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    The Religious Dimension of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

    The Russian Orthodox Church supports Putin’s war and has long provided theological justifications for his actions – the analysis of the European Parliament’s Think Tank stressed. The key doctrine that the Orthodox Church has developed in recent decades together with the regime is ‘Russkiy Mir’ (eng. ‘Russian peace or world’ – editor’s note) it was added.

    In the April report, the European Parliament think tank investigated the religious dimension of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. The introduction recalled that the Russian Orthodox Church “has strongly backed Putin’s war and has long provided theological and ideological justifications for his domestic and international actions.” The latest Pew Forum survey was also cited, which found that “71 % of Russians identified as Orthodox, along with 78 % of Ukrainians, 73 % of Belarusians and 92 % of Moldovans.”


    “A newly confident Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) viewed itself as a repository of Russian national identity, and Moscow as the ‘third Rome’ with primacy over the Orthodox Churches in those countries and beyond,” the analysis stated.


    The authors of the study pointed out that “The key doctrine elaborated by the Church, in tandem with the regime, over the past decades is the Russkiy Mir or ‘Russian world’, (however ‘mir’ also translates as peace).” “This ideology envisages a quasi-messianic role for Russia in saving Christian civilisation from the decadent West through the spreading of Russian language, culture and values, by re-dominating countries formerly within the USSR, and exerting influence throughout the wider Orthodox and Western world. In 2007, Putin established the Russkiy Mir Foundation, which de facto spreads this ideology around the world, working in close cooperation with the ROC,” we read in the analysis.


    Therefore, experts speculate that “Russia’s war on Ukraine has a religious dimension, and that Putin’s desire to conquer Kyiv is part of a ‘spiritual quest’.” “Putin himself laid out his Greater Russia vision in a long article in July 2021, entitled ‘On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians’.” He claims that the Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians are the same people whose ‘common baptismal font’ is Kyiv, with the conversion to Christianity of Prince Volodymir (Vladimir in Russian) in 988. For Putin, Ukrainian identity or statehood have ‘no historical basis’ and are a geo-political tool to weaken Russia. Putin leaves no doubt that his intention is to create ‘a single large nation, a triune nation’.,” it says.


    The authors of the report stressed that “the close relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Putin regime have contributed to divisions within Orthodoxy long before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” “In 2008, the Russian Orthodox Church suspended its membership in the Conference of European Churches. Since the independence of Ukraine in 1991, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been striving for autonomy, culminating in the recognition of its independent status by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople in 2019. Already in 2016, when the Ecumenical Patriarch tried to organise the first World Council of the Orthodox Church in Crete, it was boycotted by the Russian Orthodox Church, but also by the Bulgarian and Georgian Orthodox Churches”, they pointed out.


    They added that after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Onufriy, called on Putin to “immediate end to the fratricidal war”, referring explicitly to the “military measures taken by Russia against Ukraine.” 


    “Russian aggression was also condemned by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the leaders of the Orthodox Churches of Romania, Greece and even Georgia, which had allied itself with Moscow in the past. Another initiative was taken by a group of Orthodox theologians who issued a statement against the doctrine of the “’Declaration on the Russian World (Russkiy Mir) Teaching’”, in which they condemned the fundamentalist, totalitarian nature of the doctrine propagated by the Russian Orthodox Church, which ultimately led to Putin’s senseless and terribly devastating invasion of Ukraine,” it was reported.


    According to experts, “divisions have also emerged within Russia itself.” “On 2 March a group of 233 ROC priests launched an appeal for peace, urging Russian soldiers be brought home, and stating that Ukrainians should be allowed to decide their own destiny,” it was concluded in the analysis.


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