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Russia and Belarus kick off impressive ‘Zapad 2017’ military drills

The Zapad 2017 international strategic military exercises take place from September 14-20 in Belarus and three regions in the western part of Russia.

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Originally appeared on RT

The joint Russia-Belarus Zapad 2017 military exercises have kicked off amid ongoing hysteria from western officials and media over their nature, numbers and purpose. RT sums up several facts you need to know to draw your own conclusions.

The Zapad 2017 international strategic military exercises take place from September 14-20 in Belarus and three regions in the western part of Russia. The drills are held by Russia and Belarus every few years (the most recent drills were held in 2009 and 2013), with their timing announced months ahead. However, this year the maneuvers have become the subject of media hype and huge scrutiny by NATO amid further Russia scaremongering.

Moscow believes that “the wave of whipping up passions” around the drill is a provocation, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

READ MORE: Biggest war games kick off in Sweden to practice deterrent skills against Russia (VIDEOS)

“Everything is carried out in strict accordance with international law and relevant regulations,”

he said Thursday, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin may also attend the exercises.

The number of troops & equipment

The exercises involve up to 12,700 troops, a majority of which – 7,200 – are from Belarus, and the other 5,500 from Russia, according to official data from Russia’s Defense Ministry. Some 70 aircraft and 680 land vehicles, including 250 tanks, are also participating in the maneuvers.

Despite Moscow and Minsk repeatedly announcing the official numbers of personnel involved, some politicians have speculated over the figures, exaggerating them a dozen times over. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen claimed that the upcoming drills would involve over 100,000 troops on the eastern periphery of NATO, showing a “demonstration of capabilities and power of the Russians.” The Russian military were “astonished” by those“baseless figures,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement last Saturday.

In early September, Aleksandr Turchinov, the Secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, came up with even more impressive estimates, saying that Zapad will involve around 240,000 troops as well as 10,000 pieces of military equipment and 100 aircraft, what contradicts any official data.

Drills are purely defensive

The Zapad 2017 drills have been designed to test the operational compatibility of the Russian and Belarusian military forces and to practice anti-terrorist operations. According to the drills scenario, extremist groups supported with arms and supplies from outside have penetrated to Belarus and Russia’s Kaliningrad Region to carry out terrorist attacks.

Moscow has repeatedly stressed that the maneuvers are purely defensive in nature and said that the imaginary aggressor does not refer to any particular nation state.

However, many have turned a deaf ear to Russia’s statements. In the run-up to the exercises, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite branded them “aggressive games directed against the West.” In July, Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges, commander of US Army forces in Europe, referred to exercises as a Trojan horse,” noting there were suspicions they could be used to move forces and equipment closer to NATO’s eastern flank.

“I would like to emphasize that apart from its anti-terrorist components, the Zapad-2017 exercise is of a purely defensive character,”

Lieutenant-General Aleksandr Fomin stated in August. He also blasted as a “myth” any allegations that they could be used as a basis to invade neighboring countries.

Russia & Belarus invited ‘anyone who wants to attend’

Speculation that the Zapad 2017 exercises are much larger than Russia has announced led to calls for more transparency. Despite the number of troops deployed under the drills not exceeding the threshold for mandatory monitoring stated in the 2011 Vienna document, Belarus has invited international monitors from various foreign countries to observe the active phase of the drills.

“We are not planning to attack anyone. In terms of what the drills will be like – we’ve invited almost anyone who wants to attend. Let them come and watch,”

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko stated in September.

In July, Belarusian Defense Minister Andrey Ravkov, also stressedthat international organizations, including the UN, NATO, and the OSCE, as well as more than 80 foreign observers, are invited to the drills since there is “nothing to conceal.”

While the world’s attention and criticism is focused on Zapad 2017, NATO and its allies have increased their military activity on Russia’s borders. For example, Sweden is holding its largest war games in over two decades, which coincide with the Russia-Belarus drills. Apart from exceeding the number of troops participating in Zapad 2017 by several thousand, the maneuvers are aimed to prepare for a possible Russian attack.

Moreover, around 40,000 NATO troops and allied forces have taken part in various military drills in Europe this summer, according to Air Force Brigadier General John Healy, who directs the drills of US forces in Europe. Eighteen NATO exercises, including Noble Partner in Georgia, occurred in the Black Sea Region alone, close to the Russian border, in summer 2017.

READ MORE: US plans ‘global’ drills to counter Russia & other ‘complex threats’ – top US military official

At the same time Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria joined separate US-led Saber Guardian 2017, which took place this summer. Around 25,000 service members from 22 allied and partner nations were involved in the drills, making them the largest of the 18 Black Sea region exercises this year.

Earlier, Ukraine hosted the US-led Sea Breeze 17 naval drills, involving around 2,500 troops and more than 30 ships from 17 participating countries.

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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

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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.

RT

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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.

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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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