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Russia to legalize private military contractors to get a leg up in Africa

Moscow may take a page out of the Washington defense establishment’s playbook to get in on the new race for Africa

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(OrientalReview) – The upcoming draft proposal to legalize private military companies (PMCs, a.k.a. “mercenaries”) in Russia could give the country a competitive edge over its rivals by helping it carve out a valuable and much-demanded niche as a reliable security provider, thus enabling it to later leverage its strategic advantage to reap energy, mineral, economic, and other “rewards” in incentivizing the Kremlin to undertake a full-on “Pivot to Africa”.

RT reported that Russian parliamentarians are going to submit a draft proposal in the coming weeks to legalize the “mercenary” industry, which is officially referred to as “private military companies” (PMCs), with the outlet arguing that this step is long overdue and would simply amount to Russia keeping pace with other Great Powers. That said, it’s bound to generate considerable international attention if it passes owing to the Mainstream Media’s War on Russia, with conspiratorial accusations likely emerging in its wake in an attempt to pin the blame for all levels of global unrest from Afghanistan to Africa on the shoulders of Russian “mercenaries”. Accepting that there will likely be a flood of negative and mostly inaccurate reporting surrounding this topic, it’s much more worthwhile to concentrate on the “positive” aspects of what the legislative proposal could entail in the long term for Russia’s grand strategy.

Making Sense Of Mercenaries

The first thing that needs to be done is for the reader to abandon what might be their preexisting moral aversion to “mercenaries” and recognize that this element of “plausibly deniable” force projection by states is now part and parcel of today’s world, for better or for worse. The PMC industry has long been used by governments to indirectly exert influence in “sensitive” regions or contexts, relying on the fact that it’s ultimately a “private” company doing the work in order to eschew responsibility for the fighters’ actions if something “goes wrong”, like what infamously occurred with Blackwater in 2007 during the American occupation of Iraq. In addition, governments don’t have an obligation to publicly report on PMC casualties, so contracting their services means that they can keep the “official” casualty count low in order to avoid inciting public opposition to the given operation at home. That, however, is only relevant insofar as the respective campaign is common knowledge, which sometimes isn’t the case.

Other than amplifying the combat capabilities of openly deployed military forces in a conflict theater, PMCs also serve a very valuable role in having the said armed forces indirectly partake in missions abroad that haven’t been officially declared, whether through the media or even to the country’s own citizens per whatever its legal procedures may be. This “work flow” is possible because many “mercenaries” are former members of the state’s military, some of whom still retain contact with this body and could conceivably coordinate with it, as has often been suspected is the case. Not only that, but former intelligence agents and other “deep state” operatives are sometimes employed in this industry as well, thus making it an unofficial extension of a country’s power apparatus if “properly” applied. Taken together, the abovementioned two main qualities of PMCs make them desirable assets for all Great Powers, which explains why Russia is finally stepping up to the plate to wield this tool of national power.

The African Angle

There had previously been reports of Russian “mercenaries” in Syria even before the country officially began its 2015 anti-terrorist intervention there, and similar claims have recently popped up in Bosnia and might even be outright invented for Afghanistan in the future in order to concoct a “politically convenient” fake news narrative there, but the most pertinent of which to focus on in the course of this article is what Stratfor recently said about the African angle of this topic. The private intelligence firm alleged that the Kremlin dispatched the “Wagner Group” to Sudan and the Central African Republic, and while this assertion can’t be independently verified, it would indeed have a certain logic to it, especially in light of Russia’s latest strategic interactions with these countries.

To brief readers who might not have been keeping an eye on Russian-African relations, Russia was invited by Sudan to establish a military base on the Red Sea, and the country also successfully lobbied the UNSC to partially lift its arms embargo on the Central African Republic so as to facilitate Moscow’s arms transfers to this war-torn country. The author wrote about both of these developments last month in two articles titled “Here’s Why Russia Might Set Up A Red Sea Base In Sudan” and “Why Does Russia Want To Sell Arms To The Central African Republic?”, which can concisely be summarized as Russia’s desire to establish a strategic presence in the indispensable country along China’s African Silk Road and to lay the security groundwork for later “balancing” continental affairs through future involvement in various peace processes, respectively.

Having these objectives in mind, it makes perfect sense why Russia might have actually dispatched “mercenaries” to those two African states in order to assist with those missions, but considering that PMCs might soon be legalized, regulated, and possibly even promoted within Russia, it’s very likely that this is just the first step in a larger “Pivot to Africa” that will be unfolding in the coming years, and one which desires much more tangible dividends than those already mentioned.

Reaping The “Rewards”

Russian servicemen did an astounding job defeating Daesh in Syria, and their newfound global renown could understandably make them highly sought-after “mercenary” assets all across the world, and especially in the conflict-strewn and volatile regions of resource-rich Africa. While establishing a strategic presence in part of the continent and playing a role in conflict resolution processes are both very important, they don’t in and of themselves bring any physical “rewards” for Russia, which is why this multipolar Great Power will probably also leverage its PMC appeal for more “earthly” gains, perhaps quite literally.

In particular, Russia might reach an agreement with its trusted Chinese global partner to protect the Silk Roads – especially those in Africa – in exchange for lucrative commercial contracts along it, which could in many cases result in energy or mining deals that eventually lead to a further and more robust Russian presence in the continent. Moscow, after all, would be fulfilling a vital function for Beijing by “informally” flexing its military muscles in the most Hybrid War-prone part of the world. It might sound condescending that Russia would work through China in clinching African deals instead of the host states themselves, but it’s already the case that Beijing controls a sizeable amount of the continent’s extractive industries and is therefore the most logical actor for Moscow to engage with on this front.

Even so, Russia doesn’t want to be China’s “junior partner” in Africa forever, especially since it’s prospectively slated to assume a disproportionately important role in protecting its global paradigm-changing New Silk Road assets, which is why Moscow will probably roll out a comprehensive “mercenary”-led policy there in the near future following the expected legalization of the PMC industry. To explain, Russia is regarded as the most “neutral” Great Power interested in Africa, and to that end its “mercenary” services would already be in high demand in principle, not even accounting for the battle-tested value that its former servicemen could provide to any client.

Coupled with Russia’s toolkit of “military” and “balancing” diplomacy, PMCs could transport, guard, and possibly even employ Russian weaponry provided to conflict-plagued states in order to help their governments shape the battlefield situation to the point where international-(and Russian-) mediated political solutions can be considered, possibly even including the implementation of “Identity Federalism”. So long as Moscow takes the lead with each of these moves or is involved to an important extent, then Russia could quickly play the part of “Africa’s Guardian” in helping to safeguard peace and security there more reliably than any other country.

The ultimate “reward” for this service would be for the host governments themselves to favor Russian companies over Chinese ones in the dispensation of future contracts regardless of the sphere that they’re in, with an eye on eventually making Moscow one of their strategic partners in order to counterbalance any real or imagined fears of being “dominated” by Beijing. This win-win outcome would see Russia and China entering into a “friendly” and complementary multipolar competition with one another in Africa that would work out to every party’s benefit by diversifying their relationships and solidifying stability in the continent.

Concluding Thoughts

Russia is in the midst of a global Great Power resurgence that’s seeing it exert its influential reach into all corners of the world, which naturally includes Africa as well. However, it’s this continent where Russia’s sway is weakest following the strategic retreat that Moscow undertook in the last days of the Soviet era, and from which it has yet to fully recover. In the two and a half decades since, Russia has lagged far behind all of its competitors in Africa, meaning that the only hope for it to catch up is to unveil a totally new and ambitious vision that satisfies a valuable demand and can subsequently be leveraged for tangible “rewards”, hence the policy of using “mercenaries” to stabilize the situation in many resource-rich states and create the conditions for Russia to reap favorable contracts afterwards.

Unlike its American, French, or British counterparts, the Russian military and its PMC offshoots aren’t regarded as having any regional political interests that would “warrant” them partaking in destabilizing measures; to the contrary, Russia’s continental interests are entirely in securing Africa’s stabilization and therefore facilitating commercial, extractive, and public works contracts for its companies. This latter realpolitik motivation is much like China’s, though with the notable exception being that Beijing is unable to provide the level of indirect “mercenary” security assistance that Moscow can, thus increasing Russia’s appeal. On top of that, Russia already has extensive diplomatic experience in promoting a “fair” and “compromised” settlement to the War on Syria, something which sets it apart from all other Great Powers and adds value to its participation in resolving the continent’s crises.

African states are aware that their loyalty and resources are being contested by the West (mostly the US and France in this context) and China, and they’re eager to find a viable third partner in order to “balance” between the two and hopefully obtain the best benefits from each of them. India and Japan, which are teaming up to construct the “Asia-Africa Growth Corridor” (also known as the “Freedom Corridor”), can’t offer the hard infrastructure projects that China can and are mostly marketing their soft infrastructural development strategies (healthcare, schools, job training, etc.), which doesn’t differentiate them much from the competition and therefore disqualifies them as substantial “third partners”. Turkey, while having its own unique attractiveness primarily in its “Islamic Democracy” governing model and sizeable economic investments, doesn’t have any relevant security experience in Africa apart from Somalia and lacks the leading conflict resolution capacities that Russia has.

All of this leads to the conclusion that Russia is far better suited to play the role of African countries’ third “balancing” partner than any other state, and that these governments’ embrace of Moscow could actually come to embody a 21st-century iteration of the “Non-Aligned Movement” in their continent’s New Cold War context. Instead of being firmly in the Western or Chinese ‘camps’, these states could straddle the two by reaching out to Russia and having the unparalleled security and diplomatic assistance that it can offer to them aid in striking a manageable “middle ground”. This is even more poignant of a point when it comes to conflict-wreaked or Hybrid War-prone countries such as Sudan, the Central African Republic, and many others, as they more so than any of their African peers desperately need the security and diplomatic services that only Russia can provide, and Russia of course needs their partnership as the first step to comprehensively commencing its “Pivot to Africa”.

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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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