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How Russia Uses the Moscow Patriarchate As A Weapon to Achieve Its Geopolitical Goals, an Analysis from the Jamestown Foundation, Washington, D.C.

UPDATE: It has come to our attention that the assertion of the Jamestown Foundation in the article below that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate did not oppose the Russian occupation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine is incorrect. The primate of that Church, Metropolitan Onuphry, actually wrote to Putin and Patriarch Kirill in 2014 protesting against that occupation. To the best of our knowledge, the other material in this article is accurate, and makes numerous important points regarding the Russian state and the Russian Church.

This uniquely enlightening analysis from the Jamestown Foundation demonstrates how the Kremlin is using the Russian Orthodox Church as a “hybrid war weapon against Ukraine.” It highlights the fundamental hypocrisy of this endeavor, as “while promoting Russia as a supposed luminary of Orthodox Christianity and a holy savior around the world, Moscow ignores the persecutions of other religious groups in its ‘multiculturally friendly’ state.” Most remarkably, this article reveals how the Kremlin’s campaign is failing, as the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, granted Autocephaly by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in 2019, continues to grow and flourish.


Religion as a Hybrid War Weapon to Achieve Russia’s Geopolitical Goals

By: Tetyana Zhurman

On July 28, Ukrainian Orthodox Christians celebrated the 1,033rd anniversary of the Baptism of Kyivan Rus—a remarkable annual event for Ukrainian history and another reason for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s political speculations. After the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, signed the Ukrainian Orthodox Church tomos in 2019, granting it autocephaly—independence from the Russian Orthodox Church (see EDM, July 26, 2018; RFE, January 23, 2020)—experts warned that Moscow would double its efforts to weaponize religious issues as an element of its “hybrid war” against Ukraine  (Warsawinstitute.org, January 31, 2019).

In his recent article “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” (Kremlin.ru, July 12), Putin appeals to “Orthodox Christianity unity” in nearly every paragraph, with a special emphasis on Kyivan Prince Vladimir the Great’s adoption of the Christian faith in 988 as a symbol of kinship. Moreover, the fact of the Kyivan Rus’ ruler being baptized in Chersonesus (today, Sevastopol, Crimea) has been used by Putin as a justification for the occupation of Crimea, namely “to unify the sacred lands of the Slavic nations’ cradle—Kyivan Rus” (Parlamentskaya Gazeta, July 27, 2018). Yet not only is the association of the terms “Rus” and “Russia” historically erroneous (Fakeoff.org, February 18, 2015; RFE, April 12, 2020), but the fact of Russia’s adoption of Kyivan Rus Baptism Day in 2010—only two years after Ukrainian erstwhile president Viktor Yushchenko’s 2008 decree establishing the holiday—raises questions about Russia’s actual intentions (Rada.gov.ua, July 25, 2008; Kremlin.ru, June 1, 2010).

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