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Putin, Serbia, Ukrain and the Church.
Let’s leave Theresa May for the moment stuck in her groundhog day of political misery. Let’s turn away from the United States leaders squaring off like kindergarden bullies in a vacant sandpit in Washington and return to Putin, Russia and Eastern Europe.
For the last 100 years Russia has been our constant enemy. Today Russia is the no less constant beneficiary as US Foreign Policy pulls away from committments to its former Western Alliances. Putin however has not had it all his own way.
Right now he will be pleased by the sight of thousands applauding his visit to Belgrade even if the clapping throngs were bused into the capital to mark his meeting with the authoritarian Serbian President Vucic. The visit has been emblazoned throughout the country by the hundreds of Moscow funded media outlets. The twomleaders will celebrate the signing of a natural gas deal that will tie Serbia’s ecoonomic future ever more away from the west. The two Presidents will also celebrate their national religious links through the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Putin, a former head of the KGB, is an unlikely religious, but he needs every success he can get here right now. He has tried in vain to use the Church as a stalking horse for regaining Rusisia’s former imperial territories. Above all he has sought to use it as a wrapper or cover up for his take over of the Ukraine.
But, and here’s the point, there remain a few leaders who do have values, who do have conviction, and who do have courage. Putin has been rejected by the Kiev based Orthodix Christians of Ukraine and by the Ecumanical Patriarch Bartholomew based in Istanbul. The spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christian believers has granted Kiev freedom from the Moscow Church with whom they have been linked since 1686. 
Last week, 4 years and 10,000 dead into the armed conflict with Russia, the new Ukraine National Church bcame a reality to Putin’s fury. This time thousands gathered at the 11th century Cathedral of St Sophia out of conviction and belief.
This is a serious deal. It is the biggest schism in christianity since 1054 and the Orthodox Church’s break with Rome. No longer can Moscow make facile claims about one culture, one religion and one world to include its former vassal states without looking preposterous.
That is why Putin has been so keen to stress his affection for Serbia and Serbia’s Orthodox Church. Though gaining ground steadily in the vacuum of leadership created by the squabbling leaders in the West, he has stumbled when confronting his worst enemy – a population that has its own strongly held beliefs, its own proud cultures and its own integrity.
Look out for the results of the Ukrain elections in March.
Have a good day. James

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