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Russia’s parliament is locked in rare dispute over bill to ban hunting dog training

The State Duma and Federation Council disagree over a bill to ban ‘baiting stations’ which some call animal cruelty

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(Meduza) – In mid-January, the State Duma created a mediation committee to review draft legislation that would ban “baiting stations,” where hunting dogs are trained to attack leashed wild animals. Co-sponsored by Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, the bill passed the lower house of Russia’s parliament in December 2017, before running into rare opposition from the Federation Council, which soon voted down the draft legislation. Senators argue that the law, which is intended to protect wild animals against cruelty, would actually “destroy hunting dog breeding” in Russia. The legislation’s supporters in the Duma say the Senate only rejected the law because of lobbying by “high-placed hunters.”

Never cross five million loyal voters

On December 21, 2017, the State Duma passed reforms to Russia’s hunting laws that would have prohibited the use of “baiting stations,” where big-game hunting dogs are trained to be aggressive with wild animals through exposure to chained animals in a closed area. There are currently 150 such facilities operated privately in Russia.

The legislation’s explanatory note states: “Wild animals receive serious injuries and are often killed during training. In order to prevent the animals from causing injury to the dog, they are mutilated (their teeth and claws are removed) and starved.” Lawmakers proposed that this form of training should be replaced by “contactless baiting,” where a net or sheet of glass would separate the animals.

One of the bill’s cosponsors, former Kremlin deputy chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin, has spent years trying to ban baiting stations. It seemed as if he’d finally succeeded on December 6, 2017, when the Duma passed his bill, but the Federation Council voted it down two weeks later in a rare rebuke. This was only the second time since the current Duma took office that the parliament’s upper house rejected one of its laws. (The first time, the Senate voted down a law that would have banned advertisements on utility bills, arguing that it was a “nonsense” regulation.”)

The Senate has struggled to come to a consensus about Volodin’s baiting-station ban. Vladimir Lebedev, the deputy chairman of the Federation Council’s committee on agriculture and food policy, told the newspaper Kommersant that the law would “destroy hunting dog breeding,” arguing that so-called contactless training doesn’t work. Lebedev also warned that the legislation would “harm five million loyal citizens,” referring to Russian hunters.

Before Volodin even introduced his bill, Lebedev started polling officials from different parts of Russia, claiming that “not a single” region endorses the prohibition and “roughly 60 areas” actively oppose it.

The legislation did have some support in the Federation Council, however. On December 23, three days before the Senate voted, Chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko said she’d discussed the bill with Vyacheslav Volodin and come to the conclusion that it “struck a balance between animal rights activists and hunters.” The law also had the endorsement of two Senate committees: the Constitutional Committee and (over Lebedev’s objections) the Environmental Committee.

In the end, however, senators rejected the legislation, agreeing to a recommendation that a mediation committee should be created with 11 representatives from each house of parliament to negotiate a compromise. State Duma Deputy Speaker Olga Timofeyeva told Meduza that the mediation is estimated to last a month. “We expect our colleagues [from the Senate] to offer meaningful and rational suggestions about how to improve the existing law. Many of my colleagues who aren’t involved in hunting haven’t even read the law,” she said.

Oleg Shein, a Duma deputy from the “A Just Russia” political party, told Meduza that the Senate’s criticisms of the law have been more emotional than rational. “[They] are taking this personally. Most hunters go after only fowl and small animals. The number of licenses issued for hunting bear and other large animals [requiring dogs trained at baiting stations] is negligibly small. It’s fair to say that the law would have affected no more than 0.5 percent of all hunters in Russia. Senators took this personally because a lot of them are big-game hunters themselves,” Shein said.

State Duma Deputy Speaker Olga Timofeeva Anton Novoderezhkin / TASS

Shein also blames lobbying efforts for the bill’s defeat in the Senate, and Olga Timofeyeva told Meduza that there was “rigorous lobbying by high-placed hunters,” though she refused to single out anyone. Olga Savastyanova, a United Russia Duma deputy who also cosponsored the bill, said the Senate’s vote breaks down into simpler terms: “We are divided into those who support animal cruelty and those who are against it.”

Biting a jeep covered in bearskin

For the past two or three years, the Russian media has drawn attention to baiting stations. In 2015, the newspaper Sobesednik described these facilities as “well-organized brutality,” publishing a story about a bear named Masha that, according to animal rights activists, was mauled by dogs at a baiting station outside Moscow.

Last summer, Elena Bobrova, the president of a regional animal rights charity, told Radio Liberty about a bear named Motya that was used as bait to train hunting and fighting dogs in Perm. The dogs reportedly tore off the animal’s nose and genitals, before ripping out its throat.

In 2016, VITA Animal Rights Center president Irina Novozhilova said that a group of foxes at one baiting station were fed “bits of their own species” by staff she described as “torturers,” “sadists,” and “monsters,” accusing them of starving and blinding the animals.

The Senate’s refusal to pass the legislation has prompted a lively debate on Russian social media. On January 8, publicist Vladimir Tverskoi uploaded graphic footage of two small dogs attacking a muzzled, chained fox. At the time of this writing, the video has been viewed more than 1 million times. The footage was originally shared by Tatyana Mazunova, who worked at several baiting stations near Moscow. People commenting on the video demonstrated a range of views on the issue of animal rights. Some Facebook users said they’d like to see the dogs’ owners in the fox’s place, while others criticized Tverskoi for spreading “sponsored propaganda,” telling him to become a vegetarian if he wants to tell hunters they can’t brutalize animals.

One of Tverskoi’s most vocal critics was Maria Maltseva, a clinical psychologist with a PhD in veterinary medicine and the director of the Russian Society for the Support and Development of Therapy Dogs. Maltseva was, in turn, accused of acting as a paid troll for the hunting lobby.

“No legal baiting station was involved in any of the outrageous practices described by this man [Tverskoi],” Maltseva told Meduza. “This isn’t because hunters are true animal lovers; it’s due to the simple fact that there’s no profit in killing the animal during the baiting process. The stories about bears or boars being ripped apart are sheer nonsense. Just try sinking your teeth into a jeep covered in bearskin, and you’ll see what I mean.”

A hunter with 22 years of experience and a professional dog trainer who manages hunting-dog breeding at the Russian Hunting and Fishing Association, Maria Kuzina told Meduza that she’s never heard of bears being killed during baiting. She says the animals at baiting stations aren’t prevented from moving around and can actually defend themselves.

“The dog and the animal engage in a mutual struggle, and the animal isn’t constrained in any way. Even on a chain, a bear can still move freely. The chain is only there to keep it from running away. The animals fight back and are able to swat at the dogs, which they often do,” says Kuzina, dismissing reports that trainers declaw and bind the animals. While boars do have their tusks removed, she admits, the operation is performed surgically, with anesthesia.

Animal rights activists’ main objection to baiting stations concerns the physical and mental suffering inflicted on the animals, but Maltseva says there’s not as much pain involved as people think. “The animals used as bait are adults that already have experience with dogs. They lean into the dogs with their shoulders, where the hide is thick. Animals have 25 percent fewer pain receptors than people and almost none in their shoulders. Their skin is also twice as thick, plus they have fur,” she argues. “They certainly don’t suffer psychologically. They’re facing off against young puppies that only fool around. The animals have fun chasing after them, feeling superior.”

“Animals at testing stations are training the exact same way,” says dog trainer Marina Kuzina. “Some animals are very interesting to watch. They provoke the dog, luring it in and swatting with a paw, instead of ripping it to shreds.” Kuzina says it’s instructors and animal owners who face the real danger at baiting stations.

“Of course, the animals suffer both physically and mentally,” says biologist Ilya Volodin, a senior researcher at Moscow State University’s Biology School. “What should concern us is minimizing this pain. If we want to eliminate animal suffering altogether, we’ll have to ban all zoos and animal testing, and stop making vaccines, and so on. Bioethics can be tricky, you see. It’s a whole subject all its own in higher education, and it’s very hard to draw the lines. I think experts, not laws, should regulate these issues. A sadist shouldn’t be allowed to operate a baiting station. A rational person wouldn’t want his foxes torn apart by dogs because that’s his own money on the line.”

Viktor Drachev / TASS

Malsteva says that hunters are actually some of Russia’s fiercest critics of animal cruelty. “They’ll lay you out and take your animals,” she warns, arguing that animal abuse only occurs at illegal baiting stations (which are relatively uncommon, she says). “[Abuse] cases discredit all hunting and they insult the community and its ethics.”

A threat to hunting dog breeding

On YouTube, you can find videos from baiting stations uploaded by dog owners. Most of these videos feature wild animals moving around freely within an enclosure, sometimes chasing after a dog and sometimes trying to hide. The dogs bark and often bite the animals. Rights activists say the practice instills cruelty in both the dogs and their owners, including owners’ children, who sometimes witness the training sessions.

“When you see the baiting, you feel sorry for the animals. But after a while your compassion weakens and you become more cruel. And the staff at these facilities go home to their families and kids, so we have parents with diminished emotional capacity and especially low compassion. This can lead to stricter and crueler parenting,” clinical psychologist Margarita Izotova warned Radio Liberty.

“They have created rules that celebrate cruelty and aggression. A dog receives points in a fight with a fox. It’s given several points for barking and for approaching the game, and up to 50 for showing aggression. That’s treated as the most valuable trait,” says animal rights activist Elena Bobrova.

Aggression is indisputably valued in hunting dogs, and it’s even assessed formally in competitions. Defined as “the ability of a dog to attack the fox during the entire length of the test,” judges look for “biting, lashing, and aggressive barking,” as well as “fearlessness in attacking the fox.” Dogs receive certificates for these achievements, which, as dog trainer Marina Kuzina explains, are essential for breeding.

“It’s just like assessing milk production in cows and egg-laying in hens. It’s testing a dog to see if it meets the expected standard. There is no other way to evaluate this in breeds of hunting dogs. This is why we work with baiting stations, where they have strict rules and specially dug fox holes. It has nothing to do with ‘showing off’ or giving the dog ‘a workout,’” says Kuzina. She believes a ban on contact baiting would make it impossible to evaluate hunting dogs, posing a threat to the whole breeding business.

Cruelty to wild animals

Not all the objections to the Duma’s legislation on hunting-dog training are about ethics. The law would also restrict training stations to designated hunting grounds, arguing that these facilities shouldn’t be anywhere near cities or small children. Kuzina says trainers like her share lawmakers’ concerns about baiting stations in populated areas, but she points out that some towns and villages are technically located inside hunting grounds.

Kuzina also believes the Duma’s hunting law amendments wouldn’t actually bring about the reforms lawmakers say they want. The laws on hunting don’t apply to wild animals held in captivity, she says, which includes the animals held at baiting stations. Senator Andrey Klishas, who’s also president of the Russian Hunting Dog Federation and show chairman of Moscow’s annual Sabaneev Memorial National Dog Show, pointed out in committee that the ban in question would only prohibit the use of domestic animals, such as in “hen baiting,” which isn’t practiced in Russia.

Meduza asked the law’s sponsors to respond to these criticisms. “I see no contradiction,” said Duma deputy Olga Savastyanova. Oleg Shein dismissed the issue as “a well-known debate,” promising to send Meduza “a link to the legal statute” that resolves the apparent conflict. (We never heard back from him.)

“We have one basic aim here: to outlaw cruelty against wild animals at baiting stations today,” explained Duma deputy Olga Timofeyeva, who has visited two baiting stations. Shein and Savastyanova say they’ve never been to a baiting station. “The videos were enough for me,” says Shein.

When forming the mediation committee that’s meant to bring the Duma and Senate to an agreement, Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin stated that the lower house’s position has not changed. “We are pushing for the humane treatment of animals,” he said. If the mediation committee finds a compromise before February 10, the Duma might tried to override the Senate’s rejection, which would require a new vote and a two-thirds majority (300 out of 450 votes). Volodin might get his wish, too. The country’s ruling political party, United Russia, has signaled its willingness to call for another vote.

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The real reason Western media & CIA turned against Saudi MBS

The problem with MBS isn’t that he is a mass murdering war criminal, it is that he is too “independent” for the United States’ liking.

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Forces are aligning against Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, lead by elements within the CIA and strong players in the mainstream media. But what is really behind this deterioration in relationship, and what are its implications?

Following the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, western media and various entities, including the CIA, appear to have turned their back on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS). In response to the scandal, the Guardian released a video which its celebutante, Owen Jones, captioned“Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest threats on Earth. Time to stop propping up its repulsive regime.”

The Guardian was not alone in its condemnation. “It’s high time to end Saudi impunity,” wrote Hana Al-Khamri in Al-Jazeera. “It’s time for Saudi Arabia to tell the truth on Jamal Khashoggi,” the Washington Post’s Editorial Board argued. Politico called it “the tragedy of Jamal Khashoggi.”

Even shadowy think-tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Atlantic Council released articles criticising Saudi Arabia in the wake of Khashoggi’s death.

A number of companies began backing away from Saudi money after the journalist’s death, including the world’s largest media companies such as the New York Times, the Economist’s editor-in-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes, Arianna Huffington, CNN, CNBC, the Financial Times, Bloomberg, Google Cloud CEO, just to name a few.

The CIA concluded that MBS personally ordered Khashoggi’s death, and was reportedly quite open in its provision of this assessment. Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the UN, also took time out of his schedule to express concern over Saudi Arabia’s confirmation of the killing.

At the time of the scandal, former CIA director John Brennan went on MSNBC to state that the Khashoggi’s death would be the downfall of MBS. Furthermore, the US Senate just voted in favour of ending American involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen (a somewhat symbolic victory, though this is a topic for another article), but nonetheless was a clear stab at MBS personally.

The only person who appeared to continue to uphold America’s unfaltering support for MBS, even after all the publicly made evidence against MBS, was the US president himself. So after years of bombarding Yemen, sponsoring terror groups across the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific and beyond, why is it only now that there has been mounting opposition to Saudi Arabia’s leadership? Let’s just bear in mind that western media had spent years investing in a heavy PR campaign to paint MBS as a “reformer.”

Former national security adviser under Barack Obama’s second term, Susan Rice, wrote an article in the New York Times, in which she called MBS a “partner we can’t depend on.” Rice concludes that MBS is “not and can no longer be viewed as a reliable partner of the United States and our allies.” But why is this? Is it because MBS is responsible for some of the most egregious human rights abuses inside his own kingdom as well as in Yemen? Is it because of MBS’ support for groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda? No, according to Rice, we “should not rupture our important relationship with the kingdom, but we must make it clear it cannot be business as usual so long as Prince Mohammad continues to wield unlimited power.”

One will observe that the latter segment of Rice’s article almost mirrors former CIA director Brennan’s word on MSNBC word for word who stated that:

“I think ultimately this is going to come out. And it’s very important for us to maintain the relations with Saudi Arabia. And if it’s Mohammed bin Salman who’s the cancer here, well, we need to be able to find ways to eliminate the cancer and to move forward with this relationship that is critical to regional stability and our national interests.”

In reality, this is probably the issue that western media and government advisors have taken up with MBS. Aside from the fact he allegedly held a huge hand in the brutal murder of one of their own establishment journalists (Saudi Arabia reportedly tortured and killed another journalist not long after Khashoggi, but western media was eerily silent on this incident) MBS is not opposed for his reckless disregard for human rights. With insight into Rice’s mindset, we actually learn that if the US were to punish MBS, he would be likely to “behave more irresponsibly to demonstrate his independence and exact retribution against his erstwhile Western partners.”

You see, the problem with MBS isn’t that he is a mass murdering war criminal, it is that he is too “independent” for the United States’ liking.

Last week, Saudi Arabia and the other major oil producers met in Vienna at the year’s final big OPEC meeting of the year. As Foreign Policy notes, Saudi Arabia remains the largest oil producer inside OPEC but has to contend with the US and Russia who are “pumping oil at record levels.” Together, the three countries are the world’s biggest oil producers, meaning any coordinated decision made between these three nations can be somewhat monumental.

However, it appears that one of these three nations will end up drawing the short end of the stick as the other two begin forming a closer alliance. As Foreign Policy explains:

“But Saudi Arabia has bigger game in mind at Vienna than just stabilizing oil prices. Recognizing that it can’t shape the global oil market by itself anymore but rather needs the cooperation of Russia, Saudi Arabia is hoping to formalize an ad hoc agreement between OPEC and Moscow that began in 2016, a time when dirt-cheap oil also posed a threat to oil-dependent regimes. That informal agreement expires at the end of the year, but the Saudis would like to make Russia’s participation with the cartel more permanent.”

Russian officials have been signalling their intention to formalise this agreement for quite some time now. Given the hysteria in western media about any and all things Russian, it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that this is the kind of news that is not sitting too well with the powers-that-be.

Earlier this year, Russia and Saudi Arabia announced that it would “institutionalize” the two-year-old bilateral agreement to coordinate oil production targets in order to maintain an edge on the global market.

While US president Trump has been supportive and incredibly defensive of MBS during this “crisis”, the truth is that the US only has itself to blame. It was not all too long ago that Trump announced that he had told Saudi King Salman that his kingdom would not last two weeks without US support.

Saudi Arabia is learning for themselves quite quickly that, ultimately, it may pay not to have all its eggs in one geopolitical superpower basket.

Saudi Arabia has been increasingly interested in Moscow since King Salman made a historic visit to Moscow in October 2017. While Trump has openly bragged about his record-breaking arms deals with the Saudis, the blunt truth is that the $110 billion arms agreements were reportedly only ever letters of interest or intent, but not actual contracts. As such, the US-Saudi arms deal is still yet to be locked in, all the while Saudi Arabia is negotiating with Russia for its S-400 air defence system. This is, as the Washington Post notes, despite repeated US requests to Saudi Arabia for it disavow its interest in Russia’s arms.

The economic threat that an “independent” Saudi Arabia under MBS’ leadership poses to Washington runs deeper than meets the eye and may indeed have a domino effect. According to CNN, Russia and Saudi Arabia “are engaged in an intense battle over who will be the top supplier to China, a major energy importer with an insatiable appetite for crude.”

The unveiling of China’s petro-yuan poses a major headache for Washington and its control over Saudi Arabia as well.According to Carl Weinberg, chief economist and managing director at High-Frequency Economics, China will “compel”Saudi Arabia to trade oil in Chinese yuan instead of US dollars. One must bear in mind that China has now surpassed the US as the “biggest oil importer on the planet,” these direct attacks on the US dollar will have huge implications for its current world reserve status.

If Saudi Arabia jumps on board China’s petro-yuan, the rest of OPEC will eventually follow, and the US might be left with no choice but to declare all of these countries in need of some vital freedom and democracy.

Therefore, ousting MBS and replacing him with a Crown Prince who doesn’t stray too far from the tree that is US imperialism may put a dent in pending relationships with Saudi Arabia and Washington’s adversaries, Russia and China.

Once we get over the certainty that the US media and the CIA are not against MBS for his long-list of human rights abuses, the question then becomes: why – why now, and in this manner, have they decided to put the spotlight on MBS and expose him exactly for what he is.

Clearly, the driving force behind this media outrage is a bit more complex than first meets the eye.

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Multipolar World Order in the Making: Qatar Dumps OPEC

Russia and Qatar’s global strategy also brings together and includes partners like Turkey.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The decision by Qatar to abandon OPEC threatens to redefine the global energy market, especially in light of Saudi Arabia’s growing difficulties and the growing influence of the Russian Federation in the OPEC+ mechanism.

In a surprising statement, Qatari energy minister Saad al-Kaabi warned OPEC on Monday December 3 that his country had sent all the necessary documentation to start the country’s withdrawal from the oil organization in January 2019. Al-Kaabi stressed that the decision had nothing to do with recent conflicts with Riyadh but was rather a strategic choice by Doha to focus on the production of LNG, which Qatar, together with the Russian Federation, is one of the largest global exporters of. Despite an annual oil extraction rate of only 1.8% of the total of OPEC countries (about 600,000 barrels a day), Qatar is one of the founding members of the organization and has always had a strong political influence on the governance of the organization. In a global context where international relations are entering a multipolar phase, things like cooperation and development become fundamental; so it should not surprise that Doha has decide to abandon OPEC. OPEC is one of the few unipolar organizations that no longer has a meaningful purpose in 2018, given the new realities governing international relations and the importance of the Russian Federation in the oil market.

Besides that, Saudi Arabia requires the organization to maintain a high level of oil production due to pressure coming from Washington to achieve a very low cost per barrel of oil. The US energy strategy targets Iranian and Russian revenue from oil exports, but it also aims to give the US a speedy economic boost. Trump often talks about the price of oil falling as his personal victory. The US imports about 10 million barrels of oil a day, which is why Trump wrongly believes that a decrease in the cost per barrel could favor a boost to the US economy. The economic reality shows a strong correlation between the price of oil and the financial growth of a country, with low prices of crude oil often synonymous of a slowing down in the economy.

It must be remembered that to keep oil prices low, OPEC countries are required to maintain a high rate of production, doubling the damage to themselves. Firstly, they take less income than expected and, secondly, they deplete their oil reserves to favor the strategy imposed by Saudi Arabia on OPEC to please the White House. It is clearly a strategy that for a country like Qatar (and perhaps Venezuela and Iran in the near future) makes little sense, given the diplomatic and commercial rupture with Riyadh stemming from tensions between the Gulf countries.

In contrast, the OPEC+ organization, which also includes other countries like the Russian Federation, Mexico and Kazakhstan, seems to now to determine oil and its cost per barrel. At the moment, OPEC and Russia have agreed to cut production by 1.2 million barrels per day, contradicting Trump’s desire for high oil output.

With this last choice Qatar sends a clear signal to the region and to traditional allies, moving to the side of OPEC+ and bringing its interests closer in line with those of the Russian Federation and its all-encompassing oil and gas strategy, two sectors in which Qatar and Russia dominate market share.

In addition, Russia and Qatar’s global strategy also brings together and includes partners like Turkey (a future energy hub connecting east and west as well as north and south) and Venezuela. In this sense, the meeting between Maduro and Erdogan seems to be a prelude to further reorganization of OPEC and its members.

The declining leadership role of Saudi Arabia in the oil and financial market goes hand in hand with the increase of power that countries like Qatar and Russia in the energy sectors are enjoying. The realignment of energy and finance signals the evident decline of the Israel-US-Saudi Arabia partnership. Not a day goes by without corruption scandals in Israel, accusations against the Saudis over Khashoggi or Yemen, and Trump’s unsuccessful strategies in the commercial, financial or energy arenas. The path this doomed

trio is taking will only procure less influence and power, isolating them more and more from their opponents and even historical allies.

Moscow, Beijing and New Delhi, the Eurasian powerhouses, seem to have every intention, as seen at the trilateral summit in Buenos Aires, of developing the ideal multipolar frameworks to avoid continued US dominance of the oil market through shale revenues or submissive allies as Saudi Arabia, even though the latest spike in production is a clear signal from Riyadh to the USA. In this sense, Qatar’s decision to abandon OPEC and start a complex and historical discussion with Moscow on LNG in the format of an enlarged OPEC marks the definitive decline of Saudi Arabia as a global energy power, to be replaced by Moscow and Doha as the main players in the energy market.

Qatar’s decision is, officially speaking, unconnected to the feud triggered by Saudi Arabia against the small emirate. However, it is evident that a host of factors has led to this historic decision. The unsuccessful military campaign in Yemen has weakened Saudi Arabia on all fronts, especially militarily and economically. The self-inflicted fall in the price of oil is rapidly consuming Saudi currency reserves, now at a new low of less than 500 billion dollars. Events related to Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) have de-legitimized the role of Riyadh in the world as a reliable diplomatic interlocutor. The internal and external repression by the Kingdom has provoked NGOs and governments like Canada’s to issue public rebukes that have done little to help MBS’s precarious position.

In Syria, the victory of Damascus and her allies has consolidated the role of Moscow in the region, increased Iranian influence, and brought Turkey and Qatar to the multipolar side, with Tehran and Moscow now the main players in the Middle East. In terms of military dominance, there has been a clear regional shift from Washington to Moscow; and from an energy perspective, Doha and Moscow are turning out to be the winners, with Riyadh once again on the losing side.

As long as the Saudi royal family continues to please Donald Trump, who is prone to catering to Israeli interests in the region, the situation of the Kingdom will only get worse. The latest agreement on oil production between Moscow and Riyad signals that someone in the Saudi royal family has probably figured this out.

Countries like Turkey, India, China, Russia and Iran understand the advantages of belonging to a multipolar world, thereby providing a collective geopolitical ballast that is mutually beneficial. The energy alignment between Qatar and the Russian Federation seems to support this general direction, a sort of G2 of LNG gas that will only strengthen the position of Moscow on the global chessboard, while guaranteeing a formidable military umbrella for Doha in case of a further worsening of relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

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Constantinople: Ukrainian Church leader is now uncanonical

October 12 letter proclaims Metropolitan Onuphry as uncanonical and tries to strong-arm him into acquiescing through bribery and force.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The pressure in Ukraine kept ratcheting up over the last few days, with a big revelation today that Patriarch Bartholomew now considers Metropolitan Onuphy “uncanonical.” This news was published on 6 December by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (running under the Moscow Patriarchate).

This assessment marks a complete 180-degree turn by the leader of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople, and it further embitters the split that has developed to quite a major row between this church’s leadership and the Moscow Patriarchate.

OrthoChristian reported this today (we have added emphasis):

A letter of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine was published yesterday by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in which the Patriarch informed the Metropolitan that his title and position is, in fact, uncanonical.

This assertion represents a negation of the position held by Pat. Bartholomew himself until April of this year, when the latest stage in the Ukrainian crisis began…

The same letter was independently published by the Greek news agency Romfea today as well.

It is dated October 12, meaning it was written just one day after Constantinople made its historic decision to rehabilitate the Ukrainian schismatics and rescind the 1686 document whereby the Kiev Metropolitanate was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, thereby, in Constantinople’s view, taking full control of Ukraine.

In the letter, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that after the council, currently scheduled for December 15, he will no longer be able to carry his current title of “Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine.”

The Patriarch immediately opens his letter with Constantinople’s newly-developed historical claim about the jurisdictional alignment of Kiev: “You know from history and from indisputable archival documents that the holy Metropolitanate of Kiev has always belonged to the jurisdiction of the Mother Church of Constantinople…”

Constantinople has done an about-face on its position regarding Ukraine in recent months, given that it had previously always recognized the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate as the sole canonical primate in Ukraine.

…The bulk of the Patriarch’s letter is a rehash of Constantinople’s historical and canonical arguments, which have already been laid out and discussed elsewhere. (See also here and here). Pat. Bartholomew also writes that Constantinople stepped into the Ukrainian ecclesiastical sphere as the Russian Church had not managed to overcome the schisms that have persisted for 30 years.

It should be noted that the schisms began and have persisted precisely as anti-Russian movements and thus the relevant groups refused to accept union with the Russian Church.

Continuing, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that his position and title are uncanonical:

Addressing you as ‘Your Eminence the Metropolitan of Kiev’ as a form of economia [indulgence/condescension—OC] and mercy, we inform you that after the elections for the primate of the Ukrainian Church by a body that will consist of clergy and laity, you will not be able ecclesiologically and canonically to bear the title of Metropolitan of Kiev, which, in any case, you now bear in violation of the described conditions of the official documents of 1686.

He also entreats Met. Onuphry to “promptly and in a spirit of harmony and unity” participate, with the other hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in the founding council of the new Ukrainian church that Constantinople is planning to create, and in the election of its primate.

The Constantinople head also writes that he “allows” Met. Onuphry to be a candidate for the position of primate.

He further implores Met. Onuphry and the UOC hierarchy to communicate with Philaret Denisenko, the former Metropolitan of Kiev, and Makary Maletich, the heads of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” and the schismatic “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” respectively—both of which have been subsumed into Constantinople—but whose canonical condemnations remain in force for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The hierarchs of the Serbian and Polish Churches have also officially rejected the rehabilitation of the Ukrainian schismatics.

Pat. Bartholomew concludes expressing his confidence that Met. Onuphry will decide to heal the schism through the creation of a new church in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Metropolitan Onuphry’s leadership is recognized as the sole canonical Orthodox jurisdiction in Ukraine by just about every other canonical Orthodox Jurisdiction besides Constantinople. Even NATO member Albania, whose expressed reaction was “both sides are wrong for recent actions” still does not accept the canonicity of the “restored hierarchs.”

In fact, about the only people in this dispute that seem to be in support of the “restored” hierarchs, Filaret and Makary, are President Poroshenko, Patriarch Bartholomew, Filaret and Makary… and NATO.

While this letter was released to the public eye yesterday, the nearly two months that Metropolitan Onuphry has had to comply with it have not been helped in any way by the actions of both the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Ukrainian government.

Priests of the Canonical Church in Ukraine awaiting interrogation by the State authorities

For example, in parallel reports released on December 6th, the government is reportedly accusing canonical priests in Ukraine of treason because they are carrying and distributing a brochure entitled (in English): The Ukrainian Orthodox Church: Relations with the State. The Attitude Towards the Conflict in Donbass and to the Church Schism. Questions and Answers.

In a manner that would do any American liberal proud, these priests are being accused of inciting religious hatred, though really all they are doing is offering an explanation for the situation in Ukraine as it exists.

A further piece also released yesterday notes that the Ukrainian government rehabilitated an old Soviet-style technique of performing “inspections of church artifacts” at the Pochaev Lavra. This move appears to be both intended to intimidate the monastics who are living there now, who are members of the canonical Church, as well as preparation for an expected forcible takeover by the new “united Church” that is under creation. The brotherhood characterized the inspections in this way:

The brotherhood of the Pochaev Lavra previously characterized the state’s actions as communist methods of putting pressure on the monastery and aimed at destroying monasticism.

Commenting on the situation with the Pochaev Lavra, His Eminence Archbishop Clement of Nizhyn and Prilusk, the head of the Ukrainian Church’s Information-Education Department, noted:

This is a formal raiding, because no reserve ever built the Pochaev Lavra, and no Ministry of Culture ever invested a single penny to restoring the Lavra, and the state has done nothing to preserve the Lavra in its modern form. The state destroyed the Lavra, turned it into a psychiatric hospital, a hospital for infectious diseases, and so on—the state has done nothing more. And now it just declares that it all belongs to the state. No one asked the Church, the people that built it. When did the Lavra and the land become state property? They belonged to the Church from time immemorial.

With the massive pressure both geopolitically and ecclesiastically building in Ukraine almost by the day, it is anyone’s guess what will happen next.

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