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Ordinary Russians sick of playing the western world’s bad guy

Frustration on the streets is growing at the incessant western campaign to make Russians the root of all evil

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(Forbes) – Looks like the Russians failed to get two Republicans elected in New Jersey and Virginia this week. Better luck next time.

The Russians are coming! Only instead of parachuting into the Inner Empire of California with AK-74s strapped to their backs, they’re hacking Yahoo! and Democratic National Committee emails and blocking tackle for politicians who only seem to be despised by establishment politicians and their friends — whether they’re in Britain or France, the U.S. or Catalonia.

Yes, according to an official Washington Post op-ed, even the Catalonia independence vote can be traced to the geopolitical wiles of Vladimir Putin. And you thought the CIA was omnipotent!

It’s no joke. According to SecureWorks, the DNC emails were indeed spear-phished successfully by Russians. Whether they were on orders from the Russian government is unclear. SecureWorks, a Dell subsidiary, is at least more trustworthy than CrowdStrike and Fusion GPS, a paid smear monger, and more legit than the usual anti-Putin, fiction writing Ukrainian activists who help Washington’s Russia-haters keep Putin on the defense.

The thing is, maybe Putin is not the greatest guy in the world. Maybe there are a lot of shady people in Russia. This is true pretty much throughout the old Communist countries. But Putin can handle being made a villain. He has an entire military and media apparatus to help him at home.

It’s the Russians that are trying to make a living, grow a business, travel and live abroad, who are all somehow guilty by association.

Wait, you’re a Russian? That’s bad. You must have something up your sleeve.

Most Russians do not blame Putin for the West’s borderline hysterical disdain for their country. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool photo via AP)

Podozritelny

To most in the Russia-is-evil camp, it cannot be spoken that American companies and investment banks do business in Russia and with Russians every day.

J.P. Morgan, Citigroup Global Markets and Bank of America Merill Lynch all tag-teamed with VTB Capital as book runners to the $1.5 billion Nov. 3 initial public offering of En+ Group on the London Stock Exchange.  Even worse, the company is controlled by FORBES listed Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska. The New York Times can hardly write about En+ Group without mentioning in the headline that Oleg once did business with the newly indicted Trump campaign advisor Paul Mannafort. That instantly makes him part of the Russian narrative that made Hillary Clinton the unfortunate, two-time loser in her quest for power.

Oh, and double-worse; he is a “Putin ally.”

Over the weekend, the Paradise Papers were released. Russians were center-stage. Wilbur Ross, Trump’s Commerce Secretary, had private equity investments in a Russian company he did not disclose. Yuri Milner, a well-known name in the Valley and founder of venture firm DST Capital, woke up to discover he was part of the problem. That’s because he invested in Facebook and Twitter. He got money from VTB Capital and Gazprom’s investment division, which found its way into those two social media giants stocks. Russian firms paid to advertise on both, including political propaganda that was more pro-Trump than pro-Hillary.

The fact that two Russian government-controlled banks used DST Capital as a way to invest in the shares of two American companies caught up in the Russia probe gave Milner instant villain status. Despite the fact that he sold Facebook and Twitter in 2013 and 2014, respectively, he was called out for aiding and abetting Russian intrusion into American democracy.

“The idea that we were working on Russia’s behalf to turn social media against U.S. democracy is a fairy tale,” Milner wrote in a Recode magazine op-ed in an answer to a handful of heat-seeking missile articles fired in The New York Timesand in the Financial Times.

But that doesn’t matter. He is a Russian. And a rich one. He must be working for Russian intelligence.

Milner moved to the U.S. in 1990 to attend Wharton Business School.  He was one of four graduation speakers at the school this year. In his op-ed in Recode, he says that when he later moved to Silicon Valley, it didn’t matter where he was from.  Now there has been a change in the air. Since Trump beat Hillary, just to be Russian is suspect.

Russians feel the same everywhere.

“I was born here in Russia. I cannot go back in time and tell my mother — mom, let’s have me in the U.S.,” says Igor Matsanyuk, a Russian venture capitalist, and a gamer. He is president of Astrum Online Entertainment. He now lives in Lithuania.

He tells me a story about how he recently went fishing with some Lithuanians, all of them old enough to remember life under the rule of a foreign power known as the U.S.S.R. He recalls them asking him, why are you Russians so hated? He laughs to himself as he recalls this to me.

“I never really thought about it. But when I turn on the TV, everyone hates the Russians,” he says. “I don’t know if any of these stories about Trump and Putin are true. I don’t know what is going on. What I do know is that it is not cool to be made to feel like you’re the bad guy all the time. It’s relentless.”

Matsanyuk says that when doing business in London now, for example, they do extra “know your client” work on him, just in case.

The Russians were promised after the fall of the Soviet Union that they were welcomed into the fold of Western capitalist modernity. Let bygones be bygones. Communism had imploded, spasibo Gorbi! The West had won the economic culture war. The Russians learned English. They learned about derivatives trading. They bought Ferraris.

Now, Russia is being shut out. The story is that Putin wants to rebuild the Soviet system and take over Lithuania and the Baltics. He’s already dividing up Ukraine. And as a result of this, Russians are the collateral damage of a narrative run amock.

When everyone is suspect, you trust no one.

European pension funds are not investing in Russia. Russian funds that grew on foreign money are now stagnant; there’s no new money coming in. Venture capital, the foreign kind, has basically left.

I asked 30-something-year-old Yana Starovoytova how often she has seen negative headlines about Russia in the foreign press. Daily, she tells me. Starovoytova works for a Moscow-based hedge fund.

“None of my friends are surprised by this anymore,” she tells me. We are at Bamboo Bar in Moscow’s financial district. An early dinner. It soon gets mobbed. The city is very much alive and kicking. Some people are even speaking American English. What the hell are they doing here? Isn’t this a political faux pas?

I asked her if she blames Putin for all the controversy surrounding her country. She does not. Her explanation for what is behind all of this is not much different from Matsanyuk’s. “We are a ‘convenient’ enemy, historically. China has all the imperfections that we have, but it is not demonized as much as Russia. There is no campaign against it in the western media,” she says.

She should live here. China is a job killer for many in Washington.  Until Russia became a really really bad country, China was Washington’s favorite punching bag every election year, though for different reasons.

She elaborates.  “I know it’s because of Ukraine and Syria. Russia has openly refused to play by the rules imposed by the U.S. on the rest of the world. What if it becomes a trend and other countries decide to follow? This is a completely new situation for the West, and certainly is not something they want to put up with,” she says.

A year ago, at the Leo Tolstoy estate, I attended a private birthday party of this Russian romantics singer whose name I will never remember. I was the only American in the tiny room of maybe 50 people. Friends of the singer came to me, asked me how I liked it. There was small talk. One made a point to tell me that Russians were not bad people. Including the ones who like Putin.

Russians were hopeful Trump would have embraced Russia in its war on terrorism, at least. Now they believe Trump adds fuel to the fire. If Hillary Clinton had won, Russia would be disdained for Ukraine and roadblocking regime change in Syria. Trump adds one more bone to pick with the old Cold War rival. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Last month, at Jaime’s Italian restaurant across from the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, I met with three expats, including an American. In the mix was a high tech Russian talking blockchain, and a fund manager from VEB, the development bank of Russia.

I asked the expats what their friends say about them being in Russia. Unanimously: they think we are crazy.

The conversation was off the record.

Igor Podzigun used to work for the government in the Russian city of Kaluga. He was assistant to the mayor and left the public sector for the private sector. He is now part of Russia’s growing tech market, helping to build a digital company called Apla. “When I look at myself and picture me in the world as a Russian today I feel like that Sting song, an Englishman in New York — I don’t belong and feel excluded,” he tells me. “I feel like I’m the bad guy, which limits who I can do business with,” he says. Apla is currently working on a small start-up project with one of the Emirates in the U.A.E.

“I think it’s a tragedy,” he says. “There are a lot of people in Russia who want to travel and want to be global entrepreneurs. Politics is making it very difficult.”

It’s not getting easier.

Maryland Congressman Benjamin Cardin reiterated this week that he wants the Democratic Party to lead an independent committee to investigate Russian election meddling not only here, but worldwide. The move further solidifies the fact that Washington deems Moscow as nefarious as it was in the days of the Soviet Union.

Cardin was part of a handful of congressional leaders that helped former Russia hedge fund manager Bill Browderlobby for the passing of the Magnitsky Act. The Act was signed in 2012 and targets individuals deemed responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky, Browder’s former accountant at his Hermitage Capital investment firm. Browder is now taking his Magnitsky Act on a road show and managed to pass it in Canada in mid-October.

There is a tiny cadre of people, of which Cardin and Browder and expat and ex-billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky are a part, who have made it their life’s work to seek revenge against Putin for deeply personal reasons. They are dragging an entire nation through the mud.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, center, and his wife Yulia, left, take part in a march in memory of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017. Thousands of Russians take to the streets of downtown Moscow to mark two years since Nemtsov was gunned down outside the Kremlin. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

For women like Starovoytova, even if opposition politician Alexie Navalny was president, Washington would have a gripe unless Moscow acted as a “vassal” state.

To many Western observers who have never been to Russia, much of these comments may seem like a bunch of locals falling for state propaganda. How is that different from those that have fallen for the opposing side of that story here at home? To hear it, a few thousand Obama voters in blue states in the north went rogue because they didn’t like what they discovered in those DNC and John Podesta emails. Podesta was Hillary’s campaign manager.  That’s Russia’s fault. Now we got Trump. Scream to the heavens.

No matter who got into those emails, the contents of them were never disputed. Where are the interviews with these dumb, duped voters? Where are the blue staters who are admitting: yes, Anderson, it was that Russian-backed Facebook ad with Jesus arm wrestling Satan that really did it for me.

Perhaps the Russians can say the same about our own storyline on them.

“I feel more like a patriot these days,” says Maria Vavilova. I ask her what she thinks about Russian involvement in Brexit and in electing Trump and in fomenting unrest in Spain and backing anti-EU French politician Marine Le Pen. She sighs as I run it down for her, wrapped in a white parka, sipping jasmine tea at the lobby bar of the Hotel Ukraine.  She doesn’t know what to say. She doesn’t have the answers. None of us do. She sits back, frustrated. “Why are people talking like this about my country? I am proud to be Russian,” she tells me. And repeats it, three times in a row.

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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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Ukrainian leadership is a party of war, and it will continue as long as they’re in power – Putin

“We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

RT

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Via RT…


Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has branded the Ukrainian leadership a “party of war” which would continue fueling conflicts while they stay in power, giving the recent Kerch Strait incident as an example.

“When I look at this latest incident in the Black Sea, all what’s happening in Donbass – everything indicates that the current Ukrainian leadership is not interested in resolving this situation at all, especially in a peaceful way,” Putin told reporters during a media conference in the aftermath of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

This is a party of war and as long as they stay in power, all such tragedies, all this war will go on.

The Kiev authorities are craving war primarily for two reasons – to rip profits from it, and to blame all their own domestic failures on it and actions of some sort of “aggressors.”

“As they say, for one it’s war, for other – it’s mother. That’s reason number one why the Ukrainian government is not interested in a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Putin stated.

Second, you can always use war to justify your failures in economy, social policy. You can always blame things on an aggressor.

This approach to statecraft by the Ukrainian authorities deeply concerns Russia’s President. “We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been soaring after the incident in the Kerch Strait. Last weekend three Ukrainian Navy ships tried to break through the strait without seeking the proper permission from Russia. Following a tense stand-off and altercation with Russia’s border guard, the vessels were seized and their crews detained over their violation of the country’s border.

While Kiev branded the incident an act of “aggression” on Moscow’s part, Russia believes the whole Kerch affair to be a deliberate “provocation” which allowed Kiev to declare a so-called “partial” martial law ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election.

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