The reason that the Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate are so alarmed by the prospect of an independent autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church is that it undercuts Vladimir Putin’s drive to rewrite Russian history “from official imperial positions” and calls attention to the rapid disintegration of his “’Russian world,’” Boris Sokolov says.
In recent weeks, the Russian historian continues, Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill have become ever more hyperbolic in the expression of their fears about the meaning of Ukrainian autocephaly, lashing out not only at the Ukrainians but at the Universal Patriarch and his supposed work as an agent for the Americans.
In an important article in Kyiv’s Den’ newspaper, Sokolov makes it clear that this alarm in Moscow reflects not any concern about religious faith – the Moscow Patriarchate is ever more obviously a state agency – but about the falling apart and contraction of the Russian sphere of influence in the region.
And that in turn means, although Sokolov does not make this point explicitly, that while neither Putin nor Kirill is prepared to go to war for the faith, both may be more than willing to do so in the name of preserving that rapidly dying “’Russian world.’”
Three other developments reported this week only underscore that conclusion.
First and in an indication that Moscow secular and religious is losing out in the religious struggle in Ukraine, Metropolitan Alexander (Drabinko) has left the Moscow church in Ukraine and declared his affiliation to the Universal Patriarch, the first such Moscow hierarch there to do so.
Not surprisingly, he is being called “the first traitor” by Russian nationalist and Orthodox outlets – see, for example, stoletie.ru. But he is unlikely to be the last, and Alexander’s decision to the extent that it isn’t an effort by Moscow to penetrate Ukrainian institutions is likely to be the harbinger of others.
It is also a reminder that for many Orthodox leaders and faithful in Ukraine (as is the case elsewhere), their religion is more important to them than Putin’s politics. They don’t want to continue to be misused. And that too ensures that the process of autocephaly in Ukraine – and thus ever more solid Ukrainian independence politically as well – is going to proceed.
Second, Censoru.net has published the latest figures showing the declining number of people outside of the Russian Federation who know and use the Russian language. Given that Putin has made the Russian language the second most important aspect of Russian identity – the first is loyalty to the Kremlin – that is not a good sign for his Russian world either.
And third, in an indication of one of the ways Moscow hopes to respond, the Moscow Human Rights Bureau has declared that ever more Russians abroad are suffering from discrimination and that “Russophobia is one of the forms of racism.”
By making that argument or more precisely by having a human rights group do so, the Kremlin clearly hopes to be able to mobilize those opposed to racism in all its horrific forms to speak out against any actions it deems discriminatory against ethnic Russians and Russian speakers abroad and thus amplify Moscow’s moves in defense of Putin’s “Russian world.”
And this effort has a collateral benefit, as far as the Kremlin is concerned. It distracts attention from the fact that Putin’s Russia is ever more frequently discriminating against non-Russians at home, limiting the use of the native languages of more than a quarter of the population and the powers of those federal institutions that ostensibly were supposed to protect the rights of these nations.
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