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NATO’s broken promises in Europe justify Russian concerns

Despite assurances it would not expand into Eastern Europe, the North Atlantic alliance did just that

Gordon Hahn

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(GordonHahn) – Some have tried to debunk the view that the West implicitly or explicitly promised Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not expand east after German reunification and dissolution of the Warsaw Pact (http://dialogueeurope.org/uploads/File/resources/TWQ%20article%20on%20Germany%20and%20NATO.pdfand http://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2014/11/06/did-nato-promise-not-to-enlarge-gorbachev-says-no/). These claims are misleading and obfuscate the historical record of at least a clear understanding, if not promise that there should be no NATO expansion eastward in any way, shape or form. At the very least the West made a implied commitment not to expand NATO east. It is more precise to say, however, that the West gave an explicit verbal, that is, unwritten guarantee not to expand NATO beyond a united Germany; something both sides understood. This broken promise or understanding and the expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders has led now to the misnamed ‘new cold war.’

One commentator, for example, argues there was no promise, claiming the discussions only touched on NATO deployments to the territory of what would become the former GDR after German reunification. But the writer obfuscates the meaning of a recent Gorbachev statement in making his claim. He quotes Gorbachev from an RBTH interview this way: “‘The topic of ‘NATO expansion’ was not discussed at all, and it wasn’t brought up in those years. … Another issue we brought up was discussed: making sure that NATO’s military structures would not advance and that additional armed forces would not be deployed on the territory of the then-GDR after German reunification. Baker’s statement was made in that context… Everything that could have been and needed to be done to solidify that political obligation was done. And fulfilled’” (www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2014/11/06/did-nato-promise-not-to-enlarge-gorbachev-says-no/ and http://www.rbth.com/international/2014/10/16/mikhail_gorbachev_i_am_against_all_walls_40673.html).

To be sure, Pifer acknowledges that Gorbachev also said that NATO’s expansion beyond Germany was “a violation of the spirit of the statements and assurances made to us in 1990” (www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2014/11/06/did-nato-promise-not-to-enlarge-gorbachev-says-no/ and http://www.rbth.com/international/2014/10/16/mikhail_gorbachev_i_am_against_all_walls_40673.html). The vagueness lies in the fact, as Gorbachev notes, that NATO expansion per se was never explicitly discussed. How can something that was not discussed be considered a violation of a trust when it later happens? Because it was assumed by all sides and implied by various Western statements that the West understood that USSR was opposed to NATO expanding to the former GDR’s territory, no less its expanding much farther east, and that per the 1990 discussions it was implicitly understood that NATO would not expanding to GDR territory or anywhere further east.

This becomes evident in reading a more precise rendering of the Baker-Gorbachev exchange than the one Pifer presents, and RBTH managed to get Gorbachev to expound on. In reality, new archival documents show that Baker said to Gorbachev: “Would you prefer to see a unified Germany outside of NATO, independent and with no U.S. forces, or would you prefer a unified Germany to be tied to NATO, with assurances that NATO’s jurisdiction would not shift one inch eastward from its present position?” As one author notes: “Baker’s phrasing of the second, more attractive option meant that NATO’s jurisdiction would not even extend to East Germany, since NATO’s ‘present position’ in February 1990 remained exactly where it had been throughout the Cold War: with its eastern edge on the line still dividing the two Germanies. In other words, a united Germany would be, de facto, half in and half out of the alliance. According to Baker, Gorbachev responded, ‘Certainly any extension of the zone of NATO would be unacceptable.’ This means that their discussion implied an assumption that the discussion was about any kind of expansion anywhere to the east, whether in Germany or elsewhere (https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/russia-fsu/2014-08-11/broken-promise). Other statements and discussions further suggest that the assumption was there should be no NATO expansion eastward in any way. That assumption means a tacit agreement was reached. 

An Assumed and Implied Promise Broken

At a minimum, the West certainly gave the impression during talks on Germany’s reunification in early 1990 that it was promising Moscow that NATO at the least for some time would not take in any new members besides reunified Germany or take advantage of the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact in any way. This approximates the position of then US Ambassador to Moscow Jack Matlock (http://jackmatlock.com/2014/04/nato-expansion-was-there-a-promise/). Western diplomats’ language in discussions with Soviet officials, moreover, resembled full-fledged promises not to expand NATO beyond Germany, and it is no surprise the Soviets perceived it that way. For all intents and purposes, there was a de facto promise not to expand NATO after united Germany’s incorporation into the Atlantic alliance. The sum of the discussions at the time makes this clear.

On 9 November 1990, for example, US Secretary of State James Baker told Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in the Kremlin’s St. Catherine Hall that NATO would not expand beyond reunified Germany “one inch in the eastern direction” if NATO even maintained its presence in Germany after reunification. He added: “We think that consultations and discussions within the framework of the mechanism ‘Two Plus Four’ should give a guarantee that the unification of Germany will not lead to the spreading of the military organization NATO to the East” (Yevgenii Primakov, Gody v Bolshoi Politike (Moscow: Sovershenno Sekretno, 1999), pp. 231-32 and Uwe Klussman, Matthias Schepp, and Klaus Wiegrefe, “NATO’s Eastward Expansion: Did the West Break Its Promise to Moscow?,” Der Spiegel, 26 November 2009, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/nato-s-eastward-expansion-did-the-west-break-its-promise-to-moscow-a-663315.html). Baker now claims he never made any such promise. However, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher’s chief of staff, Frank Elbe, has written that when he met with Baker on 2 February 1990, the two agreed that there was to be no NATO expansion to the East and this would be communicated to the Soviets to facilitate their acceptance of reunified Germany’s entrance into the alliance (Klussman, Schepp, and Wiegrefe, “NATO’s Easteward Expansion: Did the West Break Its Promise to Moscow?”). In his 1995 memoir, Gorbachev remembers Baker asking him: “Assuming that (German) reunification takes place, what is preferable for you: a united Germany outside NATO, fully independent without American troops, or a united Germany preserving ties to NATO but under a guarantee that NATO jurisdiction and troops will not spread to the east from today’s position.” Gorbachev says that although he did not commit to either of these at that time, “the latter part of Baker’s phrase became the nucleus of the formula on the basis of which compromise on Germany’s military-political status was later reached.” (Mikhail Gorbachev, Zhizni i reform, Kniga 2, Moscow, Novosti, 1995, p. 167).

According to declassified German documents, on 10 February 1990, FRG Foreign Minister Genscher told his Soviet counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze: “We are aware that NATO membership for a unified Germany raises complicated questions. For us, however, one thing is certain: NATO will not expand to the east” (James M. Goldgeier and Michael McFaul, Power and Purpose: U.S. Policy Toward Russia After the Cold War, Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution Press, 2003, pp. 184-5). Videos of Genscher’s and Baker’s 1990 statements to the press promising NATO would not expand beyond Germany are readily available (“Abmachung 1990: ‘Keine Osterweiterung der NATO’ – Aussenminister Gensher & Baker,” Antikrieg TV, 6 July 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXcWVTpQF3k). However, weeks later Baker was claiming he already was getting signals that “Central European countries wanted to join NATO,” to which Genscher responded that they “should not touch this at this point.” The exchange seems to suggest that at least Genscher did not necessarily see the commitment not to expand NATO as permanent or one encompassing the east outside the GDR (Klussman, Schepp, and Wiegrefe, “NATO’s Eastward Expansion: Did the West Break Its Promise to Moscow?”). Although some, perhaps all of these pledges came in discussions of a possible NATO expansion to the former GDR’s territory as part of the FRG after reunification, the assumption at the time was that expansion beyond the GDR was unthinkable. Since Western and Soviet leaders were agreeing that a unified Germany could join NATO, the promises not to expand to the east had to mean not to do so anywhere beyond the GDR.

In other discussions explicit pledges appear to have been made not to expand NATO beyond the GDR. In his memoir, the late former Russian Foreign Minister (January 1996 – September 1998), Prime Minister (September 1998 – September 1999), and perestroika-era Politburo and Presidential Council member Yevgenii Primakov quotes Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry archival documents from various meetings, showing Baker, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, British Prime Minister John Major, and French President Francois Mitterand all telling Gorbachev in February and March 1990 that former Soviet bloc countries of Eastern Europe would not become NATO members. In addition, British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd told Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh in March that there “were no plans” to expand NATO beyond united Germany (Primakov, Gody v Bolshoi Politike, pp. 231-33). Finally, in June 1991, NATO Secretary General Manfred Worner said publicly that granting NATO membership to former Warsaw Pact members “would be a serious obstacle to reaching mutual understanding with the Soviet Union” (TASS, June 16, 1991).” Thus, again, what seems clear is that there was at least a joint assumption and informal agreement that NATO would not expand to the east beyond the GDR.

Many Russians, including Primakov, would later harshly criticize Gorbachev with justification (and hindsight’s advantage) for failing to codify this in a signed agreement (Primakov, Gody v Bolshoi Politike, p. 233). Claiming this was possible, none of them can produce evidence they proposed this to Gorbachev or his inner circle. These were heady days of rapprochement and hopes for peace in a ‘common European home’ from Paris to Vladivostok. Some would say they were days of naivete` soon trumped by cynicism. In memoirs Gorbachev’s closest advisor, Georgii Shakhnazarov, lamented the Warsaw Pact’s dissolution without “achieving the liquidation of NATO.” He added: “This is just a question of time. One should not regret the end of the military blocs. They are Europe’s yesterday. In (Europe), security should, of course, be built on a rational, collective basis” (Georgii Shakhnazarov, Tsena Svobody: Reformatsiya Gorbacheva glazami ego pomoshnika, Moscow, Rissika-Zevs, 1993, p. 128).

With the decision made to expand without Russia, American hubris was communicated to Moscow in no uncertain terms by Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, whom President Barack Obama dubbed “one of the giants of American foreign policy” after the former’s passing in 2010 (Robert D. McFadden, “Strong American Voice in Diplomacy and Crisis,” New York Times, 13 December 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/14/world/14holbrooke.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0). At a Washington conference in 1997, Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Yuli Vorontsov reported how Holbrooke and other U.S. officials repeatedly and sometimes abruptly rejected queries regarding Russia’s possible entry into NATO: “When the decision was originally floated, I came to the State Department and had a long talk with the then assistant secretary of state, Mr. Holbrooke. I said, ‘Have you thought about Russia while you were putting forward this idea of enlargement of NATO?’ And his answer was very honest. He said, ‘No, not at all; you have nothing to do with that.’ ‘Aha,’ I said, ‘that is very interesting, and what about an invitation for Russia to join the enlarged NATO?’ He said, ‘Anybody but Russia! No’. That was a nice beginning of our conversations about enlargement of NATO in the State Department and later on in the corridors of power in Washington. And from all quarters I received that kind of answer: ‘Anyone but Russia. Not you!’” (Yuli Vorontsov, “NATO Enlargement Without Russia: A Mistake on Four Counts,” The NATO-Russian Charter and the Emerging Relationship, Russia and NATO International Panel, George Washington University, Washington, D.C., February 1997, http://fas.org/man/nato/ceern/gwu_conf.htm and http://fas.org/man/nato/ceern/gwu_c1.htm).

The Implications of Promise Broken: Maximal Distrust

The increasingly cynical realism of Russian foreign policy as successive rounds of NATO expanded to Russia’s borders as well as the hyper-cynicism of much of Putin’s foreign policy at present have their roots in Russian disenchantment that resulted from NATO expansion. The most crucial contingent cause of the present Russo-West and Ukrainian crises was NATO expansion without the inclusion of Russia. From its outset, post-Soviet Russia was a potential threat to its neighbors and the West, especially if not integrated into the West. That potential, however, needed to be actualized to become an actual or kinetic threat. Potential’s actualization was contingent on policies—whether Western or Russian—that isolated and/or alienated Russia from the West. The expansion of Western institutions, especially NATO – world history’s most powerful military-political bloc – to Russia’s borders without Russia’s inclusion in the bloc gradually actualized the Russian threat. Moreover, NATO expansion without Russia institutionalized and reinforced the geopolitical and civilizational divides Mackinderians, Huntingtonians, and neo-Eurasianists on both sides of the Atlantic perceived.

There were several aspects of the 1993-95 discussion, the 1995 decision and 1997 implementation of the first round of NATO expansion that brought Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary into the military alliance which altered the Soviet-American and Russian-American early post-Cold War honeymoon. First, the decision to expand NATO eastward broke the trust and implied if not explicit promise not to so expand and thus take advantage of the Warsaw Pact’s dissolution. Second, the U.S. policy made no extra effort to entice Russia into NATO commensurate with the country’s great power status. To the contrary, policymakers appear to have discouraged, if not outright rejected Russian overtures. Third, NATO enlargement shifted the correlation of forces in Russian domestic politics from support for, to opposition against Westernization and democratization. Fourth, NATO expansion undermined Russian national security vis-à-vis NATO. This not only further alienated the Russian power ministries or siloviki from the West and Russia’s pro-Western leadership, it humiliated Russia’s proud military and national security establishment. This was all the more so, since NATO’s more forward-leaning configuration required adjustments to Russian force structure, defense procurement, and military and national security doctrines, many of which Moscow was in no position to carry out because of the dire economic depression into which the collapse of the USSR had plunged the country.

The idealistic and naïve Russians of the democratic perestroika generation learned a harsh lesson from the partner they hoped for in the United States. The lone superpower, increasingly hubristic hegemon, ‘victor in the Cold War’ – the United States – demonstrated that Russian national security, even domestic stability placed a distant second when it came not just to America’s maintenance of its position as world leader but also to the unlimited enhancement of U.S. power globally and especially within Russia’s traditional sphere of influence.

One can discount the promise, implied promise, assumed promise to one’s liking. But more than the spirit of statements and assurances was broken along with the ‘promise’. The spirit of that minimal trust that Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and then General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev had built up between our two countries’ elites and peoples was gravely undermined. It would be fatally undermined with each successive round of NATO expansion.

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Massacre in Crimea kills dozens, many in critical condition

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

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“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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Russian Orthodox Church officially breaks ties with Constantinople

Biggest separation in almost 1,000 years as world’s largest Orthodox Church cuts communion with Constantinople over legitimizing schismatics.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The schism between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate became official today, October 15, 2018, as the Russian Holy Synod reviewed the recent granting of communion to two schismatic groups in Ukraine, pursuant to Constantinople’s intent to grant autocephaly (full self-rule, or independence) to the agglomeration of these groups.

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RT reported that the Synod ruled that any further clerical relations with Constantinople are impossible, given the current conditions. Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev told journalists today about the breach in relations:

“A decision about the full break of relations with the Constantinople Patriarchate has been taken at a Synod meeting” that is currently been held in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, Hilarion said, as cited by TASS.

The move comes days after the Synod of the Constantinople Patriarchate decided to eventually grant the so-called autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, thus making the clerical organization, which earlier enjoyed a broad autonomy within the Moscow Patriarchate, fully independent.

The Moscow Patriarchate also said that it would not abide by any decisions taken by Constantinople and related to the status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. “All these decisions are unlawful and canonically void,” Hilarion said, adding that “the Russian Orthodox Church does not recognize these decisions and will not follow them.”

At the same time, the Russian Church expressed its hope that “a common sense will prevail” and Constantinople will change its decision. However, it still accused the Ecumenical Patriarch of initiating the “schism.”

The marks the most significant split in the Orthodox Church since the Great Schism of 1054, in which Rome excommunicated Constantinople, a breach between the Roman Catholics and Orthodox which has persisted ever since then, becoming hardened and embittered after the Roman Catholic armies sacked Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204.

Many other local Orthodox Churches expressed support for the Moscow Patriarchate’s position prior to today’s announcement, but the break in relations between these two churches does not have any known affect on local churches who hold communion with both Moscow and the Ecumenical Patriarchate at this time.

The website Orthochristian.com ran the entire statement of the Holy Synod regarding this situation. We offer a brief summary of statements here, taken from that source and patriarcha.ru, adding emphasis.

With deepest pain, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church received the message of the Patriarchate of Constantinople published on October 11, 2018 about the decisions adopted by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople: on the confirmation of the intention to “grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church”; on the opening of the “stavropegion” of the Patriarch of Constantinople in Kiev; on the “restoration in the hierarchal or priestly rank” of the leaders of the Ukrainian schism and their followers and the “return of their faithful to Church communion”; and on the “cancellation of the action” of the conciliar charter of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1686 concerning the transfer of the Kiev Metropolia to the Moscow Patriarchate

The Synod of the Church of Constantinople made these decisions unilaterally, ignoring the calls of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the entirety of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as the fraternal Local Orthodox Churches, and their primates and bishops for pan-Orthodox discussion of the issue.

Entering into communion with those who have departed into schism, let alone those who have been excommunicated from the Church, is tantamount to departing into schism and is severely condemned by the canons of the holy Church: “If any one of the bishops, presbyters, or deacons, or any of the clergy shall be found communicating with excommunicated persons, let him also be excommunicated, as one who brings confusion on the order of the Church” (Canon 2 of the Council of Antioch; Canon 10, 11 of the Holy Apostles).

The decision of the Patriarchate of Constantinople on the “restoration” of the canonical status and the reception into communion of the former Metropolitan Philaret Denisenko, excommunicated from the Church, ignores a number of successive decisions of the Bishops’ Councils of the Russian Orthodox Church, the legitimacy of which are beyond doubt.

By the decision of the Bishops’ Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Kharkov of May 27, 1992, Metropolitan Philaret (Denisenko) was removed from the Kiev Cathedra and was banned from the clergy for not fulfilling the oath made by him before the cross and the Gospel at the previous Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church.

By its ruling of June 11,1992, the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, confirmed the decision of the Kharkov Council and expelled Philaret Denisenko from his rank, depriving him of every degree of the priesthood on the following charges: “Cruel and arrogant attitude to the subordinate clergy, dictatorialness, and intimidation (Tit. 1:7-8; Canon 27 of the Holy Apostles); introducing temptation among the faithful by his behavior and personal life (Matthew 18:7; Canon 3 of the First Ecumenical Council, Canon 5 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council); oath-breaking (Canon 25 of the Holy Apostles); public slander and blasphemy against the Bishops’ Council (Canon 6 of the Second Ecumenical Council); the celebration of clerical functions, including ordinations, in a state of suspension (Canon 28 of the Holy Apostles); the perpetration of a schism in the Church (Canon 15 of the First-Second Council).” All ordinations performed by Philaret in a suspended state since May 27, 1992, and the punishments imposed by him, were declared invalid.

Despite repeated calls for repentance, after the deprivation of his hierarchal rank Philaret Denisenko continued his schismatic activity, including within the bounds of other Local Churches. By the ruling of the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church of 1997, he was given over to anathema.

The aforesaid decisions were recognized by all the Local Orthodox Churches, including the Church of Constantinople.

… Now, after more than two decades, the Patriarchate of Constantinople has changed its position for political reasons.

… St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, in his Pedalion, which is an authoritative source of ecclesiastical-canonical law of the Church of Constantinople, interprets Canon 9 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, rejecting the false opinion on the right of Constantinople to consider appeals from other Churches: “The Primate of Constantinople does not have the right to act in the dioceses and provinces of other Patriarchs, and this rule did not give him the right to take appeals on any matter in the Ecumenical Church… “ Listing a whole range of arguments in favor of this interpretation, referring to the practice of the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, St. Nikodemos concludes: “At present … the Primate of Constantinople is the first, the only, and the last judge over the metropolitans subordinate to him—but not over those who are subject to the rest of the Patriarchs. For, as we said, the last and universal judge of all the Patriarchs is the Ecumenical Council and no one else.” It follows from the above that the Synod of the Church of Constantinople does not have canonical rights to withdraw judicial decisions rendered by the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church.

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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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