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Russia outsmarts Nikki Haley in UN Security Council debate

Majority of UN Security Council members fail to vote against Russian draft Resolution severely criticising conduct of OPCW-UN-JIM

Alexander Mercouris

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The events at the United Nations Security Council surrounding the joint OPCW-UN-JIM investigation  report (“the report”) into the alleged Khan Sheikhoun chemical weapon attack are not being widely reported.

This is unfortunate because they show that international opinion is swinging heavily against the report, which has lost credibility.

Here an account of what happened on the two most recent occasions when the UN Security Council discussed this issue is necessary.

On 24th October 2017 the Russians vetoed at the UN Security Council a resolution to extend the OPCW’s mandate in Syria.  They complained that the resolution presented to the UN Security Council to extend the OPCW’s mandate had been brought forward in haste before its report had been provided to the UN Security Council.   They pointed out that this was obviously inappropriate and appeared intended to led authority to the report before it was published. They said that there was actually no need to bring forward a resolution to extend the OPCW’s mandate in that way, and that the more correct time to bring such a resolution forward was after the report had been submitted to the UN Security Council for its consideration.

The Russians during the 24th October 2017 UN Security Council session also severely criticised the methodology used to prepare the report by the OPCW-UN-JIM team, pointing out that it was being prepared without inspections of the two sites in Syria relevant to an understanding of the incident: Khan Sheikhoun itself, where the attack allegedly took place, and Al-Sharyat air base, from where the attack was allegedly launched.

At this point it is necessary to say that the current structure of the UN Security Council means that the US can normally rely on a built-in majority in any vote in the UN Security Council.  In the overwhelming of cases where resolutions are presented to the UN Security Council the US can rely on the well-nigh automatic support of 9 to 10 of its members, which is enough to pass a resolution where there is no veto.

Though this proved to be the case with the resolution presented to the UN Security Council on 24th October 2017, the account of the discussion around the resolution provided by the United Nations press centre shows that the Russian concerns – both about the seeming haste in bringing the resolution forward, and concerning the flawed methodology being used to prepare the OPCW-UN-JIM report – were widely shared even by some states which voted for the US backed resolution.

The two strongest statements expressing such doubts were made by the ambassadors of Ethiopia and Egypt, both of who are normally reliable US allies.

Here is how the UN press centre reports the comments of the Ethiopian ambassador

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) expressed regret that the Council had not been able to adopt the draft resolution since the Mechanism had been created on the basis of consensus.  Ethiopia had voted in favour of the text because there remained credible allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, he said, adding that renewing the mandate should ensure continuity of the Mechanism’s work.  Despite today’s outcome, Ethiopia was hopeful that the Council’ unity would be restored and compromise found, because failure to renew the mandate would be send the wrong message to the perpetrators.  However, today’s outcome should not be interpreted as an a priori endorsement of the Mechanism’s report, he cautioned, emphasizing that its final version was expected to establish clear responsibility for the two incidents mentioned.  Those responsible for the use of chemical weapons should be punished on the basis of robust and conclusive evidence, he said, underlining, however, that it was impossible to overlook the concerns of the Russian Federation and Bolivia, which was the reason why politicization must be avoided.

(bold italics added)

And here is how the UN press centre reports the comments of the Egyptian ambassador

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said he had voted in favour of the draft because of his country’s interest in ensuring that those involved in using chemical weapons in Syria were identified.  The use and growing proliferation of chemical weapons in that country posed a threat to security in the region and around the world, he said, noting the non-existence of an international system to deter non-State groups from acquiring such weapons.  The Mechanism’s methodologies must be improved and sites in Syria visited, he said, adding that conducting such visits and collecting available evidence in a timely manner would help in creating a strong foundation for any findings to be issued.  The Council could still renew the Mechanism’s mandate and improve its methodology, he said, emphasizing that its work must be carried out in an impartial and independent manner, and must not be politicized.

(bold italics added)

In the voting over the resolution two states voted against it – Russia and Bolivia – and two abstained – China and Kazakhstan.

It is however clear from their comments (see above) that if they had felt wholly free to vote as they wished, Ethiopia and Egypt would either have voted against it or would have abstained.

That would have brought the majority in support of the US backed resolution down to just nine, which is the bare majority needed to pass a resolution in the absence of a veto.

Ethiopia and Egypt were not prepared to go so far.  The US is known to take careful note of how states vote in the UN Security Council.  With Ethiopia and Egypt both heavily dependent on the US for aid, they were not prepared to risk their relationship with the US by openly defying it on an issue of such importance.  However, as their comments show, their ambassadors nonetheless made their true feelings clear.

In the weeks that followed the OPCW-UN-JIM report was duly submitted to the UN Security Council.  I do not propose to discuss this report in any detail because its flaws have already been thoroughly discussed and analysed by Rick Sterling.

My own quick observations about the OPCW-UN-JIM report are

(1) no attempt was made to inspect the site of the alleged chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun;

(2) no inference was drawn from the supposed security concerns which allegedly prevented such an inspection of the alleged site of the attack in Khan Sheikhoun from taking place;

(3) no inference was drawn from the apparent tampering of the site after the alleged attack (eg. by the concreting over of the bomb crater alleged to have been caused by the alleged attack); and

(4) no attempt was made to inspect Al-Sharyat air base – the site from which the alleged chemical weapons attack was allegedly launched – despite the fact that the security concerns which supposedly prevented an inspection of the Khan Sheikhoun site did not apply there.

Instead, in the absence of such inspections of the two sites relevant to an understanding of the supposed incident, the report relied wholly

(5) on eye-witness evidence, though this has been repeatedly shown to be unreliable;

(6) on video evidence, which is also generally acknowledged to be unreliable;

(In both cases there are or should be particular concerns about the use of this sort of evidence in this case given that it was provided in both cases by individuals operating in an Al-Qaeda controlled area)

and

(7) on sampling obtained through a chain of custody which is widely acknowledged to be insecure, and which also originated and was collected without proper or independent supervision in an Al-Qaeda controlled area.

The video evidence as it turns out is inconclusive (it does not show the attack) and the eye-witness evidence – obtained from witnesses in an Al-Qaeda controlled area – suffers from time discrepancies that the report is unable to resolve.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, there is even some reason to think that some of the individuals who were supposedly victims of the alleged attack were admitted to hospital before the earliest time that the attack could have taken place.

Such a report has inevitably come in for a great deal of criticism from the Russians, who have rejected it, and have called it unprofessional.

The key point about UN Security Council session on 16th November 2017 (yesterday) is that it shows the extent to which these criticisms are gaining traction.

Two draft resolutions were presented to the UN Security Council on 16th November 2017, one by the US and one by Russia.

With its built-in majority the US was initially successful in preventing the Russian drafted resolution from being put to the vote.  It being obvious that the UN Security Council would not vote for the Russian drafted resolution the Russians withdrew it.

However, stung by criticism of the methodology used to prepare the OPCW-UN-JIM report, the US does appear to have conceded some cosmetic changes to the text of its resolution.  However these proved unacceptable to the Russians.

The Russians accordingly vetoed the resolution, voting against it together with Bolivia, with China and on this occasion Egypt abstaining.

Up to this point events had followed what has become the established pattern of debates within the UN Security Council.

The US – relying on its built-on majority – proposes a resolution on Syria or Ukraine or some other issue, which it knows Russian cannot accept and will vote against.  That gives the US and other Western ambassadors an opportunity to grandstand at Russian expense.  The ambassadors of the non-aligned states look on with ill-concealed disapproval, making clear in coded language their unhappiness that the UN Security Council is being used in this way.  However they then vote for the US proposed resolution through gritted teeth, ensuring that their concerns go unreported in the Western media. The Chinese ambassador makes clear his support for Russia but when the final vote comes usually abstains.  The Russians give as good as they get, and veto the resolution as the US always expected.  The Western media then writes up the story of how Russia was “isolated” in the UN Security Council, and round on Russia for being obstructive.  Occasionally there is even a portentous article saying Russia should be stripped of its veto.

That was not what happened yesterday, and it was what happened after the Russians vetoed the US backed resolution which led to events no longer following the usual pre-arranged script.

Though the Russians had previously withdrawn their resolution in the knowledge that the UN Security Council would never vote for it, it was re-presented – undoubtedly by prearrangement with the Chinese and the the Russians – to the UN Security Council by the Bolivian ambassador once voting on the US draft resolution was out of the way.

On this occasion the three Eurasian states – Russia, China and Kazakhstan – all voted for the Russian drafted resolution along with Bolivia.

However only six or possibly seven states backed the US by voting against it – the US, Britain, France, Ukraine, Italy and Sweden, and possibly Uruguay.

Significantly it seems that all four of what are sometimes called the non-aligned states – Ethiopia, Egypt, Senegal and Uruguay – abstained, along with Japan – a US ally, which also abstained – even though all of these countries are in reality allies of the US.

(NB: there is an error in the UN press centre’s summary of the vote on the Russian backed resolution.  It says that Japan both voted against and abstained in the vote on the resolution, which is of course impossible.  In fact it seems clear that Japan abstained, an event so surprising that it knocked the UN press centre’s note takers off-balance, causing them to report Japan’s vote wrongly in one place in their summary as a vote against.  The UN press centre’s summary also fails to report Uruguay’s vote, though it is likely that it too abstained).

The summary of the debate provided by the United Nations press centre vividly captures the quality of the whole debate

The United States draft on extending the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons‑United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism was rejected due to the negative vote of a permanent member following a vote of 11 in favour to 2 against (Bolivia, Russian Federation), with 2 abstaining (China, Egypt).  Had it been adopted, it would have extended the Mechanism’s mandate — established by resolution 2235 (2015) and set to expire tomorrow, 17 November — for a further one year.

The Bolivian draft on extending the Mechanism, also for one year, was rejected after first being tabled by the Russian Federation and withdrawn.  The text was rejected by a vote of 4 in favour (Bolivia, China, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation) to 7 against (France, Italy, Japan, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States) with 4 abstaining (Egypt, Ethiopia, Japan, Ukraine).  It would have welcomed what it called the “full and profound cooperation” extended by the Syrian Government to the Mechanism and the other group investigating chemical attacks, the fact‑finding mission.

Regretting the lack of visits to the sites of chemical incidents, and lack of full chain of custody of evidence and other methodological factors that might cast doubt on the Mechanism’s conclusions, the Russian draft tabled by Bolivia would have requested that investigative teams be dispatched to Khan Shaykhun and the Shayrat airbase, subjects of the most recent report of the Mechanism.  It would have requested the Mechanism to collect and analyse information on use by non‑State actors of chemical weapons, and to submit to the Council analytical reports every three months.  It would have also called for greater focus on the use of non‑State weapons by non‑State actors.

In addition to the provisions contained in the draft that failed on 24 October (see Press Release SC/13040), the United States draft would have underscored the ongoing importance of the Mechanism conducting its investigations according to high methodological standards and basing its findings on the evidentiary levels outlined in its first report.  It would have encouraged the Mechanism to consult United Nations bodies on counter‑terrorism and non‑proliferation to exchange information on attacks by non‑State actors.  It also would have encouraged the Mechanism to inform the Council of any inability to gain access to sites relevant to investigations.

The Russian draft was withdrawn before either text was voted on, after a Russian Federation proposal that its draft be voted on after the United States draft was rejected in a procedural vote.  It was tabled by Bolivia after the rejection of the United States draft and statements after that vote.  Before and after the voting, all Council members condemned the use of chemical weapons and called for accountability for perpetrators through professional, impartial investigation.

In multiple statements, the supporters of the draft, however, said that today’s procedure pushed that goal back by not guaranteeing the continuity of the Mechanism.  The representative of the United States said that the Russian Federation had struck a deep blow to the effort, killing the Mechanism and eliminating its ability to identify attackers and deter future attacks.  She accused the Russian delegation of playing games with its procedural moves and not consulting with other delegations to come up with a compromise.  The representative of the United Kingdom stated that the goal of the Russian Federation was to scuttle the Mechanism because it simply could not accept any investigation that attributed guilt to its Syrian ally.

Italy’s representative, voting for the United States draft and against the Russian and Bolivian text, recounted the extensive negotiations that had gone into the United States draft to ensure that all concerns were addressed.  He said that the outcome weakened the security architecture and was difficult to merely accept.  He pledged continued work to ensure the investigations continued, however.

Japan’s representative, having voted for the United States draft and abstaining from voting on the Russian text, stressed that despite the procedures, the Council was still responsible to act to prevent further use of chemical weapons and to provide accountability for attacks in Syria.  He urged Council members to work to find consensus on renewing the Mechanism.

The representative of the Russian Federation, in multiple statements, said that the flaws in the operations of the Mechanism were not concretely addressed in the United States draft, but were addressed in his text.  He expressed disappointment that the initiative for extending and qualitatively improving the Mechanism had failed to secure the requisite support.  Calling the way the votes had occurred an effort to disparage his country, he said various tricks would now be used to pin the cessation of the Mechanism’s activity on his country.  Noting that his delegation had been accused of not taking part in consultations, he said that they had met three times with the United States colleagues.

Similarly, the representatives of China and Bolivia expressed their strong desire for the continuance of the Mechanism, but an equally strong wish that concerns over methodology be addressed.  Both therefore voted for the Russian text, with Bolivia voting against the other draft and China abstaining.

Speaking before the first vote were Bolivia, Russian Federation and the United States.  Speaking after that vote were the United States, France, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Senegal, China, Japan, Egypt, Russian Federation, Italy and Syria.

Speaking before the vote on the second draft were Bolivia, Russian Federation and the United States.  Speaking after that vote were Egypt, Ukraine, Japan, China, Russian Federation and Bolivia.  The Russian Federation spoke a final time after those speakers.

The meeting began at 3:15 p.m. and closed at 5:49 p.m.  During that period the meeting was suspended for 15 minutes after the first vote and the comments following it.

Note that nine members of the UN Security Council (or eight if Uruguay voted with the US) – in other words a majority – either voted for or declined to vote against a Russian drafted resolution which

…..[welcomed] ……the “full and profound cooperation” extended by the Syrian Government to the Mechanism……[regretted] the lack of visits to the sites of chemical incidents, and lack of full chain of custody of evidence and other methodological factors that might cast doubt on the Mechanism’s conclusions….requested that investigative teams be dispatched to Khan Shaykhun and the Shayrat airbase….[and] requested the Mechanism to collect and analyse information on use by non‑State actors of chemical weapons, and to submit to the Council analytical reports every three months…..[and] called for greater focus on the use of non‑State weapons by non‑State actors.

Following this vote it is impossible to say that there is a majority supporting the OPCW-UN-JIM report in the UN Security Council or that Russia is in a minority in criticising it.  Not surprisingly, after this debacle yesterday’s debate in the UN Security Council has gone almost entirely unreported in the Western media.

Not surprisingly US ambassador Nikki Haley was furious, as her outraged comments show

Ms. HALEY (United States) said that Bolivia had tried to pull one over on the Council by calling for the vote in the way it had.  She added that flaws were only found in the Mechanism when evidence pointed to Syria.  No flaws were found when evidence pointed to ISIL/Da’esh.  Neither the Russian Federation nor Bolivia consulted with others on their procedures; they were playing games.  She regretted that the whole procedure was embarrassing for the Council.  The Russian Federation wanted a Mechanism that they could micromanage.  Today’s developments had proven that the Russian Federation could not be trusted as a broker in Syria.  The rejected resolution had all the changes that had been requested and the United States and all other members had been disrespected.  The next chemical attack would be on the head of the Russian Federation.

There are two important facts to take away from this affair.

Firstly, despite some heroic attempts to argue otherwise, the methodology of the OPCW-UN-JIM report is quite simply too obviously flawed for it to gain widespread international acceptance.

In reality – as I have said previously – a truly impartial investigation to find out what actually happened in Khan Sheikhoun in April this year became impossible the moment President Trump launched his missiles against Al-Sharyat air base a few days after the supposed attack took place.

From that point the whole international prestige of the United States and of its NATO allies who had supported the US attack became bound up with a finding that the Syrian government had launched a chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun.

Any other finding would have been politically impossible and acceptable, and given the hold the US and NATO powers have over the international bodies charged with carrying out international investigations (whose budgets they largely fund) it is completely unsurprising that the OPCW-UN-JIM investigation was structured to ensure that only the “correct” finding was made.

What happened in this case was that the flaws built into the investigation in order to ensure that it would come up with the “correct” finding were in the end simply too glaring, and could not be ignored even by countries which are normally supportive of the US.

Secondly, there were some concerns in Russia a few months ago when the country’s brilliant ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin died unexpectedly that he would prove to be irreplaceable.

The skill with which Vasily Nebenzia, Russia’s new ambassador to the UN, outwitted Nikki Haley yesterday, and the forceful way in which he made Russia’s case both during yesterday’s debate and during the previous debate on 24th October 2017, shows that these fears are groundless.

Nebenzia is clearly a fully worthy successor to Churkin, even if he perhaps lacks something of Churkin’s urbanity and charm.  The other ambassadors will have taken note of the fact.

As to what actually took place in Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017, I doubt that we will ever know the full truth.

I continue to think that the most plausible scenario is the one proposed by Seymour Hersh on the basis of what he says he was told by a senior US intelligence official: that a Syrian bombing raid targeting some Al-Qaeda commanders inadvertently released a toxic cloud as a result of the release of materials held in the building in which the Al-Qaeda commanders were meeting.  Since the chain of custody of the forensic samples used to prove that it was instead a sarin attack is insecure, I don’t think it is possible to place any reliance on them.

The suggestion that Seymour Hersh’s story is untrue because he cannot identify the building in question is a red herring.  Seymour Hersh’s story is not based on personal observation of Khan Sheikhoun but on information he says he was provided by his sources within the US intelligence community.  Seymour Hersh provided Die Welt (which published his story) with the details of these sources, enabling Die Welt to contact them directly and to authenticate that what Seymour Hersh was saying about them was true.

As I have said previously, it is well within the ability of Al-Qaeda to manipulate or fabricate evidence and to manipulate the way it is presented, and it continues to astonish me that so many people remain in denial about this.

I note for example that the person who attempted to uphold the findings of the OPCW-UN-JIM report which I mentioned previously appears to be unaware that it was Al-Qaeda which was in physical control of Al-Sheikhoun on the day when the chemical weapons attack is supposed to have taken place, and that it continues to be in control there to this day.

Others will of course dispute these opinions, as is their right.

The point however is that politically speaking it no longer matters.  Following the debate in the UN Security Council yesterday the effect of what happened in Khan Sheikhoun in April both on the course of the Syrian war and on the future development of international relations has ended.  The chapter on this incident is closed.

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Marcel Leutenegger

Dear editors,

thanks for providing the detailed account of the UN security council meeting. Thank you also for the numerous reports I read throughout the year on this site. I would like to donate but refuse to register on a different crowd-funding site for every individual project asking for funds. Please e-mail me your international bank account (IBAN + BIC) such that I can donate using the good old wire transaction system in place.

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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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EU Army: Fact or Fiction? (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 152.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and International Affairs and Security Analyst via Moscow, Mark Sleboda discuss the possibility, and feasibility, of putting together an EU army, as French President Macron is now boasting about.

Will an EU Army replace, rival, or fold into NATO? How will the US respond to Europe’s military initiative, and how will Russia deal an EU army?

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Via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


“Insulting” – that’s how US President Donald Trump sharply reacted to the idea of a “real European army” proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron.

And it was how Macron rationalized the need for an independent military force for Europe that perhaps most irked the American leader.

Speaking on a tour of World War I battlefields in northern France last week, Macron said that Europe needed to defend itself from “China, Russia and even the United States of America”.

It was a pretty extraordinary choice of words by the French leader. To frame the US among an array of perceived foreign enemy powers was a devastating blow to the concept of a much-vaunted transatlantic alliance.

Since the Second World War, ending 1945, the concept of an American-European alliance has been the bedrock of a supposed inviolable, mutual defense pact. That nearly seven-decade alliance is now being questioned more than ever.

Macron’s call for a European army was further backed up by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who also pointedly said this week that Europe can no longer rely on the US for its defense.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has welcomed the proposal for Europe to form its own military organization, independent from Washington. No doubt, Moscow views such a development as augmenting a move towards a multipolar international order, which Russia and China, among others, have been advocating in opposition to American ambitions of unipolar dominance.

When Trump arrived in Paris last weekend along with dozens of other world leaders, including Putin, to commemorate the centennial anniversary marking the end of World War I, there was a notable frostiness between Macron and the American president. Only a few months ago, Macron and Trump had appeared the best of friends in what some observers referred to as a “bromance”.

During the Paris events, Macron sought to placate Trump by saying that the European army proposal would have a “complementary” role to the US-led NATO military alliance. However, their relationship further soured when Macron later delivered a speech in which he made a veiled rebuke of Trump’s “nationalist” politics.

Days later, on returning to Washington, Trump then fired off a fusillade of angry tweets attacking Macron in very personal terms over a range of issues, including “unfair” economic trade and France’s alleged ungrateful attitude towards the US liberation of Paris from Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

The rift between the US and Europe has been brewing even before Trump’s presidency. For years, Washington has been carping that the Europeans need to spend more on military defense, claiming that the US has been shouldering the burden for too long. Trump has taken the griping to a new, higher level. Recall that he has threatened to pull out of NATO because the Europeans were “free loading” on American “protection”.

The irony is that now the French and German leaders are talking about setting up their own military defenses, Trump has blown a fuse.

Evidently, the American contention is not about “burden sharing” of defense. If Washington was genuinely aggrieved about supposedly defending Europe at too much of its own expense, then Trump, one would think, would be only too glad to hear that the Europeans were at last making their own military arrangements, and taking the burden off Washington.

This gets to the heart of the matter about the real purpose of NATO and presence of tens of thousands of US troops stationed in bases across Europe since 1945. American military presence in Europe is not about “protecting” its supposed allies. It is, and always has been, about projecting American power over Europe. In reality, American troops and bases in Europe are more functioning as an occupying force, keeping the Europeans in line with Washington’s strategic objectives of hegemony over the continent.

Macron and Merkel’s vision of a European army is probably fanciful anyway, without any real prospect of materializing. How such a new defense arrangement would work independently from the 29-member NATO alliance led by the US seems unwieldy and impractical.

But the latest tensions between Washington and European leaders over military organization demonstrate the real nature of America’s relationship to Europe. It is about domination by Washington over Europe and has little to do with partnership and protection.

When Trump and previous US presidents have urged greater military spending by Europe the ulterior agenda is for Europeans to pay more to underpin American military presence, not for Europeans to find their own independent defense arrangement.

Tensions in the transatlantic axis seem to be coming to a head, heightened by Trump’s nationalistic “America First” policy. Rivalries are sharpening over trade, US sanctions on Iran, Trump’s threats against European energy plans with Russia, the Paris Climate Accord, and squabbling over NATO expenditures.

There is nothing progressive about Macron or Merkel’s call for a European army. It is more to do with France and Germany wanting to assert themselves as great powers and to shake off American tutelage out of frustration with Trump’s domineering petulance.

Only last week, Macron caused controversy when he praised French military general Philippe Pétain who collaborated with Nazi Germany as leader of Vichy France (1940-44). Macron wants a European army to satisfy his own nationalistic ambitions of revamping French global power. This week, he spent the night onboard a refurbished French aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, from which he gave a media interview saying that being “an ally of America meant not being a vassal”. Touché!

A progressive challenge from Europe to American power would not involve setting up a new army. Instead it would involve Europeans pushing for the disbandment of NATO as an obsolete organization and for the withdrawal of US-led forces which are dangerously amassing on Russia’s border.

Nonetheless, the one positive thing to emerge from the transatlantic spat over military defenses is that it illustrates more than ever how European protection is not the real purpose of Washington’s relationship to the continent. The purpose is one of using Europe as a platform for projecting America’s power, in particular against Russia.

The recent announcement by the Trump administration that it is willing to rip up yet another nuclear arms control treaty – the INF following the ABM in 2002 – clearly shows that Washington, ultimately, has recklessly scant concern for Europe’s security with regard to a possible future war with Russia.

For Washington, despite all the chivalrous rhetoric, Europe is not a partner nor even an ally. It is a vassal. Admittedly, thousands of American troops died while bravely fighting wars in Europe. But they are distinct from the US ruling class. At bottom, Europe is merely a battlefield for American military power, just as it was in two previous world wars. One hundred years after the end of World War I, the same callous calculus for the imperial planners in Washington is at play.

European ideas for independent defense is why Washington has reacted so furiously. It’s not willing to give up its European front.

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Zuckerberg Clings To Power While Sandberg Claims Ignorance After Damaging NYT Report

The New York Times reported that Facebook hired GOP PR firm, Defenders, to smear liberal detractors as Soros operatives. 

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Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg are battling backlash over an explosive investigation by the New York Times into Facebook’s mercenary damage control tactics in the wake of several major scandals.

Despite fresh calls from investors for Zuckerberg to step down in his dual role as CEO and chairman and appoint an independent director to oversee the board, the 34-year-old tech titan brushed off the suggestion during a Thursday call with journalists.

“A company with Facebook’s massive reach and influence requires robust oversight and that can only be achieved through an independent chair who is empowered to provide critical checks on company leadership,” said New York City comptroller, Scott Stringer.

Zuckerberg disagrees. “I don’t think that that specific proposal is the right way to go,” said the Facebook CEO when asked if he would consider stepping down, adding that other initiatives had been launched to “get more independence into our systems.”

The measures include creating an independent body to advise the company on decisions over whether controversial content should remain on the site.

Ultimately, he said Facebook is never going to eradicate mistakes. “We’re never going to get to the point where there are no errors,” he told reporters. “I’m trying to set up the company so that way we have our board, and we report on our financial results and do a call every quarter, but that also we have this independent oversight that is just focused on the community.” –Business Insider

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, meanwhile, is claiming ignorance – telling CBS This Morning co-host Norah O’Donnell “we absolutely did not pay anyone to create fake news – that they have assured me was not happening.”

In their Wednesday exposé – the culmination of interviews with over 50 current and former company executives, lawmakers, government officials, lobbyists and congressional staff members,the New York Times reported that Facebook had hired GOP PR firm, Defenders, which smeared liberal detractors as Soros operatives – and worked with a sister company to create negative propaganda about competitors Google and Apple.

Mr. Kaplan prevailed on Ms. Sandberg to promote Kevin Martin, a former Federal Communications Commission chairman and fellow Bush administration veteran, to lead the company’s American lobbying efforts. Facebook also expanded its work with Definers.

On a conservative news site called the NTK Network, dozens of articles blasted Google and Apple for unsavory business practices. One story called Mr. Cook hypocritical for chiding Facebook over privacy, noting that Apple also collects reams of data from users. Another played down the impact of the Russians’ use of Facebook.

The rash of news coverage was no accident: NTK is an affiliate of Definers, sharing offices and staff with the public relations firm in Arlington, Va. Many NTK Network stories are written by staff members at Definers or America Rising, the company’s political opposition-research arm, to attack their clients’ enemies. –NYT

Meanwhile, Sandberg stressed that Facebook was undertaking new security measures, telling O’Donnell: “Our strategy was to shore up the security on Facebook and make major investments there,” and that the company had made significant investments in combatting fake news and foreign influence.

“It was not what I was doing nor was it the company’s strategy to deflect, to deny or to hire PR firms to do things. That’s not the strategy. And I was part of none of that. We’ve taken great steps, we’ve made huge investments. We’ve invested a ton in AI and technology and if you were following us before the election you saw those efforts pay off. We were able to take down lots of stuff over and over, over and over because we were now focused on this,” said Sandberg.

When asked if rank-and-file employees are confident in her, Sandberg replied: “Yes, I believe so.

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