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The Current Rise of Russian Orthodox Christianity: Putin’s Orthodox Gambit

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The Associated Press reports that “Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo attended a ceremony on Wednesday [19 October 2016] to inaugurate a Russian cultural center including an Orthodox cathedral next to the Eiffel Tower. Russian President Vladimir Putin had planned to attend the ceremony at the Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Center in the heart of the French capital but postponed his visit to Paris following a spat with French leader Francois Hollande over the war in Syria. Putin rescheduled his visit after Hollande hinted Russia could face war crimes charges for bombarding Syria’s second city, Aleppo. The French president then said that Putin put off his trip after Hollande let him know he wouldn’t take part in the opening of the new center and was only interested in talks about Syria”.[1]

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This means that Putin’s soft power designs to spread the Russian take on the world westward has now been overtaken by power-politics and the West’s apparent desire to wage war on Moscow. The academic and writer Michael Klare some time ago declared in the Nation that “[f]or the first time in a quarter-century, the prospect of war—real war, war between the major powers—will be on the agenda of Western leaders when they meet at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland, on July 8 and 9 [2016]. Dominating the agenda in Warsaw (aside, of course, from the ‘Brexit’ vote in the UK) will be discussion of plans to reinforce NATO’s ‘eastern flank’—the arc of former Soviet partners stretching from the Baltic states to the Black Sea that are now allied with the West but fear military assault by Moscow. Until recently, the prospect of such an attack was given little credence in strategic circles, but now many in NATO believe a major war is possible and that robust defensive measures are required . . . As a further indication of US and NATO determination to prepare for a possible war with Russia, the alliance recently conducted the largest war games in Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War. Known as Anakonda 2016, the exercise involved some 31,000 troops (about half of them Americans) and thousands of combat vehicles from 24 nations in simulated battle maneuvers across the breadth of Poland. A parallel naval exercise, BALTOPS 16, simulated ‘high-end maritime warfighting’ in the Baltic Sea, including in waters near Kaliningrad, a heavily defended Russian enclave wedged between Poland and Lithuania “.[2] In this way, the West has been vilifying Russia, turning Putin into a convenient bogeyman and easily recognizable global culprit.

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The journalist Antoine Blua posits that the newly inaugurated Russian cultural centre + Orthodox cathedral in Paris is nothing but “a grand expression of Moscow’s quest to project the image of a powerful, religious Russia, and assert itself as a champion of traditional values”.[3] Or, to use the concept coined in 1990 by Joseph S. Nye, Jr., it is Putin’s utilization of Russia’s resources to project the Kremlin’s soft power.[4] Blua continues that the “cathedral was reportedly first proposed in 2007 by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church at the time, the late Patriarch Aleksii II, during his historic visit to the French capital. It is part of a Russian campaign to gain control of churches and graves dating from tsarist times and reassert control over the Russian diaspora, including in France, where there are an estimated 200,000 followers of Russian Orthodoxy”.[5] The AP adds that the “complex, including the Holy Trinity Cathedral, has been built on the site of the former headquarters of France’s national weather forecasting service, near the Seine River. The site, which also includes a school and a book shop, was sold to Russia under former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government amid criticism from rights groups about France’s outreach to Putin. The Russian president visited the site in 2010 and denied reports it would be used by Russian secret services. The church was designed by French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte and features five onion-shaped golden domes. The biggest one weighs eight tons and is 12 meters (40 feet) high”.[6]

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President Putin has been pushing an Orthodox agenda at home ever since he came to power at the end of the year 1999. The following year, the Russian Orthodox Church presented its vision for a new social model known as “Holy Rus” [or in Russian, Svyataya Rus]. The professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island Nicolai N. Petro explains that the “Church’s immediate social agenda was laid out in 2000 in a document known as the Basics of the Social Conception of the Russian Orthodox Church. According to this seminal document the Church ‘does not give preference to any social system or to any of the existing political doctrines’. Secular states were established by God to give human beings the opportunity to order their social life according to their own free will. Political pluralism is an important part of this, so both clergy and laity are free to choose whatever political convictions they desire, though these should not contradict ‘the faith and moral norms of the Church’s Tradition’. But while the state’s secular ambitions make non-intervention in each other’s internal affairs desirable, complete separation is not the goal. The ideal relationship between Church and state is symphonia, a relationship that the Roman Emperor Justinian (482-565) described as producing ‘general harmony’ for the human race. According to the Orthodox Church, in modern times symphonia manifests itself through a formal partnership between the Church and the state. Within this partnership the Church has the obligation to promote peace and harmony, provide charity, and promote public morality through its spiritual guidance of public institutions such as the military, media, and schools. For businessmen the Church has elaborated ‘Ten Commandments for Businessmen’ highlighting their social obligations, which include paying taxes and providing fair wages. This partnership even extends to foreign policy where the Russian Orthodox Church seeks to heighten the role of religious diplomacy, and assist in the construction of a multipolar world that respects diverse cultural worldviews. In every nation of the globe, the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill says, the Church’s task is to make that particular nation ‘a carrier of Orthodox civilization’. In the absence of any coherent secular alternative, Russian political authorities seem to have embraced the partnership model offered by the Church. Yeltsin, Putin, and Medvedev, have all spoken poignantly about the historical and cultural importance of Russian Orthodoxy, and appealed for more Church involvement in social affairs. In the past decade specific Church priorities, such as outlawing abortion, promoting family values, and expanding religious education in schools, have received both national and local government support”. [7]

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The Russian Orthodox Church has made the above-mentioned document, Basics of the Social Conception of the Russian Orthodox Church, has been publicly accessible on the internet.[8] Under the heading ‘III. Church and State’, one can read that “[i]n church-state relations, the difference in their natures should be taken into account. The Church has been founded by God Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, while the God-instituted nature of state power is revealed in historical process only indirectly. The goal of the Church is the eternal salvation of people, while the goal of state is their well-being on earth . . . Various models of relationships between the Orthodox Church and the state have developed in the course of history . . . Attempts to work out this form were undertaken in Byzantium, where the principles of church-state relations were expressed in the canons and the laws of the empire and were reflected in patristic writings. In their totality these principles were described as symphony between church and state. It is essentially co-operation, mutual support and mutual responsibility without one’s side intruding into the exclusive domain of the other. The bishop obeys the government as a subject, not his episcopal power comes from a government official. Similarly, a government official obeys his bishop as a member of the Church, who seeks salvation in it, not because his power comes from the power of the bishop. The state in such symphonic relationships with the Church seeks her spiritual support, prayer for itself and blessing upon its work to achieve the goal of its citizens’ welfare, while the Church enjoys support from the state in creating conditions favourable for preaching and for the spiritual care of her children who are at the same time citizens of the state”.[9]

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President Putin is fully aware of the essentially symbiotic relationship existing between church and state in the Russian Orthodox tradition, as he expressed in 2004 when he said that he and his administration are at pains to be “repaying the State’s historical debt to the church”.[10] In fact, the Russian President seems very aware of the mere idea of symphonia, as he described attempts made by the Moscow Patriarchate to reunite with the Russian Church abroad as constituting moves towards “restoring the lost unity of the whole Russian world, whose spiritual foundation has always been the Orthodox religion” (2007),[11] basically subjecting secular state policy to the religious demands of the Church. After all, Putin famously more than once employed the phrase “Near Abroad” to refer to the territories surrounding the Russian borders. But the Orthodox reunification also gave Putin direct access the USA. Namely, on Thursday, 17 May 2007, the “Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), which claims more than 70 million adherents, and the U.S.-based Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCOR), which is believed to be 1.5 million strong” were formally linked once more through a Canonical Communion and Reunification, by means of a ceremony in the Russian capital, attended by “[t]housands of the Russian Orthodox faithful — including several hundred who flew in from New York”.[12] The TIME reporter Yuri Zarakhovich opines that “[n]ationalism, based on the Orthodox faith, has been emerging as the Putin regime’s major ideological resource. [The 2007] rite [in Moscow] sealed the four-year long effort by Putin, beginning in September 2003, to have the Moscow Patriarchate take over its rival American-based cousin and launch a new globalized Church as his state’s main ideological arm and a vital foreign policy instrument,” adding that “Putin’s new unified Church will also further expand in the U.S. and Western Europe as it tries to use the ROCOR’s network and congregation to become as much an arm of Russian nationalist politics as well as Russian piety”.[13] A case in point seems to be the newly opened Holy Trinity Cathedral in Paris . . .

Patriarch Kirill, Vladimir Putin

[1] “Russia opens new cathedral in Paris amid diplomatic tensions” AP (19 Oct 2016). https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/russia-opens-new-church-in-paris-amid-diplomatic-tensions/2016/10/19/531bd8fe-95ff-11e6-9cae-2a3574e296a6_story.html.

[2] Michael T. Klare, “The United States and NATO Are Preparing for a Major War With Russia” The Nation (07 July 2016). https://www.thenation.com/article/the-united-states-and-nato-are-preparing-for-a-major-war-with-russia/.

[3] Antoine Blua, “Russia Set To Unveil Cultural, Orthodox Jewel On The Seine” Modern Diplomacy (17 Oct 2016). http://moderndiplomacy.eu/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=1820:russia-set-to-unveil-cultural-orthodox-jewel-on-the-seine&Itemid=480.

[4] Joseph S. Nye, Jr, “Soft Power” Foreign Policy, nr. 80 (Autumn 1990).

[5] Antoine Blua, “Russia Set To Unveil Cultural, Orthodox Jewel On The Seine”.

[6] “Russia opens new cathedral in Paris amid diplomatic tensions”.

[7] Nicolai N. Petro, “The Role of the Orthodox Church in a changing Russia” ISPI, nr. 21 (June 2012).

[8] “The Basis of the Social Concept” The Russian Orthodox Church. https://mospat.ru/en/documents/social-concepts/.

[9] “III. Church and state” The Basis of the Social Concept The Russian Orthodox Church. https://mospat.ru/en/documents/social-concepts/iii/.

[10] Quoted in Nicolai N. Petro, “The Role of the Orthodox Church in a changing Russia”.

[11] Quoted in Nicolai N. Petro, “The Role of the Orthodox Church in a changing Russia”.

[12] Yuri Zarakhovich, “Putin’s Reunited Russian Church” TIME (17 May 2007). http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1622544,00.html.

[13] Yuri Zarakhovich, “Putin’s Reunited Russian Church”.

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WikiLeaks and the Hillary-Gülen Ties

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‘In this episode of Spotlight with Sibel and Spiro we discuss the notorious USA-based Mullah Fethullah Gülen and Operation Gladio B in light of WikLeaks’ recent announcement that they plan to release a new batch of e-mails exposing the intimate ties between Hillary Clinton and Gulen’s 25+ Billion shady network. Sibel Edmonds explains how Fethullah Gülen was brought into the United States during the Clinton Administration, and how Bill Clinton’s White House, the State Department and the Justice Department’s Janet Reno provided the infamous mullah and his terrorism-heroin operations with blanket immunity and protection. We also take a look at Clinton’s hand-picked handlers, Graham Fuller and Mark Grossman, selected to manage and direct Gülen’s cells in the U.S. and abroad. Published on Aug 12, 2016′.

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Nagorno-Karabakh Violence 2016

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The war over the breakaway area of Nagorno-Karabakh dates back to the last century, as recounted by the BBC in a nutshell: in ‘1988, towards the end of Soviet rule, Azerbaijani troops and Armenian secessionists began a bloody war which left the de facto independent state [of Nagorno-Karabakh] in the hands of ethnic Armenians when a truce was signed in 1994. Negotiations have so far failed to produce a permanent peace agreement, and the dispute remains one of post-Soviet Europe’s “frozen conflicts”‘.[1]

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Frozen till now, that is . . . as “[n]ew fighting has been reported overnight between troops from Azerbaijan and Armenia in the disputed Caucasus region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The reports say that troops from both sides have used heavy weapons, mortars and artillery. Fighting on Saturday [, 3 April 2016] left at least 30 soldiers dead. Civilian casualties were also reported . . . The defence ministries of Azerbaijan and the unrecognised Nagorno-Karabakh republic said the situation along the front line remained tense. The Azeris said that Armenian soldiers shelled positions of their armed forces along the front lines with the use of heavy weapons, mortars and artillery. But the Armenian-backed defence ministry in Karabakh also accused Azerbaijan of firing rockets and artillery. Russia, which has sold arms to both sides, has called for an immediate ceasefire and for both sides to exercise restraint”.[2]

BBC Azeri

BBC Azeri’s Konul Khalilova explains that the “fighting that erupted on Friday night [1 April 2016] is some of the worst since a 1994 ceasefire between the two sides. Azerbaijan says it has taken back two strategically important villages from the Armenian army, a claim denied by Armenia. As usual, both sides say the other pulled the trigger first. There are reports of civilian casualties on both sides. Witnesses told the BBC’s Azeri service that people were being evacuated from villages near to the conflict zone and that others were hiding in basements. Both President Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Armenia’s President Sargsyan are on their way back from the international nuclear summit in Washington. Azerbaijan has purchased at least $4bn worth of arms from Russia. Armenia, an important strategic partner of Russia in the Caucasus, also buys weapons from Russia. There are concerns that the fighting could lead to a more wide-scale military conflict. Leaders on both sides have been blamed for not making enough effort to achieve peace and instead using the conflict as a tool to stay in power. Nationalist sentiment boosted by pro-government media in both societies has been at its height in recent years. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has expressed ‘grave concern’ over the reported large-scale ceasefire violations. The co-chairmen of the body’s Minsk Group – ambassadors Igor Popov of Russia, James Warlick of the US, and Pierre Andrieu of France – issued a joint statement saying: ‘We strongly condemn the use of force and regret the senseless loss of life, including civilians. The co-chairs call upon the sides to stop shooting and take all necessary measures to stabilise the situation on the ground. They reiterate that there is no alternative to a peaceful negotiated solution of the conflict and that war is not an option'”.[3]

OSCE Minsk

 

[1] “Nagorno-Karabakh profile” BBC News (02 April 2016). http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-18270325.

[2] “Nagorno-Karabakh violence: Shelling continues after worst clashes in decades” BBC News (03 April 2016). http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35953358.

[3] Konul Khalilova, “Analysis” BBC News (03 April 2016). http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35953358.

Azerbaijan, Eurovision, and the EU: The Pipeline Behind the Propaganda

Remembering Greg Palast’s 2010 report on BP in Azerbaijan,[1] here is Human Rights Watch’s take on the Azeri record with regard to the imminent Eurovision Song Contest: ‘This Human Rights Watch video shows why the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) should speak out againstAzerbaijan’s appalling record on freedom of expression in the lead-up to the Eurovision Song Contest. The EBU declined to show the video at a workshop about media rights inAzerbaijan it organized onMay 2, 2012, citing technical reasons. The EBU is an association of public broadcasters that oversees the Eurovision Song Contest (2 May 2012)’.

For one thing, the mere fact that the country is now being led by President Ilham Aliyev, whose main qualification is constituted by the fact that he is the son of Haydar Aliyev, seems like an anomaly in this 21st century. Azerbaijan is a Turkic nation state, that has the distinction of being the only Shi’ite body inside the Sunni lands of Turkic Islam. According to World Bank data, in 2010 the Azeri population counted about 9 million, but the majority of the Azeri population seems unaffected by the country’s revived oil wealth. Throughout the Cold War, Azerbaijan’s oil wealth in the Caspian was largely off the world’s radar, in spite of the fact that in the ‘19th century . . . the Rothschilds and the brothers of dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel turned Baku into a world oil center capable of challenging John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil for control of Europe’s kerosene markets’.[2]  But now that theSoviet Union has been securely confined to the dustbin of history and the free market rules supreme, Azeri oil wealth has become universally well-known once again.Azerbaijan’s newly rediscovered oil potential might also account for the fact that the country nowadays can partake in such “European” pastimes as the Eurovision Song Contest.

For decades, Azerbaijan’s western neighbour Turkeyhas been knocking on the EU’s front door.[3]  Many people inEurope openly question whetherTurkey is really part of Europe . . . albeit that Turkey’s mostly awful songs have for years been competing in the Eurovision. And didn’t Georgia’s “new” leader Saakashvili talk about joining the EU some time ago???

In fact, the EU-propaganda publication EurActiv reported last year that “Georgia remains committed to joining the European Union, said President Mikheil Saakashvili in an exclusive interview with EurActiv Poland. In a conciliatory gesture towards Moscow, the Georgian leader argued that closer ties between his country and the EU could also pave the way for more integration between Russia and the 27-nation bloc”.[4]  But, is Turkey really part of Europe???  Is the EU a Christian club managed by bankers???  Does Goldman-Sachs rule the world???  Saakashvili himself did not mince any words: “what is most important is that we have embarked on our path to the European Union. In carrying out reforms, we want Georgia to become a better candidate for membership. We do not have this status yet, but it is apparently possible in the future. This is a significant improvement”.[5]

But let’s go back to the Eurovision in Azerbaijan: ‘Eurovision is everywhere in Baku, the easternmost city to host the annual song contest, as the Azerbaijani capital seeks to present a glitzy and sparkling front to the world for its biggest ever event. The Eurovision symbol is emblazoned on the city’s new fleet of London-style cabs, flashes on video screens on metro platforms and even goes up in lights on LCD displays on skyscrapers overlooking the Caspian Sea. Locals strolling along the seaside promenade proudly point out to sea to the city’s newest landmark: the Crystal Hall, built at high speed to host the contest. Lit up with flashing lights, it stands on a pier with the sea on both sides, lined with flowers that workers were still putting in place on Tuesday evening [, 22 May] as guests dressed up to the nines arrived for the semi-finals. It’s best to ignore the sulphurous smell wafting off the water, the legacy of years of heavy pollution into the Caspian Sea. Also disguised by the shiny buildings are the controversies that have marred the contest, with activists accusing Azerbaijanof human rights violations and a bitter diplomatic row building with its neighbour Iran. Locals instead prefer to see the competition as a chance to put their city — which already boasts fine fin-de-siecle architecture and an enchanting old town — firmly on the European map’, as reported by AFP.[6]

On the other hand, is Turkey really part of Europe???  The main difference between Turkey and its eastern neighbour is oil . . . But Turkey is also doing its bit, and continues to push for the realisation of Nabucco, in spite of Russian opposition and the recent withdrawal of BP, arguably to Russian pressure and the company’s desire not to jeopardise its chances of cashing in on the future rewards the arctic region is projected to yield. But where there is a will, there is Turkey’s best friend, as voiced by US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland: “We strongly support Nabucco. We think it’s a very important project. It’s going to bring energy diversification on both sides and market diversification. I hadn’t seen the BP announcement, but as you know, there’s been a lot of company interest as well in Nabucco”.[7]  In other words, the interpersonal relations between Tayyip Erdoğan and Barrack Obama have not been futile. The U.S. clearly supports Turkey’s new pseudo-Ottoman programme, as a stable Turkey could very well become another rock for America to build its renewed bridges into the Arab world, following the recent “spring weather”.


[1] Cfr. “RT- The Big Picture: BP, Azerbaijan, Oil and Gas Disasters, & Corruption” A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (24 December 2012). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2010/12/24/rt-the-big-picture-bp-azerbaijan-gulf-of-mexico-oil-and-gas-disastersbp-azerbaijan-gulf-of-mexico-oil-and-gas-disasters/.

[2] Dan Morgan and David B. Ottaway, “Page Two. Grasping the Potential” The Washington Post  (04 October 1998). http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/europe/caspian100498b.htm.

[3] “Turkey and the EU, 1959 — 2011” A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (31 August 2011). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/turkey-and-the-eu-1959-2011/.

[4] “Saakashvili: Georgia ‘should never leave path’ of EU integration” EurActiv (09 November 2011). http://www.euractiv.com/europes-east/saakashvili-georgia-leave-path-eu-integration-interview-508800.

[5] “Saakashvili:Georgia ‘should never leave path’ of EU integration”.

[7] “US Firmly Backing Nabucco Pipeline despite BP Criticism” Novinite (26 May 2012). http://www.novinite.com/view_news.php?id=139704.