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Navalny’s latest Moscow protest was a total FAIL

Alexander Mercouris

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Much to the disappointment of the Western media, which has been building up the – illegal – run of the Russian ‘non-system’ neoliberal opposition politician Alexey Navalny in March’s Presidential election for more than a year, the protests he called on Sunday 28th January 2018 fizzled out to practically nothing.

Lest anyone think this is my assessment, here is the assessment of the protests given by Russia’s Human Rights Council as reported by Russia’s official news agency TASS

About 5,000 people took part in rallies organized by Russian opposition activist and blogger Alexei Navalny across Russia, chairman of the presidential human rights council, Mikhail Fedotov, told TASS on Sunday.

“According to preliminary data, about 5,000 people took part in rallies of Alexei Navalny’s supporters, both authorized and unauthorized,” he said, adding that final data would be available when all public rallies were over.

He called on both Navalny’s supporters and the authorities to demonstrate restraint. “Rallies are still going on and I call on both side to show restraint and observe laws,” he stressed.

Kirill Kabanov, a council member, said earlier the unauthorized rally in Moscow had brought together 400 people, including reporters.

 According to the official website of the human rights council, about 1,000 people took part in Navalny’s rally in Yekaterinburg, about 600 people – in Novosibirsk, some 550 – in Nizhny Novgorod, 380 – in Perm, 350 – in Chelyabinsk, 270 – in Omsk, 230 – in Saratov, 220 – in Samara, 205 – in Krasnoyarsk, 200 – in Tomsk, 200 – in Vladivostok, 190 – in Irkutsk, 150 – in Khabarovsk, 150 – in Barnaul, 150 – in Kemerovo, 120 – in Izhevsk, 115 – Tyumen, 100 – in Orenburg, 80 – in Kurgan, 70 – in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, 63 – in Chita, 60 – in Ulan-Ude, 50 – in Astrakhan, 35 – in Yakutsk, 35 – in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, 20 – in Magadan, 16 – in Blagoveshchensk, and one person – in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.
Russia’s Human Rights Council stands at the extreme liberal end of the Russian political establishment.
Not only did it actively campaign for the release of the then jailed Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, but it also published a report claiming that Sergey Magnitsky, William Browder’s associate and the person who is at the focus of the so-called Magnitsky scandal, was mistreated and probably tortured by the Russian authorities and that this was the cause of his death.
The report of Human Rights Council on the causes of Magnitsky’s death has been challenged by a different report by Russia’s Investigative Committee, which unlike the Human Rights Council is a police and investigative agency.  It concluded that Magnitsky had died because of negligent treatment by the prison authorities of a pre-existing medical condition.
Western governments have however unsurprisingly preferred the Human Rights Council’s report, which is cited in the preamble of the US’s Magnitsky Law.
More recently the Human Rights Council had a long and heated meeting with President Putin on 30th October 2017, over the course of which the well know former Soviet dissident Lyudmila Alekseyevna lobbied on behalf of Nikita Belykh, the former Governor of the Kirov Region who is being prosecuted on fraud charges, whilst other members of the Human Rights Council brought up subjects close to Russian liberal hearts such the murder of the liberal politician Boris Nemtsov, the supposedly ‘hysterical’ nationalist atmosphere in Russia, and the alleged denial by the authorities in St. Petersburg of venues for protests called by none other than Navalny himself.
The members of the Human Rights Council are not therefore in any sense the sort of people who would be expected to downplay the size of any protests called by a liberal ‘non-system’ politician like Navalny.  On the contrary they are far more likely to overstate their size and significance of the protests rather than downplay them.
Their estimate that the total number of people taking part in the protests called was 5,000 across the whole of Russia must therefore be treated if not exactly as definitive then at least as authoritative, even if the estimate of 400 people at the Moscow protest is almost certainly too low (other estimates put the size of this protest at between 1,000 and 1,500 people)
A protest wave totalling 5,000 to 6,000 people in a country of 144 million people hardly qualifies as a protest wave at all.  As my colleague Seraphim Hanisch correctly says, it is not even newsworthy, and if it happened in any other country it would almost certainly not be reported at all.
Even Navalny’s most fervid supporters in the Western media have been unable to conceal their disappointment.  Here is a typical description of the protests in a report by Reuters

The numbers attending Sunday’s protests across Russia — some shouting “Putin is a thief” — appeared lower than previous demonstrations staged by Navalny, Reuters reporters said, suggesting momentum may have shifted away from him.

(bold italics added)

The whole Navalny phenomenon serves as a case study of Western wishful thinking about Russia.

 A bizarre editorial published today by the Times of London – obviously written in anticipation of much bigger protests on Sunday – highlights the extent of this.  It makes the simply extraordinary claim that Navalny is more in tune with the opinions of Russians than is Vladimir Putin

After 18 years of Putinism, the country’s political process has all the verve of the Novodevichy cemetery.

It is no triumph to rule over a forcibly becalmed people. Mr Putin has yet to come up with an election programme. There are hints of a readiness to make some kind of peace in Ukraine and rebuild relations with the West to ease sanctions. But even this suggests that the president is more concerned with enriching his courtiers than improving the lot of the Russian people.

The core issues are those being addressed by Mr Navalny. In unashamedly populist style, he has highlighted the feathered lifestyle of the oligarchs, promising “hospitals and roads instead of palaces for officials”. Uprooting corruption, he says, will free up cash for education and healthcare. Courts will become more independent, media given more freedom, safeguards introduced for competitive elections. There will, he promises, be a generous minimum wage and subsidised loans to allow more young people to buy homes.

The programme may not be realistic but it addresses the concerns of the middle class — the garage owners who are fed up with paying bribes, the entrepreneurs squeezed out by fixed procurement contracts, and young families in small towns who just want better schooling for their children.

Mr Putin has neglected such concerns. If he thinks Mr Navalny is a charlatan, he should fight him on the election stump. Instead, he sends in his goons and in doing so says everything Russians need to know about the hollowness of his rule.

To suppose that Navalny, who can bring out crowds of no more than 5,000 to 6,000 people across the whole of Russia, is more in tune with public opinion in Russia than Vladimir Putin, who has an approval rating of over 80%, is not just outlandish; it is positively fantastic.

Even as propaganda it is simply too ridiculous to work.

Yet this is the delusional thinking which underpins far too much Western reporting of Russia.

Before leaving the subject of Sunday’s protests a few further points about Navalny need to be made:

(1) The constant practice in both the Western and even in parts of the Russian media of saying that Navalny has been ‘banned’ from standing in the Presidential election needs to be seriously challenged.

Navalny was not ‘banned’ from standing in the election since he was not eligible to stand in the election in the first place.

Navalny is not eligible to stand in the election because he has two unspent criminal convictions both of which come with suspended prison sentences, and his standing in the election as a result of these convictions would be contrary to the provisions of Russia’s constitution and election laws.

Russia’s Electoral Commission – chaired by the liberal former Yeltsin era government minister Ella Pamfilova – has ruled as much, as have Russia’s Supreme Court and – more recently – its Constitutional Court.

Given this clear legal position – which is by the way the same in most countries – these institutions had no choice but to make the rulings that they did since for them to have done otherwise in order to allow Navalny to stand would have broken the law.

As I have discussed previously, Navalny, who is by training a lawyer, undoubtedly knows this. His entire ‘election campaign’ was therefore phoney from the start, notwithstanding which he persisted in it, and raised money from the public in support of it.

(2) One of the reasons why the protests Navalny calls are invariably small – and this was also true by the way of his ‘bigger’ protests last year – is because he persists, completely unnecessarily, in staging his protests illegally.

In the case of the Moscow protest yesterday the Moscow city authorities offered Navalny two legal venues where he could have held his protest legally and peacefully.

Instead, in wilful contempt of the law, Navalny chose to stage his protest illegally along Tverskaya – just as he did a year ago – disregarding the fact that this is not only a key traffic artery but is also Moscow’s main street running through the heart of Moscow’s business and entertainment district and therefore likely to be full of ordinary people going about their normal business on a Sunday.

In the event the police on this occasion took little action other than arrest Navalny himself, obviously because the size of the crowd (estimates range between 400 and 1,500) was too small to affect Moscow’s normal life.

It is a consistent fact of Russian political life that in this very orderly and law abiding country Russians will not turn out in large numbers for protests which are staged illegally.

It has long been my opinion that one of the principal reasons why the opposition protests in 2011 to 2012 were so much larger than usual was not because there was any significant increase in pro-opposition sentiment at that time but because in a change to their usual tactics the protest leaders – including Navalny himself – decided to conduct their protests legally in the venues offered by the authorities.

That meant that many more people turned up than would have been the case if the protests had continued to be staged illegally.

By contrast Navalny’s persistent habit since the end of the 2011 to 2012 protests of staging his protests illegally means that far fewer people attend them than might otherwise do.

This pattern of persistent law breaking is incidentally very characteristic of Navalny, both in his business dealings – as shown by his two convictions – and in his political activities – as shown by his running and raising money for a phoney election campaign and by his persistent habit of staging illegal protests.

The reality is that far from Navalny being harassed by the Russian authorities in the way that the editorial in the Times of London says, they actually treat him with kid gloves.

Despite two criminal convictions, repeated and flagrant violations of his bail conditions and of the conditions of his two suspended prison sentences, and despite an almost unending succession of public order offences, he has never served any significant time in prison.

Nor have the Russian authorities taken any step to suppress his blog.

A cynic would say that the Russian authorities have no reason to act otherwise since Navalny’s behaviour makes the case against him for them.

(3) It has become increasingly clear over the last year that the primary motive for Navalny’s behaviour is not to challenge Vladimir Putin for the Presidency. As the Times of London admits in its editorial even Navalny himself acknowledges that he has no chance of winning an election against Putin in any circumstance.

Rather Navalny’s primary motivation is to preserve his position as the de facto leader of Russia’s ‘non-system’ liberal opposition by preventing any alternative leader from emerging.

His real purpose in running a phoney election campaign and in staging illegal protests is to take attention away from other liberal ‘non-system’ politicians who might otherwise attract attention so as to keep attention focused on himself.

That is why he is now calling for an election boycott.

If Navalny were a serious politician really interested in building up a strong liberal opposition to the government in Russia he would not have run a phoney Presidential campaign and would not now be calling for a boycott.

He would be supporting other legally eligible liberal ‘non-system’ candidates for the Presidency such as Grigory Yavlinsky or Ksenia Sobchak, and would be campaigning on their behalf.

Navalny’s call for a boycott is instead calculated to reduce their vote, and to be clear that is unquestionably its purpose.  As Navalny knows perfectly well, it is liberal candidates like Yavlinsky and Sobchak who are most likely to be hurt by a boycott of the election by the sort of liberal voters who are most likely to heed Navalny call, whereas Putin’s prospects of being resoundingly re-elected are not going to be affected by any call Navalny makes for a boycott in the slightest.

This fact is very well understood by other liberal ‘non-system’ politicians in Russia even it is completely lost on Russian affairs ‘commentators’ in the West, which explains why so few of them have any time for Navalny.

I am not sympathetic to the liberal ‘non-system’ opposition in Russia.

These people had their chance in the 1990s when they failed disastrously.

Since then they have shown no regrets for what happened and have made no acknowledgement of their failure, and nor have they given the slightest sign that they have learnt anything from it.

At the same time I acknowledge as a political fact that there is a certain percentage of the Russian population which shares their views, though how large it is it is difficult to say.  Claims that it is as much as 10-15% of the Russian population are I am sure over-estimates, but there is no doubt these people exist, and that they have a right and indeed a need to be represented.

That Navalny is not the person to represent them or to provide them with political leadership should by now be obvious.

On the contrary the way Navalny conducts himself serves only to divide and discredit further a liberal ‘non-system’ opposition which is already divided and discredited.  As a result it remains locked in the political ghetto it has been in ever since it lost power in the 1990s.

The fact that Western governments and the Western media – who presumably want to see Russia’s liberal ‘non-system’ opposition win – are unable to see this, and continue to support Navalny despite the damage he is doing to the liberal ‘non-system’ opposition that he pretends to lead only shows how little they understand Russian politics or indeed Russia.

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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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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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