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CONFIRMED: UN report says West’s anti-Russian sanctions have failed

Alexander Mercouris

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Though it has gone almost entirely unreported in the Western media, a report provided by a UN Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council appears to the first serious attempt by an international authority to assess the effectiveness of the sanctions the Western powers have imposed on Russia.

The report’s conclusions are that the sanctions have been ineffective in that they have done only marginal damage to the Russian economy and have been significantly more costly to the EU’s economy than to Russia’s, though they have caused real hardship to many individuals both in the EU and in Russia.

Most controversial of all, the report casts doubt on the legality of the whole sanctions regime imposed by the West on Russia.

On the possible illegality of the EU’s sanctions, I discussed this as far back as 2nd October 2014 in an article I wrote for Sputnik in which I made these points

There is only one international body that is authorised under international law to impose sanctions: the Security Council of the United Nations. Its authority to impose sanctions is clearly set out in Article 41 of the UN Charter …….Any decision by the UN Security Council to impose sanctions under Article 41 has the force of law. UN Member States (including the states that make up the EU) are legally bound to enforce them.

The EU has no international legal authority to impose sanctions without obtaining a mandate from the Security Council. Doing so challenges the authority of the Security Council to impose sanctions. It also violates the rules of the World Trade Organisation.

The EU nonetheless claimed for itself this power in a 2004 position paper…….The position paper however fails to explain the legal basis upon which the EU claims this power. It refers to Article 11 of the Treaty on the European Union. This is has been replaced by Articles 21 and 24 of the amended Treaty on the European Union. Neither the original Article 11 nor Articles 21 and 24 of the amended Treaty on the European Union, however, refer to sanctions.

Reference is sometimes also made to Article 28 of the Treaty on the European Union, …..Reference is also made to Article 215 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, …..None of these provisions however say the EU has the power to impose sanctions without a mandate from the Security Council.

Compare these words in my article for Sputnik of 2nd October 2014 with these words in the report of the Special Rapporteur

10. Unilateral sanctions against the Russian Federation qualify as “unilateral coercive measures” to the extent that they have been adopted by States — or regional organizations without a mandate of the Security Council acting pursuant to Article 41 of the Charter of the United Nations (see A/HRC/30/45, para. 14).

11.  It has been rightly noted that “[t]he prevailing view among international law specialists, however, is that autonomous sanctions cannot be legal per se and thus require international legal justification for their imposition”.

12. Sanctions on the Russian Federation should be expected to comply with the procedural and substantive conditions for recourse to lawful countermeasures, as set out by the General Assembly in its resolution 56/83 on the responsibility of States for internationally wrongful acts. In particular, the International Law Commission has noted that a “State which resorts to countermeasures based on its unilateral assessment of the situation does so at its own risk and may incur responsibility for its own wrongful conduct in the event of an incorrect assessment”.

13. Moreover, as the Special Rapporteur noted in his 2016 report to the General Assembly, “[s]uch responsibility could also be engaged in a situation where, even acting with proper justification, States (or international organizations) are found to have disregarded legal preconditions for recourse to countermeasures, such as the proportionality and reversibility of the measures” (see A/71/287, para. 11).

14. The view has been widely expressed that unilateral sanctions on the Russian Federation qualify as “third-party countermeasures” under international law, to the extent that they aim at responding to grave violations of obligations owed to the international community. However, it is to be noted that the permissibility of third-party countermeasures remains unsettled in international law, and was left open in General Assembly resolution 56/83.

(bold italics added)

In other words, since the sanctions were not imposed by the UN Security Council their legality is open to doubt, even if they are viewed as “third party countermeasures”, the legality of which is anyway “unsettled”.

To which I would add that as the Special Rapporteur’s discussion clearly shows, “third party countermeasures” are envisaged as unilateral actions (ie. actions taken without a mandate from the UN Security Council) taken by UN Member States.  The EU however is not a UN Member State but an international body, and its power to act is theoretically limited by the treaties which created it.  As I discussed in my article for Sputnik, none of these treaties give it authority to impose sanctions which have not been mandated by the UN Security Council.

Putting aside the important though for the moment academic question of the legality of the sanctions – which may however become very important at some future time – what of their actual economic impact?

The Special Rapporteur has much to say about this, and it will make for uncomfortable reading for the supporters of the sanctions

51. Application of the unilateral coercive measures began at the start of 2014, a time when the price of oil fell substantially. Thus, two shocks occurred simultaneously: the “oil shock” and the “sanctions shock”. In view of the complexity of the mix of those causes, it is difficult to determine the discrete impact of the sanctions shock. According to some unofficial estimates provided to the Special Rapporteur in Moscow, they may have caused at most an average reduction of 1 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the Russian Federation between 2014 and 2016. It remains that the main adverse impact of the reversal of economic fortunes was attributable to the drop in oil prices……

53. In terms of macroeconomic analysis, the combined impact of the two shocks reduced growth from 1.3 per cent in 2013 to 0.7 per cent in 2014 and to – 2.8 per cent in 2015. As a result of adaptation to the post-shock situation, there was a turnaround in economic activity already in the first quarter of 2016, with a negative growth rate of – 0.02 per cent, despite the fact that oil prices remained low. That rate moved back into positive territory in 2017 without any lifting of unilateral coercive measures. Over the past 12 months, the rouble appreciated by 15 per cent against the dollar. This is evidence of a successful adjustment…….

62. Different data are provided by the media and academic circles in source countries estimating the cost incurred through the measures by source countries, especially in the European Union.

63. The most credible approximation is of $3.2 billion a month, according to a working paper by the Centre d’Etudes Prospectives et d’Informations Internationales.  In an interview with the Special Rapporteur, European farmers and a confederation of European agricultural cooperatives deplored that the losses were attributable to a political dispute between the European Union and the Russian Federation, in which European Union farmers had no role or responsibility yet were the ones that had to “pay the price”.

64. The rough estimate of the adverse impact of the sanctions on the Russian Federation, if disentangled from the oil shock, is an average loss of 1 per cent of GDP. That seems to be a reasonable figure since, after “digesting” the oil shock, the difference between actual and potential GDP for 2017 is of about 0.80 per cent according to the International Monetary Fund.  That output gap would amount to a direct loss therefore of some $15 billion per annum for the Russian Federation or a total of $55 billion so far.

65. The resulting overall income loss of $155 billion is shared by source and target countries. Although both source and target countries can internalize those losses, it is not clear that any partner is cowed by them or indeed that any rights holder, least of all European smallholder farmers, benefits from them. Meanwhile, business opportunities are forgone, curtailing the right to development of trading partners. Even if direct losses to the Russian Federation from unilateral coercive measures were twice as high as provided in the above estimate, source countries are having to suffer equally or more from the sanctions than the country they target. They may also be more vulnerable as, unlike the Russian Federation, they do not all have a consistent international trade surplus or such high foreign exchange reserves, which, in the case of the Russian Federation, remained consistently above $300 billion since sanctions were applied.

(bold italics added)

In other words the best estimate the Special Rapporteur has found of the cost of the sanctions to the Russian economy, coming however from a European source,  is that it is no higher than $15 billion a year, or $55 billion in total, which is less than 1% of Russia’s dollar denominated nominal GDP.

It turns out that the sanctions are actually costing the EU more than they are costing Russia: $100 billion since they were introduced, as opposed to the $55 billion they are estimated to have cost Russia.

Whilst this constitutes a smaller fraction of the EU’s GDP as compared to that lost by Russia – the EU’s GDP being much larger than Russia’s – the burden is falling unequally on the EU’s weaker member states, some of whom lack Russia’s depth of financial resources, whilst it is hitting certain sectors of the EU’s economy – such as the EU’s agricultural sector – disproportionately, with EU farmers complaining that they have been caught in the crossfire of a political quarrel in which they have no part.

The assessment that the sanctions have shaved off about 1% of Russia’s GDP is probably correct, but it needs to be heavily qualified.

The sanctions did cause the Russian economy real problems in the late autumn of 2014, when Russian companies found themselves facing heavy loan repayments on their foreign debt at a time of a cash shortage and a declining rouble caused by the oil price fall. With Western creditors refusing to roll over loans there was therefore a rush to convert roubles into euros and dollars to repay the loans, increasing the downward pressure on the rouble still further, and causing it in late December 2014 to crash.

The Central Bank and the Finance Ministry however acted quickly to plug the gap – which because of the size of their reserves they could easily do – so that after a brief wobble the situation was quickly brought back under control.

Since then the main effect of the sanctions has been to force Russian companies and banks to continue paying off their foreign debt more quickly than they would otherwise have done, with however nothing remotely like the temporary payment crisis of late December 2014 ever happening again.

Whilst this process of paying off debt has no doubt kept the rouble lower than it might otherwise have been, and has undoubtedly reduced investment in the Russian economy whilst it has been taking place, its ultimate effect once the loan repayment process is completed will be to leave Russian companies unburdened by debt, and therefore in a much stronger financial position going forward than the one in which they would otherwise have been if the sanctions had never been imposed.

With the Central Bank claiming that Russian banks will have paid off their foreign debt by the end of this year, this deleveraging process now looks to be drawing to a close, which is no doubt one reason why despite the continued high interest rates there has been a significant investment recovery in Russia this year.

In other words the effect of the sanctions on the Russian economy was to deepen what was by Russia’s historic standards still a relatively shallow recession caused by the oil price fall.  However they have also made the Russian economy come out of the recession in a better condition than the one it would have been in if they had not been imposed.

The result is that though Russia’s economy may be 1% smaller today than it would have been if the sanctions had not been imposed, the sanctions have created the conditions which will cause Russia’s economy in future to grow faster, and become bigger and stronger, than would have been the case if the sanctions had not been imposed.

Of course all this would not have happened if economic policy had not been competent and successful.  Here is what the Special Rapporteur has to say about that

55. The reasons why the impact of economic sanctions on the enjoyment of human rights was not more severe in the country seem related to the following facts:

(a) The Government applied very effectively a counter-cyclical policy by letting the rouble float and by increasing the share of the State sector to substitute for the sanction imposed ban on foreign funding for the corporate sector beyond 30 days, by reducing considerably the rate of inflation through conservative management of the economy and by ex-post compensation of inflation losses incurred by pensioners;

(b) The economy demonstrated great resilience and a capacity to adapt to new circumstances through Government-assisted restructuring to promote local funding of projects formerly funded by external sources;

(c) The diversification of the economy away from oil was given new impetus;

(d) Emphasis on research was increased, returning to an earlier stage when, in many sectors, including space technology, the Russian Federation was at the forefront (it should be noted that, according to Russian officials, cooperation with the United States in advanced space technology was maintained, including for the supply of engines for spacecraft, despite the ban on the export of advanced drilling technology by the United States); this enabled the Russian Federation to enhance its oil production in the Arctic by developing its own capacities for horizontal drilling and its production of shale oil, for which it had previously relied on foreign partners;

(e) Effective import substitution technologies were put in place, in particular in agriculture, to dispense with imports from the European Union that were the subject of retaliatory measures;

(f) A policy was quickly introduced to pivot towards other partners in Asia and other regions.

To this list of measures I would add the further measures the Russian authorities have taken since the sanctions to strengthen Russia’s financial system, which is the Achilles heel of Russia’s economy.  These measures require a separate discussion, but briefly the high interest rates to reduce inflation and encourage saving, and the Central Bank’s clearing up of the banking system through its policy of closing down Russia’s weakest banks, are just two.

These measures to strengthen the financial system are essential if the financial system is to fund Russia’s economic growth in the future, as in the absence of large scale investment from the West it will have to do.  They are the government’s and the Central Bank’s main priority at the moment.

The key point to grasp is that these steps – which are putting Russia in a better position to grow its economy in future – have in part at least been induced by the sanctions, and would either have been delayed or would not have happened at all without them.

One of the great paradoxes of the sanctions is that instead of weakening Russia they have provided the Russian government with the political cover to do things it needed to do, such as float the rouble and limit food imports, and which it probably had long wanted to do, but which it was previously too frightened to do because they would have been unpopular with certain influential sections of the population.

In his report the Special Rapporteur briefly touches on this

56. As in many other countries targeted by sanctions, there was a “rally around the flag” reaction, which led the population to accept the inconveniences caused by the unilateral coercive measures.

All of this calls into question the underlying assumption upon which the sanctions were based.

Briefly Western policy makers grossly underestimated the size, sophistication and flexibility of the Russian economy when they imposed the sanctions, and assumed that the sanctions would cause the Russian economy to go into a tailspin, forcing President Putin to back down over Crimea and Ukraine or risk popular protests or even an oligarch led coup.  Instead, as the Special Rapporteur’s report shows, the Russian economy has successfully adjusted to the sanctions, whilst President Putin’s popularity remains at stratospheric levels.

Western policy makers made this mistake because their views of the Russian economy and of Russian society were formed during Russia’s ‘disaster years’ of 1989 to 1998, with their negative perceptions since then reinforced by the relentlessly negative and often grossly inaccurate way news about Russia is reported by the Western media and the West’s intelligence agencies.

The Special Rapporteur briefly touches on this

58. The Russian case study offers an opportunity to review the effectiveness of unilateral coercive measures applied by large advanced economies against one another. The example of the Russian Federation demonstrates the expected versatility of a relatively well-off country with a variety of resources, a highly trained population and a multiplicity of trading partners……..

60. In a context of globalization, for a country like the Russian Federation, which is fully integrated into the world economy, measures for trade diversion — whether through protectionism or through unilateral coercive measures — can be self-defeating if they lead to a “beggar-thy-neighbour” policy. It is fortunate therefore that the retaliatory measures themselves were limited in scope.

61. Furthermore, in such a globalized context, one must not lose sight of the possible backlash of unilateral measures, even without retaliation. Thus, for instance, one of the largest banks in the Russian Federation, Sberbank, has a part of its capital in equities of which one third is owned by foreign investors from sanctioning countries. Thus, when the bank cannot obtain foreign financing above 30 days for its clients, its profits are affected, which, in turn, reduces the price of its shares and causes losses for their owners also in source countries. Furthermore, every year the State floats internationally 10-year eurodollar bonds that are reserved for foreign purchasers and are heavily subscribed. In addition, every week it auctions other shorter-term bonds in roubles that are also subscribed by foreign buyers. Rationing of foreign loans to the Russian economy is therefore of limited effectiveness……

66. The wave of globalization that has engulfed the Russian Federation has spread the value chain across its borders with Europe and to a lesser extent has stretched to the United States. It is therefore becoming realistically impossible to disentangle the links of that value chain in a way that would introduce a clean cut of those links situated in the Russian Federation without weakening the rest of the chain through what has misleadingly been referred to come to as “surgically accurate” measures.

(bold italics in the original)

In other words, totally isolating an economy as large and sophisticated as Russia’s is realistically impossible, and would be completely self-defeating if it were ever attempted.  Even the limited ‘targeted’ sanctions which were imposed on Russia have had negative effects on the countries which imposed them, and have been largely unsuccessful because of Russia’s “variety of resources, highly trained population and multiplicity of trading partners”.

I said that the UN Special Rapporteur’s report would make uncomfortable reading for the sanctions’ supporters, and so it has proved.  The best indicator of this is that there have already been claims that Russia funded his report, claims which the Special Rapporteur has categorically denied .

What is true to say is that the Special Rapporteur – Idriss Jazairy – though obviously highly qualified – his UN profile reads as follows: “Mr. Jazairy has extensive experience in the fields of international relations and human rights with the Algerian Foreign Ministry, the UN human rights system and international NGOs. He was formerly the head of a UN specialized agency, IFAD. He holds a M.A. (Oxford) in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and an M.P.A. (Harvard). He also graduated from the Ecole nationale d’Administration (France)” – is Algerian, and is therefore a citizen of a non-aligned country.  That makes him less vulnerable to US disfavour than other officials of UN agencies who are citizens of countries aligned to the US.

This puts the Special Rapporteur in a similar position to that of the unnamed Indian army officer who headed the UN investigation into the attack on the humanitarian convoy in Syria near Aleppo on 19th September 2016, which effectively cleared the Russians of claims they had been involved in that incident.

The Special Rapporteur’s report should not of course be the final word on this question.  As he himself says in his report, it is remarkable that the Western powers have failed to carry out a review of the effectiveness of the sanctions since they were imposed, even though the need for such a review is obvious

67. The unilateral coercive measures are intended to serve as a deterrent to the Russian Federation in the context of the prevailing political standoff in the region. They do however carry unintended effects on producers that have nothing to do with the situation, both in Europe and among the most vulnerable groups in the Russian Federation. The Special Rapporteur considers that, after three years of implementation of unilateral coercive measures targeting the Russian Federation, a review of their effectiveness in achieving their proclaimed goal is overdue.

68. The Special Rapporteur recommends that the review be engaged upon without delay in the search for effectiveness in the pursuit of desired outcomes and in a way that spares innocent civilians in source and target countries from unintended adverse human rights impacts.

Needless to say the reason no such review has taken place, or will take place, is because if it ever did take place it would simply confirm what the Special Rapporteur is saying in his report, which is that the sanctions are failing.  That of course is a truth the supporters of the sanctions do not want to face.

I will finish this discussion of the Special Rapporteur’s report with two further observations:

(1) Though the sanctions have not hurt the Russian economy in the way their authors intended, they have as the Special Rapporteur has pointed out caused real hardship to the individuals they have targeted.  Moreover it appears that this hardship is being aggravated by the unaccountable and arbitrary way in which they are being administered.  The Special Rapporteur’s report provides an example

……..a Russian businessman whose spouse was hospitalized in a western European clinic, found out upon attempting payment of her medical bill that his western bank account had been blocked and could not be drawn upon even for such humanitarian items of expenditure. This is all the more surprising since competent European Union authorities are committed to taking into account the “fundamental rights of designated persons and entities when granting exemptions” as provided by the European Union Guidelines on implementation and evaluation of restrictive measures (sanctions) in the framework of the European Union Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Unfortunately there is practically no possibility that the Special Rapporteur’s report will cause the EU to review its procedures so as to change the harsh and arbitrary way in which the sanctions are being administered.

(2) Though the authors of the sanctions of course refuse to admit their failure, I have no doubt that in private there is much anger and frustration that they have not produced the results expected of them.

Though obviously I do not know this for a fact, I strongly suspect that part at least of the reason for the latest sanctions law recently passed by the US Congress is anger caused by the failure of the existing sanctions.  As has now become standard (North Korea being another case in point) the response of those who called for the sanctions is not to admit their error and the failure of the sanctions but to demand more and more sanctions in the hope that that way they can be made to work.

The reality is that European opinion has now become too disillusioned with the existing sanctions to countenance significant further sanctions over and above the existing sanctions, especially given that the new sanctions which are being proposed would be directly contrary to the EU’s fundamental economic interests.  In Germany at least the talk is now increasingly of the need for a roadmap so that the existing sanctions can reduced and eventually lifted.  The recent German elections will only strengthen that talk.

Such talk will of course make the supporters of the sanctions even more angry, and even less willing to face the truth that the sanctions are failing, which is set out in the Special Rapporteur’s report.

That truth however cannot be denied forever.  The only question is how long it will take before it is accepted.  Past experience suggests that will take long.

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Patriarch Bartholomew lifts anathemas on schismatics in Ukraine (VIDEO)

Most of the Orthodox world is in strong opposition to this move by Patriarch Bartholomew, whose motivations seem not to be of Christ.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The biggest news in the Eastern Orthodox world in recent times occurred on Thursday, October 11, 2018. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, lifted the anathemas against two schismatic Ukrainian Churches and their leaders, paving the way to the creation of a fully independent Ukrainian national Orthodox Church.

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This announcement was given in English and is shown here in video with the textual transcript following:

“Presided by His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Holy and Sacred Synod convened for its regular session from October 9 to 11, 2018 in order to examine and discuss items on its agenda. The Holy Synod discussed in particular and at length, the ecclesiastical mater of Ukraine in the presence of His Excellency Archbishop Daniel of Pamphilon and His Grace Bishp Ilarion of Edmonon, Patriarchal Exarchs to Ukraine, and following extensive deliberations decreed (emphasis added):

First, to renew the decision already made, that the Ecumenical Patriarchate proceed to the granting of autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine;

Second, to re-establish at this moment the stavropegion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Kiev—one of its many starvorpegion in Ukraine that existed there always;

Third, to accept and review the petitions of appeal of Philaret Denisenko and Makary Maletich and their followers who found themselves in schism not for dogmatic reasons, in accordance with the canonical prerogatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to receive such petitions by hierarchs and other clergy of all the autocephalous Churches. Thus, the above mentioned have been canonically reinstated to their hierarchical or priestly rank, and their faithful have been restored to communion with the Church;

Fourth, to revoke the legal binding of the Synodal letter of the year 1686, issued for the circumstances of that time, which granted the right through economia to the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev elected by the clergy-laity assembly of his eparchy, who would commemorate the Ecumenical Patriarch as the first hierarch at any celebration, proclaiming and affirming his canonical dependence to the Mother Church of Constantinople;

Fifth, to appeal to all sides involved that they avoid appropriation of churches, monasteries, and other properties as well as every other act of violence and retaliation so that he peace and love of Christ may prevail.”

There are a few things that must be said about what this declaration is not before we get to the matter of what the points of actually are. The point of reference is the strict letter of the text above itself.

  • This is not a granting of autocephaly (full independent self-rule status) like the fourteen universally canonical Orthodox jurisdictions in the world. However, it is a huge step towards this status.
  • As far as Constantinople is concerned, Filaret Denisenko, the leader and “Patriarch” of the “Kyiv Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church” and Makary, the “Metropolitan” of the “Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church”, and all their faithful are now restored to communion. The statement says that this applies to “The Church” which may be trying to state that these two men (and all the faithful that they lead), are now in communion with the entirety of canonical Orthodoxy, but more likely, this may be a carefully worded statement to say they now are in communion with Constantinople alone.
  • There is an official call for the cessation of the violence directed against the Moscow Patriarchate parishes and communities, who are the only canonically recognized Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and who are also the largest by far in that country. The Kyiv Patriarchate and Uniate (Roman oriented) Greek Catholics in Ukraine have gone on record for seizing MP church properties, often by force, with neo-Nazi sympathizers and other radical Ukrainian nationalists. So this official call to cease the violence is now a matter of public record.

However, the reaction has been far less civil than the clergy wished for.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko: “Expressing his view of the Moscow Patriarchate, Poroshenko added, “This is a great victory of the God-loving Ukrainian people over the Moscow demons, the victory of Good over Evil, the victory of Light over Darkness.”’

Perhaps this is the reason Metropolitan Onuphry of Ukraine (exarch under the Moscow Patriarchate) has been labeled an enemy of Ukraine and is now receiving death threats. Very civil.

Poroshenko’s statement is all the more bizarre, considering that it has been Ukrainian ultra-nationalists that have been violently attacking Moscow – related parishes in Ukraine. This has been corroborated by news sources eager to pin the blame on Russia, such as the U.K. Guardian.

The Union of Orthodox Journalists, based in Kiev and supportive of the Moscow Patriarchate, has been under intense cyber attack since October 11th, when the EP’s announcement was issued.

Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) Chancellor, Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil and Brovary: “What happened at the Synod in Istanbul yesterday shocked the entire Orthodox world. It seems the Patriarchate of Constantinople is consciously embarking on a path of schism in world Orthodoxy. Patriarch Bartholomew ignored the calls of the Local Churches to convene a meeting of the primates to work out a common and conciliar solution to the Ukrainian Church issue and unilaterally made very serious but erroneous decisions. I hope the Orthodox world will give this action an objective evaluation… Having received the schismatics into communion, Patriarch Bartholomew did not make them canonical, but has himself embarked on the path of schism. The schismatics remain schismatics. They did not receive any autocephaly or tomos. It seems they have lost even that independence, although non-canonical, that they had and which they always emphasized.”

Metropolitan Rostislav of the Czech Lands and Slovakia:“The Orthodox world recognizes the only canonical primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church—His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine. This fact was repeatedly mentioned and confirmed by the primate of the Great Church of Christ His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on behalf of all present at the Synaxis of the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches that was held in Chambésy (Switzerland) from January 21 to 27, 2016. Therefore, any attempt to legalize the Ukrainian schismatics by the state authorities should be strongly condemned by all the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches.

Patriarch Irinej of Serbia wrote two letters to the Ecumenical Patriarch, advocating that the provision of a new autocephaly is possible only with the consent of all local Orthodox Churches. According to Sedmitza.ru (Translation by Pravoslavie.ru),

“In these letters, it was very clearly stated that the granting of autocephaly cannot be the prerogative the Patriarchate of Constantinople alone, that new autocephalies must be created only with the consent of all the Local Orthodox Churches, as the Holy Synod of Antioch also said in its recent statement.”

Pat. Irinej also warned the Patriarchate of Constantinople against making such major decisions unilaterally, because “it will not bring harmony and peace to the Ukrainian land, but, on the contrary, will cause new divisions and new schisms.”

The Holy Synod of Antioch, the oldest Orthodox Church, and actually the very first place where the disciples of Christ were even called “Christians” weighed in on the issue as well and they had several things to say:

“The fathers examined the general Orthodox situation. They stressed that the Church of Antioch expresses her deep worries about the attempts to change the boundaries of the Orthodox Churches through a new reading of history. She considers that resorting to a unilateral reading of history does not serve Orthodox unity. It rather contributes to the fueling of the dissensions and quarrels within the one Church. Thus, the Church of Antioch refuses the principle of establishing parallel jurisdictions within the canonical boundaries of the Patriarchates and the autocephalous Churches as a way to solve conflicts, or as a de facto situation in the Orthodox world.

To summarize, this move by Constantinople is not being warmly received by many, many people. Most of the local Churches are on record giving their reaction to this process. In brief, here is the list most of the Local Churches and a one or two word summary of their reactions.

Patriarchate of Georgia: Unilateral action is wrong; Constantinople and Moscow must cooperate and find a solution together.

Patriarchate of Jerusalem: recognizes Ukraine as a canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church alone, as do all other local Churches

Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa: The Church does not bow to politicians. Moscow-led church is the only canonical Church in Ukraine.

Archbishop of Cyprus: Decries the Ukrainian situation but offered to mediate a discussion between Moscow and Constantinople

Bulgarian Patriarchate: Interference of the State in Church affairs leads to serious and negative consequences for both.

Polish Orthodox Church: Metropolitan Sawa called for a council of Orthodox ruling hierarchs to discuss this situation.

Estonian Orthodox Church: Condemns Constantinople’s actions in Ukraine.

Greek Archdiocese of America: Supports Constantinople’s actions in Ukraine.

The Orthodox Church of Greece (Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus quoted): “Schismatics, as we know, are not the Church, and communion with them is forbidden by the Divine and holy canons and the Apostolic and Ecumenical Councils. Why then this persistence of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in recognizing schismatics as an autocephalous Church? To provoke schisms and divisions in the one universal and Apostolic Church of Christ?”

Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR): Ceased commemoration of Constantinople, ceased concelebration with Constantinople.

This issue has also rocked the secular geopolitical world.

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S-300 vs. F-35: Stealth and Invincible Are Not Exactly Synonyms

Israel’s high-end F-35I Adir aircraft will be checkmated by this Russian-made, state-of-the-art air-defense system.

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Authored by Andrei Akulov via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


How effective is the S-300 PMU-2 “Favorit” that Russia has just delivered to Syria? Especially when employed against the F-35 stealth fighters that Israel intends to make more use of when attacking targets in Syria? Who has the edge? This is truly a hot topic for the press right now. It would be better, of course, to avoid the military hostilities and leave this as a theoretical, unanswered question, because no definite answer is possible until a real shootout takes place. Stealth technology includes both active and passive measures that reduce visibility and the chance of detection. Some of those are classified, as are the specifications and capabilities of the S-300. This makes it much more complicated to offer predictions or conclusions. But the known facts can be considered impartially and objectively.

Israeli officials play down the significance of the shipment of the S-300 to Syrian government forces. “The operational abilities of the air force are such that those (S-300) batteries really do not constrain the air force’s abilities to act,” said Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s regional cooperation minister. “You know that we have stealth fighters, the best planes in the world. These batteries are not even able to detect them.” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in April that “if anyone attacks us, we will retaliate, regardless of S-300, S-700 or any anything else’s presence there”. The Pentagon has also cast doubt on the S-300’s effectiveness.

Let’s give the devil his due. The F-35 is a fine example of low observable aircraft with extraordinary capabilities. It’s a formidable weapon, but so is the S-300. If the worst happens, Israel’s high-end F-35I Adir aircraft will be checkmated by this Russian-made, state-of-the-art air-defense system.

A stealth aircraft is not invincible. It has its strengths and weaknesses. In Syria, Israeli F-35s will be up against a tight, integrated air-defense network with multiple radars trying to detect and track the target from different directions.

Excessive use of stealth technology restricts the combat capabilities of an aircraft like the F-35. A plane based on stealth technology does not perform exceptionally well in combat. It cannot carry many weapons because everything is hidden inside the body. Its ability to remain invisible is reduced as soon as the radar is turned on. Low frequencies can detect a stealth aircraft. A bomb bay that has been opened to launch weapons will also give the plane away.

The S-300’s 48N6E2 missiles boast single-shot kill probability of 80% to 93% for an aerial target, 40% to 85% for cruise missiles. and 50% to 77% for theater ballistic missiles. The Russian system uses the 96L6 all-altitude detector and acquisition radar, which works in L-band. It has a 300 km range and enhanced resolution. The S-300 PMU-2 version can detect and track 100 targets. The radar is said to be able to detect stealth targets.

Large wavelength radiations are reflected by “invisible” aircraft. Radar that operates in the VHF, UHF, L and S bands can detect and even track the F-35 without transmitting weapons-quality track. It is true that no accurate targeting is possible, but at least you can tell where the plane is.

The S-300’s vertically launched missiles can be re-targeted during flight. The explosion is so powerful that no kinetic kill is needed. Multiple killing elements will strike targets throughout the vicinity.

The IAF F-35s still need to be integrated with other assets in order to enhance their chances of carrying out missions. Just to be on the safe side, they will probably be escorted by electronic warfare aircraft, which are not stealth, thus giving away their position and providing the enemy with enough time to take countermeasures. Israel has only 12 F-35s, with 50 more arriving by 2024. The price tag for each is about $100 million. It’ll be a long time before they are in place and integrated into the Air Force. And twelve are simply not enough.

Besides, the aircraft still needs to be upgraded with the full operational capability of Block 3F and subsequent Block 4 software and hardware configurations.

Once the S-300s are operational, all other Israeli non-stealth planes will face huge risks any time they fly an offensive mission into Syria. It should also be taken into account that Russia will jam the radar, navigation, and communications systems on any aircraft attacking targets in Syria via the Mediterranean Sea, as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu warned on Sept. 24, 2018.

Israel boasts a broad repertoire of standoff weapons, along with highly advanced electronic warfare systems and enhanced cyber capabilities. It also has very experienced and well trained personnel. Nevertheless, the S-300 in Syria is a deterrent to be reckoned with. Hopefully, the peace process in that war-torn country will move forward and there will be no escalation to provoke an S-300 vs. F-35 fight.

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Stephen Cohen calmly DISMANTLES establishment lackeys in debate on Russia (VIDEO)

In New York City on September 20, 2018, the Intelligence Squared hosted a debate of critical importance in helping one understand much of what we are currently seeing on the global scene.

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Via Strategic Culture

The debate developed along three main questions. The first was on the role of NATO (“NATO is no longer fit for purpose”), the second was about Russia (“The Russian threat is overblown”), and the third was on Iran (“It’s time to take a hard line on Iran”).

To discuss these important issues, five very special guests were invited, namely: Derek Chollet, Executive Vice President of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and former US Assistant Secretary of Defense; Stephen F. Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies and History, New York University; Reuel Marc Gerecht, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former CIA Analyst; John J. Mearsheimer, American Political Scientist & Professor at the University of Chicago; and Kori Schake, Deputy Director-General at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Looking at the panel, one immediately notices how Cohen and Mearsheimer were invited to bring a realist point of view to the discussion, as opposed to the other three who have an interventionist view of American foreign policy, viewing the United States as the indispensable nation. Cohen and Mearsheimer have worked for years, if not decades, to explain to American and international audiences how Washington’s hegemonic policies have accelerated the end of the US unipolar moment as well as spawned chaos around the world.

Cohen, and especially Mearsheimer, are pure realists. Without going into the merits of the differences between offensive realism, defensive realism and offshore balancers, they both have a coherent vision of why American actions have provoked the results we have seen around the world since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

For those who follow Cohen and Mearsheimer and see themselves as realists when observing international relations, watching this debate was painful and frustrating, but also immensely useful for understanding today’s divisions. In fact, the other three panelists must be carefully analyzed. Derek Chollet is part of the neoliberal camp, having served in the Obama administration.

Chollet finds himself amongst the field of the imperialists who, following the debacle in Iraq in 2003, opted to subvert sovereign countries using a different set of methodologies, namely, coups d’état organized through such things as color revolutions and the so-called Arab Spring. In the name of spreading democracy, countries like Libya, Ukraine and Syria have suffered unspeakable devastation at the hands of the US and her allies.

In order to represent the full spectrum of US foreign policy, former CIA agent Reuel Marc Gerecht was brought in as a hardliner, repeating the type of neo-conservative arguments reminiscent of the Bush era. Kori Schake, a former adviser to G.W. Bush, completed the lethal neocon-neoliberal offering, representing the position of NATO and the most Russophobic and Iranophobic countries in Europe.

Looking at these guests and at the questions asked, it was obvious that positions that were diametrically opposed would emerge. Cohen and Mearsheimer argued practically in symbiosis, with slightly different perspectives but coming to the same conclusion. The United States, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, found itself the sole superpower facing no direct adversaries.

Washington’s subsequent mission was to remake the world in its own image and likeness, exporting democracy to the four corners of the world and attacking its geopolitical adversaries with soft or hard power. But this course of action, ironically, only served to accelerate the end of this unipolar moment.

Mearsheimer and Cohen tried to reiterate in their every answer how Washington has only managed to damage itself through its own foolish thinking and actions. Regarding the first question concerning NATO, both Mearsheimer and Cohen emphasized that NATO’s eastward expansion following the end of the Cold War was the main cause of instability in Europe.

The three neoliberal-neocons — who for the sake of convenience I will now call “the imperialists” — responded that it was in fact the European countries who demanded America’s presence in Europe for the purposes of protecting them against Russia.

The three imperialists brushed off or ignored Mearsheimer’s simple and straightforward riposte, borrowed from Obama and Trump’s election campaigns, that the European allies only wanted the US in Europe in order to avoid increasing their own military spending. Having apparently not heard what Mearsheimer said, the three insisted that as long as Poland and the Baltic countries demanded a US presence, Washington was obliged to respond. It was also frustrating for Cohen to explain, for the umpteenth time, how NATO’s advance towards Russia’s borders damaged relations between Russia and the US, two countries he believes should be global allies on multiple fronts.

Mearsheimer even urged the three imperialists to think of the Monroe doctrine and of how intolerable it would be for the US to have a foreign power plant itself militarily in the western hemisphere. He also recalled the Cuban missile crisis, brought on by the USSR’s military proximity to the US.

Unfortunately, the three imperialists, even when painted into a corner by Cohen and Mearsheimer’s arguments, simply ignored or glossed over them. The most aggressive imperialist of all was, unsurprisingly, the former CIA agent, who pushed the arrogant line that America’s presence in Europe is necessary not only to keep Russia at bay, but also to prevent the Europeans from descending into a Hobbesian state of nature and tearing each other apart, as happened in two world wars.

Not surprisingly, the arguments used by the former CIA agent regarding NATO in Europe received the full accord of Kori Schake and Derek Chollet. Cohen’s reminder to those present that the coup in Ukraine was organized and financed by the West was dismissed as false and ridiculous. Derek Chollet averred: “the manifestations of the Maidan were spontaneous, invoking a greater proximity to Europe in the face of a dictator in the hands of Moscow.”

The second question was related to the first, discussing Russia and its role in the world. Once again, both Cohen and Mearsheimer had to summon all their patience and explain to the general public how Putin has always acted in reaction to Western provocations. NATO’s eastward expansion (in spite of Bush’s verbal promise to Gorbachev not to extend NATO beyond Germany) was the cause of the war in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine in 2014.

Of course the three imperialists denied these arguments, accusing Putin of unprovoked aggression, confirming in their mind why the US presence in Europe is needed to oppose Russia as a negative actor on the international scene. Not even Mearsheimer’s echoing of Kissinger’s strategy to divide Russia and China convinced those present that the aggressive attitude towards Moscow and Beijing was only damaging the United States, accelerating the end of the unipolar moment and forging the birth of a multipolar reality that will leave Washington isolated from the other great powers.

The three imperialists affirmed that the cooperation between Russia, China and Iran should not be surprising since dictators always confederate with each other; and besides, they say, this situation should not scare the United States, as it has the capacity to deal with multiple fronts simultaneously.

Fortunately, Cohen’s words, recalling the disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya put paid to such delusional optimism, provoking laughter from the audience. Such moments served to highlight how ridiculous the imperialist arguments are. Two or three such arguments were enough to open the eyes of audience members who may not have been familiar with opposing arguments to the ones presented by the imperialists.

Two such instructive moments stand out. The first was in response to the former CIA agent, who called for a coup d’état in Iran, stating that the United States knows how to conduct these successfully. But Mearsheimer’s rejoinder, recalling the failures in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan, provoked loud applause from the audience. Mearsheimer reminded how these arguments were employed by Obama and Trump during their election campaigns to win office.

The second moment, even more effective, concerned Iran. In response to Kori Schake, who argued for greater pressure on Iran because of its alleged interference in the region in a bid to expand its influence in many neighboring countries (Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen), Mearsheimer pointed out the staggering level of hypocrisy involved, where the United States of America is the world champion of regime change and interference in the internal affairs of other countries. The strong applause that followed testified to the incontestable truth of this observation.

Unfortunately, the debate ended with most of the audience continuing to believe that NATO is of fundamental importance, Russia is an evil actor, and the US needs to place more pressure on Iran. The number of people who changed their minds before and after the debate was important (Mearsheimer and Cohen changed the attitudes of about 10% of those present regarding the first two questions) but still marginal compared to the total.

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As an online spectator, I experienced different feelings. My main frustration lay in the David-and-Goliath nature of the debate, with the arguments of Cohen and Mearsheimer contending against all the accumulated lies of the mainstream media, amplified and repeated by the three imperialists present.

The public was certainly more accustomed to hearing the imperialists’ arguments; Cohen and Mearsheimer hardly had sufficient time to overcome the audience’s conditioning. Yet a part of the public present completely changed its mind following the debate. Some people entered the hall with the conviction that NATO was indispensable and Russia aggressive, but ended up leaving with the belief that NATO is now obsolete and that Russia is not the aggressor here.

What then emerges from this whole debate is the obvious conclusion that Mearsheimer and Cohen are two formidable minds unafraid to confront, dismantle and destroy the received wisdom. Being informed is a fundamental part of our lives today. Without being properly informed we are not properly equipped to vote and elect our representatives. We are thus unable to properly shape and determine the course of events in our putative democracies.

This debate has shown how disconnected the US imperialist world is from the real world, and especially how much damage this neocon-neoliberal way of thinking has actually done, ironically succeeding in producing results opposite to those sought, only serving to accelerate the end of America’s domination over the world. As information spreads and reaches more and more people, there will be an increasing understanding of the disastrous actions of the Euro-American establishment.

Cohen and Mearsheimer are acting in service of their country, warning that the direction in which the United States is headed will only have deleterious consequences for the country’s role in the world.

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