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Vatican, Moscow & China: A New Global Religious and Spiritual Hegemony

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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The record is substantially positive. This is how Cardinal Parolin has summarized the results of his recent visit to the Russian Federation.Firstly, there is the Russian Catholic community to protect,  with 300 parishes and 270 priests – mostly non-Russians, but Poles, Lithuanians, Germans, Ukrainians – as well as an Archbishop of Moscow, namely the Italian Paolo Pezzi, coming from the movement of “Communion and Liberation”, who is an expert in Russian political, cultural and religious issues.

A brilliant prelate to be supported, having a profound knowledge of Russian issues and Orthodox theology.

It is worth recalling that Pope Francis shook hand with Patriarch Kirill in the first historic meeting held in Havana last year between the two highest representatives of the 1054 schism.

An action that was favourably viewed by the United States and supported by the whole Cuban people.

This is a diplomatic success of which the Pope will soon take advantage.

Finally, Pope Francis is no longer very interested in the Eastern schism and in its doctrinal, theological and strategic connotation.

If anything, Pope Francis is interested in a new alliance between Russia, the Catholic Church of Rome and, in the future, China, so as to put an end to the Western Church’s  geopolitical dependence on the Euro-American West.

As explicitly stated, the Pope no longer wants to only be the spokesman of Western civilization, which is now dechristianized.

As Cardinal Parolin himself has recalled, he is the first High Representative of the Catholic Church to visit  Moscow after the Crimean War.

This is an essential political and symbolic aspect to mark the distance between the Vatican and the Atlantic axis between Western Europe and the United States.

With Foreign Minister Lavrov, whom Cardinal Secretary of State met in Moscow, a clear agreement was reached quickly: the Russian forces’ de facto protection of all religious minorities in the Middle East.

And to think that, in this case, the United States have even come to blame Russia for “penalizing” the so-called moderate jihadists that NATO and the United States keep on training in Syria and in other parts of the world.

Therefore the Vatican explicitly views the Kremlin’s pro-Assad policy favourably, together with the Syrian Christian community – in all its various forms – that continues to live in Syria and the Middle East, protected by Russia and   Bashar al-Assad’s Alawites much more than by the “moderate” jihad that, since the time of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, is still at the core of US operations in that region.

Considering the current condition of Catholics in Russia, there was some foreseeable friction between Minister Lavrov and Cardinal Parolin.

Apart from the practical freedom to profess the Catholic faith, one of the issue at stake is the ownership of churches and palaces of the Russian Catholic Church, confiscated by the Soviet regime and never returned to the legitimate owners after the USSR collapse in spite of the favourable court judgments for the Church of Rome in Russia.

Catholics in Russia are few – approximately 800,000, accounting for 0.5% of the total population. Nevertheless, the true strategic aim is not the number, but the quality of the Vatican and Russian joint strategic actions: the goal is exactly Pope Francis’ visit to Russia.

It would be the seal of a Catholic Church that – as at the time of Pope John Paul II – anticipates and overcomes the end of the Cold War, thus envisaging a link between the Vatican and the emerging powers of the Eurasian Heartland, which is now the alternative to a weak and dangerous strategic link between the Vatican and the consumerist and scientist atheism currently in power in the Euro-American West.

It is now clear that Pope Francis does not like this West at all: a universe without God that is heading for a quick, ethical and anthropological cupio dissolvi.

In fact, the Pope prefers the areas of the world in which the Catholic Church can still serve as “field hospital” and operate in a cultural universe in which religion, even the non-Catholic one, is respected.

Better a Confucian than a naive European atheist, only believing in science (he/she does not know) and in the freedom of instincts.

Here Cardinal Parolin’s and the Pope’s ideas are on the same wavelength as those of Patriarch Kirill, who wants fewer links between the Orthodox Church and the Russian State, as well as a spiritual status not far from the Kremlin, but autonomous from Putin’s line of politique d’abord (politics, first of all).

A system envisaging Patriarch Kirill as the world leader of the Orthodox Church and Pope Francis as the world  inevitable leader of Catholicism, designed to build – also   after the agreement with the Chinese government – a sort of new global religious and spiritual hegemony, outside the subjection to Westernism for the Vatican, and lateral to the Russian strategic interest for Patriarch Kirill.

The central political factor of this new geo-religious system is the Ukrainian question.

The extraordinary fundraising campaign launched by Pope Francis for Ukraine, which has been operating since 2014, has had positive impact on the Russian Orthodox Church and the whole community of believers. The success has been great (1 million and 230 thousand euros have been collected) and it has proved that the Vatican – even in the charitable and universalistic dimension characterizing it – does not think in the same way as the Western powers currently operating in the Ukrainian theater of operations.

While the West currently operates in the war-stricken regions with an inept internationalism, the Vatican of Cardinal Parolin and Pope Francis is still based on the traditional and unsurpassed “law of nations” (ius gentium) – and on a reasonable and never sectarian respect for nationality, ethnicity, borders and legitimate States.

Pope Francis’ and Cardinal Parolin’s law is, first and foremost, humanitarian law: agreements between the parties, wherever possible; immediate release of prisoners, a theme that alone can break through the political situation; truce and cease-fire are all actions that the Vatican is putting in place to solve the Ukrainian crisis.

And possibly solve also the tension in Syria where, since 2011, the two million Catholic believers have fallen to one only.

In Iraq, Christians have currently fallen from 300,000 to  200,000.

In Syria a real “war against Christians” is being waged – as recently stated by Jacques Benhan Hindo, the Syrian-Catholic Archbishop of Hassakè-Nisibi, the diocese in which Raqqa is located – while the YPG Kurds behave very badly with the various Christian churches still present there.

It can be easily foreseen that these Kurds will be abandoned by the United States as soon as it has exploited  them fully and all the way.

Daesh-Isis is supported by Turkey and the United States, while the Christian communities are protected – within the limits of their areas and fields of competence – by the Russian soldiers and Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

In such a situation, certainly Pope Francis’ Church cannot fully work, but it can certainly unite the basic religious and ethnic communities and make them act as parties in the future negotiations.

An operation that could more easily take place in Ukraine.

In fact, if Syria is broken up – as is increasingly likely – the Shiite axis between Bashar al-Assad’s area and Iran – which was at the origin of the Sunni and jihadist war against the Syrian Baathist regime – will be strengthened,  while Russia will become the true strategic player in the region, with the United States relegated to the rank of mere counterparts of Qatar (funding Al Nusra) and Saudi Arabia (funding Isis-Daesh).

Hence the Christian traditions are being eradicated in Syria and in rest of the Middle East with a view to fostering the final clash between Shiites and Sunnis – a clash that the Vatican does not want and will do its utmost, with Russia and China, to avoid.

A clash between Shiites and Sunnis – “a piecemeal World War Three”, just to use Pope Francis’ expression – in which Westerners side with the Sunnis, thus preparing other years of blood and destruction for them and for the Middle East.

As already happened with Cuba, in the new world context it will be the Vatican to bring the United States and Russia closer at the right time.

Possibly with a new agreement for the Middle East, as is said in the Vatican Secretary of State’s office.

This will exactly be the purpose of Pope Francis’ and Cardinal Parolin’s “geopolitics of mercy”.

With a tough statement made in September 2013 the Pope condemned the United States for wanting to overthrow Assad with  missiles, but there is another point of agreement between Putin and the Pope, namely the defense of the traditional family.

The Kremlin leader has repeatedly condemned the Western “nihilistic drift”, as well as the obsessive and philosophically unreasonable confidence in Reason. On the media both Patriarch Kirill and President Putin often repeat the old statement made by former Pope Benedict XVI whereby “the worst enemy of the West is the West itself”.

Furthermore, the schism could be doctrinally overcome with a statement – that Patriarch Kirill had already suggested – in which it is accepted that the Pope, the Patriarch of Rome, is the protos among the Patriarchs of the other  Churches – on the basis of the document discussed in 2008 on the island of Crete, regarding the history and identity of the Churches before and after the Great Schism.

This is another theme that will soon come to its natural fulfillment in the diplomatic practice of mercy established by Cardinal Parolin and Pope Francis.

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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Dayton Peace Accord 23 Years On: Ensured Peace and Stability in Former Yugoslavia

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For the past twenty-three years life has been comparatively peaceful in the breakaway republics of the former Yugoslavia. The complicated civil war that began in Yugoslavia in 1991 had numerous causes and began to break up along the ethnic lines. The touching stories and the aftermath effects of the breakaway republics of Bosnia- Herzegovina, Croatia and in Kosovo are still unfolding. Though the numbers of deaths in the Bosnia- Herzegovina conflict in former Yugoslavia are not known precisely, most sources agree that the estimates of deaths vary between 150,000 to 200,000 and displaced more than two million people. During the conflict a Srebrenica a North-eastern enclave of Bosnia once declared as a United  Nations  (UN ) safe area” saw one of the worst atrocity since second world war.

It has been estimated that more than 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks were massacred in Srebrenica and it was one of the most brutal ethnic cleansing operations of its kind in modern warfare. The US brokered peace talks revived the a peace process between the three warring factions in Bosnia- Herzegovina. For Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina a United States (US ) -brokered peace deal reached in Dayton on 21st November 1995. In a historic reconciliation bid on 14 December 1995 , the Dayton Peace Accord was signed in Paris, France, between Franjo Tudjman president of the Republic of Croatia and Slobodan Milosevic president of the Federal Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), Alija Izetbegovic, president of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

When conflict in Bosnia- Herzegovina, Croatia ended, the reconciliation began between ethnically divided region. The US played a crucial role in defining the direction of the Peace process. In 1996, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) -led 60,000 multinational peace enforcement force known as the Implementation Force (IFOR)) was deployed to help preserve the cease-fire and enforce the treaty provisions. Thereafter, the Court was established by Resolution 808 and later, Resolution 827 of the United Nations Security Council, which endorsed to proceed with setting up of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to try crimes against humanity . International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was the first United Nations (UN) war crimes tribunal of its kind since the post-second world war Nuremberg tribunal.

In the late 1990’s, as the political crisis deepened a spiral of violence fuelled the Kosovo crisis between the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the Yugoslav forces. Unlike the Bosnia- Herzegovina, Kosovo was a province of Serbia, of former Yugoslavia that dates back to 1946, when Kosovo gained autonomy as a province within Serbia. It is estimated that more than 800,000. Kosovos were forced out of Kosovo in search of refuge and as many as 500,000 more were displaced within Kosovo.

Subsequent t hostilities in Kosovo the eleven week air campaign led by NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) against Yugoslavia in 1999 the Yugoslavian forces pulled troops out of Kosovo NATO. After the war was over, the United Nations Security Council, under the resolution 1244 (1999) approved to establish an international civil presence in Kosovo, known as the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Nevertheless UNMIK regulation No 1999/24 provided that the Law in Force in Kosovo prior to March 22, 1989 would serve as the applicable law for the duration of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

In this  context reconciliation is a key to national healing of wounds after ending a violent conflict. Healing the wounds of the past and redressing past wrongs is a process through which a society moves from a divided past to a shared future. Over the years in Serbia, Bosnia- Herzegovina, Croatia and in Kosovo the successful peace building processes had happened. The success of the peace building process was possible because of participation of those concerned, and since appropriate strategies to effectively approach was applied with all relevant actors. The strengthening of institutions for the benefit of all citizens has many important benefits for the peace and stability of former Yugoslavia. Hence, the future looks bright for the Balkan states of Serbia, Bosnia- Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo.

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Hungarian Interest, Ukraine and European Values

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Diplomatic conflicts that have recently arisen between Hungary and its neighboring countries and the European Union as a whole most clearly show the new trend in European politics. This trend is committing to national and  state values of a specific  European country, doubting  the priority of supranational  interests within the European Union. Political analyst Timofey Bordachev believes that “the era of stale politics and the same stale politicians, who make backstage decisions based on the“ lowest common denominator,” are finally coming to an end. Politicians with a new vision of the world order come to power, such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Austrian Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurtz, or the new head of the Italian Interior Ministry, leader of the right-wing League of the North Party, Matteo Salvini ”.

It is not the first year that Hungary is trying to protect the interests of its citizens and the state from external influence, to protect the Hungarians in the territory of neighbouring states  by establishing for this  a special position (Commissioner  for the development of the Transcarpathian region of Ukraine), to determine relations with other countries on the basis of their attitude to the rights of Hungarians. This is how conflicts with the European Union arose, after Hungary refused to let migrants into the country, in the same manner, a conflict  arose with Ukraine, which is trying to build a state ideology, based on nationalism, which a priori does not provide for the proper level of realization and protection of the rights of non-titular nations.

In relation to Hungary, Ukraine follows the same policy as in relation to Russia – to initiate various accusations, to call for punishment, to talk about the inconsistency with European values of the Hungarian policy under the leadership of  Orban. Doing so Kiev has its multifaceted interest: cooperation with NATO and the EU, support  for any decisions of Brussels, the anti-Russian course, domestic policy based on the nationalist  ideology. And in all these areas  Hungary poses  a problem for Ukraine. In the description of relations with Hungary  Kiev even  uses the word “annexation“.

Hungary is hardly planning to seize any Ukrainian territory, but on what  grounds Ukraine falsely accuses Hungary of its annexation intentions in relation to Transcarpathia?  The Ukrainian side highlights several positions:

Issuing Hungarian passports  to Ukrainian citizens (ethnic Hungerians)

This  is an old story, it has come to light again recently due to the growth of Ukrainian nationalism. Moreover,  there are concerns about the implementation by Hungary of the “Crimean scenario” in relation to Transcarpathia.

The Hungarian government has created the position of  “Commissioner  for the development of Ukraine’s Transcarpathian region and the program for the development of kindergartens in the Carpathian region”.

Ukraine demanded an explanation. A note of protest was delivered to the Hungarian Charge d’Affaires in Ukraine, and the Foreign ministers of Ukraine and Hungary had a telephone conversation on the problem. Hungary continues to ignore the requirements of Kiev.

Ukraine fears further disintegration processes

At the same time, in Kiev there is no understanding  of the fact that combining the ideology of nationalism with the country’s national diversity and European integration is hardly possible.

Ukrainian experts note the growth of separatism in the Transcarpathian region, as well as the “strange behavior” of the governor, who plays on the side of Hungary. They also complain that “pro-Ukrainian ideology”(?) is not being сonsolidated in Transcarpathia, and this region is not controlled and monitored by  the Ministry of information. In a word, the state is losing control over the territory, which it neither develops nor controls. Such behavior of the governor and the region’s residents may indicate that the state is not sufficiently present in the lives of residents of Transcarpathia, and this a financial and humanitarian drawback they compensate with the help of Hungary, – experts believe.

Apparently, Ukraine is unable to reach an agreement with Hungary as relations are tense. In response to the Ukrainian law on education, adopted in the fall of 2017, which infringes the rights of national minorities, Budapest blocked another, the third, Ukraine-NATO meeting. Ukraine witnessed this embarrassing  situation  in April 2018.  At the same time elections were held in Hungary, in  which Viktor Orban’s party won a majority in the parliament. Such a tough stance of Budapest in relation to the Ukrainian educational policy Kiev considered to be just a sign of electoral populism. However, this was a mistake.

Viktor Orban’s victory in spring 2018 was convincing, and a convincing victory means obvious support of his migration policies as well as his support  for compatriots abroad. The party of Orban – Fides – not only won a majority but a constitutional majority – 133 of the 199 seats  in the National Assembly of Hungary.

There is no doubt  that Hungary has become Ukraine’s another serious opponent in the process of its European integration. And it is unlikely that either  country  will take a step back: there will be presidential elections in Ukraine soon, and in Hungary, the victory won by Orban, apparently, confirms the  approval of his independent  foreign  policy  by  the citizens.  So the conflict is likely to develop.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Belt and Road Alternatives: The European Strategy

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The European Union (EU) has put forward a plan for enhancing connectivity within Asia, which has been dubbed as the Asia Connectivity Strategy.

The EU does not want to give an impression, that the Asia Connectivity Strategy (ACS) is a counter to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Yet, senior officials of the EU, while commenting on the broad aims and objectives of the project, have categorically stated, that the primary goal of the Asia Connectivity Strategy, is enhancing connectivity (physical and digital) while also ensuring, that local communities benefit from such a project, and environmental and social norms are not flouted (this is a clear allusion to the shortcomings of the BRI). There are no clear details with regard to the budget, and other modalities of the project (EU member countries are likely to give a go ahead for this project, before the Asia-Europe Meeting in October 2018). EU has categorically stated, that it would like to ensure that the ACS is economically sustainable.

Other alternatives to BRI 

It is not just the EU, but even the US, along with Japan and Australia. which are trying to create an alternative vision to the BRI.

The US alternative to the BRI, is being funded by the recently created United States International Development Finance Corporation (USDFC) (an organization which will merge Overseas Private Investment Corporation and other Development Finance Programs) which came into being after the passing of the BUILD  (Better Utilization of Investments leading to Development) Act recently.

It would be pertinent to point out, that the US which has been accused of lacking a cohesive vision to counter China’s BRI has in recent months spoken, on more than one occasion, about greater the dire need for robust connectivity in the Indo-Pacific. In July 2018 US Secretary of State while speaking at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum committed an amount of $113 million for U.S. initiatives to support projects related to digital economy, energy, and infrastructure. The Secretary of State, while speaking about close links between US and Indo-Pacific, also spoke about the need for greater private sector involvement in projects in the Indo-Pacific. Pompeo off late, has also been reaching out pro-actively to a number of countries in South East Asia, and visited Malaysia, Indonesia in August 2018.

It would be pertinent to point out that OPIC  (now part of USFDC) has already signed with the overseas finance development arms of Japan and Australia, and is in talks with India to work jointly. Some of the areas being explored for joint investments are energy, infrastructure.

It is not just the US, even Japan has come with it’s own alternative, Partnership for Quality Infrastructure (PQI), to the BRI.

Potential Appeal of the Asia Connectivity Strategy

So the question then arises, why would countries seeking an alternative to China, not come on board the US’ connectivity initiative. The ‘Asia Connectivity Strategy’ may be especially acceptable to leaders, who do not want to be seen as blindly following US diktats, but who are also uncomfortable with Beijing’s economic policies, and want to avoid falling into what has been dubbed as Beijing’s ‘debt trap’ diplomacy. A perfect example being Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohammad who scrapped projects worth 40 Billion USD, and also referred to the rise of a ‘new colonialism’ being promoted by China. The Malaysian PM has not shared a particularly cordial relationship with the US in the past. While addressing the United Nations General Assembly (unga), Mahathir made some interesting points, saying that Malaysians want a Malaysia, which seeks relations based on ‘mutual respect’ and a Malaysia, that is ‘neutral’ and ‘non aligned’

EU itself trying to strike a balance

EU Chief, Jean Claude Juncker, has been pitching for a more pro-active response to Trump’s insular policies, as well as China’s BRI. Given the fact, that EU has taken a divergent stand from US on the Iran issue, and has proposed a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) which will ensure that trade with Iran continues, even before the impending US sanctions to be imposed on Iran in November 2018. The SPV was announced, jointly with Russia and China, on the sidelines of the UNGA.

At the UNGA, French President, Emmanuel Macron disagreed with Trump’s views with regard to Iran, and supported the 2015 Vienna Accord. Said Macron: We know that Iran was on a nuclear military path but what stopped it? The 2015 Vienna accord.”

While it remains to be seen, if the SPV set up by EU works or not, but a number of countries which do not want to be part of the Chinese or American orbit would be attracted towards the EU, in spite of all the problems it is facing, due to it’s capacity to take an independent stand.

Asia Connectivity Strategy is not only about competition

It remains to be seen whether the Asia Connectivity Strategy can gain traction. In terms of connectivity, there may even be strong overlaps with the ‘Indo-Pacific vision’. France, which has strengthened strategic ties with Australia and India, is already seeking to play a pro-active role in the Indo-Pacific.

French President Emmanuel Macron had referred to the need for a strong Paris-Canberra-New Delhi axis, during his Australia visit, as a counter to China’s increasing assertiveness.

Interestingly, while there is a realization, that Asian Connectivity Strategy has a competitive element, and there are some clear differences between EU’s strategy and BRI, there are also some who believe, that there is space for collaboration between the Asia Connectivity Strategy and BRI. This point has been put forward by some policy makers and strategic commentators in EU, as well as sections of the Chinese media. Wang Wen Wen in an article for the Global Times, argues:

‘Asia needs Europe as much as it needs China. Since the EU and China are the two largest economic entities in Eurasia, it is vital that they steward the continent’s economic development agenda. Some programs in the BRI have carried out cooperation with the European side on technology and equipment procurement.’

In conclusion, the Asia Connectivity Strategy is an interesting idea. A lot will depend upon available resources and the response of potential stakeholders. But EU going ahead with such an initiative in spite of numerous problems within is truly laudable.

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