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SBU: Russian Orthodox Church training mercenaries to fight against Ukraine

A Ukrainian security agency claims the Russian Orthodox Church is creating private military groups to recruit and train mercenaries for combat against Ukraine, says training happening at churches.
A Russian Orthodox priest of the Moscow Patriarchate blesses a Russian S-300 nuclear-capable long range surface-to-air missile system. Photo: Aleksei Pavlischak / TASS
A Russian Orthodox priest of the Moscow Patriarchate blesses a Russian S-300 nuclear-capable long range surface-to-air missile system. Photo: Aleksei Pavlischak / TASS
SBU: Russian Orthodox Church training mercenaries to fight against Ukraine

On 19 October, Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) said the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) was establishing its own “Orthodox private military companies” to recruit and train mercenaries to fight against Ukraine. The agency says it has exposed one such Orthodox Christian military company operating out of a prominent cathedral in Russia.

According to the SBU, the so-called Andreyevsky Cross private military company recruits and trains mercenaries out of the Kronstadt Naval Cathedral in St. Petersburg. The security agency alleges that church recruiters enlist parishioners, preferentially targeting men with prior Russian military service and combat experience, before sending them for additional training under the direction of Russian special services’ instructors to prepare them for deployment with Russian forces on the frontlines in Ukraine.

“To disguise combat training, its organizers train ‘recruits’ exclusively within the walls of the cathedral and on special training grounds of the Russian Federation,” the SBU wrote. 

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The Security Service of Ukraine asserts that major Russian business leaders with ties to the Kremlin are bankrolling these church-run private armies under the guise of charitable contributions for cathedral construction.

Since the onset of Russia’s full-scale invasion began in February 2022, Ukrainian authorities have opened 68 criminal cases against Russian Church-linked Ukrainian Orthodox Church representatives. 26 church figures have been charged so far, while another 19 offenders have already received court sentences, according to the SBU.

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“In addition, law enforcement officers are investigating 18 [Russian-church-linked] proceedings for public incitement to religious hatred, as well as the sale of firearms and distribution of child pornography,” the statement reads.

On 19 October, Ukraine’s parliament moved closer to passing legislation that would provide the legal basis for banning the Ukrainian branch of the Russian Orthodox Church entirely. The church has long faced accusations of promoting Russian propaganda and maintaining allegiance to the Moscow Patriarchate. 

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