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Discussing America with Russians over a cup of tea

The geopolitical surprises just seem to keep coming

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Accusations, posturing and hysterical finger pointing is oddly the weird new normal in our world. It reminds me of an old market truism – ‘buy the rumors, sell the facts’. Amplified by continued demonization of all things Russian, including their newly re-elected president, I was curious to get current views here on the ground among connected influential Russians and just share them.

I called and met many friends, business partners and contacts in Russia whom I have known for years, some in business, politics and some in government. The result of my informal chats over tea or coffee was largely as I had expected, though it may be of interest to those not living and working in Russia. I spoke with many people, I will just cover three otherwise this opinion piece would make Tolstoy’s War & Peace look like a leaflet.

Tatiana:

One friend whom I met and spoke with about the current state of affairs is involved in Russian politics, and a highly placed champion of what is known here as the “liberal opposition”. “I am depressed. For most of my life, America symbolized for me the virtues of openness, truth, unfettered objective press, constitutional law, showing the rights and obligations which allow a democracy to function well in the world, regardless of who is at the helm. It was the example set for other countries to follow. It was like a story from some distant mythical land of long ago, perhaps a Camelot, and just as illusory it seems to me now.

Russia is still a work in progress, a tremendous amount of vision, sweat and effort have and will continue to be spent in the re-birth of my country from the chaos of less than nothing 20-/+ years ago. There is much that we have done that is successful, that we all are proud of, and we are the first to see what still has to be done – corruption, special interests, in short everything the rest of the nations on this planet also have to deal with in their own ways and in their own particular contexts.

We are not perfect, we know this well, but we will raise up our country in spite of any difficulties or pressures. There is a basic reality, we are Russian. We are not Americans or British or Germans, Italians, Turks, Japanese or Greeks. The several popularized brands of democracy that work in each of those nations is not what works for Russia in this time and space, it would be wrong, and forcing the issue will lead to failure. Russia is developing democratically, but in its own time and own terms – we have patience, and we will succeed eventually but not to the beat of any other nations drums or timelines.

It has taken a very painful period of soul searching for me to arrive at an undeniable truth, which was my degree of deep disenchantment. That the America I cherished is far from the ideal it has marketed to the world so well for decades. The strongest feeling I have is one of deep personal betrayal of both trust and faith. It was obvious back in the communist era that there was an ideological standoff, and that the American brand of democracy and the Soviet brand of communism were antithetical, oil and water, never to mix. It was Burger King versus Kotletki. This was an understandable state of affairs, and largely justified. There was an understanding that once the failed ideology of communism was off the table, and Russia turned to become an open market capitalist model with a developing political infrastructure, then there would no longer be any ideological conflict as our goals were largely the same as in the west.

Freedom to pray to whatever faith you ascribe to is deeply rooted nationwide, freedom to travel anywhere, freedom to make and spend your money as you wish, freedom to do business, freedom to responsibly and accountably protest or set out arguments for change can and are heard, freedom to vote or not to, and more. We have just had an election. Whatever others or I may wish for, it was indeed a democratic election without pressure. True, we all knew who would win, and the vast majority of our people are pleased with the win and supportive of the result.

That is the bottom line – the vast majority voted for,appreciate and do support this president. They do so in this time and place that demands consistency and follow-through, and while he may be the only realistic show in town today, he has proven himself capable and with the right intentions for the country’s internal interests. Eventually we may become an “either/or” country like America, but for now continuity and stability are preferable to experimentation and potential chaos – for we have seen both many times in our past. I can only imagine if we had an election hangover like the Trump/Clinton election paralyzing and dividing our country for more than a year after – no thank you.

Now it is apparent to me that the acceptance of Russia as a sovereign nation by the group of ‘free’ nations led by the US is wholly contingent on Russia accepting a subservient role, politically, economically and culturally. To my way of thinking, a sovereign nation has the power to do everything necessary to govern itself, such as making, executing, and applying its own laws; imposing and collecting taxes fairly; making war and peace as needed; and forming treaties or engaging in commerce with foreign nations. One example, for instance is the United States of America, which enjoys such status. I cannot say the same for many of the member nations within the EU construct, or the EU itself, even the UK, but that is their business and certainly not ours to tinker with, disparage or try to change. Russia is not exporting its views or waging any idealogical marketing campaigns, or evangelizing on how other nations should live their lives. Our priorities are first of all Russia, and keeping to our commitments with friends and allies, it’s as simple as that.

When I travel to America and several European countries, especially these past 5 years I return home almost speechless at the degree of orchestrated misunderstanding that has poisoned public perception through western media and politicians against Russia. The facts simply do not hold water if they ever are examined dispassionately.

Throughout it all I have tried to see things from a western perspective, I have gone to great lengths speaking with friends in many countries, most of whom are as shocked as I am at the positions taken in the west. I have seen disinformation and felt its claws throughout my youth in those communist times, but it pales compared to the media assault directed against my country today by the paragons of all that is supposedly free, correct and ethical. Perhaps having had the privilege to grow up and live inside such initially democratic systems, it makes it easier to disregard and make a parody of what made them special, or am I mistaken?

To my way of thinking and most Russians, being free and independent means not having to parrot the ideas of anyone, both as sovereign individuals or as a sovereign nation, it is as simple as that. Thinking and acting in the best interests of yourself, your family, town, and country. One of the many principles I have always respected that are embodied in the US constitution was that people were not to be pre-judged, they were accepted as being innocent until and unless proven guilty in an independent court of law. Those values have certainly been trashed at least on the international political and diplomatic front in the US, UK and Brussels. There is no dissonance in goals or values between Russia and the western world, this confrontation has been manufactured and marketed worldwide by the land of the free and home of the bravely exceptional, but to what democratic purpose if any? And why should it be at all when our peoples visions and values mostly correspond?”

Alexander:

A successful influential CEO who heads an international Russian based resources holding company. Much of what was said earlier were also part of Alex’s views, but his emphasis was trade and financial. “Conspiracies are usually nonsense, like the secret more than one person knows – it does not remain secret for long. That being said, something discordant is afoot in our world and the root causes of just about anything political or economic leads to, or is led by money. Today, and for the last 70+ years since Bretton Woods global money was the US Dollar. Since Nixon delinked gold from the dollar, and the simultaneous creation then of Petro Dollars, Euro Dollars and so forth, the breadth and depth of US Dollar domination in our world just kept growing. The global financial and trading system is dominated by the dollar, and by virtue of that domination, it has also become for lack of a more appropriate description – weaponized. It is a constantly threatening stick whether you eat of the carrot or not… not very democratic.

The other side of the dollar is the inconvenient and massive debt pegged to that fiat currency throughout the world. This debt mainly finances the USA’s ability to project its sometimes peculiar brand of PC behavior, subsidized and financed by countries having little recourse other than to buy US bonds supporting such policies. It has come to the point that if you are well entrenched in dealing with only the US dollar, you must accept and accede to whatever behavior modification program Washington demands of you, or else go cold turkey for your dollar fix.

The EU and UK and several other allied to the US nations are a case in point – no serious discussion, no objective analysis, not much real professional diplomacy, and almost no respect for cultures whatsoever. It is sort of like the attitudes and Pavolvian abuse I used to get when simply enjoying a cigarette after class at Stanford on the quad…it isn’t forbidden, but you are regarded as a serial killer. Oh well, it is California, even by US standards they are off the wall.

George W. Bush once said ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’, well that pretty much could have been uttered today in DC as well. Let us remember the famous seemingly eternal Jackson–Vanik amendment to the Trade Act of 1974. It was originally intended to affect U.S. trade relations with countries of the Communist bloc that restrict freedom of emigration and other human rights. It remained in place and pressuring Russia long after communism was replaced by capitalism. When finally it was lifted in 2012 it was immediately substituted by the Magnitsky Act which is an example of unfounded and unproven rumor becoming legislation. Therefore, the stick remains in play regardless of anything, especially proof, only the word of a carpetbagger like Browder and his Hermitage with whom I am very familiar, hence incredulous. When Crimea re-joined Russia in 2014, even more trade limitations were introduced despite the reality that the majority of the population of Crimea yearned and voted to rejoin Russia, hence sanctions, even more sticks in our country’s wheels. It interested me to look into how many sanctions programs the United States has going today, the list is impressive and I even have it saved here on my iPhone, I’ll post it to you (he did, and here it is):

Active current US Sanctions Programs and date of inception: Balkans-Related Sanctions 02/03/2017, Belarus Sanctions 10/24/2017, Burundi Sanctions  06/02/2016, Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 (CAATSA) 03/15/2018, Central African Republic Sanctions  12/13/2017, Counter Narcotics Trafficking Sanctions 03/06/2018, Counter Terrorism Sanctions 03/22/2018, Cuba Sanctions  02/09/2018, Cyber-related Sanctions 03/23/2018, Democratic Republic of the Congo-Related Sanctions 02/05/2018, Global Magnitsky Sanctions 12/21/2017, Iran Sanctions 01/12/2018, Iraq-Related Sanctions  12/27/2017, Lebanon-Related Sanctions 07/30/2010, Libya Sanctions 02/26/2018, Magnitsky Sanctions 12/20/2017, Non-Proliferation Sanctions 01/12/2018, North Korea Sanctions 03/01/2018, Rough Diamond Trade Controls 05/21/2008, Somalia Sanctions 07/05/2012, Sudan and Darfur Sanctions  10/12/2017, South Sudan-related Sanctions 09/06/2017, Syria Sanctions 06/21/2017, Transnational Criminal Organizations  01/30/2018, Ukraine-/Russia-Related Sanctions  03/15/2018, Venezuela-Related Sanctions 03/19/2018, Yemen-Related Sanctions 04/14/2015, Zimbabwe Sanctions.

Many sanctions. Yet how many of them are in reality broadly supported in the international arena? How many countries levy such controls over free trade to themselves influence America’s unilateral actions? We have not yet come to treaties and tariffs, the stuff of open trade or conversely trade wars. The United States has a number of treaties and agreements in place, I will also post them to you (he did so again):

Andean Community (1969), ASEAN–Australia–New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA) – 2010, ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) 1992, Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA) 1975, Central American Integration System (SICA) 1993, Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) 1992, Commonwealth of Independent States Free Trade Area (CISFTA) 2011, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) 1994, G-3 Free Trade Agreement 1995, Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA) 1997, Dominican Republic–Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) 2004, East African Community (EAC) 2005, European Economic Area (EEA; European Union–Norway–Iceland–Liechtenstein) 1994, European Union Customs Union (EUCU; European Union–Turkey–Monaco–San Marino–Andorra) 1958, European Free Trade Association (EFTA) 1960, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) 1981, International Grains Agreement 1995, North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 1994, Pacific Alliance Free Trade Area (PAFTA) 2012, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP = ASEAN plus 6), South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) 2004, Southern African Development Community Free Trade Area (SADCFTA) 1980, Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) 1991.

With such negotiated agreements and treaties in place, I am surprised that just recently the new administration in the US has declared that it shall unilaterally cancel, and then renegotiate many of them, notably NAFTA, and ASEAN that are making the news now.

This trend is extending beyond just trade. The number of international agreements have given birth to “judicial” or “legislative” bodies that have come to interpret and expand obligations well beyond what was set out in the underlying treaties, placing them beyond the effective control of domestic or international institutions. This trend has and does raise fears among nations that they will continue to see their sovereign authority erode, a sacrifice to populist political bluster and being force fed economic programs that may not be congruent with their own county’s needs or interests.

My pet theory is that some of the treaties the US is threatening to cancel will in fact be only very gently amended, but in exchange for this generosity, the US will expect a quid pro quo broad coalition of those same nations to stand behind its very specific tariff and trade war with China. Similarly as many members of the EU have been pressured to support the (probably) eternal sanctions against Russia. This at a time when America’s dominance in the Southeast Asian region is increasingly fragile, and likely to erode further without such broad backing – who knows, time will tell if my view has any weight.

What most if not all these free trade agreements have in common is that the US Dollar one way or another is the transferring medium. That in itself is not such a bad thing, but it is a unipolar monopoly, this has implications especially if like any reasonable businessman you want to diversify your risk exposure to something other than the fiat dollar, Euro, or Yen. This then leaves the Yuan as the last reserve currency in the basket, and this leads to another stink that also affects my Russia as we are neighbors, and that is the trade position US administration is now taking with China. A decision was made just this week unilaterally impose significant tariffs on imports from China, which is another stick on the back of the US rule-based global trading system camel. The sum by today’s standards is not much, only 60 billion US dollars, but it will have wide consequences, unintended or not.

I do a lot of good business with China, and aside from the numbers of business, there is a very important factor of ‘face’. It is of consequence, and it matters. It should not be taken lightly and should never be dismissed. Therefore, we will probably witness an escalating trade war between the US and China as well since Washington is pressing China to reduce its 375-billion-dollar trade surplus with the United States by 100 billion dollars as soon as possible. I often ask myself – who agreed and allowed such a trade imbalance in the first place? I am concerned that these sanctions and trade battles will undermine multilateral trading systems and destabilize the global economy that has apparently just started to recover from the US originated globally dollarized financial crisis 10 years ago.

The geopolitical surprises just seem to keep coming, as if it were not enough to sanction Russia, and initiate a trade war with China, there is the very real possibility in the coming days that the US will try to re-impose sanctions on Iran. This can only increase already high tensions between the two countries and the entire middle eastern region, but that is a whole epic by itself. As my Rabbi says – you will reap what you sow – that is the truth, we wait for the shoe to drop.

On Monday March 26th, China activated their Yuan denominated oil futures contract with gold convertibility (As it turned out, around 12 million barrels of Shanghai’s most-active September contract changed hands in the first 55 minutes of trade, more than the most-active contract for Brent).

I have no doubt that Iran, and many others in the oil business will eventually see their way clear to using that exchange and avoid the strings of the US dollar. We in Russia are now preparing to sell $1 billion worth of yuan-denominated bonds in 2018, which will be a small supportive step for the yuan as it grows to be a significant global currency.

As concerns my company, we have positioned ourselves to trade our oil on the Shanghai exchange for Yuan-Gold. I do this because it is close to our disports, pipelines and customers, and makes diversified financial sense. Recently we have shifted our portfolio positions to reflect a much larger percentage in physical gold assets as we feel this will be key in the years to come. There is an extra plus too, I will sleep calmly at night knowing I am not contributing to the new 2018 US budget of $1.3 trillion in additional debt that will never be repaid with value!”

Michael:

The Skripal incident in Salisbury is just the latest dust up coming out of the UK/EU with accusations against Russia and Putin in particular. I decided to ask a man I have known for some time who is closely associated with the state security services. Michael’s reaction to this sad affair was rather emphatic, which in translation I have paraphrased: “What utter and complete rubbish. Yes, there are times when it may be judged in the interests of any nation, even the US, UK or the gaggle that is the EU to take extreme measures such as an ordered killing. Such cases truth be told are extremely rare and extreme. If they were then carried out, it would be planned and done with care without complexity, publicity or drama. In watching the news and listening to what the political leaders in the UK and now even the EU are saying it just beggars belief.

First, if a WMD such as Novichok or any VX were used I assure you that Mr. Skripal and his daughter would not be alive today in an ICU, nor would any first responders who arrived without NBC or similar Hazmat shielded body protection, or the photographers snapping close-up pictures of the place. In short, there would be quite a number of tragic deaths. This is as fishy as the “white helmets” in Syria working without Hazmat protection in areas where supposedly Sarin was deployed against people – it cannot happen without themselves being counted among the dead, or at best thoroughly incapacitated.

Personally, I have never heard of that substance or anything similar being used in anything other than controlled military testing environments many years ago. Secondly, using a nerve agent like a Novichok in reality is simply impractical to use on an individual target, you would have to be nuts, suicidal or delusional to consider it. I do not doubt that somebody attempted to poison the man, but in my opinion, tasked professionals did not carry it out. If it were state sanctioned, I am personally certain such a folly did not come from Russia, now or ever. There are other players who need such melodrama far more than us to suit their worldviews or paint their perspectives.  Look, I know the bureaucracy of our security services, and this cluster-fuck would not have had any chance of consideration or approval – it is just that simple.

More likely, it was for a far more banal reason such as a local business or personal conflict, when such facts will no doubt reveal themselves clearly over time – then it will probably be relegated to some obscure column on the 10th page of a UK newspaper as an inconvenient truth. I cannot even speculate on what toxin was used, but it was not anything close to a military grade nerve agent.

I am not a little put out by what I call this new Twitter diplomacy, it makes noise and dances around issues but doesn’t do the job that must be done which is to sit down with counterparts and talk face to face. There seems to be a new PC stigma certainly in the US that must frighten politicians from meeting or speaking with Russians, it is absurd. That is the role of diplomacy, and that is the way to sorting out truth from lies. I am not aware of anything of value that happens without dialogue and Q&A which can only happen when people are willing to meet and sort things out. It is not Rocket Science after all.

As for the noise and accusations, I can only say that this reminds me of some Hollywood fantasy script. Vladimir Putin has been typecast by the west to be the embodiment of Le Chifre, Auric Goldfinger, Hugo Drax and Francisco Scaramanga all rolled into one, and Russia as a whole is cast as SPECTRE. This is all a ridiculously silly tragic diversion of everyone’s time and intellect, with very real and dangerous consequences, and to what purpose? It helps no-one, and all people shall ultimately lose with such undisciplined undiplomatic schizophrenia running amok.”

***

I have tried to faithfully capture the words, spirit and emotion of these talks; in any event, I hope it is of interest. Maybe I’ll cherry pick some other items in the future, but for now, this seems adequate.

 

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The real reason Western media & CIA turned against Saudi MBS

The problem with MBS isn’t that he is a mass murdering war criminal, it is that he is too “independent” for the United States’ liking.

RT

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Forces are aligning against Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, lead by elements within the CIA and strong players in the mainstream media. But what is really behind this deterioration in relationship, and what are its implications?

Following the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, western media and various entities, including the CIA, appear to have turned their back on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS). In response to the scandal, the Guardian released a video which its celebutante, Owen Jones, captioned“Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest threats on Earth. Time to stop propping up its repulsive regime.”

The Guardian was not alone in its condemnation. “It’s high time to end Saudi impunity,” wrote Hana Al-Khamri in Al-Jazeera. “It’s time for Saudi Arabia to tell the truth on Jamal Khashoggi,” the Washington Post’s Editorial Board argued. Politico called it “the tragedy of Jamal Khashoggi.”

Even shadowy think-tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Atlantic Council released articles criticising Saudi Arabia in the wake of Khashoggi’s death.

A number of companies began backing away from Saudi money after the journalist’s death, including the world’s largest media companies such as the New York Times, the Economist’s editor-in-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes, Arianna Huffington, CNN, CNBC, the Financial Times, Bloomberg, Google Cloud CEO, just to name a few.

The CIA concluded that MBS personally ordered Khashoggi’s death, and was reportedly quite open in its provision of this assessment. Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the UN, also took time out of his schedule to express concern over Saudi Arabia’s confirmation of the killing.

At the time of the scandal, former CIA director John Brennan went on MSNBC to state that the Khashoggi’s death would be the downfall of MBS. Furthermore, the US Senate just voted in favour of ending American involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen (a somewhat symbolic victory, though this is a topic for another article), but nonetheless was a clear stab at MBS personally.

The only person who appeared to continue to uphold America’s unfaltering support for MBS, even after all the publicly made evidence against MBS, was the US president himself. So after years of bombarding Yemen, sponsoring terror groups across the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific and beyond, why is it only now that there has been mounting opposition to Saudi Arabia’s leadership? Let’s just bear in mind that western media had spent years investing in a heavy PR campaign to paint MBS as a “reformer.”

Former national security adviser under Barack Obama’s second term, Susan Rice, wrote an article in the New York Times, in which she called MBS a “partner we can’t depend on.” Rice concludes that MBS is “not and can no longer be viewed as a reliable partner of the United States and our allies.” But why is this? Is it because MBS is responsible for some of the most egregious human rights abuses inside his own kingdom as well as in Yemen? Is it because of MBS’ support for groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda? No, according to Rice, we “should not rupture our important relationship with the kingdom, but we must make it clear it cannot be business as usual so long as Prince Mohammad continues to wield unlimited power.”

One will observe that the latter segment of Rice’s article almost mirrors former CIA director Brennan’s word on MSNBC word for word who stated that:

“I think ultimately this is going to come out. And it’s very important for us to maintain the relations with Saudi Arabia. And if it’s Mohammed bin Salman who’s the cancer here, well, we need to be able to find ways to eliminate the cancer and to move forward with this relationship that is critical to regional stability and our national interests.”

In reality, this is probably the issue that western media and government advisors have taken up with MBS. Aside from the fact he allegedly held a huge hand in the brutal murder of one of their own establishment journalists (Saudi Arabia reportedly tortured and killed another journalist not long after Khashoggi, but western media was eerily silent on this incident) MBS is not opposed for his reckless disregard for human rights. With insight into Rice’s mindset, we actually learn that if the US were to punish MBS, he would be likely to “behave more irresponsibly to demonstrate his independence and exact retribution against his erstwhile Western partners.”

You see, the problem with MBS isn’t that he is a mass murdering war criminal, it is that he is too “independent” for the United States’ liking.

Last week, Saudi Arabia and the other major oil producers met in Vienna at the year’s final big OPEC meeting of the year. As Foreign Policy notes, Saudi Arabia remains the largest oil producer inside OPEC but has to contend with the US and Russia who are “pumping oil at record levels.” Together, the three countries are the world’s biggest oil producers, meaning any coordinated decision made between these three nations can be somewhat monumental.

However, it appears that one of these three nations will end up drawing the short end of the stick as the other two begin forming a closer alliance. As Foreign Policy explains:

“But Saudi Arabia has bigger game in mind at Vienna than just stabilizing oil prices. Recognizing that it can’t shape the global oil market by itself anymore but rather needs the cooperation of Russia, Saudi Arabia is hoping to formalize an ad hoc agreement between OPEC and Moscow that began in 2016, a time when dirt-cheap oil also posed a threat to oil-dependent regimes. That informal agreement expires at the end of the year, but the Saudis would like to make Russia’s participation with the cartel more permanent.”

Russian officials have been signalling their intention to formalise this agreement for quite some time now. Given the hysteria in western media about any and all things Russian, it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that this is the kind of news that is not sitting too well with the powers-that-be.

Earlier this year, Russia and Saudi Arabia announced that it would “institutionalize” the two-year-old bilateral agreement to coordinate oil production targets in order to maintain an edge on the global market.

While US president Trump has been supportive and incredibly defensive of MBS during this “crisis”, the truth is that the US only has itself to blame. It was not all too long ago that Trump announced that he had told Saudi King Salman that his kingdom would not last two weeks without US support.

Saudi Arabia is learning for themselves quite quickly that, ultimately, it may pay not to have all its eggs in one geopolitical superpower basket.

Saudi Arabia has been increasingly interested in Moscow since King Salman made a historic visit to Moscow in October 2017. While Trump has openly bragged about his record-breaking arms deals with the Saudis, the blunt truth is that the $110 billion arms agreements were reportedly only ever letters of interest or intent, but not actual contracts. As such, the US-Saudi arms deal is still yet to be locked in, all the while Saudi Arabia is negotiating with Russia for its S-400 air defence system. This is, as the Washington Post notes, despite repeated US requests to Saudi Arabia for it disavow its interest in Russia’s arms.

The economic threat that an “independent” Saudi Arabia under MBS’ leadership poses to Washington runs deeper than meets the eye and may indeed have a domino effect. According to CNN, Russia and Saudi Arabia “are engaged in an intense battle over who will be the top supplier to China, a major energy importer with an insatiable appetite for crude.”

The unveiling of China’s petro-yuan poses a major headache for Washington and its control over Saudi Arabia as well.According to Carl Weinberg, chief economist and managing director at High-Frequency Economics, China will “compel”Saudi Arabia to trade oil in Chinese yuan instead of US dollars. One must bear in mind that China has now surpassed the US as the “biggest oil importer on the planet,” these direct attacks on the US dollar will have huge implications for its current world reserve status.

If Saudi Arabia jumps on board China’s petro-yuan, the rest of OPEC will eventually follow, and the US might be left with no choice but to declare all of these countries in need of some vital freedom and democracy.

Therefore, ousting MBS and replacing him with a Crown Prince who doesn’t stray too far from the tree that is US imperialism may put a dent in pending relationships with Saudi Arabia and Washington’s adversaries, Russia and China.

Once we get over the certainty that the US media and the CIA are not against MBS for his long-list of human rights abuses, the question then becomes: why – why now, and in this manner, have they decided to put the spotlight on MBS and expose him exactly for what he is.

Clearly, the driving force behind this media outrage is a bit more complex than first meets the eye.

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Multipolar World Order in the Making: Qatar Dumps OPEC

Russia and Qatar’s global strategy also brings together and includes partners like Turkey.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The decision by Qatar to abandon OPEC threatens to redefine the global energy market, especially in light of Saudi Arabia’s growing difficulties and the growing influence of the Russian Federation in the OPEC+ mechanism.

In a surprising statement, Qatari energy minister Saad al-Kaabi warned OPEC on Monday December 3 that his country had sent all the necessary documentation to start the country’s withdrawal from the oil organization in January 2019. Al-Kaabi stressed that the decision had nothing to do with recent conflicts with Riyadh but was rather a strategic choice by Doha to focus on the production of LNG, which Qatar, together with the Russian Federation, is one of the largest global exporters of. Despite an annual oil extraction rate of only 1.8% of the total of OPEC countries (about 600,000 barrels a day), Qatar is one of the founding members of the organization and has always had a strong political influence on the governance of the organization. In a global context where international relations are entering a multipolar phase, things like cooperation and development become fundamental; so it should not surprise that Doha has decide to abandon OPEC. OPEC is one of the few unipolar organizations that no longer has a meaningful purpose in 2018, given the new realities governing international relations and the importance of the Russian Federation in the oil market.

Besides that, Saudi Arabia requires the organization to maintain a high level of oil production due to pressure coming from Washington to achieve a very low cost per barrel of oil. The US energy strategy targets Iranian and Russian revenue from oil exports, but it also aims to give the US a speedy economic boost. Trump often talks about the price of oil falling as his personal victory. The US imports about 10 million barrels of oil a day, which is why Trump wrongly believes that a decrease in the cost per barrel could favor a boost to the US economy. The economic reality shows a strong correlation between the price of oil and the financial growth of a country, with low prices of crude oil often synonymous of a slowing down in the economy.

It must be remembered that to keep oil prices low, OPEC countries are required to maintain a high rate of production, doubling the damage to themselves. Firstly, they take less income than expected and, secondly, they deplete their oil reserves to favor the strategy imposed by Saudi Arabia on OPEC to please the White House. It is clearly a strategy that for a country like Qatar (and perhaps Venezuela and Iran in the near future) makes little sense, given the diplomatic and commercial rupture with Riyadh stemming from tensions between the Gulf countries.

In contrast, the OPEC+ organization, which also includes other countries like the Russian Federation, Mexico and Kazakhstan, seems to now to determine oil and its cost per barrel. At the moment, OPEC and Russia have agreed to cut production by 1.2 million barrels per day, contradicting Trump’s desire for high oil output.

With this last choice Qatar sends a clear signal to the region and to traditional allies, moving to the side of OPEC+ and bringing its interests closer in line with those of the Russian Federation and its all-encompassing oil and gas strategy, two sectors in which Qatar and Russia dominate market share.

In addition, Russia and Qatar’s global strategy also brings together and includes partners like Turkey (a future energy hub connecting east and west as well as north and south) and Venezuela. In this sense, the meeting between Maduro and Erdogan seems to be a prelude to further reorganization of OPEC and its members.

The declining leadership role of Saudi Arabia in the oil and financial market goes hand in hand with the increase of power that countries like Qatar and Russia in the energy sectors are enjoying. The realignment of energy and finance signals the evident decline of the Israel-US-Saudi Arabia partnership. Not a day goes by without corruption scandals in Israel, accusations against the Saudis over Khashoggi or Yemen, and Trump’s unsuccessful strategies in the commercial, financial or energy arenas. The path this doomed

trio is taking will only procure less influence and power, isolating them more and more from their opponents and even historical allies.

Moscow, Beijing and New Delhi, the Eurasian powerhouses, seem to have every intention, as seen at the trilateral summit in Buenos Aires, of developing the ideal multipolar frameworks to avoid continued US dominance of the oil market through shale revenues or submissive allies as Saudi Arabia, even though the latest spike in production is a clear signal from Riyadh to the USA. In this sense, Qatar’s decision to abandon OPEC and start a complex and historical discussion with Moscow on LNG in the format of an enlarged OPEC marks the definitive decline of Saudi Arabia as a global energy power, to be replaced by Moscow and Doha as the main players in the energy market.

Qatar’s decision is, officially speaking, unconnected to the feud triggered by Saudi Arabia against the small emirate. However, it is evident that a host of factors has led to this historic decision. The unsuccessful military campaign in Yemen has weakened Saudi Arabia on all fronts, especially militarily and economically. The self-inflicted fall in the price of oil is rapidly consuming Saudi currency reserves, now at a new low of less than 500 billion dollars. Events related to Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) have de-legitimized the role of Riyadh in the world as a reliable diplomatic interlocutor. The internal and external repression by the Kingdom has provoked NGOs and governments like Canada’s to issue public rebukes that have done little to help MBS’s precarious position.

In Syria, the victory of Damascus and her allies has consolidated the role of Moscow in the region, increased Iranian influence, and brought Turkey and Qatar to the multipolar side, with Tehran and Moscow now the main players in the Middle East. In terms of military dominance, there has been a clear regional shift from Washington to Moscow; and from an energy perspective, Doha and Moscow are turning out to be the winners, with Riyadh once again on the losing side.

As long as the Saudi royal family continues to please Donald Trump, who is prone to catering to Israeli interests in the region, the situation of the Kingdom will only get worse. The latest agreement on oil production between Moscow and Riyad signals that someone in the Saudi royal family has probably figured this out.

Countries like Turkey, India, China, Russia and Iran understand the advantages of belonging to a multipolar world, thereby providing a collective geopolitical ballast that is mutually beneficial. The energy alignment between Qatar and the Russian Federation seems to support this general direction, a sort of G2 of LNG gas that will only strengthen the position of Moscow on the global chessboard, while guaranteeing a formidable military umbrella for Doha in case of a further worsening of relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

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Constantinople: Ukrainian Church leader is now uncanonical

October 12 letter proclaims Metropolitan Onuphry as uncanonical and tries to strong-arm him into acquiescing through bribery and force.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The pressure in Ukraine kept ratcheting up over the last few days, with a big revelation today that Patriarch Bartholomew now considers Metropolitan Onuphy “uncanonical.” This news was published on 6 December by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (running under the Moscow Patriarchate).

This assessment marks a complete 180-degree turn by the leader of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople, and it further embitters the split that has developed to quite a major row between this church’s leadership and the Moscow Patriarchate.

OrthoChristian reported this today (we have added emphasis):

A letter of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine was published yesterday by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in which the Patriarch informed the Metropolitan that his title and position is, in fact, uncanonical.

This assertion represents a negation of the position held by Pat. Bartholomew himself until April of this year, when the latest stage in the Ukrainian crisis began…

The same letter was independently published by the Greek news agency Romfea today as well.

It is dated October 12, meaning it was written just one day after Constantinople made its historic decision to rehabilitate the Ukrainian schismatics and rescind the 1686 document whereby the Kiev Metropolitanate was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, thereby, in Constantinople’s view, taking full control of Ukraine.

In the letter, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that after the council, currently scheduled for December 15, he will no longer be able to carry his current title of “Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine.”

The Patriarch immediately opens his letter with Constantinople’s newly-developed historical claim about the jurisdictional alignment of Kiev: “You know from history and from indisputable archival documents that the holy Metropolitanate of Kiev has always belonged to the jurisdiction of the Mother Church of Constantinople…”

Constantinople has done an about-face on its position regarding Ukraine in recent months, given that it had previously always recognized the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate as the sole canonical primate in Ukraine.

…The bulk of the Patriarch’s letter is a rehash of Constantinople’s historical and canonical arguments, which have already been laid out and discussed elsewhere. (See also here and here). Pat. Bartholomew also writes that Constantinople stepped into the Ukrainian ecclesiastical sphere as the Russian Church had not managed to overcome the schisms that have persisted for 30 years.

It should be noted that the schisms began and have persisted precisely as anti-Russian movements and thus the relevant groups refused to accept union with the Russian Church.

Continuing, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that his position and title are uncanonical:

Addressing you as ‘Your Eminence the Metropolitan of Kiev’ as a form of economia [indulgence/condescension—OC] and mercy, we inform you that after the elections for the primate of the Ukrainian Church by a body that will consist of clergy and laity, you will not be able ecclesiologically and canonically to bear the title of Metropolitan of Kiev, which, in any case, you now bear in violation of the described conditions of the official documents of 1686.

He also entreats Met. Onuphry to “promptly and in a spirit of harmony and unity” participate, with the other hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in the founding council of the new Ukrainian church that Constantinople is planning to create, and in the election of its primate.

The Constantinople head also writes that he “allows” Met. Onuphry to be a candidate for the position of primate.

He further implores Met. Onuphry and the UOC hierarchy to communicate with Philaret Denisenko, the former Metropolitan of Kiev, and Makary Maletich, the heads of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” and the schismatic “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” respectively—both of which have been subsumed into Constantinople—but whose canonical condemnations remain in force for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The hierarchs of the Serbian and Polish Churches have also officially rejected the rehabilitation of the Ukrainian schismatics.

Pat. Bartholomew concludes expressing his confidence that Met. Onuphry will decide to heal the schism through the creation of a new church in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Metropolitan Onuphry’s leadership is recognized as the sole canonical Orthodox jurisdiction in Ukraine by just about every other canonical Orthodox Jurisdiction besides Constantinople. Even NATO member Albania, whose expressed reaction was “both sides are wrong for recent actions” still does not accept the canonicity of the “restored hierarchs.”

In fact, about the only people in this dispute that seem to be in support of the “restored” hierarchs, Filaret and Makary, are President Poroshenko, Patriarch Bartholomew, Filaret and Makary… and NATO.

While this letter was released to the public eye yesterday, the nearly two months that Metropolitan Onuphry has had to comply with it have not been helped in any way by the actions of both the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Ukrainian government.

Priests of the Canonical Church in Ukraine awaiting interrogation by the State authorities

For example, in parallel reports released on December 6th, the government is reportedly accusing canonical priests in Ukraine of treason because they are carrying and distributing a brochure entitled (in English): The Ukrainian Orthodox Church: Relations with the State. The Attitude Towards the Conflict in Donbass and to the Church Schism. Questions and Answers.

In a manner that would do any American liberal proud, these priests are being accused of inciting religious hatred, though really all they are doing is offering an explanation for the situation in Ukraine as it exists.

A further piece also released yesterday notes that the Ukrainian government rehabilitated an old Soviet-style technique of performing “inspections of church artifacts” at the Pochaev Lavra. This move appears to be both intended to intimidate the monastics who are living there now, who are members of the canonical Church, as well as preparation for an expected forcible takeover by the new “united Church” that is under creation. The brotherhood characterized the inspections in this way:

The brotherhood of the Pochaev Lavra previously characterized the state’s actions as communist methods of putting pressure on the monastery and aimed at destroying monasticism.

Commenting on the situation with the Pochaev Lavra, His Eminence Archbishop Clement of Nizhyn and Prilusk, the head of the Ukrainian Church’s Information-Education Department, noted:

This is a formal raiding, because no reserve ever built the Pochaev Lavra, and no Ministry of Culture ever invested a single penny to restoring the Lavra, and the state has done nothing to preserve the Lavra in its modern form. The state destroyed the Lavra, turned it into a psychiatric hospital, a hospital for infectious diseases, and so on—the state has done nothing more. And now it just declares that it all belongs to the state. No one asked the Church, the people that built it. When did the Lavra and the land become state property? They belonged to the Church from time immemorial.

With the massive pressure both geopolitically and ecclesiastically building in Ukraine almost by the day, it is anyone’s guess what will happen next.

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