Protecting Christians, Fighting Terror? Russia's on it
EDITOR'S CHOICE | 02.03.2017

Protecting Christians, Fighting Terror? Russia's on it

Syrian priest: 'It is miraculous that we are still alive. We owe that to Vladimir Putin'

Aleksandar PAVIC

A few years ago, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who then was Russia’s ambassador to NATO, warned that a new influence had appeared that was becoming a major threat to large segments of the world, namely, Asia, Europe and America.

“There is a new civilization emerging in the Third World that thinks that the white, Northern Hemisphere has always oppressed it and must therefore fall at its feet now. … If the northern civilization wants to protect itself, it must be united: America, the European Union and Russia. If they are not together, they will be defeated one by one,” he said.

He was primarily referring to radical Islam. And America, with its Christian foundation, Europe, with its own Judeo-Christian heritage, and even Russia, with its historic Russian Orthodox Christian church, would appear to have reason to join ranks.

So why would the American political elite be so averse to pursuing better relations with Russia, as President Donald Trump has suggested?

After all, every president in recent years has stated essentially the same goal. Remember then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “reset” under President Obama?

But opposition to Trump’s suggestions have been loud and long, despite what some have seen as extraordinary efforts on the part of Russia to protect Christians.

It was a 76-year old Flemish priest from the sixth-century Mar Yakub monastery in the Syrian city of Qara who put the issue in the context he understood best, his own life.

“It is miraculous that we are still alive. We owe that to the army of Assad’s government and to Vladimir Putin, because he decided to intervene when the rebels threatened to take power… Between ordinary Muslims and Christians, there is no problem. It is those radical Islamic, Western-backed rebels who want to massacre us. … Trump understands that radical Islam is a bigger threat than Russia.”

In Europe, many of the newly sprung nationalist, anti-globalist and anti-EU parties have expressed admiration for Russia’s defense of traditional values, along with European Christian intellectuals, who despair over Western Europe’s abandonment of its spiritual roots.

In the Balkans, Russia is the sole power standing up for Christians persecuted by Islamists and has refused to recognize the Western condoned secession of Kosovo from Serbia and the Muslim Albanians ISIS-like destruction of the millennial Christian Church heritage there.

In September 2015 the head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations (Moscow Patriarchate) declared, “Any fight against terrorism is moral; we can even call it a holy fight.”

He said Christian countries “can oppose pseudo-Islamic extremism only by basing themselves on traditional religious values.”

“Secularism will never be able to cope with the challenge of religious fanaticism and extremism coming to Europe today,” he said. “Secularism will always lose to religious or pseudo-religious extremism. Even if secularism successfully beats off religious and public radicalism with the help of power and money for some time, it won’t last long, only for 20-30 years.”

But at the recent Munich Security Conference, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said, “2017 is going to be the year of kicking Russia in the a** in Congress.”

He cited claims Russia hacked Democrat computer systems and thus tainted the 2016 president election.

He said Trump “should be working with us to punish Russia.”

Graham and fellow Sen. John McCain, another Munich Conference attendee, are spearheading a broad effort to challenge and possibly derail Trump’s oft-expressed goal of improving relations with Russia.

McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, expressed hope in January that the new U.S. president would give up on the idea of lifting the sanctions against Russia imposed by Barack Obama.

“If he does not, I will work with my colleagues to codify sanctions against Russia into law,” McCain said.

Graham reinforced McCain in Munich, announcing that he planned to introduce a bipartisan motion for new Russia sanctions that would get “north of 75 votes.” He also openly explored the possibility of invoking Article 5 of the NATO Treaty that “an attack on one party is an attack on all.”

Graham’s fiery rhetoric comes on the heels of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s resignation amid allegations that he and other members of Trump’s team had improper contacts with Russian diplomats, government and intelligence officials, something that both Flynn and the White House have denied.

But Russians, in the voice of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, have challenged those making such claims to “Give us some facts” regarding the claims of hacking.

“I have seen no facts, there were just some accusations that we tried to hack some Democratic Party website,” he said.

Congress is debating the issue and the FBI is investigating.

But Trump’s American First Foreign Policy states, “Defeating ISIS and other radical Islamic terror groups will be our highest priority,” which is in parallel with one of the points from Russia’s recent official foreign policy statement, dated just a few weeks ago.

That states, “The global terrorist threat has reached a new high with the emergence of the Islamic State international terrorist organization and similar groups that have descended to an unprecedented level of cruelty in their violence. They aspire to create their own state and seek to consolidate their influence on a territory stretching from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to Pakistan. The main effort in combating terrorism should be aimed at creating a broad international counter-terrorist coalition with a solid legal foundation, one that is based on effective and consistent inter-State cooperation without any political considerations or double standards, above all to prevent terrorism and extremism and counter the spread of radical ideas.”

Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin talked on January 28, and the White House said both “are hopeful that after today’s call the two sides can move quickly to tackle terrorism and other important issues of mutual concern.”

The Kremlin said, “The two leaders emphasized that joining efforts in fighting the main threat – international terrorism – is a top priority. The presidents spoke out for establishing real coordination of actions between Russia and the U.S. aimed at defeating Islamic State and other terrorists groups in Syria.”

The conflict then appears between the two presidents, whose focus is on terrorism, and the liberal elite in America and Europe, as well as the media entities such as the New York Times, CNN and others, who apparently want to deepen the rift between the U.S. and Russia.

Some think the tension is a leftover from the Cold War.

Russian officials have often expressed dismay at such sentiment, which Sergei Lavrov reiterated at the Munich Conference, opining that the U.S.-led NATO alliance has “remained a Cold War institution” aimed at restraining Russia, a continuation of the anti-Soviet policy of containment conceived by American diplomat George Kennan in the now famous ‘Long Telegram” of 1946, the essence of which was later published in “Foreign Affairs” magazine (under the byline “X”) in 1947, and became a pillar of U.S. Soviet policy in the years that followed.

Yet, it was Kennan himself who expressed grave concern exactly fifty years later that further NATO alliance expansion to the east, driven by the Clinton administration, would be, as the title of his New York Times article described, “a fateful error,” i.e., “most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era.”

As Kennan put it: “Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.”

Furthermore, Kennan wondered: “Why, with all the hopeful possibilities engendered by the end of the cold war, should East-West relations become centered on the question of who would be allied with whom and, by implication, against whom in some fanciful, totally unforeseeable and most improbable future military conflict?”

NATO, however, did expand, in 1999, 2004 and 2009, adding 12 more countries to the alliance (with tiny Montenegro being the latest to be invited, pending ratification by several more NATO countries, including the U.S.). In addition, in support of secessionist efforts of majority Muslim Albanians in Serbia’s southern Kosovo province, NATO unilaterally bombed traditional Russian ally Yugoslavia in spring of 1999, which was viewed by top Russian circles as a harbinger of things to come.

Putin told the Russian Federal Assembly in 2014, “Despite our unprecedented openness back then and our willingness to cooperate in all, even the most sensitive issues, despite the fact that we considered… our former adversaries as close friends and even allies, the support for separatism in Russia from across the pond, including information, political and financial support and support provided by the special services – was absolutely obvious and left no doubt that they would gladly let Russia follow the Yugoslav scenario of disintegration and dismemberment. With all the tragic fallout for the people of Russia.”

Then there is the issue of Ukraine, which is the latest source of Western-Russian tension, with both sides pointing to it as “proof of aggression” on the part of the other, with Western leaders claiming that Russia has “illegally annexed Crimea” and is supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, and Russia accusing Western powers of engineering a coup in Kiev and installing anti-Russian extremists in power, and claiming that Crimea was illegitimately attached to Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev during the Soviet era.

And, in the context of the Ukrainian crisis, NATO is deploying thousands of additional troops towards the Russian border, as a response to perceived threat of Russian aggression, even though Chair of the NATO Military Committee, Gen. Petr Pavel, conceded at the Munich Conference that he believed “that Russia doesn’t have a serious intent to attack NATO.”

And Russian has continued pursuing initiatives that would jointly benefit the two sides in the Cold War, including a policy proposal for a “European Security Treaty” launched by then-president Dmitry Medvedev in November 2009.

Although the proposal has met skepticism and outright rejection in the West, Russian leaders have not taken it off the table. For example, at the latest Munich Conference, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov repeated the call for a “common space of good neighborly relations from Vancouver to Vladivostok.”

At the root of these value- and civilization-based views is a process that has gone almost unnoticed by the rapidly secularizing West, that of Russia’s rapid re-Christianization. The Russian president has reportedly authorized over 2 billion rubles (U.S. $100 million) of tax money to rebuild churches that were destroyed under the previous Soviet regime. Furthermore, over the past quarter century, since the fall of communism, the ROC has built or restored from ruins more than 25,000 churches.

This means that a thousand churches a year have been opened, i.e., three churches a day,” according to Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations.

Not unlike Donald Trump, Putin regularly professes his religiosity, even in a 2013 New York Times article, written on the anniversary of 9/11, and calling for a cautious approach to Syria, which ended with the following line: “We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

And just several days later, in a widely reported speech at Russia’s conservative Valdai Club, Putin called on Russians to “strengthen a new national identity based on conservative and traditional values such as the Orthodox church, warning that the West was facing a moral crisis,” criticizing Western countries for “putting on the same level multi-child families and single-sex partnerships, belief in God and belief in Satan,” as well as the “excesses of political correctness.”

Even Rev. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, noted, “What Russia is doing may save the lives of Christians in the Middle East.”

Regarding Syria, he explained, “You understand that the Syrian government for their good and for their bad over the history of this country, they have protected Christians, they have protected minorities from the Islamists.”