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Russia expert Stephen Cohen explains why Vladimir Putin is not the new Stalin (PODCAST)

Prof. Cohen gives an account of his visit to Russia to attend Vladimir Putin’s dedication of a new memorial to victims of political repression

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(TheNation) – A memorial monument to Stalin’s millions of victims—the subject of intense political struggle for more than 50 years—was commemorated in Moscow by Vladimir Putin, whose support at last made it a reality.

Nation contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fourth year, are at TheNation.com.)

In November 1961, at the end of a Community Party Congress that publicly condemned Stalin’s crimes, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev unexpectedly called for the building of a national memorial to the tens of millions of victims of Stalin’s nearly 25-year reign, much of it accompanied by mass terror. During the next five decades, a fierce political struggle raged between anti-Stalinists and pro-Stalinists, sometimes publicly but often behind the scenes, over whether the victims should be memorialized or deleted from history through repression and censorship. On October 30 of this year, Russia’s anti-Stalinists finally won this struggle when Putin officially and personally inaugurated, in the center of Moscow, a large memorial sculpture named “Wall of Sorrow” depicting the victims’ fate. Though nominally dedicated to all victims of Soviet repression, the monument was clearly—in word, deed, and design—focused on the Stalin years, from 1929 to his death in 1953.

Cohen explains that he has spent decades studying the Stalin era, during which he came to know personally many surviving victims of the mass terror and had closely observed various aspects of the struggle over their subsequent place in Soviet politics and history. (This history and Cohen’s is recounted in his book The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag After Stalin.) As a result, he and his wife, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, felt a compelling need to be present at the ceremony on October 30. Having gained access to the semi-closed event, attended perhaps by some 300 people (including officials, representatives of anti-Stalinist memorial organizations, aged survivors, relatives of victims, and the mostly Russian press), they flew to Moscow for the occasion.

Cohen gave Batchelor his firsthand account of the event, at which Putin, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, and a representative of a memorial organization, Vladimir Lukin (whom Cohen had known since 1976, when Lukin was a semi-dissident outcast in Moscow, and later a post-Soviet Russian ambassador to Washington), spoke. The formal ceremony began just after 5 pm and lasted, after a choir’s hymns, about 45 minutes. At first, Cohen felt it was marred by the dark, cold, rainy weather, until he heard someone in the gathering remark quietly, “The heavens are weeping for the victims.” In the context of other anti-Stalinist speeches by Soviet and post-Soviet leaders over the years, Cohen thought Putin’s remarks were heartfelt, moving, even profound. (They can be found in English at Kremlin.ru.) Without mentioning their names, Putin alluded to the crucial roles played in the anti-Stalinist struggle by Khrushchev and by Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet leader during the years of reform from 1985 to 1991. (Cohen and vanden Heuvel spent the evening before the ceremony at a private dinner with Gorbachev and one of his closest friends, often recalling Gorbachev’s pathbreaking de-Stalinizing reformation, known as perestroika, much of which they had also observed firsthand.) One of Putin’s remarks at the ceremony struck Cohen as especially important. After allowing that most events in Russian history were the subject of legitimate debate, Stalin’s long mass terror, Putin suggested, was not. Other controversial episodes may have their historical pluses and minuses, but Stalin’s terror and its consequences were too criminal and ramifying for any pluses. That, he emphasized, was the essential lesson for Russia’s present and future.

Based on reading the Russian press and watching Moscow television for three days, Cohen concluded there were three general reactions to the memorial monument and Putin’s role, at least among Moscow’s political and intellectual elites. One was full approval. Another, expressed in a protest by a number of Soviet-era dissidents, most of them now living abroad, and reported in Russian media, was that such a memorial to historical victims was “cynical” while there were still victims of repression in today’s Russia. The third view, expressed by ultra-nationalist writers, was that any condemnation of Stalin’s “repression,” especially officially and by President Putin personally, was deplorable because it weakened the nation’s will to “repress” US and NATO encroachment on Russia’s borders and its “fifth column” representatives inside the Russian political establishment today. If nothing else, Cohen points out, these reactions testify to the spectrum of public political opinion in Russia under Putin.

Understood in historical and political context, the official creation of the memorial monument was a historic development—not only a much belated tribute to Stalin’s victims and their millions of surviving relatives but official acknowledgment of the (Soviet) Russian state’s prolonged act of massive historical criminality. And yet American media coverage of the October 30 event was woefully characteristic of its general reporting on Russia today—either selectively silent or slanted to diminish the significance of the event, whether because of ignorance or the evidently mandatory need to vilify everything Putin does or says. The title of the New York Times report (October 30) was representative: “Critics Scoff as Kremlin Erects Monument to the Repressed.” (The article also contained an astonishing allegation: The Kremlin “has never opened the archives from the [Stalin] period.” As every historian of the Soviet period, and all informed journalists based in Moscow, knows, those archives have opened ever wider since the 1990s. This is certainly true of the Soviet Communist Party archive, which includes Stalin’s personal documents, where Cohen works during his regular visits to Moscow.)

Considering this systematic American mainstream media malpractice in covering Russia (and Putin) today, Cohen comments on a number of related themes, which he and Batchelor discuss:

§ The US media demonization of Putin regularly presents him as a kind of crypto-Stalin who has promoted the rehabilitation of the despot’s reputation in Russia. This is factually untrue. Putin’s rare, barely semi-positive public references to Stalin mostly relate to the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, from which, however great Stalin’s crimes, he cannot truthfully be separated. For better or worse, Stalin was the wartime Soviet leader. Nor was October 30 the first time Putin had appeared at a public memorialization of Stalin’s victims—he had done so previously, then and now the only Soviet or post-Soviet leader ever to do so. Above all, as Cohen knows from his own study and sources, Putin personally made possible, against formidable high-level opposition, the creation not only of the new memorial monument but, several years earlier, the construction of a large State Museum of the History of the Gulag, also in Moscow. It is true that Stalin’s historical reputation in Russia today is on the rise. But this is due to circumstances that Putin does not control, certainly not fully. Pro-Stalin forces in the Russian political-media-historical establishment have used their considerable resources to recast the murderous despot in the image of a stern but benign leader who protected “the people” against foreign enemies, traitors, venal politicians, and corrupt bureaucrats. In addition, when Russia is confronted with Cold War threats from abroad, as it perceives to be today, Stalin reemerges as the leader who drove the Nazi war machine from Russia all the way back to Berlin and destroyed it along the way. Not surprisingly, in a recent poll of positive popular attitudes toward admired historical figures, Stalin topped the list. Briefly stated, Stalin’s reputation has fallen and risen due to larger social and international circumstances. Thus, during the very hard economic times of the Yeltsin 1990s, Stalin’s reputation, after plunging under Gorbachev, began to rise again.

§ It is often reported that Putin’s relative silence about controversial subjects in modern Russian history is a form of sinister cover-up or censorship. This misinterpretation fails to understand two important factors. Like any state and its leadership, Russia needs a usable, substantially consensual history for stability and progress. Achieving elite or popular consensus about the profound traumas of the Czarist, Soviet, and post-Soviet pasts is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible. Putin’s approach, with rare exceptions, has been twofold. First, he has said little judgmental about controversial periods and events while encouraging historians, political intellectuals, and others to argue publicly over their disagreements, though “civilly.” Second, and related, he has avoided resorting to the Soviet practice of imposed state historical orthodoxy, which required heavy-handed censorship and other forms of suppression. Hence his refusal to stage state events during this 100th anniversary year of the 1917 Revolution—not, as is widely reported, because he “fears a new revolution”—leaving such public celebrations to the large Russian Communist Party, for which 1917 remains sacred. Surely Putin deserves credit for avoiding state-imposed historical orthodoxies, the only important exception being those around  the Soviet victory in the Second World War, during which 27.5 million Soviet citizens perished, and even in this regard there are considerable controversies in the Russian media.

§ It is also regularly asserted in the American media that Russia has never grappled publicly with, “confronted,” its dark Stalinist past. This too is factually untrue. From 1956 to his overthrow in 1964, Khrushchev permitted waves of revelations and judgments about the crimes of the Stalin era. They were mostly stopped under his immediate successors, but under Gorbachev’s glasnost there was, as was commonly said at the time, a kind of “Nuremberg Trial of the Stalin Era” in virtually all forms of Soviet media. It has continued ever since, though to a lesser degree, with less intensity, and facing greater pro-Stalin opposition. Indeed, Americans might consider this: In Moscow, there are two state-sponsored national memorials to Stalin’s millions of victims—the Gulag Museum and the new monument. In Washington, there are none specifically dedicated to the millions of victims of American slavery.

Nonetheless, Cohen concludes, the new memorial to Stalin’s victims, however historic, will not end the bitter controversy and political struggle over his reputation in Russia, which began with his death 64 years ago. It will continue, not primarily because of one or another Kremlin leader but because millions of relatives of the Stalinist terror’s victims and victimizers still confront each other in Russia and will for perhaps at least another generation. Because the Stalin era was marked both by a mountain of crimes and a mountain of national achievements, which even the best-informed and best-intended historians still struggle to reconcile or balance. And because the nearly 30-year Stalinist experience still influences Russia in ways arguably no less than does a Kremlin leader, even Vladimir Putin, however good his intentions.

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‘Iron’ Mike Pence Stares-Down Putin In APEC Showdown

Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton were seen shaking hands and chatting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Singapore.

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Via Zerohedge


Forget the All-Blacks ‘Haka’, ignore Foreman-Frasier, Drago-Balboa, and Ortiz-Liddell, the honor of the greatest (or perhaps most awkward) staredown in history now goes to US Vice President Mike Pence…

Having been blamed for everything from Trump’s election victory to USA soccer team’s loss to England last week, Russia faced accusations all weekend and was reportedly confronted by the US contingent over “meddling.”

As The Sun reports, Pence and Putin “discussed the upcoming G20 Summit and touched on the issues that will be discussed when President Trump and President Putin are both in Argentina for the summit,” according to the vice president’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah.

An NBC reporter tweeted: “New per the @VP’s Office—> The VP’s office says Vice President Pence directly addressed Russian meddling in the 2016 election in a conversation with Vladimir Putin on Thursday in Singapore.

“The conversation took place following the plenary session this afternoon at ASEAN.”

But, it was the following clash of the titans that caught most people’s attention.

As the Russian president joined the that Pence shook Putin’s ‘deadly’ hand, met his ‘steely KGB-trained’ gaze, and desperately tried not to smile or blink for 20 seconds as Putin appeared to chat amicably with the US VP…

While Putin has (if his accusers are to be believed) grappled his opponents to death with his bare hands (remember he is a sinister KGB agent and jiu-jitsu expert); we suspect the only thing VP Pence has gripped tightly in his hands is his bible.

Sadly, John Bolton then blew the tough guy act (or is he Mike Pence’s ‘good cop’) as he does his best impression of a teenage girl meeting their popstar idol for the first time…

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Orthodox Churches begin to respond forcefully to Ukrainian situation

Two jurisdictions, including one with a difficult history with Russia, move to condemn uncanonical acts in Ukraine.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Two local jurisdictions within the Eastern Orthodox Church announced their refusal to accept the legitimization of two schismatic groups in Ukraine, a move authorized by the Ecumenical Patriarch, but spurred by powers in the United States and Petro Poroshenko’s secularist-oriented Ukraine.

On October 11th, 2018, the Ecumentical Patriarch, Bartholomew I of Constantinople, authorized his legates to pronounce two schismatic Orthodox “churches” in Ukraine to be restored to canonical communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and by extension, across the entire Orthodox world.

This move was strongly condemned by the authorities of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has the only canonically accepted church presence in Ukraine, a situation that the Ecumenical Patriarch himself agreed with only a few years ago.

Russia moved to break communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, creating a split in the Orthodox Church, but a split that at first risked Russia standing alone in their statement of disapproval of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s actions.

For a time the reaction of the other “local” Orthodox Churches was cautious, with the vast majority (excepting only the Greek Church in the USA) coming out in support of the canonical group in Ukraine, but without taking similar action to Moscow.

That appears to be changing.

On November 12 and 16, respectively, the Churches of Serbia and Poland issued strong statements. They both categorically refused to recognize the Ukrainian schismatic groups and they forbade their clergy to concelebrate with the “clergy” within these groups. The Serbs’ statement on this was as follows:

“The Assembly does not recognize the mentioned figures and their followers as Orthodox bishops and clergy and, consequently, does not accept liturgical and canonical communion with them and their supporters.”

The Polish Church made a similar announcement, but with even more force:

“The Holy Bishops’ Council forbids the priests of the Polish Orthodox Church from having liturgical and prayerful contact with the ‘clergy’ of the so-called Kiev Patriarchate and the so-called ‘Autocephalous Orthodox Church,’ which have committed much evil in the past,” the statement reads.

According to the Polish hierarchs, persons deprived of episcopal and clerical ordination cannot be leaders in establishing peace in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Only the observance of the dogmatic and canonical norms of the Church and the preservation of the centuries-old tradition will protect Orthodoxy from severe ecclesiastical consequences on an international scale. The Polish Orthodox Church prays fervently for the unity of the holy Orthodox Church and for peace for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” the message further reads.

And while yet officially under the omophorion of Constantinople, several Greek monasteries on Mount Athos, the Orthodox monastic republic that is the spiritual center of all of Eastern Orthodoxy, inserted special petitions in their services to pray for Metropolitan Onufry and the people of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – that is, the canonical group that is a highly autonomous, or independent, Church while yet under the Moscow Patriarchate.

This is an interesting situation because in terms of ecclesial jurisdiction, Mount Athos is actually under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. However, the monasteries there often are known for taking the hardest of hardline stances when even their own Patriarchate takes actions they feel to be wrong:

Thousands of Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Christians go on pilgrimage to Mt. Athos, which is under the jurisdiction of Constantinople, every year. However, the Russian Church, of which the Ukrainian Church is an autonomous, self-governing part, broke communion with Constantinople on October 15, which the Ukrainian Church confirmed yesterday, due to unilateral Constantinople’s interference in ecclesiastical life in Ukraine.

We know that the majority of the abbots of the Athonite monasteries do not agree with the anti-canonical decisions of the Phanar,” Met. Anthony said.

“In several monasteries—Greek ones, by the way—they have included a special petition in the Litany of Peace in the morning and evening services: ‘For His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry with his suffering flock.,’” he explained, adding, “We are very grateful to the Athonites for their brotherly love and prayers.”

This is a story that it still developing, but the recent moves by Poland and Serbia may be outlining the path that other local Orthodox Churches will take.

That move is to deny recognition to the schismatics that Patriarch Bartholomew lifted the anathemas and depositions for. If this step were to be taken by all the local Churches that have expressed support for the canonical Ukrainian Church, the result would be not much different than where the schismatics were on October 10th:

Filaret Denisenko’s group and Makary’s group would indeed have communion with Constantinople, and presumably the Greek Orthodox Church in the USA, but with no one else.

This move would be a severe repudiation of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s repeated declaration that he has the sole authority to grant autocephaly to anyone anywhere in the Orthodox world (or even to take it away), which is a canonical absurdity.

Given the substantial problems that Filaret Denisenko continues to create, such as refusing to be considered only a Metropolitan (this was the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s order), and to still consider himself a patriarch, blessing a blasphemous “icon” that is really just a monument to Ukrainian ultra-nationalism and secularism (note the neo-Nazi wolfsangel and machine guns in the upper right of this photo:

And given the ideations of Patriarch Bartholomew himself, who is also recently reported to be pushing towards creating unity with the Roman Catholic Church, while acting like a pope himself by insisting that all the local Orthodox Churches will accept his decisions, it does not look like this situation is going to go away by itself.

However, by placing the problem of the schismatics squarely in Patriarch Bartholomew’s hands (since he created the problem), the pressure created by other churches refusing to concelebrate with the Ukrainian schismatics may be enough to isolate the Ecumenical Patriarchate itself, rather than fulfilling the highly likely goal that the US, Ukraine and Patriarch Bartholomew may have had initially – to isolate Russia and create a situation where Russia is made to look like the bad guy, once again.

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Whose Money Stoked Religious Strife in Ukraine – and Who Tried to Steal It?

Was $25 million in American tax dollars allocated for a payoff to stir up religious turmoil and violence in Ukraine?

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via Strategic Culture:


Was $25 million in American tax dollars allocated for a payoff to stir up religious turmoil and violence in Ukraine? Did Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (unsuccessfully) attempt to divert most of it into his own pocket?

Last month the worldwide Orthodox Christian communion was plunged into crisis by the decision of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Constantinople to recognize as legitimate schismatic pseudo-bishops anathematized by the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is an autonomous part of the Russian Orthodox Church. In so doing not only has Patriarch Bartholomew besmirched the global witness of Orthodoxy’s two-millennia old Apostolic faith, he has set the stage for religious strife in Ukraine and fratricidal violence – which has already begun.

Starting in July, when few were paying attention, this analyst warned about the impending dispute and how it facilitated the anti-Christian moral agenda of certain marginal “Orthodox” voices like “Orthodoxy in Dialogue,” Fordham University’s “Orthodox Christian Studies Center,” and The Wheel. These “self-professed teachers presume to challenge the moral teachings of the faith” (in the words of Fr. John Parker) and “prowl around, wolves in sheep’s clothing, forming and shaping false ideas about the reality of our life in Christ.” Unsurprisingly such groups have embraced Constantinople’s neopapal self-aggrandizement and support for the Ukrainian schismatics.

No one – and certainly not this analyst – would accuse Patriarch Bartholomew, most Ukrainian politicians, or even the Ukrainian schismatics of sympathizing with advocacy of such anti-Orthodox values. And yet these advocates know they cannot advance their goals if the conciliar and traditional structure of Orthodoxy remains intact. Thus they welcome efforts by Constantinople to centralize power while throwing the Church into discord, especially the Russian Church, which is vilified in some Western circles precisely because it is a global beacon of traditional Christian moral witness.

This aspect points to another reason for Western governments to support Ukrainian autocephaly as a spiritual offensive against Russia and Orthodoxy. The post-Maidan leadership harp on the “European choice” the people of Ukraine supposedly made in 2014, but they soft-pedal the accompanying moral baggage the West demands, symbolized by “gay” marches organized over Christian objections in Orthodox cities like AthensBelgradeBucharestKievOdessaPodgoricaSofia, and Tbilisi. Even under the Trump administration, the US is in lockstep with our European Union friends in pressuring countries liberated from communism to adopt such nihilistic “democratic, European values.”

Perhaps even more important to its initiators, the row over Ukraine aims to break what they see as the “soft power” of the Russian Federation, of which the Orthodox Church is the spiritual heart and soul. As explained by Valeria Z. Nollan, professor emerita of Russian Studies at Rhodes College:

‘The real goal of the quest for autocephaly [i.e., complete self-governing status independent of the Moscow Patriarchate] of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a de facto coup: a political coup already took place in 2014, poisoning the relations between western Ukraine and Russia, and thus another type of coup – a religious one – similarly seeks to undermine the canonical relationship between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Moscow.’

In furthering these twin objectives (morally, the degrading of Orthodox Christianity; politically, undermining the Russian state as Orthodoxy’s powerful traditional protector) it is increasingly clear that the United States government – and specifically the Department of State – has become a hands-on fomenter of conflict. After a short period of appropriately declaring that “any decision on autocephaly is an internal [Orthodox] church matter,” the Department within days reversed its position and issued a formal statement (in the name of Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, but clearly drafted by the European bureau) that skirted a direct call for autocephaly but gave the unmistakable impression of such backing. This is exactly how it was reported in the media, for example, “US backs Ukrainian Church bid for autocephaly.” Finally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo weighed in personally with his own endorsement as did the US Reichskommissar for UkraineKurt Volker.

The Threat…

There soon became reason to believe that the State Department’s involvement was not limited to exhortations. As reported by this analyst in October, according to an unconfirmed report originating with the members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (an autonomous New York-based jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate), in July of this year State Department officials (possibly including Secretary Pompeo personally) warned the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (also based in New York but part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate) that the US government was aware of the misappropriation of a large amount of money, about $10 million, from estimated $37 million raised from believers for the construction of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York. 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.

[Further details on the St. Nicholas scandal are available here, but in summary: Only one place of worship of any faith was destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attack in New York and only one building not part of the World Trade Center complex was completely destroyed. That was St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, a small urban parish church established at the end of World War I and dedicated to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, who is very popular with Greeks as the patron of sailors. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, and following a lengthy legal battle with the Port Authority, which opposed rebuilding the church, in 2011 the Greek Archdiocese launched an extensive campaign to raise funds for a brilliant innovative design by the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava based on traditional Byzantine forms. Wealthy donors and those of modest means alike enthusiastically contributed millions to the effort. Then – poof! In December 2017, suddenly all construction was halted for lack of funds and remains stalled to this day. Resumption would require having an estimated $2 million on hand. Despite the Archdiocese’s calling in a major accounting firm to conduct an audit, there’s been no clear answer to what happened to the money. Both the US Attorney and New York state authorities are investigating.]

This is where things get back to Ukraine. If the State Department wanted to find the right button to push to spur Patriarch Bartholomew to move on the question of autocephaly, the Greek Archdiocese in the US is it. Let’s keep in mind that in his home country, Turkey, Patriarch Bartholomew has virtually no local flock – only a few hundred mostly elderly Greeks left huddled in Istanbul’s Phanar district. (Sometimes the Patriarchate is referred to simply as “the Phanar,” much as “the Vatican” is shorthand for the Roman Catholic papacy.) Whatever funds the Patriarchate derives from other sources (the Greek government, the Roman Catholic Church, the World Council of Churches), the Phanar’s financial lifeline is the ethnic Greek community (including this analyst) in what is still quaintly called the “Diaspora” in places like America, Australia, and New Zealand. And of these, the biggest cash cow is the Greek-Americans.

That’s why, when Patriarch Bartholomew issued a call in 2016 for what was billed as an Orthodox “Eighth Ecumenical Council” (the first one since the year 787!), the funds largely came from America, to the tune of up to $8 million according to the same confidential source as will be noted below. Intended by some as a modernizing Orthodox “Vatican II,” the event was doomed to failure by a boycott organized by Moscow over what the latter saw as Patriarch Bartholomew’s adopting papal or even imperial prerogatives – now sadly coming to bear in Ukraine.

…and the Payoff

On top of the foregoing, it now appears that 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. It very recently came to the attention of this analyst, via an unsolicited, confidential source in the Greek Archdiocese in New York, that a payment of $25 million in US government money was made to Constantinople to encourage Patriarch Bartholomew to move forward on Ukraine.

The source for this confidential report was unaware of earlier media reports that the same figure – $25 million – was paid by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to the Phanar as an incentive for Patriarch Bartholomew to move forward on creating an independent Ukrainian church. Moreover, Poroshenko evidently tried to shortchange the payment:

‘Peter [Petro] Poroshenko — the president of Ukraine — was obligated to return $15 million US dollars to the Patriarch of Constantinople, which he had appropriated for himself.

‘As reported by Izvestia, this occurred after the story about Bartholomew’s bribe and a “vanishing” large sum designated for the creation of a Unified Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine surfaced in the mass media.

‘As reported, on the eve of Poroshenko’s visit in Istanbul, a few wealthy people of Ukraine “chipped in” in order to hasten the process of creating a Unified Local Orthodox Church. About $25 million was collected. They were supposed to go to the award ceremony for Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople for the issuing of a tomos of autocephaly. [A tomos is a small book containing a formal announcement.] However, in the words of people close to the backer, during the visit on April 9, Poroshenko handed over only $10 million.

‘As a result, having learned of the deal, Bartholomew cancelled the participation of the delegation of the Phanar – the residence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, in the celebration of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia on July 27 in Kiev.

‘”Such a decision from Bartholomew’s side was nothing other than a strong ultimatum to Poroshenko to return the stolen money. Of course, in order to not lose his face in light of the stark revelations of the creation of the tomos of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Peter Alexeevich [Poroshenko] had to just return those $15 million for the needs of Constantinople,” a trusted source explained to reporters.

‘For preliminary information, only after receiving the remaining sum, did Bartholomew finally give his consent to sending a delegation of the Phanar to Kiev … ‘

Now, it’s possible that the two identical figures of $25 million refer to two different pots of money (a cool $50 million!) but that seems unlikely. It’s more probable the reports refer to the same sum as viewed from the sending side (the State Department, the Greek Archdiocese) and the delivery side (Poroshenko, Constantinople).

Lending credibility to the confidential information from New York and pointing to the probability that it refers to the same payment that Poroshenko reportedly sought to raid for himself are the following observations:

  • When Poroshenko generously offered Patriarch Bartholomew $10 million, the latter was aware that the full amount was $25 million and demanded the $15 million Poroshenko had held back. How did the Patriarch know that, unless he was informed via New York of the full sum?
  • If the earlier-reported $25 million was really collected from “a few wealthy people of Ukraine” who “chipped in,” given the cutthroat nature of disputes among Ukrainian oligarchs would Poroshenko (an oligarch in his own right) have risked trying to shortchange the payment? Why has not even one such Ukrainian donor been identified?
  • Without going into all the details, the Phanar and the Greek Archdiocese have a long relationship with US administrations of both parties going back at least to the Truman administration, encompassing some decidedly unattractive episodes. In such a history, a mere bribe for a geopolitical shot against Moscow would hardly be a first instance or the worst.

As one of this analyst’s Greek-American connections puts it: “It’s easy to comprehend the Patriarchate bowing to the pressure of State Dept. blackmail… not overly savory, but understandable. However, it’s another thing altogether if Kiev truly “purchased” their autocephalous status from an all too willing Patriarchate … which would relegate the Patriarch to ‘salesman’ status and leave the faithful wondering what else might be offered to the highest bidder the next time it became convenient to hold a Patriarchal ‘fire sale’ at the Phanar?!”

To add insult to injury, you’d think Constantinople at least could pay back some of the $7-8 million wasted on the Crete 2016 debacle to restart the St. Nicholas project in New York. Evidently the Phanar has better things to spend it on, like the demonstrative environmentalism of “the Green Patriarch” and, together with Pope Francis, welcoming Muslim migrants to Europe through Greece. Of course maybe there’s no need to worry, as the Ukraine “sale” was consistent with Constantinople’s papal ambitions, an uncanonical claim to “universal” status, and misuse of incarnational language and adoption of a breathtakingly arrogant tone that would cause even the most ultramontane proponent of the Rome’s supremacy to blush.

Finally, it seems that, for the time being at least, Constantinople doesn’t intend to create an independent Ukrainian church but rather an autonomous church under its own authority. It’s unclear whether or not Poroshenko or the State Department, in such event, would believe they had gotten their money’s worth. Perhaps they would. After all, the issue here is less what is appropriate for Ukraine than what strikes at Russia and injures the worldwide Christian witness of the Orthodox Church. To that end, it doesn’t matter whether the new illegal body is Constantinopolitan or Kievan, just so long as it isn’t a “Moskal church” linked to Russia.

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