the country. We will complete the construction of fibre optic lines in the majority of populated areas with a population of more than 250 people. Small remote towns in the Extreme North, Siberia and the Russian Far East will access internet via a network of Russian satellites.

We will use advanced telecommunications to give our people access to the digital world. As we know, this is more than just modern services, online education and telemedicine, although all this is very important. More than that, people will be able to use digital space to conduct research, organise volunteer and project groups or run companies. In our vast country, this combination of talent, competencies and ideas amounts to a huge ground-breaking resource…..

Though Putin did not specifically mention the fact, it is clear that this huge infrastructure programme dovetails closely with Xi Jinping’s One Belt, One Road programme

Large Eurasian transport corridors will also be developing. An automobile road that will become part of the Europe – Asia-Pacific corridor is already under construction. Our Chinese and Kazakhstani partners involved in this project together with us have already completed their part. Their sections have already been opened, so we need to speed up our work…..

The volume of transit shipments on our railways must grow almost fourfold. This means that Russia will become a global leader in transit shipping between Europe and Asia…..

Russia must not just become the world’s key logistics and transport hub, but also, which is very important, a global centre for the storage, processing, transfer and reliable protection of large volumes of information, so-called big data.

Overall, infrastructure development must take into account global technological changes. In other words, the projects we are now considering must include practical solutions for combining infrastructure with drones and digital marine and air navigation, as well as use AI to streamline logistics.

There has been much criticism in the Western media not just of Putin’s decision to stand again as Russia’s President but of China’s pending decision to end term limits for its President, enabling Xi Jinping to continue as China’s President beyond his second term.

In my opinion these are not vanity decisions by two insecure and power crazed autocrats as the Western media represents them.

Rather they are joint decisions agreed by the two men and their respective leadership in order to guarantee that the massively ambitious ‘Greater Eurasia’ project which they have jointly sponsored – linking together China and Europe by a gigantic series of road, rail and maritime links constructed across mainly Russia – will be brought into effect.

As to the scale of Russia’s infrastructure programme, its scale of $1 trillion can be compared with $1.5 trillion allocated to President Trump’s infrastructure plan.

There is much talk in the US of how President Trump’s infrastructure plan is utopian.  Unlike President Trump’s plan President Putin’s plan is already being carried out, and already has results to show.  Yet in a much smaller economy it is two thirds the size of President Trump’s supposedly utopian plan.

Will it all happen?

These are very ambitious plans, and there is no guarantee of their fulfilment.  Much could go wrong.

However a starting point is President Putin’s record.  In the 18 years he has been Russia’s leader Russia has transformed.  To assume that it cannot continue to make progress is – depending on one’s perspective – unduly pessimistic or unduly complacent.

As President Putin pointed out in his speech, Russia now possesses the macroeconomic stability and the resources to make change happen.  Provided political stability is maintained, there is no reason why it should not.

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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

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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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