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Kazakhstan’s venerable president Nazarbayev headed for big meeting with Trump

The Kazakh president’s visit is expected to be heavy on business discussions




(Forbes) – Their mobile internet is faster than Brazil’s, Russia’s and India’s; make that twice as fast as India’s. Their fixed broadband is faster than Australia’s, the Aussies lamented on Jan. 8, not to mention faster than Brazil’s and India’s once again. This is Kazakhstan, a frontier market on the oil and gas-rich Caspian Sea, led by a 77-year-old man named Nursultan Nazarbayev.

He is the only living former Soviet leader. Everyone else is either dead or has been kicked out of office with the purge of Communist Party officials in 1992. And he is coming to Washington on Jan. 16, the first and only ‘Stan president to meet with President Donald Trump at the White House.

When Trump got a December 2016 phone call from the elder statesmen, CBS News was quick to point out that the president-elect had reportedly congratulated a “dictator” for his “miraculous” post-Soviet success. Compared to every other leader in the region, Nazarbayev is best in class.  Compared to nearly every other former Soviet state outside of the three Baltic states that have joined the European Union, Kazakhstan is in better shape and more politically stable than all of them.

“People could not have predicted how well all of this would turn out, but Nazarbayev opened Kazakhstan to the world,” says Washington’s first ambassador to the country, William Courtney, now a senior fellow and executive director of the Business Leaders Forum at the RAND Corporation. Courtney was ambassador to Kazakhstan between 1992 and 1995. He is now executive director of the U.S. Kazakhstan Business Association.

“We will set up a meeting with him,” Courtney says. “U.S. companies will want to talk energy, but also will want to see what he has in store for privatization plans finally. This is not a full democracy. It’s not like Ukraine. But it’s more stable. It’s not the kind of police state you once had in Uzbekistan until recently.”

Nazarbayev is more moderate in the way he runs the government. Shared power is important to him and that includes keeping with the long-standing post-Soviet tradition of a multi-vector approach to geopolitics, whereas Russia, China, and the West are important, but not played off each other, says Courtney. “The U.S. is not going to unseat Russia or China from Kazakhstan and Russia isn’t going to get U.S. energy companies and security strategy out of Kazakhstan either,” he says.

The White House confirmed the visit on Jan. 9.

In September, the White House said Nazarbayev backed Trump’s new South Asian strategy, which included fortifying the U.S. fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan and penalizing Pakistan for harboring anti-Afghanistan militants within its borders. In that phone call, Trump “expressed appreciation for Kazakhstan’s regional and global leadership, including its upcoming tenure as chair of the United Nations Security Council in January.”

Nazarbayev isn’t the Angela Merkel of the former Soviet Union, but he is a man who has spent much of the last decade trying to repackage his country as an example of modernity to be used by neighboring countries of the vast and lonely Central Asia.

Kazakhstan has led the charge for banning nuclear weapons and has opened the capital city of Astana to Syrian peace talks on numerous occasions – what is known as the Astana peace process.

Nazarbayev wants to be seen as a power broker in Central Asia, and does not have any competition. His visit to the White House is likely to be used to make sure the U.S. defense budget includes Central Asia spending, and perhaps some time spent on the need for U.S. expertise to help pull all of the oil out of its portion of the Caspian Sea. The Kashagan and Tengiz fields have attracted billions from Chevron.

For 2018, Chevron announced a capital and exploratory spending program of $18.3 billion, of which $3.3 billion is going for the Permian basin in the U.S. and $3.7 billion is going to Kazakhstan, the company said.  This year marks the company’s 25th in Kazakhstan.

“It’s been a privilege to play a supporting role in the growth of Kazakhstan to a nation of global prominence,” says Chevron spokeswoman Sally Ann Jones.

The country depends on oil. In 2013, before oil prices dropped by half, much of its exports and government revenues came from oil and gas. With a GDP per capita of just over $7,500, Kazakhstan could reach high-income country status within a decade thanks to Caspian Sea oil, according to a report by World Bank economists published last month by the Brookings Institute.

Despite the oil revenue, Nazarbayev has paid more than lip service to moving away from commodities. The government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on real estate projects and green energy initiatives. The biggest, most visible example is the Astana International Financial Center, something many say is an attempt to create a mini Dubai of Central Asia. Others call it pie in the sky.

“The current economic situation in Kazakhstan, with low oil prices and years of a weak Russian economy, has rolled back those plans quite a bit,” says Mariya Y. Omelicheva, associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Kansas. “They’ve had to devalue their currency significantly.”

The tenge is down 54% over the last five years.

“They’ve been on track to build their own stock market, and the new financial center is part of that plan, but I think they are still struggling to get back to where they were in 2014,” she says.

If all goes well with oil prices, the Tengiz and Kashagan fields stand to help Nazarbayev’s legacy of building out Kazakhstan. They’ll attract more foreign direct investment from energy companies, at least.

The Chinese will also help. China poured millions into Khorgos – one of the largest dry ports in the world located on the border of the two countries. The New York Times reporter Andrew Higgins wrote extensively about the Khorgos port this month, giving readers a glimpse into one of China’s biggest Belt and Road initiative (BRI) developments, and what that means to a frontier country like Kazakhstan.

In short, it has been like a shot in the arm to Nazarbayev.

“Kazakhstan has eagerly embraced China’s ambitious initiative to revive the centuries-old Silk Road,” says Nihad Ahmed, an economist with London-based Focus Economics.  Most of the routes proposed under China’s BRI go through Kazakhstan.  “It stands to be a real game-changer for them in helping maximize the advantages of its location, deepen economic ties to China, and diversify its economic structure away from dependency on oil by catalyzing a ‘third wave of modernization’ through the acquisition of advanced technologies and upgraded infrastructure,” Ahmed says.

General Electric is benefiting directly. They are building over 700 locomotives with Kazakhstan rail companies, of which half of the machinery will be made in the U.S., the company said. GE’s transportation division signed a deal with the government’s railway company in December to be the digital logistics systems provider for their entire network.  More General Electric-Kazakhstan news is expected to come from Nazarbayev’s official visit.

Nazarbayev brings with him more positive baggage than negative ones. There is no fear of a Russian invasion, at least nothing compared to what one hears in Lithuania and Ukraine on a revolving basis. There are no color revolutions. Foreign capital, be it from China or Chevron, is going to Kazakhstan and not the other ‘Stans. And not yet to Ukraine, mainly due to civil strife in the nation’s southeast, pitting Russian backed separatists against the government.

Most of these projects, from BRI to the Caspian, are in line with the priorities set by the government in its multi-year investment strategy. The strategy targets a roughly 30% increase in foreign direct investment into Kazakhstan by 2022.

The main question on everybody’s mind is what happens to it all once Nazarbayev retires.

“There is no reason not to have a reasonable succession after Nazarbayev,” says Olga Oliker, director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “If he steps down into retirement, he might have more influence and control over new leadership. I would be shocked if they did not have a peaceful transition.”

Like Putin, and to some degree like the relative disrepute celebrity of Trump himself, Nazarbayev benefits from popularity at home. However people see him, one constant among Central Asia watchers is that Nazarbayev managed political stability throughout the fall of the Soviet Union. He has united the country for over 30 years.

“You have to hand it to him,” says Omelicheva. “You can criticize a lot of his policies, but he’s been a smart leader in many ways. I cannot think of another leader there who has invested so long into the education of managers and engineers to build their country. I think it’s paying off.”

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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.



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



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.





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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