A massive Russian “spiritual and cultural center,” crowned by a golden-domed Orthodox cathedral, opens its gates in downtown Paris this week, thrusting Russian religious and political outreach to the fore in one of Europe’s most prestigious and influential capitals. The complex is widely seen as a grand expression of Moscow’s quest to project the image of a powerful, religious Russia, and assert itself as a champion of traditional values.
Its construction has been marred by architectural, financial, and political disputes and shadowed by fears that it could help an increasingly assertive Russia spy on French officials or sow division within an already quarrelsome European Union.
Highlighting its symbolic importance, the October 19 unveiling was due to be attended by President Vladimir Putin until the Russian leader last week nixed his planned visit amid a row with France and Western powers over the continuing war in Syria.
The cathedral was reportedly first proposed in 2007 by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church at the time, the late Patriarch Aleksii II, during his historic visit to the French capital.
It is part of a Russian campaign to gain control of churches and graves dating from tsarist times and reassert control over the Russian diaspora, including in France, where there are an estimated 200,000 followers of Russian Orthodoxy.
In Paris, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral broke with the Russian church hierarchy after the 1917 revolution, transferring its allegiance from Moscow to the rival Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly intervened personally to ensure that Russia could buy and develop a plot near the famed Eiffel Tower and Alexandre III bridge.
In 2010, then-President Dmitry Medvedev signed the deal on behalf of Russia to purchase the prized property by the banks of the Seine River — a UNESCO-protected site — for 73 million euros ($80 million). Reports said other countries seeking to buy the plot included Saudi Arabia and Canada.
An initial request to build the Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Center was filed in January 2012, but opposition to architect Manuel Nunez Yanowsky’s design quickly mounted in the French capital, where preserving the integrity of the city’s famed architecture is taken seriously.
Then-Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe described the architecture — five golden onion domes, white limestone, and glass — as “pastiche,” “mediocre,” and “utterly inappropriate for the site.”
After Francois Hollande succeeded Sarkozy as France’s head of state in 2012, French cultural and heritage officials issued unfavorable opinions before Russia withdrew its first application for a building permit.
The project was then redesigned under the supervision of architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, and a building permit was issued in December 2013.
The 4,800-square-meter complex includes four distinct entities: Holy Trinity Cathedral, capped with five gilded domes and its highest cross reaching 35 meters into the sky; a parish center comprising an auditorium and foyer, offices, and apartments; a French-Russian primary school for 150 pupils; and a cultural center, including a book shop, exhibitions spaces, and a coffee shop.
Construction finally began in 2014 against a backdrop of deteriorating ties between Moscow and the West over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, where it occupied and annexed Crimea and has lent support to armed separatists who control parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
The golden main dome, an 8-ton structure made of composite materials, was winched into place in March with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko in attendance.
The cost of the construction work, by French company Bouygues, has been estimated at around 100 million euros ($110 million).
From the start, French officials have expressed concern that the building is just a stone’s throw from a sensitive government compound. As well as housing France’s supreme magistrates’ council, the neighboring Palais de l’Alma contains the Elysee Palace’s postal service and the private apartments of senior presidential advisers.
French media reports say that country’s counterespionage services have surrounded the building with jamming devices to prevent the Russians from using it for electronic surveillance.
There were also unsuccessful attempts by former shareholders of the now-defunct Russian oil giant Yukos to suspend work at the site and get the property seized to help settle a multibillion-dollar battle for compensation for the Russian state’s seizure of the firm and its assets in 2003.
But in April, the High Court of Paris ruled that the object could not be seized, saying it a was considered a diplomatic good protected by sovereign immunity.
Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky is to attend this week’s opening ceremony of the center, which officials have described as a symbol of friendship between Russia and France.
Cold War Redux
The event comes with relations between Russia and the West at levels unseen since the Cold War following Russia’s military seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and an ensuing war between Kyiv’s forces and Russia-backed separatists that has killed more than 9,600 people.
Ties have further deteriorated over the war in Syria, which hosts a Russian military base and where Russia announced a bombing campaign in September 2015 to support President Bashar al-Assad and fight “international terrorists.”
Paris and Moscow butted heads last week in the UN Security Council over competing draft resolutions on the Syrian conflict, where French and other Western officials have said Russia and Syria could have committed war crimes.
Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill has strongly supported Putin politically, even offering thinly veiled backing in the controversial 2012 election that returned the former KGB officer to the presidency.
Some analysts suggest that Putin, on the other hand, regards the Orthodox Church and its leadership as a channel for communication with the West.
Kirill met with Pope Francis for about three hours in Cuba in February in the first meeting between the heads of Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches since the Great Schism divided Christendom in 1054.
Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
Russian interview with Putin (and others) discusses geopolitics, nationhood, and America
No Russia, no world discusses and presents a new feature-length, interview-laced, documentary, about the way that Russians, and also Putin, view America, and view the future of Russia. Here are, for me, the highlights from the included video (and I shall link to previous commentaries from me at relevant points, so as to clarify some of the references that are spoken about):
7:34- Carla Del Ponte, UN prosecutor on Syrian war crimes: “The important thing is for peace to prevail, so that civilians can return to their homes, so that refugees return to Syria. I think only Russia can achieve peace in Syria.”
17:15- A Russian soldier says “And all of a sudden, the symphony of the power structures and the Russian people, they joined into one melody. In Spring of 2014 [right after the U.S. coup in Ukraine, Crimea broke away from Ukraine and resumed being a Russian province], we understood that we are one people, this is our president, our forefathers are behind us, this is our history — and all of this combined is our whole.” His eloquent expression of nationhood moved me. Though I am not Russian, nor have even visited there, and feel no particular personal identification to any of its many cultures, Russia under Putin might now be occupying much the same significance in world affairs today that my own country, America, did under FDR, as the moral leader of an emerging new international order. We all live in FDR’s shadow. Future generations could find themselves living in Putin’s. (That’s if the American aristocracy won’t so crave war, so that there soon won’t be any future at all.) The threat in FDR’s time was the German aristocracy; the threat in ours is the American aristocracy. Perhaps Russia, during Putin’s leadership, is up to that challenge, as America was during FDR’s. I hope so.
23:20- Putin: “[In 2012,] They introduced the Magnitsky Act under absolutely imaginary pretexts. … 50 new sanctions, I think. I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that this is 2012 — before any events in Ukraine, before the reunification with Crimea — but sanctions are in full swing! … They have always attempted to ‘contain’ the development of our country — so, I think the answer is simple. It’s just a method against competition. It’s illegitimate, it’s unjust, but that’s how it is. And, of course, it’s an attempt to contain the defense capability of our country.”
27:00- “[In 1991,] we expected that with the end of the Warsaw Pact, NATO would cease to exist too. Or, at least, as we were told at the time, this organization would not expand. We assumed some kind of tectonic changes in international relations to take place, but they did not. It turned out that under the guise of this ideological war, there was also a geopolitical war. For geopolitical interests [’The Great Game’ as aristocracies call it]. Secondly, they thought that they no longer had to consider anyone else in their decisions. [As Obama often expressed this, the United States is “the one indispensable nation”, which means that all others are dispensable.] … They started to support separatism and radicalism in our Caucasus region. They bombed Yugoslavia in 1999 without a resolution from the UNSC [U.N. Security Council]. They just spat on everything — they bombed it, destroyed the country. … If the people of Yugoslavia strove for independence, maybe it’s good. But did you have to do it by that method? … I doubt it. I am assured it should not have been done. … Then Afghanistan. Then Iraq. Then two waves of NATO expansion.”
33:40- “In 1992 or 1993, the then Mayor [of St. Petersburg, Anatoly] Sobchak took me with him to Bonn, where he met with Chancellor Kohl. At some point, Kohl asked all the attendees to leave [but] I was left to translate between the two. … And that was the first time I heard the Chancellor say, ‘I don’t see a future for Europe without Russia.’ For me, as a former KGB officer, it was completely unexpected.” (Putin continued by making clear that he views Russia as being part of Europe, “culturally and spiritually, its science, its defense potential.”)
39:00- The documentary announcer criticizes Merkel’s immigration-policy: “As admitted by German experts, … 4 out of 5 migrants don’t wish to study [to learn German and to learn skills to become productive in the economy]. They want to receive benefits.” If this is true, then perhaps America’s billionaires are aiming to destroy the social-welfare states in Europe, so as to spread America’s sink-or-swim economy, make the public as desperate as possible. Perhaps that’s one reason why Europe’s role is to take in the people who have lost their homes and their life’s savings in the countries that we’ve bombed and that we’ve aided the jihadists to decimate and destroy — that it’s in order to flood Europe with culturally alien ‘third-world’ immigrants, who (with those difficulties) will drain, instead of grow, Europe’s economy.
41:25- Putin: “In some places, liberalism is giving up its positions. … The multicultural model they tried to build in Europe, not only did it not work, but my [European] colleagues who wanted it, today say themselves that it failed.” Q: “Will we lose our national identity?” A: “Us? No. It’s too dear to us. … [Some] Russians convert to Russian Orthodox, other Russians convert to Islam, but, still, together, this is ‘us’ [regardless of religion].”
56:45- Putin, referring to Ukraine’s violations of the Minsk agreements it had signed that established a pathway by which Donbass would democratically re-enter being part of Ukraine: “The law on amnesty is not [even] being signed [by Ukraine]. The law on special status of Donbass [within Ukraine] is not signed. Practically [on Ukraine’s side] nothing is signed. To the contrary, they signed a law on ‘de-occupation’, which doesn’t mention the Minsk agreements at all. They do this to themselves, with their own hands.”
1:07- Putin is presented with Western media characterizations of him as an evil man and “Putin’s War on The West,” and is asked “What’s it like to be the main global villain?” He answers: “I have some very good anchors. Those anchors are the interests of the Russian Federation and its people.”
1:14- Q: “We see the targeted approach to distance our allies from us. They’re working Belarus, Kazakhstan, working Armenia very actively. We see the way they drip poison into their ears. How can we counteract this?” A: “Whoever drips poison anywhere will end up drinking it themselves, at the end of the day. We have a good saying about it: ‘Don’t spit into the well [from which we all drink]’.”
1:27- Putin: “What we have to do in the near future is to ensure that it is technological innovation that is the main driver behind Russia’s development. If we can achieve this — which includes all of its components: digital technology, biology, fundamental sciences — then without a doubt, Russia will preserve the status of a great superpower.”
On 3 June 2014, I headlined “How and Why the U.S. Has Re-Started the Cold War (The Backstory that Precipitated Ukraine’s Civil War)” and, with a number of graphs, showed the drastic improvement in Russia’s economy under Putin, and in the lifespans and other welfare-indicators of the Russian people, and I explained why the U.S. aristocracy want to get rid of him. But, given that America’s anti-Russian war (which has thus far included Serbia, Iraq, Georgia, Syria, Ukraine, and other Russia-friendly governments, and is now moving on to Russia itself) was established on 24 February 1990, before Putin was even in the picture, there’s no reason for him to take The West’s insults personally. This has been the U.S. Government’s plan even before there was any President Putin.
New American-Russian Conflict: A Confrontation beyond Cold War
The conflict between the White House and Grand Kremlin Palace, which by far is more dangerous and intense than that of the Cold War era, seems to have reached its peak.
The 2008 Russo-Georgian War was a clear instance of Russian military confrontation with one of the allies of the United States.
The Russo-Georgian War was a war between Georgia, Russia and the Russian-backed self-proclaimed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia and Georgia were both formerly constituent republics of the Soviet Union.
During the battle, Russians troops drew very close to Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, forcing Mikheil Saakashvili, former president of Georgia who was a US ally to surrender. Then, the dialogue between Georgia (US) and Russia began at two levels. On the surface, were the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) special moves for expansion to the East and the adoption of military configurations in the Baltics. However, the underlying agenda for the US was to bring down Russia’s political system through its neighbors like Ukraine.
Today, we are witnessing the power struggle between Russia and the US that has certain properties.
The tension between Moscow and Washington, as mentioned, is rising, and both states more than ever before have been boasting their power to the extent of elimination of the other. Failed plans such as “Anti-Proliferation: to limit the expansion of nuclear weapons technology” and Nuclear Disarmament: to reduce the total number nuclear devices in existence, ideally down to zero,” are clear examples of the conflict.
NATO plays a pivotal role in the recent dispute between the two states. In the summer of 2017, NATO troops held a large scale defensive drill, “Iron Wolf 2017”, on the border separating Poland and Lithuania, to deter Russian aggression.
In response, Russia conducted Zapad 2017 military drills with Belarus in September of the same year in Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad bordering Poland and Lithuania. It was Russia’s largest exercise since the Cold War with 12,700 troops in the drills.
In 2017, Russia tested its new hypersonic missile, 3M22 Zircon, an anti-ship missile with five times the speed of sound.
Clearly, Moscow’s objective is to challenge NATO and the US naval and military capabilities. However, on a larger scale, Russia intends to frighten the US and the EU and create a sense of fear and insecurity through boast of power, a sense of “warning that a war is on the way.” Obviously, here NATO will change the balance of power to the benefit of Russia.
On the other hand, the recent decision by the US and NATO members in the establishment of two command centers in America and Germany against Russia, and enhancement of NATO and US nuclear weapons in German’s territory, reveal Washington’s long-term military strategy against Moscow.
The concerns have put Washington’s and NATO’s at an alert level for a possible military attack on Moscow.
Despite recent warnings from influential political figures like former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, the late and ongoing conflicts between the US and Russia can lead to a condition far more grim than the Cold War era.
In this mayhem, factors such as “multiplicity of actors,” “increasing the rate of international actors’ vulnerability,” “modernizing nuclear weapons,” will enhance the cost of the new confrontation between Washington and Moscow.
Europe turns into battleground between US, Russia
As the conflict between Washington and Moscow is on the rise, many analysts believe the world will be going through a repeat of tensions of the Cold War era or even worse.
NATO’s (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and Russia’s new type of military drills both represent a radicalization of the climate between the two sides and a shift from “political” dispute to “military” conflict.
Although the real conflict is between Washington and Moscow, NATO’s European member states will inevitably get affected by the dispute, the result of which can severely threaten the European Union’s (EU) security.
European countries were hit the worst post-World War II andCold War and were the main victim of the wars devastating effects due to their geopolitical position.
Today, given the deployment of American’s nuclear missiles in Europe and Russian’s on Western European borders, Europe can once again become the “main battlefield” between the White House and the Kremlin.
Even if no war breaks out between the United States and Russia, European countries will experience the aftermath of the conflict on their economy, which is pretty much dependent on imports and exports, and will be hit by a tsunami of immigration.
Nowadays, the likelihood of the European Union collapse, due to internal and external threats, has increased more than ever before which is a matter of concern for many EU leaders.
In a wrap, European states don’t hold certain theoretical and practical framework or policy in regulating relations with Moscow and Washington, thus many of them have become involved in the conflict between the two powers, a process that can be very dangerous for the European Union.
What can salvage the European continent which is stuck in the middle of the US and Russia’s tug of war is the formation of a coalition of EU member states that are also part of NATO to mediate in the growing crises between the United States and Russia.
US, Europe meddle in Russian elections
Tensions have escalated between the United States and Russia. These tensions have also appeared in various parts of the world, including Syria, the Mediterranean, the Baltics, and the Crimean Peninsula. As time passes, the battlefield between the United States and Russia becomes wider. European countries, too, have directly gotten involved in the complex situation. On the one hand, without the support of the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), they have the power to form an independent and unified army to counter Russia’s threats. On the other hand, their commitments to the United States and NATO have led to a sharp decline in their maneuverability in the peaceful settlement of existing conflicts between the United States and Russia.
What is certain is that European countries, as effective actors in the international arena, see their security as a precondition for avoiding a persistent controversy (especially in the military dimension) between the US and Russia. European countries know well that in the event of any conflict between Washington and Moscow, Europe will be the main venue for it. But will the European countries have mediation power between the White House and the Kremlin? Will they be able to resist engagement in case of chronic tensions between Russia and the US? The answer to this question is definitely no.
The fact is that the membership of many EU member states in NATO as well as the specific geo-strategic and even geo-economic status of the European Union has made these countries part of the conflict between the United States and Russia. While, according to the best-known mediation rules in the international system, if the independence of an actor is less, mediating power also declines. Europe can not only play a mediating role between the United States and Russia, but will directly influence the conflict. The European Union is now faced with Russia in various geographic and strategic areas.
Undoubtedly, in the near future, we will see more serious political conflicts regarding Europe’s relationship with the United States and NATO. These disagreements will augment conflict between the United States and Russia. Since 2014, as a result of the crisis in Ukraine and the intensification of tensions between Russia and NATO in Syria, Europe has directly entered the conflict between the United States and Russia. In 2017, the trend was intensifying. In the NATO military maneuvers in the summer of 2017 in Poland and Lithuania, NATO members presented a controversial military confrontation with Russia. By contrast, Russia also responded sharply to NATO’s military maneuvers in the Kaliningrad area. Undoubtedly, in 2018, the tensions between Russia and the United States will increase further. However, the main question is, what will be the future of Europe? No one can answer this question.
The United States and the European Union are making a joint and complementary effort to change the political fabric of Russia. Washington and NATO members are well aware that one of the major ways in which the Russians rethink foreign policy and the retreat of the Kremlin against NATO threats is to deflect Russia’s internal structure through the emergence of some political conflicts and chronic disagreements.
The next point is that the United States and the European Union consider the “election” as the most sensitive political event in Russia which can strengthen the pro-NATO currents within Russia and weaken Putin’s power. In other words, the United States and Europe see Russia as an opportunity to inject some of the deterrent factors in Moscow’s domestic and foreign policy towards the 2018 presidential election. Washington and Europe know that according to polls Putin will be reelected. Nonetheless, NATO members are struggling to strengthen the internal divide between Russian parties and the Russian people. The West does not pay much attention to the outcome of the Russian presidential elections, but seeks to curb Russia’s power by creating a turbulent political atmosphere inside the country.
Putin Explains Why Russia’s New Weapons Can’t Be Stopped by ABMs
In a “Russia Insight” TV interview of Russian President Vladimir Putin that was uploaded to youtube with English subtitles on March 10th, NBC’s Megyn Kelly asked him why America’s ABMs wouldn’t be able to knock out Russia’s new missiles. He answered (16:40): “We have created a set of new strategic weapons that do not follow ballistic trajectories, and the anti-missile defence systems are powerless against them. This means that the U.S. taxpayers’ money has been wasted.”
A ballistic missile — the types of missiles at which an ABM or anti-ballistic missile is directed — is not just any type of missile, but instead is a missile with a certain type of trajectory, which goes above the Earth’s atmosphere and then comes down largely using the force of gravity instead of continuously under propulsion and strict control. Putin is saying that Russia’s new missiles, which are designed so as not to be adhering to the flight-paths that ballistic missiles do, can’t be hit by anti-ballistic missiles.
Putin referred to Russia’s largest new missile as “Voyevoda.” The missile’s manufacturer posts online about it, “33 launches in all were conducted, 97.4% of them successful.”
She then asked him whether these weapons will be used only if Russia comes under a nuclear attack, or against any attack; he answered it would be either a nuclear attack “or a conventional attack on the Russian Federation, given that it jeopardizes the state’s existence.” He implied that if an ally of Russia gets attacked, Russia will respond only with non-nuclear forces.
Then, he volunteered to say, in response to a question about what the issues would be that Russia would want formal negotiations with the U.S., that, “today, when we are acquiring weapons that can easily breach all anti-ballistic missile systems, we no longer consider the reduction of ballistic missiles and warheads to be important.”
She asked whether the new weapons he was referring to could be “part of the discussion,“ and he said they “should, of course, be included in the grand total.”
This interview continued with non-nuclear matters, such as the accusations that he had interfered in America’s 2016 Presidential contest, or tried to. His answers were very direct, but viewers who support the ongoing Russiagate investigations will probably not believe his answers.
As regards the weapons-issues, there is posted online a brilliant technical description of the types of engineering issues that the Russians have been developing for decades, in which they’ve led the world and in which their lead has been widening, and which were behind what Putin was speaking about in his March 1st speech. Though that technical description was a reader-comment, instead of an article, it was article-length, and makes the issues clear; and the article that it was commenting upon was itself brilliant: and it links to an earlier brilliant article by Andrei Martyanov; so, all three of those together enable a pretty clear understanding of what’s involved in Russia’s biggest strategic-weapons breakthroughs.
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