Saturday, June 8, 2024

    U.S. aid to Ukraine and issue of “religious freedom in Ukraine”: how are these things related?

    As the Ukraine-aid bill has finally passed Congress and was signed by President Joe Biden after months of delays, we should keep in mind that on November 5, the U.S. will hold a presidential election where the issue of Ukraine will become central. In fact, it has long become almost the main point in domestic political debate between Republicans and Democrats amid the already complicated pre-election race. Meanwhile, one of the cornerstones of speculation and manipulation around continued aid is the issue of “religious freedom in Ukraine.” There is probably no need to explain why the very fact that some allegations are being brought up is already bad for Ukraine and why the country desperately needs bipartisan support to remain in place and never wane. Let’s try to figure out who the actors are in this story, who are simply the useful idiots”, who are the ultimate beneficiaries, and who are the victims.

    Actor 1: UOC (MP)

    Let’s start with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the one that is in unity with the Moscow Patriarchate, since its role is now the most well-known to the public. Probably everyone has already heard the story about the efforts by UOC (MP) lobbyist Robert Amsterdam, who was hired by Vadym Novinsky, the politician sanctioned by Ukraine who also apparently holds a Russian passport. Therefore, we offer to look at the fruits of this work on a concrete example.

    The UOC (MP) rejoices over the fact that certain political figures in the US stand against continued aid to Ukraine. Among them is Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose statements and activities are widely covered by, a media outlet controlled by the pro-Russian wing of the UOC (MP). This is one of the platforms of that “media pool” supervised by the UOC MP, which was exposed by the SBU security service over “inciting enmity and working for the Russian FSB.”

    On April 18, claimed that “the Republicans made the allocation of aid to Ukraine directly dependent on government’s non-interference in the affairs of the Church.” Next, the authors joyfully report that Washington allegedly rang serious “alarm bells” for the Ukrainian authorities. In fact, however, this isin no way a thought shared by the entire Republican Party, but rather a number of hardliners, including Taylor-Greene, who submitted several unrealistic amendments (read “demands” to the Ukraine-aid bill, none of which saw support on the House floor.

    While Taylor-Greene’s fellow lawmakers mockingly refer to her as Vladimir Putin’s special envoy to Congress or Lucius from the Harry Potter saga, who served Voldemort undercover, certain individuals from the leadership of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP) seem to value her opinion despite her obvious campaign to endorse conspiracy theories and fake news designed by Russian propaganda masterminds.

    Meanwhile, even Fox News, a traditionally pro-GOP platform, branded Taylor-Green an “idiot” who is trying to wreck the Republicn party from within.

    Fake story of “attacks on Christians over their faith”

    Taylor-Greene put forward the idea of suspending any aid until attacks on Christians in Ukraine stop.

    Based on this demand, a propaganda platform, affiliated with the leader of the pro-Russian wing of the UOC (MP), Metropolitan Antoniy (Pakanych), drew some happy conclusions. Their post also praised the work of American lobbyist Robert Amsterdam, who was hired to protect the UOC (MP) for the money of Russian national, protodeacon of the UOC (MP) Vadym Novinsky, who has fled Ukraine at the outset of the war.

    As a conclusion here, we see that the pro-Russian lobby in the UOC (MP) puts its own interest (maintaining the administrative and canonical connection with the Russian Orthodox Church) above the vital interest of Ukraine, which is to obtain capabilities to defend the nation against Russian military aggression.

    Thus, all those who support such actions on the part of the leadership of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP) become accomplices in the destruction by the invaders of Ukrainian cities and villages, hundreds of churches, as well as murders of both believers and priests, including those from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP) – all because Ukraine does not have sufficient defense capabilities precisely because of such actions.

    The government’s demand to the UOC (MP) was logical and legal: to break the canonical-administrative dependence on religious centers in the aggressor state in order to minimize Russian influence on the citizens of Ukraine. This is exactly what the President of Ukraine was talking about, this is what the NSDC decision says about this, and this is what the government’s bill 8371, tabled for first reading, should have been about. But thanks to the pro-Russian wing in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP), this is considered by this religious community as an “attack on faith”, which has led to the current crisis.

    Actor 2: “professional patriots”

    Since Russia’s full-scale invasion, the UOC (MP), whose leadership so sacredly protects and conceals its uninterrupted relations with the Moscow Patriarchate, has become the only public organization of its kind that remains visibly tolerant to the aggressor. There are many known cases where certain UOC (MP) clerics sided with the invaders, while being covered from criminal liability by also pro-Russian hierarchs of the UOC (MP). The Ukrainian government had to respond to these security challenges, and it did so within the limits of the country’s legislation. While law enforcers worked hard to expose and detain such clerics, some “professional patriots” saw this as their chance for political gains, trying to convince the public of the need for “vendetta” and “public execution” against traitors from a religious organization that maintains ties with and depends on the religious decision-making center located in Moscow. There are such “professional patriots” both among the hierarchs from competing jurisdictions and opposition political forces. “Professional patriots” from among religious figures tried to convince people that the UOC (MP) in its entirety, in addition to bearing moral collective responsibility, should also be collectively held to account by law. This trend gained particular momentum in the fall of 2022, against the background of mass raids by the SBU targeting the UOC (MP), when the President of Ukraine spoke about it, when the National Security and Defense Council dedicated a separate decision precisely to such topic. In particular, this decision envisaged that the government draft a bill to address the issue (8371). This was truly a “golden age” for “professional patriots” from among opposition forces.

    “Professional patriots” in this process were united by one goal – gaining their own benefit. And to this end, they radicalized their attitudes and approach to the issue. Political “professional patriots” saw in such processes an opportunity for electoral gain, to demonstrate to voters that only they know how to resolve complex issues in the “religious domain”. “Professional patriots” from among the Orthodox hierarchs saw this as an opportunity to “profit” from something valuable that could be taken away from the UOC (MP). Separate positive moves in the UOC (MP) circles to secede from the MP were ignored by “professional patriots” who proudly declared: “There’s no one to be in a dialogue with there! There are all traitors!”

    “Professional patriots” found support in some government offices, which became a tool for realizing the personal ambitions of the former. “Professional patriots” convinced the “tools from the power offices” to initiate radical methods that would ensure the absorption of the UOC (MP). After that, the process of deinstitutionalization of networks hostile to Ukraine and individual figures from the UOC (MP) for specific crimes turned into an interjurisdictional conflict. For “professional patriots”, their “ends justified the means” – any means. Therefore, we observed cases of aggressive confrontation between followers of different Orthodox jurisdictions, especially in disputes over who will continue to use church property in individual parishes.

    In turn, this partially compromised the government’s struggle against the aggressor’s influence on the religious circles and became grounds for lobbyists to block assistance to Ukraine in repelling Russia’s armed aggression.

    Bill 8371 as apple of discord

    Even against the background of preparations for a critical House vote for the Ukraine aid package, some “professional patriots” continued to push for the adoption at second reading of the stillborn version of Bill 8371. Its text, which according to law must be made public, was never published on the official portal of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

    In short, the version of the bill, complied ahead of its second reading by the Committee of Humanitarian and Information Policy (“professional patriots”) from fragments of other dead legislative initiatives, resembles a Frankenstein monster that could not be brought to life and whose remains, sewn together, are decomposing, poisoning everything around.

    For Ukraine to survive as an independent country, the legislative process should be reviewed taking into account the existing realities and brought back to a constructive path, while the Frankenstein monster should be forever buried.


    The only beneficiary that reaps fruit the current turbulence is the aggressor state. It is worth noting that at the very outset of the process of bringing to justice certain clerics from the UOC (MP) for their assistance to the invaders, persons affiliated with Russian intelligence agencies were discussing across online platforms a number of scenarios for further developments. They predicted likely benefits for Russia once someone manages to convince conservative Republicans of the “ongoing attacks on faith” in Ukraine against the background of the U.S. election campaign, which will turn the Ukraine issue into a central tool of manipulation in domestic political battles and could lead to the blocking of aid to. Thus the Kremlin saw certain representatives from both Orthodox jurisdictions as “useful idiots” indirectly helping Russia in its efforts to weaken international support for the embattled nation.


    At the end of the day, we have two Orthodox jurisdictions squabbling at the cost of lives and wellbeing of Ukrainians. For the leaders of these jurisdictions, the end justifies the means. The hierarchs put their own interests in this spat above those of whole society. And this is all happening amid continuous Russian strikes as the war’s civilian and military toll keeps rising. Religious leaders seem to be pursuing their goals, sacrificing what would be beneficial for Ukraine. Some create grounds, others try to help the aggressor block U.S. aid that can protect Ukrainians.

    When experts, the military, and President of Ukraine unanimously state that without the U.S. help, Ukraine may as well cease to exist as such, the UOC (MP) is thinking about how to preserve what is inviolable – its affiliation with the Russian Orthodox Church, while OCU hierarchs are mulling a “collective ban ” of their competitors so that it would be easier to “divide and merge”. Meanwhile, political opposition forces are trying to make some electoral gains.

    Especially cynical looks the desire of religious leaders to obtain from the government exclusive rights for avoiding mobilization as the new law on a military call-up is about to come into force that offers no special exemptions for clerics. Perhaps, at least in the face of a mortal threat, they will understand the implications of their actions and get back to real life.

    So we found ourselves hostage to an ongoing feud between two Orthodox jurisdictions, the efforts of “professional patriots” from political opposition, and some “useful idiots”, while the only one benefiting off of this is the aggressor state, whose name is Russia. And the victims of the squabble are the Ukrainian people who defend the sovereignty of the Ukrainian State.

    Spiritual Front of Ukraine Editorial Office