April 13. 2024. 6:14

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Tackling Russia’s unhealthy Orthodox Church

To protect its statehood Ukraine has to tackle the powerful structures that influence hearts and minds of Ukrainian society – the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which continues to play an unhealthy role in the Orthodox community, writes Roman Rukomeda.

A year after the Russian atrocities in Bucha, Russia again takes the lead in the UN Security Council.

This demonstrates how weak international institutions are, allowing international law to be trampled on by Russia and not being able to stop aggression. Ukraine is fighting for Western values and principles, particularly human rights and freedoms, liberty, state sovereignty and independence. The price Ukraine is paying now for supporting those values is the highest – the lives of its best people.

To protect its statehood Ukraine has to tackle the powerful structures that affect hearts and minds in Ukrainian society – the Russian orthodox church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which continues to play an unhealthy role inside the Orthodox community.

For about one hundred years, after Bolsheviks headed by Josef Stalin destroyed the previous Russian Orthodox church, the new one reconstructed on its ruins was a classic subordinate institution of the Soviet KGB. It was an instrument of subversion, collecting information and brainwashing people’s minds according to the Kremlin’s desire.

European investigators and analysts, namely the study Preliminary Lessons from Russia’s Unconventional Operations During the Russo-Ukrainian War, by the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, report that the Russian Orthodox Church provided the platform of ideologically committed Russian agents in Ukraine supporting the invasion.

Beyond its efforts to support Russian information operations, its priests were widely recruited and run by the Russian special services. Their monasteries and churches were used as safe houses for equipment and personnel. The analysts concluded that using religion as the cover is a widely established method of Russian special services, which creates its protection mechanisms thanks to the political sensitivities of religious affairs. This is why the efforts to make the Russian church in Ukraine obey national legislation has nothing to do with spiritual pressure.

In recent years, the Russian Orthodox Church took control over central religious sites in Kyiv and many other Ukrainian cities and towns, playing the role of an internal destabilisation instrument. Reportedly, the Serbian Orthodox church is doing the same across the Western Balkans.

For the Ukrainian authorities, making the Russian orthodox church play by the rules without violating national legislation has become a major national security issue during the war.

That is why now Russian orthodox “intelligence priests”, many of whom are Russian security (FSB) officers, like the head priest Kirill Gundyaev, who worked in the 1970s in Geneva for the former Soviet KGB, according to a Swiss media investigation, are trying to denounce “the pressure upon religious freedom in Ukraine”.

But there is no such pressure. There is pressure on the Russian intelligence network, which has sought to destabilise Ukrainian society during the war. And the Ukrainian authorities are being extremely gentle and soft towards those “Russian intelligence priests”, demanding they comply with the Ukrainian legislation and abide by the common laws and order.

However, many Russian Orthodox “intelligence priests” disrespect the Ukrainian state and its laws by appealing to people to use force and “protect the churches” with violence, though no one is attacking them. In many places, central or local authorities are just suspending the lease agreements with the Russian Orthodox Church like Kyivo-Pecherska Lavra in the Ukrainian capital.

We Ukrainians understand that real peace can be reached only by the total liberation of our territories and achieving the military defeat of Russia but also – by integrating our country into NATO and receiving security guarantees for the period before the integration.