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The UOC-MP goes to the polls. In the USA

The UOC-MP goes to the polls. In the USA © depositphotos/SSilver

The need to break the alliance of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) with the Kremlin was absolutely obvious from the very beginning of the war. That is, not even since February 2022, but since the spring of 2014. But, alas, the longer the confrontation between the Ukrainian authorities and the UOC-MP continues, the less chance Ukraine has of getting rid of the church connection with Moscow. Having recovered from the first shock associated with the loss of privileges, a wave of hate and the threat of a ban, representatives of the UOC-MP mobilized resources to influence the political agenda of the United States of America. Now it is not only the Russian diplomatic machine that is working for the UOC-MP. And even it is not only “Western experts” with Russian passports and Western theologians with a “Russian soul” who work for it. The most expensive lobbyists and lawyers, journalists and politicians work for the UOC-MP, for whom “aid to Ukraine” (or rather, refusal of it) turned out to be a convenient election springboard.

For the third time this year, at the request of the Russian Federation, the United Nations (UN) Security Council met to consider the issue of “persecution of the canonical church” in Ukraine. From the United Nations (UN), the report was made by Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ilze Brands Kehris. Her report did not contain anything fundamentally new – concerns about sectarian tensions, isolated cases of fights. She also recalled that the United Nations (UN) chairmen are closely monitoring that trials of clergy take place in full accordance with the law and justice, and are not yet too satisfied with how this is done in Ukraine. 

The hearing participants, as usual, were divided into two groups. Representatives of Western countries and Japan once again showed the representative of the Russian Federation their contempt, saying that the main problem of the Ukrainian Church (as well as Ukraine as a whole) is Russia and the war unleashed by it. Representatives of the so-called Global South limited themselves to the vague belief that all countries should live in peace and protest against the destruction of churches.

At this point, one could turn the page in the endless story of “deep concerns”, from which neither side receives any benefits and this seems to be the main goal of the organizers.

But it is not so. The Russian Federation, of course, is not doing this in order to once again listen to a stream of unpleasant truths about itself or even to remind itself and its citizens that they also have some support in the world. At this meeting, the Russian Federation pursued at least two more goals.

The first was presented by the speaker from the Russian Federation, Vakhtang Kipshidze. The very fact of the participation of this particular person, that is, the official representative of the Moscow Patriarchate and an ardent hater of Ukraine, is interesting. This was meant to emphasize that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) is a part of the Moscow Patriarchate (MP), and representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate are always ready to help their people in trouble. And the key phrase in his speech was just one phrase: “The first step to establishing peace in Ukraine is to stop the persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC).”

It is unlikely that this was said simply “for the sake of a nice word.” In all likelihood, the Kremlin already has a certain set of demands on Ukraine in the event of a truce. And the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) is an indispensable part of the deal.

Apparently, the Kyiv Metropolitanate knows about this. Their position now is to win as much time as possible (and also get money from sponsors for information and lobbying campaigns) in anticipation of the moment when the Ukrainian authorities will be forced to retreat and leave them alone. Moscow's patronage of this church, as well as the lies of representatives of this church about “complete independence,” have never been so open and so cynical.

The second goal, which prompted the Kremlin to convene the United Nations (UN) Security Council for the third time in a year regarding the “persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP),” was of a media nature. For all its political helplessness, the United Nations (UN) Security Council continues to play the role of newsmaker. For political leaders in the US Republican Party, this body is quite suitable as a “authoritative source”, whose reports and assessments can be referred to as independent and respectable opinion.

The report made by Ilze Brands Kehris provides enough material to talk about violations of freedom of conscience in Ukraine. Real and fictional. Everyone knows that in Russia you can get five to seven years in prison for belonging to Jehovah's Witnesses. And in Ukraine, for belonging to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), you can lose a church, whose parishioners are tired of honoring “our lord Kirill” during the service. But yes, both sides have violations...

“Persecution of the church” by the Ukrainian authorities became a mechanism that far-right Republicans began to actively use. “Persecution of the church” is used as a justification for blocking aid to Ukraine now, and will be voiced more than once by Republicans as the main reason for not providing aid to our country during the discussion of additional funding decisions that will be made in Congress between Thanksgiving and Christmas. These arguments are constantly heard during the Republican primaries, where with their help Trump supporters clear the way for him from other non-radical candidates.

The defense of “canonical Orthodoxy in Ukraine” is undertaken by lobbyists, whose services cost one and a half thousand dollars per hour (it’s easy to understand why, it’s more difficult to explain where the persecuted church has such financial resources). Reputable publications publish articles where the “ban of the church” is condemned as an “unforgivable” sin against democracy and the doctrine of human rights. The choice of words sometimes speaks for itself: unforgivable actions call for punishment. In our case, such a “punishment” could (or should?) be the refusal of the United States of America to further support Ukraine in the war against the Russian Federation. That is, our “punishment” could (or should?) be our defeat in the war against the Russian Federation.

Now the Biden administration has reason to be nervous: amid all this political and media noise, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is studying the issue. Representatives of the Commission turned for clarification to the State Service of Ukraine for Ethno-Politics and Freedom of Conscience, as well as to the Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States of America Oksana Markarova. I don’t know to what extent the Commission was satisfied with the answers of Ukrainian officials. The comments of representatives of this commission to the press (published in the Voice of America) were restrained. The Commission expressed “understanding” of the situation in which Ukraine found itself, but the comment amounted to a polite admonition in the sense that the laws adopted by Ukraine should not affect the interests of believers. Which, translated from diplomatic language, means: this bill (like the entire anti-insurgency program of the Ukrainian government) can become (or has already become) a stumbling block for those who support Ukraine in the United States of America.

The Ukrainian government has actually failed in its campaign to liquidate the Moscow Church in Ukraine. It becomes absolutely clear that the authorities had neither a strategy nor even just a backup plan B. There are doubts that the Bankova Street even had the will to resolve the problem of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine once and for all. The Office of the President of Ukraine carried out its attack in the usual manner, that is, a war in the media field, waves of hype and chaotic visits of law enforcement officers to representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP). This may be a winning strategy for dealing with oligarchs and political rivals. But not to fight institutions that are deeply rooted in society, and whose popularity at the community level is not inferior to the popularity of the “95th Quarter” program. More precisely, this is the “95th Quarter” program, which is popular. And the church is part of a citizen’s self-identification.

You can leak photos of half-naked choristers online, find St. George ribbons and portraits of Patriarch Kirill in churches, write about Moscow priests who have Mercedes on Twitter and on fences. You can sing about it and maybe even dance in honor of it – just like in Indian cinema. But if you take away all this media noise, you can clearly see that the government’s campaign against the UOC-MP has so far brought nothing but problems. In reality, the connection of this denomination with Moscow remains functional, and the role of the UOC-MP in the media space – especially the Western one – continues to be determined in the building of the state security authorities which is located on Lubyanka.

Read this article in russian and Ukrainian.

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