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Navalny’s phoney Presidential bid and the Russian Presidential election

Alexander Mercouris

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Alexey Navalny’s attempt to overturn the decision of Russia’s Central Election Commission that he is ineligible to stand in Russia’s Presidential election in March was rejected today by Russia’s Supreme Court.

The Central Election Commission, headed by Ella Pamfilova, ruled unanimously that Navalny is ineligible to stand for election because of a previous unspent conviction for which he has received a suspended prison sentence.

The relevant legal provision would appear to be Article 3(5) of the Law on the Election of the President of the Russian Federation.

This is a Yeltsin era law and its relevant provision reads as follows

5. A citizen of the Russian Federation found incapable by a court or kept in places of confinement under a court sentence shall have no rights to elect or be elected President of the Russian Federation.

This is clear enough, with the Law granting the Central Election Commission no leeway to set the provision aside.

Navalny’s call to the Central Election Commission asking them to set the provision aside was therefore bound to fail.  The Central Election Commission would have acted unlawfully if it had agreed to do it, almost certainly exposing itself to a legal challenge had it done so.

In light of this it is impossible to see how Navalny’s Supreme Court challenge could have succeeded, and of course it has not done so.

These simple facts seem to be lost on the overwhelming majority of Western commentators who have spent the last few weeks discussing Navalny’s foredoomed Presidential bid and debating whether or not he would be “allowed” to stand, and who persist in reporting since the decision of the Central Election Commission that the Russian authorities have “banned” from Navalny from standing in the election.

Navalny has not been “banned” from standing in the election.  He cannot be “banned” from standing in an election he was legally ineligible to stand in in the first place.

Once again Western commentators who continuously demand that Russia abide by the “rule of law” in practice demand that Russia disregard its own law in favour of whatever individual the West chooses to support at any particular time.

That of course does not “support the rule of law in Russia”.  It works to undermine it.

Western commentators are on stronger ground when they say that the European Court of Human Rights overturned Navalny’s first conviction in the Kirovles case – the case in which he has received his suspended sentence – saying that the case against Navalny was politically motivated, having supposedly been brought against Navalny at the instigation of Alexander Bastrykin, the powerful head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, in retaliation for allegations of corruption Navalny had previously made against Bastrykin.

The Russian courts have however retried Navalny in the Kirovles case on the same charge – as they are legally entitled to do – and have re convicted him all over again on the same facts.

Though understandably enough this has come in for much criticism, the Central Election Commission is not a court, and it is not in a position to go behind this decision of the court.

As it happens I took a strong interest in the Kirovles case and conducted an exhaustive analysis of it at the time of the first case.

I reached the clear conclusion that if Navalny had been prosecuted before an English court on the same facts he would have been found guilty of theft, which is essentially the same offence as the one the Russian court has now twice found him guilty on.  Moreover I strongly doubt he would have escaped with only a suspended sentence.

As for Bastrykin’s involvement in the case, that was merely to scold his investigators for their timidity in acting against Navalny despite the strength of the case against him.

The decision of the European Court of Human Rights to set aside Navalny’s conviction and to criticise his prosecution as politically motivated was in my opinion straightforwardly wrong, being merely the latest example of the “lawfare” which is becoming increasingly common in international court cases involving Russia.

The European Court of Human Rights is known to have come under a great deal of criticism from Western governments and Western commentators because of its repeated Judgments against the Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky – another hero of Western governments and of the Western media- who it found had indeed committed the gigantic tax fraud the Russian authorities say he did. Frankly the Judgment in the Kirovles case looks to me like an attempt to counter this criticism.

That this was so is strongly suggested (at least to me) by the European Court of Human Rights’ very different approach in the second criminal case the Russian authorities have brought against Navalny, a case involving an alleged fraud by Navalny and his brother of Yves Rocher Vostok, the Russian subsidiary of the French Yves Rocher company.

To anyone familiar with the facts of the Kirovles case the facts of the Yves Rocher case look very similar and show an almost identical pattern of behaviour.

In both cases a private company was set up to provide a service previously provided by a publicly owned company, in the first case the Kirovles timber company, in the second case Russian Post.

In the Kirovles case Navalny and in the Yves Rocher case his brother had no visible role in the private company but in both cases they in fact controlled it.

In both cases there was an alleged abuse of public office, in the Kirovles case by Navalny himself acting in his capacity as an unpaid adviser of the Kirov Regional Government, in the Yves Rocher case by his brother acting in his capacity as a manager of Russian Post.

In both cases this was done to obtain lucrative contracts for the private company on favourable terms.  In both cases this led to an economic loss, in the first case to Kirovles, in the second case to Yves Rocher Vostok.

In both cases this loss would not have arisen if the contracts had not been made.

As in the Kirovles case the European Court of Human Rights in the Yves Rocher case set aside Navalny’s conviction and the Russian court’s Judgment against him and his brother.  However in this case the panel was far less sympathetic to Navalny than the Court’s panel was in the Kirovles case, as its brief Judgment makes clear.

Not only did the panel flatly refuse to say that the Yves Rocher case was politically motivated (hiding behind a technicality to avoid even looking at the issue) but it also refused to look in any detail into Navalny’s claims that the trial was unfair and rejected other claims he brought as completely unfounded.

The panel moreover limited itself to setting aside the Russian court’s Judgment on a very narrow point: that the contract between the Navalny controlled private company and Yves Rocher Vostok appeared to be lawful on its face, and appeared to have been performed lawfully.

Whilst that may be true, it ignores the circumstances in which the contract was made, which is where the fraud (if it exists) presumably lies. It is after all hardly unusual for thieves and fraudsters to conceal their activities behind a facade of legality, and that presumably is what the Russian authorities and Yves Rocher Vostok allege happened in this case.

That the panel knows this perfectly well and knows that there is more to the case than it chose to see is shown by these otherwise gratuitous words about Navalny which appear in its Judgment

58. In the light of the above-mentioned principles,the Court notes that it is not its task to rule on the applicants’ individual criminal responsibility, that being primarily a matter for the domestic courts, but to consider, from the standpoint of Article 7 § 1 of the Convention, whether the acts the applicants were convicted of fell within a definition of a criminal offence which was sufficiently accessible and foreseeable.

(bold italics added)

These words seem to hint at a criminal side to Navalny’s and his brother’s behaviour despite the Judgment setting aside their conviction, with the panel’s reference in another part of the Judgment to the fact that the Russian authorities intend retry the case perhaps hinting at the same thing.

Claims that the European Court of Human Rights awarded Navalny and his brother record compensation in the case are incidentally untrue.  The Court actually refused most of their claims for compensation and only awarded them compensation of 10,000 euros each.  The much larger sums some have cited conflate the compensation the Court awarded with the payment of legal costs, which they were entitled to because they won the case.

All in all my impression of the Judgment is that the European Court of Human Rights in the face of Western criticism once more bent over backwards to find in Navalny’s favour but on this occasion could not wholly conceal its disquiet at doing so.

Others of course are at liberty to disagree.  However saying that does bring me to what is for me the abiding mystery about Navalny.

This is the sympathy some people still have for him, which turns up in all sorts of unexpected places, despite his deeply unattractive personality as exposed by his behaviour in the two cases which have been brought against him, and in the straightforwardly racist comments he makes from time to time.

In the Kirovles case on the most generous reading Navalny abused his position as an unpaid adviser of the Kirov Regional Government to get Kirovles to hive off part of its business to a private company owned by a friend of his even though he had no authority or remit to do this.  Moreover when complaints about this and about how it was losing Kirovles money began to appear, his first response was to try to get those who were bringing the complaints sacked.  Afterwards, when this failed and the complaints continued, he fled the scene without either resigning his office or explaining himself, leaving behind him a burgeoning financial scandal and a pile of unanswered questions.

As for the Yves Rocher case, here is how the European Court of Human Rights summarises the actions of Navalny’s brother, who it is agreed carried out his actions in close cooperation with Navalny himself

The trial court found in particular that the applicants had set up a “fake company”, GPA, with the intention to use it as an intermediary to offer services to two clients of Russian Post, MPK and Yves Rocher Vostok. It held that Oleg Navalnyy had taken advantage of insider information that Russian Post had ceased to provide the companies with certain services and had convinced those clients to use GPA as a substitute; that he had misled the clients about GPA’s pricing policy and its relationship with Russian Post, thus depriving them of the freedom of choice of service providers; that he had promoted his company’s services while knowing that it would have to subcontract the work to other companies; and that GPA had retained the difference in price between what MPK and Yves Rocher Vostok paid for its services and what GPA paid to its subcontractors.

Note that the Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights does not dispute or cast doubt on any of this.

Even those who profess to see nothing criminal in this behaviour should admit that it is at the very least manipulative and exploitative.

In the Kirovles case Navalny used his position to get Kirovles to give part of its business to the company of a friend of his at a loss to itself.

In the Yves Rocher case the Navalny brothers used Oleg Navalny’s position as a manager of Russian Post to trick Russian Post’s clients into obtaining services from a company the Navalny brothers controlled that were actually being provided by others at a lower cost than the clients were being charged.

I am at a total loss to see how this manipulative and parasitical behaviour – exploiting public office and the hard work of others to make an unearned gain – is remotely appropriate behaviour for someone who poses as an anti-corruption campaigner and as an entrepreneur.

Is this really the sort of behaviour one wants to see from someone who pitches himself as a future President of Russia?

Back in the 1980s Boris Yeltsin rode to power on the claim that he was the implacable enemy of corruption and unearned privilege.  Naive belief in this claim blinded people to the obvious flaws in Yeltsin’s personality as well as to his well established incompetence as a manager.  The result was calamitous, with corruption and unearned privilege increasing under Yeltsin’s rule to levels never seen before in Russia.

It is unnerving that in Navalny’s case there still seem to be people sufficiently blinded by his self-serving anti-corruption rhetoric to make the same mistake all over again.

Having said this, one should not make the mistake of exaggerating Navalny’s popularity and importance.  Whereas Yeltsin in the 1980s managed to achieve a critical mass of support amongst the Russian population, there is no evidence of anything like that happening in Navalny’s case.

Though Navalny continues to be heavily promoted by the Western media, there is no evidence that support for him extends beyond Russia’s tiny and devotedly pro-Western liberal community, which continues to be overwhelmingly concentrated in Moscow.

Even in Moscow the extent of Navalny’s support is exaggerated.  The much cited 27% he won in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election is misleading being entirely the product of an unexpectedly low 33% turnout in the election, which exaggerated the appearance of his support because of the higher turnout of his more highly motivated followers.

In reality the proportion of Moscow’s electorate who voted for Navalny in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election was below the normal range of 11-15% of the Moscow electorate which can usually be relied upon to vote for a liberal candidate.  At 9% it was significantly below what liberal candidates like Yavlinsky and Prokhorov had achieved in previous elections (see my detailed discussion of the 2013 Moscow mayoral election here).

Outside Moscow support for Navalny falls away.  Contrary to what the Western media claims there has been no evidence of any great groundswell of support for him across the country over the last year.  The last (legal) protests he staged in support of his Presidential bid attracted no more than 10,000 people across the whole country, a fact which shows how limited support for him really is.

Which brings me back to the subject of Navalny’s Presidential bid.

Navalny is by training a lawyer and it beggars belief that he has not been aware all along of what Ella Pamfilova the liberal former Yeltsin era minister who heads Russia’s Central Election Commission pointed out to him, which is that he is ineligible to stand for election as Russia’s President.

Notwithstanding this Navalny has for months conducted a Presidential campaign and solicited donations from the Russian public in support of a Presidential bid he must have known would never take place.

This sort of deceitful and manipulative behaviour – so similar to his behaviour in the Kirovles and Yves Rocher cases – is bad enough in itself, and ought in any rational world to put paid to Navalny’s reputation as a fearless anti corruption campaigner.  However in this case it gets worse.

It appears that rather than close down his campaign and refund the money donated for a Presidential bid which can never happen Navalny instead intends to use the money and the organisation he has built up to campaign for an election boycott.  That this is not the purpose for which the money was given appears not to bother him or his admirers at all.

As it happens I suspect that creating a pretext for a campaign to boycott the election was the true purpose of Navalny’s Presidential bid all along.

I also suspect that it was the true reason why the Western media and Western governments have been so noisily backing his bogus Presidential bid: not because they see Navalny as a serious challenger to Putin but because they want to use Navalny’s inevitable exclusion from the election as a pretext to cast doubt on its legitimacy and on the legitimacy of Putin’s re-election when (as everyone expects) it happens.

Whilst that tactic will no doubt work with some people in the West (though I question how many people really care about an election in Russia), I doubt it will impress many people in Russia itself, where most people have long since become wise to this sort of thing.

However it shows yet again that whilst no proof of Russian meddling in any Western elections has ever come to light, Western meddling in Russian elections is not just unashamed and continuous, but happens openly in full light of day.

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The real reason Western media & CIA turned against Saudi MBS

The problem with MBS isn’t that he is a mass murdering war criminal, it is that he is too “independent” for the United States’ liking.

RT

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Via RT…


Forces are aligning against Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, lead by elements within the CIA and strong players in the mainstream media. But what is really behind this deterioration in relationship, and what are its implications?

Following the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, western media and various entities, including the CIA, appear to have turned their back on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS). In response to the scandal, the Guardian released a video which its celebutante, Owen Jones, captioned“Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest threats on Earth. Time to stop propping up its repulsive regime.”

The Guardian was not alone in its condemnation. “It’s high time to end Saudi impunity,” wrote Hana Al-Khamri in Al-Jazeera. “It’s time for Saudi Arabia to tell the truth on Jamal Khashoggi,” the Washington Post’s Editorial Board argued. Politico called it “the tragedy of Jamal Khashoggi.”

Even shadowy think-tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Atlantic Council released articles criticising Saudi Arabia in the wake of Khashoggi’s death.

A number of companies began backing away from Saudi money after the journalist’s death, including the world’s largest media companies such as the New York Times, the Economist’s editor-in-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes, Arianna Huffington, CNN, CNBC, the Financial Times, Bloomberg, Google Cloud CEO, just to name a few.

The CIA concluded that MBS personally ordered Khashoggi’s death, and was reportedly quite open in its provision of this assessment. Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the UN, also took time out of his schedule to express concern over Saudi Arabia’s confirmation of the killing.

At the time of the scandal, former CIA director John Brennan went on MSNBC to state that the Khashoggi’s death would be the downfall of MBS. Furthermore, the US Senate just voted in favour of ending American involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen (a somewhat symbolic victory, though this is a topic for another article), but nonetheless was a clear stab at MBS personally.

The only person who appeared to continue to uphold America’s unfaltering support for MBS, even after all the publicly made evidence against MBS, was the US president himself. So after years of bombarding Yemen, sponsoring terror groups across the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific and beyond, why is it only now that there has been mounting opposition to Saudi Arabia’s leadership? Let’s just bear in mind that western media had spent years investing in a heavy PR campaign to paint MBS as a “reformer.”

Former national security adviser under Barack Obama’s second term, Susan Rice, wrote an article in the New York Times, in which she called MBS a “partner we can’t depend on.” Rice concludes that MBS is “not and can no longer be viewed as a reliable partner of the United States and our allies.” But why is this? Is it because MBS is responsible for some of the most egregious human rights abuses inside his own kingdom as well as in Yemen? Is it because of MBS’ support for groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda? No, according to Rice, we “should not rupture our important relationship with the kingdom, but we must make it clear it cannot be business as usual so long as Prince Mohammad continues to wield unlimited power.”

One will observe that the latter segment of Rice’s article almost mirrors former CIA director Brennan’s word on MSNBC word for word who stated that:

“I think ultimately this is going to come out. And it’s very important for us to maintain the relations with Saudi Arabia. And if it’s Mohammed bin Salman who’s the cancer here, well, we need to be able to find ways to eliminate the cancer and to move forward with this relationship that is critical to regional stability and our national interests.”

In reality, this is probably the issue that western media and government advisors have taken up with MBS. Aside from the fact he allegedly held a huge hand in the brutal murder of one of their own establishment journalists (Saudi Arabia reportedly tortured and killed another journalist not long after Khashoggi, but western media was eerily silent on this incident) MBS is not opposed for his reckless disregard for human rights. With insight into Rice’s mindset, we actually learn that if the US were to punish MBS, he would be likely to “behave more irresponsibly to demonstrate his independence and exact retribution against his erstwhile Western partners.”

You see, the problem with MBS isn’t that he is a mass murdering war criminal, it is that he is too “independent” for the United States’ liking.

Last week, Saudi Arabia and the other major oil producers met in Vienna at the year’s final big OPEC meeting of the year. As Foreign Policy notes, Saudi Arabia remains the largest oil producer inside OPEC but has to contend with the US and Russia who are “pumping oil at record levels.” Together, the three countries are the world’s biggest oil producers, meaning any coordinated decision made between these three nations can be somewhat monumental.

However, it appears that one of these three nations will end up drawing the short end of the stick as the other two begin forming a closer alliance. As Foreign Policy explains:

“But Saudi Arabia has bigger game in mind at Vienna than just stabilizing oil prices. Recognizing that it can’t shape the global oil market by itself anymore but rather needs the cooperation of Russia, Saudi Arabia is hoping to formalize an ad hoc agreement between OPEC and Moscow that began in 2016, a time when dirt-cheap oil also posed a threat to oil-dependent regimes. That informal agreement expires at the end of the year, but the Saudis would like to make Russia’s participation with the cartel more permanent.”

Russian officials have been signalling their intention to formalise this agreement for quite some time now. Given the hysteria in western media about any and all things Russian, it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that this is the kind of news that is not sitting too well with the powers-that-be.

Earlier this year, Russia and Saudi Arabia announced that it would “institutionalize” the two-year-old bilateral agreement to coordinate oil production targets in order to maintain an edge on the global market.

While US president Trump has been supportive and incredibly defensive of MBS during this “crisis”, the truth is that the US only has itself to blame. It was not all too long ago that Trump announced that he had told Saudi King Salman that his kingdom would not last two weeks without US support.

Saudi Arabia is learning for themselves quite quickly that, ultimately, it may pay not to have all its eggs in one geopolitical superpower basket.

Saudi Arabia has been increasingly interested in Moscow since King Salman made a historic visit to Moscow in October 2017. While Trump has openly bragged about his record-breaking arms deals with the Saudis, the blunt truth is that the $110 billion arms agreements were reportedly only ever letters of interest or intent, but not actual contracts. As such, the US-Saudi arms deal is still yet to be locked in, all the while Saudi Arabia is negotiating with Russia for its S-400 air defence system. This is, as the Washington Post notes, despite repeated US requests to Saudi Arabia for it disavow its interest in Russia’s arms.

The economic threat that an “independent” Saudi Arabia under MBS’ leadership poses to Washington runs deeper than meets the eye and may indeed have a domino effect. According to CNN, Russia and Saudi Arabia “are engaged in an intense battle over who will be the top supplier to China, a major energy importer with an insatiable appetite for crude.”

The unveiling of China’s petro-yuan poses a major headache for Washington and its control over Saudi Arabia as well.According to Carl Weinberg, chief economist and managing director at High-Frequency Economics, China will “compel”Saudi Arabia to trade oil in Chinese yuan instead of US dollars. One must bear in mind that China has now surpassed the US as the “biggest oil importer on the planet,” these direct attacks on the US dollar will have huge implications for its current world reserve status.

If Saudi Arabia jumps on board China’s petro-yuan, the rest of OPEC will eventually follow, and the US might be left with no choice but to declare all of these countries in need of some vital freedom and democracy.

Therefore, ousting MBS and replacing him with a Crown Prince who doesn’t stray too far from the tree that is US imperialism may put a dent in pending relationships with Saudi Arabia and Washington’s adversaries, Russia and China.

Once we get over the certainty that the US media and the CIA are not against MBS for his long-list of human rights abuses, the question then becomes: why – why now, and in this manner, have they decided to put the spotlight on MBS and expose him exactly for what he is.

Clearly, the driving force behind this media outrage is a bit more complex than first meets the eye.

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Multipolar World Order in the Making: Qatar Dumps OPEC

Russia and Qatar’s global strategy also brings together and includes partners like Turkey.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The decision by Qatar to abandon OPEC threatens to redefine the global energy market, especially in light of Saudi Arabia’s growing difficulties and the growing influence of the Russian Federation in the OPEC+ mechanism.

In a surprising statement, Qatari energy minister Saad al-Kaabi warned OPEC on Monday December 3 that his country had sent all the necessary documentation to start the country’s withdrawal from the oil organization in January 2019. Al-Kaabi stressed that the decision had nothing to do with recent conflicts with Riyadh but was rather a strategic choice by Doha to focus on the production of LNG, which Qatar, together with the Russian Federation, is one of the largest global exporters of. Despite an annual oil extraction rate of only 1.8% of the total of OPEC countries (about 600,000 barrels a day), Qatar is one of the founding members of the organization and has always had a strong political influence on the governance of the organization. In a global context where international relations are entering a multipolar phase, things like cooperation and development become fundamental; so it should not surprise that Doha has decide to abandon OPEC. OPEC is one of the few unipolar organizations that no longer has a meaningful purpose in 2018, given the new realities governing international relations and the importance of the Russian Federation in the oil market.

Besides that, Saudi Arabia requires the organization to maintain a high level of oil production due to pressure coming from Washington to achieve a very low cost per barrel of oil. The US energy strategy targets Iranian and Russian revenue from oil exports, but it also aims to give the US a speedy economic boost. Trump often talks about the price of oil falling as his personal victory. The US imports about 10 million barrels of oil a day, which is why Trump wrongly believes that a decrease in the cost per barrel could favor a boost to the US economy. The economic reality shows a strong correlation between the price of oil and the financial growth of a country, with low prices of crude oil often synonymous of a slowing down in the economy.

It must be remembered that to keep oil prices low, OPEC countries are required to maintain a high rate of production, doubling the damage to themselves. Firstly, they take less income than expected and, secondly, they deplete their oil reserves to favor the strategy imposed by Saudi Arabia on OPEC to please the White House. It is clearly a strategy that for a country like Qatar (and perhaps Venezuela and Iran in the near future) makes little sense, given the diplomatic and commercial rupture with Riyadh stemming from tensions between the Gulf countries.

In contrast, the OPEC+ organization, which also includes other countries like the Russian Federation, Mexico and Kazakhstan, seems to now to determine oil and its cost per barrel. At the moment, OPEC and Russia have agreed to cut production by 1.2 million barrels per day, contradicting Trump’s desire for high oil output.

With this last choice Qatar sends a clear signal to the region and to traditional allies, moving to the side of OPEC+ and bringing its interests closer in line with those of the Russian Federation and its all-encompassing oil and gas strategy, two sectors in which Qatar and Russia dominate market share.

In addition, Russia and Qatar’s global strategy also brings together and includes partners like Turkey (a future energy hub connecting east and west as well as north and south) and Venezuela. In this sense, the meeting between Maduro and Erdogan seems to be a prelude to further reorganization of OPEC and its members.

The declining leadership role of Saudi Arabia in the oil and financial market goes hand in hand with the increase of power that countries like Qatar and Russia in the energy sectors are enjoying. The realignment of energy and finance signals the evident decline of the Israel-US-Saudi Arabia partnership. Not a day goes by without corruption scandals in Israel, accusations against the Saudis over Khashoggi or Yemen, and Trump’s unsuccessful strategies in the commercial, financial or energy arenas. The path this doomed

trio is taking will only procure less influence and power, isolating them more and more from their opponents and even historical allies.

Moscow, Beijing and New Delhi, the Eurasian powerhouses, seem to have every intention, as seen at the trilateral summit in Buenos Aires, of developing the ideal multipolar frameworks to avoid continued US dominance of the oil market through shale revenues or submissive allies as Saudi Arabia, even though the latest spike in production is a clear signal from Riyadh to the USA. In this sense, Qatar’s decision to abandon OPEC and start a complex and historical discussion with Moscow on LNG in the format of an enlarged OPEC marks the definitive decline of Saudi Arabia as a global energy power, to be replaced by Moscow and Doha as the main players in the energy market.

Qatar’s decision is, officially speaking, unconnected to the feud triggered by Saudi Arabia against the small emirate. However, it is evident that a host of factors has led to this historic decision. The unsuccessful military campaign in Yemen has weakened Saudi Arabia on all fronts, especially militarily and economically. The self-inflicted fall in the price of oil is rapidly consuming Saudi currency reserves, now at a new low of less than 500 billion dollars. Events related to Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) have de-legitimized the role of Riyadh in the world as a reliable diplomatic interlocutor. The internal and external repression by the Kingdom has provoked NGOs and governments like Canada’s to issue public rebukes that have done little to help MBS’s precarious position.

In Syria, the victory of Damascus and her allies has consolidated the role of Moscow in the region, increased Iranian influence, and brought Turkey and Qatar to the multipolar side, with Tehran and Moscow now the main players in the Middle East. In terms of military dominance, there has been a clear regional shift from Washington to Moscow; and from an energy perspective, Doha and Moscow are turning out to be the winners, with Riyadh once again on the losing side.

As long as the Saudi royal family continues to please Donald Trump, who is prone to catering to Israeli interests in the region, the situation of the Kingdom will only get worse. The latest agreement on oil production between Moscow and Riyad signals that someone in the Saudi royal family has probably figured this out.

Countries like Turkey, India, China, Russia and Iran understand the advantages of belonging to a multipolar world, thereby providing a collective geopolitical ballast that is mutually beneficial. The energy alignment between Qatar and the Russian Federation seems to support this general direction, a sort of G2 of LNG gas that will only strengthen the position of Moscow on the global chessboard, while guaranteeing a formidable military umbrella for Doha in case of a further worsening of relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

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Constantinople: Ukrainian Church leader is now uncanonical

October 12 letter proclaims Metropolitan Onuphry as uncanonical and tries to strong-arm him into acquiescing through bribery and force.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The pressure in Ukraine kept ratcheting up over the last few days, with a big revelation today that Patriarch Bartholomew now considers Metropolitan Onuphy “uncanonical.” This news was published on 6 December by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (running under the Moscow Patriarchate).

This assessment marks a complete 180-degree turn by the leader of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople, and it further embitters the split that has developed to quite a major row between this church’s leadership and the Moscow Patriarchate.

OrthoChristian reported this today (we have added emphasis):

A letter of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine was published yesterday by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in which the Patriarch informed the Metropolitan that his title and position is, in fact, uncanonical.

This assertion represents a negation of the position held by Pat. Bartholomew himself until April of this year, when the latest stage in the Ukrainian crisis began…

The same letter was independently published by the Greek news agency Romfea today as well.

It is dated October 12, meaning it was written just one day after Constantinople made its historic decision to rehabilitate the Ukrainian schismatics and rescind the 1686 document whereby the Kiev Metropolitanate was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, thereby, in Constantinople’s view, taking full control of Ukraine.

In the letter, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that after the council, currently scheduled for December 15, he will no longer be able to carry his current title of “Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine.”

The Patriarch immediately opens his letter with Constantinople’s newly-developed historical claim about the jurisdictional alignment of Kiev: “You know from history and from indisputable archival documents that the holy Metropolitanate of Kiev has always belonged to the jurisdiction of the Mother Church of Constantinople…”

Constantinople has done an about-face on its position regarding Ukraine in recent months, given that it had previously always recognized the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate as the sole canonical primate in Ukraine.

…The bulk of the Patriarch’s letter is a rehash of Constantinople’s historical and canonical arguments, which have already been laid out and discussed elsewhere. (See also here and here). Pat. Bartholomew also writes that Constantinople stepped into the Ukrainian ecclesiastical sphere as the Russian Church had not managed to overcome the schisms that have persisted for 30 years.

It should be noted that the schisms began and have persisted precisely as anti-Russian movements and thus the relevant groups refused to accept union with the Russian Church.

Continuing, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that his position and title are uncanonical:

Addressing you as ‘Your Eminence the Metropolitan of Kiev’ as a form of economia [indulgence/condescension—OC] and mercy, we inform you that after the elections for the primate of the Ukrainian Church by a body that will consist of clergy and laity, you will not be able ecclesiologically and canonically to bear the title of Metropolitan of Kiev, which, in any case, you now bear in violation of the described conditions of the official documents of 1686.

He also entreats Met. Onuphry to “promptly and in a spirit of harmony and unity” participate, with the other hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in the founding council of the new Ukrainian church that Constantinople is planning to create, and in the election of its primate.

The Constantinople head also writes that he “allows” Met. Onuphry to be a candidate for the position of primate.

He further implores Met. Onuphry and the UOC hierarchy to communicate with Philaret Denisenko, the former Metropolitan of Kiev, and Makary Maletich, the heads of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” and the schismatic “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” respectively—both of which have been subsumed into Constantinople—but whose canonical condemnations remain in force for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The hierarchs of the Serbian and Polish Churches have also officially rejected the rehabilitation of the Ukrainian schismatics.

Pat. Bartholomew concludes expressing his confidence that Met. Onuphry will decide to heal the schism through the creation of a new church in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Metropolitan Onuphry’s leadership is recognized as the sole canonical Orthodox jurisdiction in Ukraine by just about every other canonical Orthodox Jurisdiction besides Constantinople. Even NATO member Albania, whose expressed reaction was “both sides are wrong for recent actions” still does not accept the canonicity of the “restored hierarchs.”

In fact, about the only people in this dispute that seem to be in support of the “restored” hierarchs, Filaret and Makary, are President Poroshenko, Patriarch Bartholomew, Filaret and Makary… and NATO.

While this letter was released to the public eye yesterday, the nearly two months that Metropolitan Onuphry has had to comply with it have not been helped in any way by the actions of both the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Ukrainian government.

Priests of the Canonical Church in Ukraine awaiting interrogation by the State authorities

For example, in parallel reports released on December 6th, the government is reportedly accusing canonical priests in Ukraine of treason because they are carrying and distributing a brochure entitled (in English): The Ukrainian Orthodox Church: Relations with the State. The Attitude Towards the Conflict in Donbass and to the Church Schism. Questions and Answers.

In a manner that would do any American liberal proud, these priests are being accused of inciting religious hatred, though really all they are doing is offering an explanation for the situation in Ukraine as it exists.

A further piece also released yesterday notes that the Ukrainian government rehabilitated an old Soviet-style technique of performing “inspections of church artifacts” at the Pochaev Lavra. This move appears to be both intended to intimidate the monastics who are living there now, who are members of the canonical Church, as well as preparation for an expected forcible takeover by the new “united Church” that is under creation. The brotherhood characterized the inspections in this way:

The brotherhood of the Pochaev Lavra previously characterized the state’s actions as communist methods of putting pressure on the monastery and aimed at destroying monasticism.

Commenting on the situation with the Pochaev Lavra, His Eminence Archbishop Clement of Nizhyn and Prilusk, the head of the Ukrainian Church’s Information-Education Department, noted:

This is a formal raiding, because no reserve ever built the Pochaev Lavra, and no Ministry of Culture ever invested a single penny to restoring the Lavra, and the state has done nothing to preserve the Lavra in its modern form. The state destroyed the Lavra, turned it into a psychiatric hospital, a hospital for infectious diseases, and so on—the state has done nothing more. And now it just declares that it all belongs to the state. No one asked the Church, the people that built it. When did the Lavra and the land become state property? They belonged to the Church from time immemorial.

With the massive pressure both geopolitically and ecclesiastically building in Ukraine almost by the day, it is anyone’s guess what will happen next.

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