Study: Russia uses religion as weapon in Ukrainian war


Eastern Europe


Russian soldiers attend a service in the Cathedral of Christ's Resurrection, the main Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Russian Armed Forces, in the Patriot park in Kubinka outside Moscow. Photo EPA, Sergei Ilnitsky

Russia continues to use religion as a weapon in its war against Ukraine. That is the conclusion of a new study by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

According to ISW, Russia continually uses religion to discredit Ukraine on the international stage. For example, it continues to complain about the measures against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church connected to the Moscow Patriarchate and portrays Russia as a religiously tolerant state.


In addition, Russia may use the Orthodox Easter holiday on April 16 to delay Ukrainian counter-offensives by calling for a ceasefire under the guise of respect for the Orthodox Religion, the report points out, as reported by Sobor. "Such a pause would bring a disproportionately large benefit to Russian troops and allow them to consolidate their gains in Bakhmut and prepare defences against Ukraine's counter-offensive in the spring of 2023", the researchers think. However, they also emphasise that Ukraine is not obligated to adhere to a ceasefire. "If Russia offers and Ukraine refuses a ceasefire on Orthodox Easter, the Kremlin will not thereby demonstrate greater commitment to the protection of Christianity or Christian values and will not show that Kyiv rejects these values", they stress.

Also, the Russian occupiers use information operations on religious premises to advance their military strategies, Pravda reports.


It is cynical that Russia accuses Ukraine of religious intolerance, Slovoproslovo writes. The ISW report demonstrates that the Russian military and occupying authorities put several religious communities under severe pressure. They are said to have closed buildings, transferred churches to the Russian Orthodox Church, looted at least 13 religious worship houses, and even killed at least 29 clergies, Slovoproslovo reports. According to the news website, the Russian authorities "have been suppressing religious freedom inside their country for a long time, and now they are transferring this policy to the occupied territories of Ukraine."


According to Slovoproslovo, Russia's persecution is meant to destroy the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. It split from the Russian Orthodox Church, and thus, Russia sees it as schismatic. According to the ISW study, 34 per cent of the attacks on religious communities are aimed at the OCU. In addition, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and Protestant denominations are targeted. The Russians often accuse Protestants of being "American spies", "Sectarians", and "Enemies of the Russian Orthodox people."

The ISW report believes that these forms of religious repression are not isolated incidents but "rather part of a targeted campaign aimed at systematically rooting out undesirable religious organisations in Ukraine and promoting the Moscow Patriarchate." The experts think the persecution is part of "the ongoing cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing, aimed at destroying the idea of an independent Ukrainian nation and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine."


On the other hand, the Russian Patriarch Kirill continues to emphasise that Russia is not an aggressive state. It does not seek to seize other countries, he stresses, as reported by IRP. Instead, he claims the battle "is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against the spirits of wickedness in high places". With that statement, the Patriarch quoted Ephesians 6, 12. Russia simply strives to preserve its identity, faith and system of values, Kirill continued.



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