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A choice for Europe: costly US liquified gas versus cheap Russian pipeline gas

The latest anti-Russian sanctions package about to be made law by the US Congress will not materially harm the Russian economy. However it does pose a challenge for Germany and the EU: do they press on buying cheap pipeline gas from Russia or expensive liquified gas from the US.

Alexander Mercouris

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News that the Republicans and the Democrats in the House of Representatives have agreed on a new sanctions package against Russia will be deeply unwelcome news, and not just or even primarily in Moscow.

The new sanctions package will not have the big impact on the Russian economy that some are expecting.  The Russian economy has sailed through the previous far more severe sectoral sanctions which were imposed on Russia in July 2014, and the collapse in oil prices which took place in the second half of that year.  The result was only a short and shallow recession, out of which Russia is now rapidly emerging.  Indeed there are some who calculate that growth this year will be enough by itself to wipe out all the output loss during the recession, though I do not share this view.

The new sanctions in economic terms do not add significantly to the sanctions which were imposed in 2014.  They appear intended to target the personal assets of super-wealthy Russians – a deeply unpopular class still wrongly referred to as “oligarchs”, though the days of their power in Russia are long gone – and to impede Western and specifically US participation and investment in certain of Russia’s industries, first and foremost those in the extractive sector.

The days when Russian companies looked first and foremost to the West for capital and technology were however brought to an end – by the West itself – in 2014, and the new sanctions do not add materially to what happened then.

As for the “oligarchs” and the obstacles the new sanctions seem intended to place in the way of the privatisation of certain Russian companies – including interestingly the Russian maritime tanker fleet – not only will these not have any serious macroeconomic impact on Russia (with Russia’s consolidated budget apparently in surplus the idea that Russia needs to sell these companies to fill holes in its budget is wrong) but one cannot fail but note the paradox of the US Congress allying with the Russian Communist Party to impede Russian privatisations and to target Russian “oligarchs”.

For years following the coming of President Putin to power the Western and especially the US media ran a shrill campaign warning that President Putin was intent on locking Western investors out of Russia and reversing the privatisation process begun in the 1990s.   It is extremely strange therefore to see the US Congress working hard to achieve that very thing, which Putin as it happens never did.

No doubt that is why significant business sectors in the US – especially the US oil industry which has been hankering to invest in Russia – have made their unhappiness with the new sanctions clear.

Regardless of that the idea that there is insufficient capital and technology in Russia to enable the country to develop its economy successfully on the basis of its own resources is a myth, though one which obviously dies hard.

However if the macroeconomic impact of the new sanctions on Russia will be minimal, the same cannot be said of their political impact, and of the dilemma they pose Europe.

At their simplest the new sanctions will make it all but impossible for the US and Russia to establish normal inter-country relations with each other.

It was only a few years ago that the Congress – very reluctantly and under heavy pressure from the Obama administration and the US business community – rescinded the Jackson-Vanik amendment.  Since then the US has however in effect nullified that step by imposing one set of sanctions on Russia after another, starting with the Magnitsky Act sanctions and now culminating in the latest sanctions package.

The Russians have got the message, which is that normal commercial relations between Russia and the US will never happen.  The point was made very clearly by Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov in a television interview on Wednesday

We are aware that those sanctions, which are imposed now, [will not be lifted], whatever we would do. Even if we say we agree to anything and hoist a white flag, anyway hearings and motions will be in full swing.  Senators and Congresspersons will find a million excuses for not lifting anything.

This incidentally explains the tough line Russia is taking over the return of its diplomatic property, which was illegally seized by the Obama administration in a straightforward act of confiscation of what is actually the Russian state’s private property last December.  Here is what Ryabkov had to say about that

We do not allow for any conditions in order to have this property given back to us. It is not a bargaining issue. We are far from seeing merely any signs of preparations for certain deals. We see no reason why such categories should be allowed for because we just need to have ours back.

Since the new sanctions will render it impossible for the Trump administration to return the property or lift the sanctions the Russians lose nothing by taking a tough line on the question of its return.

Whilst political cooperation between the US and Russia remains possible on certain specific issues lingering hopes that one day they might one day establish a normal trading relationship are now surely dead.  Every attempt to achieve such a relationship going back to the detente era of the 1970s has ended in failure because the political opposition in the US is too strong.  As Ryabkov says, there is no reason to think that will ever change, and the Russians clearly no longer believe it will.

However it is in Europe where the new sanctions pose the greatest challenge.

Back in 2014 Angela Merkel and the EU leadership worked closely with the Obama administration to agree the sanctions that the US and the EU would jointly impose on Russia.  This was done so as to ensure that the sanctions did not directly impact on either the US’s or the EU’s fundamental economic interests, though in the event Russia’s apparently unexpected counter-sanctions hurt some EU agricultural producers badly.

The new sanctions are however being imposed without any prior discussion between the US and EU whatsoever.  No one in the US has asked for Angela Merkel’s or the EU’s opinions about them, or has shown the slightest concern for German or European interests.  Instead the sanctions are being imposed for domestic reasons, as a spin-off of the Russiagate scandal, and as part of the feud between the Democrats and the Trump administration.  The result is that they have been negotiated between Democrats and Republicans in Congress without Angela Merkel and the Europeans being consulted about them at all.

The new sanctions explicitly target Russian pipelines projects to Europe, specifically the Nord Stream 2 pipeline recently agreed between Germany and Russia.

Back in April I discussed Nord Stream 2 in detail and explained the rationale behind it – that it provides Germany and Europe with cheaper pipeline gas from Russia than gas they could obtain elsewhere – and the way that recognition of this reality amounted to a Russian victory in Europe’s decades long energy war

As the energy war between the EU and Russia heated up from the mid 2000s, demands – many of them originating in Washington and London, even though the US and UK are not significant importers of Russian gas – for the EU to ‘diversify’ its gas imports away from Russia so as to reduce the EU’s supposedly dangerous dependence on Russia steadily built up.

These led to various schemes to reduce the EU’s ‘dependence’ on Russian gas, including the importing of liquified natural gas from the Persian Gulf and the US, the building of the Nabucco pipeline across Turkey and the Caucasus to Azerbaijan, the importing of gas from the newly discovered gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean, and the importing of gas from north Africa…..

By December 2014, when South Stream was cancelled, all these disputes and conflicts had come to a head.

The European projects to ‘diversify’ away from Russian gas had all failed.

The reason was that all these projects ran into the same problem: they did not provide enough gas to reduce Europe’s need for gas from Russia, and they made no economic sense because the gas they would have provided would have been significantly more expensive than the gas supplied by pipeline from Russia.

In the meantime the Ukrainians during fraught negotiations over gas supplies from Russia over the course of the summer of 2014 once more threatened to siphon off Russian gas passing through Ukrainian pipelines destined for Gazprom’s EU customers.

Meanwhile the Russians for their part were having far more success in diversifying their gas exports to non-European customers than the Europeans were having in reducing their need for imports of gas from Russia.  Specifically in 2014 the Russians announced major projects to build two giant pipelines to supply gas to China.  Though these pipelines have been derided by Western and Russian liberal critics as making no economic sense because the Chinese will pay less for the gas than Russia’s European customers, there is no doubt the Russians will make a profit from the sales, and the fact that they will soon be selling large amounts of gas to China means that they are no longer as dependent on the Europeans as their customers as they once were.

The European country which found itself most exposed was Germany, whose large industrial sector not only requires plentiful supplies of cheap gas but which has also become more gas dependent as Germany has been closing down its coal and nuclear industries.

The result is that despite the sanctions the EU imposed on Russia on German insistence in July 2014, in June 2015 – just a few months after the cancellation of South Stream in December 2014 – and with the full backing of the German government, a new pipeline project linking Germany to Russia across the Baltic was announced, which is Nord Stream 2.  Moreover in order to ensure that this pipeline would be built the Germans agreed to Russia’s demand that it would not be subject to the EU’s Third Energy Package.

The new pipeline predictably provoked a sustained campaign of opposition from a coalition of opponents including those who claimed to be concerned about Europe’s ‘energy dependence’ on Russia, various eastern and central European states unhappy at the loss of transit fees caused by the direct supply of gas to Germany from Russia, other EU states such as Italy unhappy at the way Germany dealt directly with Russia in its own interests whilst simultaneously insisting that other EU states impose sanctions on Russia, and of course Ukraine, which risks being cut out completely as a transit state.

Opposition to Nord Stream 2 was led by the European Commission on the grounds that it was not compatible with the EU’s Third Energy Package and would increase Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.  The Germans and the Russians countered, truthfully if somewhat disingenuously, that Nord Stream 2 is not subject to the Third Energy Package since it does not cross over EU territory as it passes under the Baltic Sea

The reality is that in today’s Europe if the Germans and the Russians agree on something it is going to happen irrespective of whatever others might think or say about it.  The German government could have killed Nord Stream 2 at any time but it chose not to because that would have outraged German industry, already seething over the sanctions imposed on Russia.  That in effect all but guaranteed that despite all the objections Nord Stream 2 would go ahead.

The EU Commission has now dropped its objections to Nord Stream 2 and said Nord Stream 2 is not covered by the Third Energy Package.  This amounts to it raising the white flag, not just in relation to Nord Stream 2 but in respect of the whole energy war.  Suffice to say that it is not a coincidence that at the same time the European Commission’s case against Gazprom seems to be fizzling out.

What this means is that following more than a decade and a half of struggle the Russians have finally and conclusively won the energy war.

Not only will Nord Stream 2 be built as the Russians want – without it being subject to the Third Energy Package – but there is nothing now to stop the Russians building Nord Stream 3 or Nord Stream 4 or as many other pipelines as they want under the Baltic on the same basis.

If the Russians have won the energy war in Europe, it is however now clear that they have not won it in the US.  There powerful forces remain who still wish to disrupt the flow of Russian energy to Europe.

This explains why the new sanctions expressly target Nord Stream 2, with threats of fines of companies which participate in the project.

These actions are quite obviously intended to obstruct or if possible kill off the Nord Stream 2 project, no doubt in part for political reasons, but also in part for commercial ones, with the politically well connected shale industry in the US apparently pressing to sell maritime tanker transported US liquified natural gas to Europe in place of Russian pipeline gas.

However whilst this makes commercial sense for the US shale producers, it makes no commercial sense for the Germans and the Europeans.

In the extract from my previous article which I quoted above I discussed how all the alternatives to Russian pipeline gas which have previously been mooted – “the importing of liquified natural gas from the Persian Gulf and the US, the building of the Nabucco pipeline across Turkey and the Caucasus to Azerbaijan, the importing of gas from the newly discovered gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean, and the importing of gas from north Africa…..” – have failed because the gas they would provide would be significantly more expensive than the gas supplied by pipeline from Russia.

Of these alternatives maritime tanker transported US liquified natural gas must be one of the most expensive, both because of the way it is produced, and because of the way it must be stored and transported.

I would add that given that the US is a major net energy importer it makes little economic sense for the US to export this gas either.  However this is the project the US Congress is now committing itself to.

Here it is important to make one particular point about the US approach not just to sanctions but to US law generally.

If the threats against participation in Nord Stream 2 merely affected US companies the Germans and the Europeans would simply shrug them off and ignore them.  However over the last couple of decades the US has increasingly adopted the view that its domestic law has universal application, and can be enforced by the US authorities on anyone irrespective of nationality anywhere in the world.  That might in theory lead to European companies being fined by the US for doing things – such as participating in the Nord Stream 2 project – far from US territory, and in places such as north west Europe where the US ought to have no jurisdiction.

Not surprisingly the Europeans – the Germans and the Austrians in particular – are furious about all of this.  As they have pointed out, fresh sanctions being imposed on Russia without any consultation are directly impacting on their fundamental economic interests by obliging them to buy expensive US liquified natural gas in preference to cheaper Russian pipeline gas, thereby threatening the competitiveness of their industries.

The German government – including Angela Merkel – has made its strong objections and deep anger especially clear.

Beyond German outrage at the way in which German and European interests are being disregarded, there is also unquestionably further anger at the way the US – or at least the US Congress – is using the current political campaign against Russia to try to force the Europeans to pay a subsidy to the well-connected US shale industry by buying its gas.

So what will happen?

There is no doubt that the US Congress will vote into law its latest sanctions package, with this happening probably on Wednesday.

There has been some talk of Donald Trump vetoing the package.  However given overwhelming majorities for the sanctions package in both the Senate and the House make that unlikely.  Besides if Trump did try to exercise a veto, his veto would presumably be overridden.

It does not however necessarily follow that the sanctions package will kill Nord Stream 2.

Whilst it is all very well for the US Congress to pass a law that might theoretically threaten European companies with fines if they participate in Nord Stream 2, it is quite another matter for the US government to impose such fines on European companies which are participating in a project which is strongly backed by the German government.  That would trigger a huge row, and might lead to retaliatory action by the EU.

Significantly this episode has already provoked the Germans and the Austrians to say that they do not accept that the US has universal jurisdiction over European companies participating in legal projects in Europe far away from the US.

The EU Commission has now issued a public statement strongly condemning the whole approach being taken by the US Congress

…….the Russia/Iran sanctions bill is driven primarily by domestic considerations…..As we have said repeatedly, it is important that any possible new measures are coordinated between international partners to maintain unity among partners on the sanctions. ….We are concerned the measures discussed in the US Congress could have unintended consequences, not only when it comes to Transatlantic/G7 unity, but also on EU economic and energy security interests…This impact could be potentially wide and indiscriminate.  We therefore call on the US Congress/authorities to engage with the partners, including the EU, to ensure coordination and to avoid any unintended consequences of the measures discussed.

There is almost certainly nothing that can now be done to prevent the US Congress from voting this sanctions package into law.  However there must be a strong probability that the Trump administration will heed the EU’s call for consultation before the sanctions package is enforced, and that is likely to shield European companies that are participating in Nord Stream 2.  There seems to be enough leeway in the law to allow this, and it is difficult to believe that even the most hardline Democrats in the Congress will wish to overturn arrangements agreed between the Trump administration and the German government.

That of course depends on Merkel and the German government standing firm on this issue.  With German opinion strongly aroused on this issue, the probability however is that they will.

Regardless of that, this episode shows two further things:

Firstly, the sanctions whey they were imposed on Russia in 2014 were hailed in the West as a great display of Western unity.  On the contrary they are increasingly becoming a source of conflict and argument: within the EU – between northern Europe and southern Europe – and now between the EU and the US.

Secondly, this episode once again exposes Angela Merkel’s folly in agreeing in July 2014 to put US geopolitical objectives in Ukraine above German and EU economic interests.  Ever since Merkel’s authority has been tied to the sanctions she agreed to in July of that year, so that she now finds herself committed to a sanctions policy which is not only contrary to German interests but over which she ultimately has no control.

The result is that she – and Europe and Germany in her wake – are now hostages to decisions made not in Brussels and Berlin but in Washington and Kiev.

That is a disastrous outcome, whose consequences this latest episode are making all too clear.

As Merkel’s nemesis Vladimir Putin might one day point out to her, that is however what happens if you choose to sacrifice your nation’s interests to the demands of your friends.

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The ‘Gilets Jaunes’ Are Unstoppable: “Now, The Elites Are Afraid”

Now the elites are afraid. For the first time, there is a movement which cannot be controlled through the normal political mechanisms.

The Duran

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Authored by Christophe Guilluy via Spiked-Online.com:


The gilets jaunes (yellow vest) movement has rattled the French establishment. For several months, crowds ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands have been taking to the streets every weekend across the whole of France. They have had enormous success, extracting major concessions from the government. They continue to march.

Back in 2014, geographer Christopher Guilluy’s study of la France périphérique (peripheral France) caused a media sensation. It drew attention to the economic, cultural and political exclusion of the working classes, most of whom now live outside the major cities. It highlighted the conditions that would later give rise to the yellow-vest phenomenon. Guilluy has developed on these themes in his recent books, No Society and The Twilight of the Elite: Prosperity, the Periphery and the Future of Francespiked caught up with Guilluy to get his view on the causes and consequences of the yellow-vest movement.

spiked: What exactly do you mean by ‘peripheral France’?

Christophe Guilluy: ‘Peripheral France’ is about the geographic distribution of the working classes across France. Fifteen years ago, I noticed that the majority of working-class people actually live very far away from the major globalised cities – far from Paris, Lyon and Toulouse, and also very far from London and New York.

Technically, our globalised economic model performs well. It produces a lot of wealth. But it doesn’t need the majority of the population to function. It has no real need for the manual workers, labourers and even small-business owners outside of the big cities. Paris creates enough wealth for the whole of France, and London does the same in Britain. But you cannot build a society around this. The gilets jaunes is a revolt of the working classes who live in these places.

They tend to be people in work, but who don’t earn very much, between 1000€ and 2000€ per month. Some of them are very poor if they are unemployed. Others were once middle-class. What they all have in common is that they live in areas where there is hardly any work left. They know that even if they have a job today, they could lose it tomorrow and they won’t find anything else.

spiked: What is the role of culture in the yellow-vest movement?

Guilluy: Not only does peripheral France fare badly in the modern economy, it is also culturally misunderstood by the elite. The yellow-vest movement is a truly 21st-century movement in that it is cultural as well as political. Cultural validation is extremely important in our era.

One illustration of this cultural divide is that most modern, progressive social movements and protests are quickly endorsed by celebrities, actors, the media and the intellectuals. But none of them approve of the gilets jaunes. Their emergence has caused a kind of psychological shock to the cultural establishment. It is exactly the same shock that the British elites experienced with the Brexit vote and that they are still experiencing now, three years later.

The Brexit vote had a lot to do with culture, too, I think. It was more than just the question of leaving the EU. Many voters wanted to remind the political class that they exist. That’s what French people are using the gilets jaunes for – to say we exist. We are seeing the same phenomenon in populist revolts across the world.

spiked: How have the working-classes come to be excluded?

Guilluy: All the growth and dynamism is in the major cities, but people cannot just move there. The cities are inaccessible, particularly thanks to mounting housing costs. The big cities today are like medieval citadels. It is like we are going back to the city-states of the Middle Ages. Funnily enough, Paris is going to start charging people for entry, just like the excise duties you used to have to pay to enter a town in the Middle Ages.

The cities themselves have become very unequal, too. The Parisian economy needs executives and qualified professionals. It also needs workers, predominantly immigrants, for the construction industry and catering et cetera. Business relies on this very specific demographic mix. The problem is that ‘the people’ outside of this still exist. In fact, ‘Peripheral France’ actually encompasses the majority of French people.

spiked: What role has the liberal metropolitan elite played in this?

Guilluy: We have a new bourgeoisie, but because they are very cool and progressive, it creates the impression that there is no class conflict anymore. It is really difficult to oppose the hipsters when they say they care about the poor and about minorities.

But actually, they are very much complicit in relegating the working classes to the sidelines. Not only do they benefit enormously from the globalised economy, but they have also produced a dominant cultural discourse which ostracises working-class people. Think of the ‘deplorables’ evoked by Hillary Clinton. There is a similar view of the working class in France and Britain. They are looked upon as if they are some kind of Amazonian tribe. The problem for the elites is that it is a very big tribe.

The middle-class reaction to the yellow vests has been telling. Immediately, the protesters were denounced as xenophobes, anti-Semites and homophobes. The elites present themselves as anti-fascist and anti-racist but this is merely a way of defending their class interests. It is the only argument they can muster to defend their status, but it is not working anymore.

Now the elites are afraid. For the first time, there is a movement which cannot be controlled through the normal political mechanisms. The gilets jaunes didn’t emerge from the trade unions or the political parties. It cannot be stopped. There is no ‘off’ button. Either the intelligentsia will be forced to properly acknowledge the existence of these people, or they will have to opt for a kind of soft totalitarianism.

A lot has been made of the fact that the yellow vests’ demands vary a great deal. But above all, it’s a demand for democracy. Fundamentally, they are democrats – they want to be taken seriously and they want to be integrated into the economic order.

spiked: How can we begin to address these demands?

Guilluy: First of all, the bourgeoisie needs a cultural revolution, particularly in universities and in the media. They need to stop insulting the working class, to stop thinking of all the gilets jaunes as imbeciles.

Cultural respect is fundamental: there will be no economic or political integration until there is cultural integration. Then, of course, we need to think differently about the economy. That means dispensing with neoliberal dogma. We need to think beyond Paris, London and New York.

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US Blunders Have Made Russia The Global Trade Pivot

Even if Europe is somehow taken out of the trade equation, greater synergy between the RIC (Russia, India and China) nations may be enough to pull their nations through anticipated global volatilities ahead

The Duran

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Authored by Mathew Maavak via ActivistPost.com:


The year 2019 had barely begun before news emerged that six Russian sailors were kidnapped by pirates off the coast of Benin. It was perhaps a foretaste of risks to come. As nations reel from deteriorating economic conditions, instances of piracy and other forms of supply chain disruptions are bound to increase.

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), 107 cases of piracy were noted during the first half of 2018 vis-à-vis 87 throughout 2017.  The 2018 tally included 32 cases in Southeast Asian waters and 48 along African shores – representing 75% of the total. To put this figure into perspective, Asian behemoths India and China – despite their vast shorelines – recorded only 2 cases of piracy each during the study period. Russia had none. In terms of hostages taken, the IMB tally read 102 in H1 2018 vs 63 in H1 2017.

Piracy adds to shipping and retail costs worldwide as security, insurance and salaries are hiked to match associated risks in maritime transport. Merchant vessels will also take longer and costlier routes to avoid piracy hotspots.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report in 2016 sums up the perils ahead:

As over 90% of global trade is carried out by sea, the economic effects of maritime crime can be crippling. Maritime crime includes not only criminal activity directed at vessels or maritime structures, but also the use of the high seas to perpetrate transnational organized crimes such as smuggling of persons or illicit substances.  These forms of maritime crime can have devastating human consequences.

Indeed, cases of human trafficking, organ harvesting, and the smuggling of illicit substances and counterfeit goods are proliferating worldwide in tandem with rising systemic debt and suspect international agendas.

Australia offers a case in point. While it fantasizes over a Quad of allies in the Indo-Pacific – to “save Asians from China” – criminal elements from Hong Kong, Malaysia to squeaky-clean Singapore have been routinely trafficking drugs, tobacco and people right into Sydney harbour for years,  swelling the local organised crime economy to as much as $47.4 billion (Australian dollars presumably) between 2016 and 2017.

With criminal elements expected to thrive during a severe recession, they will likely enjoy a degree of prosecutorial shielding from state actors and local politicians. But this is not a Southeast Asian problem alone; any superpower wishing to disrupt Asia-Europe trade arteries – the main engine of global growth – will have targets of opportunity across oceans and lands.  The US-led war against Syria had not only cratered one potential trans-Eurasia energy and trade node, it served as a boon for child traffickingorgan harvesting and slavery as well. Yet, it is President Bashar al-Assad who is repeatedly labelled a “butcher” by the Anglo-American media.

Ultimately, industries in Asia and Europe will seek safer transit routes for their products. The inference here is inevitable: the greatest logistical undertaking in history – China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – will be highly dependent on Russian security umbrella, particularly in Central Asia. Russia also offers an alternative transit option via the Northern Sea Route, thereby avoiding any potential pan-Turkic ructions in Central Asia in the future.

Russo- and Sinophobia explained?

In retrospect, Washington’s reckless policies post-Sept 11 2001 seem aimed at disrupting growing synergies between Asia and Europe. This hypothesis helps explain the relentless US-led agitprops against Russia, China and Iran.

When the gilet jaunes (yellow vest) protests rocked France weeks ago, it was only a matter of time before some pundits blamed it on Russia. US President Donald J. Trump cheered on; just as “billionaire activist” George Soros celebrated the refugee invasion of Europe and the Arab Spring earlier.  If the yellow vest contagion spreads to the Western half of Europe, its economies will flounder. Cui bono? A Russia that can reap benefits from the two-way BRI or Arctic trade routes or a moribund United States that can no longer rule roost in an increasingly multipolar world?

Trump’s diplomatic downgrade of the European Union and his opposition to the Nord Stream 2gas pipeline matches this trade-disruption hypothesis, as do pressures applied on India and China to drop energy and trade ties with Iran.  Washington’s trade war with Beijing and recent charges against Huawei – arguably Asia’s most valuable company – seem to fit this grand strategy.

If China concedes to importing more US products, Europe will bear the consequences. Asians love European products ranging from German cars to Italian shoes and Europe remains the favourite vacation destination for its growing middle class. Eastern European products and institutions are also beginning to gain traction in Asia. However, these emerging economies will suffer if their leaders cave in to Washington’s bogeyman fetish.

Even if Europe is somehow taken out of the trade equation, greater synergy between the RIC (Russia, India and China) nations may be enough – at least theoretically – to pull their nations through anticipated global volatilities ahead.

In the meantime, as the US-led world crumbles, it looks like Russia is patiently biding its time to become the security guarantor and kingmaker of Asia-Europe trade.  A possible state of affairs wrought more by American inanity rather than Russian ingenuity…

Dr Mathew Maavak is a regular commentator on risk-related geostrategic issues.

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Historic Eastern Christianity: An Uncertain Future

The survival of historic Eastern Christianity, particularly in Syria, is critical for several reasons.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Elias Samo via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The survival of historic Eastern Christianity has never been as urgent as it is today. Christianity saw its beginning in Greater Syria which was subdivided by France and Britain after WWI into modern day Syria, Lebanon, Palestian/Israel and Jordan. The land that housed, nurtured and spread the teachings of Jesus Christ for over two millenniums, now threatens children of that faith. The survival of historic Eastern Christianity, particularly in Syria, is critical for several reasons:

  1. Greater Syria is the homeland of Jesus and Christianity. Abraham was from modern day Iraq, Moses from Egypt, and Muhammad from Mecca; Jesus was from Syria.
  1. Paul converted to Christianity and saw the light while walking through ‘The Street Called Straight’ in Damascus.
  1. Jesus’ followers were called Christians for the first time in Antioch, formerly part of Syria.
  1. One of the earliest churches, perhaps the earliest, is in Syria.

The potential demise of historic Eastern Christianity is reflected in the key question Christians ask: should we stay or emigrate? The urgent question – in the face of the ongoing regional turmoil – precipitated with the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and escalated since the Arab uprisings in 2011. Historic Eastern Christians’ fears were further magnified when Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Archbishop Paul Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church, both of metropolitan Aleppo, were kidnapped on April, 22, 2013; with no traces of their whereabouts, dead or alive, since. For many years, I was deputy, friend, and advisor to the Archbishop Ibrahim, which provided me an opportunity to meet many Christians. I have, over time, noticed the change in their sentiment, with more considering emigration after the uprising and the kidnapping of the two Archbishops. Historic Eastern Christians survived the Ottoman Genocide in 1915 and thereafter; they multiplied and thrived in the Fertile Crescent despite some atrocities until the start of the misnamed “Arab Spring” in early 2011. Prior to the “Arab Spring”, historic Eastern Christians were victims of violence on several occasions. In the mid-1930s, the historic Assyrian community in Iraq suffered violent onslaughts and were driven to Syria. In the 1970s and 1980s, during the Lebanese Civil War, Christians were victims of sectarian violence. During the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Christians were victims of widespread sectarian violence which led to mass migration. The “Arab Spring” began with great hope for the right of the people to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. However, it was swiftly hijacked by Islamists and Salafists and turned into an “Islamic Spring, an Arab Fall and a Christian Winter”; bringing along with it a new massacre of Christians. Presently, Eastern Christianity is at the mercy of clear and identifiable domestic, regional, and international, historic and contemporary conflicts in the Fertile Crescent, namely:

  1. Jihad vs. Ijtihad: A long standing conflict amongst Muslims between the sword vs. the pen.
  2. Sunni vs. Shiite: A conflict which began following the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
  3. Arabism vs. Islamism: The former has territorial limitations, the later has no territorial limitations.
  4. Syria vs. Israel: It is an essential component of the Palestinian problem, not the presumed Arab- Israeli conflict.
  5. West vs. East: A throwback to the Cold War, or its revival.
  6. Historic Persian, Ottoman and Arab Empires animosities: Each seeking regional hegemony.

One is reminded of the proverbial saying, “When the elephants fight, the grass suffers.” Certainly, Eastern Christianity is suffering and threatened with extinction.

Syria was a model of religious tolerance, common living and peaceful interaction amongst its religious, sectarian, cultural and ethnic components. Seven years of turmoil, in which various international and regional powers manipulated segments of Syrian society by supplying them with an abundance of weapons, money and sectarian ideologies, has heightened Eastern Christians’ fears. During the seven-year turmoil in Syria, the entire society has suffered; Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Yazidis, Kurds, Christians and others. Christians, being a weak and peaceful component of the society, have suffered immensely. Ma’aloula; a religious treasure for Christians globally, and the only city in the world where Aramaic – the language of Jesus Christ – is spoken, was attacked and besieged by ISIS. Numerous historic Churches were damaged, and many destroyed. Christians in Raqqa were forced by ISIS into one of three options: 1. Pay a penalty in pure gold – known as a ‘Jizya’ to keep their life and practice their faith – albeit in secret only; 2. Convert into Islam; or 3. Face immediate death. To top their pain, the kidnap of the two prominent Archbishops meant no Eastern Christian believer was safe.

Amidst all the doom and gloom, however, there remains hope. The survival of Christianity depends on the actions and reactions of three parties:

Eastern Christians: During the last hundred years, 1915-2015, since the Ottoman Genocide, Eastern Christians have been victims of a history of massacres, which meant that every Eastern Christian was a martyr, a potential martyr or a witness of martyrdom; if you fool me once, shame on you, if you fool me twice, shame on me. The ongoing regional turmoil has heightened their sense of insecurity. The answer to an age-old question Eastern Christians had on their mind: To flee Westwards or remain in their land, in the face of death, is increasingly becoming the former.

Eastern Muslims: There is a difference in perceptions between Eastern Christians and mainstream Muslims regarding the massacres committed against Christians. When certain violent groups or individuals kill Christians, while shouting a traditional Islamic profession: “No God but one God and Muhammad is God’s messenger”, it is reasonable for Christians to assume the killers are Muslims. However, for mainstream Muslims, the killers do not represent Islam; they are extremists, violating basic Islamic norms such as Muhammad’s sayings, “Whoever hurts a Thummy – Christian or Jew – has hurt me”, “no compulsion in religion” and other Islamic norms regarding just treatment of people of the Book; Christians and Jews. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Muslim elites to impress upon their fellow Muslims that:

a. The three monotheistic religions believe in one God and all ‘faithfuls’ are equal in citizenship, rights and duties.

b. Christians participated in the rise of Arab Islamic civilization. They were pioneers in the modern Arab renaissance and they joined their Muslim brethren in resisting the Crusades, the Ottomans and Western colonialism.

c. Christians are natives of the land and they provide cultural, religious, educational, and economic, diversity.

d. Christians are a positive link between the Muslims and the Christian West, particularly in view of the rise of Islamophobia. Massacres of Christians and their migration provide a pretext for the further precipitation of Islamophobia.

e. Civilization is measured by the way it treats its minorities.

The Christian West: The Crusades, Western colonialism, creation and continued support of Israel, support of authoritarian Arab political systems, military interventions, regime change, and the destabilization of Arab states made Muslims view Eastern Christians ‘guilty by association’. The Christian West helped Jews come to Palestine to establish Israel. Shouldn’t the same Christian West also help Eastern Christians remain in their homeland, rather than facilitate their emigration? Western Christians, particularly Christian Zionists, believe that the existence of Israel is necessary for the return of Jesus to his homeland. However, it would be a great disappointment for Jesus to return to his homeland, Syria and not find any of his followers.

Prior to 2011, Eastern Christian religious leaders were encouraging Syrian Christians in the diaspora to return to Syria, their homeland, where life was safe and secure with great potential. Now, the same leaders are desperately trying to slow down Christian emigration. Eastern Christians’ loud cries for help to remain are blowing in the wind.

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