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

18 Sep-1 Oct ‘09 issue

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).

Moreover, 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 neighbouring states for its economic benefit and to retain supremacy. Thus, as it has exhausted all possible options, PM 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.

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. To top the brilliant effort, Kirill even met Obama recently where he talked about universal Christianity. Most importantly, Kirill now aims to visit Islamic countries in two years to convince them to support minority Christian groups through which he aims to strengthen relations with these countries, a job that he seems to be already succeeding in doing with Cuba and Venezuela.

Globally, when Kirill speaks, he is considered a stable, well read and knowledgeable intellectual, discussions with whom will always result in amicable interactions rather than virulent arguments. With his below the surface closeness to both Putin and Medvedev, it is also being conjectured that Kirill is being encouraged and goaded to visit troubled spots and entities with his overtly zero-political agenda. One has to realise that since the time of Mikhail Gorbachev – in fact, both before and after – rare has been the year when one has seen a sane, non-mafiosi (the allusion obviously is to Putin!) and non-military personality speaking on behalf of the Russian philosophy and movement. Given all this, Kirill’s unique positioning and intelligent networking with stakeholder groups is nothing short of brilliant. If Putin is intelligent – which undoubtedly he is – Kirill should never be openly asked to support or reject any of Putin’s political manoeuvres. The fact is that if Kirill is allowed to simply do what he is doing best, Putin just might see his own popularity ratings soar even in Ukraine. When was the last time you heard about a religious leader in either Chavez’s Venezuela or Fidel’s Cuba influencing public opinion with such power?

By:- Akram Hoque

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