Moscow Patriarchate beefs up its staff for hybrid operations against Ukraine

Putin with Kirill, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church (Image: Ukrinform.ru)

Putin with Kirill, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church (Image: Ukrinform.ru) 

2016/01/18 • Analysis & Opinion, Culture, Russia

The Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church has set up a new staff in the synod department of external church affairs for hybrid operations against Ukraine, including blackening the reputation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, blocking the Universal Patriarch from recognizing the Kyiv church as canonical, and destabilizing religious conditions across Ukraine.

In an article on Ukrinform.ru entitled “The Moscow Patriarchate as Commissar of Hybrid War,” Kyiv journalist Lana Samokhvalova says that this staff, headquartered in Moscow, seeks to create controversies between the Orthodox churches in Ukraine so as to be able to complain to the OSCE and other international bodies that Ukraine is religiously intolerant.

Among the groups this new staff oversees are the Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods, the Union of Orthodox Citizens, the Association of Orthodox Citizens, and other radical nationalist groups not publicly associated with the Moscow Patriarchate in order to suggest that these conflicts arise within Ukraine and to give Moscow deniability as far as its role is concerned.

The chief operative of this Moscow staff in Ukraine is the Union of Orthodox Journalists which “in fact,” Samokhvalova says, “is neither a union or contain journalists or Orthodox faithful.” Instead, it is an operation of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) intended to provoke conflicts between the Moscow Patriarchate and the parishes of the Kyiv Patriarchate and then blame them on the latter.

The Ukrainian journalist says that articles in Moscow Patriarchate outlets show that the new staff is pursuing the following five goals:

  1. Discrediting all by Moscow churches in Ukraine
  2. Bringing religious problems in Ukraine to the attention of the Universal Patriarchate in the hopes of blocking its recognition of Kyiv as a canonical patriarchate
  3. Deforming [Ukraine’s] information space
  4. Creating conditions within the faithful for civic strife
  5. Intimidating pro-Kyiv churchmen of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine by threatening them in various ways.

The Kyiv journalist says that she concludes “as a hypothesis” that the new staff has “yet another goal: to create conditions under which [its] real boss Vladimir Putin can at any moment exacerbate the situation by declaring that he wants to ‘defend canonical orthodoxy,’” and thus provide cover for more Russian aggression against Ukraine.

The new staff refers to itself on occasion as “a department for ‘the defense of the true believers,’” although it is anything but a religious group with religious goals. Instead, it seeks to provoke scandals, then exacerbate them, and then “with the help of the ombudsmen for the defense of the rights of believers” make political capital out of them both in Ukraine and abroad.

Ukraine’s only defense against this effort, Samokhvalova says, is, in the short run, to expose it as much as possible, and, in the longer run, to create a national Orthodox church separate from Moscow’s.

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Edited by: A.N.

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