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TAJIKISTAN: the next front in the Iranian-Saudi proxy war?

There are signs that this pivotal Central Asian country is turning into the next zone of rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which could have serious implications for Russia, China, and Pakistan’s national security.

Andrew Korybko

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The Iranian-Saudi rivalry is undoubtedly centered on the Mideast, but it’s also creeping into Central Asia, too. Largely ignored by both the Mainstream and Alternative Media, the impoverished but strategically positioned state of Tajikistan has suddenly emerged as a focal point of competition between these two Great Powers. Iran’s traditional legacy of historic, ethnic, and linguistic ties with Tajikistan is being “balanced” by Riyadh’s recent financial outreaches to Dushanbe, though it remains to be seen just how adroitly President Rahmon can manage his country’s relations with these two feuding parties.

The Roots Of Rivalry

The Diplomat published a useful article about Iranian-Tajik relations a few weeks ago titled “Iran Courts Tajikistan”, and it presents an impressively concise overview of the bilateral relationship since 1991. In a nutshell, Iran leveraged its civilizational ties with Tajikistan in order to make strategic inroads in the country, manifested most visibly by important infrastructure projects and soft power projection. However, Tehran may have irreparably harmed relations with the Rahmon government by hosting Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) “opposition” leader Muhiddin Kabiri in 2015 at the International Islamic Unity Conference in order to supposedly send a signal to Dushanbe that it should back off a bit from its rapprochement with Riyadh.

Relations with the Kingdom had previously been very frigid because of the Saudis’ support for fundamentalist rebels during the 1992-1997 Tajik Civil War, but Riyadh’s seemingly limitless checkbook was attractive for destitute Dushanbe. The two sides didn’t reach any significant deals until earlier this year in May when the Saudis gave their Tajik counterparts a $200 million grant for building new parliamentary and governmental complexes.  They also loaned them $35 million for constructing new schools, though it’s unclear whether or not these will be Wahhabi-run like just about all of Saudi Arabia’s international “educational” projects.

Tricky Sensitivities

Moscow-based Turkish political scientist and journalist Engin Ozer wrote at the time that Saudi Arabia is trying to influence Tajikistan and prevent its integration into the Eurasian Union. Moreover, he says that Riyadh might also be cultivating friendly elements of the Russia-based Tajik diaspora in order to craft a future instrument of pressure against Moscow. Ozer also believes that this is part of a joint US-Saudi plot to prepare for the destabilization of Central Asia. All told, his analysis is very accurate, and Rahmon’s attendance at the Riyadh Summit last month confirms that relations between the two sides are proceeding at a very fast pace. This therefore brings into question why Iran isn’t doing more to counter its regional-religious rival in the Central Asian state most closely related to its own ancient Persian civilization.

Like the earlier-referenced Diplomat article writes, Iran is indeed trying to recover some of its lost influence in Tajikistan, but the fact is that Tehran’s feting of Kabiri roughly 18 months ago couldn’t have come at a worse time. The IRPT had just been designated as a terrorist organization by the Tajik authorities after being accused of complicity in a violent attempted coup, so Dushanbe unofficially interpreted Tehran’s hosting of the banned party’s leader as “supporting terrorism”, which obviously played well to Riyadh’s ears and created the much-needed opening that it desired to re-enter the Central Asia space via its weakest and most desperate country. It’s presently difficult to quantify the level of Iranian and Saudi influence in Tajikistan, but it can safely be assumed that both Great Powers are jostling for control there, while Dushanbe is trying to do its best to “balance” between both of them.

Russian And Chinese Stabilizing Influence

Amidst the Iranian-Saudi competition for Tajikistan, one certainly can’t forget the Russian factor, since it’s Moscow which exerts the greatest degree of influence on the Central Asian state. The Russian-based Tajik diaspora contributed to more than half of the country’s GDP in 2014 through remittances, and Russia’s largest military base outside of its own borders is the 201st Motor Rifle Division near Dushanbe. In addition, Russia reached an agreement with Tajikistan earlier this year to return to jointly patrolling the long and porous riparian border with Afghanistan, which Moscow used to do until Dushanbe asked it to stop in the mid-2000s under what is suspected to have been heavy American pressure. Understandably, Russia is always suspicious of Saudi “educational” investments anywhere in the post-Soviet space, but at the same time it also doesn’t trust any foreign country such as Iran implying political support to “Islamic opposition” forces such as the now-banned and terrorist-designated IRPT.

Moscow understands that there are certain religious (Sunni) and civilizational (Persian) identity variables which play more to Riyadh and Tehran’s respective advantages when it comes to harnessing soft power, which is why Russia concentrates its efforts on presenting itself as the secular- and security-focused actor ensuring stability in the post-civil war country. China is also involved in this as well, albeit in different capacities. The People’s Republic is Tajikistan’s top trading partner because of the dominant position that it holds in as the country’s main source of imports, with Russia only providing half of amount that China does and neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia anywhere in the top five for either imports or exports. Furthermore, China unveiled the Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism (QCCM) last summer between itself, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, though this is more complementary to Russia’s mutual defense arrangements with Tajikistan through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) than a competitor to it.

Tajik Trouble

Historical Claims:

For the most part, Russia and China’s partnerships with Tajikistan are overall a stabilizing factor for the country, whereas Iran and Saudi Arabia’s competition for the Central Asian state could become destabilizing, therefore most directly harming Russia, China, and also Pakistan’s interests vis-à-vis the spillover effect that any potential proxy conflict could have for Central Asia and Afghanistan, respectively. It should be noted that Tajikistan has a sizeable diaspora in neighboring Afghanistan which is actually larger than the Tajiks living in their namesake state, while an unconfirmed number of them live in the country’s chief rival Uzbekistan. About this latter fact, The Diplomat correctly chronicles in its September 2016 article about “The Tajik Tragedy Of Uzbekistan” how this people’s historic lands of Samarkand and Bukhara were administratively annexed to Uzbekistan by Josef Stalin during the national delineation of Central Asia in the 1930s, which created a tense post-independence situation after 1991 that prompted Tashkent to suppress the Tajik minority and intimidate them into publicly disowning their identity.

The Afghan Connection:

The reason why this largely forgotten historical-demographic fact is being brought up in the context of the present analysis is to demonstrate to the reader how far-reaching the geographically contiguous Tajik population of Central Asia is, as it already dominates northern Afghanistan and is present to an uncertain extent in the western regions of Uzbekistan. There are thus very concrete geopolitical motivations behind the Iranian-Saudi competition for Tajikistan since this could by extended degree allow them to exert influence in either of these two states, though most immediately in Afghanistan. That war-torn country has seen the Tajiks become a disproportionately influential political force following the 2001 ousting of the Taliban from power, and this was all done intentionally by the US with the intent of dividing and conquering the country along the same “favored minority” colonial model that the British skillfully employed for centuries across the world.

Quite expectedly, this has led to furious resentment from the Pashtuns, who are the largest group in Afghanistan and feel shut out of the political process, which has in turn led them to support the Taliban’s very successful national liberation campaign in the country and undermine American ephemeral ‘gains’ there. All of a sudden, though, the Saudi-linked Daesh terrorist organization popped up in Afghanistan as the rebranded “Islamic State Khorasan Province” (ISKP) and began offering up stiff resistance to the Taliban, which has ultimately worked to America’s relative interests and those of its in-country Tajik partners. Therefore, it wouldn’t be ungrounded to suggest that the rock-solid US-Saudi military-strategic relationship might also be expanding to Afghanistan, with Washington supporting the Tajiks while Riyadh does the same with ISKP.

Only this year have the Saudis come to deepen their influence in Tajikistan proper, as evidenced by Dushanbe’s presidential presence at the Riyadh Summit and the $200 million grant that the Kingdom gave to the country (in exchange?) right around that time, but this is a troublesome development for the Russians, Chinese, and Pakistanis.

The US-Saudi Partnership:

Saudi Arabia’s unstated but significant entrance as a key player in the War on Afghanistan is hampering the prospects for peace between Kabul and the Taliban, which therefore creates security problems for Pakistan along the lengthy Durand Line border by giving cover to Indian RAW operatives active in this transnational space. Accordingly, it also means the prolongation of New Delhi’s Hybrid War on CPEC. As for Russia, Moscow has recently prioritized the peace process in Afghanistan and has even hosted three high-level conferences to this effect because it’s worried about a potential Central Asian spillover if the war doesn’t end in the near future. It’s not the Taliban that Russia fears, however, but ISKP, which aside from receiving US-Saudi assistance, even enjoys the backing of Kabul and India. It’s at this point where the Uzbek direction of the Iranian-Saudi rivalry comes into play, because one of the most “logical” first steps that the terrorist group could make in Central Asia would be through operating under the disguise of a “Tajik freedom movement” in western Uzbekistan.

Iran vs Saudi Arabia:

Whether this scenario comes into play, a “Greater (Islamic) Uzbek” one does, the two clash, or perhaps another ISKP-influenced geopolitical development occurs, the inevitable outcome would be the triggering of large-scale refugee flows to Russia if the crisis isn’t immediately contained, perhaps through coordinated SCO and CSTO interventions. That’s why Russia is so concerned about developments in Central Asia, which brings the focus back to Tajikistan, the state that functions as the pivot space between Afghanistan and Central Asia by virtue of its geography and diaspora.

As such, Iran and Saudi Arabia are also interested in this country as well. Iran’s grand strategy vis-a-vis Tajikistan is to extend its influence over the historical Persian cultural space as far east as possible (going through Afghanistan first, of course), which could therefore give Tehran a foothold in deeper foothold in Central Asia. Saudi Arabia, for its part, wants to thwart its rival’s ambitions and simultaneously create complications for Iran’s soft power projection in the region. The contradiction between these two is best summed up as a clash between Tajiks’ Persian identity and their Sunni one.

Russia and China provide the “third way” – a secular identity in an integrated Eurasia – though this might become increasingly difficult to ensure in the midst of an uncertain and potentially turbulent political transition in Tajikistan following the inevitable end of aging President Rahmon’s rule, which isn’t likely to be as smooth as in neighboring and much more stably (in a relative sense) cohesive Uzbekistan. The Iranian-Saudi competition for Tajikistan as fought out through the Tehran-supported IRPT and the Saudi-backed ISKP spikes the chances that this interim period could result in profound instability, thereby endangering everyone’s interests except the US’.

Concluding Thoughts

Looking forward, Tajikistan is without question the weakest and most vulnerable state in Central Asia to Hybrid Warfare, which stands the chance of being waged via proxy by Iran and Saudi Arabia through the IRPT and ISKP, respectively, during the country’s inevitably forthcoming political transition. In addition, the existing competition between the two Great Powers over this tiny state could see either of them make destabilizing outreaches to the Tajik diaspora in neighboring Uzbekistan or Afghanistan, both of which could undermine those states and create further security complications for Russia, China, and Pakistan.

Given the existing state of affairs in the region as regards Iran and Saudi Arabia’s core interests, Tehran would do well to follow Moscow, Beijing, and Islamabad’s lead in promoting the Taliban as the most effective anti-terrorist fighting force in Afghanistan in order to offset Riyadh’s plans for using the country as a launching pad for ISKP attacks inside of Iran. It’s understandable that Iran wants to preserve its civilizational influence in Tajikistan, but it might have blown its best opportunity to do so until Rahmon leaves office because of its provocative support of the IRPT in late-2015, which opened the door for Saudi Arabia to approach the country with a “balancing” offer that it evidently couldn’t refuse.

This in turn made Tajikistan the ultimate variable in determining the stability of the interconnected Central Asian-Afghan space, bridged as it is by the large Tajik diaspora on both sides. Instead of functioning as the ‘glue’ for ensuring stability in this transnational region, it’s ever more looking to be one of the forces which could pull it apart as Iran and Saudi Arabia compete for the Tajiks’ loyalty, which carries with it serious implications for Russia, China, and Pakistan’s security. It’s difficult to forecast how all of this will play out, but it’s nevertheless likely to be contingent on whether Iran behaves responsibly by disowning the IRPT and cooperates with its natural Eurasian partners to drive Saudi influence out of Tajikistan.

 

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution. 

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Whose Money Stoked Religious Strife in Ukraine – and Who Tried to Steal It?

Was $25 million in American tax dollars allocated for a payoff to stir up religious turmoil and violence in Ukraine?

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via Strategic Culture:


Was $25 million in American tax dollars allocated for a payoff to stir up religious turmoil and violence in Ukraine? Did Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (unsuccessfully) attempt to divert most of it into his own pocket?

Last month the worldwide Orthodox Christian communion was plunged into crisis by the decision of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Constantinople to recognize as legitimate schismatic pseudo-bishops anathematized by the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is an autonomous part of the Russian Orthodox Church. In so doing not only has Patriarch Bartholomew besmirched the global witness of Orthodoxy’s two-millennia old Apostolic faith, he has set the stage for religious strife in Ukraine and fratricidal violence – which has already begun.

Starting in July, when few were paying attention, this analyst warned about the impending dispute and how it facilitated the anti-Christian moral agenda of certain marginal “Orthodox” voices like “Orthodoxy in Dialogue,” Fordham University’s “Orthodox Christian Studies Center,” and The Wheel. These “self-professed teachers presume to challenge the moral teachings of the faith” (in the words of Fr. John Parker) and “prowl around, wolves in sheep’s clothing, forming and shaping false ideas about the reality of our life in Christ.” Unsurprisingly such groups have embraced Constantinople’s neopapal self-aggrandizement and support for the Ukrainian schismatics.

No one – and certainly not this analyst – would accuse Patriarch Bartholomew, most Ukrainian politicians, or even the Ukrainian schismatics of sympathizing with advocacy of such anti-Orthodox values. And yet these advocates know they cannot advance their goals if the conciliar and traditional structure of Orthodoxy remains intact. Thus they welcome efforts by Constantinople to centralize power while throwing the Church into discord, especially the Russian Church, which is vilified in some Western circles precisely because it is a global beacon of traditional Christian moral witness.

This aspect points to another reason for Western governments to support Ukrainian autocephaly as a spiritual offensive against Russia and Orthodoxy. The post-Maidan leadership harp on the “European choice” the people of Ukraine supposedly made in 2014, but they soft-pedal the accompanying moral baggage the West demands, symbolized by “gay” marches organized over Christian objections in Orthodox cities like AthensBelgradeBucharestKievOdessaPodgoricaSofia, and Tbilisi. Even under the Trump administration, the US is in lockstep with our European Union friends in pressuring countries liberated from communism to adopt such nihilistic “democratic, European values.”

Perhaps even more important to its initiators, the row over Ukraine aims to break what they see as the “soft power” of the Russian Federation, of which the Orthodox Church is the spiritual heart and soul. As explained by Valeria Z. Nollan, professor emerita of Russian Studies at Rhodes College:

‘The real goal of the quest for autocephaly [i.e., complete self-governing status independent of the Moscow Patriarchate] of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a de facto coup: a political coup already took place in 2014, poisoning the relations between western Ukraine and Russia, and thus another type of coup – a religious one – similarly seeks to undermine the canonical relationship between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Moscow.’

In furthering these twin objectives (morally, the degrading of Orthodox Christianity; politically, undermining the Russian state as Orthodoxy’s powerful traditional protector) it is increasingly clear that the United States government – and specifically the Department of State – has become a hands-on fomenter of conflict. After a short period of appropriately declaring that “any decision on autocephaly is an internal [Orthodox] church matter,” the Department within days reversed its position and issued a formal statement (in the name of Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, but clearly drafted by the European bureau) that skirted a direct call for autocephaly but gave the unmistakable impression of such backing. This is exactly how it was reported in the media, for example, “US backs Ukrainian Church bid for autocephaly.” Finally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo weighed in personally with his own endorsement as did the US Reichskommissar for UkraineKurt Volker.

The Threat…

There soon became reason to believe that the State Department’s involvement was not limited to exhortations. As reported by this analyst in October, according to an unconfirmed report originating with the members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (an autonomous New York-based jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate), in July of this year State Department officials (possibly including Secretary Pompeo personally) warned the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (also based in New York but part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate) that the US government was aware of the misappropriation of a large amount of money, about $10 million, from estimated $37 million raised from believers for the construction of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York. The State Department warning also reportedly noted that federal prosecutors have documentary evidence confirming the withdrawal of these funds abroad on the orders of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. It was suggested that Secretary Pompeo would “close his eyes” to this theft in exchange for movement by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in favor of Ukrainian autocephaly, which helped set Patriarch Bartholomew on his current course.

[Further details on the St. Nicholas scandal are available here, but in summary: Only one place of worship of any faith was destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attack in New York and only one building not part of the World Trade Center complex was completely destroyed. That was St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, a small urban parish church established at the end of World War I and dedicated to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, who is very popular with Greeks as the patron of sailors. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, and following a lengthy legal battle with the Port Authority, which opposed rebuilding the church, in 2011 the Greek Archdiocese launched an extensive campaign to raise funds for a brilliant innovative design by the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava based on traditional Byzantine forms. Wealthy donors and those of modest means alike enthusiastically contributed millions to the effort. Then – poof! In December 2017, suddenly all construction was halted for lack of funds and remains stalled to this day. Resumption would require having an estimated $2 million on hand. Despite the Archdiocese’s calling in a major accounting firm to conduct an audit, there’s been no clear answer to what happened to the money. Both the US Attorney and New York state authorities are investigating.]

This is where things get back to Ukraine. If the State Department wanted to find the right button to push to spur Patriarch Bartholomew to move on the question of autocephaly, the Greek Archdiocese in the US is it. Let’s keep in mind that in his home country, Turkey, Patriarch Bartholomew has virtually no local flock – only a few hundred mostly elderly Greeks left huddled in Istanbul’s Phanar district. (Sometimes the Patriarchate is referred to simply as “the Phanar,” much as “the Vatican” is shorthand for the Roman Catholic papacy.) Whatever funds the Patriarchate derives from other sources (the Greek government, the Roman Catholic Church, the World Council of Churches), the Phanar’s financial lifeline is the ethnic Greek community (including this analyst) in what is still quaintly called the “Diaspora” in places like America, Australia, and New Zealand. And of these, the biggest cash cow is the Greek-Americans.

That’s why, when Patriarch Bartholomew issued a call in 2016 for what was billed as an Orthodox “Eighth Ecumenical Council” (the first one since the year 787!), the funds largely came from America, to the tune of up to $8 million according to the same confidential source as will be noted below. Intended by some as a modernizing Orthodox “Vatican II,” the event was doomed to failure by a boycott organized by Moscow over what the latter saw as Patriarch Bartholomew’s adopting papal or even imperial prerogatives – now sadly coming to bear in Ukraine.

…and the Payoff

On top of the foregoing, it now appears that the State Department’s direct hand in this sordid business may not have consisted solely of wielding the “stick” of legal threat: there’s reason to believe there was a “carrot” too. It very recently came to the attention of this analyst, via an unsolicited, confidential source in the Greek Archdiocese in New York, that a payment of $25 million in US government money was made to Constantinople to encourage Patriarch Bartholomew to move forward on Ukraine.

The source for this confidential report was unaware of earlier media reports that the same figure – $25 million – was paid by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to the Phanar as an incentive for Patriarch Bartholomew to move forward on creating an independent Ukrainian church. Moreover, Poroshenko evidently tried to shortchange the payment:

‘Peter [Petro] Poroshenko — the president of Ukraine — was obligated to return $15 million US dollars to the Patriarch of Constantinople, which he had appropriated for himself.

‘As reported by Izvestia, this occurred after the story about Bartholomew’s bribe and a “vanishing” large sum designated for the creation of a Unified Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine surfaced in the mass media.

‘As reported, on the eve of Poroshenko’s visit in Istanbul, a few wealthy people of Ukraine “chipped in” in order to hasten the process of creating a Unified Local Orthodox Church. About $25 million was collected. They were supposed to go to the award ceremony for Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople for the issuing of a tomos of autocephaly. [A tomos is a small book containing a formal announcement.] However, in the words of people close to the backer, during the visit on April 9, Poroshenko handed over only $10 million.

‘As a result, having learned of the deal, Bartholomew cancelled the participation of the delegation of the Phanar – the residence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, in the celebration of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia on July 27 in Kiev.

‘”Such a decision from Bartholomew’s side was nothing other than a strong ultimatum to Poroshenko to return the stolen money. Of course, in order to not lose his face in light of the stark revelations of the creation of the tomos of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Peter Alexeevich [Poroshenko] had to just return those $15 million for the needs of Constantinople,” a trusted source explained to reporters.

‘For preliminary information, only after receiving the remaining sum, did Bartholomew finally give his consent to sending a delegation of the Phanar to Kiev … ‘

Now, it’s possible that the two identical figures of $25 million refer to two different pots of money (a cool $50 million!) but that seems unlikely. It’s more probable the reports refer to the same sum as viewed from the sending side (the State Department, the Greek Archdiocese) and the delivery side (Poroshenko, Constantinople).

Lending credibility to the confidential information from New York and pointing to the probability that it refers to the same payment that Poroshenko reportedly sought to raid for himself are the following observations:

  • When Poroshenko generously offered Patriarch Bartholomew $10 million, the latter was aware that the full amount was $25 million and demanded the $15 million Poroshenko had held back. How did the Patriarch know that, unless he was informed via New York of the full sum?
  • If the earlier-reported $25 million was really collected from “a few wealthy people of Ukraine” who “chipped in,” given the cutthroat nature of disputes among Ukrainian oligarchs would Poroshenko (an oligarch in his own right) have risked trying to shortchange the payment? Why has not even one such Ukrainian donor been identified?
  • Without going into all the details, the Phanar and the Greek Archdiocese have a long relationship with US administrations of both parties going back at least to the Truman administration, encompassing some decidedly unattractive episodes. In such a history, a mere bribe for a geopolitical shot against Moscow would hardly be a first instance or the worst.

As one of this analyst’s Greek-American connections puts it: “It’s easy to comprehend the Patriarchate bowing to the pressure of State Dept. blackmail… not overly savory, but understandable. However, it’s another thing altogether if Kiev truly “purchased” their autocephalous status from an all too willing Patriarchate … which would relegate the Patriarch to ‘salesman’ status and leave the faithful wondering what else might be offered to the highest bidder the next time it became convenient to hold a Patriarchal ‘fire sale’ at the Phanar?!”

To add insult to injury, you’d think Constantinople at least could pay back some of the $7-8 million wasted on the Crete 2016 debacle to restart the St. Nicholas project in New York. Evidently the Phanar has better things to spend it on, like the demonstrative environmentalism of “the Green Patriarch” and, together with Pope Francis, welcoming Muslim migrants to Europe through Greece. Of course maybe there’s no need to worry, as the Ukraine “sale” was consistent with Constantinople’s papal ambitions, an uncanonical claim to “universal” status, and misuse of incarnational language and adoption of a breathtakingly arrogant tone that would cause even the most ultramontane proponent of the Rome’s supremacy to blush.

Finally, it seems that, for the time being at least, Constantinople doesn’t intend to create an independent Ukrainian church but rather an autonomous church under its own authority. It’s unclear whether or not Poroshenko or the State Department, in such event, would believe they had gotten their money’s worth. Perhaps they would. After all, the issue here is less what is appropriate for Ukraine than what strikes at Russia and injures the worldwide Christian witness of the Orthodox Church. To that end, it doesn’t matter whether the new illegal body is Constantinopolitan or Kievan, just so long as it isn’t a “Moskal church” linked to Russia.

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EU Army: Fact or Fiction? (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 152.

Alex Christoforou

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

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

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Via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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