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Skripal case: belief in Russia’s guilt looks to be based not on evidence but on a guess

British authorities admit have no proof poison made in Russia; entire case against Russia based on a classified assessment

Alexander Mercouris

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On the eve of the meeting of the OPCW’s executive council – convened by Russia and scheduled for tomorrow – we have had a highly revealing succession of statements about the Skripal case from the British authorities.

The one which is attracting the most attention is the admission by Gary Aitkenhead, chief executive of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down, that whilst British scientists are able to confirm that the poison used in the attack and Sergey and Yulia Skripal was a ‘military grade’ Novichok type substance (the Russian authorities say the British have told them it is A-234), they cannot confirm that it was produced in Russia.

We were able to identify it as novichok, to identify that it was military-grade nerve agent.

We have not identified the precise source, but we have provided the scientific info to Government who have then used a number of other sources to piece together the conclusions you have come to…..

It is our job to provide the scientific evidence of what this particular nerve agent is, we identified that it is from this particular family and that it is a military grade, but it is not our job to say where it was manufactured.

(bold italics added)

Gary Aitkenhead did however go on to say that the poison used in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal would have required “extremely sophisticated methods to create, something only in the capabilities of a state actor”.

Gary Aitkenhead refused to say whether or not Porton Down had ever produced any of the poison used in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal.  However he categorically denied that the poison could have come from Porton Down

There is no way anything like that could have come from us or left the four walls of our facility

Before proceeding further, I should say that I expect that some people are going to seize on Gary Aitkenhead’s denial that the poison could have escaped from Porton Down as an admission that there are stocks of the poison in Porton Down.

That would be a logical fallacy.  A denial of one thing – that the poison came from Porton Down – should never be treated as an admission of something else – in this case that Porton Down possesses stocks of the poison.

I say this as someone who thinks it ‘highly likely’ (to borrow a phrase) that Porton Down does possess stocks of the poison.

In any event, we now have clarity on one important point.  The scientific evidence does not prove that the poison which was used in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal came from Russia.

I expect that this is also the opinion of the French experts the British authorities consulted – if it were not I would expect Gary Aitkenhead to have said so – and of the OPCW’s experts.

The current position in the case can therefore be summed up as follows

(1) the British scientific evidence is that Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned by a Novichok type chemical agent (probably A-234) but does not extend to this agent having been made in Russia;

(2) the British police have not yet named a suspect in the case;

(3) there are various theories about how Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned.  Sputnik has summed some of them.  It appears that the latest theory – that the poison was smeared on the door of Sergey Skripal’s house – is running into problems, and may be wrong.

(4) though Gary Aitkenhead says that the British have no knowledge of any antidote in a case of poisoning by the chemical used in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal, the British authorities have said that Yulia Skripal is now recovering, which suggests either that her contact with the poison was very slight, or that the potency of the poison has been greatly exaggerated.

Theresa May on 14th March 2018 said that Russia was ‘culpable’ of the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal.  Previously, on 12th March 2018 she said that it was ‘highly likely’ that Russia was responsible for the attack.  Since the EU Council meeting of 22nd March 2018 the British government together with the EU have reverted to Theresa May’s original 12th March 2018 position that it was ‘highly likely’ that Russia was responsible for the attack.

Gary Aitkenhead’s comments taken by themselves in my opinion make it impossible even to say that Russia was ‘highly likely’ to have carried out the attack.

His claim that only a state possesses the resources to have made the poison is not evidence against Russia given that various other states are known to have the means to produce the poison and may actually have done so.

Besides I understand that this claim is disputed by other scientists, who however – unlike Gary Aitkenhead – have not been involved in identifying the poison.

We are left therefore with our old friends, the British government and the British intelligence agencies who have secretly ‘assessed’ on the basis of ‘other’ evidence which since it is classified they will never show us that Russia made and possesses the poison which was used in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal.

That we are dealing not with hard fact of the sort that can be produced in court to prove a case, but with a classified ‘assessment’ the basis of which will always be secret, is confirmed by the British Foreign Office, whose spokesman is reported to have said the following

We have been clear from the very beginning that our world leading experts at Porton Down identified the substance used in Salisbury as a Novichok, a military grade nerve agent.

This is only one part of the intelligence picture.

As the Prime Minister has set out in a number of statements to the Commons since 12 March, this includes our knowledge that within the last decade, Russia has investigated ways of delivering nerve agents – probably for assassination – and as part of this programme has produced and stockpiled small quantities of Novichoks.

Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views former intelligence officers as targets.

It is our assessment that Russia was responsible for this brazen and reckless act and, as the international community agrees, there is no other plausible explanation

(bold italics added)

That this is so has also been confirmed by Porton Down

It is not, and has never been, our responsibility to confirm the source of the agent.

This chemical identity of the nerve agent is one of four factors [NB: what were the other three – AM] used by the Government to attribute the use of chemical weapons in Salisbury to Russia.

The Government’s assessment has been clear from the start. Our chemical analysis is a key part of the Government’s assessment, and this has not changed

(bold italics added)

The word ‘assessment’ may sound impressive, but it is essentially no more than a pretentious word for a surmise or at best an analysis.  As such – like any other surmise or analysis – it can be wrong.

The famous 6th January 2017 ODNI Assessment – one of the foundation documents of the Russiagate scandal – contains a lengthy discussion of what an ‘assessment’ is.  It contains these now famous words

Estimative language consists of two elements: judgments about the likelihood of developments or events occurring and levels of confidence in the sources and analytic reasoning supporting the judgments.  Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact.  Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation, and precedents. 

(bold italics added)

If the British government thinks it knows that Russia carried out the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal – which is all that an ‘assessment’ implies – that is one thing.

However a criminal investigation by the British police into the attack is supposed to be underway.

The British government has preempted that investigation by making public claims of Russian state responsibility on the basis of an ‘assessment’ the grounds for which can never be shown to a defendant, and which therefore cannot be produced in court.

I cannot see how that can do anything else other than undermine the whole investigation process, and prejudice the conduct of any future trial.

Perhaps that is a matter of indifference to most people.  It is not to me.

As for the famous formula that it is ‘highly likely’ that Russia is responsible for the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal, I do not see how that is sustainable any longer.

The most that can be said is that the British government thinks that Russia is responsible, about which however it may be wrong.

Perhaps all those countries that expelled Russia’s diplomats on the strength of a British guess should now be inviting them back?

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‘Treasonous’ Trump in the Conspirators’ Crosshairs

Every effort will continue to be made to ensure no concrete progress can be made on whatever was discussed in Helsinki while maintaining the 24/7 drumbeat of demonization.

Jim Jatras

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At least the White House can be happy that the resident Hitler-in-Chief’s inhuman separation of innocent migrant children from adults caught illegally crossing the US border with Mexico matters to nobody anymore.

Everyone’s moved on. “Children in cages” is yesterday’s news.

The issue now is treason, a crime carrying the death penalty.

On that score America and the entire world owe former CIA Director and onetime communist voter John Brennan a debt of gratitude for pointing out that President Donald Trump’s expressing the slightest hint of doubt about conclusions reached by the US Intelligence Community is both impeachable and treasonous.

Brennan didn’t just make that up, you know. It’s in the Constitution of the United States, right there in black and white:

Article II, Section 1: “The executive Power shall be vested in an Intelligence Community of the United States of America.”

Article III, Section 3: “Treason against the United States, shall consist in doubting the Intelligence Community in any way, shape, or form.”

There you have it, it’s an open and shut case of treason, committed in full view of the global public within feet of Russian President Vladimir Putin – who, as the crack journalists of our intrepid Fourth Estate have now revealed through their diligent investigative work, was once an officer in the Soviet  KGB!  Trump’s unmasking, through his very own perfidious words, now adds “traitor” to all the other terms of opprobrium already justly appertaining to him.

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We all know what happens to traitors, don’t we?

A day later Trump hastily sought to cover up his treachery with the lame suggestion that he had inadvertently dropped the semi-syllable “-n’t” during his Helsinki press conference with his Russian “handler.” (Actually, that “wouldn’t/would” dodge is pretty cute. Who thought it up – Steve Miller? Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Trump himself? Genius! One can almost hear them brainstorming over what explanation would most insult the limited intelligence of their critics.)

But try as he might, Trump can’t escape. His media pursuers have caught on to his Houdini routine:

‘President Donald Trump’s attempt on Tuesday to backpedal on his disastrous remarks siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which the stone-faced president read from a monotone prepared statement but deviated several times from it, was eerily reminiscent of the way he handled his infamous false equivalence in response to the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer.

‘After accepting Putin’s denial instead of affirming U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, Trump on Tuesday tried to reverse course. Reading from prepared remarks, he said that he accepts the intelligence agencies’ conclusion and claimed that he misspoke during Monday’s press conference. (He added ‘that perhaps “other people” were responsible, and reverted to his usual talking point that “there was no collusion” between his campaign and Russia, which appeared to be unscripted.) [ … ]

‘Many reporters, commentators and other political observers made similar observations, noting that Trump could quickly reverse himself again, just as he did in his response to the events in Charlottesville.’

Indeed, just the day after his “stone-faced,” “monotone” semi-contrition, Trump was right back at it, colluding with fellow Putin-puppet Tucker Carlson on Fox News. (Even worse, the Trump-Carlson duo even blasphemed against the holiest of holies of US national security, Americans’ willingness to risk nuclear annihilation in World War III over tiny, corrupt Montenegro.)

Not only did this two-man, latter-day analogue to the Gunpowder Plot belittle the supposedly proven fact of Russian hacking of the 2016 election (which nonetheless is still disbelieved by almost 40% of Americans!), they took the opportunity to inject a note of – you guessed it!  racism:

‘Carlson used literal white supremacy to defend Trump’s news conference.

‘“I mean I’m not a shrink, so I don’t fully understand it. I mean I don’t think Russia is our close friend or anything like that. I mean, of course, they tried to interfere in our affairs; they have for a long time. Many countries do. Some more successfully than Russia, like Mexico which is routinely interfering in our elections by packing our electorate,” Carlson said, suggesting Mexican immigrants who become naturalized citizens and vote are somehow illegitimate voters.

‘Former FBI Director James Comey criticized Trump for sitting down with Hannity and Carlson.

‘“Having sold out our nation on an international stage, Mr. Trump will now explain it all to Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson? I’m guessing RT and [Sputnik] were unavailable.’

But aside from Carlson, virtually all of Trump’s supposed defenders (mostly on Fox News) agreed entirely with the President’s accusers that questioning the intelligence community was totally impermissible.

Indeed, both his defenders and even Trump himself have tried to deflect criticism by citing the myriad ways in which his Administration has been “tough” on the Russians: sanctions, expelling diplomats, striking Syria twice, and most of all reveling in the slaughter of Russian contractors in Syria.

This reflects a troubling fact that undermines optimism that the Helsinki summit will herald a change for the better in the US-Russia relationship. The fact is, Putin is master in his own house but Trump is not.

There is no order or instruction Trump can give that he can be sure will be carried out, either by the Pentagon or the intelligence community – and certainly not the Justice Department, which blatantly tried to sabotage the summit with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s issuance of avacuous indictment of 12 GRU officers. As described by former CIA intelligence officer Michael Scheuer:

‘Why should any American worry about the unending, manic claims that Russia interfered in the 2016 election? This story, after all, has been made up and perpetuated by aspiring traitors like Clapper, Hayden, Tapper, Acosta, Hillary Clinton, Comey, John Podesta, Maddow, McCabe, Brennan, Page, Strzok, Wray, the reporting staffs of the Washington Post and the New York Times, the Council on Foreign Relations, and most of all, by the foreign-born Obama.

To believe this crew’s statements about anything at all is to believe that John McCain and Lindsay Graham can open their mouths without lying us into yet another interventionist war. […]

‘In the face of what Jefferson surely would call a “long train” of perfidy, treason, obsessive avarice, and murder by the national government, one must ask why would any commonsensical American fail to see that the Russian-meddling narrative is transparently an attempt by Obama leftovers and the seething, quite mad Neocons to push the United States into a new Cold War with Russia, one that would lead to a hot war, as well as a means of keeping themselves out of the slammer and off the gallows.

‘Indeed, there is not a loyal American citizen who has a single credible reason to believe any intelligence-based claims made by the Obama administration, or the Obama leftovers in Trump’s administration, about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The citizenry’s only fair-minded conclusion is that Obama ordered his intelligence and military lieutenants to stand down on responding to “Russian hacking” in summer, 2016, because no such hacking occurred.

Certainly, the two indictments of Russians – written by Obama acolytes led by Rosenstein, Strzok, and old-man, disgrace-to-the-Marines Mueller and his merry band of Trump-hating attorneys — are clearly dreamed-up travesties that would disgrace a first-year law-school student and get him the boot therefrom.’

The bottom line is that, even after Helsinki, Trump remains besieged inside his own Administration. It cannot be said with any assurance that there is a single high official, including Trump’s own appointees, who agrees with the President’s desire for rapprochement with Russia.

Congress is almost entirely against him, as evidenced by a virtually unanimous Senate vote on a nonbinding resolution against treaty-based law enforcement cooperation with Russia (as discussed by the two presidents) and talk of fast-tracking more sanctions legislation.

Even in areas theoretically under Trump’s full control, most importantly his constitutional command of the military, there is pushback. One early deliverable of the summit should be US-Russia cooperation in Syria to help wind down that war.

But General Joseph Votel, who leads U.S. Central Command, was quick to point out that he’s received no instructions and that under prohibitory legislation enacted in 2014 no such cooperation would be legal without Congressional action to create an exception – which will not be forthcoming.

In a rule of law state, law enforcement should be politically neutral. In most countries it’s not, with those in power using police, prosecutors, and courts as weapons against the opposition. Only in America, and only since Trump’s election, has anyone seen the bizarre phenomenon of election losers abusing law enforcement against the winner.

Even as Trump talks optimistically of a second summit with Putin in Washington in a few months, the criminal Deep State conspiracy against him rolls on with the complicity of top appointees like Rosenstein.

Every effort will continue to be made to ensure no concrete progress can be made on whatever was discussed in Helsinki while maintaining the 24/7 drumbeat of demonization. (There’s even an attempt to force Trump’s interpreter in Helsinki, Marina Gross, to divulge what transpired in private between the presidents. Gross herself may draw suspicion on account of an unconfirmed report that she may actually speak Russian…)

For his part, Trump must seek support from the only direction he can: the tens of millions of “Deplorables” who voted for him. The more the media, the Democrats, and the GOP establishment trash him, the more they are convinced he is on the right track. By doubting the truth of Russian hacking and our sacred NATO obligation to every insignificant country few ordinary Americans could find on a map, he has increasingly mainstreamed those notions with his base.

Trump’s only way forward is continuing to be the wrecking ball he was elected to be. Twitter and his ability to change the subject with outrageous and “impermissible” utterances and actions are his main weapons. In that vein, as long as he’s being accused of treason, he might as well make the most of it:

Mr. Trump, fire Rosenstein and let the chips fall where they may.

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James Clapper rats out his former boss Barack Obama (Video)

Trump-Russia witch hunt started with order from former US President Barack Obama.

Alex Christoforou

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All roads in the Trump-Russia witch hunt lead to Barack Obama…at least that is what his former intelligence czar James Clapper admitted to fake news, CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

Former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper admitted in a CNN interview Saturday that former President Obama instigated the ongoing investigations into Donald Trump and his inner circle of advisors and staffer.

Speaking with Anderson Cooper, Clapper mad the stunning admission…

If it weren’t for President Obama we might not have done the intelligence community assessment that we did that set up a whole sequence of events which are still unfolding today including Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation. President Obama is responsible for that. It was he who tasked us to do that intelligence community assessment in the first place.

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Via Zerohedge

Recall in May, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) fired off a letter to the Department of Justice  demanding unredacted versions of text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and former bureau attorney Lisa Page, including one exchange which took place after Strzok had returned from London as part of the recently launched “Operation Crossfire Hurricane”  referring to the White House “running” an unknown investigation.

Strzok had been in London to interview Australian ambassador Alexander Downer about a drunken conversation with Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who – after reportedly being fed information – mentioned Russia having Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Strzok: And hi. Went well, best we could have expected. Other than [REDACTED] quote: “the White House is running this.” My answer, “well, maybe for you they are.” And of course, I was planning on telling this guy, thanks for coming, we’ve got an hour, but with Bill [Priestap] there, I’ve got no control….

Page: Yeah, whatever (re the WH comment). We’ve got the emails that say otherwise.

With Clapper’s admission that Obama was in the know the whole time, it looks like Peter Strzok’s text message stating “the White House is running this” was spot on.

House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) told Fox’s Maria Bartiromo that the American public needs to see an unredacted version of the Carter Page FISA application.

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NATO’s eastward push clashes with Church Canons in the Ukraine

Amid other geopolitical machinations on the “Eastern front” there is one that has so far largely passed under the radar although its potential as a crisis detonator (or perhaps more properly, exacerbator) in the Ukraine and the surrounding Eastern Orthodox domains should not be underestimated.

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Petro Poroshenko meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Quite “spontaneously,” as these things are, won’t to happen, agitation at state and ecclesiastical levels in the Ukraine has been turned on to demand autocephaly, which in Orthodox church terminology is self-ruled status for the Orthodox religious community in the Ukraine.

But not for just any of the existing communities (there are at least two major ones, the Orthodox church in spiritual communion with the Russian Orthodox patriarchy in Moscow, and a breakaway group espousing all the politically correct Ukrainian nationalist and Russophobic views). Alert and politically savvy readers should have guessed that in this controversy center-stage is the breakaway, NATO-friendly group.

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The seemingly plausible argument is that since the Ukraine is an “independent” country, it is entitled also to have its own “independent” national Orthodox church to go along with that. That may or may not be so, depending on how church authorities in charge of these matters interpret and apply the relevant provisions of church law, or cannons. But before the issue was even presented to higher church councils for a ruling, the Ukrainian government itself avidly jumped into the fray to support its local Russophobic ecclesiastical proteges.

Needless to say, the Moscow Patriarchy affiliate in the Ukraine, which is followed by a majority of believers in that country, has taken a strong stand against the combined offensive against it of the NATO backed regime and its allies, anti-Russian zealots in cassocks. That means that now a new religious front also has been opened in the portion of Ukraine controlled by the Kiev regime.

It is an attempt to complete the process already begun in the spheres of language, culture, education, history, and a number of other key areas, in this case to extirpate the last vestiges of “malign” Russian spiritual influence by severing the last remaining ecclesiastical link to Moscow. Driving the point home are the fervent partisans of the “native” Ukrainian church, led by defrocked former bishop Philaret Denysenko, now styling himself the new Ukrainian patriarch.

The fact that in the early 90s the same Denysenko, who at that time was an Orthodox bishop, had no qualms about putting forward his candidacy for Patriarch of Russia, and that, although a Russian-speaker, he subsequently embraced Ukrainian nationalism and conveniently developed passionate anti-Russian sentiments only after failing to achieve that objective, is beside the point. What matters is that he has now become a willing tool and visible symbol of the hybrid war being waged by NATO against Russia in the region, a war which in this instance has also a vibrant religious component.

What must be making hybrid war experts at the headquarters in Mons and other centers which attend to such matters jubilant is that igniting a religious confrontation in the Ukraine holds for them much more than merely local benefits. It is equivalent to opening a Pandora’s Box in the most literally geopolitical, and not just purely religious sense of the expression. A dispute of this nature cannot be properly settled either within the Ukraine itself or by means of intra-church dialogue between Kiev and Moscow.

In the Orthodox world it is possible for a national church to gain self-rule, or autocephaly, but only under strictly prescribed conditions designed to preserve church unity and harmony. That means, at a minimum, that the consent of the Mother Church (in this case the Moscow Patriarchate) is required, as well as the approval of all the other churches around the world which form the Orthodox communion. And on top of that, to greatly complicate matters, there is also the ambiguous role in this process of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchy in Constantinople (Istanbul).

That see traditionally enjoys the position of “first among equals,” and it is not expected to act unilaterally but in consultation with other churches in resolving important issues. In the last couple of decades, however, it has notably tried to shake off those institutional constraints and has sought to turn itself into the Orthodox equivalent of the Roman Catholic Vatican.

The precarious position of the Ecumenical Patriarchy in Turkey, where it has very few, mostly ethnic Greek, followers remaining and is under heavy, and frankly unreasonable pressure from the essentially hostile Turkish government, since about the middle of the last century has motivated its patriarchs to seek the friendship and protection of Western NATO powers, simply to survive. That protection, however, did not come free of charge. Increasingly, and in particular during the Cold War period, the Ecumenical patriarch has been obligated to actively support various Western political initiatives. The increasingly Islamist complexion of the Turkish regime has now made toeing the Western line an existential necessity to an even greater degree.

Hence the unprecedented move by Poroshenko, during his visit to Turkey in April, taking a practical shortcut to resolve the Ukrainian situation without waiting first for a broad Orthodox Church consensus on the issue to emerge. Instead, Poroshenko urged directly the trapped  Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to personally, and without bothering to consult peers, issue to Denysenko and his Kiev flock a grant of self-rule, in the requested form as patriarch of the NATO-invented and anointed “Ukrainian Orthodox Church.”

To sweeten the deal, Poroshenko was supposed to bring in his coffers $25 million collected by devout Ukrainian oligarchs in the US, as a humble offering to patriarch Bartholomew to take a benevolent view of the fervent plea delivered to him on behalf of the Ukrainian faithful. Remarkably, the delivery of only a $10 million gift to the Patriarchy was recorded by the time the pious emoluments actually reached their destination in Istanbul. Where the missing $15 million might have evaporated can only be guessed, but given the Ukrainians’ sticky fingers when handling cash it does not require a long stretch of the imagination.

Predictably, the Russian Orthodox Patriarchy took a very dim view of such back-door church politicking lubricated with plenty of cash, even if one considers only the diminished sum that actually reached the designated recipients. Its foreign relations spokesman, Metropolitan Hilarion, warned the patriarch in Istanbul that he was playing with fire by turning a receptive ear to Kiev’s entreaties because, in his view, granting Ukrainian church self-rule (autocephaly) in disregard of canonical regulations would be “to cause a Great Schism equivalent to the one that occurred a thousand years ago”.

It should not be forgotten that this is no idle threat because the Russian church is the most numerous among Orthodox nations and a split between it and the Ecumenical see in Istanbul would plunge the entire Orthodox world into disarray. But that is just what the NATO doctors ordered, isn’t it?

It is, of course, quite normal for officials of the Russian church to seek to protect their faithful and safeguard their status in the Ukraine. But the impending, NATO-engineered convulsion, using the alleged spiritual needs of its Ukrainian colony as a hollow pretext, unleashed within the Orthodox religious community which sits astride the arc of geopolitical competition stretching from the Balkans to Russia, and from the Black Sea basin into the Caucasus, with a significant historical presence throughout the Middle East, is fraught with serious implications.

For one thing, its clear purpose is to add another layer to the campaign to “isolate Russia,” this time around by disrupting Russia’s spiritual and cultural ties to other kindred Orthodox lands, which may soon face a contrived “religious” choice between Moscow and Istanbul. The fact that the “choice” is couched in seemingly canonical rather than unapologetically and crudely political terms, makes it no less political.

Via Strategic Culture

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