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The Sectarian Element in Russia's Invasion of Ukraine

The physical landscape of Ukraine isn’t the only battle space Russian invaders hope to dominate. For the past decade, the two countries have fought another battle — not over territory but the religious orientation of Ukraine. And if Russia occupies the country, religious freedom will be one of the many casualties.

Ukraine is an ancient nation, dating back to at least the 10th century, with an eastern Christian identity at its root. Founded at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Ukraine is the second-largest European country, second only to Russia. While many faiths operate freely in Ukraine, such as Roman Catholics, evangelicals, Muslims and Jews, the country’s population of 43 million is overwhelmingly Christian and predominantly identifies with Orthodoxy.

But the question is: Which Orthodoxy?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has used the common Orthodox character of Russia and Ukraine in his arguments for closer alignment. Ukraine is unique in that several expressions of eastern Christianity are practiced there. On one side is the Russian Orthodox Church and its Ukrainian denomination, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate. On the other is the Orthodox Church of Ukraine-Kyiv Patriarchate.

Putin’s efforts to restore Russian prestige have included elevating the Russian Orthodox Church to the center of Russian identity while also undermining the independence of the Moscow Patriarch. Putin’s Ukraine scheme included leveraging the potential religious soft power of the Moscow-aligned Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate.According to the Orthodox Times, Russia used disinformation campaigns to stir conflict between the churches.

These efforts came to a head in late 2018, when the Orthodox Church of Ukraine-Kyiv Patriarchate sought from the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church autocephaly. Afraid of Russian interference, the Kyiv Patriarchate believed attaining independence through autocephalous status would allow the OCU-KP to break free from the Moscow Patriarchate, removing itself from under its authority.

Read entire article at Religion News Services