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Russia Arrests its only Liberal Regional Governor

Nikita Belykh – prominent Russian liberal politician and governor of Kirov Region – arrested after being caught receiving 400,000 euros in alleged bribe money.

Alexander Mercouris

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The arrest of Nikita Belykh, the governor of Russia’s Kirov Region, after he was caught in a sting accepting an alleged 400,000 euro bribe, is not perhaps the sort of event that attracts world attention.  After all the fact there is corruption in Russia is hardly news. 

Belykh is not however a run-of-the-mill governor.  Unlike all of Russia’s other governors his background is firmly in Russian liberal politics and he has in the past enjoyed close links with what is sometimes called Russia’s “non-system” opposition.  This consists of the individuals and groups who agitate outside Russia’s parliamentary system and who – almost to a man and woman – consider Putin an evil dictator who they want overthrown.

In fairness to Belykh he has been marginally more effective electorally than most of the other members of the liberal “non-system” opposition.  For a time in the mid-2000s he was the leader of the ultra-liberal Union of Rightist Forces where he became close to Boris Nemtsov.  A coalition he formed in 2005 with Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko party (Russia’s oldest and biggest liberal party) won 11% of the vote in the Moscow city elections of 2005, gaining a presence in the Moscow City Duma.  In 2006 his party did even better in local elections in Belykh’s home region of Perm where it won 16% of the vote.  However under Belykh’s leadership the Union of Rightist Forces – like all other Russian “non-system” liberal parties and groups – never made a significant impact on national politics.

Belykh became governor of Russia’s Kirov Region in December 2008, when he was unexpectedly appointed to the post by Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev who was at the time trying to reach out to Russia’s liberal and “non-system” opposition.  Belykh was roundly denounced for accepting the post by some of his former liberal comrades – including Boris Nemtsov – but he has remained in that post ever since, even winning re-election in regional elections where he stood as the incumbent.

Belykh did however become involved in a national controversy in 2013 when one of his assistants – the liberal “non-system” politician Alexey Navalny – was prosecuted on corruption charges.  I undertook a detailed study of the case and concluded that Navalny would undoubtedly have been found guilty on a similar charge on the same facts had the case happened in England, a view I still hold though the European Court of Human Rights in what struck me as a perfunctory and obviously politicised judgment has recently said otherwise (in passing I note that the Russian authorities have as yet taken no step to reverse their verdict against Navalny, which remains in effect).

As part of that study I took a detailed look at Belykh’s conduct as governor and commented on

“…….the chaotic state of the administration of the Kirov Region on Belykh’s watch with Votnikov in prison, Arzamatsev on the run and Opalev with a four year suspended sentence to add to the case against Navalny and Ofitserov…..”

I also said that much of the blame for the complex of facts that led to the case against Navalny ultimately had to be laid at Belykh’s door

“If Navalny behaved like a loose cannon and if subsequent events bear a passing resemblance to a tale from Gogol much of the blame rests with Belykh for his failure to supervise Navalny and his other subordinates properly.”

In passing, a report on RT’s website suggests that there might be some connection between the Navalny case and the case that is now being brought against Belykh

“According to investigators, Belykh was getting the money for his actions in favor of the bribe-giver, who controlled two companies – the Novovyatsky Ski Plant and Forestry Managing Company.  The latter entity is associated with Russian opposition figure Aleksey Navalny. Among its co-founding companies in 2010 was the Kirovles (Kirov Forest), which was later involved in the criminal case against Navalny.”

The events involving KirovLes in which Navalny was involved took place in 2009.  It is difficult to see what connection Navalny could have to a company – the Forestry Managing Company – which was set up by KirovLes after he had already left the Kirov Region.  Russia’s Investigative Committee, which is bringing the case against Belykh, says Navalny is not involved and given that relations between Belykh and Navalny have cooled it seems unlikely that he is.

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The case against Belykh has not been proved and until it is he is entitled to the presumption of innocence.  The evidence against him does however appear strong.  The Investigative Committee claim to have caught him in the act, accepting the money in cash in a Moscow bar.  Apparently the bank notes had been smeared with a special paint traces of which were found on Belykh’s hands. Belykh however denies the charge.  Apparently he admits handling and receiving the money but claims it was not intended for him but was an investment for the Kirov Region.  Suffice to say that if that is true, then the fact Belykh was happy to receive such a large sum of money on behalf of the Kirov Region in person in cash in a Moscow bar is a sign of just how incompetent and chaotic his administration of the Kirov Region is. 

Inevitably there are already claims that the arrest and prosecution of Russia’s only liberal governor is politically motivated – supposedly as a tightening up exercise in light of the forthcoming parliamentary elections.  The Russian authorities of course deny this, and the reasons for supposing a political motive are not obvious.  Belykh is hardly a popular figure and as governor of the remote and underpopulated Kirov Region he is hardly a threat to the authorities in Moscow.  If he was they would have presumably dismissed him before now.  As it happens Belykh is the third Russian regional governor to be arrested on corruption charges this year, which suggests that he has simply fallen foul of an ongoing anti-corruption campaign.

The real mystery about Belykh is how he was able to remain governor of the Kirov Region for so long.  The mere fact that he is a liberal guaranteed him glowing reports in the Western media, such as this one from Newsweek.  However the chaotic and corrupt nature of his administration became all too apparent in the Navalny case.  Significantly, of the two activist friends named by Newsweek whom Belykh brought with him to the Kirov Region, one – Arzamatsev – was as of the time of Navalny’s trial on the run from the police, and the other – Maria Gaidar – after a turbulent career in the Kirov Region, has joined Mikhail Saakashvili’s team of advisers in Odessa and applied for and obtained Ukrainian citizenship.

Belykh’s political longevity notwithstanding the scandals of his administration and his all-too obvious administrative incompetence is an indication of how Russian liberals – far from being the persecuted minority they claim to be – in reality enjoy extraordinary privileges in a country where they are widely disliked.  His arrest however suggests that his incompetence and/or corruption have finally caught up with him.

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Nigel Farage lashes out at Angela Merkel, as Chancellor attends EU Parliament debate (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 17.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at Nigel Farage’s blistering speech, aimed squarely at Angela Merkel, calling out the German Chancellor’s disastrous migrant policy, wish to build an EU army, and Brussels’ Cold War rhetoric with Russia to the East and now the United States to the West.

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

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

Dmitry Babich

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Authored by Dmitry Babich via Strategic Culture:


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

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

Why Poroshenko’s meeting with Bartholomew is ominous

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

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

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

The Russian President sympathizes with the believers’ pain

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

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

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

Politics with a “mystical dimension”

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

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

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

Constantinople’s first dangerous moves

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

How Moscow “excommunicated” Bartholomew

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

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

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

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

Poroshenko’s premature jubilation

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

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

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

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

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Trump DEMOLISHES Macron; Tweets ‘Make France Great Again’ (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 16.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at US President Trump’s tweetstorm aimed at French President Macron, who just days ago used the WW1 ceremony in Paris to ridicule and talk down to the US President in front of world leaders.

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Via Zerohedge

Macron’s office has refused to comment on Trump’s claims.

OFFICE OF FRENCH PRESIDENT MACRON SAYS IT REFUSES TO MAKE ANY COMMENT REGARDING TRUMP’S TWEETS CRITICISING FRANCE AND MACRON

* * *

Without directly referencing the rumors, Trump has branded reports that he refused to appear at a cemetery for American soldiers because he didn’t want to get his hair wet as “fake news.” In the tweet, Trump insisted that he wanted the Secret Service to drive him to the speech instead of taking a helicopter, but they refused because of security concerns. He added that he gave a speech at the cemetery the next day in the pouring rain – something that was “little reported”.

Trump’s rampage against Macron continues. The president slammed his French counterpart for his low approval rating, as well as France’s high unemployment. Furthermore, in response to Macron’s “nationalist” snub, Trump pointed out that “there is no more nationalist country” than France..

…before adding a spin on his classic slogan.

Trump’s rage against Macron continues, but this time, the topic is slightly more serious. What could be more serious than questioning the foundation of Post-WWII military alliances, you might ask? The answer is simple – trade!

Trump conceded that while France makes “very good wine” (an interesting claim from Trump, who doesn’t drink), the country “makes it hard for the US to sell its wine into France, and charges very big tariffs”. Meanwhile “The US makes it easy for French wines and charges small tariffs.”

“Not Fair, must change!”

We now await Trump’s order of an investigation into the national security implications of imported French wine.

* * *

President Trump isn’t ready to forgive the “French diss” served up over the weekend by President Emmanuel Macron.

During a ceremony honoring the 100th anniversary of World War I at the Arc de Triomphe on Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron insulted Trump to his face by launching into a screed about the dangers of toxic “nationalism” and subtly accusing the US of abandoning its “moral values”.

This did not sit well with the US president, who was already facing criticism over his decision to show up late to a ceremony honoring the war dead (the administration blamed it on security concerns though it’s widely suspected that Trump didn’t want to get his hair wet), and Trump has let his displeasure be known in a series of tweets ridiculing Macron’s suggestion that Europe build its own army, saying that France and other European members of NATO would be better served by paying their fair share for NATO while daring them to leave and pay for their own protection.

And in his most abrasive tweet yet mocking the increasingly unpopular Macron’s imperial ambitions (no, really), Trump pointed out that, historically speaking, Europe has been its own worst enemy, and that while Macron wants to defend the Continent from the US, China and Russia, “it was Germany in WWI & WWII,” adding that “they were starting to learn German in Paris before the US came along. Pay for NATO or not!”

Of course, Macron isn’t the only French official calling for the creation of a “European army”. The country’s finance minister advocated for the creation of a Continental army during an interview with Germany’s Handelsblatt – a comment that was derided by the paper’s editors, who pointed out that Germans “weren’t very supportive” of the idea. One wonders why…

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