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Kirill on a mission
Is it the Orthodox Church that Putin is using in his new diplomacy?

For the uninitiated, ‘Patriarch’ Kirill, the newly elected Patriarch in Russia, is alleged to have been and to still be a KGB agent. He has been very successful and influential in diplomatic issues, more regional than global. He succeeded to lay down the foundation of Orthodox Church in Cuba and Venezuela, where he is alleged to have secret political dialogues with top level diplomats like Fidel Castro. He is also one of the richest Russians in Russia with a personal wealth over $4 billion. Compare that with the Pope: rich, yes; millionaire, surely; but billionaire? (Even the Vatican operates on a budget deficit these days; one guesses after the billions of dollars payouts globally on child abuse cases).

For the initiated, Russian neighbours including Ukraine are not ready to accept Russia’s presence and domination in their territory. On a key multiple tier diplomatic level, Russia desperately needs to keep its existence and influence in the neighboring states for its economic benefit and to retain supremacy. Thus, as it has exhausted all possible options, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is now all set to launch another contrivance to resolve political and diplomatic issues with its neighbours – the Russian Orthodox Church. Putin is trying to use the Orthodox Church quite cleverly, with the recent visit of Patriarch Kirill to Ukraine evidence of the same. Analytically, the 10-day visit of Kirill to various churches in Kiev and other cities of Ukraine might not seem very successful at the political level on the face of it, but it seems to have laid down a strong positive foundation in the minds of the common Ukrainians with respect to acceptability of anything Russian.

Religion, especially the Christian Orthodox faith, has been very influential in the region, especially in countries like Ukraine, Georgia. About 17.3% of the Ukrainian population is of Russian origin. In addition, the long history of Christian faith binds people of these countries in common terms. There are three sects predominantly in Ukraine; Kiev patriarchate with 50.4% followers, which is predominant in the Western part of the country backed by the President, Yushchenko. The Moscow patriarch is another with 26.1% having enough support of Russian government.
Finally, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church with 7.2%. This demographic picture is giving substantial support to Patriarch Kirill to put forward the Russian political agendas.

For the Russian polity, some of Kirill’s recent initiatives have been witness to clear political cognizance. His recent statement that it’s very important to increase Russian speaking presence in EU bodies was one of his first political remarks as Patriarch; interestingly, this statement garnered enough support in the Russian polity. But what separates him from his quite normal predecessors is that fact that he is the first Russian Patriarch in known history to consider himself as the universal patriarch for the world in the Christian Orthodox faith. That is quite a gargantuan consideration, given the expanse he is trying to address. But as his Ukraine trip showed, he is not without his stable followers. Kirill is also trying to strengthen the current weak relation with Georgia. In addition, his recent statement that “there are no conflicts, even most cruel, [and] no human hostility that could ever destroy the church unity, including the unity between the Russian and Georgian Churches” caught the attention of the intellectual Georgian community. Common Georgians look forward to Kirill’s visit more positively in Georgia now more than ever. Kirill’s further attention to control food consumption for joy and save the world from ruin has increased his general popularity and exemplified his knowledge in world economics. His speech in Crimea to thousands of people including Russian and Ukrainian navy personnel urging them for a peaceful cooperation was meaningful. He said, “Keep the Orthodox faith! Keeping the faith means not only attending church but building good relations with people,” more broadly between Ukrainians and Russians.

By:- Akram Hoque

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