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Fratricidal: in the UN, Russia predicts a religious catastrophe for Ukraine

Fratricidal: in the UN, Russia predicts a religious catastrophe for Ukraine © Getty Images
The Russian Ambassador to the UN spoke in defense of canonical Orthodoxy in Ukraine. However, the UOC-MP is not happy about this

At the request of Russia, the United Nations Security Council decided to pay some attention to the Ukrainian church issue. This is a completely expected event. First of all, the church is one of the ways to maintain the influence of the Russian Federation in Ukraine. Secondly, the Kremlin has always used the church to destabilize the situation inside Ukraine. So why should it abandon this practice now? Finally, the "oppression of the single canonical church" is one of the formal reasons for the so-called Russian "Special military operation" in Ukraine, as well as an opportunity to point out that basic democratic freedoms are not respected in our country. In addition, Russia wants to show that in Ukraine in general there is an "authoritarian government".

In his speech, the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, stated that "Russia is aware of the preparation of the complete liquidation of the canonical UOC in Ukraine." The Russian Ambassador also commented on the situation with regard to the OCU, which "in its religious services, talks about the liberation of shrines from Russian captivity." Apart from that, he stated that OCU religious services are reduced to political agitation. Nebenzya also warned that "Ukraine is almost on the brink of a fratricidal intra-religious catastrophe," and the ruling regime is only exacerbating this problem. It could be said that the Russian Ambassador needed to say something to at least somehow justify the inadequate actions of the "Special military operation" in Ukraine, especially after another mass killing of the civilian population in Dnipro. However, Nebenzya, speaking on this topic, only stated the thesis that "Ukrainians bombed themselves." Albeit, the main message was: the Russian Federation has a moral, political and simple right to strongly defend its interests in Ukraine and elsewhere. In this case, its "interests" relate to the fate of the UOC-MP.


It is interesting that this support is no longer admired in the UOC-MP. If earlier in such cases its leadership simply kept silent, this time, on the eve of the meeting of the United Nations Security Council, the Department of External Church Relations of the UOC-MP released a statement saying that the church did not authorize either the Russian diplomatic service or the Russian Orthodox Church (organizations with which they have no relation) to act on its behalf or in its defense. The UOC-MP perfectly understands that they are in a critical situation, and the Russian patrons, instead of helping them to get out of an unpleasant situation, quoting the Russian Ambassador, are just exacerbating the already difficult situation even more.

Although there is nothing surprising in this context: the patrons of the UOC-MP in Russia have patronized it for so many years for this very reason, in order to use it with maximum effect at the right moment. Of course, they would greatly like a "fratricidal religious massacre" to take place. However, it seems that even in Moscow they already guess that the readiness of the UOC-MP to sacrifice itself by opening a "second front" inside the country is as unrealistic a hope as the fact that "Russian soldiers will be greeted with flowers in Kyiv."

It is interesting that Russia hardly hides its true intentions - to sacrifice the UOC-MP, to turn it into a martyr church (not for Christ, of course, but for an imperial myth. After all, does the Kremlin care about Christ?). The UOC-MP in Kremlin politics has always played an important role in manipulations on the international arena. However, in the game started by Russia, the UOC-MP no longer seems to be an effective lever for any international manipulations.

Albeit, even if the UOC-MP does not work as a "second front" (and it will not, at least in the short term), its "liquidation", in whatever form it takes, remains a strong message for the West.

One can hope that Russia and its representative in the UN (who often resembles a patient in Chekhov’s “ward number six”) "are not taken seriously." Also this time, his speech was criticized as an attempt to justify the war, and at the same time they reminded about the situation with democratic freedoms in Russia itself - about the fate of the Crimean Tatars, Jehovah's Witnesses, priests and believers of the OCU and UGCC in the occupied territories.

However, we should treat the statements of Russian diplomats with caution. No matter how absurd they seem to us. Any spoken word, having entered a fertile field for development, can germinate and develop into a more serious problem. Absurd speeches are simply a way to cover various topics by expressing their thoughts on the widest possible range of problems. By commenting on various issues, there is a greater chance that later you can touch on a problem that will cause Russia to react to this or that issue in which it is highly interested.

For the West, it certainly doesn't matter whether the UOC-MP is a "single" church or how "canonical" it is. Other words are important for the government officials there: "restriction of religious freedoms, persecution of the church, authoritarian government" and so on. We can hope that as long as Ukraine fights valiantly, it actually has carte blanche for any domestic political decisions. No one will prohibit or prevent our country from implementing the decisions and laws that we need. However, one must understand that the sympathy we currently enjoy in the West is not permanent. This indicator is not constant. It can grow, and it can, naturally, also decline.

The support of the West is important to us, because it is critical for our ability to continue to effectively defend our country. It is worth noting that "support of the West" is not only the government's willingness to help us, but the level of sympathy and support for Ukraine among voters. None of the Western politicians will do anything contrary to the wishes of their voters. Unfortunately, none of the current Western politicians have such authority and such charisma to convince their voters of the correctness of their decisions - so that the voters would have to agree with them, one way or another. In world politics, the time of titans, who are able to shape the opinions and tastes of the public, and the time of populists, who are able to stay on the waves of the tastes and opinions of the public, like waves on the sea, periodically replace each other. Now we know exactly what period we are in. There is no harm in this, there are even certain advantages. We just have to take it into account and act accordingly.

In particular, it should be understood that a considerable part of the Western public is very sensitive to issues of faith and freedom of conscience. The seriousness with which they take this may seem strange and even funny to us, a society prone to post-atheistic irony. However, we have to take into account the fact that there are many people for whom the words "persecuting the church" sound weighty and threatening.

For example, the topic of "persecution of the church" and, accordingly, "collapse of democracy in Ukraine" is spread by the US TV channel Fox News. Whatever we think of it as Trump's mouthpiece, this is a TV channel with a huge audience in the US, and the people who host there know who they work for. It is for that part of the population for which religion is a serious issue. For those Americans who brought the Republican majority to the House of Representatives. On which, in turn, military and financial support of Ukraine now depends and which, let me remind you, has a rather cool attitude towards this support.

Thus, "canonical Orthodoxy" and "deep concern" for its fate in Ukraine can help the Kremlin in two strategic domains. The first one is within Ukraine. Of course, the UOC-MP will not open a "second front", but the mistrust and dissatisfaction of Ukrainians among each other will increase, and Moscow will try to use this division of our society to its advantage in the future. The second strategic direction is the weakening of sympathy for Ukraine in the West and, accordingly, the reduction of military and financial aid.

This does not mean that the Ukrainian authorities should refuse to solve problems related to the UOC-MP. However, we should not forget what we risk. At least a few things need to be understood very clearly. First: a "church reform" is not a "small victorious operation" that can be carried out quickly and telegenically. Second: this operation must be carried out quickly, the authorities do not have infinite time for it. After all, the public will start to get bored, doubts and irritation will grow. In addition, the UOC-MP, in its turn, is doing everything to mark time. Finally, the third: within this rather short time, it is necessary to collect a huge evidential and generally legal base that will allow to defend the "church reform" (whatever it is - renaming, liquidation, ban or unification) in international courts. In addition, it would be possible to finally take care of the formation of the Ukrainian church narrative aimed at the Western consumer: unfortunately, in the West, the Ukrainian church is still judged by Moscow narratives. However, this can and should be done not only by the government.

Read this article in russian and Ukrainian.

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