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Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category

Beijing 2008: A Painting and its Meaning

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I stumbled across this intriguing picture on Facebook, of all places. The image was posted by a certain Joel Ng, who appears to be living in Brunei, again of all places. And this what he said by way of accompaniment: “Amazing thought-provoking painting “Beijing 2008” by Chinese-Canadian artist Liu Yi. The woman with the tattoos on her back is China. On the left, focused intensely on the game, is Japan. The one with the shirt and head cocked to the side is America. Lying provocatively on the floor is Russia. And the little girl standing to the side is Taiwan. This painting, named Beijing 2008, has been the subject of much discussion in the west as well as on the internet. What’s interesting is that this painting is called Beijing 2008, yet it depicts four women playing mahjong, and conceals a wealth of meaning within . . . China’s visible set of tiles “East Wind” has a dual meaning. First, it signifies China’s revival as a world power. Second, it signifies the military might and weaponry that China possesses has already been placed on the table. On one hand, China appears to be in a good position, but we cannot see the rest of her hand. Additionally, she is also handling some hidden tiles below the table. America looks confident, but is glancing at Taiwan, trying to read something off of Taiwan’s expression, and at the same time seems to be hinting something at Taiwan. Russia appears to be disinterested in the game, but this is far from the truth. One foot hooks coyly at America, while her hand passes a hidden tile to China, both countries can be said to be exchanging benefits in secret. Japan is all seriousness while staring at her own set of tiles, and is oblivious to the actions of the others in her self-focused state. Taiwan wears a traditional red slip, symbolizing that she is the true heir of Chinese culture and civilization. In one hand she has a bowl of fruit, and in the other, a paring knife. Her expression as she stares at China is full of anger, sadness, and hatred, but to no avail; unless she enters the game, no matter who ends up as the victor, she is doomed to a fate of serving fruit. Outside the riverbank is darkened by storm clouds, suggesting the high tension between the two nations is dangerously explosive. The painting hanging on the wall is also very meaningful; Mao’s face, but with Chiang Kai Shek’s bald head, and Sun Yat-Sen’s mustache”.a

Beijing 2008

Ng continues that the “four women’s state of undress represent the situation in each country. China is naked on top, clothed with a skirt and underwear on the bottom. America wears a bra and a light jacket, but is naked on the bottom. Russia has only her underwear left. Japan has nothing left. At first glance, America appears to be most composed and seems to be the best position, as all the others are in various states of nakedness. However, while America may look radiant, her vulnerability has already been exposed. China and Russia may look naked, yet their key private parts remain hidden. If the stakes of this game is that the loser strips off a piece of clothing, then if China loses, she will be in the same state as Russia (similar to when the USSR dissolved). If America loses, she also ends up in the same state as Russia. If Russia loses, she loses all. Japan has already lost everything. Russia seems to be a mere ‘filler’ player, but in fact is exchanging tiles with China. The real ‘filler’ player is Japan, for Japan has nothing more to lose, and if she loses just once more she is immediately out of the game. America may look like she is in the best position, but in fact is in a lot of danger, if she loses this round, she will give up her position as a world power. Russia is the most sinister, playing along with both sides, much like when China was de-occupied, she leaned towards the USSR and then towards America; as she did not have the ability to survive on her own, she had to weave between both sides in order to survive and develop. There are too many of China’s tiles that we cannot see. Perhaps suggesting that China has several hidden aces? Additionally China is also exchanging tiles with Russia, while America can only guess from Taiwan’s expression of what actions have transpired between Russia and China. Japan on the other hand is completely oblivious, still focused solely on her own set of tiles. Taiwan stares coldly at the game from aside. She sees everything that the players at the table are doing, she understands everything that is going on. But she doesn’t have the means or permission to join the game, she isn’t even given the right to speak. Even if she has a dearth of complaints, she cannot voice it to anyone, all she can do is to be a good page girl, and bring fresh fruit to the victor. The final victor lies between China and America, this much is apparent. But look closely; while America is capable, they are playing Chinese Mahjong, not Western Poker. Playing by the rules of China, how much chance at victory does America really have?”.b And that is question, particularly now that America’s nominal figurehead is a buffoon like the Drumpf, who seems to be bumbling through life as much anything else. In fact, the artist also has a Facebook page, and I imagine that enterprising or merely curious onlookers might want to query Lui Liu.c Still, I would say that Joel Ng has done an excellent job at unraveling the various layers of meaning and decoding the iconography as well as iconology of the work.

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aJoel Ng’s post in ’21SilkRd’ Facebook (01 July 2019). https://www.facebook.com/groups/947867908642430/permalink/2287003388062202/.

b Joel Ng’s post in ’21SilkRd’.

c“Lui Liu. @luiliupainter” Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/luiliupainter/.

Drumpfian Leaks: The Washington Post

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Posting on his Facebook page, on 18 May 2017, the intrepid Pepe Escobar appears to reveal some inside knowledge hidden from view:

THE WAR ON TRUMP

My source “X” is furious:

The major question is who in Trump’s inner circle is the traitor leaking to the Washington Post? The Washington Post is conducting a campaign against Trump led by Trotskyite elements. The key national interest for the US is a rapprochement with Russia to avoid a nuclear war that the Russians are ready for. Trump is also trying to stop the attack on the American wage level by the .1% Trotskyite element on Wall St. who is stealing the nation’s wealth through their cash settlement manipulations, and other acts of pickpocketing. Trump must stick to his guns.”

That’s not far from the credible narrative put together by old school intel ops not totally controlled by the War Party; “The issue is not necessarily what Trump has done or said. It is that Trump cannot trust even his inner circle of advisers. Whoever leaked the information was either in the room or had access to the minutes of the meeting. That means that someone with fairly robust access was willing to risk not just his or her own career but also the effectiveness of U.S.-Russia moves against the Islamic State, as well as U.S. credibility in the world and with allies that share intelligence. It makes Trump look bad, it makes the United States look worse, and it damages U.S. credibility for as long as the Trump administration is in power”.1

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As “X” says, “The issue is not necessarily what Trump has done or said”, but rather as expressed by the well-known conservative political and cultural commentator David Brooks now more than a month ago, “Trump’s greatest achievements are in the field of ignorance”, elaborating in the next instance that “Trump’s ignorance is not just an absence; it is a rich, intricate and entirely separate universe of negative information, a sort of fertile intellectual antimatter with its own gravitational pull”.2 Brooks really explains the Drumpf in living colours: the “normal incompetent person flails and stammers and is embarrassed about it. But the true genius at incompetence like our president flails and founders and is too incompetent to recognize his own incompetence. He mistakes his catastrophes for successes and so accelerates his pace toward oblivion. Those who ignore history are condemned to retweet it”.3

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But these insights should not surprise us . . . Tony Schwartz, the actual author of the Art of the Deal, has been warning people ever since the Drumpf decided to run for president.4 And, the investigative journalist David Cay Johnston has been doing the same for years now, as he knows the man that is the Drumpf up close.5

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2 David Brooks, “The Coming Incompetence Crisis” New York Times (07 April 2017). https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/07/opinion/the-coming-incompetence-crisis.html.

3 David Brooks, “The Coming Incompetence Crisis”.

4 “Tony Schwartz: The Truth About Trump” The Erimtan Angle. (s.d.). http://apob.tumblr.com/post/160224262702/tony-schwartz-the-truth-about-trump.

5‘ ‘David Cay Johnston: “The Making of Donald Trump” The Erimtan Angle. (s.d.). http://apob.tumblr.com/post/160129875497/david-cay-johnston-the-making-of-donald-trump.

From the End of History to the End of Democracy

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When the Cold War was at a supposed end and the West was in a triumphant mood, the American philosopher Francis Fukuyama penned the book The End of History and the Last Man (1992). As such, a book carrying such an hyperbolic title should have been met with derision but was instead celebrated across the world. Fukuyama’s thesis was couched on “a belief that, after the fall of communism, free-market liberal democracy had won out and would become the world’s final form of human government”, as articulated by the journalist Ishaan Tharoor.1 The book starts out as follows: “[t]he distant origins of the present volume lie in an article entitled ‘The End of History?’ which I wrote for the journal The National Interest in the summer of 1989. In it, I argued that a remarkable consensus concerning the legitimacy of liberal democracy as a system of government had emerged throughout the world over the past few years, as it conquered rival ideologies like hereditary monarchy, fascism, and most recently communism. More than that, however, I argued that liberal democracy may constitute the ‘end point of mankind’s ideological evolution’ and the ‘final form of human government,’ and as such constituted the ‘end of history.’ That is, while earlier forms of government were characterised by grave defects and irrationalities that led to their eventual collapse, liberal democracy was arguably free from such fundamental internal contradictions. This was not to say that today’s stable democracies, like the United States, France, or Switzerland, were not without injustice or serious social problems. But these problems were ones of incomplete implementation of the twin principles of liberty and equality on which modern democracy is founded, rather than of flaws in the principles themselves. While some present-day countries might fail to achieve stable liberal democracy, and others might lapse back into other, more primitive forms of rule like theocracy or military dictatorship, the ideal of liberal democracy could not be improved on”.2

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Fukuyama’s words are literally bathing in a pool of hybris and American Optimism and Exceptionalism . . . a philosophy book acting like a cheerleader for the ‘Greatest Nation on Earth’. The social scientist Selcen Öner wrote a critique of the book, analysing the thesis and its ramifications, starting off by stating that “[t]he victory of the West and Western idea is evident firstly with the collapse of systematic alternatives to Western liberalism. [Fukuyama] states that, in the past decade, there have been important changes in the intellectual climate of the world’s two largest communist countries (Russia, China) and reform movements have begun in both. Also it can be seen in the spread of consumerist Western culture. As a result of these indications, he reaches to his main idea: ‘What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War or the passing of a particular period of post-war history; that is the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.’ But as we see from the beginning, [Fukuyama] states his arguments without a strong basis [in fact-based reality] and with a lack of evidence. After expressing his main argument, he makes some references to Marx, Hegel and Kojeve. He says that his main concept ‘the end of history’, is not an original concept. This concept was firstly used by Hegel. According to Hegel, history is a dialectical process, with a beginning, a middle and an end. On the other hand, Marx, believes that, the direction of historical development was a purposeful one and would come to an end with the achievement of a communist Utopia that would finally resolve all prior contradiction”.3

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Öner concludes that Fukuyama “tried to make a long-term civilizational analysis, but with only analysing short-term indicators. So he [should have rather used] the term ‘civilizational transformation’, instead of ‘end of history’. The era which was tried to be analyzed and defined by Fukuyama was only one of the turning points in the world history. As we can see . . . history is within an ongoing transformation process which needs further analysis. Consequently we can say that, Fukuyama wanted to give a name to the situation after the collapse of [C]ommunism. He [coined] the [phrase] ‘the end of history’, with one-dimensional, ethno-centric perspective. He was too quick to claim such an assertive thesis. Probably he did this to legitimize and formulate the theoretical framework of the New World Order. Because to create a new world order, the old one must have an end. To legitimize US’s leader role, he uses Hegel. Because he also ends history with the victory of one state. To show US’s ever lasting victory, he had to create a very optimistic perspective. His main contribution is, after his article [and subsequent book]’s [publication] there has been an acceleration in critiques about the post cold war world”.4

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And now, the philosophical cheerleader of American Optimism and Exceptionalism has apparently had a brush with reality, as he told Ishaan Tharoor during a telephone interview that “[t]wenty five years ago, I didn’t have a sense or a theory about how democracies can go backward,” adding insightfully, “[a]nd I think they clearly can”.5 In the next instance, Fukuyama turns to the current U.S. President, Donald J. Trump (aka the Drumpf),6 stating apparently in a somewhat dejected voice: “I have honestly never encountered anyone in political life who[m] I thought had a less suitable personality to be president . . . Trump is so thin-skinned and insecure that he takes any kind of criticism or attack personally and then hits back“.7 Taking developments in Europe and beyond into consideration, Fukuyama muses philosophically that “We don’t know how it’s all going to play out“.8 It now seems that the the philosophical cheerleader of American Optimism and Exceptionalism has now become resigned that his earlier predictive utterings turned out to be fallacious . . . in fact, in his famous book published more than two decades ago now, Fukuyama did say that “this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again”.9

European Right-Wing Parties Hold Conference In Koblenz

1 Ishaan Tharoor, “The man who declared the ‘end of history’ fears for democracy’s future” Washington Post (09 Feb 2017). https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/02/09/the-man-who-declared-the-end-of-history-fears-for-democracys-future/?utm_term=.dd78f5d1fa73.

Francis Fukuyama, “By Way of an Introduction” The End of History and the Last Man. https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/fukuyama.htm.

3 Selcen Öner , “A BRIEF ANALYSIS OF FUKUYAMA’S THESIS “THE END OF HISTORY?” Istanbul Journal of Sociological Studies, 27 (2003). www.journals.istanbul.edu.tr/iusoskon/article/download/1023005867/1023005391.

4 Selcen Öner , “A BRIEF ANALYSIS OF FUKUYAMA’S THESIS “THE END OF HISTORY?” .

5 Ishaan Tharoor, “The man who declared the ‘end of history’ fears for democracy’s future”.

6 “Make Donald Drumpf Again, #2” The Erimtan Angle (08 March 2016). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/make-donald-drumpf-again-2/.

7 Ishaan Tharoor, “The man who declared the ‘end of history’ fears for democracy’s future”.

Ishaan Tharoor, “The man who declared the ‘end of history’ fears for democracy’s future”.

9 Ishaan Tharoor, “The man who declared the ‘end of history’ fears for democracy’s future”.

The Prez and Putin: A Friendship in Flux

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The Russian news agency TASS reported that Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin engaged in a telephone conversation on Wednesday, 14 December 2016. The Kremlin issued the following press release: “The two heads of state continued the exchange of opinions on the Syrian problem. Specifically, they discussed the situation in Aleppo. They made emphasis on the importance of a buildup of joint efforts to improve the humanitarian situation and to give a start to a political process in Syria in practical terms. In the wake of a large terrorist attack committed in Istanbul on December 10 that resulted in numerous casualties, the Russian president once again expressed heart-felt condolences to the leadership and people of Turkey. The two sides reaffirmed readiness for further joint actions to neutralize the terrorist threat in the Middle Eastern region”.[1]

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This telephonic rapprochement between Russia and Turkey appears highly significant in view of the fact that the interaction took place against the backdrop of the “liberation” of the Syrian city of Aleppo – the city’s liberation from the clutches of Jihadi terrorists hell bent on the removal of Bashar al-Assad, Jihadi terrorist enjoying the overt and covert support of AKP-led Ankara. Turkey’s close ties to Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra are long-standing and well-documented. On 15 December 2016, the Writer and Contributor at 21st Century Wire Vanessa Beeley published the following on her facebook page: “The Old City. #Aleppo. The long walk from the upturned vehicles that marked the dividing lines between SAA soldiers and Nusra terrorist fighters, literally fighting from next door and facing houses. Walking towards the battle scarred Umayyed Mosque that less than 24 hours previously had still harboured Nusra snipers. We were also told that terrorists were still sheltering in the basements of one of the surrounding buildings during our walk..the SAA soldiers were dispatched to find them. Apologies for the wobbly footage. I was trying to pick my way through the debris from the fierce street battles to liberate this ancient and culturally iconic Old City from the Nusra Front desecration and destruction of this jewel of history. Thank you to Fares Shehabi for organising everything for us. It was an incredibly poignant moment to enter the Mosque past the destroyed Minaret, strewn with Nusra black flags and Ahrar Al Sham pennants. It is hard to imagine the ferocity of the fighting to regain Syria’s territory but East Aleppo is now freed from its NATO and Gulf state terrorist infestation, thanks to the SAA and its allies”.[2]

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[1] “Putin, Erdogan discuss Syria, situation in Aleppo ― Kremlin” TASS (14 Dec 2016). http://tass.com/politics/919457.

[2] Vanessa Beeley on facebook (15 Dec 2016). https://www.facebook.com/vanessa.beeley?fref=ts.

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”.

Illicit Oil Trade between Turkey and the KRG: RedHack Revelations

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The deputy director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) Ahmet Yayla writes that “[i]n late September [2016], a Turkish hacker group, RedHack, released the emails of Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s Minister of Energy and Natural Resources and the son[-]in[-]law of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan [aka the Prez]. Hackers have claimed that they downloaded around 20 gigabytes of data from Albayrak’s email accounts. As the group started to release the emails through social media, controversial issues have been brought to the surface once again. The Turkish government was quick to react, immediately issuing a court order prohibiting the release of the hacked emails and their publication in the media. The issuance of the court order, however, lends credence to the authenticity of the leaked emails. One of the most contentious issues uncovered with the leaked email communications and documents was the transfer of oil controlled by the so[-]called Islamic State and the Erdoğan family’s involvement via a company named Powertrans”.[1]

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Following the Turkish downing of a Russian fighter jet,[2] a war-of-words ensued between Putin and the Prez, and various accusations hurled back and forth: “Vladimir Putin issued [his accusatory] words to the TASS news agency, the Russian state news agency whose pronouncements used to be so prominent during the Soviet and Cold War era. In response, Tayyip Erdoğan told the 15th Meeting of Municipal Headmen the following: ‘[t]hey say that we are in the midst of an effort to Islamize Turkey. Given that 99% of Turkey[‘s population] is Muslim, how can you make such a statement? Tayyip Erdoğan is a Muslim. [As] 99% of Turks.’ The Turkish President, talking about himself in the third person as is his wont, responded to Putin’s words in a facile and arguably jocular manner sure to elicit a favourable response from his audience and garner sympathy among the wider Turkish public breathlessly sucking up his every word appearing on Turkish TV. Putin’s remark was actually part of a much larger accusatory discourse linking Turkey-under-the-AKP to the Islamic State (or IS/ISIS/ISIL) and its illegitimate oil deals and weapon shipments, a charge Erdoğan dismissed in an equally light-hearted manner, saying that ‘ISIS sells the oil it extracts to Assad. [And t]hat is also where it gets its money from'”.[3] Though the Prez dismissed the Russian President’s charges easily, the Turkish hacker cooperative RedHack now seems to have provided proof positive that the Russians weren’t just inventing stories about an illicit oil trade between Raqqa and Ankara. But, as the relations between Moscow and Ankara have taken another turn for the positive, following early Turkish overtures and Russian support for the AKP-led government in the wake of the Coup-that-was-no-coup, talk of illicit oil flowing between Raqqa and Ankara has now all but dried up.[4] In some detail, Yayla explains that “[b]ased on the Russian satellite images, Islamic State oil entered Turkey via three different paths. The western path involved the transfer of oil from Raqqa through Azaz, a city in northwestern Syria, to Iskenderun port on the Mediterranean. The northern path is a busy one, with oil coming from Deir ezZor and transferred to Turkey by tankers. One satellite image from Oct. 18, 2015 shows 1,722 tankers in a queue carrying oil. The eastern path involved oil from the northeast of Syria transferred to northern Iraq and then sent to Turkey through Cizre, a town near Turkey’s border with Syria. A satellite image from Nov. 14, 2015 shows 1,104 tankers along this route. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov stated that over 8,500 tankers transporting up to 200,000 tons of oil used to enter Turkey and Iraq from Islamic State-controlled territories daily. In order for oil to be transported along these routes, a large network of operations must have been set up in Turkey”.[5]

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Since then, the Russians have all but forgotten about accusing Turkey and the Islamic State of complicity, focusing instead on joint anti-terror efforts and renewed cordial relations between the Prez and Putin, including above-board pipeline deals between Moscow and Ankara: “Turkey and Russia on Monday [, 10 Ocotber 2016] signed an inter-governmental agreement on realizing the construction of the planned Turkish Stream gas pipeline to pump Russian gas under Turkish waters in the Black Sea towards Europe. The agreement was signed by Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Turkish counterpart Berat Albayrak, in the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after their talks in Istanbul”, as reported by the pro-AKP Daily Sabah.[6] And now that Russia and Turkey are back in business, the Turkish hacker team RedHack has been able to prove that Putin’s earlier accusations were indeed based on credible information, as recounted by Ahmet Yayla: “[b]ased on documents released by Redhack, [the company] Powertrans was established by Ahmet Muhassiloglu and Grand Fortune Ventures, and was registered at an Istanbul address. However, soon after Powertrans was established, Muhassiloglu’s shares were sold to a Singaporean company named Lucky Ventures on April 21, 2011. It was later revealed that Grand Fortune Ventures and Lucky Ventures were established as front companies in Singapore on Aug. 8, 2008, and they moved their operations to the British Virgin Islands on Nov. 7, 2009. It was unclear who owned these companies, and therefore who owned Powertrans. Still, Powertrans was granted the privileges to carry oil from northern Iraq through Turkish oil pipelines and ports. As the Islamic State oil became available in 2014, Powertrans took the opportunity to set up schemes to transfer the oil to the Batman refinery in Turkey and to the Turkish international ports of Mersin, Dortyol, and Ceyhan”.[7]

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The ICSVE deputy director continues that the “documents released by RedHack provide evidence that Albayrak was, and still is, unofficially running the company. The documents also revealed that Albayrak’s cousin, Ekrem Keles, used to work for Çalık Holding as the coordinator for sales and marketing. Keles sent an email to Albayrak on Aug. 9, 2015 reporting on the company’s marketing in northern Iraq. Another important figure who emailed Albayrak often was Betül Yılmaz, who did not have official ties with Powertrans but was the human resources manager of Çalık Holding. Yılmaz communicated with Albayrak frequently via email to get approval for personnel issues. On Dec. 11, 2015 Albayrak wrote to his lawyer regarding a press release responding to a news report naming him as the owner of Powertrans. He asked his lawyer to edit the line by the lawyer stating, ‘his client has no longer had ties with Powertrans.’ Albayrak got upset, firing back at his lawyer, ‘What does it mean? … I have never had any ties with this company!’ The RedHack email releases supported allegations about the Erdoğan family’s illicit and corrupt business activities, which included granting opportunities and contracts without public bids to concealed companies and transferring and selling Islamic State oil. This amounts to providing the terror network with the funds to pay its fighters, to purchase weapons and explosives, and to incite violence around the world. While members of the Erdoğan family were making millions of dollars through shady business activities, their dealings with the Islamic State facilitated brutal killings and displacement of people in Syria and Iraq”.[8]

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The cooperative RedHack released the e-mail trove on 23 September 2016, but direct proof linking Ankara and Raqqa does not appear to be readily available . . . instead, there appears to be a lot of circumstantial e-mail chatter about, detailing the important role played by the Prez’ son-in-law, Berat Albayrak. On the other hand, already in March this year, a “RT Documentary crew filming in northern Syria has seen Islamic State (IS, ISIS/ISIL) documents abandoned by retreating terrorists and found by the Kurds that, along with captured IS recruits, provide a stunning insight into IS oil trade . . . Turkey, which has been actively engaged in the Syrian war since the outset, has repeatedly denied claims that it is aiding IS. However, while Ankara insists that it is the jihadist group’s sworn enemy, facts on the ground often tell a different story. RT has spoken to several witnesses who were involved in Islamic State’s trade activities and accessed the terror group’s documents, which provide insight into how and where foreign militants enter Syria to join the terrorist ‘state’ . . . RT spoke to local residents who had been forced to work in the IS oil industry about what it was like working at the terrorist-controlled oil refinery and where the extracted oil was sold. The locals attested that ‘the extracted oil was delivered to an oil refinery, where it was converted into gasoline, gas and other petroleum products. Then the refined product was sold,’ the RT documentary’s author said. ‘Then intermediaries from Raqqa and Allepo arrived to pick up the oil and often mentioned Turkey.’ Important information revealing the connection between IS and Turkey was provided by a Turkish militant previously captured by the Kurds. The IS recruit said on camera that the terrorist group does, in fact, sell oil to Turkey. ‘Without even us asking the fighter directly, he admitted that the reason why it was so easy for him to cross the Turkish border and join IS was, in part, due to the fact that Turkey also benefited. When asked how, he said that Turkey gets something out of it – something such as oil.'”.[9]

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Cover of an Islamist, anti-Assad propaganda leaflet printed in Istanbul, Turkey. / RT

Additionally, I would like to point out that the above publisher Guraba is a legitimate company in Turkey, operating openly and plainly since 1992 without experiencing any kind of repression or even legal repercussions for cooperating with the Islamic State in Syria at present. The company’s website is accessible for anyone and everyone interested.[10]

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[1] Ahmet S. Yayla, “Hacked Emails Link Turkish Minister to Illicit Oil” World Policy Blog (17 Oct 2016). https://www.academia.edu/29217920/Hacked_Emails_Link_Turkish_Minister_to_Illicit_Oil.

[2] Can Erimtan, “Escalating the New Cold War: Turkey downs a Russian Jet” NEO (26 Nov 2015). http://journal-neo.org/2015/11/26/escalating-the-new-cold-war-turkey-downs-a-russian-jet/.

[3] Can Erimtan, “Putin, Tayyip Erdogan and the Issue of Sunnification: A Duel of Words” NEO (02 Dec 2015). http://journal-neo.org/2015/12/02/putin-tayyip-erdogan-and-the-issue-of-sunnification-a-duel-of-words/.

[4] See: C. Erimtan, “48 Hours in Turkey: Diplomatic Victory and Defeat followed a Terror Attack” NEO (04 July 2016). http://journal-neo.org/2016/07/04/48-hours-in-turkey-diplomatic-victory-and-defeat-followed-a-terror-attack/; C. Erimtan, “The Failed Coup Attempt – or the Dawning of Sharia Law in Turkey?” The Duran (18 July 2016). http://theduran.com/author/can-erimtan/.

[5] Ahmet S. Yayla, “Hacked Emails Link Turkish Minister to Illicit Oil”.

[6] “Erdoğan, Putin sign agreement on Turkish Stream gas pipeline project” Daily Sabah (10 Oct 2016). http://www.dailysabah.com/energy/2016/10/10/erdogan-putin-sign-agreement-on-turkish-stream-gas-pipeline-project.

[7] Ahmet S. Yayla, “Hacked Emails Link Turkish Minister to Illicit Oil”.

[8] Ahmet S. Yayla, “Hacked Emails Link Turkish Minister to Illicit Oil”.

[9] “ISIS, oil & Turkey: What RT found in Syrian town liberated from jihadists by Kurds (EXCLUSIVE)” RT (24 March 2016). https://www.rt.com/news/336967-isis-files-oil-turkey-exclusive/.

[x] Guraba Yayınevi. http://www.guraba.com.tr/vitrin/.

Gaming 4 Life: When Real World is Not Enough

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‘Escaping harsh reality or relaxing after a hard working day? A guilty pleasure or the only reason to wake up in the morning? Computer games are made for fun, but sometimes they cause one’s real life turning into a slaughterous level which inevitably results in Game Over. For gamers the computer is everything, so much so that they can even earn money through tournaments and sponsorships. Some even meet their future spouses online, but for others games can take up too much of their time and affect family life. Psychiatrists and psychologists argue whether or not the human mind can be negatively affected by games, but for many they instead serve to help bring people together. Published on Sep 25, 2016’.

 

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