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The Russian Orthodox Church, the situation in Syria and the crisis in the Greater Middle East

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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In a speech delivered on May 6 last, Patriarch Kirill – the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church – defined the Russian war in Syria as a conflict “against global terrorism” and hence suggested a “holy war” to free not only the Middle East, but also the entire Christian civilization, from this  “fierce and deceitful enemy”.Russia as a “third Rome”, after the first falling and the second failing because it surrendered to the profane world.

Patriarch Kirill believes that Christians are in terrible danger in many countries – and this is the reason why the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church cherishes good memories of the meeting he had in Cuba with Pope Francis.

A meeting that, as Patriarch Kirill said, “took place in the right place and at the right time”. After one thousand years.

The Church of Rome has realized that modern society is failing and that an alliance of religions is needed to save the world.  This is an idea that the Patriarch of Moscow has always had and, after the USSR collapse, Russia can finally work freely with the West.

And Patriarch Kirill has certainly been the least pro-Soviet of the Orthodox Fathers.

In other words, the Russian Church – closely linked to the new regime of Vladimir Putin, who never forgets his role as believer – is thinking of an   agreement – not necessarily hegemonic – with the Roman Church.

An agreement to overcome the “two worlds”, the East and the West, and unite and federate the Middle East, the cradle of the Faith (and of the Faiths) and strategic axis between the East and the West.

By explicit admission and also by tacit activity of the Pope, the Catholic Church has now become not only the “field hospital” of the world crisis, but the only geopolitical point of reference of the poor and miserable people of the old “Third World”, which is experiencing one financial crisis after the other.

However, we are still in a pro-Western area.

Conversely, the Russian Church intends to maintain its traditional role in the East so as to become the only “voice of the poor” against the old and new imperialism, but in a new multipolar context beyond the old US and Western hegemony.

Hence Patriarch Kirill proposal for a single anti-terrorist coalition operating in the world.

On February 19 last, in Moscow, when the Orthodox Patriarch received the Patriarch of Antioch, John Yazigi X – born in Latakia and supporter of Bashar al-Assad – he recalled that “ISIS was discrediting the image of Islam with the whole world”.

Patriarch Kirill wants to separate the jihad from mass Islam and unite the latter to make it support his interreligious dialogue project, which should manage the future distribution of power in the Middle East.

Said distribution will not be State-based, but religious and community-based – hence beyond the spheres of influence madly designed in the desert by the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

A communication strategy that, in this case, associates Patriarch Kirill with Pope Francis.

As we have seen, they both want to separate the jihad from current Islam, although it seems that they do not perceive the profound practical and theoretical transformation modern jihadism has brought about in the symbols and practice of any forms of contemporary Islamism – from the Afghan “resistance” against the Russian troops until Bin Laden.

After the current sword jihad, nothing – even in the Quietist Islam – will be the same as before.

In this case, however, separating the wheat from the chaff can allow something new: the emergence of an Islam not only peaceful, but with two other characteristics: the fact of being national, and not vaguely and violently universalist, and with a new and strong, relationship with the local and regional political authorities.

An Islam typical of the old Caliphate, but capable of having a wide echo, instead of the Islam damned and cursed by everybody and now at the end of its war with its new Caliphate.

In fact, Patriarch Kirill thinks that ISIS is “anti-Arab” and it is also “destroying the Middle East”.

In other words, the Russian Orthodox leaders – who certainly do not speak without Vladimir Putin’s permission – think that the Caliphate’s jihadism wants to weaken the current Middle East States, with a view to delivering them to non-State entities, behind which the Patriarch sees above all the New West, dissolving the old national and religious identities into a postmodern and harshly materialistic and capitalist medium.

Patriarch Kirill’s apparently “backward” ideas have a clear relationship with Orthodox Russia’s foreign policy: abortion, easy divorce, drugs, propaganda for homosexuality are all psychological warfare operations designed to destroying States, religious communities and, above all, social solidarity, with a view to paving the way for atheism but, in particular, for the post-capitalist social fragmentation and atomization.

It would be the end of the Middle East, which would be turned into a cultural desert, much more than the jihad has done so far.

As Pope Francis said at the meeting held last February with the representatives of “Economia e Unione”, overcoming capitalism is now a well-acquired fact, thus going well beyond the traditional social doctrine of the Church.

As the Pope said, capitalism “knows philanthropy, but not communion.”

According to Patriarch Kirill, whose Church is much more integrated into the Russian financial and political system than Catholicism in the West, capitalism is an asset as it produces the goods for the poor.

According to the Russian Patriarch, it is the Orthodox Church which  distributes the superfluous and corrects society and its economy.

Traditionally, Orthodoxy is a Church that is not only Sponsa Christi, but bodily and practical presence of Jesus Christ among the people and in history.

The Roman Church is a different case, because it operates above all with Catholic laity and personal persuasion – in a much more anti-religious world than the one typical of the current Slavic world.

Furthermore, in the encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate, the decisive mechanism for society and the economy is that of a liturgical and sacred culture that generates a gift economy.

According to Patriarch Kirill, however, peace in the Middle East can be certainly achieved with the new relationship established with the Church of Rome, but above all by reactivating the old “Orthodox Imperial Society of Palestine”, which shall reacquire all the huge and ancient Russian properties in the Middle East.

The Society also wants to reacquire the Israeli side of the Monastery of Saints Cyril and Methodius and put back in order the Monastery of Alexandrovsky in Jerusalem, as well as the other eleven churches and the three Orthodox sites still owned by the Russian Orthodox Church outside the motherland.

One of the largest and symbolically most important properties of the Churches in all the Sacred Places, which Patriarch Kirill (and Putin) will use with extreme subtlety to conquer Middle East peoples’ minds and hearts.

The cross of the Slavic Church has two inscriptions in Russian, which are very important, especially today: “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet” (Isaiah, 62).

Hence Patriarch Kirill’s underlying idea is to return to the pre-revolutionary situation when there were over 100 Orthodox schools and education institutes in 50 different cities throughout Syria.

An immense cultural and political presence that no media propaganda can supplant and replace.

Currently 500 Palestinian children are already attending the Russian school in Bethlehem, opened under the aegis of the Imperial Society.

For the Slavic Orthodox Church, the destabilization strategy in Ukraine and the one in the current Middle East with the jihad is one and one only and mainly concerns the persecution of Christian peoples throughout the area, as well as in the Maghreb region.

It is related to the geopolitics of the atheistic and consumerist destabilization carried out by the Western countries that have fomented at first the Caucasus insurgency and later the “Arab Springs”.

Patriarch Kirill believes that the Westernization outside the EU and United States has already failed.

It is easy to understand how the Russian Patriarch rightly believes that the “Arab Springs” are at the origin of the current destabilization in the Middle East and of its de-Christianization.

The Western countries do nothing – or, indeed, very little – to rescue and then host the Middle East Christian migrants. Only the Russian Church and the Vatican have taken actions in this regard, in spite of the difficult conditions also caused by the presence of many migrants from Ukraine.

Patriarch Kirill supports a theology of the new community and religious regionalization in the Middle East, against the globalization that has favoured a satanic “modernization”, namely that of the jihad.

Hence another asset of the Russian Church, which is preparing Russia’s expansion throughout the region, between Syria, Iraq, the Lebanon and Palestine, by taking credit for the protection of Christians, including those faithful to Rome.

As the Melchite (hence Catholic) Archbishop of Syria – Joseph Absi -– says, this leads to the additional Orthodox asset of deciding to put an end to all the rivalries between the Middle East Christian Churches, which weaken the Faith faced with a fierce and unscrupulous enemy.

Ferocious as a fanatic, modernizer as a post-modern.

Either sword jihad or pro-Western mass atheism – destroying the differences in the Middle East is not Patriarch Kirill’s nor Putin’s goal.

There are 22 local Churches in communion with the Church of Rome throughout the Middle East and many argue that – considering the needs for local autonomy in the new Middle East – the union between the Orthodoxy and the Roman Church should be based on a pluralistic project “to separate the communion from the authority”.

Patriarch Kirill’s goals also include support for the small, but growing Catholic community speaking Hebrew and operating in Israel, as well as defining fixed dates for pilgrimages to the Holy Land so as to maintain a continuous flow of faithful from abroad.

According to Patriarch Kirill, all Christian communities are protected in Israel.

And the Jewish State can develop – without losing its identity – into a political entity protecting religious minorities throughout the Middle East.

The great presence of Russian migrants in the Jewish State makes many Orthodox pilgrims “feel at home” and the current agreement between Russia and Israel on passports makes everything easier.

Also at religious level, the Russian Orthodoxy is essentially a geopolitical project to protect all Christian minorities throughout the Middle East – as “major shareholder” of Christianity – as well as to collaborate with the Vatican, which still has a pro-Western geopolitics, and finally create a cultural and religious climate to support Russia’s operations.

In short, Patriarch Kirill wants Israel to collaborate to his interreligious project. He particularly appreciates the significant presence of the Jewish State in Russia and proposes a relationship between Orthodox people and Judaism, foreshadowing – at religious level – the future bilateral and preferential relationship between Russia and Israel.

As to Saudi Arabia, the Russian Church has supported President Putin’s policy of opening, by maintaining that all the Islamic countries, often hit by ISIS, such as Saudi Arabia, must enter an interreligious alliance against extremism and terrorism in a multilateral context.

Moreover, within the framework of the complex Lebanese issue, as early as the visit paid by Patriarch Kirill in the Lebanon in 2011, the Slavic Orthodox Church has been referring to the support for Syria to defend peace and religious pluralism also in the Lebanon.

The 2001 visit had been planned with the Vatican support and the establishment of a specific relationship between the Orthodox Church and the Maronites,  in particular, who have always been faithful to Rome.

Hence, while in the Greater Middle East, the Westerners ally with vast Islamic communities known as “moderates”, the Russian Orthodox Church becomes the united pole of all the Christians in the region. Furthermore, while the Vatican reduces its presence in the core of the Islamic world, to avoid retaliation or to promote dialogue with the Mohammedans in Europe, the Russian Church establishes a stable relationship with all religious faiths in the region. Finally, while Islam has its own statehood, the Orthodox Russia treats us amicably; while Judaism discusses in theological terms, the Russian Church extends the interreligious debate also to Israel.

Hence, for Russia, the construction of religious hegemony, which seems to be the necessary shadow of Putin’s project for multipolar control over the Middle East after the United States being forced to leave the region, due to the many mistakes made, thus leaving it in the hands of unreliable “friends”.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

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St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2018

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2018, one of the annual international platforms that brings together political, industry and business leaders to discuss the most pressing issues affecting global economics, development and finance, will take place on May 24 to 26 in St. Petersburg.

Ahead of the forum, the official website of the President of the Russian Federation has published his welcome greetings to participants, organisers and guests. In his greetings, Putin expressed his confidence that ideas and initiatives to be developed during the forum would facilitate the recovery and growth of the world economy.

“By harnessing the wealth of scientific and technological potential which is rapidly expanding in digital and other areas today, we can improve quality of life and boost stable and harmonious development in all nations and across the world as a whole,” he stressed in his message.

“And it is crucial that we strive towards increasing mutual trust, promoting wide-ranging integration processes, realising large-scale and promising projects. Russia is always open to this kind of partnership and cooperation,” Putin said.

According to RosCongress, the event organiser, about 15,000 guests from more than 140 countries expected to participate in the forum. France, China, India and Japan as guests of the forum will have their own exhibition pavilions on site, which will house a presentation area and a business space for delegations and representatives to interact with business partners from other countries.

Delegations from Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Greece, Italy, India, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel, Vietnam, USA, Canada, African countries and others will participate in various business events. BRICS member states (Brazil, India, China and South Africa) have been prominently represented there.

For foreign participants, including Africans, the forum is very useful for networking and discussing business strategies, and serves as an important study platform for deepening knowledge about the economy and possible ways of transacting business in Russia.

Series of official speeches and panel discussions will undoubtedly dominate the three-day event. The special sessions on business and investment opportunities will include the “Russia – Africa Business Dialogue” that has generated increasing interests among Russian and African businesses, international companies, African governments and institutions.

According to Anton Kobyakov, Adviser to the President of the Russian Federation and Executive Secretary of the SPIEF Organising Committee, the upcoming forum will hold two special celebrations marking the occasions related to the continent: Africa Day and the 55th anniversary of the African Union.

“Economic cooperation between Russia and Africa has been developing rapidly during recent years. We have seen a positive dynamic in trade with Ethiopia, Cameroon, Angola, Sudan, Zimbabwe and other countries”, says Kobyakov. “I strongly believe that Russian-African cooperation at SPIEF, Russia’s largest forum will stimulate trade and economic ties, as well as investment activity.”

Kobyakov further disclosed that during the event, experts will share best practices and discuss new opportunities for implementing joint projects in the BRICS countries. Sergey Katyrin, the President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation, will moderate the session.

“The paramount task for BRICS is to continue strengthening efforts aimed at solving international issues in the spirit of unity, mutual understanding and trust. The prospects for cooperation and joint efforts of the BRICS member states will be discussed at the SPIEF 2018. I am confident that this will give momentum to further development of a fruitful dialogue on key world issues,” Kobyakov says.

Over the past few years, Russian authorities have made relentless efforts toward raising Russia’s political influence and economic cooperation in some African countries. Thus, discussions at the forthcoming forum will undoubtedly focus on reviewing the past and the present as well as proposing practical and the most effective ways to facilitate investment activities and that might include promising areas such as infrastructure, energy and many other sectors in Africa.

On her part, Alexandra Arkhangelskaya, a Senior Researcher at the Institute of African Studies and a Senior Lecturer at the Moscow High School of Economics said in an interview with me that Russia and Africa needed each other – “Russia is a vast market not only for African minerals, but for various other goods and products produced by African countries.”

Currently, the signs for Russian-African relations are impressive – declarations of intentions have been made, important bilateral agreements signed – now it remains to be seen how these intentions and agreements will be implemented in practice, she pointed out in the interview.

The revival of Russia-African relations have be enhanced in all fields. Obstacles to the broadening of Russian-Africa relations have be addressed more vigorously. These include, in particular, the lack of knowledge or information in Russia about the situation in Africa, and vice versa, suggested Arkhangelskaya.

“What seems to irk the Russians, in particular, is that very few initiatives go beyond the symbolism, pomp and circumstance of high level opening moves. It is also still not clear how South Africa sees Russia’s willingness (and intention) to step up its role in Africa, especially with China becoming more visible and assertive on the continent,” said Professor Gerrit Olivier from the Department of Political Science, University of Pretoria, in South Africa.

Today, Russian influence in Africa, despite efforts towards resuscitation, remains marginal. Given its global status, Russia has to be more active in Africa, as Western Europe, the European Union, America and China are, but Russia is partially absent and playing a negligible role, according to the views of the retired  diplomat who served previously as South African Ambassador to the Russian Federation.

“Russia, of course, is not satisfied with this state of affairs. At present diplomacy dominates its approach: plethora of agreements entered into with South Africa and various other states in Africa, official visits from Moscow proliferate apace, but the outcomes remain hardly discernible,” he said.

“The Kremlin has revived its interest on the African continent and it will be realistic to expect that the spade work it is putting in now will at some stage show more tangible results,” Professor Olivier wrote in an email query from Pretoria, South Africa.

Last June 2017, the African representatives including heads of state, deputy president, ministers or their deputies, entrepreneurs and diplomats came to the St. Petersburg forum from Angola, Algeria, Burundi, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

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Social protection for Filipino workers in the Russian Federation

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with Philippines’ Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alan Peter Cayetano

The Philippines and Russia get closer to signing an agreement that would protect Filipino workers in the Russian Federation. As the number of migrant Filipino workers increases, Moscow and Manila are busy negotiating a bilateral labour agreement that could allow thousands more overseas workers into various sectors of the Russian economy.

On May 15, formal discussions were held by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with Philippines’ Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alan Peter Cayetano in Moscow.

Sergey Lavrov noted: “We are interested in ensuring that Filipino workers, who work in the Russian Federation, are socially protected. Many of them were here through private companies, often without the necessary licenses.”

“All this does not provide social protection for Filipino citizens working in the Russian Federation. With the conclusion of the agreement, the beginning of preparation of which we have agreed today, we will solve these issues. We have such agreements with a number of other countries, including ASEAN member States,” he promisingly added.

Earlier, a Regional Migration Specialist at the International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s Regional Office for Asia-Pacific in Bangkok (Thailand), explained in an interview with me that a comprehensive labour agreement between Russia and the Philippines could be positive, if it established procedures and standards for the recruitment, employment and subsequent return of migrant workers.

According to the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Russia officially registered nearly 15, 000. Consequently, such an agreement (could) guarantee the labour rights of migrant workers and eliminate or limit recruitment costs. It will further provide Filipino workers with access to emerging labour market there.

The Federal Migration Service (FMS) office in Moscow has also explained that “official” Filipino workers are entering the country on tourist or business visas, assisted by middlemen and local licensed agencies that often act as migrants’ direct employers and channel them straight into labour market.

The Philippine government has been negotiating for better regulations and working conditions for its citizens for the past several years with little or no conclusive results.

In March 2012, for instance, the then Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Albert Del Rosario held an official discussion in Moscow with Minister Sergey Lavrov on the possibility of sealing a bilateral labour agreement.

Besides, a string of events and conferences over the years have highlighted renewed interests in developing the market of overseas Filipino workers, who are believed to be one of many solutions to Russia’s human resource needs.

Many experts believe that economic modernisation in Russia depends heavily on skilled foreign labour, limited to certain specific sectors like domestic work, finance, and construction.

The fact that Russia willingly entered into the negotiations implies not only that it has an urgent need for the services of foreign workers but also that it is fully aware of the benefits of such an agreement.

Experts have pointed to the Philippine government’s success in deploying its workforce abroad, in many foreign countries. About 10 percent of The Philippines’ population of 90 million people works abroad, with regular remittances accounting for up to 25 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Some estimates put the total contribution to the Philippine economy by specialists working abroad at $50 billion last year.

The Philippine Overseas Labour Office in Rome (Italy), explained to me that the Philippine government has an official policy of deploying Filipino workers only to countries that guarantee protection and promotion of their rights, welfare and interests.

Under a recently enacted law, the Philippine government banned its nationals from seeking employment in countries that do not guarantee the rights and welfare of foreign workers, or whose local labour and social legislation does not cover migrant workers.

Quite recent, the Philippines government and the Kuwaiti government signed an agreement on the recruitment, use and protection of Filipino workers after a diplomatic row over abuse and inhuman treatment of working Filipinos.

It therefore implies that The Philippines and Russian authorities have to work on effective ways to establish and improve the bilateral legal framework for mutual benefit for both countries. *This special report from Kester Kenn Klomegah, an independent researcher and policy consultant, in Moscow.

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The Russian strategy towards North Africa

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As John Mearsheimer quote “The ideal situation for any state is to experience sharp economic growth while its rivals’ economies grow slowly or hardly at all”. Russia paves the way to tighten its economic and military cooperation’s with Egypt as one of the main North African allies so far.

Russian keen interest in Africa, particularly North Africa, began in the 18th century, with benefits and incentives in the Mediterranean bowl as part of an expansion strategy that was based on economic, political and military estimation.

Africa changed between east and west in terms of alliances which helped form its, economic, cultural, political and militarily balance. Like now, after changes in the status of relationships among alliances, and after structures of the region shifted with a picture that is different to the previous one that had seen over the era of the alliances of the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, Russia is back again after the removal of the Americans. This time, Russia came to the region with the notion of regional rivalry, after a long time, which could make it a key actor until the US resets its position. Russia has put all its power and influence on playing a role in which it would take back its position in North Africa towards enlarging and deepening the economic and investment cooperation as well mutual relations that back to the 1960s.

Due to this, Russia has taken many steps that show its mutual incentive and awareness in North Africa with the main interest in Egypt. This came after the decline of Egyptian-American relations, so Russia and Egypt signed many political agreements, including one of the important agreement which is modernized Egyptian air defense system. This step is advised a Russian warning to the Americans that it is on its way to subjoin one of its significant allies in the region, which used to experienced strategic and military cooperation depend on mutual interests. American vessels used to be the first one when crossing the Suez Canal and could use its air zone in interchange for annual military aid equivalent to $1.3 billion in 2013, which America froze in protest upon the displace of the first democratic regime in Egypt that came after the January 25th Revolution and the coup d’état against legitimacy.

The objective of Russian return to the region is not incomparably limited to economic arbitrations; there are mainly arms contracts, security exchange in fighting terrorism and upgrading trade process. Other than Egypt, there are also other promising destinations which began with diplomatic visits, such as Morocco and Algeria. The significant aspect of returning of Russia to North Africa at this time is the lack of any ideological agenda in the new agreements and cooperation plans.

Currently, Russia embarks to Egypt; the foremost step reaches several targets. Basically, Egypt is seen as geo-strategic access and convenient gateway through Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa where the natural resources wealth of uranium, gold, oil and maritime exist. These natural resources might be a rational reason for future dispute between Russia and America, especially after US withdrawal from North Africa, but only after having strengthened its presence in sub-Saharan Africa and safeguards Maritime roads for Gulf oil through the region.

As long as the two superpowers competing, North Africa is the free land of future investment that requires an agreement between the Russia and America, especially as other powers, such as China, are present and access Africa from its center. China was involved and engaged in exploring and manufacturing Sudan’s oil, before the division of the state of South Sudan in 2011. Today China is growing its activities after most oil fields became part of South Sudan. In addition to the new state, China has other markets in central Africa and the east. It only collaborates and participates in economic and trade sectors and infrastructure construction in Sudan.

The Russian president Putin embark to Cairo last Monday after a concise and unpublished visit to a Russian military air base in Syria. The air base has offered the main ledge for the air campaign Russia has undertaken since September 2015 under the backing of Syrian President Basher Assad.

Egypt’s constantly close ties with Russia get back to the 1950s and 1960s when Egypt became a close Russian ally at the height of the cold war. Therefore, Egypt changed sides in the 1970s under the late President Anwar Sadat, who replaced Moscow with Washington as his country’s chief economic and military backer following the signing of a U.S.-fund peace treaty with Israel in 1979. Egypt has since become an important successor of American. aid. Under el-Sisi, Egypt has been able to sustain close relations with both Russia and the United States.

In term of Military Cooperation, Sisi and Putin also tackled about Syria and mutual rejection of U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move that has sparked protests across the region and from European capitals as well. The high-level Russian visit comes after the U.S. government in August decided to deny Egypt $95.7 million in aid and to delay another $195 million because of its full failure to make progress on human rights and democratic norms.

Russia started a military operation to back and support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in September 2015, and there are clues Moscow is keen to enlarge its military existence in the region.

To sum, Russia chose Egypt for its geopolitical and strategically partner combining three continents. Therefore, let’s see how Russia could maintain its presence in the region showing off its ability to promote economic interests, especially with African partners. So will Africa be for Russia alone?

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