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10 historic ties Russia has with the Kurds of the Middle East

Russia and the Kurds are fighting against a common enemy in Syria. But their cooperation stretches back into history

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(Origins) – Russia’s cooperation with the Kurds of Iraq and Syria in the fight against ISIL has been widely publicized by the Western media. However, less well-known is the fact that Russia’s relations with various Kurdish groups date back almost two centuries.

Spread across the mountainous frontiers of TurkeyIran, Iraq, and Syria, the Kurds number approximately 30 million people. Although united in a struggle for civil and political rights, they comprise various tribal affiliations and speak different dialects. Most Kurds are Muslim (primarily Sunni, but also Shia). Some are adherents of the Yazidi faith, a religion that shares common elements with Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism.

Russia’s southern expansion (from the 18th century on) in search of secure borders and natural resources brought it into contact with different Kurdish tribes. Since then, Moscow has maintained relations with Kurds both inside and outside of its borders. This history forms an important part of Russia’s relationship with the Middle East and underscores its unique position between Europe and Asia. Below are 10 of the most significant moments in Russian-Kurdish relations, from Pushkin to the Peshmerga.

1986 CIA map of Kurdish-inhabited areas in the Middle East and the Soviet Union (left), and 1960 Soviet ethnographic map of the Near East with Kurdish populations in orange. (Courtesy of the Stephen S. Clark Library at the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.) For more maps of the Kurdistan region, see the work by Dr. Mehrdad Izady at the Gulf/2000 Project at Columbia University here.

1. The Poet and the Peacock People

Self-portrait of Aleksandr Pushkin on horseback, 1829, from the Ardis republication of the 1934 edition of Pushkin’sJourney to Arzrum assembled by Russian émigré ballet dancer and choreographer, Serge Lifar. (Image from author’s personal collection, courtesy of the John G. White Special Collection of Folklore, Orientalia, and Chess at the Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland.)

Russia’s conquest of the Caucasus brought several new ethnic groups into the tsarist state. Among them were many Yazidi Kurds, also known as the “peacock people” due to Melek Taus, the “Peacock Angel,” one of the central figures in their faith. While accompanying the Russian military during the 1829 Turkish campaign, the Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkinencountered a detachment of Yazidis in the Russian army. “There are about three hundred families [of Yazidis] who live at the foot of Mount Ararat,” Pushkin wrote in his Journey to Arzrum. ‘They have recognized the rule of the Russian sovereign.” From Yazidi chief Hasan Aga, “a tall monster of a man in a red tunic and black cap,” Pushkin learned about the particulars of the Yazidi faith. After exchanging these pleasant tidings with the curious Yazidis, the poet was relieved to find that they were far from being the “devil-worshippers” that many claimed.

2. Khachatur Abovian, Armenian Founder of Russian Kurdology

Abovian Among the Kurds, painting by Mkrtich Sedrakyan, 1950. (Image from author’s personal collection, courtesy of the Khachatur Abovian House-Museum, Yerevan, Armenia.)

Celebrated Armenian writer Khachatur Abovian was the founder of Kurdish Studies in Russia. Educated at Dorpat (present-day Tartu, Estonia) on the invitation of Friedrich Parrot, he was the first Armenian author to write in the Armenian vernacular as opposed to Classical Armenian. Although a major Armenian national figure, Abovian’s outlook was universal. His wife was German and he recorded Kurdish and Azerbaijani Tatar folklore in Armenia.

Abovian quickly became a “trusted friend” of the Yazidis and Kurds.  He wrote extensively about their life and customs, though he erroneously contended that the Yazidi faith was a heretical offshoot of the Armenian Church. In 1844, Hasanli Yazidi chief Timur Aga was invited by Prince Mikhail Vorontsov, the new viceroy of Russian Transcaucasia, to a banquet with Kurdish and Turkish tribal leaders in Tiflis. After returning to his tribe with a gift from Vorontsov, the chief held a feast and invited Abovian to attend.

3. Red Kurdistan

Map of the Kurdistan Uezd within Soviet Azerbaijan, from Atlas Soyuza Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik (Moscow: TSIK SSSR, 1928).

Following the Sovietization of the Caucasus, Soviet authorities began delineating national boundaries according to the Soviet nationality policy. In 1923, the Kurds of Soviet Azerbaijansandwiched between Soviet Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, were granted their own district by Baku with its center at Lachin. Officially known as the Kurdistan Uezd (“Red Kurdistan” or “Kurdistana Sor”), it was not formally autonomous and the Soviet Azerbaijani government did little to promote Kurdish culture.

According to the 1926 Soviet Census, 72% of the population were Kurds, although most of them spoke Azerbaijani Tatar as their first language. The uezd was abolished in 1929 alongside other Azerbaijani uezds, but was briefly revived in 1930 as the Kurdistan Okrug, before being divided into districts. In subsequent decades, the Kurds of this region were assimilated into the Azerbaijani population, while other Azerbaijani Kurds were deported by Soviet authorities to Central Asia under Stalin in 1937.

4. Zare – The First Kurdish Film

Zare (1926). Full film restored and digitized by Gosfilmofond (Russia) and commissioned by the Golden Apricot International Film Festival (Yerevan).

Zare (1926), the first Kurdish film, was produced in the Soviet Union by Armenkino, the Soviet Armenian film studio. It is about a young Yazidi Kurdish girl, Zare, and her love for the shepherd Saydo on the eve of the Russian Revolution. Unfortunately for Zare and Saydo, they have to fight for their love against a licentious bek (local noble), a corrupt tsarist Russian bureaucracy, and local social patriarchy. The film was directed by Amo Bek-Nazaryan in the era of the Soviet New Economic Policy (NEP), which saw the rise of avant-garde filmmakerssuch as Sergei Eisenstein. Bek-Nazaryan praised Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925), released a year earlier. “In his wonderful movie,” wrote Bek-Nazaryan, “Eisenstein boldly used not only actors, but also people previously not connected to theatre or cinema, but whose appearances meet his artistic vision… In Zare, I was forced to do the same.” The film remains a classic of Kurdish cinema.

5. The Kurdish Republic of Mahabad

Mahabad (2017). Short documentary film from the Kurdistan Memory Programme.

In 1941, wartime allies Britain and the Soviet Union invaded Iran to secure crucial Allied supply lines. Iranian leader Reza Shah, who harbored sympathies for the Axis Powers, was overthrown by the Allies and his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was placed on the throne. Iran remained occupied for the duration of the war, with the USSR occupying the northern half of the country and Britain the southern half.

At the end of the war, Moscow refused to leave its zone of influence and began to sponsor breakaway republics in Iranian Azerbaijan and Iranian Kurdistan. The latter republic was established at Mahabad in 1946. Qazi Mohammad served as its president, and Mustafa Barzani, the Kurdish rebel leader from Iraq, served as its Minister of Defense. The euphoria of this Kurdish republic was short-lived. Stalin withdrew support after Moscow secured oil concessions from the West. The Mahabad republic was subsequently crushed by Tehran.

6. A Kurdish Rebel in Exile

Mullah Mustafa Barzani, Northern Iraq, spring 1965, photograph by William Carter. (Courtesy of the William Carter Papers at the Stanford Special Collections and University Archives at Stanford University.)

After Tehran retook Mahabad, Mustafa Barzani and his followers fled north, across the Aras River, into Soviet Transcaucasia in June 1947. There they engaged in training and Barzani learned fluent Russian. Initially hosted by Soviet Azerbaijan, Barzani had a disagreement with Soviet Azerbaijani leader Mir Jafar Bagirov, a close ally of Lavrentiy Beria, who attempted to control Barzani and his followers. They were transferred by Moscow to Soviet Uzbekistan in 1948. However, the group did not escape Bagirov’s wrath and were dispersed throughout the Soviet Union.

Reunited in 1951, their situation improved dramatically after the deaths of Stalin and Beria in 1953. Barzani studied at the Frunze Military Academy and met with Nikita Khrushchev, who was reportedly impressed with the Kurdish leader. Deeply appreciative of Moscow’s assistance, the Barzanis returned to Iraq in 1958. Moscow still enjoys good relations with the Barzanis, including Barzani’s son, Masoud, former president of Iraqi Kurdistan.

7. Kurdish Culture in the Soviet Union

Photograph of Kurdish listeners of Radio Yerevan, 1955. (Image from author’s personal collection, courtesy of Dr. Jalile Jalil and Zeri İnanç.)

The Soviet Union played a vital role in preserving Kurdish culture. In the drive toward mass literacy, Kurds and Yazidis in Soviet Armenia learned their language in three alphabets – first Armenian, then Latin, and finally Cyrillic. Armenia became a major center for Kurdish-language publications, including the newspaper Riya Taze (New Path) and several children’s books. The first Kurdish novel, written by Soviet Yazidi author Ereb Shamilov, was published in Yerevan in 1935.

Kurdish-language broadcasts by Radio Yerevan began in 1955 and had a major impact on Kurds beyond the borders of the USSR. Kurds in neighboring countries, especially Turkey, picked up the Soviet transmissions and were delighted to hear their native language, which was heavily repressed elsewhere. The broadcasts were crucial for the development of Kurdish ethnic self-awareness, and the socialist message of the Soviet Union strongly resonated among many Kurds. Soviet Kurds also proudly served the USSR in World War II.

8. Kurds and Yazidis in the Post-Soviet States

A Moment in the Sun for Armenia’s Yazidis. Report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 19, 2017.

After the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the Kurds of the region became divided among the newly independent states of Eurasia. The Kurds of Russia are both Muslim and Yazidi and are primarily concentrated in the North Caucasus, especially in the Krasnodar Krai. In Georgia, they are mostly concentrated in Tbilisi and there is also a significant Kurdish population in post-Soviet Central Asia.

Yazidis form the largest ethnic minority in Armenia and are located in different provinces, most notably in Armavir, Aragatsotn, and Ararat. Many fought alongside Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Divided on identity, some post-Soviet Yazidis see themselves as a subgroup of Kurds, while others see themselves as a separate ethnic group. Currently, the largest Yazidi temple in the world is under construction in Armenia. Yazidis have representation in the Armenian and Georgian parliaments and both Armenia and Georgiahave accepted Yazidi refugees who are fleeing persecution by ISIL.

9. Russia Allies with Syrian and Iraqi Kurds against ISIL

Syrian Kurds open a diplomatic mission in Moscow. Footage from Ruptly, February 10, 2016.

Russia is allied with the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds in the fight against ISIL. After the shootdown of the Russian Sukhoi-24 plane by Turkey over the Turkish-Syrian border, Moscow enhancedits relations with representatives of the Kurdish communities in IraqSyria, and Turkey. It has maintained these ties even as its relationship with Ankara improved. Allies of both Washington and Moscow, the Syrian Kurds have managed to bring the two powers togetheragainst ISIL.

However, as the Syrian Civil War comes to a close, new questions arise regarding the post-war peace. Damascus has signaled its openness to devolving power to the Syrian Kurds through political autonomy. However, the Syrian Kurds prefer a federal system for Syria based on direct democratic representation. Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed support for convening an all-Syrian peace congress with “all ethnic and religious groups.”  On October 31, Moscow invited the Kurds to participate in this congress.

10. Russia and the Iraqi Kurdish Independence Referendum

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, June 16, 2016. (Source: Kurdistan Regional Government)

On September 25, 2017, the Kurds of Iraq held a referendum on political independence from Baghdad, which 92.3% of the population supported. The result provoked an angry response from the Iraqi central government, supported by Turkey and Iran. The tension culminated in Baghdad’s capture of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Russia was restrained in its reaction to the referendum. Although it “respected the national aspirations of the Kurds,” it simultaneously encouraged dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad. Significantly, Russia was the only major power that did not call on the Iraqi Kurds to cancel the referendum. In addition to Moscow’s historical ties to the Barzani clan, it is the top funder of Iraqi Kurdish gas and oil deals. Russia has emphasized that cooperation in the energy sphere remains unaffected by the referendum. On October 18, Russian energy giant Rosneft signed an energy deal with Iraqi Kurdistan, reaffirming its commitment to the region.

BONUS: Aram Khachaturian’s Saber Dance

The Saber Dance from the ballet Gayane, conducted by Aram Khachaturian, Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, 1964.

Soviet Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian is regarded as one of the three “titans” of Soviet music, alongside Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergey Prokofiev. One of his most famous ballets, Gayane, involves Kurdish characters and themes. Completed at the outbreak of World War II, it featured a libretto by Konstantin Derzhavin and choreography by Nina Anisimova, Derzhavin’s wife. The original libretto was an interethnic love story involving Armenians, Kurds, and Russians, set against the backdrop of a mountainous kolkhoz(collective farm) in Soviet Armenia, on the Soviet-Turkish frontier.

The ballet is best known for Khachaturian’s fiery Saber Dance, which he originally called “the Dance of the Kurds.” In November 1942, Khachaturian wrote that he started composing the melody “at three in the afternoon and worked until two AM.” When it was performed at a dress rehearsal the following evening, the composer noted that it “immediately impressed the orchestra, the dancers, and the audience.”

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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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