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Russia adapting to new role as Middle East power broker

With the US having destroyed its regional leadership position through decisions on Syria and Jerusalem, Russia is filling the vacuum as mediator




(Al-Monitor) – US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel naturally stirred the Middle East, but it also inflamed public opinion in a number of Western countries. Russia has not been left untouched, either. The announcement prompted a strong backlash from the Russian Muslim community, and major media hype around Trump’s rationale over the Jerusalem move was unleashed. The two most burning issues for Moscow were possible implications of the US decision for Russia and whether it could entail a change in the role Moscow has been playing in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict settlement.

At the expert level in Russia, there is some consensus that the Trump decision will provide Moscow with additional opportunities to strengthen its influence on this process, where it already has good working relations with all parties to the conflict. Yet opinions differ between experts and policymakers on whether Moscow needs to step up its peacemaking efforts now. Some believe Russia should take advantage of what they see as favorable political conditions and try to revive the settlement process — this time managed by Moscow. Others consider it necessary to keep monitoring the latest developments on Jerusalem, but be modest in actions given that the parties’ own readiness to negotiate is at best minimal.

On Dec. 18, the UN Security Council voted on an Egyptian-drafted resolution opposing unilateral change in the status of Jerusalem. Fourteen Security Council members voted in favor of the resolution, with the United States expectedly vetoing the document. Displeased with this move, Security Council members convened a General Assembly emergency session Dec. 21. The voting results came as no surprise, as 128 states supported the resolution denouncing Trump’s decision.

When mulling over prospects for Russia’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli settlement, it is important to scrutinize two aspects: Moscow’s present position and the options it may consider.

When it comes to the first aspect, the country’s leadership today feels confident about its position in the Middle East and is ready to play a more proactive role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indicative of this confidence is the idea of Moscow-led — but direct — bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which have been discussed for quite some time, albeit with little tangible progress.

In May, Al-Monitor looked into the official Russian position on the status of Jerusalem, stated April 6 by the Foreign Ministry. The position has not changed: Russia is ready to consider recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Arab state and West Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel. Principal in this position is that for the first time at the official level Russia has started to talk about the possibility of recognizing at least part of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. This position looks much more balanced and pragmatic than that of the current US administration. It reflects Russia’s policy in the Middle East as a whole, one of forming relations with regional states that enable Russia to play an “honest broker” in settling the conflicts tearing up the Middle East.

The second aspect, however — considering new options — looks more complicated. It is unlikely that Russia will be stepping up its diplomatic efforts on the conflict through an old option — the Quartet on the Middle East, a negotiation format for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict bringing together Russia, the United States, the European Union and the UN. There is a sense that this form of mediation is not effective at this point, possibly because of the parties’ own direct efforts.

Three newer options, however, show varying prospects for success:

  • The first option would be to attempt to force the Israelis and Palestinians to sit down at the negotiating table under the auspices of Moscow, pointing to Washington’s now-obvious inconsistency as an intermediary in this delicate matter. This approach may look interesting, since merely beginning such talks would clearly demonstrate Russia’s influence in the Middle East. Deeper examination of the option, however, reveals some shortcomings. The failure to resolve Israeli-Palestinian tensions can’t really be blamed on this or previous US administrations, as it is questionable whether the two sides are or have been willing and able to settle the conflict. Even if Moscow can organize the bilateral Palestinian-Israeli talks formally, the odds are slim that negotiations would produce an acceptable — or even intermediate — success. The current political environment also is not sufficiently pressuring the parties to sit down at the negotiating table. In recent weeks, the Palestinians dispatched high-ranking delegations to Moscow and Beijing. The visits are expected to continue, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expected to visit Russia soon.
  • The second option could employ a “Syria First” strategy. If Russia successfully navigates a process of political normalization in this Arab state, the experience gained there would allow Moscow to be more effective in mediating the Palestinian-Israeli settlement, and the emergence of a new political reality in the region might create new prerequisites to settle this protracted conflict. The problem with this option is, despite Russia’s obvious military successes in this area, it is hard to envisage how successful Syria’s own political transformation will be, given the great number of stakeholders — inside and outside the region — and all the complexities of their relationships with one another.
  • As for the third option, Trump’s decision on Jerusalem has brought the issue front and center internationally, but Moscow, on the contrary, could set up a low-profile trilateral group of experts to brainstorm proposals to solve the Jerusalem issue. The group might include experts on the region representing Israel, Palestine and Russia. The group should come up with several approaches to a solution that would embrace the interests of both parties in the conflict. Since the group would consist solely of experts, it should not feel politically constrained from being as creative as possible. In this case, there is a chance that some fresh approach could develop. If this were to happen, the proposal could be brought to the political level. If not, political risks would be minimal, and the group’s work would remain a useful experience because of the experts’ cooperation.

Whatever scenario Moscow eventually chooses, Russia is likely to remain steadfast in developing good relations with both parties and will continue to pursue a prudent policy so it can play a significant, if not central, role in the settlement. But it should also be mindful that as more time passes, there is less hope that such a settlement can be reached at all.

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Constantinople: Ukrainian Church leader is now uncanonical

October 12 letter proclaims Metropolitan Onuphry as uncanonical and tries to strong-arm him into acquiescing through bribery and force.

Seraphim Hanisch



The pressure in Ukraine kept ratcheting up over the last few days, with a big revelation today that Patriarch Bartholomew now considers Metropolitan Onuphy “uncanonical.” This news was published on 6 December by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (running under the Moscow Patriarchate).

This assessment marks a complete 180-degree turn by the leader of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople, and it further embitters the split that has developed to quite a major row between this church’s leadership and the Moscow Patriarchate.

OrthoChristian reported this today (we have added emphasis):

A letter of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine was published yesterday by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in which the Patriarch informed the Metropolitan that his title and position is, in fact, uncanonical.

This assertion represents a negation of the position held by Pat. Bartholomew himself until April of this year, when the latest stage in the Ukrainian crisis began…

The same letter was independently published by the Greek news agency Romfea today as well.

It is dated October 12, meaning it was written just one day after Constantinople made its historic decision to rehabilitate the Ukrainian schismatics and rescind the 1686 document whereby the Kiev Metropolitanate was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, thereby, in Constantinople’s view, taking full control of Ukraine.

In the letter, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that after the council, currently scheduled for December 15, he will no longer be able to carry his current title of “Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine.”

The Patriarch immediately opens his letter with Constantinople’s newly-developed historical claim about the jurisdictional alignment of Kiev: “You know from history and from indisputable archival documents that the holy Metropolitanate of Kiev has always belonged to the jurisdiction of the Mother Church of Constantinople…”

Constantinople has done an about-face on its position regarding Ukraine in recent months, given that it had previously always recognized the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate as the sole canonical primate in Ukraine.

…The bulk of the Patriarch’s letter is a rehash of Constantinople’s historical and canonical arguments, which have already been laid out and discussed elsewhere. (See also here and here). Pat. Bartholomew also writes that Constantinople stepped into the Ukrainian ecclesiastical sphere as the Russian Church had not managed to overcome the schisms that have persisted for 30 years.

It should be noted that the schisms began and have persisted precisely as anti-Russian movements and thus the relevant groups refused to accept union with the Russian Church.

Continuing, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that his position and title are uncanonical:

Addressing you as ‘Your Eminence the Metropolitan of Kiev’ as a form of economia [indulgence/condescension—OC] and mercy, we inform you that after the elections for the primate of the Ukrainian Church by a body that will consist of clergy and laity, you will not be able ecclesiologically and canonically to bear the title of Metropolitan of Kiev, which, in any case, you now bear in violation of the described conditions of the official documents of 1686.

He also entreats Met. Onuphry to “promptly and in a spirit of harmony and unity” participate, with the other hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in the founding council of the new Ukrainian church that Constantinople is planning to create, and in the election of its primate.

The Constantinople head also writes that he “allows” Met. Onuphry to be a candidate for the position of primate.

He further implores Met. Onuphry and the UOC hierarchy to communicate with Philaret Denisenko, the former Metropolitan of Kiev, and Makary Maletich, the heads of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” and the schismatic “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” respectively—both of which have been subsumed into Constantinople—but whose canonical condemnations remain in force for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The hierarchs of the Serbian and Polish Churches have also officially rejected the rehabilitation of the Ukrainian schismatics.

Pat. Bartholomew concludes expressing his confidence that Met. Onuphry will decide to heal the schism through the creation of a new church in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Metropolitan Onuphry’s leadership is recognized as the sole canonical Orthodox jurisdiction in Ukraine by just about every other canonical Orthodox Jurisdiction besides Constantinople. Even NATO member Albania, whose expressed reaction was “both sides are wrong for recent actions” still does not accept the canonicity of the “restored hierarchs.”

In fact, about the only people in this dispute that seem to be in support of the “restored” hierarchs, Filaret and Makary, are President Poroshenko, Patriarch Bartholomew, Filaret and Makary… and NATO.

While this letter was released to the public eye yesterday, the nearly two months that Metropolitan Onuphry has had to comply with it have not been helped in any way by the actions of both the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Ukrainian government.

Priests of the Canonical Church in Ukraine awaiting interrogation by the State authorities

For example, in parallel reports released on December 6th, the government is reportedly accusing canonical priests in Ukraine of treason because they are carrying and distributing a brochure entitled (in English): The Ukrainian Orthodox Church: Relations with the State. The Attitude Towards the Conflict in Donbass and to the Church Schism. Questions and Answers.

In a manner that would do any American liberal proud, these priests are being accused of inciting religious hatred, though really all they are doing is offering an explanation for the situation in Ukraine as it exists.

A further piece also released yesterday notes that the Ukrainian government rehabilitated an old Soviet-style technique of performing “inspections of church artifacts” at the Pochaev Lavra. This move appears to be both intended to intimidate the monastics who are living there now, who are members of the canonical Church, as well as preparation for an expected forcible takeover by the new “united Church” that is under creation. The brotherhood characterized the inspections in this way:

The brotherhood of the Pochaev Lavra previously characterized the state’s actions as communist methods of putting pressure on the monastery and aimed at destroying monasticism.

Commenting on the situation with the Pochaev Lavra, His Eminence Archbishop Clement of Nizhyn and Prilusk, the head of the Ukrainian Church’s Information-Education Department, noted:

This is a formal raiding, because no reserve ever built the Pochaev Lavra, and no Ministry of Culture ever invested a single penny to restoring the Lavra, and the state has done nothing to preserve the Lavra in its modern form. The state destroyed the Lavra, turned it into a psychiatric hospital, a hospital for infectious diseases, and so on—the state has done nothing more. And now it just declares that it all belongs to the state. No one asked the Church, the people that built it. When did the Lavra and the land become state property? They belonged to the Church from time immemorial.

With the massive pressure both geopolitically and ecclesiastically building in Ukraine almost by the day, it is anyone’s guess what will happen next.

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Ukrainian leadership is a party of war, and it will continue as long as they’re in power – Putin

“We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.





Via RT…

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has branded the Ukrainian leadership a “party of war” which would continue fueling conflicts while they stay in power, giving the recent Kerch Strait incident as an example.

“When I look at this latest incident in the Black Sea, all what’s happening in Donbass – everything indicates that the current Ukrainian leadership is not interested in resolving this situation at all, especially in a peaceful way,” Putin told reporters during a media conference in the aftermath of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

This is a party of war and as long as they stay in power, all such tragedies, all this war will go on.

The Kiev authorities are craving war primarily for two reasons – to rip profits from it, and to blame all their own domestic failures on it and actions of some sort of “aggressors.”

“As they say, for one it’s war, for other – it’s mother. That’s reason number one why the Ukrainian government is not interested in a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Putin stated.

Second, you can always use war to justify your failures in economy, social policy. You can always blame things on an aggressor.

This approach to statecraft by the Ukrainian authorities deeply concerns Russia’s President. “We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been soaring after the incident in the Kerch Strait. Last weekend three Ukrainian Navy ships tried to break through the strait without seeking the proper permission from Russia. Following a tense stand-off and altercation with Russia’s border guard, the vessels were seized and their crews detained over their violation of the country’s border.

While Kiev branded the incident an act of “aggression” on Moscow’s part, Russia believes the whole Kerch affair to be a deliberate “provocation” which allowed Kiev to declare a so-called “partial” martial law ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election.

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When Putin Met Bin Sally

Another G20 handshake for the history books.



Via Zerohedge

In the annals of handshake photo-ops, we just may have a new winner (much to the delight of oil bulls who are looking at oil treading $50 and contemplating jumping out of the window).

Nothing but sheer joy, delight and friendship…

…but something is missing…

Meanwhile, earlier…

Zoomed in…

And again.

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