Ukraine: War is coming, part 3

It seemed that the talks in Geneva between Russian, Ukrainian and US counterparts had opened up a possibility for all those involved to step back from the brink, calm the situation down and work things out. To be honest, for a brief moment, I thought there could be some mature, adult behavior and things might be resolved. I was foolish to think this, since when have political leaders shown any sort of grown up pragmatism in dealing with serious problems? They are more interested in their petty power plays. They are lesser sons, ignoble offspring, unfit for purpose and certainly unfit to govern. I aim that at all politicians and rulers, everywhere.

So now we have an escalating situation in Ukraine, the number of small skirmishes seem to be increasing on a daily basis. How long will it be before we see a major assault take place, it appears to only be a matter of time, sooner rather than later! The opportunities to step back from the brink are becoming fewer by the day as tension mounts. As I said in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series; they are stumbling towards war, blind to the consequences which will befall them.

One of the areas of the Ukraine/Russia crisis that doesn’t get much attention at the moment is the role of the Orthodox church, its involvement in the political affairs of both countries. I first wrote about it in early March, you can find it here Further to this, at Easter you can see the involvement of the Orthodox church on both sides when you take notice of what was said when they addressed their followers. In Ukraine, Patriarch Filaret condemned Russian aggression, directly calling Russia an enemy. Meanwhile in Russia, Patriarch Kirill while he called for peace and cooperation between Ukraine and Russia he also called for, and I quote “end to the designs of those who want to destroy Holy Russia.”

To understand the full impact of this you need to know what he meant when he said “Holy Russia”, from a Russian nationalist point of view there is no difference between Russia and Ukraine, they are one and the same, the birth of Russia as we know it originates in Ukraine. Modern Russian nationalism sees Ukraine as a country to be fully united into Russia. The Russian Orthodox church is a key proponent of this, Patriarch Kirill is extremely nationalistic and also extremely close to Vladimir Putin. Kirill is a key Putin supporter, preaching from the pulpit that Putin is the man of the hour and there to save Russia and unite “Holy Russia” So we have the Orthodox church, Ukrainian and Russian, both supposedly Christian, using their enormous political power in their respective countries to foment war regarding an idea that goes against anything that is taught by the faith they proclaim to follow.

Besides strongly resurgent Russian nationalism, it also appears that there is another reason for Russia’s actions. Appealing to the Russian masses sense of nationalism is a very effective way of taking their minds away from other deeper, systemic problems. The Russian economy is very fragile, money is being drained out of its economy at a huge rate, the national bank is having to use its reserves to maintain liquidity, the banking sector is very fragile, it is facing a situation of sub-prime business loans similar to the sub-prime property loan crisis in the USA back in 2007/2008, the main difference is that the big Russian banks are owned by those who are personally close to Putin. The price of crude oil is falling, the Russian economy is based on oil/gas exports and depends on maintaining a certain price level. At the moment the price is about $110 per barrel. Russia or should I say Putin, needs the price to be about $115 per barrel in order to have enough money to keep paying the people the vast amounts he must for their continued support. Then we have to consider China, its shadow banking sector is in a huge speculative bubble which when it bursts will have implications for the wider Chinese economy, this will depress demand which will be reflected in the amount of energy it consumes and buys from Russian which will further depress oil/gas prices, reducing further the income Russia gets from its energy exports. Faced with these situations, a man such as Putin is going to be pressed into a corner, he will come out fighting, looking for ways to put the blame on others, a war with Ukraine would be a useful distraction, he is being left with little other choice. It is funny in an ironic way, the desire to hold on to power no matter what, will lead people into the most self destructive situations imaginable, and I aim this at the global political, business and religious system, not only Putin. When I look at the world today it reminds me of how the world was shortly before the outbreak of WW1. Watch this space.

 

 

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Russia, Crimea and the Eastern Orthodox Church Lead Way To War

The Crimea region of Ukraine is now under de facto Russian control. It is a simple fact on the ground. The rights and wrongs of this are for others to discuss, I’m more interested in the reasons why and the possible consequences.

As I was going through various news sources over the weekend, what else can I do after a knee operation, I saw a picture that stopped me in my tracks. It shouldn’t surprise me, the role of religion in politics is hardly new. The image I saw, link here, was of Eastern Orthodox priests blessing Russian troops as they take control of Crimea. I have been thinking about this image and what it means.

Outside the Orthodox community many people don’t realize just how powerful the Orthodox church is and how much power and influence it has in Russian politics. Its Patriarch, Kirill Gundyaev and Vladimir Putin have been forging strong links for more than a decade, even though there is an official separation of Church and State in the Russian Constitution. Kirill is a Russian nationalist through and through, believing that Russia should play a major role, even a dominant one, in world affairs as part of his belief in  ‘Russian Civilization’, coincidentally when Putin was campaigning to become Russian President in 2012 he put the idea of ‘Russian Civilization’ at the heart of his campaign, something he was influenced to do by Patriarch Kirill perhaps? Why not, the two men have been close for years and Kirill is very good at influencing political thinking.

As a result, the Orthodox church has tremendous power, so when events erupted in Ukraine one can imagine that Kirill with his very strong nationalistic tendencies would have been eager to use the opportunity to encourage Putin to take back control of the Crimea, historically a part of Russia. Add to this the long term disputes between the Orthodox church and the Vatican over property and influence in Ukraine and you begin to realize how the current situation is playing into the hands of the Orthodox. For a thousand years the Church and State have been different sides of the same coin. Only during the Soviet period was the link broken but after the collapse of The Soviet Union actions were quickly taken to rebuild the power and influence of the Church. Although never proven, as any inquiry has always been blocked, there is strong circumstantial evidence that Patriarch Kirill had very close links to the KGB and Politburo in the days when the Church was heavily controlled. Kirill is known as an astute politician and diplomat, as a very worldly man he knows how to use difficult circumstances to his advantage. The strategic thinking of the Orthodox Church would have had them urgently looking at ways to take advantage of the unrest in Ukraine.

While good for the Orthodox church, the risks to Putin are high. This is one of the clever games of Kirill, influence a leader to take action and if it goes wrong he can come out of the situation looking relatively innocent with the knowledge that a political backlash against him would be difficult to implement because of the Church’s influence over the majority of the Russian population. If on the other hand things go wrong for Putin and his government in their approach to Ukraine then the Russian economy is going to suffer, it will be trusted even less than before and the Cold War could easily return. Putin’s pride would also take a very personal hit as the country would blame him directly if things go wrong.

The situation in Ukraine is still developing, as of time of writing no shots have yet been fired. While Russia has moved troops into the Crimea region there are many questions about overall Russian military readiness, it has an extremely top heavy command structure and the numbers of soldiers ready to fight is less than many suspect. Add to the fact that a lot of Russian military hardware is less than reliable and you begin to understand the gamble that Putin is taking. There is a part of me that wonders if maybe he was encouraged to act against his better judgement by the Orthodox church which supplies him with so much of his popular support through their preaching from the pulpit. Looking at the situation now it would seem that Russia would like to provoke Ukraine into firing the first shot, but whoever fires the first shot the consequences for the Ruble will be dramatic. Ukraine on the other hand is also on the verge of bankruptcy, its options are limited unless the promise of funds made by the West come to fruition. Don’t under estimate the Ukrainians, they have been developing a reputation as an arms exporter. When the Soviet Union collapsed they inherited a lot of factories that make military hardware. A lot of these were closed but what they have done is improved on the designs of Soviet era hardware and then selling it, their quality control is recognized as being better than that of Russia, hence one of the reasons why they have been able to successfully develop their exports. Ukrainians also have a strong backbone and will not give up without a fight if that is what they feel they must do.

The situation is still very fluid, the stakes on both sides are extremely high and the Orthodox Church in Russia is influencing the situation more than most people realize. The next 24-48 hours are going to be interesting.