Friday, February 3

Putin’s Jihad


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Within the framework of what many are already calling Russia’s ‘hybrid war’ in Ukraine, President Putin seems willing to also use religion as a battering ram. The proposal seems, at first, nonsense because a majority of the population of Russia and Ukraine share the Orthodox Christian religion, which according to the official historiography in the Federation arose precisely in Ukrainian territory at the end of the 10th century and then spread to the East. Despite this affinity, Russian political and intellectual circles were shaken when Ukraine declared its political independence after the fall of the USSR. In 2019 the second tremor occurred with the support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to the constitution

of an autocephaly in Kiev, which thus ceased to depend on the Moscow Patriarchate.

Vladimir Putin – who counts Moscow Patriarch Kirill among his friends, in an anachronistic return to the alliance of the throne and the altar – wrote last summer that the constitution of the Patriarchate of Kiev was another fatal blow to Russian sentiments, and a confirmation of the route taken towards the West by the new Ukrainian political elite. “Our spiritual unity has also been attacked,” wrote the Russian leader in July 2021, who two years earlier – when the autonomy of the Kiev religious authority was declared – came to compare it to “the use of weapons of mass destruction against us ».

Only the surveys about the schism of the two Churches carried out in Ukraine are known. They show that 34 percent of Ukrainians declare themselves in favor of the Kiev Patriarchate, compared to 13.8 percent who continue to want union with the Moscow Patriarchate. The rest is considered mostly indifferent. In Ukraine, there is also a minority of Catholics of the non-Latin autochthonous rite, important especially in the diaspora.

After almost a century of militant Soviet atheism in both Russia and the Ukraine, religious sentiments – very fast from doctrinal formation – are easy terrain for manipulation by politicians. In practical terms, the Kiev autocephaly is a legal matter that does not imply any change in the orthodox doctrine, which remains as before. But one of the messages repeated by leading nationalism, both among pro-Russian Ukrainians in the rebellious Donbass region and within the Federation, is the need to “defend the faith of the Russian people” in the conflict with the neighboring country.

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