Now that Russia is moving toward escalating a military conflict and Western analysts are talking about a possible new full-scale war, we can see Putin looking for new pretexts to defend “Russians in Ukraine.” Believers of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, who remain demonstratively silent about the Kremlin’s crimes, are also well suited for the role of offended and “persecuted” Russians.
The “oppression” of the so-called UOC-MP branch (the ROC in Ukraine) is constantly mentioned. Thus, these people, who consider themselves servants of Christ, support the Russian Federation in its aggressive anti-Ukrainian policy and even give Putin a reason to launch a new full-scale invasion so that Putin can “protect the Russians and the Russian Church.” It is the ROCinU officials who most often claim persecution and oppression by the Ukrainian authorities.
A few days before the aggressor’s president, Vladimir Putin, accused Kyiv of persecuting the Moscow Patriarchate, a spokesman for the religious organization (ROCinU), Archpriest Mykola Danylevych, said it was being persecuted by Ukrainian authorities. Danylevych once again called for the repeal of the law on the standardization of the ROCinU’s name, which, according to him, declares the faithful of the UOC-MP enemies of Ukraine. “I believe that one of the real and symbolic steps for actual unity and consolidation of the people would be the repeal of the law on ‘renaming’ our Church (UOC) into the so-called ‘ROC in Ukraine,’” he said.
However, after Putin referred to the ROC in Ukraine “UOC of the Moscow Patriarchate,” Danylevych voiced no indignation over the fact that the Russian leader “renamed” their “most independent Church,” holder of a sham “tomos” issued by Moscow, calling them the “UOC of the Moscow Patriarchate” . It turns out that from the point of view of representatives of the ROC branch, Putin can “rename” the so-called “UOC-MP” (ROC in Ukraine), while the Ukrainian government can’t. Such renaming, or rather bringing into line with reality their name, the ROCinU brands as “persecution.” At the same time, the ROCinU continues to worship without hindrance across its parishes throughout Ukraine, consecrating new churches, both in the occupied Crimea and in lands free from Russian occupiers.
Nevertheless, Putin confirmed Danylevych’s claims about “persecution” and “oppression.” He said that Kyiv was preparing a “massacre” of the Moscow Patriarchate. “Kyiv continues to prepare for the massacre of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate… The current leadership of the country does not respond to requests from Ukrainian citizens to repeal laws that infringe on the rights of believers,” Putin complained on February 21. It was on that day that he recognized the “LPR/DPR” terrorist organizations and introduced Russian troops into Donbas.
In the spirit of propaganda, Russian theologian Alexei Smirnov also spoke of pressure on the ROCinU on the part of the Ukrainian authorities over Putin’s recognition of “LPR/DPR” terrorists: “This fact (Putin’s recognition of “LPR/DPR” – ed.) could be used by the right-wing radical forces and authorities to increase pressure on the canonical Church. In other words, recognition is a convenient pretext for them to launch an even more proactive campaign to establish a nationalist ideology in order to address their purely internal tasks. For the OCU, this is the elimination of competitors in the religious field, and for the government – this is about rallying a certain part of the nationalist electorate.
In addition, not only Putin talked about the persecution of the ROC branch in Ukraine – high-ranking ROC hierarchs in Russia also did. In particular, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeev), recently awarded by Putin, was especially vocal. He accused the Ukrainian authorities of “Russophobia” and “attempts to rewrite history,” saying that thanks to the ROC, the bond between the three peoples would never be broken. In May 2021, Alfeev declared that the struggle against the so-called “UOC” of the Moscow Patriarchate was nothing more than a struggle against the part of the Russian Orthodox Church that they were trying to “reject.” “In the current geopolitical situation, the same forces that are working against Russia are working against the Russian Orthodox Church. They are working to weaken and dismember the Church, to reject those historical parts of the Church that are inextricably linked to it, in particular, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (ROCinU – ed.),” said the head of the external church relations department with the ROC.
It should be noted that the other day, provocations and false flag attacks accusing Ukraine took place in the terrorist “DPR” – the occupied part of Ukraine. Pro-Russian militants with the so-called “DPR” have spread fake videos accusing the Armed Forces of Ukraine of shelling apartment blocks and organizing sabotage attacks, but their lame videos have spiraled out of control. In the two videos, the terrorists forgot to change actors and the house they had, themselves, struck. According to the legend pursued by the propagandists, they carried out an “operation to detain Ukrainian saboteurs.”
The JFO headquarters warned on February 20 that “in the absence of any aggressive action by Ukrainian defenders, the invaders themselves are destroying infrastructure in the occupied territories and carrying out chaotic shelling of settlements. It is obvious that the enemy continues to apply its propaganda methods of waging an information war in order to accuse the Armed Forces of Ukraine and escalate the situation.”
It’s not only the reports of the alleged pressure on the ROCinU and fake provocations in the occupied Donbas that are being spun, but also quite real preparations for terrorist attacks, including the arson attacks on ROCinU temples in Kharkiv. Recently, the SBU exposed a perpetrator who had been plotting a series of arson attacks of ROC temples in Kharkiv for a $1,000 reward. The mastermind was a Russian who was telling the executioner over the phone what he must do. “Yes, we confirm the fact of interception of a phone conversation about the plot of a terrorist attacks in Kharkiv. The attacks were to take place in the churches of the Moscow Patriarchate. We warned the representatives of the UOC-MP (ROCinU – ed.). The person who was to carry out the attacks has been identified. The whole set of necessary actions is being undertaken,” the SBU told journalists.
Despite exposing criminals recruited by Russian secret services, ROCinU experts and even bishops of this structure are spinning a wave of baseless accusations, claiming Ukrainians are “persecuting” them, which creates a favorable background and goes in tandem with propaganda claims about “Ukrainian saboteurs.” In particular, a pro-Russian platform, Pravblog, claimed possible provocations against ROCinU communities in western Ukraine. According to the outlet, “there is a threat of arson, desecration of temples” of the ROCinU in the western regions. Moreover, the resource, on the other hand, plays into the hands of propaganda, stating that it is not Russia that is plotting provocations favorable to it with the arson of ROC temples, but “certain forces.” “… In the light of recent events, certain forces intend to find scapegoats,” said the statement. Probably by “certain forces”, in the spirit of propaganda, they understand “Banderites” or patriotic citizens.
The head of the Zaporizhia eparchy of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, the infamous Metropolitan Luka (Kovalenko), stated almost the same: “Strengthen the protection of temples; be vigilant, prudent and do not use statements that may be interpreted ambiguously and compromise you; do not call for or take part in any political rallies without the blessing of the clergy.”
Thus, we see the simultaneous efforts pursued by Russia’s top church and state leadership against Ukraine, as well as the subversive anti-Ukrainian work of Russian-recruited hostile agents in Ukraine involving the ROC branch in Ukraine and Russian and pro-Russian propaganda media publishing both outright fakes and posts hinting at the involvement of Ukrainians or Ukrainian authorities in “persecution” or possible provocations at all levels: from the adoption of “anti-church laws” (laws on the standardization of the name of the ROCinU), to arson targeting churches.
The ROCinU itself does not mind playing along with the aggressor country (Russia) and for eight years in a row it has been claiming “persecution.” Instead of explaining that criminals recruited by Russia may be operating in Ukraine, who may be trying to commit terrorist acts against the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, the religious organization is playing along with Russian propaganda and Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing harassment by the current Ukrainian government and hinting at terrorist acts that Ukrainians could allegedly commit.
However, Putin, the ROC, and the ROC in Ukraine know well who might carry out these attacks because orders about these crimes and provocations against Ukraine are issued by the Kremlin.
It should be added that Metropolitan Epifaniy appealed to all citizens, urging them not to succumb to provocations and to prevent violence against the property of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine or supporters of the Russian Orthodox Church. “Ukraine is proud of interfaith and interethnic peace. No matter how hard the Kremlin has been trying to inflame the clash over the years, it failed. Together we will not allow this inner peace to be violated even now. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine calls to prevent violence against the property of the communities of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine or supporters of the Russian Orthodox Church. If you are witnessing specific unlawful actions in the interests of the aggressor, including under the pretext of religious slogans, follow the law, turn to law enforcement, do not succumb to provocations. The enemy is only looking for an excuse to justify their aggression – our common task is to destroy their plans,” said Metropolitan Epifaniy.
Source: Theologian Ivan Petrushchak