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US supply of Javelin anti-tank missiles adds fuel to fire in Ukraine

Jingoistic US policy is pushing Ukraine back towards total war that goes spread beyond Donbass

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(Truthdig) – Dec. 18 was a day like any other in the Donbas region, the flashpoint of a grinding civil war between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatists. That afternoon, a girl was badly wounded by a shell fired by Ukrainians into the separatist-held Golmovsky. A few hours later, a hail of Grad rockets fired by pro-Russian forces poured down on the Ukrainian-controlled town of Novoluhanske, killing eight civilians in the middle of a community celebration and damaging over 100 buildings. The shelling continued into the night, killing three in the pro-Russian town of Stakhanov, including a 94-year-old woman.

Artillery exchanges like this have become a tragic routine in Donbas. Though the killing has slowed since the heaviest fighting, which occurred in 2015, over 10,000 have fallen in the conflict, and at least 1.4 million have been turned into refugees. With the war entering its fourth year, a decision by the Trump administration virtually ensured that the news from Donbas will grow dramatically worse. Last month, the State Department approved the transfer of $50 million worth of lethal weapons to the Ukrainian military. Along with a shipment of M107A1 Barrett sniper rifles, the United States will be delivering 35 FGM Javelin anti-tank launching systems and 210 missiles.

Though the Javelin has scarcely been tested against the latest models of Russian tanks, advocates of the arms transfer have insisted that the missiles will save lives by deterring the Russians. After a meeting last June with House Majority Leader Paul Ryan and Sen. John McCain, Andriy Parubiy, who is the speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament (and a veteran Nazi activist), presented the Javelins as a game changer. “If we’d burned several hundred Russian tanks [in 2015], it would have been an important step toward restoring peace in our country’s east,” Parubiy declared.

But others who have witnessed the grueling war of attrition from the front lines dread the prospect of new arms on the battlefield. Brian Milakovsky, a Fulbright scholar who is working with an aid organization on the Ukrainian side of Donbas, told me the Javelins would provoke Russia to escalate its military involvement and dramatically deepen suffering on both sides.

“In the time I’ve been in the Donbas there have been escalation events that, when the dust settled, seemed attributable to the separatists trying to improve their positions. There have also been escalations related to the Ukrainians trying to improve theirs,” Milakovsky said. “No one can ever be certain who starts shooting, but you can triangulate a lot of sources and get a sense for it. What I worry about with U.S. arms is how they could inspire more such attempts, which often blow up into artillery duels that damage front-line communities on both sides. Giving just enough arms to make that possible, but not enough to actually change the balance in the war, doesn’t seem responsible to me.”

According to Milakovsky, Russia’s massive military presence gives it an automatic advantage that renders any infusion of outside arms futile. “I think Russia will always be able to pour more arms into the region considering how much of their standing army is positioned just across the border,” he explained. “Both sides are so dug in for a big fight that every escalation is like throwing matches around in dry grass. No one seems to actually want a big war, but no one can accept major moves in the front line either, and they will respond accordingly.”

Milakovsky is hardly alone in this view. “On both sides, we repeatedly heard calls to resume this war. And we thought: If the war returns, no one of those with whom we spoke will survive,” correspondents from the Russian opposition paper Novaya Gazeta wrote in a dispatch from the front lines of Donbas in 2016. Even mainstream American analysts like Council on Foreign Relations fellow Charles Kupchan have warned that “sending lethal weapons to Ukraine is a recipe for military escalation and transatlantic discord.”

Back in 2015, when Kupchan served in Barack Obama’s National Security Council, the then-president made a rare departure from conventional Beltway foreign policy wisdom and rejected pressure to ship lethal arms to Ukraine. The plan to up-arm Ukraine had been developed by the Brookings Institution and the NATO-funded Atlantic Council and was advanced by Congress in the form of a provision by Sen. McCain that would have required the U.S. to budget 20 percent of all aid to Ukraine for offensive weapons.

Obama’s refusal to authorize the arms shipment kept alive the Minsk II peace process, along with the prospect of U.N. peacekeepers deploying to Donbas, a proposal endorsed by Russia. It also infuriated U.S. neoconservatives and more than a few anti-Russian liberals. But once the 2016 presidential campaign got underway, the bipartisan war party was confident its demands would be met.

Once the Democratic and Republican conventions rolled around, both parties’ draft platforms contained nearly identical language promising arms to Ukraine. The arms transfer had been a personal priority of Hillary Clinton, a top recipient of weapons industry cash, since early 2015. Only hours after the Republican National Convention rang its opening bell, however, a Donald Trump foreign policy adviser named J.D. Gordon ordered the RNC to alter its pledge for “lethal weapons” to a call for “appropriate assistance” to the Ukrainian military. Though Trump said later that he was unaware of the change, Gordon claimed the candidate had demanded it to conform to his stated support for detente with Russia.

Despite the softened language on lethal arms, the RNC plank hardly was part of a George McGovern-style peace platform. Gordon inserted language demanding “increasing sanctions, together with our allies, against Russia unless and until Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are fully restored.” What’s more, the platform slammed Russia for “occupying parts of Ukraine and threatening neighbors from the Baltic to the Caucasus.” But the minor tweak was enough to inspire The Huffington Post to proclaim in a headline, “The Real Winner At The GOP Convention Is Vladimir Putin.”

A vicious backlash was brewing against Trump’s moves toward detente, and when Clinton’s campaign went down in flames, “Russiagate” erupted. Desperate for evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, Democrats latched on to the dossier produced by Christopher Steele, a former agent of Britain’s MI5 who was funded by a law firm closely tied to Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. According to the error-laden dossier, “the TRUMP team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue” in exchange for a Russian promise to sabotage Clinton’s campaign.

In March, when the House Intelligence Committee opened its investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election, ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff zeroed in on the conspiracy theory. “Now is it possible that the removal of the Ukraine provision from the GOP platform is a coincidence?” Schiff wondered aloud. “It is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated and that the Russians use the same techniques to corrupt U.S. persons that they employed in Europe and elsewhere.”

Schiff’s diatribe before a congressional gallery packed with camera crews made him an overnight star of the Russiagate drama. He had once been “a milquetoast moderate,” as journalist Ryan Lizza put it, but through his grandstanding, the once obscure centrist suddenly “emerged as an unlikely face of Democratic resistance to the new President”—a “liberal hero,” according to Lizza. There was more to Schiff’s burgeoning obsession with Russian meddling than his own sense of vanity, however.

Since entering Congress in 2002, Schiff hasn’t met a war he didn’t like. He has backed the invasion of Iraq, cheered on NATO’s regime change operation in Libya, heartily endorsed the U.S.-Saudi war on Yemen, clamored for direct U.S. intervention in Syria and lent his signature to virtually every AIPAC-crafted resolution that has landed on his desk.

And the arms industry has rewarded Schiff handsomely, pumping over $70,000 into his campaign coffers in 2016. Schiff’s largest donor this past campaign cycle, at $12,700 [individuals plus PACs], was Northrop Grumman, the defense giant. Raytheon—the manufacturer of the Javelin anti-tank missile system—was close behind it, with $10,000 in contributions [PACs]. In all, arms giants accounted for over one-sixth of Schiff’s total donations.

Back in 2013, Schiff was treated to a $2,500-per-head campaign fundraiser by a Ukrainian-born, California-based arms merchant named Igor Pasternak. The war in Donbas has been a boon for Pasternak, earning him a lucrative contract to supply the Ukrainian State Border Guard with integrated surveillance systems, and a subsequent deal to help replace the Ukrainian military’s AK-47 rifles with a version of the M-16.

Given Schiff’s history, it was little surprise when he thrust himself headlong into the paranoid theater of Russiagate. By casting suspicion on every attempt at diplomacy and driving the resurgence of Cold War hostility between Washington and Moscow, he was poised to deliver another cash cow to his benefactors in the arms industry.

This year’s budget-busting National Defense Authorization Act reflected the Russia panic that gripped Washington. The legislation was filled with provisions for expensive new programs aimed at countering Russian influence and even ferrying Ukrainian soldiers to American hospitals. Though the shipment of Javelins had been left out, the pressure on the White House was about to rise again.

In November 2017, Schiff summoned J.D. Gordon, the former Trump campaign aide, to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee. Citing House staffers, Politico reported that Schiff was investigating “whether Trump campaign officials made the Republican Party platform more friendly to Russia as part of some broader effort to collude with the Kremlin.” Robert Mueller, the leader of the federal investigation into Russian meddling, was also expected to probe Gordon for answers about the platform change.

At the time, Trump was under pressure from his envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, to send the Javelins to Kiev. A veteran neoconservative activist, Volker was still listed as the executive director of the McCain Institute for International Affairs when he was installed in Trump’s State Department. Among the McCain Institute’s financial backers was the BGR group, whose designated lobbyist, Ed Rogers, was a lobbyist for Raytheon—the company that would reap a windfall profit from the Javelin sale.

Cornered, Trump risked inviting more allegations of collusion by refusing to arm Ukraine. As Andrew Weiss, a Russia analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told reporter John Hudson, “Overall, I see this discussion [on Trump-Russia collusion] as fitting within a broader effort by people within the national security bureaucracy to box Trump in on Ukraine.”

In November, just weeks before caving in to the pressure to send the Javelins to Kiev, Trump was widely ridiculed when he warned that “people will die” because of Russiagate. But in Donbas, where a war-weary population lives on the brink of another bloodbath, the president could prove his critics wrong in a way they never imagined.

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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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Ukrainian leadership is a party of war, and it will continue as long as they’re in power – Putin

“We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

RT

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Via RT…


Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has branded the Ukrainian leadership a “party of war” which would continue fueling conflicts while they stay in power, giving the recent Kerch Strait incident as an example.

“When I look at this latest incident in the Black Sea, all what’s happening in Donbass – everything indicates that the current Ukrainian leadership is not interested in resolving this situation at all, especially in a peaceful way,” Putin told reporters during a media conference in the aftermath of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

This is a party of war and as long as they stay in power, all such tragedies, all this war will go on.

The Kiev authorities are craving war primarily for two reasons – to rip profits from it, and to blame all their own domestic failures on it and actions of some sort of “aggressors.”

“As they say, for one it’s war, for other – it’s mother. That’s reason number one why the Ukrainian government is not interested in a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Putin stated.

Second, you can always use war to justify your failures in economy, social policy. You can always blame things on an aggressor.

This approach to statecraft by the Ukrainian authorities deeply concerns Russia’s President. “We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been soaring after the incident in the Kerch Strait. Last weekend three Ukrainian Navy ships tried to break through the strait without seeking the proper permission from Russia. Following a tense stand-off and altercation with Russia’s border guard, the vessels were seized and their crews detained over their violation of the country’s border.

While Kiev branded the incident an act of “aggression” on Moscow’s part, Russia believes the whole Kerch affair to be a deliberate “provocation” which allowed Kiev to declare a so-called “partial” martial law ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election.

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When Putin Met Bin Sally

Another G20 handshake for the history books.

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Via Zerohedge


In the annals of handshake photo-ops, we just may have a new winner (much to the delight of oil bulls who are looking at oil treading $50 and contemplating jumping out of the window).

Nothing but sheer joy, delight and friendship…

…but something is missing…

Meanwhile, earlier…

Zoomed in…

And again.

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