What does PACE’s recognition of Russian Orthodox Church as a tool of Kremlin propaganda mean?

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has unanimously recognized the Russian Orthodox Church as a tool of the Kremlin propaganda and influence, as well as Patriarch Kirill and his hierarchs as accomplices in Russia’s crimes against Ukraine. The statement was published on the PACE website.

Vladimir Putin’s regime has committed to the neo-imperialistic ideology of Russkiy Mir (the “Russian world”), which the Kremlin has turned into a tool for promoting war. This ideology is being used to destroy the remnants of democracy, to militarise Russian society and to justify external aggression to expand the Russian Federation’s borders to include all territories once under Russian domination, including Ukraine. The hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, including Patriarch Kirill, has been championing the Russkiy Mir ideology, declaring the war against Ukraine and the “satanic” West as a “holy war of all Russians”, urging Orthodox believers to sacrifice themselves for their country. (…) The Assembly calls on all States to treat Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Orthodox hierarchy as an ideological extension of Vladimir Putin’s regime complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity conducted in the name of the Russian Federation and the Russkiy Mir ideology.

PACE statement

Russian church’s “order” declaring a “holy war” against Ukraine and the West

The PACE’s decision to recognize Russian President Vladimir Putin as illegitimate and the Russian Orthodox Church as a “tool of Kremlin propaganda” is more symbolic. However, it is a signal for certain countries—Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and some others—where there are Orthodox churches that have or have had ties with the ROC. For them, this will serve as a signal to sever these ties as quickly as possible and to limit their links with the ROC. If they don’t, they will face legal consequences.

The World Russian People’s Council, chaired by Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, proclaimed an “order” in Moscow on March 27, 2024, which contains several heresies, including that Russia’s bloody military invasion of Ukraine is somehow a “holy war” and that “the entire territory of present-day Ukraine should be included in the zone of Russia’s exclusive influence.”

The Russian Orthodox Church’s “order” also reveals the extent of Russia’s imperialist plans, claiming that this “holy war” is not only against Kyiv but also against the “collective West that stands behind it.” The document positions Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as part of a “great spiritual struggle against the West,” which the ROC accuses of “Satanism.”

Russian church’s resemblance to the ideology of Islamist radicals

It means that the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has approved a document that justifies the Kremlin’s intention to destroy Ukraine by military means, which bears a striking resemblance to the ideological arguments of Islamist radicals. Religious institutions often issue resolutions setting out their official position on key issues, but rarely do these statements contain calls for mass murders or territorial ambitions.

The Kremlin is also trying to present the war in Ukraine as an existential struggle against Western “Satanism.” Another echo of Islamist doctrine is Kirill’s statement that Russian soldiers who died in Ukraine will “wash away their sins.”

The Russian Orthodox Church aims to justify the war crimes in Ukraine and inspire more Russians to volunteer by framing the invasion in distinctly spiritual terms. Moscow’s declaration of a holy war also sends an unambiguous message to anyone in the West who still believes that some sort of compromise with the Kremlin is possible.

While Putin initially tried to justify the invasion as a response to NATO expansion, it is now clear that he views the war as a “holy mission” and will not stop until Ukraine is wiped off the map of Europe,” an Atlantic Council’s expert wrote.

Russian Orthodox Church is a Kremlin-controlled organization – ISW

The US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) wrote that the Russian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate, a Kremlin-controlled organization, held a council and adopted an ideological document that ties together Kremlin ideological narratives to form a broader nationalist ideology around the war in Ukraine. The Russian Orthodox Church has formed a broader nationalist ideology around the war in Ukraine and Russia’s expansionist future, the ISW concluded.

In particular, the Russian Orthodox Church has called Russia’s war in Ukraine an existential and civilizational “holy war,” a new step for the Russian authorities, who have so far avoided calling the Ukraine invasion a “war.”

In addition, the Russian Orthodox Church has stated that “restoring the unity of the Russian people” through the war in Ukraine is a key condition for Russia’s survival and development. Analysts believe that this call is tantamount to the full-scale destruction of the Ukrainian nation and its absorption into Russia.

Analysts claim that the Russian Orthodox Church is fusing earlier Kremlin narratives into a comparatively coherent ideology that emphasizes national identity and demographic recovery, promising a period of national revival for Russians.

“The Kremlin may not choose to fully publicly embrace the ultra-nationalist ideology offered by the ROC, but it is likely to borrow and use it to support the ‘Russian world’ in Ukraine, as well as for any future acts of aggression against Russia’s neighbors and the West,” the report says.

Russian Orthodox Church has parishes in the EU

Ukraine served a notice of suspicion of encroachment on the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Vladimir Gundyaev (Patriarch Kirill). According to Ukrainian law enforcement, the Russian patriarch blessed the Russian military invaders to kill Ukrainians. 

Note that the Russian Orthodox Church is represented in many European nations, including Germany and France. This Kremlin-linked church has parishes and followers in many European countries. The question is: do they support Kiril’s call for the annihilation of Ukrainians?

Read also our old but still relevant article: From Russia with church: is Russian spiritual centre in Paris a threat?

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