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Ukraine to limit Russian-linked religious organizations and ‘counteract’ Russian influence in the country


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has announced that his government will impose restrictions on religious organizations with ties to Russia in a bid to bolster national security.

“The National Security and Defense Council has instructed the government to propose [parliament] a bill prohibiting the activities in Ukraine of religious organizations affiliated with centers of influence in Russia,” Zelenskyy said, according to AFP.

“National security officials should step up measures to identify and thwart subversive activities of Russian special services in the religious space in Ukraine.”

Ukraine has followed Moscow’s spiritual leadership for centuries, but the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in the war has forced many to take a more critical look at the institution.

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Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, remained a staunch supporter and ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin during the invasion of Ukraine.

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office on Saturday, June 18, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a meeting with military officials as he visits the war-stricken Mykolaiv region.
(Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Kirill has made statements to help maintain morale and support for the war, such as assuring Russian soldiers that they will have their sins forgiven if they die in the line of duty and God has mandated rule of Putin.

“We have to be very strong,” Kirill April said as he blessed the troops ahead of their service in Ukraine. “When I say ‘we’, I mean above all the armed forces.”

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The patriarch’s actions have prompted some to even call him “a little copy of Putin” who “lives life the way the oligarchs live”.

Rebekah Koffler, president of Doctrine & Strategy Consulting and a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer, said Zelenskyy’s decision to restrict the church is not surprising, as it comes out of the Russian playbook for controlling information. KGB agents heavily infiltrated the church during the Soviet Union in order to use religion as a “weapon against political opposition”.

Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill leads the Easter service at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow on Saturday, April 23.

Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill leads the Easter service at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow on Saturday, April 23.
(Sergei Vlasov, Russian Orthodox Church press service via AP)

“In those days of service, the KGB was penetrating the church as a whole and using it to identify basically any type of dissent, any type of opposition,” Koffler explained, calling it an art form. to govern.

“They would build relationships with priests, and the priests would basically report to the KGB anyone perceived to be disloyal to the Soviet authorities, because when a person comes to confession, they tell them their views.”

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Koffler said Ukrainian security services visited churches affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church and carried out raids to interrogate and arrest priests on suspicion of providing information to Russia.

“On the one hand, Zelensky is trying to prevent what he perceives as the spread of Russian influence in Ukraine,” Koffler said. “But he’s using Soviet KGB tactics to do that.”

The Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God in Mariupol, Ukraine.

The Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God in Mariupol, Ukraine.
(Christopher Occhicone/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Zelenskyy waited to execute the move as it was something of a last resort as Russia hits Ukrainian infrastructure harder and he faces pressure to end the war.

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An Orthodox priest blesses Russian paratroopers marching during celebrations of Paratroopers Day 2017, the annual holiday of Russian airborne troops, at their military unit in the southern city of Stavropol, Russia.

An Orthodox priest blesses Russian paratroopers marching during celebrations of Paratroopers Day 2017, the annual holiday of Russian airborne troops, at their military unit in the southern city of Stavropol, Russia.
(REUTERS/Eduard Korniyenko TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

“He’s just trying to figure out what to do because everything else doesn’t seem to be translating into a win for Ukraine or for Russia at this point,” Koffler said, adding that “we’re at an impasse” between the two. country, and the war is “ultimately unwinnable for very many reasons”.

The move also represents the latest step in Zelenskyy’s efforts to limit Russian influence in his country, which he began to suppress even before Putin’s invasion, when he passed a law making Ukrainian the language. country’s official rather than Russian.

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“He’s trying to preserve the sovereignty of his country, but the bottom line is that it’s a very complicated issue,” Koffler concluded. “The history of Russia and Ukraine has intertwined for centuries, including religion, and now [Zelenskyy] uses the same tactic to suppress the Russian Orthodox religion in Ukraine, just as the Soviet KGB did.”

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