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Russia seeks well-rounded relations with Libyan factions

Russian envoy on Libya Lev Dengov talks about Moscow’s plans with Libya

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(Al-Monitor) – Mohammed Siyala, the foreign minister of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), came to Moscow this week for talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. While Syria has been occupying center stage of Russia’s Middle East agenda, Moscow has never ceased its activities in Libya since it became involved in the peace process in mid-2014 and began building contacts with multiple Libyan factions.

The Lavrov-Siyala meeting Dec. 12 focused on prospects for resolving the disputes of rival factions in Libya under the UN action plan. They also discussed the prospects of Russia shortly reopening/returning its embassy to Tripoli. The ministers expressed interest in restoring full trade and economic partnerships as the situation in the country normalizes.

Before Moammar Gadhafi was toppled, Russian companies had lucrative energy contracts in Libya. Moscow wants those back, while Libyan authorities see Russian businesses as key to restoring the country. Some Russian companies, such as oil giant Rosneft, have already received permission to operate in Libya. Speaking to Kommersant newspaper, Siyala said the GNA’s newly formed Presidential Guard is prepared to guarantee the safety of such companies’ employees. He also mentioned that Libyans expect Russia to finish construction of the $4 billion, 500-kilometer (311-mile) railroad connecting Sirte and Benghazi, and that the line might even be extended both to the east, to Egypt, and west, to Tunisia.

Moscow is still concerned about two Russian sailors — members of the international crew of the Temeteron tanker detained in Libya in June 2016 — who remain in custody on charges of oil smuggling. Siyala promised to expedite legal proceedings but said the rest will fall under a court’s jurisdiction.

In March, the Libyan Coast Guard captured the Russian MV Merle bulk carrier suspected of being involved in smuggling scrap metal. Proceedings necessary to return the ship to its Russian owner are underway.

It was the capture of the Russian Mikhail Chebotarev tanker in September 2015 that caused Moscow to form the Russian Contact Group on Libya — a joint initiative by the Foreign Ministry and the State Duma. The group is composed of military experts and parliament members and is broadly supported by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. The group’s activity is directed by Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and Adam Delimkhanov, Chechnya’s representative in parliament.

The contact group, led by Lev Dengov, who in his current role is also an adviser to Kadyrov, has become Russia’s primary political tool in working on Libyan issues. The group organized visits to Russia for all major figures in the Libyan conflict.

Siyala’s trip was yet another step by Moscow to build further ties with the Tripoli-based GNA while continuing to preserve balanced partnerships with other major parties.

Following the Lavrov-Siyala meeting, Dengov told Al-Monitor that Russia currently has no timeline for its Libya policies except for implementing the Skhirat agreement, a UN-backed pact signed Dec. 17, 2015, in Skhirat, Morocco, to form the GNA.

“There’s simply no alternative” to the pact, said Dengov. “All of our activity in Libya is meant to demonstrate we are ready to contribute to the settlement process in this country. We welcome efforts by the UN envoy on Libya, Ghassan Salame, who is working hard [and has taken] some critical steps toward the settlement process. His action plan was adopted by the UN Security Council, including Russia. It’s now our major objective to help the parties settle their disagreements, ensure implementation of the Skhirat agreements and negotiate the issue of holding elections,” he added.

Asked about Russia’s own interest and stake in the process, Dengov said Libya is a “vital strategic point for Africa, for the Middle East, for Europe and for Eurasia.”

“Europe, especially its Mediterranean part, has been suffering from mass flows of illegal immigrants and from the emergence of new terrorist epicenters. So the [goals] of nipping the terrorist threat in the bud and putting a cap over the migration flow are two of our priorities. Today, the migrants from this region aren’t posing a direct threat to Russia, but you never know how the migration flows and trends may shift in the near future — they could start heading toward our borders.”

Russia has been engaging with southern tribes as a potential way to halt migrants in their tracks. Asked whether this effort has had any success, Dengov said, “By now, Russians have established contacts with virtually all southern tribes, with their elders and representatives.”

He added, “They welcome our outreach to them and they have been incredibly instrumental in the intra-national peace process. What we really want in this kind of work is to avoid an impression of encroaching on their sovereignty. We aren’t imposing ourselves; we are just offering our ideas. If all the parties welcome us, we are ready to further interact with them all, to facilitate their own interaction among themselves. And such an approach is also helpful in putting a cap on the flows of migrants.”

When speaking of the terrorist threat to Libya and the prospects of the Islamic State (IS) relocating there, Dengov voiced his personal opinion that this prospect is unlikely in the immediate term.

“There are many other countries — and I’m not saying which they are — that are more ‘benevolent’ for [IS]. Because of its instability, Libya is a desired place for groups like IS, but I don’t see it as a threat as of today. The geography and logistics are simply such that it’s complicated for [IS] to move to Libya that easily.”

Despite Rosneft’s contract with Libya’s National Oil Corp. and purchases of Libyan oil to re-sell, Dengov denied energy resources are a primary incentive.

“Russia is a country rich in natural resources and there are countries around Libya that have a far greater need for Libyan oil. Yet it’s important for Russia to maintain our contacts in energy cooperation because it would ultimately work to strengthen Russia-Libyan relations,” he said.

As for what Libya wants from Russia, Dengov insisted that the “two major resources Libyans need from us are honesty and fairness.”

“They have a real deficit in honest partners whose actions speak louder than words. Russia has established such a reputation. They want us to be a guarantor in the structure that they are forming today — the structure of their state, the structure of their power. We could become such a guarantor by providing security and giving them hope for the future.”

Dengov also dismissed the presence of Russian private military contractors (PMCs) in the country. Earlier this year there were reports that Russia had deployed special forces to an air base in western Egypt near the border with Libya, a move the United States deemed as an attempt to support Gen. Khalifa Hifter, the commander of the Libyan National Army.

“Indeed, the RSB-Group has been present in Benghazi on demand from a private European company to do mine clearing at a cement factory there. But it’s not a PMC; neither are there other PMCs or Spetsnaz [special forces] military units,” Dengov claimed.

“We remain committed to all respective UN resolutions. The same is true for the arms embargo. We are coming to believe that until the Skhirat agreements enter into force, any moves by any [external] party that can lead to dominance of one Libyan group over another can destabilize the situation. We are maintaining [a level] approach to the warring parties, to not tip the fragile balance. In Libya, we don’t want to be associated with one party. There are enough conflicts between parties in Libya today to set the country on fire again, so we walk incredibly cautiously.”

Dengov said the role of Chechnya and Kadyrov had a special place in the Russian approach to Libya. He reiterated GNA Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq’s September statement about Chechnya “being the region whose experience in dealing with terrorism and post-conflict restoration deserves attention.”

“Kadyrov is a Sunni Muslim who has been rescuing Russian citizens in Libya, Syria and Iraq. He has the experience and he cares for Muslims around the world, defending them from different threats. Libyans see this, they appreciate it and they reach to him. He has been very helpful to the policies of the Russian state there.”

Speaking of Russia’s assessments of the prospects for the Libyan settlement, Dengov concluded, “Moscow can make the best of its interaction with all parties, but first and foremost, the Skhirat agreements” should be implemented, with whatever modifications the sides deem necessary.

“We are being watchful that no one imposes forms or formats that would pressure the parties; they have to agree with one another willingly. But if Russia could help the parties in any way and they call on us to do so, we’d be happy to deliver,” he concluded.

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Foreign Banks Are Embracing Russia’s Alternative To SWIFT, Moscow Says

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative.

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Via Zerohedge


On Friday, one day after Russia and China pledged to reduce their reliance on the dollar by increasing the amount of bilateral trade conducted in rubles and yuan (a goal toward which much progress has already been made over the past three years), Russia’s Central Bank provided the latest update on Moscow’s alternative to US-dominated international payments network SWIFT.

Moscow started working on the project back in 2014, when international sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea inspired fears that the country’s largest banks would soon be cut off from SWIFT which, though it’s based in Belgium and claims to be politically neutral, is effectively controlled by the US Treasury.

Today, the Russian alternative, known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, has attracted a modest amount of support within the Russian business community, with 416 Russian companies having joined as of September, including the Russian Federal Treasury and large state corporations likeGazprom Neft and Rosneft.

And now, eight months after a senior Russian official advised that “our banks are ready to turn off SWIFT,” it appears the system has reached another milestone in its development: It’s ready to take on international partners in the quest to de-dollarize and end the US’s leverage over the international financial system. A Russian official advised that non-residents will begin joining the system “this year,” according to RT.

“Non-residents will start connecting to us this year. People are already turning to us,”said First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova. Earlier, the official said that by using the alternative payment system foreign firms would be able to do business with sanctioned Russian companies.

Turkey, China, India and others are among the countries that might be interested in a SWIFT alternative, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a speech earlier this month, the US’s willingness to blithely sanction countries from Iran to Venezuela and beyond will eventually rebound on the US economy by undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

To be sure, the Russians aren’t the only ones building a SWIFT alternative to help avoid US sanctions. Russia and China, along with the European Union are launching an interbank payments network known as the Special Purpose Vehicle to help companies pursue “legitimate business with Iran” in defiance of US sanctions.

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative. For one, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.

And as Russian trade with other US rivals increases, Moscow’s payments network will look increasingly attractive,particularly if buyers of Russian crude have no other alternatives to pay for their goods.

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US leaving INF will put nuclear non-proliferation at risk & may lead to ‘complete chaos’

The US is pulling out of a nuclear missile pact with Russia. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty requires both countries to eliminate their short and medium-range atomic missiles.

The Duran

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Via RT


If the US ditches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), it could collapse the entire nuclear non-proliferation system, and bring nuclear war even closer, Russian officials warn.

By ending the INF, Washington risks creating a domino effect which could endanger other landmark deals like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and collapse the existing non-proliferation mechanism as we know it, senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said on Sunday.

The current iteration of the START treaty, which limits the deployment of all types of nuclear weapons, is due to expire in 2021. Kosachev, who chairs the Parliament’s Upper House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that such an outcome pits mankind against “complete chaos in terms of nuclear weapons.”

“Now the US Western allies face a choice: either embarking on the same path, possibly leading to new war, or siding with common sense, at least for the sake of their self-preservation instinct.”

His remarks came after US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to “terminate” the INF, citing alleged violations of the deal by Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied undermining the treaty, pointing out that Trump has failed to produce any evidence of violations. Moreover, Russian officials insist that the deployment of US-made Mk 41 ground-based universal launching systems in Europe actually violates the agreement since the launchers are capable of firing mid-range cruise missiles.

Leonid Slutsky, who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament’s lower chamber, argued that Trump’s words are akin to placing “a huge mine under the whole disarmament process on the planet.”

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The deal effectively bans the parties from having and developing short- and mid-range missiles of all types. According to the provisions, the US was obliged to destroy Pershing I and II launcher systems and BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missiles. Moscow, meanwhile, pledged to remove the SS-20 and several other types of missiles from its nuclear arsenal.

Pershing missiles stationed in the US Army arsenal. © Hulton Archive / Getty Images ©

By scrapping the historic accord, Washington is trying to fulfill its “dream of a unipolar world,” a source within the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“This decision fits into the US policy of ditching the international agreements which impose equal obligations on it and its partners, and render the ‘exceptionalism’ concept vulnerable.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov denounced Trump’s threats as “blackmail” and said that Washington wants to dismantle the INF because it views the deal as a “problem” on its course for “total domination” in the military sphere.

The issue of nuclear arms treaties is too vital for national and global security to rush into hastily-made “emotional” decisions, the official explained. Russia is expecting to hear more on the US’ plans from Trump’s top security adviser, John Bolton, who is set to hold talks in Moscow tomorrow.

President Trump has been open about unilaterally pulling the US out of various international agreements if he deems them to be damaging to national interests. Earlier this year, Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program. All other signatories to the landmark agreement, including Russia, China, and the EU, decided to stick to the deal, while blasting Trump for leaving.

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Kiev ‘Patriarch’ prepares to seize Moscow properties in Ukraine

Although Constantinople besought the Kiev church to stop property seizures, they were ignored and used, or perhaps, complicit.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The attack on the Eastern Orthodox Church, brought about by the US State Department and its proxies in Constantinople and Ukraine, is continuing. On October 20, 2018, the illegitimate “Kyiv (Kiev) Patriarchate”, led by Filaret Denisenko who is calling himself “Patriarch Filaret”, had a synodal meeting in which it changed the commemoration title of the leader of the church to include the Kyiv Caves and Pochaev Lavras.

This is a problem because Metropolitan Onuphry of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which is canonically accepted and acts as a very autonomous church under the Moscow Patriarchate has these places under his pastoral care.

This move takes place only one week after Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople unilaterally (and illegally) lifted the excommunications, depositions (removal from priestly ranks as punishment) and anathemas against Filaret and Makary that were imposed on them by the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate.

These two censures are very serious matters in the Orthodox Church. Excommunication means that the person or church so considered cannot receive Holy Communion or any of the other Mysteries (called Sacraments in the West) in a neighboring local Orthodox Church. Anathema is even more serious, for this happens when a cleric disregards his excommunication and deposition (removal from the priesthood), and acts as a priest or a bishop anyway.

Filaret Denisenko received all these censures in 1992, and Patriarch Bartholomew accepted this decision at the time, as stated in a letter he sent to Moscow shortly after the censures. However, three years later, Patriarch Bartholomew received a group of Ukrainian autocephalist bishops called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA, who had been in communion with Filaret’s group. While this move may have been motivated by the factor of Bartholomew’s almost total isolation within Istanbul, Turkey, it is nonetheless non-canonical.

This year’s moves have far exceeded previous ones, though, and now the possibility for a real clash that could cost lives is raised. With Filaret’s “church” – really an agglomeration of Ukrainian ultranationalists and Neo-Nazis in the mix, plus millions of no doubt innocent Ukrainian faithful who are deluded about the problems of their church, challenging an existing arrangement regarding Ukraine and Russia’s two most holy sites, the results are not likely to be good at all.

Here is the report about today’s developments, reprinted in part from OrthoChristian.com:

Meeting today in Kiev, the Synod of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” (KP) has officially changed the title of its primate, “Patriarch” Philaret, to include the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras under his jurisdiction.

The primate’s new official title, as given on the site of the KP, is “His Holiness and Beatitude (name), Archbishop and Metropolitan of Kiev—Mother of the cities of Rus’, and Galicia, Patriarch of All Rus’-Ukraine, Svyaschenno-Archimandrite of the Holy Dormition Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras.”

…Thus, the KP Synod is declaring that “Patriarch” Philaret has jurisdiction over the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras, although they are canonically under the omophorion of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, the primate of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Philaret and his followers and nationalistic radicals have continually proclaimed that they will take the Lavras for themselves.

This claim to the ancient and venerable monasteries comes after the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate announced that it had removed the anathema placed upon Philaret by the Russian Orthodox Church and had restored him to his hierarchical office. Philaret was a metropolitan of the canonical Church, becoming patriarch in his schismatic organization.

Representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have clarified that they consider Philaret to be the “former Metropolitan of Kiev,” but he and his organization continue to consider him an active patriarch, with jurisdiction in Ukraine.

Constantinople’s statement also appealed to all in Ukraine to “avoid appropriation of churches, monasteries, and other properties,” which the Synod of the KP ignored in today’s decision.

The KP primate’s abbreviated title will be, “His Holiness (name), Patriarch of Kiev and All Rus’-Ukraine,” and the acceptable form for relations with other Local Churches is “His Beatitude Archbishop (name), Metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus’-Ukraine.”

The Russian Orthodox Church broke eucharistic communion and all relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate over this matter earlier this week. Of the fourteen local Orthodox Churches recognized the world over, twelve have expressed the viewpoint that Constantinople’s move was in violation of the canons of the Holy Orthodox Church. Only one local Church supported Constantinople wholeheartedly, and all jurisdictions except Constantinople have appealed for an interOrthodox Synod to address and solve the Ukrainian matter in a legitimate manner.

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