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Russia to write-off $3 billion in Venezuelan debt

Russia’s move is motivated by pragmatism and good will, but Venezuela will likely recover from her economic woes thanks to the Petroyuan and increased trade in Russian Roubles.

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On the 15th of November, Russia will sign an agreement with officials from Caracas to write off $3 billion in debt which Venezuela currently owes the Russian Federation.

The move is widely seen as a good will gesture to the oil rich but politically embattled South American nation that has been subject to crippling US sanctions which both Russia and China have vehemently opposed.

Professor Alexander Timofeyev at the Russian University of Economics has stated that when Russia writes off the sovereign debt of a partner nation, such things are rarely rewarded with future joint programmes between the indebted state and Russia. In this sense, it is most appropriate to see Russia writing off debt as both an expression of compassionate good will and pragmatism. If a nation does not have the ability pay the debt back, there is little use in straining otherwise good relations by attempting to enforce a collection.

Timofeyev explains,

“When Cuba’s $30 bln debt was written off, they promised us joint projects in energy, transport and healthcare. A year has gone by, and we haven’t heard a peep from them since”.

However, turning to the future, Venezuela does look to sincerely engage in mutually beneficial economic projects with Russia. Because of US sanctions and the generally hostile attitude that Washington takes to the Bolivarian government in Caracas, Venezuela has already begun trading its oil in the Petroyuan. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has also stated that he is keen on exploring the possibilities of trading with Russia in a Petrorouble in addition to the Chinese Yuan.

Venezuelan President Maduro tells Russia its time to ditch the Dollar and embrace the Rouble and Yuan

As China is set to take its spot as the world’s leading economy in areas where it isn’t already number one, the Petroyuan is fast becoming an inevitability. By embracing the Yuan as a means of exchange for oil sales, Venezuela is blazing a trail that many other energy producers will likely follow in the coming years and decades. Venezuela’s economy has suffered, but the Petroyuan gives it an opportunity to not only recover but to gain long-term stability.

Below is a report I recently wrote on the potential of a Petroyuan established under the guise of multilateral agreement:

Russia and China actively collude to bring down the only thing America cares about

Russia is not actually interested in undermining American “democracy”. In fact, the United States isn’t particularly concerned either. But Russiagate continues to give mainstream media a narrative that it can sell to its dwindling core audience. However, when it comes to the real linchpin of American power, the almighty Dollar, things are very different.

Since it typically takes millions of Dollars at minimum, to even enter major US elections, it is clear that the American electoral system, like just about everything in the US, is as tied in to the power of the Dollar as any other institution. The entire contrived narrative about Russia is really a thinly placed mask which hides the real worry in the US about Russia’s latest geo-strategic moves.

Today, Russia’s Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister took part in an official visit to China where both countries signed agreements to expand bilateral trade in national currencies, as opposed to using the US Dollar as the standard transaction currency.

In the summer of 2017, the Presidents of Russia and China led a large meeting of top government and private sector officials from both countries. Scores of agreements were signed, including those which set into motion, bilateral trade in national currencies.

Today, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Prikhodko commented on the progress of these arrangements. He said,

“At present, financial regulators of the two countries are working on extending the bilateral currency swap agreement for the next three years.

In 2016, the share of national currencies in payments for exports of Russian goods and services amounted to 13 percent, imports, 16 percent. In the first quarter of 2017, these figures rose to 16 percent and 18 percent, respectively”.

With countries throughout the world, including Turkey, Venezuela and Iran beginning to trade in national currencies or in Chinese Yuan, the power of the US Dollar as a standard trading and reserve currency is being actively and openly undermined by China, Russia and their trading partners. This of course is perfectly legal as countries can trade in any currency they wish. They can even use barter as a means of exchange, as Iran sometimes still does with Russia.

This year has been a watershed in the de-Dollarisation of world trade. China’s willingness to sell oil futures contrasts in Yuan, the easy convertibility of the Yuan to gold on the Shanghai and Hong Kong gold exchanges, multiple bilateral agreements signed with China and her partners to trade in national currencies and the possibility of a new BRICS-wide currency, currency basket or BRICS crypto-currency, have all led to a perfect storm which is set to slowly but surely capsize the Dollar.

I previously outlined why this has geo-political implications that are already being felt, beyond currency markets. As I wrote at the time:

The US has again sailed a Naval destroyer, this time the USS Chafee, through Chinese waters in the South China Sea, in direct violation of Beijing’s sovereign maritime claims over the sea. The US repeatedly provokes China by sailing its vessels through the South China Sea, in a deceptively named strategy called ‘freedom of navigation’, which seeks to undermine Chinese claims to its neighbouring south sea. While other countries with regional maritime claims, including Philippines have begun cooperating with China, the United States continues unilateral provocations against China.

In response to the USS Chafee’s presence in the South China Sea, Beijing scrambled a missile-guided frigate, helicopter and two fighter jets to intercept the US vessel.

China also issued a stern warning to the United States against further provocations. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying has said,

“The US destroyer’s behaviour violated Chinese law and relevant international law, severely harmed China’s sovereignty and security interests, and threatened the lives of both sides”.

Hua further warned that any further such provocations could result in “unwanted incidents”.

She continued,

“In the face of repeated provocation by the US forces, the Chinese military will further strengthen preparation for combat at sea and in the air and improve the defences to resolutely defend national sovereignty and security interests”.

As the US continues to feel threatened by Chinese economic dominance in the global marketplace, Washington’s military provocations in the South and East China Seas, its militarisation of the Korean peninsula and proxy wars along China’s One Belt–One Road trade and infrastructure routes, are likely to increase.

While the US has long felt threatened by Chinese trade and industrial dominance, now the US Dollar is being actively challenged by the growing power of the Chinese Yuan. The Yuan is now positioned to threaten the hegemony of the Dollar as a major trading and reserve currency.

This has expressed itself in the following ways:

–China offering the sale of oil futures contracts in gold backed Yuan

–Countries as wide ranging as Venezuela, Turkey and Russia conducting major bilateral trade in national currencies (as opposed to the US Dollar)

–The possibility of a new BRICS trading standard based on the Yuan, gold or other ‘eastern’ currencies

–The possibility of a BRICS regulated crypto-currency

Additionally, other nations which have been hit by unilateral sanctions, including Iran, have also showed a willingness to embrace a new Dollar free trading regime with its existing and new partners.

Most worryingly for the US, its longtime Middle Eastern ally Saudi Arabia, may find itself trading oil in Chinese Yuan in the coming years. Chief economist and managing director at High Frequency Economics, Carl Weinberg has spoken with the US based finance outlet CNBC and stated the following, 

“I believe that yuan pricing of oil is coming and as soon as the Saudis move to accept it — as the Chinese will compel them to do — then the rest of the oil market will move along with them”.

Saudi’s infrequently discussed but good economic relations with Beijing, as well as its warming relations with Russia, indicate that Riyadh is looking towards the wider global ‘east’ and in so doing, may find it self moving towards an energy trade that is independent of Dollar hegemony. This may be accelerated as the US becomes a net energy exporter while China’s demand for oil increases, leaving Saudi and fellow OPEC members in a position where it would become not only necessary but inevitable to trade in Yuan. OPEC member and Sino-Russian partner, Venezuela has already ceased trading its oil in US Dollars. 

In this sense, while the US has often criticised China for pegging the Yuan to the Dollar, the combination of China being willing and able to convert Yuan to gold in respect of oil futures contracts, as well as the increasing global confidence in the Yuan as a reliable trading and reserve currency, may eventually lead to China floating the Yuan or pegging it to another standard.

As China holds billions in US sovereign debut, China holds the fate of the Dollar in its hands more than ever, as now China has many other options at its disposal when it comes to diversifying its monetary policies.

In this sense, it is important to see US military provocations against China as symptoms of the wider economic and now monetary pressure the US is feeling as China moves to take its place as the undisputed leading economic power of the world.

In spite of many figures in the US ranging from neo-cons to Steve Bannon, being united around an anti-Chinese campaign, many members of the US armed forces are apparently growing demoralised with their country’s increasingly frequent, yet unfruitful missions to Asia.

In a recent report form the US based Navy Times, journalists interviewed sailors aboard the USS Shiloh cruiser. The ship which is based in Japan, has been running missions throughout East Asia in an attempt to allegedly deter North Korea.

But far form deterring North Korea, the American seamen have stated that their conditions have left them demoralised and even suicidal.

According to the report,

“Each survey (of US sailors) runs hundreds of pages, with crew members writing anonymously of dysfunction from the top, suicidal thoughts, exhaustion, despair and concern that the Shiloh was being pushed underway while vital repairs remained incomplete.

It feels like a race to see which will break down first, the ship or it’s […] crew”.

The report was commissioned after many members of the USS Shiloh’s crew anonymously contacted the Navy Times to complain of dire conditions.

One American sailor stated,

“I just pray we never have to shoot down a missile from North Korea, because then our ineffectiveness will really show”.

Others described the conditions aboard the USS Shiloh as “prison like” while others warned that “it’s only a matter of time before something horrible happens”.

The incidents aboard the USS Shiloh are not unique. Multiple incidentals, including deadly collisions have recently plagued US Navy ships in Asia over the last year.

In this sense, one sees US sailors used and abused by their chiefs, preparing for battles which many believe cannot be won, all the while, provoking the Chinese superpower in its own maritime territory.

At the same time, it is crucial to understand that the military endeavours of the US have nothing to do with security the territory or people of the US, but instead follow on from the perceived financial and monetary benefits that the US intends to achieve by disrupting the peace and stability of regions vital for Chinese trade. At the same time, the US is surprised and reacting unreasonably to the reality that as China’s trading, logistical, fiscal and monetary might grows, so too will its geo-political influence necessarily grow. The US being so keen to protect its hegemony, a hegemony built increasingly on excessive military spending and the power of the Federal Reserve’s monetary manipulation, seems unwilling to gracefully accept China’s rise to global prominence as a leading power of the 21st century. China is consequently faced with the perfect storm of the US fighting for its monetary hegemony using its military, all the while attempting to restrain China’s growing political clout.

In short, the US is not fighting for the security of its realm, but for the security of the Wall Street based financial industry and that of the Federal Reserve, in addition to the overarching geo-political hegemony that both have allowed the US to exercise with impunity.  It is not a transparent war, but it may become a deeply ugly war, nevertheless.

With its weakening domestic industrial base, high-tax and investor unfriendly regulations and its soaring national debt, the primacy of the US Dollar as the go-to reserve currency and means of international trade, is one of the only things which is keeping the US economy buoyant in the eyes of medium and long term speculators.

Should the US Dollar’s value plummet as a result of international markets losing confidence in the USD, the US economy and those which are directly tied into it, will feel the sting.

These developments also call into question, the long term feasibility of the Yuan being effectively pegged to the Dollar. The moment that China feels that floating the Yuan will incur greater aggregate advantages vis-a-vis the pegged Yuan, China will float its currency.

While it used to be received wisdom that it was the Dollar which gave the Yuan its value, the new dynamics in international trading markets and the sheer size and diversity of the Chinese economy, are changing this reality and changing it rapidly. If the Yuan is allowed to float on currency markets, the US Dollar is the currency that has the most to lose from such an event and it is now an event whose proximity in time is becoming ever closer. It will also be a further sign of China diversifying its international points of sale away from the US.

While people like Steve Bannon speak of China frequently, most US commentators and politicians are focused on Russia. The reason for this is because Russia is still considered to be more geo-politically active superpower in areas which cause embarrassment for the US, primarily Syria. The other reason is that because of the US economy being so dependant on China and because China owns so much US sovereign debt, many in the US are still more afraid of fully alienating China, whilst Russia by contrast, has comparatively few economic ties to the USA.

The flip side of this reality, is that Russia is in many ways even more free when it comes to developing new anti-Dollar currency solutions. China still needs the US consumer market and thus, things will have to necessarily progress in a gradual manner in respect of the inter-dependant but mutually distrustful economic and monetary ballet between Beijing and Washington.

Russia has no strings attached in this sense and US sanctions against Russia and many of her traditional partners, only serve to further drive home the importance of de-Dollarising Russia’s trading networks. This indeed is one of the reasons that Russia is set to launch a crypto-Rouble which will compete directly with both the Dollar and existing western cryptocurrencies for small and medium sized international transactions.

As I recently reported,

“Russian monetary experts and political leaders have recently begun engaging in a debate which pitted monetary conservatives against monetary radicals. Most Russian officials agreed that allowing the use of western designed (though not western state endorsed) cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, was not compatible with Russian financial security concerns. China, for example, reached a similar conclusion about existing cryptocurrencies.

In Russia, the debate then quickly evolved into to a question over what role if any, a government and central bank should have in respect of cryptocurrencies. Conservatives argued that the entire process of blockchain cryptocurrency technology should not be accepted as a legal alternative to traditional state issued notes, while radicals argued for the creation and regulation of a uniquely Russian cryptocurremcy. The radials have clearly won and appear to have been embraced by President Putin.

Here’s What We Know About CryptoRouble

The CryptoRouble is being worked on at the moment and should be available soon, although a precise timeline is not yet available.

According to Sputnik,

“They can be exchanged for regular roubles at any time, though if the holder is unable to explain the source of their CryptoRubles, a 13 percent tax will be levied. The same tax will be applied to any earned difference between the price of the purchase of the token and the price of the sale”.

Existing cryptocurrency exchange rates are based on the supply of a given cryptocurrency, in proportion to demand for converting such a cryptocurrency into a traditional currency, at a given time. By contrast, it is expected that the CryptoRouble will have an exchange rate related to the Rouble, although it is not clear if it will be formally pegged to the Rouble. Such a pegging scenario does however seem initially probable.

While advocates of autonomous cryptocurrency exchange will almost certainly adopt the traditional ultra-libertarian line that any government regulation into cryptocurrencies makes them scarcely different from using traditional currencies in the online domain (Paypal for example), long time advocates of cryptocurrency in the retail and wholesale sector will almost certainly look with interest to this new development.

The Benefits 

A Russian CryptoRouble that can be easily exchanged for traditional Roubles in Russia and ostensibly anywhere else in the world, will automatically give the new cryptocurrency a marketplace  confidence that many alternatives currently lack. Such a phenomenon will de-mystify the process for many possible cryptocurrency users.

At the same time, if in the eyes of the Russian government, a CryptoRouble is as legitimate a currency as the Rouble, it will allow wholesalers, retailers and possibly even independent financial traders to use the CryptoRouble to avoid the sanctions against Russian banks which their own anti-libertarian western governments have imposed.

Additionally, if the CryptoRouble becomes easily convertible to popular western originated cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, it would solve the problem of Bitcoin users being ‘shut out’ of the Russian market. All one would need to do in order to engage in transactions with Russian businesses using a cryptowallet, would be to digitally exchange one’s Bitcoins (or any other existing cryptocurrency) for a desired amount of CryptoRoubles. The aforementioned process would generally take the same amount of time or even less than a traditional online bank transfer.

In this sense, the CryptoRouble helps open up Russia for new entrepreneurial ventures while insuring that possible fraud and money laundering loopholes are closed.

The Potential 

During September’s BRICS Summit in Xiamen, there was a great deal of discussion regarding the establishment of a cryptocurrency for the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China South Africa) and their partners.

Such a coin would have all of the advantages of the CryptoRouble with the added benefit of instant legitimacy and even desirability across some of the world’s most dynamic and growing economies. It could also facilitate easier money transfers between BRICS members. This would be particularly helpful for Chinese businessmen who often have trouble getting large sums of Yuan out of the country in single transactions. A BRICSCoin, if based on the Russian security net could plausibly alleviate similar existing Chinese concerns about cryptocurrencies. As China has begun trading oil futures contracts in Yuan which can be converted to gold at the Shanghai and Hong Kong gold exchanges, one could foreseeably be looking at a BRICScoin that would effectively be backed by gold, in certain instances.

Furthermore, Russia has become the number one global market for the Chinese mega online retailer AliExpress. An easily convertible CryptoRouble has the potential to make such transactions even more beneficial in the future.

India, which is currently suffering a monetary crisis after Prime Minister Narendra Modi eliminated the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes, could stand to benefit from a new, legal and legitimate means of monetary exchange. A BRICSCoin could help to stabilise India’s monetary markets after Modi’s decision to ban the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes, hit the incomes of many working class Indians. In a country where more people have modern phones than old fashioned bank accounts, a BRICSCoin could be a form of salvation, as well as a way to modernise the monetary sector with few infrastructural requirements.  In this sense, a BRICSCoin could also help to draw India back into the BRICS fold after the recent Doklam/Donglang border dispute caused tension between New Dheli and Beijing.

Overall, having a cryptocurrency that is directly tied to a traditional Rouble, could end up making the Rouble an increasingly popular international currency of exhcange and in so doing, take a bite out of Dollar dominance for small and medium exchanges just as Russia’s commitment to conduct bilateral international trade in national currencies, is steadily doing in respect of large sovereign transactions and deals between major corporations.

The Rationale 

While monetary radicals throughout Russia have welcomed the move, President Putin justified the creation of the CryptoRouble on far more pragmatic grounds. He stated,

“I confidently declare that we run CryptoRuble for one simple reason: if we do not, then after 2 months our neighbours in the EurAsEC (Eurasian Economic Community) will”.

In other words, ‘if you can’t beat them join them’. Implicit in this logic however, is that since Russia has blazed a self-described inevitable trail, others will now be even more likely to get on the state sanctioned cryptocurrency bandwagon. Thus, Russia could be at the forefront of a pan-Asian phenomena that could eventually go global. This will also translate into Russian blockchain technology becoming uniquely attractive to other states looking to develop their own ‘official’ cryptocurrency.

In this sense, Putin has done what the music industry infamously did not do in the late 1990s. In the late 1990s, illegal peer-to-peer music download services allowed web users to download free music that did not pay the owners of the copyrighted sound material. Using Metallica as the public face of the lawsuit, the major western record labels sued the largest such service, Napster. The record labels won the lawsuit and the battle, but ultimately lost the war.  By the time the legal actions against Napster were won in favour of the record companies, the cat was out of the bag and new illegal file sharing services popped up every day, but more importantly, entrepreneurs from the e-commerce and software world, developed legal alternatives to Napster that continue to dominate the marketplace (iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Google Play etc).

Where the music industry used to handle the distribution of recorded music, often up to and sometimes including the retail point of sale, today, the music industry is having to work in a largely subservient role, with companies that are newer than many of their best selling digital albums. The music industry tried to sue technology into oblivion and instead, the next generation of technology companies have largely consigned the music industry to being a shell of its former self in both North America and much of Europe.

Conclusion 

Russia has avoided the pitfall of the 1990s US/EU music industry, albeit on a much more substantial scale. Just as Paypal and other online apps have destroyed many physical bank branches, in the coming years, there is a very real possibility that as cryptocurrencies get easier to use and become more widely accepted for day-to-day transactions, they could supplement the largely old fashioned banking/monetary system. When this happens, countries that reject cryptocurrencies for fear of not being able to collect revenue from such transactions, will find themselves totally shut out.

Russia has avoided this pitfall by embracing technology and making it work both for Russia, for consumers and for commercial interests. It’s a win-win situation and this is almost certainly, only the beginning”.

Russia is therefore very much at the forefront of challenging US Dollar hegemony, which is itself, the bedrock of US geo-political hegemonic power. With two of the three superpowers openly working on systems of exchange to dig into the Dollar’s market share, it is no wonder that the US is working so hard to undermine the Sino-Russian partnership. This is the real story, not the Russiagate myth.

 

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Nigel Farage lashes out at Angela Merkel, as Chancellor attends EU Parliament debate (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 17.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at Nigel Farage’s blistering speech, aimed squarely at Angela Merkel, calling out the German Chancellor’s disastrous migrant policy, wish to build an EU army, and Brussels’ Cold War rhetoric with Russia to the East and now the United States to the West.

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The Ukrainian President Signs a Pact With Constantinople – Against the Ukrainian Church

There is still a chance to prevent the schism from occurring.

Dmitry Babich

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Authored by Dmitry Babich via Strategic Culture:


Increasingly tragic and violent events are taking their toll on the plight of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Ukraine . After several fights over control of the church’s property, prohibitions and blacklists are starting to spread, affecting respected church figures coming from Russia to Ukraine. The latest news is that the head of the Moscow Theological Academy, Archbishop Amvrosyi Yermakov, was deported from Ukraine back to Russia. Amvrosyi’s name popped up on the black list of Russian citizens who are not deemed “eligible to visit” Ukraine. Obviously, this happened right before his plane landed in Zhulyany, Kiev’s international airport. After a brief arrest, Amvrosyi was put on a plane and sent back to Moscow. This is not the first such humiliation of the Orthodox Church and its priests that has taken place since the new pro-Western regime came to power in Kiev in 2014. Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church has been declared persona non grata throughout Ukraine since 2014. That decision was made by humiliatingly low-level officials. A department within the Ukrainian ministry of culture published a ruling stating that Kirill’s visit to Ukraine’s capital of Kiev “would not be desirable.”

Since the ancestors of modern Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians were first baptized in 988 in Kiev, the Patriarchs of the Russian Church have never had problems visiting Kiev, the birthplace of their church. Not even under the Bolsheviks did such prohibitions exist. So, for Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church to be denied permission to visit Kiev can only be compared to a possible prohibition against the pope visiting Rome. Since 2014, there have also been several criminal cases filed against the priests of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC MP) because they have called the hostilities in eastern Ukraine a “civil war” and have discouraged the faithful from supporting that war. This has been interpreted by the Ukrainian state authorities as a call for soldiers to desert the army.

Why Poroshenko’s meeting with Bartholomew is ominous

Despite the fact that the UOC MP has become used to all sorts of trouble since 2014, things have been looking even worse for the canonical church lately, as 2018 draws to a close. In early November 2018, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko broke the wall of separation between church and state in the most overt manner possible — he signed “an agreement on cooperation and joint action” between Ukraine and the so called Constantinople Patriarchate, the oldest institution of Orthodox Christianity, which is now based in Turkish Istanbul.

Rostislav Pavlenko, an aide to Poroshenko, wrote on his Facebook page that the agreement (not yet published) is premised on the creation of a new “autocephalous” Orthodox Church of Ukraine — a development that the official, existing Orthodox Churches in Russia and Ukraine view with foreboding as a “schism” that they have done all they can to prevent. Why? Because Poroshenko’s regime, which came to power via a violent coup in Kiev in 2014 on a wave of public anti-Russian sentiment, may try to force the canonical Orthodox Church of Ukraine to merge with other, non-canonical institutions and to surrender to them church buildings, including the famous monasteries in Kiev and Pochai, as well as other property.

President Poroshenko was visibly happy to sign the document — the contents of which have not yet been made public — on cooperation between the Ukrainian state and the Constantinople Patriarchate, in the office of Bartholomew, the head of the Constantinople Patriarchate. Poroshenko smiled and laughed, obviously rejoicing over the fact that the Constantinople Patriarchate is already embroiled in a scandalous rift with the Russian Orthodox Church and its Ukrainian sister church over several of Bartholomew’s recent moves. Bartholomew’s decision to “lift” the excommunication from two of Ukraine’s most prominent schismatic “priests,” in addition to Bartholomew’s declaration that the new church of Ukraine will be under Constantinople’s direct command — these moves were just not acceptable for the canonical Orthodox believers in Russia and Ukraine. Kirill, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), as well as Onufriy, the Metropolitan of Kiev and all Ukraine, are protesting loudly, viewing this situation as a breach of two basic principles. First of all, the Ukrainian state has interfered in the church’s affairs, asking Constantinople to give the Ukrainian church “autocephaly,” which that church never requested. Second, Constantinople itself has interfered in the affairs of two autonomous national churches, the Russian and the Ukrainian. In the eyes of Ukrainian and Russian clergy, Bartholomew is behaving like the Roman pope and not as a true Orthodox leader who respects the autonomy and self-rule of the separate, national Orthodox Churches.

The Russian President sympathizes with the believers’ pain

Two days before Poroshenko made his trip to Istanbul, Russian president Vladimir Putin broke with his usual reserve when commenting on faith issues to bitterly complain about the pain which believers in Russia and Ukraine have experienced from the recent divisions within the triangle of Orthodoxy’s three historic capitals — Constantinople, Kiev, and Moscow.

“Politicking in such a sensitive area as religion has always had grave consequences, first and foremost for the people who engaged in this politicking,” Putin said, addressing the World Congress of Russian Compatriots, an international organization that unites millions of ethnic and cultural Russians from various countries, including Ukraine. Himself a practicing Orthodox believer, Putin lauded Islam and Judaism, while at the same time complaining about the plight of Orthodox believers in Ukraine, where people of Orthodox heritage make up more than 80% of the population and where the church has traditionally acted as a powerful “spiritual link” with Russia.

Despite his complaints about “politicking,” Putin was careful not to go into the details of why exactly the state of affairs in Ukraine is so painful for Orthodox believers. That situation was explained by Patriarch Kirill. After many months of tense silence and an unsuccessful visit to Barthlomew’s office in Istanbul on August 31, Kirill has been literally crying for help in the last few weeks, saying he was “ready to go anywhere and talk to anyone” in order to prevent the destruction of the canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

Politics with a “mystical dimension”

Kirill said the attack against the Orthodox Church in Ukraine “had not only a political, but also a mystical dimension.” Speaking in more earthly terms, there is a danger that the 1,000-year-old historical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) — which now owns 11,392 church buildings, 12,328 parishes, and two world-famous monasteries in Ukraine — will be dissolved. The roots of the UOC MP go back to the pre-Soviet Russian Empire and even further back to the era of Kievan Rus, the proto-state of the Eastern Slavs in the tenth-twelfth centuries AD, when the people who would later become Russians, Ukrainians, and Byelorussians were adopting Orthodox Christianity from the Byzantine Empire. It is by far the biggest church in Ukraine, as Mikhail Denisenko’s non-canonical “alternative” church has only 3,700 parishes that include church buildings (fewer than a third of what is owned by the UOC-MP, despite the fact that Denisenko enjoys official support from the Ukrainian state).

What many Russian and Ukrainian believers fear is that the Istanbul-based Patriarch Bartholomew will eventually grant Kiev what is being called autocephaly. In that event, the UOC-MP may be forced to merge with two other, non-canonical churches in Ukraine that have no apostolic liaison. The apostolic succession of the UOC-MP consists in the historical fact that its first bishops were ordained by medieval bishops from Constantinople, who had in turn been ordained by Christ’s disciples from ancient Israel. Apostolic succession is crucial for the Orthodox Church, where only bishops can ordain new priests and where the church’s connection to the first Christians is reflected in many ways, including in the clergy’s attire.

Metropolitan Hilarion (his secular name is Grigory Alfeyev), the Russian church’s chief spokesman on questions of schism and unity, accused the patriarch of contributing to the schism by officially “lifting” the excommunication from Ukraine’s most prominent schismatic church leader — the defrocked former bishop Mikhail Denisenko. That clergyman stands to gain most from the “autocephaly” promised to Poroshenko by Patriarch Bartholomew. A hierarchical Orthodox Church is considered to have autocephalous status, as its highest bishop does not report to any higher-ranking bishop. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has stated that for Ukraine to be granted autocephaly from Istanbul, this would mean a complete “reformatting” of the country’s religious status quo and the severing of all links to Orthodox Russia and its “demons.”. Most likely, the new “united” church won’t be headed by the UOC MP’s Metropolitan, but by Mikhail Denisenko, who was excommunicated by both the UOC MP and the Russian church back in 1997 and with whom real Orthodox priests can only serve against their will and against the church’s internal rules.

Constantinople’s first dangerous moves

On October 11, 2018, the Constantinople Patriarchate made its first step towards granting autocephaly by repealing its own decision of 1686 that gave the Moscow Patriarch primacy over the Kiev-based Metropolitan. This 17th-century decision reflected the political reality of the merger between the states of Russia and Ukraine and established some order in the matters of church administration. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moscow gave the Ukrainian church complete independence in financial and administrative matters, but the two churches retained their cherished “spiritual unity.” “Constantinople’s decision is aimed at destroying that unity,” the ROC’s Patriarch Kirill explained. “We can’t accept it. That is why our Holy Synod made the decision to end eucharistic communication with the Constantinople Patriarchate.”

How Moscow “excommunicated” Bartholomew

The end of eucharistic communication means that the priests of the two patriarchates (based in Moscow and Istanbul) won’t be able to hold church services together. It will be maintained as long as the threat of autocephaly continues. The Western mainstream media, however, interpreted this decision by the Russian church as a unilateral aggressive act. The NYT and the British tabloid press wrote that it simply reveals Putin’s “desperation” at not being able to keep Ukraine’s religious life under control.

However, Patriarch Bartholomew seems undeterred by the protests from the Russian faithful and the majority of Ukraine’s believers. Bartholomew said in a recent statement that Russia should just follow the example of Constantinople, which once granted autocephaly to the churches of the Balkan nations. Bartholomew’s ambassadors in Kiev do not shy away from communicating with the self-declared “Patriarch” Filaret (Mikhail Denisenko’s adopted religious name from back when he was the UOC MP’s Metropolitan prior to his excommunication in 1997). For true Orthodox believers, any communication with Denisenko has been forbidden since 1992, the year when he founded his own so-called Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP). Unfortunately, Denisenko enjoys the full support of Ukrainian President Poroshenko, and recently the US State Department began encouraging Denisenko, by giving its full support to Ukraine’s autocephaly.

The lifting of Denisenko’s excommunication by Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul both upset and embittered the Orthodox believers in both Ukraine and Moscow, since Denisenko was excommunicated by a joint decision of the Russian church and the UOC MP in 1997, after a five-year wait for his return to the fold of the mother church. So, by undoing that decision, Constantinople has interfered in the canonical territory of both the Ukrainian and the Russian churches.

The UOC-MP protested, accusing not only Patriarch Bartholomew, but also the Ukrainian state of interfering in the church’s affairs. “We are being forced to get involved in politics. The politicians do not want Christ to run our church; they want to do it themselves,” said Metropolitan Onufriy (Onuphrius), the head of the UOC-MP, in an interview with PravMir, an Orthodox website. “Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has been independent. Our church did not ask for autocephaly, because we already have independence. We have our own Synod (church council) and our own church court. Decisions are made by a congress of bishops and priests from all over Ukraine. We have financial and administrative independence, so autocephaly for us will be a limitation, not an expansion of our rights.”

Poroshenko’s premature jubilation

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Poroshenko did not conceal his jubilation about Constantinople’s moves. “This is a victory of good over evil, light over darkness,” Poroshenko said when the news about the lifting of Denisenko’s excomnmunication came from Istanbul in early October.

Poroshenko said he wanted a “united Orthodox Church” for his country, and he openly pressured Patriarch Bartholomew to provide autocephaly to Kiev during his visits to Istanbul in the spring of 2018 and in November of the same year. Meanwhile, Denisenko said that the provision of autocephaly would mean the immediate dispossession of the UOC MP. “This Russian church (UOC MP) will have to cede control of its church buildings and famous monasteries to the new Ukrainian church, which will be ours,” Denisenko was quoted by Ukrainian media as saying. “These monasteries have been owned by the state since Soviet times, and the state gave them to the Russian church for temporary use. Now the state will appoint our communities of believers as the new guardians of this heritage.” Denisenko also made a visit to the US, where he met Undersecretary of State Wess Mitchell, obtaining from him America’s active support for the creation of a “unified” Ukrainian church.

There is still a chance to prevent the schism from occurring. Poroshenko’s presidential aide, Rostislav Pavlenko, made it clear on Tuesday that the actual “tomos” (a letter from the Constantinople Patriarchate allowing the creation of an autocephalous church) will be delivered only IN RESPONSE to a request from a “unifying convention” that represents all of Ukraine’s Orthodox believers in at least some sort of formal manner. This new convention will have to declare the creation of a new church and elect this church’s official head. Only then will Constantinople be able to give that person the cherished “tomos.”

Since the UOC-MP has made it very clear that it won’t participate in any such convention, the chances of the smooth transition and easy victory over the “Muscovite believers” that Poroshenko wants so badly are quite slim. There are big scandals, big fights, and big disappointments ahead.

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Trump DEMOLISHES Macron; Tweets ‘Make France Great Again’ (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 16.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at US President Trump’s tweetstorm aimed at French President Macron, who just days ago used the WW1 ceremony in Paris to ridicule and talk down to the US President in front of world leaders.

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Via Zerohedge

Macron’s office has refused to comment on Trump’s claims.

OFFICE OF FRENCH PRESIDENT MACRON SAYS IT REFUSES TO MAKE ANY COMMENT REGARDING TRUMP’S TWEETS CRITICISING FRANCE AND MACRON

* * *

Without directly referencing the rumors, Trump has branded reports that he refused to appear at a cemetery for American soldiers because he didn’t want to get his hair wet as “fake news.” In the tweet, Trump insisted that he wanted the Secret Service to drive him to the speech instead of taking a helicopter, but they refused because of security concerns. He added that he gave a speech at the cemetery the next day in the pouring rain – something that was “little reported”.

Trump’s rampage against Macron continues. The president slammed his French counterpart for his low approval rating, as well as France’s high unemployment. Furthermore, in response to Macron’s “nationalist” snub, Trump pointed out that “there is no more nationalist country” than France..

…before adding a spin on his classic slogan.

Trump’s rage against Macron continues, but this time, the topic is slightly more serious. What could be more serious than questioning the foundation of Post-WWII military alliances, you might ask? The answer is simple – trade!

Trump conceded that while France makes “very good wine” (an interesting claim from Trump, who doesn’t drink), the country “makes it hard for the US to sell its wine into France, and charges very big tariffs”. Meanwhile “The US makes it easy for French wines and charges small tariffs.”

“Not Fair, must change!”

We now await Trump’s order of an investigation into the national security implications of imported French wine.

* * *

President Trump isn’t ready to forgive the “French diss” served up over the weekend by President Emmanuel Macron.

During a ceremony honoring the 100th anniversary of World War I at the Arc de Triomphe on Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron insulted Trump to his face by launching into a screed about the dangers of toxic “nationalism” and subtly accusing the US of abandoning its “moral values”.

This did not sit well with the US president, who was already facing criticism over his decision to show up late to a ceremony honoring the war dead (the administration blamed it on security concerns though it’s widely suspected that Trump didn’t want to get his hair wet), and Trump has let his displeasure be known in a series of tweets ridiculing Macron’s suggestion that Europe build its own army, saying that France and other European members of NATO would be better served by paying their fair share for NATO while daring them to leave and pay for their own protection.

And in his most abrasive tweet yet mocking the increasingly unpopular Macron’s imperial ambitions (no, really), Trump pointed out that, historically speaking, Europe has been its own worst enemy, and that while Macron wants to defend the Continent from the US, China and Russia, “it was Germany in WWI & WWII,” adding that “they were starting to learn German in Paris before the US came along. Pay for NATO or not!”

Of course, Macron isn’t the only French official calling for the creation of a “European army”. The country’s finance minister advocated for the creation of a Continental army during an interview with Germany’s Handelsblatt – a comment that was derided by the paper’s editors, who pointed out that Germans “weren’t very supportive” of the idea. One wonders why…

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