Russian Orthodox Church sings from Putin’s hymn sheet on Ukraine
As troops loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin were seizing control of Crimea, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow deduced that an “internal political crisis” in Ukraine was threatening its territorial integrity.
Patriarch Kirill’s words echoed Putin’s argument – ridiculed in the West – that armed units in Ukraine’s southern region were not Russian soldiers but self-defense forces fearing for their safety under the new order in Kiev.
Putin’s close ties with the Church, an alliance he fostered in his third presidential term through Kirill, are now playing an increasing role abroad.
With the Russian Orthodox Church counting 165 million people in its flock, it may be Putin’s best tool to pursue his dream of reintegrating at least part of the former Soviet Union, the collapse of which he once called “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”.
A former spy for the Soviet Union, Putin has increasingly promoted the Russian Orthodox Church and leaned on its conservative appeal to offset support lost in 2011-12 protests staged by more liberally minded urbanites.