“Putin abuses religion as a motive for invasion”


Eastern Europe


beeld AFP, Alexey Nikolsky

Russian president Putin misuses religion as a motive for recognising the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. He says that the Russian church is persecuted in Ukraine, but the opposite is true.

Vebjørn Horsfjord, a professor of religion, philosophy and ethics at Innlandet University College, said so in an interview with Norwegian daily Dagen. He says that in his speech, Putin draws the threads back to the Christianisation of Russia when he explains the Russian commitment directed at the neighbouring country in the West. “The idea is cultivated that the Christianisation of Russia took place at the “baptism of Russia” which took place in Ukraine. It connects the two nations closely”, says Horsfjord.

Horsfjord. Photo Norske Kirke

Horsfjord also refers to an article that Putin wrote last summer about the history of Ukraine. In this article, the Russian president draws these lines explicitly. “Putin is apparently concerned with the historical lines. If it’s just something he uses purely instrumentally or if he means it, I do not know. But it is quite clear that the president is appealing to the religious theme that lies there”, he says.

The professor does not want to go as far as saying that the war is a religious war. “I think that is too strong. I do not think it is religion that drives Putin in this situation. But he uses it and appeals to an ecclesiastical side of Russian identity. It has been built up systematically over the last 20-30 years after the fall of the Soviet Union.”


In Monday’s speech, Putin also emphasised the current ecclesiastical divisions in Ukraine. There are two Orthodox churches in the country, one of which is an independent Ukrainian church. At the same time, the other is subject to the Moscow Patriarchate.

“The government of Kyiv is preparing regulations aimed at the Russian Orthodox Church in the country. We have documents that show this. They have turned the religious divide in the country into a nationalist instrument”, Putin said in his speech.

Horsfjord confirms that Donetsk and Luhansk’s regions have especially many Orthodox Christians under the Moscow patriarchy. However, “the church conflict has been further west in the country, and one cannot say that there are separate religious reasons for accepting Donetsk and Luhansk as independent.” According to Horsfjord, Putin’s religious argument against Ukraine can be applied to the whole country.

According to Horsfjord, there are still reports of congregations going over to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. “The growth of the Ukrainian church is happening at the expense of the Russian Orthodox Church.”

However, that does not mean that the Russian Orthodox Church is having a hard time in Ukraine. According to the Religious Information Service of Ukraine (RISU), the Russian Orthodox Church is even developing in Ukraine, with many religious communities and clergymen. In a statement, RISU furthermore debunked Putin’s claims of legislation against the Moscow Patriarchate, saying that the activities of the Moscow Patriarchate are not prohibited in Ukraine.



Subscribe for an update, and receive a documentary and e-book for free.

Choose your subscriptions*

You may subscribe to multiple lists.