COMMENTARY: How Russia is weaponizing faith in opposition to Ukraine – Halifax


Over  latest weeks,  the Kremlin has amassed tens of  1000’s of  troops  alongside  the border with Ukraine.

However the aggression over the course of this near-decade-long marketing campaign in opposition to my nation doesn’t finish there. Russia has additionally employed cyber-warfare to assault Ukrainian authorities web sites, after which there may be one other, much less seen weapon: faith.

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Russia runs in Ukraine a very loyal non secular group, which might principally be known as a “Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine” (ROCinU). It’s by this influential drive that the Kremlin skillfully exploits the non secular issue to advertise among the many Ukrainians the concepts of the “Russian world” — the doctrine suggesting that the previous Soviet republics are inextricably certain to Moscow.

For many years,  the ROCinU has been formally known as  the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church.” Regardless of having the phrase “Ukrainian” in its title, this church is totally managed by its ”guardian” group, the Russian Orthodox Church. Even its constitution was accredited in Moscow, whereas all promotions additionally get green-lighted by the ROC.

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In 2018, Ukraine’s parliament handed a legislation obliging the church to place the phrase “Russian” in its title to replicate the reality about its governing centre. Naturally, the “UOC” has been vehemently opposing  the laws, decrying it as “persecution.”


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The ROCinU is bent on sowing instability and doubt. Most just lately, the ROCinU seemed to be one of many predominant engines behind anti-vaccination forces in Ukraine. Final November, the ROCinU backed a vaccine rally in Kyiv as Ukraine’s COVID-19 loss of life toll that day hit 720. The Well being Ministry then accused the  ROCinU of spreading anti-vaccination sentiments. For Russian operatives, sermons can as properly function Fb entries, to unfold malign narratives.

Russia shrewdly acknowledges that Ukraine is a pious nation. A latest ballot confirmed 68 per cent of Ukrainians figuring out as “non secular individuals.”

In the meantime, the affect of pro-Russian clergy on public opinion stays vital. Its church has traditionally maintained a dominant presence in Ukraine over centuries, however after Russia grabbed Crimea in 2014, got here a plot twist: in early 2019, a really unbiased Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) emerged. It was Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the “first amongst equals” among the many leaders of world Orthodox Christianity, who granted the Church this independence, placing an finish to greater than 330 years of Russia’s non secular reign over Ukraine. This, by the best way, led to Russia severing church communication with the Ecumenical Patriarchate — sure, that is how mad the transfer has made the ROC.

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At present, virtually 22 per cent of Ukrainians stand with the ROCinU, whereas practically 40 per cent determine with the OCU. Round 36 per cent seek advice from themselves as “merely Orthodox Christian,” theologian  Oleksandr  Yefremenko  informed me. “The OCU roots for unbiased Ukraine, whereas the ROCinU appears to be like as much as the Kremlin.”

The distinction in values ​​and concepts preached by the 2 rival church buildings is big. The OCU calls on its trustworthy to be true patriots of Ukraine, calling on Russia to stop aggression, and debunking Moscow’s propaganda myths.

In distinction, the ROCinU is thought for its pro-Russian stance and has by no means referred to as the struggle with Russia what it truly is, lurking behind basic calls to finish a so-called “fratricide,” preaching “reconciliation,” which many see as capitulation to Russia. Professional-Russian monks expose their angle to the battle by refusing to carry vigils for fallen Ukrainian troopers or by providing prayers to Vladimir Putin’s well being. Their temples present shelters for militants with the Russian occupation forces or arms depots.

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Some pro-Russian bishops, ordained by the ROCinU head, Onufriy, would publicly “consecrate” Russian weapons deployed throughout Crimea. Some chaplains would even bless Russian common troops on the occupied peninsula to “defend their Homeland.” And it was the ROCinU clerics who on the onset of the Crimea invasion have been persuading Ukrainian troopers to put down arms and give up to the Russians, to not shed “brotherly blood,” navy chaplain Ihor Semenikhin recalled, explaining the reluctance of Ukraine’s navy to permit any ROCinU chaplains in its ranks.

The Russian Church is not going to acknowledge the OCU’s existence, decrying its very institution as a “schism.” Through the years of occupation of Crimea, the OCU has been extensively persecuted and pushed out of the area. Out of 45 parishes working in 2014, solely seven stay thus far. The U.S. State Division mentioned that the Russian occupation authorities severely restrict non secular freedom, goal believers with bogus terrorism fees, and have seized the OCU’s cathedral in Simferopol.

Simply because the Russian authorities plans to redraw Europe’s political map and convey again the “zones of affect,” so does the Russian Church play a protracted recreation of fixing the stability of energy.

Hiding behind the  “Ukrainian” identify of its department, the ROC retains huge affect over tons of of 1000’s of Ukrainians. The state of affairs additionally places Ukrainian authorities on skinny ice. In the event that they clamp down on the church, they threat violating non secular freedoms. But when they stand again, this can plant yet one more time-bomb beneath the nation’s basis.

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Maybe one of the best ways to proceed is to advertise info hygiene in order that the individuals don’t fall for the flowery propaganda tips. We’ve sufficient different tips to fret about.


Ievgen Matiushenko is a Kyiv-based journalist and editor with Ukrinform, the nationwide information company, who has been protecting politics, safety and defence points, together with the Russian-Ukrainian battle.



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