Ukraine: When Russia presented its offensive as a “holy war”
Ukraine When Russia presents its offensive as a “holy war”
While Moscow suffered several military setbacks on the Ukrainian front, religious rhetoric has been gaining momentum in Russia since the fall.
“Stop the lord of Hell”: for several weeks, the Russian powers have been trying to give a religious and sacred dimension to offensive against Ukraine. But this rhetoric is divided even within the Orthodox Church.
A sign of the importance of the spiritual dimension the Kremlin wanted to instill in its military interventions, Vladimir Poutin affirmed, during his oath New yearthat “moral truth” was on Moscow’s side. This claim illustrates the desire of the authorities to dispel the doubts of a part of the population that has been knocked off balance by the entry of Russian troops into a country where the majority of adherents, as in Russia, are Orthodox Christians.
While Moscow has suffered several military setbacks, religious rhetoric has gained increasing momentum since the fall, with senior officials and the state media describing the intervention in Ukraine as a “holy war” against the West being portrayed as decadent. . In early November, former president Dmitry Medvedev, currently number two on Russia’s powerful Security Council, confirmed that the attack’s “holy purpose” was “to stop the rulers of Hell”. “We are fighting those who hate us, who ban our language, our values and even our beliefs,” said Dmitry Medvedev, whose enemies of Russia are Ukrainian “Nazis” and Western “dogs”.
Apart from speeches, religious and military ties were also manifested by sending dozens of priests to the front lines to support the army. Military chaplain Sviatoslav Tchourkanov explained to AFP that the mission aims to prevent soldiers “losing their souls (…), even if circumstances push them to do so”. A priest must “take root in the military’s soul that prisoners must not be tortured (…) We must not pillage, we must not harm civilians,” he continued. The cleric has no doubts about the merits of this incursion into Ukraine, which, in his opinion, consists in maintaining “traditional values”. Kremlin and Russian Orthodox Church present themselves as protectors. “In Ukraine, even in wartime conditions, we organized” gay pride “to demonstrate belonging to Western values”, the priest carried away, echoing the discourse of Russian power in the “decadent” West.
In a sign of the importance of these religious men in the conflict, Vladimir Putin bestowed the title “Hero of the Russian Federation” in November, the nation’s highest honor, to an Orthodox priest killed in a battle zone, Mikhail Vasiliev. The head of the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, has also voiced support for the military offensive, saying support should go to pro-Russian “brothers” in eastern Ukraine who “reject” Western values. In a sermon in late September, he claimed that those killed while fulfilling their “military duty” made a “sacrifice that takes away all sins”.
But the Church’s involvement in this conflict and the increasing religious rhetoric around it was not unanimous in Russia. “This rhetoric + holy war + comes straight from the Middle Ages,” said Andrei Kordotchkine, a priest from the Russian Orthodox Church stationed in Madrid, in an interview with AFP. “This is exactly the term Pope Urban II used when he blessed the crusade (launched in 1096), promising the crusaders that their sins would be forgiven,” he explains. “But it is impossible to return to the past. (…) War, which is a form of killing, cannot have any spiritual meaning,” he added.