Ukrainian President Slams Russian Church As ‘National Security Threat’

Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd L) attends a ceremony marking the 1030th anniversary of the adoption of Christianity by Prince Vladimir, the leader of Kievan Rus, a loose federation of Slavic tribes that preceded the Russian state, in Moscow on July 28, 2018.
Alexander Zemlianichenko / POOL / AFP

 

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Saturday condemned the influential Russian Orthodox Church, which counts millions of believers, as a threat to national security.

The influence of the Russian Orthodox Church is a “direct threat to the national security of Ukraine”, Poroshenko said during ceremonies marking 1,030 years since conversion to Christianity, adding that “this obliges us to act”.

The Orthodox Church in Ukraine is split between the largest branch whose clerics pledge loyalty to the head of the Russian church, Patriarch Kirill, and one that is overseen by Kiev-based Patriarch Filaret.

Poroshenko joined a procession of tens of thousands of believers organised by the Kiev church after the Moscow-based church held a similar procession on Friday.

“I believe it is absolutely necessary to cut off all the tentacles with which the aggressor country operates inside the body of our state,” Poroshenko said of the Russian church.

He complained that it is “separated from the state only on paper” while in reality it “fully and unconditionally supports the Kremlin’s revanchist imperial policy.”

In Moscow on Saturday, President Vladimir Putin headed a procession of worshippers with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, underlining their close relations.

Kirill even drew attention to the fact that Putin shares a first name with Prince Vladimir, who brought Christianity to the pagan Slavic state of Kievan Rus in 988.

“I think there is no such thing as a coincidence, especially when we are talking about people whose actions truly change the world,” the Patriarch told Putin.

He prayed for peace among those fighting in the conflict between Kiev’s forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The conflict has exacerbated tensions between the two churches, with Ukranian Patriarch Filaret once saying Putin was “possessed by Satan”.

The Kiev-based church supported the bloody popular uprising in 2014 that ousted a Kremlin-backed government in Ukraine.

Kirill on Friday warned against attempts to drive a wedge between the two churches.

“Attempts to artificially tear the Ukrainian Orthodox Church away from the Moscow Patriarchate can lead to a catastrophe,” he said.

Ukraine Rejects Russian Gas Transit Offer

Ukraine’s President, Petro Poroshenko speaks during a joint press conference with German Chancellor after talks about fragile truce on April 10, 2018 in Berlin. Credit: Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

 

Ukraine on Wednesday rejected a natural gas transit proposal by Russian energy giant Gazprom as an unacceptable and unprofitable proposition for Kiev. 

Gazprom on Tuesday had said it could continue pumping reduced volumes of gas to western and central Europe through an existing Ukrainian trunk pipeline.

The suggestion came after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said a deal for the Nord Stream 2 project Gazprom has been pushing was impossible “without clarity about the Ukrainian transit role.”

Nord Stream 2 is a proposed expansion of an existing link that connects Russia directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea.

Ukraine has bitterly opposed the project because it fears it will undermine its traditional role as the main transit country for Russian gas exports to Europe.

Gazprom chief Alexei Miller said his company had never raised the prospect of stopping all Ukrainian transit and it could maintain volumes of 10 to 15 billion cubic metres per year.

But Ukrainian Energy Minister Igor Nasalyk said those amounts were too small to make Russian gas transit economically viable.

“Our country will not accept such volumes. For Ukraine, this is unprofitable,” Nasalyk was quoted as saying by the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.

Nasalyk said Ukraine would have to invest its own resources to keep Russian gas pumping at the levels offered by Gazprom.

He added that Russia needed to pump at least 40 billion cubic metres per year to make it “economically profitable” for Kiev.

The volumes mentioned by Gazprom are a fraction of those Russia hopes to supply to Germany and other parts of Europe by routes bypassing Ukraine once its existing transit contract with Kiev expires in 2019.

Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, has urged Germany to abandon plans to build Nord Stream 2, saying it would amount to an “economic and energy blockade” of his crisis-torn country.

In 2017, 93.5 billion cubic metres of Russian gas transited Ukraine to the rest of Europe — about half of EU nations’ total purchases from Gazprom.

The United States has cautioned Germany against signing up Nord Stream 2, arguing that it would only increase Europe’s energy dependence on Russia.

More than a third of the gas consumed in the European Union is supplied by Gazprom.

AFP

EU Leaders To Threaten Extra Russia Sanctions, Agree New Team

russiaEuropean Union leaders are likely to threaten Russia with new sanctions over Ukraine on Saturday but, fearful of a new Cold War and self-inflicted harm on their own economies, should give Moscow another chance to make peace.

At a summit in Brussels that may hand one of the Union’s top jobs to Poland’s premier and give hawkish Kremlin critics in ex-communist Eastern Europe new influence in the bloc, EU officials gave Ukraine’s embattled President Petro Poroshenko a warm welcome and assurances of further economic and other support.

But divisions among the 28 EU nations have hampered action against Moscow, and officials expect a decision on Saturday only to ask the bloc’s executive arm to prepare more options for sanctions.

Large Western countries are wary of damaging their own economies. Those include Germany, Britain and France, as well as Italy, which is heavily dependent on Russian gas and expects to secure the post of EU foreign affairs chief.

Poroshenko gave short shrift to Moscow denials by denouncing the past week’s incursion of thousands of troops with hundreds of armored vehicles and said he expected the summit to order the European Commission to prepare a new set of sanctions.

But, like Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, he used their joint news conference to stress a will to find a political solution to a crisis that Russian President Vladimir Putin blames on Kiev’s drive to turn the ex-Soviet state away from Moscow influence, into a Western alliance with the EU and NATO.

With Ukrainian forces battling pro-Russian separatists and, apparently, Russian troops, he said he was not looking for foreign military intervention and that he was expecting progress toward peace as early as Monday – because failure could push the conflict to a point of no return: “Let’s not try to spark the new flame of war in Europe,” Poroshenko said.

Barroso also warned of the risk of a “point of no return” in stressing that EU leaders wanted to defuse the confrontation with their nuclear-armed neighbor.

“It makes no sense to have … a new Cold War,” Barroso said. Further conflict would hurt all of Europe, he said, adding that sanctions were meant only to push Moscow to talk.

He highlighted economic support for Ukraine and also plans for negotiations with Moscow and Kiev aimed at ensuring Russian gas continues to flow through Ukraine to the West this winter.

Hollande, Merkel Urge Putin To Broker Ukraine Ceasefire

Members of a group of separatists stand outside an office in the town of Druzhkovka, Donetsk regionFrench President, Francois Hollande, and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, urged Russia’s Vladimir Putin on Thursday to encourage separatists in Eastern Ukraine to reach an agreement with the Ukrainian authorities, the French President’s office said.

Hollande and Merkel stressed in a conversation with the Russian President, the importance of implementing a deal reached in Berlin on Wednesday between the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine in order to achieve a bilateral ceasefire, according to the statement from Hollande’s office.

“They (Hollande and Merkel) called on the Russian President to support the organization of a meeting of the contact group before July 5 in order to define conditions for the ceasefire,” Hollande’s office said in the statement.

“To this effect, they asked President Putin to intervene to encourage the separatists to negotiate and find an agreement with the Ukrainian authorities.”

Hollande and Merkel are due to hold a phone conversation with Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko in the coming hours, Hollande’s office added.

Ukraine Extends Ceasefire For East

Petro-PoroshenkoThe President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, has extended a week long ceasefire with pro-Russian separatists in the East for another three days.

Some rebel leaders in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions have said they would observe the truce, but others rejected it.

Mr Poroshenko’s announcement came hours after he had signed a landmark EU trade pact on the issue that has been triggering the recent crisis.

The ceasefire extension had been undertaken, it said, in line with a deadline set by EU leaders for Ukrainian rebels to agree to ceasefire verification arrangements, return border checkpoints to Kiev authorities and free hostages including detained monitors of the OSCE rights and security watchdog.

Poroshenko and national security chiefs have also said that during the 72 hours, recruitment centers for Russian fighters across the border in Russia should be closed.

Movements of rebel forces around the east and the setting-up of rebel checkpoints or barricades should also cease.

Ukrainian government forces would have the right to end the ceasefire ahead of time in any areas where ceasefire conditions were not being implemented, the announcement said.

Meanwhile, Russia warns that Ukraine might split in two because of the consequences.

Russia President, Putin Renounces Right To Send Troops To Ukraine

Russian President Putin attends a state awards ceremony in the KremlinRussia President, Vladimir Putin, have  asked the Upper House, on Tuesday, to revoke the right it had granted him to order a military intervention in Ukraine in defence of Russian-speakers there, the Kremlin said in a statement.

This step by Putin would certainly be welcomed by the West as a sign that Moscow was ready to help engineer a settlement in Ukraine’s largely Russian-speaking east, where a pro-Russian uprising against Kiev began in April.

“The president has filed a proposal to the Federation Council on cancelling…the resolution on the use of Russia’s Armed Forces on the territory of Ukraine,” the Kremlin said in a statement on its website.

Federation Council Speaker, Valentina Matviyenko, said that the chamber would discuss Putin’s request on Wednesday.

Putin’s chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, said Russia now expected Kiev to respond with measures of its own, without specifying what these should be.

President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine described it as “first practical step” following Putin’s statement of support last weekend for Poroshenko’s peace plan for easternUkraine.

In the March 1 resolution, the Federation Council had granted Putin the right to “use the Russian Federation’s Armed Forces on the territory of Ukraine until the social and political situation in the country normalises”.

That resolution, with the eventual annexation of Crimea from Ukraine by Russia, helped push East-West relations to their lowest ebb since the Cold War and led the United States and Europe to impose sanctions on Moscow.

European Union foreign ministers, on Monday, had held out the prospect of further sanctions if Russia did not do more to support a peace process in eastern Ukraine, and had also asked it to revoke the March 1 resolution.

Like many of eastern Ukraine’s Russian speakers, Moscow was infuriated by the toppling in January of President Viktor Yanukovich, after he pulled out of an association agreement with the EU in favour of closer ties with Moscow.

 

Ukraine Army Helicopter ‘Shot Down’ Near Sloviansk

Ukraine Army helicopterAs the crisis in Ukraine continues, pro-Russian rebels in the East have shot down a military helicopter near the flashpoint city of Sloviansk killing 14 people.

The aircraft was reportedly hit after offloading soldiers at a military base.

Sloviansk has seen fierce fighting between separatists and government forces in recent weeks.

President-elect, Petro Poroshenko has vowed to tackle the uprising in eastern Ukraine, saying he would deal firmly with “bandits” and “murderers”.

There has been an upsurge in the conflict since Mr Poroshenko’s election on Sunday. The rebels say they lost up to 100 fighters when they tried to seize Donetsk airport on Monday.

Since then further clashes have been reported in several areas – including Sloviansk – where pro-Russia militiamen are holding four international monitors.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that the missing OSCE members were alive and well and there was hope they would be released soon.

“We have not yet been able to re-establish contact with them; it has now been since Monday. Of course, as the days pass we get more concerned but we are using all of our contacts, all our government contacts, diplomatic contacts, non-state actors on the ground of which there are many, to re-establish contact with them.

“We believe they are fine, they are well but of course one thing we do want is to see them return to their base in Donetsk,” Bociurkiw said.

Earlier on Thursday, the leader of pro-Russian separatists in the area where the monitors were seized said they are likely to be released soon.

Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, whose separatist group controls the town of Slaviansk, said the OSCE had been warned not to travel in the area, but had sent a four-man team out all the same.

The team, which comprises a Dane, a Turk, an Estonian and a Swiss, are among a few hundred monitors sent to monitor compliance with an international accord for de-escalating the crisis in troubled eastern Ukraine, where separatists have seized control of strategic points in several towns.

Ukraine Crisis: Russia ‘Open To Dialogue’ With New Leader

Petro-PoroshenkoAs initial results tipped Petro Poroshenko to win Ukraine’s election, Russia said that it was “open to dialogue” with the new president of the crisis-torn country.

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said that military action must end against separatists in the east.

Mr Poroshenko said that he would meet Russian leaders soon but vowed to take a tough line on any armed separatists.

Unrest continues in the east, with pro-Russia militiamen halting flights at Donetsk airport.

Meanwhile election observers said Sunday’s vote was a genuine one that largely met international standards.

The mission from the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) also said it gave the new President “legitimacy” to open a dialogue with separatists in the East.

Petro Poroshenko is a confectionery tycoon who backed the pro-European street protests that ousted Moscow ally Viktor Yanukovich from Presidency.

He was the only Ukrainian strongman to swiftly throw his weight behind the popular uprising that started late 2013, devoting his ‘5th Channel’ TV station to the coverage of the protests.

A seasoned politician who served as Foreign Minister and Economy Minister in previous administrations, Poroshenko’s chain of confectionery shops has put the billionaire on Ukraine’s top 10 rich list, earning him the nick-name “Chocolate King”.

Poroshenko, whose chocolate manufacturer, Roshen is one of the world’s top 20 confectionery firms, backs Ukraine’s integration with the west and his firm has been targeted in Russia.

Ukraine Election Draws High Turnout, Voters Blocked In Fearful East

Former pm and Presidential candidate Tymoshenko casts her vote during a presidential election at a polling station in DnipropetrovskUkrainians voted on Sunday in a presidential election billed as the most important since they won their independence from Moscow 23 years ago, but armed pro-Russian separatists disrupted voting in eastern regions of the former Soviet Republic.

Early signs pointed to a high turnout in sunny weather in an election where the main candidates, including front-runner Petro Poroshenko, a confectionery magnate, are promising closer ties with the West in defiance of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

The absence of over 15 percent of the electorate, in Russian-annexed Crimea and two eastern regions where fighting with pro-Moscow rebels continued on Saturday, may mar any result – and leave the Kremlin questioning Victor’s legitimacy, for all Putin’s new pledge to respect the people’s will.

Voting began in most of Ukraine at 8 a.m. (1 a.m. EDT) and will end 12 hours later, when exit polls will indicate a result ahead of an official outcome on Monday.

Only about 20 percent of the polling stations in the heavily industrialized, Russian-speaking Donetsk region, which has 3.3 million registered voters, were working as of 9:30 a.m. (2.30 a.m. EDT), authorities said. None were open in the city of Donetsk.

“These are extremely important elections. We have to make sure Ukraine becomes a truly independent country, a powerful independent state that nobody will be able to push around,” said pensioner Mikhailo Belyk, 65, casting his ballot at a crowded polling station in a southeast district of the capital Kiev.

Sounding an equally upbeat note, businessman Viktor Sypchenko, 45, said: “I am voting for my children and their future. I hope we can break free from our awful past.”

The picture emerging in the east was more confused. European election monitors have largely pulled out of the Donetsk region for their own safety, citing a campaign of “terror” by pro-Russian separatists against Ukrainian electoral officials.

‘THINGS ARE BAD’

At a school in a Donetsk suburb, pensioner Grigory Nikitayich, 72, was unhappy about being denied the right to vote for Poroshenko. “I don’t even know where I can vote. No one has said anything. What kind of polls are these? Things are bad.”

Others also complained of being prevented from voting, in some cases because ballot papers had not been delivered due to security concerns after at least 20 people were killed in the region during fighting over recent days.

Polls make Poroshenko, known as the “chocolate king” because of his confectionery empire, overwhelming favorite to win Sunday’s election. The biggest question is whether he can take over 50 percent to win outright. If not, a run-off vote will be held on June 15.

He was a strong backer of the protests against Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovich last winter and has sought a quick victory by warning that new unrest might prevent a second round.

His closest, if distant, rival is Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister. She remains a divisive figure to many, more closely linked than Poroshenko with the economic failures and graft that have blighted post-Soviet Ukraine.

“It is time to hold a referendum on joining NATO to restore peace in Ukraine,” said Tymoshenko after voting in her native city of Dnipropetrovsk in central Ukraine. Russia is fiercely opposed to Ukraine joining the Western military alliance.

As Yanukovich’s fiercest rival, Tymoshenko may benefit from the fact that few of the 5 million voters in his eastern power base regions of Donetsk and Luhansk may be able to cast ballots for any of the 21 candidates.

Interim Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk urged Ukrainians to hand the new president a strong mandate to forge closer ties with.