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Portnikov: A cup that cracked

Russian state crest in front of full moon (Image: vedomosti.ru)
Portnikov: A cup that cracked

The Church of Greece became the first after the Patriarchate of Constantinople to recognize the Ukrainian autocephaly. At first glance, this is not the most important recent news – especially against the background of what is happening today in Ukraine itself, where the patriarchal tomos granting autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine is now remembered not as often as in the times of Petro Poroshenko – but it is the most iconic.

Because the perceived minuteness confirms a tendency that cannot be fully understood, not only by the Ukrainians who perceive their independence as something self-sufficient, but also by the Russians, residents of the former imperial metropole who cannot sense the inevitability of historical processes. Neither can sense the inevitability of the collapse of the empire, which broke apart, like an old cup, in 1917, but was glued together by rivers of blood, and yet it cracked again. And no “Russian world,” no Russian language, no Russian gas can hold the cup glued together any longer. And it concerns not only the state structures, but also the church. Because the Russian Church has spread into new territories as part of the Russian imperial expansion, now when the former empire has shrunk like Balzac’s shagreen skin, the church naturally is losing these former provinces too. And this is obvious to all except the hierarchs and parishioners of this shrinking church. Church processes are slower, more inertial, than political processes.

From Moscow – and possibly from Kyiv, as well as from other capitals of the former Soviet republics – it may seem that history can be turned backwards by electing another pro-Russian mediocrity to the presidency or by conspiring with church hierarchs to slow down the process of recognizing the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church. Or by militarily occupying Crimea and the Donbas as they did before with the Transnistria or with the Georgian autonomies. Yes, there is so much you can come up with! Only all this will change nothing.

Ukraine, like most other former Soviet republics, has been permanently lost to Russia as a country, as a nation and as a civilization. Every new day, month and year will only intensify this split – because new generations of people who have no experience of the Soviet past will come into adulthood, and Russia, which does not understand why the lost imperial territories do not return, will behave more aggressively and repel even those who are connected with it via a common cultural past and language. Just as it happened with many Russian-speaking Ukrainians and Ukrainian Russians after the occupation of Crimea and the war in the Donbas.

If Russia could accept the collapse of the empire, it would strengthen its influence in the post-Soviet space, strengthen the Russian state itself, preserve the chances for the Russian Church, which would not be seen as a hidden weapon of aggression. Instead, Putin’s Russia preserves the distant past in pieces of the land seized from its neighbors, blackmails them using its energy resources, sends saboteurs, “pours gasoline” on internal conflicts, sends its troops over its neighbors’ borders – and thus deprives not the Ukrainians nor the Georgians of the future, but itself.

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