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Armenia may now be shifting toward Europe – but there’s a catch

Yerevan badly needs nuclear energy, but the EU wants to force the country to shut down its power plant

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(New Eastern Outlook) – In November 2017, the Republic of Armenia (RA) plans to sign an important treaty with the European Union. The document is known as the “Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement” (CEPA). In the view of its supporters, the expansion of cooperation with the EU as a result of the CEPA implementation should benefit the Armenian economy. However, the conditions put forward by the European party make people doubt the benefits of the agreement for the Republic of Armenia.

One of the important requirements of the EU, which Armenia must fulfill in accordance with the CEPA, is the closure of the Armenian nuclear power plant.

The Armenian (Metsamor) NPP is located near Metsamor in the Ararat Valley, 28 km from Yerevan. More than 100 Soviet enterprises and organizations, most of which belonged to the RSFSR, took part in the construction of the station and the manufacture of necessary equipment, and after the collapse of the USSR, it was taken over by the Russian state corporation “Rosatom.”

The first power unit of the Armenian nuclear power plant was launched in 1976, and the second unit was put into operation in 1980. The project of the station was developed taking into account the seismic activity of the Armenian highland. The increased strength of the buildings, the monolithic slab in the basement and the hydro-depreciation system made it possible to prevent an accident during the devastating Spitak earthquake of December 1988. The earthquake claimed tens of thousands of lives and caused tremendous damage to the Armenian infrastructure and industry, but there was no radiological catastrophe. Moreover, the Armenian NPP remained fully operational.

However, in fear of new ground tremors, the Soviet leadership decided not to take the risk, and in early 1989, the operations of both units of the nuclear power plant were ceased. The Armenian SSR then shifted to using hydrocarbon fuel as its main energy source. Armenia does not have its own larger or smaller oil and gas fields. Therefore, hydrocarbons were supplied by rail and gas pipelines from the Azerbaijan SSR, the Turkmen SSR and the RSFSR. After the dissolution of the USSR and the beginning of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in Nagorny Karabakh, the shipments by Azerbaijan were stopped. The transit of Russian energy carriers through the territory of Georgia also became impossible due to the military activities in Abkhazia and Ossetia. Turkey, which supported Azerbaijan in the Karabakh conflict, blocked all communication through the Turkish-Armenian border. Armenia thus found itself blockaded.

After that, the energy crisis of 1992-1995 broke out in Armenia, which became a difficult page in Armenian history. The relaunch of the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant helped overcome it. In 1993, the Government of Armenia decided to begin rehabilitation work on the second power unit of the station. The first unit was then already partially dismantled and was not fit for restoration. In November 1995, Power Unit No. 2 of the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant was put back into operation again.

At present, the station generates up to 40% of all the electricity consumed in the RA. Despite the successful operation of two Armenian thermal power plants and several dozen hydropower stations, as well as energy exchange with Iran, it remains a strategically important target for Armenian energy security. Therefore, for many, the demand of the European Union to close the Armenian nuclear power plant is puzzling: do the expansion of cooperation with the EU and the possibility of the introduction of a visa-free regime cost 40% of electricity?

It should be noted that the EU has long been pushing for the closure of the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant. This issue has been raised periodically in the negotiations between Brussels and Yerevan since the early 2000s. Also, Azerbaijan and Turkey have for many years been demanding that the station operations be discontinued. However, these two countries have been engaged in a long-standing conflict with Armenia, and there is nothing surprising about their desire to try and weaken it. Nevertheless, the motives of the EU leadership are not yet very clear.

Usually, the supporters of the station closure are explaining their position in terms of security considerations. Thus, on 26 April 2017, the day of the 31st anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan once again called upon the international community to turn its attention to the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant. It was stated that the station was built based on the same technologies as the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, that it is located in a seismically hazardous zone, and that no major repairs have ever been carried out on it in all its years of existence, as the RA does not have the means to fully maintain its nuclear power plant. According to the representatives of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Armenian NPP poses a threat to the lives of millions of people in the region of the Caspian, Black and Mediterranean seas.

Most of these statements are untrue. First, the Armenian NPP does not have much in common with the Chernobyl NPP. As mentioned above, the plant was designed taking into account the increased seismicity of the construction area. At the Armenian NPP, VVER-440 reactors were installed that are much more stable than the RBMK reactors operating at Chernobyl. Secondly, the operation of the station is constantly supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has repeatedly confirmed its security. Other international organizations are also in agreement with the IAEA.

For example, in August-September 2017, The World Association of NPP Operators audited the operation of the Armenian NPP. A panel of experts from eight countries assessed the plant performance in terms of international safety standards. Following this assessment, some of them stated that the level of safety of the Armenian NPP is higher than that of most European nuclear power plants.

The European Union also recently had the opportunity to verify the plant’s security: in the summer of 2016, a group of experts from the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group and representatives of the European Commission conducted an expert assessment of the report on the “stress test” at the Armenian NPP. It should be recalled that, after the accident at the Japanese station “Fukushima-1” in 2011, it was decided that all European nuclear power plants were to undergo a “stress test,” during which reactors were supposed to operate under conditions close to the conditions of the Fukushima accident. A number of non-EU countries, including Armenia, also voluntarily decided to conduct such tests.

With regard to the maintenance of the Armenian NPP, to which, according to the Azerbaijani MFA, the RA does not have any funds allocated, it should be recalled that, since the relaunching of the station in 1995, Russian specialists from Rosatom have been carrying out the planned repairs. Rosatom is currently in the process of extending the operating life of Power Unit No. 2 of the Armenian NPP in accordance with the agreement that the Russian Federation and Armenia concluded in 2014. In May 2017, the RA Ministry of Energy stated that two thirds of these works had been completed. The Russian party took over the financing of the modernization of the nuclear power plant by allocating Armenia a credit of USD 270 million and a grant of USD 30 million.

Thus, the statements coming from Azerbaijan about the threat posed by the Armenian NPP to the whole region appear groundless. Many experts believe that the large-scale company deployed by Azerbaijan and Turkey against the atomic energy of the Republic of Armenia only has the goal of weakening its old enemy, inflicting it with maximum damage by any means. There is even a perception that the closure of the nuclear power plant is necessary for Azerbaijan in connection with its military plans.

It should be recalled that in April 2016, after more than 20 years of armistice, some fighting broke out between the armed forces of the RA and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on the one hand and the Azerbaijan troops on the other. The fighting was soon halted, but after that, some high-ranking Azerbaijani officials began threatening Armenia with a missile attack. One of the reasons why these threats are not yet feasible is the state of the Armenian NPP. Local weather conditions are such that in the event of Azerbaijani missiles hitting a station loaded with nuclear fuel, the wind would carry the resulting radioactive cloud back to Azerbaijani territory. Thus, the NPP is not only an important source of energy for Armenia, but also a defense barrier against military blackmail.

If the behavior of Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey seems understandable, the reason for their support by the European Union is unclear. The EU is not offering Armenia any specific substitution for its nuclear energy. There are only unclear promises of investment in renewable energy sources. Given the precarious financial situation of the EU, its promises should not be relied upon. The RA itself does not have the means to change its energy in a revolutionary manner. It is argued that once it accepts the EU conditions and signs the СЕРА, the country will immediately undergo a new energy crisis or become energy dependent on the countries that would agree to supply Armenia with hydrocarbons. If it were Azerbaijan, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic could forget its independence. Perhaps Brussels, which is now concerned about the integrity of the EU after Brexit and the events in Catalonia, would welcome such a result.

However, the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant is clearly not scheduled to close in the near future. As mentioned above, Rosatom is now working to extend its term of service to 2026. The possibility of building a new unit equipped with a more modern and safe Russian VVER-1000 reactor is still being discussed. In October 2017, the Russian company TVEL (a subsidiary of Rosatom specializing in the production of nuclear fuel) and the management of the Armenian NPP signed a new major contract for the fuel supply.

At the end of October 2017, there was held a regular meeting of the Security Council for Nuclear Energy under the President of Armenia, at which Armenian leader Serzh Sargsyan stated that the preservation and development of nuclear energy remains a strategic direction for the country.

All this clearly contradicts the conditions of the СЕРА. The EU may have to reconsider its requirements if it wants the treaty to be signed.

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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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Ukrainian leadership is a party of war, and it will continue as long as they’re in power – Putin

“We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

RT

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Via RT…


Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has branded the Ukrainian leadership a “party of war” which would continue fueling conflicts while they stay in power, giving the recent Kerch Strait incident as an example.

“When I look at this latest incident in the Black Sea, all what’s happening in Donbass – everything indicates that the current Ukrainian leadership is not interested in resolving this situation at all, especially in a peaceful way,” Putin told reporters during a media conference in the aftermath of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

This is a party of war and as long as they stay in power, all such tragedies, all this war will go on.

The Kiev authorities are craving war primarily for two reasons – to rip profits from it, and to blame all their own domestic failures on it and actions of some sort of “aggressors.”

“As they say, for one it’s war, for other – it’s mother. That’s reason number one why the Ukrainian government is not interested in a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Putin stated.

Second, you can always use war to justify your failures in economy, social policy. You can always blame things on an aggressor.

This approach to statecraft by the Ukrainian authorities deeply concerns Russia’s President. “We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been soaring after the incident in the Kerch Strait. Last weekend three Ukrainian Navy ships tried to break through the strait without seeking the proper permission from Russia. Following a tense stand-off and altercation with Russia’s border guard, the vessels were seized and their crews detained over their violation of the country’s border.

While Kiev branded the incident an act of “aggression” on Moscow’s part, Russia believes the whole Kerch affair to be a deliberate “provocation” which allowed Kiev to declare a so-called “partial” martial law ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election.

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