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The aggressive war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, which began in 2014, is a fundamental challenge to the international legal order. For the first time since the Second World War, an aggressor state in Europe, where both world conflicts began, is trying to annex the territory of another sovereign state, contrary to its bilateral and multilateral obligations. Even more, Russia attacked the state, to which it guaranteed the preservation of territorial integrity, respect for sovereignty, and non-interference in internal affairs, in particular, after Ukraine gave up the third nuclear arsenal in the world. Moreover, during the aggression, the Russian Federation also resorted to nuclear blackmail against Ukraine and other civilized countries. Russia’s war against Ukraine is not only aggressive in nature but also genocidal. According to international law, “genocide” is defined as actions with the intention to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, religious, or racial group as such.
Russia seeks to destroy the Ukrainian state and nation, and commits other grave international crimes. Its actions acquired an extremely dangerous character during the large-scale phase of aggression that began on February 24, 2022, when the aggressor state made an unsuccessful attempt to liquidate the Ukrainian state by military means in a short period of time and implement a genocidal policy towards the Ukrainian nation. The Russian authorities promote the ideology of the “Russian world,” which de facto denies the right of the Ukrainian nation to sovereign development, its own state, language, and culture. The president of the Russian Federation, representatives of the Russian government, and politicians have repeatedly stated that Ukrainians as a people “do not exist” and about the “artificial creation” of the Ukrainian nation. In particular, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation in July 2021 obliged the military to study, as part of military-political training, V. Putin’s manipulative article, “On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” in which he promoted the ideologies “Russians and Ukrainians are one nation” and “of the triune Russian nation” and wrote about the creation of Ukraine at the expense of the “historical territories” of Russia. Public calls to exterminate Ukrainians are often heard in the Russian Federation. The Russian occupiers on the captured lands of Ukraine persecute and kill citizens with pro-Ukrainian views; exterminate the intelligentsia; commit mass crimes against the civilian population (torture, rape, murder, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, etc.); instead of the illegally liquidated Ukrainian education system, they introduce one that aims to change the identity of children and youth; destroy monuments of history and culture, especially those related to Ukrainian identity; loot and destroy Ukrainian museums, archives, theaters, libraries, and churches. The Russian Federation mass-exports Ukrainian children from the occupied territories to its territory, intending to change their identity, in particular, due to illegal adoption by Russians (Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian President’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, gave an illustration). Russia is also purposefully destroying infrastructure and life support facilities in Ukraine, practically erasing several Ukrainian cities (Mariupol, Volnovakha, Shchastya, Severodonetsk, Bakhmut, etc.) and other settlements from the face of the planet. Also, in 2022–2023, the aggressor state repeatedly endangered the safety of the functioning of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities, in particular, the Zaporizhzhia NPP, the largest in Europe.
Such actions by Russia grossly violate the Convention on the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide and its Punishment (hereinafter referred to as the Genocide Convention), adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1948. They are subject to, in particular, clauses of Article 2 of the Convention: a) killing members of this group; b) causing serious bodily harm or mental disorder to members of such a group; c) deliberate creation of living conditions for members of a group that are designed for the complete or partial destruction of the group; f) forcible transfer of children of this group to another group. The object of the crime of genocide is the Ukrainian national group.
In 2022–2023, Russia de facto lost at the strategic level the information war surrounding its aggression against Ukraine. The absolute majority of the world’s countries and international organizations did not believe in the officially declared goals of the so-called “special military operation” (a propaganda euphemism for the large-scale stage of an aggressive war) – the “denazification” and “demilitarization” of Ukraine, as evidenced, in particular, by the UN vote on the issue of Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict. Further attempts to justify the war against Ukraine ran into objective assessments of Russia’s actions by the actors of the international community; moreover, more than fifty civilized countries united in a coalition in support of the Ukrainian state and its struggle for freedom. For example, in March 2022, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine unprovoked and unjustified.
On April 14, 2022, the Ukrainian parliament officially recognized Russia as a terrorist state that aims to commit genocide against the Ukrainian people and it commits mass murders and crimes in Ukraine. The following month, the Seimas of Lithuania declared the Russian Federation a terrorist state, and on October 13, 2022, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe called the Russian regime terrorist. During October 2022–February 2023, the parliaments of Estonia, Poland, the Netherlands, and Slovakia passed a decision to recognize the Russian regime as a terrorist state or the Russian Federation as a state sponsor of terrorism. In November 2022, the European Parliament recognized Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Already in the spring and summer of 2022, the representative authorities of Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Canada, the Czech Republic, and Ireland recognized Russia’s actions in Ukraine as genocide. The leaders of Great Britain, Poland, Colombia, and the United States also used the term “genocide” to describe the crimes committed by the Russian Federation. The process of recognizing the actions of this state as the most serious international crimes – aggression, genocide, etc. – continues. Ukraine raises questions not only about their fixation but also about bringing the perpetrators to justice, in particular, about the creation of an international tribunal to investigate the crime of aggression. This idea is gradually gaining support among some civilized countries and international organizations. In particular, in November 2022, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly called to create a special international tribunal on Russian aggression and recognized Russia as a terrorist state. At the beginning of March 2023, 30 states had already joined the international group to create a special tribunal for Russia for the crime of aggression against Ukraine.
Important for Ukraine is the decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court to issue on March 17, 2022, arrest warrants for the President of the Russian Federation and the Russian President’s Commissioner for Children on suspicion of war crimes in the form of illegal deportations and relocation of the population, including children, from the occupied territory of Ukraine, at least from February 24, 2022. So, Vladimir Putin became the first head of a UN Security Council member state to be issued such a warrant. Moreover, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, said that the Russian president would stand trial in The Hague for crimes committed against Ukraine, regardless of Moscow’s arguments.
It should be mentioned that the aggressive war waged by Russia against Ukraine to carry out a genocide compelled other nations to condemn the genocide carried out by the Soviet Union in the 1930s. The Holodomor of 1932–1933 was recognized in March 2022–March 2023 by the European Parliament, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Moldova, Ireland, Germany, Belgium and France.
Russian politicians and society react fundamentally differently to the Russian-Ukrainian war. Scientists have yet to investigate the degree of responsibility of the Russian ruling regime and the population for the ideology and practice of the neo-fascist type of ruscism (rashizm) or schizo-fascism (fascist or, as defined by the Ukrainian parliament, a neo-Nazi regime that rhetorically condemns fascism) embodied by Russia. At the same time, sociological surveys during the spring and winter of 2022 show a consistently high level of support by Russians for the aggressive policy of the Russian state and, above all, the war against Ukraine. Thus, in March 2022, according to Active Group data, 86.6% of Russians supported a potential armed attack on EU countries.
The failure of Russian blitzkrieg plans had little effect on the opinion of the Russian population regarding the war against Ukraine. At the end of June 2022, according to the survey of the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM in Russian), 72% of respondents rather supported the decision to conduct a “special operation” in the Ukrainian state, and, in December 2022, according to the assessment of the independent Russian sociological organization “Levada Center,” 74% of Russians supported the actions of Russian troops in Ukraine.
The Russians’ high degree of support for their aggressive assault against Ukraine is largely due to their extensive and well-funded propaganda campaign. The current Russian dictatorship employs all available means to spread it, including the government, the media, the educational system, etc. It goes without saying that religious organizations in Russia could not be excluded from this process.
They discussed the examination of the role of religion in the Russian-Ukrainian War: V. Balyuk, M. Doroshko, V. Bokoch, M. Vasin, V. Voynalovych, S. Shumylo, V. Yelensky, I. Kozlovsky, V. Zdioruk, O. Sahan, N. Kochan, L. Fylypovych, Y. Chornomorec, Fearghas O’Beara and other researchers from both home and abroad. Among Russian religious organizations, the role of the Russian Orthodox Church naturally attracted the greatest attention of researchers as the largest and most influential in the Russian Federation, as well as being involved in the development and support of Russian expansionist neo-imperial ideology. Significantly fewer scientists analyzed the positions of other religious organizations.
This study aims at a preliminary analysis of the participation of the main religious organizations of the Russian Federation, which a significant part of Russian analysts and politicians call “traditional,” in the propaganda support of Russia’s aggressive and genocidal war against Ukraine at the stage of large-scale aggression in February 2022–early 2023. “Traditional” religions in Russia usually include the following religious associations: Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism. The federal law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations” provides certain ground for this. In its preamble, the Russian Federation declares recognition of the specific role of Orthodoxy in the history of the country, and expresses respect for Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism. Certain grounds for this are provided by the federal law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations”. In its preamble, the Russian Federation declares recognition of the special role of Orthodoxy in the history of the country and expresses respect for Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, and other religions, which are integral parts of the historical heritage of the peoples of Russia. There were attempts to legislate the status of these religions as traditional.
The object of analysis of the article is the religious factor in the Russian-Ukrainian war and the genocide of the Ukrainian people. The subject is the attitude of Russian “traditional” religious organizations (Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism) towards the propaganda of Russia’s war against Ukraine, the genocide of the Ukrainian nation and ensuring their ideological justification.
Russian Federation іs polyethnic and polyconfessional state entity. Despite the absolute numerical dominance of the middle population of ethnic Russians, up to the stock includes several countries with non-Russian peoples, a significant part of those subjects of this quasi-federal establishment (Yakutia-Sakha, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Chechnya, Dagestan, Mordovia, Tyva, Buryatia, Kalmykia etc). Based on the experience of the VCIOM, in 2021, among the Russians, 66% considered Orthodoxy adherents, 6% to Islam, 1% to Buddhism, and less than 1% to Judaism.
“In the service of Caesar”. Orthodox religious structures in the Russian Federation support the policy of the aggressor state
The Orthodox Church during the times of the Muscovite Kingdom and the Romanov-Holstein-Gottorp empire played a significant role in the justification and implementation of imperial expansion, in particular in the creation of the ideology “Moscow is the Third Rome”. In general, the model of church-state relations formed at that time tended toward Caesarepapism, which became especially evident during the reign of Peter I (1696–1725), who demonstratively turned the church into a part of the state mechanism. In the Soviet Empire, after the period of persecution of Christianity, the ROC in the middle of the 20th century, at the initiative of the Stalinist leadership, partially restored its structure and even made an attempt, at the initiative of the USSR authorities, to become the center of the Orthodox world. In general, the model of subordination of the church to the interests of the foreign and domestic policies of the imperial state was then restored. Even the militantly atheistic nature of the USSR did not stand in the way of this. This model of church-state relations during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin was somewhat liberalized but not completely dismantled (the ROC continued to maintain close relations with the government, in particular with its power structures). During the reign of Vladimir Putin, it gained new strength. It is significant that in 2009 Kirill (Gundyaev) became the Patriarch of Moscow, who, in particular, according to journalists, worked for the KGB under the pseudonym “Mikhailov” in the early 1970s.
The frank return of Putin-era Russian leadership to imperial politics has sparked interest in the political ideology of the ROC, whose leaders see their so-called canonical territory as a single civilization of Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, and some non-Slavic peoples. In this way, the Russian state and the church simultaneously became propagandists of the ideology of the “Russian world”. It looks frankly heretical from the point of view of Christian ecclesiology, as it largely replaces the preaching of the Gospel with the promotion of ethnophyletic teaching, but it not only corresponds to the interests of the imperial expansion of Russia but also explains why the ROC maintains its church structures in independent states. The basis of the ideology of the “Russian world” is the denial of the identity and sovereignty of the Ukrainian nation and its right to its own state, culture, and language. The preaching of this heretical teaching by the clerics of the ROC created an ideological basis for the preparation and conduct of war. It is not surprising that the structures of the ROC have covertly and openly contributed to Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine since 2014.
The ROC and its leadership tried to avoid, at the initial stage of the war, a public assessment of Russia’s launching of the war against Ukraine in 2014, in particular, the occupation of Crimea and parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions (obviously, due to the significant number of parishes subordinate to it in other parts of the Ukrainian state). At the same time, its structures actively cooperated both with the occupation army and Russian paramilitary formations and with the occupation administration in the south and east of Ukraine (“The republic of Crimea” and “Luhansk people’s republic”, “Donetsk people’s republic”); in particular, individual clerics of the ROC participated in blocking Ukrainian military units by the armed forces of the Russian Federation.
Occupied Crimea. Metropolitan Theodosius and Kerch UOC of the Moscow Patriarchate Platon consecrate the Russian C-400 “Triumph” long and medium-range anti-aircraft missile system deployed in Feodosia, January 14, 2017. Source: “Voice of Crimea. The culture”
The scale of the military aggression committed by Russia at the end of February 2022 required a public response to it from both the ROC and its self-governing unit, the UOC MP. Some clerics of the ROC, in their sermons, immediately joined the propaganda campaign of dehumanizing Ukrainians and supporting Russian war against Ukraine. So, for example, Archpriest Andrey Tkachov, who fled from Kyiv to Moscow after the Revolution of Dignity, in February 2022, in his sermon, claimed that the war had not started but that “the war is ending” and that: “If nothing was done, in two years would fly here (to Moscow – Ivanets A.), without any mercy, without any warning. And if they came here, they would cut us and you and smear the roofs with blood”.
In 2022, the Primate of the UOC MP, Metropolitan Onufriy (Berezovsky), condemned the war and called it “Cain’s sin.” On February 24, 2022, he appealed to the President of the Russian Federation to “end the fratricidal war immediately.” On February 28, 2022, the Synod of the UOC MP asked the Patriarch of Moscow “and All Rus,” Kirill, to call on the leadership of Russia to immediately stop hostilities, which are already threatening to turn into a world war.
The head of the ROC, Kirill (Gundyaev), ignored these appeals, as well as the facts of Russian military shelling of Ukrainian cities and villages, the killing of children, women, and civilians in general, and the commission of other serious crimes. The document “Fundamentals of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church” condemns aggressive wars. Contrary to this, at the beginning of March 2022, Patriarch Kirill joined in supporting the narratives of Russian military propaganda. At the initial stage of the new phase of the war, Russia explained the need for the so-called “denazification” and “demilitarization” of Ukraine, as well as the alleged “genocide” carried out by the Ukrainian side in Donbas. On the fourth day of the large-scale invasion, February 27, the Patriarch of Moscow expressed fears that “evil forces that have always fought against the unity of Russia and the Russian Church” could win and called Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus a single “Russian land.” On March 6, 2022, during a sermon on Forgiven Sunday, he advanced an absurd justification for war. According to his version, “attempts have been going on for eight years to destroy what exists in Donbas”, i.e., “principled rejection of the so-called values that are offered today by those who claim world power”. For the flock, Kirill (Gundyaev) announced that the test of loyalty to the world of “excess consumption, the world of apparent “freedom” (that is, to Western civilization), is allegedly to hold a gay parade. In his opinion, “there is a real war going on around this topic today.”
The conclusion of the sermon, most of which was devoted to the distorted coverage of the situation around Donbas, were the words of Patriarch Kirill: “We entered into a struggle that has not a physical but a metaphysical meaning.”
In this sermon, he replaced the real reasons for Russia’s neo-colonial war against Ukraine with a fictitious quasi-religious one: the alleged refusal to hold gay parades in Donbas, and in the spirit of Russian military propaganda, he spoke only about the suffering of the residents of Donbas, although at that time the hostilities, which were accompanied by destruction, suffering, and murders of Ukrainian citizens, were also carried out in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia regions, and some other Ukrainian territories. And the ROC leader’s comments on the Donbass are pharisaical and deceptive because, in particular, he said nothing about the murders, torture, and widespread forced evictions from homes committed by the Russian occupiers and their collaborators.
The troops of the Russian National Guard play a prominent role in the occupation of Ukraine. On March 13, 2022, the head of the ROC handed over the August icon of the Mother of God to the head of the National Guard, Victor Zolotov. The latter thanked the patriarch and told about the participation of the National Guardsmen in the “special military operation” (hereinafter “SMO”). “I want to say that everything is not going as fast as we would like, but this is only because the Nazis are hiding behind the backs of peaceful citizens, behind the backs of old people, women, and children, setting up firing positions in kindergartens, schools, and residential buildings, but we are going to the intended goal step by step, and the victory will be ours, and this icon will protect the Russian army and accelerate our victory”, Zolotov assured.
Patriarch Kirill presents the icon of Our Lady of Augustus to the Commander-in-Chief of the National Guard of the Russian Federation, Victor Zolotov, who is actively participating in the war against Ukraine. Moscow, March 2022. Source: the website of ROC (https://foto.patriarchia.ru/news/patriarshee-sluzhenie-v-nedelyu-torzhestva-pravoslaviya-v-khrame-khrista-spasitelya-2022-03-13/)
Patriarch Kirill said in a sermon in the main church of the Russian Armed Forces on April 3, 2022, after the liberation of Bucha, where mass victims of Russian occupiers’ atrocities were discovered, and with the beginning of the forced departure of millions of Ukrainians to other regions of the country and abroad, that serving in the army is “a real feat,” and assured that in Russia “there is no desire for war.” This rhetoric bolstered Russian Federation war propaganda, particularly its claim that there is no war, but the “SMO” is ongoing.
Some of the representatives of the UOC MP, as well as heads of some Orthodox churches in the world, tried to get help from the leadership of the ROC in ending the war. For example, on April 21, 2022, in an address to the Patriarch of Moscow, the head of the Kharkiv Diocese, Metropolitan Onufriy (Lehky), described the severe suffering of the Ukrainians of Slobozhanshchyna and the destruction of Orthodox churches as a result of the Russian invasion and, in this connection, asked to address the President of Russia and the leadership of the Russian Federation with a request to stop hostilities. Such appeals, as expected, did not have any effect.
Patriarch Kirill did not simply ignore the suffering and losses of his Orthodox flock in Ukraine; on the contrary, he actively participated in public support for the actions of the Russian invaders. So, for example, on May 3, 2022, in a sermon in the Archangel Cathedral of the Kremlin, he pharisaically declared that Russia “never attacked anyone but only defended its borders.” On the same day, Pope Francis urged the head of the ROC “not to become Putin’s altar boy.”
In general, the first barely hidden and then more open support by Patriarch Kirill, as well as a number of other hierarchs and priests, of the aggressive and genocidal war against Ukraine caused a natural negative reaction in a significant number of believers in the Russian Orthodox Church, especially Ukrainian ones. In some of the dioceses of the UOC MP, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church stopped being mentioned during religious services. Several hundred priests of the UOC MP appealed to the oldest Orthodox churches (Pentarchy), which according to the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, have special powers. With the demand to subject Kirill Gundyaev to an ecclesiastical court, hundreds of parishes of this church moved to the autocephalous OCU.
On May 27, 2022, the UOC MP Council declared “independence” and expressed disagreement with the position of Patriarch Kirill regarding the war in Ukraine. The formally declared independence of the UOC MP does not seem to have changed the canonical connection with the Moscow Patriarchate because the updated charter of this religious organization refers to the recognition of the charter of church self-government granted by Patriarch Aleksii in 1990. The UOC MP has not taken any real steps either towards cooperation with the autocephalous OCU or towards overcoming the schism with the Ecumenical Patriarchate (prayer-eucharist communication has not been restored), which is the mother church for Orthodox Ukrainians and occupies a special position in the Orthodox world, along with the Alexandrian, Cyprus, and Hellenic churches. In January 2023, the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience published the conclusion of a religious expert, which states that the adoption of the new version of the Statute on Governance of the UOC (from 05.27.2022) and the Resolution of the Council of the UOC did not lead to a rupture of the canonical connection of the UOC with the ROC.
However, even the declarative distancing from the ROC was used by the Moscow Patriarchate to directly subordinate to itself in June 2022 the three dioceses of the UOC MP in the temporarily occupied Crimea – Dzhankoy, Simferopol, and Feodosia – on the basis of which the Crimean Metropolis was formed. Such decisions were allegedly adopted in response to the appeal of the Crimean bishops and based on the “need to maintain an effective canonical and administrative connection with the central church authorities” in view of the “practical impossibility of regular communication of these dioceses with the Kyiv Metropolitanate”. With a similar justification, on October 13, 2022, “at the request of the diocesan bishop and the diocesan council,” the Rovenky Diocese of the UOC MP was subordinated to the Patriarch of Moscow and the Synod of the ROC.
Source: “Voice of Crimea. The culture”
The gradual involvement of the ROC in the open support of aggression against Ukraine and the commission of grave crimes against the Ukrainian nation by the Russian occupiers contradicted the foundations of the social concept of this religious organization, which prohibit the support of aggressive war and, obviously, the spirit of evangelical teaching, and therefore caused some opposition within the Moscow Patriarchate itself. Already at the beginning of March 2022, almost three hundred priests and deacons of the ROC published an appeal in which they called for an end to the war and noted that “the people of Ukraine must make their choice independently, not under machine guns, without pressure from the West or the East.” In mid-March 2022, Metropolitan Innokenty of the Vilnius and Lithuanian ROC publicly announced his disagreement with Patriarch Kirill and strongly condemned Russia’s war against Ukraine. In September 2022, the Sejm of Latvia, on the initiative of the president of the country, made changes to the law on the Latvian Orthodox Church (hereinafter LOC) regarding the restoration of the historical status of this church. In October 2022, the Council of the LOC supported these changes with an absolute majority of votes and appealed to the patriarch of the ROC with a request to grant it the status of autocephaly and to make appropriate changes to the statute.. Metropolitan Ioann (Renetto) of Dubna, the head of the Archdiocese of the Orthodox Churches of Western Europe of the Russian tradition, repeatedly appealed to Patriarch Kirill with a request to raise his voice against the terrible and senseless war and call on the Russian authorities to end the conflict as soon as possible. However, these and similar statements and appeals of some clerics and faithful of the ROC did not influence its leadership and did not change the general course of this religious organization in support of Russia’s aggression.
A new pseudo-Christian element in Patriarch Kirill’s “theology of war” was his declaration at the end of September 2022 that the death of a soldier of the Russian occupation army was a redemptive sacrifice; upposedly, for this act, all his sins would be annulled. Obviously, this ideology was supposed to reinforce the “partial mobilization” announced by the Russian authorities a few days before.
Based on the analysis of posts in February–October 2022 in verified Telegram channels of Russian media financed with state funds, researchers of the Institute of Mass Information discovered four narratives of the ROC’s speakers regarding Ukraine:
- there is pressure on the UOC and the Orthodox in Ukraine;
- Ukrainians are prone to terrorism, aggression, and paganism;
- Russians and Ukrainians are a single and indivisible people;
- non-recognition of Ukraine as a separate independent country.
According to the same study, four groups of narratives from the mouths of the of the ROC’s head, Kirill, were singled out:
- “Ukrainians and Russians are one people”;
- non-recognition of Ukraine as a country and denial of its independence;
- sacralization of war;
- Russian aggression is denied or justified.
This analysis clearly demonstrates that the Russian Orthodox Church systematically participates in informational aggression against Ukraine; therefore, the participation of individual bishops and clerics in armed actions in Ukraine, as well as in anti-Ukrainian measures outside its borders, is natural. For example, on September 30, 2022, Metropolitan Panteleimon (Povorozniuk) of the Luhansk and Alchevsk UOC MP, as well as some other clerics of this church from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, participated in the illegal announcement in the Kremlin of the annexation of four Ukrainian regions.
In December 2022, the Ukrainian state introduced sanctions against a number of representatives of the UOC MP, among them the sponsor of the UOC MP, entrepreneur and protodeacon Vadym Novinsky (a citizen of Russia who received Ukrainian citizenship in 2012), Vicar of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, Metropolitan Pavlo (Petro Lebid), Metropolitans Luka (Andriy Kovalenko) of the Zaporizhzhia and Melitopol, Panteleimon of the Luhansk and Alchevsk, Antoniy (Ivan Pakanych, the UOC MP’s affairs manager) of the Boryspil and Brovary, Meletiy (Valentyn Yehorenko) of the Chernivtsi and Bukovyna, Archbishop Paisiy (Victor Shynkaryov) of Kostiantynivka, five bishops of the UOC MP from the temporarily occupied Crimea, abbot of the Assumption Cathedral in Kherson Oleksiy (Oleksandr Fyodorov) and Ioan (Olexandr Prokopenko), abbot of the Melitopol St. Sava men’s monastery. The Security Service of Ukraine (hereinafter SSU) informed us that the persons on the sanctions lists took part in various initiatives, in particular: they agreed to cooperate with the occupation authorities, promoted pro-Russian narratives and justified Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine. Sanctioned persons will be deprived of state awards, and a number of economic restrictions will be imposed on them.
In December 2022, the court sentenced the rector of the UOC MP temple in Lysychansk (Luhansk region) to 12 years in prison for providing the Russian military with information about the positions of Ukrainian troops in Lysychansk and Severodonetsk, as well as for the surrender of local patriots to Russian occupiers. It is also known that in February 2023, the abbot of the UOC MP parish of the Lyman community of the Donetsk region was sentenced to seven years in prison for cooperation with the Russian occupiers. In total, as of mid-February 2023, the SSU had opened 52 criminal cases involving 55 priests. The available information allows us to assume that there are significantly more facts about the collaboration of UOC MP clerics with the occupying forces and the authorities of the occupying state.
Among the religious structures of the Old Believers in Russia, the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church (hereinafter ROORC) is the largest. Its head, Metropolitan Korniliy (Titov), already in March 2022, openly supported the aggression against Ukraine, where, according to him, they allegedly killed “just because you think and speak Russian” and “Slavic peoples do not want to tolerate this anymore. This is lawlessness.” He called on the Ukrainian side to “stop the genocide and madness”, and repeatedly offered the Ukrainian army to lay down its arms. At a meeting in the State Duma of the Russian Federation at the end of March 2022, Metropolitan Korniliy declared that Russia would be an empire. In October 2022, he called on co-religionists to intensify prayers and fast for three days for Russia’s victory over external and internal enemies.
Already in April 2022, the clergy of the Kyiv and All-Ukraine archdiocese of this church condemned Russia’s war against Ukraine and appealed to Metropolitan Korniliy for autocephaly. At the same time, the Ukrainian clergy of the ROORC declared the inadmissibility of the calls of the Russian hierarchs of this church to lay down their arms and stop protecting Ukraine from armed aggression. In response, Metropolitan Korniliy stated that there is a war going on in Ukraine and there are allegedly “no clear borders”, so it is impossible to grant autocephaly to Ukrainian Old Believers under such circumstances. At the beginning of November 2022, the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience announced the registration of the former ROORC structure in Ukraine as an independent religious center called the Ancient Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
“The crescent at work for the “Russian world”. Support of the policy of the aggressor state by the Muslim religious structures of the Russian Federation.
After Orthodox Christianity, Islam is Russia’s second most popular religion. It is practiced by representatives of a number of indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation (for example, Tatars, Bashkirs, and a number of North Caucasus peoples, according to Russian data) and various diasporas. The vast majority of Muslims in Russia are Sunnis of the Hanafi madhhab, although there are representatives of other madhhabs as well as Shiites. On the territory of the Russian Federation, there are several dozen muftiats, or spiritual administrations, of Muslims, and the four largest centralized Muslim structures are the Central Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Russia (hereinafter CSAM of Russia) headed by Sheikh-ul-Islam, the Supreme Mufti of Russia Talgat Tadzhuddin, The Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Russian Federation and the Council of Muftis of Russia (hereinafter SAMRF & CMR) headed by Ravil Gaynutdin, Spiritual Assembly of Muslims of Russia (hereinafter SAMR) headed by Albir Krganov and Coordination center of Muslims of the North Caucasus (hereinafter CCMNC) headed by mufti of the Karachay-Cherkessia SAM, Ismail Berdiyev.
Regarding the formulation of the position of the main Muslim structures in Russia regarding the new stage of the war against Ukraine, two events in March 2022 became indicative: 1. All-Russian scientific and practical conference “Spiritual service and social mission of religious organizations in the context of the formation of an all-Russian civic identity” (Vladikavkaz, March 16, 2022); 2. Round Table “Traditional world religions against the ideology of nazism and fascism in the 21st century” (Moscow, March 29, 2022) which de facto was dedicated to the war against Ukraine. And in the fall of 2022, their support for the mobilization of the Russian army and attempts to illegally annex new Ukrainian territories became indicative of their position.
Following the results of the scientific and practical conference in Vladikavkaz, a number of muftis made a joint statement of full support for “SMO”. Even more, in this document, an attempt was made to sacralize the war against Ukraine, in which Muslims, unlike the Russian Federation, can freely exercise their rights, in particular to establish Muslim organizations and preach. The signatories of the document declared “shaheeds” (martyrs for the faith) Muslim soldiers of the Russian army who would die in the course of hostilities. It is worth noting that a significant number of muftis were present at the event in North Ossetia, in particular Talgat Tadzhuddin (CSAM of Russia), Albir Krganov (SAMR), Ismail Berdiyev (CCMNC), Kamil Samigullin (Tatarstan SAM), Aynur Birgalin (Bashkortostan SAM), Salakh Mezhiyev (Chechnya SAM), Knadzhymurat Gatsalov (North Ossetia SAM), Famgim Shefiyev (Mordovia CSAM) etc. Mufti of Abkhazia Timur Dzyba and representative of “Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol SAM” Esadullakh Bayirov also participated in the conference. Russian observers noticed the absence of the leaders of SAMRF, Ravil Gaynutdin, and SAM of the Asian part of Russia, Nafigulla Ashirov, at the conference in Vladikavkaz and connected this with the alleged reluctance to directly support “SMO”.
On February 24, 2022, the head of the SAMRF even called for prayers for peace, but the day before he supported the violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and declared: “We understand and support the one who made the only correct decision to recognize the long-suffering republics (so name “DPR” and “LPR” – Ivanets A.). These are the fair demands of the citizens of our country to do everything possible to protect the lives of children, women, and the elderly in Donbas. They are under shelling every day, feeling fear and psychological stress; they see explosions and the blood of innocent people. For a very long time, they have patiently appealed to both the Ukrainian side and their Western patrons”. In September 2022 Ravil Gaynutdin declared his full support for the so-called “partial mobilization” and called on the Muslim clergy to support this call, and the vice chairman of SAMRF, mufti Rushan Abbyasov announced his support for the so-called “referendums” in Donbas, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson regions and their annexation by Russia.
We did not find direct calls to support the war against Ukraine or not to do so from the head of the SAM of the Asian part of Russia, Nafigulla Ashirov.
On February 24, 2022, the Supreme Mufti of Russia, head of the CSAM of Russia, Sheikh-ul-Islam Talgat Tadzhuddin published a statement of the extended plenum of the Shura-Presidium of the CSAM made in the brutal style of militant Russian propaganda. The document, in particular, stated: “For eight long years, the population of the long-suffering land of Donbas was systematically exterminated by the Ukrainian authorities, who provoked fratricidal bloodshed with the apparent connivance and provocative actions of the United States, which supports extreme nationalists and neo-Nazis in Ukraine”. The statement also contains an assurance on behalf of CSAM of Russia, 20 regional spiritual administrations, and 2,200 communities and parishes that they “completely share the assessment of the situation in Donbas, which was ascertained at the last meeting of the Security Council of Russia”.
The authors of the appeal noted, among other things: “With full understanding of the clear and frank address of the President of our united state… we wholeheartedly support the decision to conduct a special military operation on the territory of Ukraine to protect the population, demilitarize, and eliminate the threat of the revival of Nazism in this long-suffering land, perceiving these steps as key measures to ensure security and the very existence of Russia.”
In addition, Talgat Tadzhuddin even issued a special fatwa (theological and legal conclusion) in which “those who died participating in hostilities as part of the Russian Armed Forces, including during a special armed operation to protect Donbas and in Ukraine,” will be recognized as shaheeds.
In November 2022, the Supreme Mufti of Russia, Talgat Tadzhuddin, stated that imams, like Orthodox priests, are in Donbas and in the “SMO” zone and also spiritually help the mobilized. “We are not taking Ukraine away from anyone. We are returning Ukraine and freeing its long-suffering people from LGBT and other satanic evil”, he stated cynically.
Other muftis made similar statements. For example, in March 2022, SAMR leader Albir Krganov spread the following fake Russian military propaganda messages: “Today, the Russian Federation is forced to carry out a special military operation in Ukraine, the purpose of which is to protect the people in the Donetsk and Luhansk republics, who have been subjected to abuse and genocide by the Kyiv regime for 8 years. It is necessary to strive for the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine, as well as to attract the trial of those who committed numerous bloody crimes against civilians.”
On February 28, 2022, Mufti of Chechnya Salah Mezhiev claimed that the Chechen military in Ukraine “are on the path of Allah.” At a round table in the State Duma of the Russian Federation, he stated that “fascists, nazis, satanists, the LGBT community, Wahhabis and other black shaitans” are allegedly fighting against Russia, therefore, the Muslims killed in the “SMO” will be recognized as shaheeds.
Ismail Berdiyev, mufti of Karachay-Cherkessia and head of the SAM in the North Caucasus, deserves special note. He stated on March 29, 2022, at a round table in the State Duma of the Russian Federation, that there was no need for negotiations with the official authorities of Ukraine: “We have to complete this operation to the end. And there is no need to conduct any negotiations, even if they agree to surrender. We must destroy them to the end… There should be no Ukraine. After cleaning, the common people need to be asked what they want”. In our opinion, this quote contains not only the justification for the genocide of the Ukrainian nation but also a direct appeal to it in words “We must destroy them to the end… There should be no Ukraine”. Such words can be qualified as “direct and public incitement to commit genocide”, which is a punishable act according to paragraph c) of Article III of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, as well as according to the criminal legislation of Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
Representatives of Muslim organizations in Russia did not limit themselves to participation in the information war (support for aggression and genocide, their justification, mobilization, dehumanization of Ukrainians, etc.) and chaplaincy, and in the spring of 2022 they began to illegally establish control over Muslim religious structures in the temporarily occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk regions. On March 29, 2022, an agreement on cooperation with “SAM of LPR” was signed at the the SAM of Russia, and already on April 22, 2022, a congress of representatives of Muslim communities of the so-called “DPR” was held in the mosque of the city of Shakhtarsk – the founding conference of the “Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the DPR” (“Mukhtasibat of Donbass”), which began to work, as reported by the Russian mass media, in “canonical unity” with the SAM of the Russian Federation.
In October 2022, a new religious association was created in the temporarily occupied territories of southern Ukraine: the “Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Little Russia”. It was founded at a congress in the Kherson region by delegates of local religious communities “Barakyat” (Henichesk), “Sary Bulat” (Novotroyitske) and “Salyam” (Melitopol, Zaporizhzhia region). Memet Dursunov, head of the Muslim community of Henichesk, was elected as the head of the “Little Russian muftiyat”. Currently, the new centralized organization extends its jurisdiction to the occupied parts of the territories of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, uniting more than 60 communities. At the same time, according to Roman Silantiev, the initiative to create a new muftiat came from the spiritual leaders of the Crimean Tatars, who are part of the “Tavriya Muftiat” (this marginal collaborationist structure controls about ten communities in Crimea) under the leadership of mufti Ruslan Saitvaliyev.
The largest association of Crimean Muslims, which actively cooperates with the occupiers, is the “Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea and Sevastopol”. In the first months of the large-scale aggression in 2022, its leader, the Mufti of the Muslims of Crimea, Emirali Ablayev, refrained from personally and publicly supporting armed actions. This function was performed by his subordinates in spiritual administration. In September 2022, he did it. Then Ablayev, in particular, stated: “We go together with everyone and agree with the decisions made by our President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin”. He characterized the Russian-Ukrainian war as follows: “ If we speak frankly about the clashes that are taking place there, then it is all for the sake of Crimea; we can call it the Crimean battle. Because everything started after 2014… And today we will pray for all the soldiers who are leaving Crimea”. In February 2023, the SSU suspected Ablayev of justifying crimes of aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine.
Buddhist religious structures in Russia both support and oppose the war and genocide in Ukraine
Despite the relatively small number of followers of Buddhism in general in Russia, it is the dominant and traditional faith among the titular peoples of the three subjects of the Russian Federation: the Republic of Buryatia (the population of the country as of 01.01.2022 is 982.6 thousand people), the Republic of Tuva (the population of the country as of 01.01.2022 is 332,6 thousand people) and the Republic of Kalmykia (the population of the country as of 01.01.2021 is 270 thousand people). There are communities of Buddhists in other regions of the Russian Federation. In regions where Buddhism is traditionally practiced, its Tibetan form (Gelug school, Mahayana) prevails. The largest religious structures of Russian Buddhists are national religious organizations, the Buddhist Traditional Sangha of Russia (center in Ulan-Ude, Buryatia) led by Pandit Khambo Lama Damba Ayusheev, The spiritual rule of the Khamby Lama in the Republic of Tuva (since 2020, Gelek Natsyk-Dorzhu has been the Khamby Lama) and the Association of Buddhists of Kalmykia, headed by the Shajin Lama: until the end of January 2023, this position was held by Telo Tulku Rinpoche, who was also the representative of the Dalai Lama in Russia, the CIS, and Eastern Europe. From February 2023 on, the abbot of the Kalmyk Central Buddhist Monastery “Gedden Sheddup Choi Korling” geshe Tendzin Choidak (Mutul Ovyanov) became the Shajin Lama of the Republic of Kalmykia: he was chosen for this position by the Dalai Lama from three candidates proposed by a gathering of Buddhist religious leaders.
It is worth noting that regions of traditional Buddhism, as well as some regions of Muslim nations, belong to the poorest and most economically depressed parts of the Russian Federation. In these circumstances, the appeals of religious leaders can play a particularly significant role.
On February 28, 2022, the 14th Dalai Lama called on Russia to stop its aggression, withdraw its troops from Ukraine, and leave it alone. He is sure that the only way to overcome the conflict is through non-violence. “Russia must leave Ukraine so that its people have the right to their own choice and independent development. In this way, we will build a more peaceful world”, the spiritual leader of the world’s Buddhists said. In early March 2022, he, together with a number of other Nobel laureates, signed a letter in support of the Ukrainian people in the face of Russian aggression. The authors of the document condemned Russian military actions and the Russian President’s denial of the legitimacy of Ukraine’s existence and called on the Russian government to stop the invasion and withdraw troops from Ukrainian territory. They emphasized that the invasion of Ukraine would tarnish the reputation of the Russian state for decades to come, which would be an obstacle to its economic development and a source of hardship for its population. It is interesting that the Congress of the Oirat-Kalmyk people, the authority elected by the congress of national activists, in March 2022 opposed the mobilization of the Kalmyks for the war with Ukraine.
Unfortunately, most of the Buddhists in the Russian Federation did not listen to the words of the Dalai Lama. On February 28, 2022, the head of the largest Russian Buddhist organization, the Buddhist Traditional Sangha of Russia (hereinafter BTSR), Pandito Khambo Lama Damba Ayusheyev, stated: “We are Buddhists and should maintain peace, harmony, and tranquility. However, we live in a unified Russian state and protect the interests of our country, against which a dirty information war is being waged. We worry about our brothers and sons, who are now in difficult military conditions. We must have a strong and reliable rear. With us are our sahusanas (deities-protectors of the faith – Ivanets AV), with us are our great Khambo Lamas, and with us is the Buddha.”.
The head of the Traditional Buddhist Sangha of Russia, Pandit Khambo Lama Damba Ayusheev, receives in his residence a military serviceman, Baldan Tsydypov, who was awarded the title of Hero of Russia for his participation in the war against Ukraine. August 2022. Photo from the BTSR website (https://sangharussia.ru/news-sangha/glava-buddistov-rossii-prinyal-v-svoej-rezidentsii-khambo-lam-geroya-rossii-baldana-tsydypova)
Damba Ayusheyev consistently followed the ideological line in support of the war in the future. So, in particular, he met with Buryats who were awarded for their participation in the war in Ukraine and blessed them, setting an example for the fallen invading soldiers. In September 2022, he stated that Buddhists from Buryatia, Kalmykia, and Tuva are fighting with dignity on the fields of Donbas and are proud of them in their native regions. Pandito Khambo Lama noted that September 30 is a historic day for Russia, when it will include four regions, and assured that it is a great event for Buddhists to take part in this historical moment. “This is a sacred duty. We, Buddhists, must protect our motherland. The time has come—we must return the debt to our motherland. We grew up and lived in the Russian Federation; we studied at school; and there was a peaceful sky above us. Debt is karma; there are no other concepts here. The debt must be returned”, with such words, Ayusheev campaigned for his followers to participate in the aggression and justified the illegal attempt to annex several regions of Ukraine. It is interesting that he is the vice president of the Asian Buddhist Conference for Peace and could participate in its activities at the height of the war against Ukraine.
The position of the BTSR encourages its supporters to commit a number of violations of Ukrainian legislation. So, for example, it is known that in the fall of 2022, at least two Buddhist priests, Shireete Lama Dazhomba Choydonov and Aldar Lama, conducted rites in the north of the occupied Crimea and provided psychological support to military personnel from Buryatia who are participating in the aggression against Ukraine. It is obvious that both Lamas, in addition to everything else, illegally crossed the border of Ukraine when they found themselves in Crimea.
It seems that Tuva Khamby Lama Gelek Natsyk-Dorzhu (real name: Sergek Sariglar) is much less involved in the propaganda support of the war in the republic, which, according to some experts, has the highest casualties in terms of deaths per thousand people. In March 2022, he held a prayer and a Buddhist ritual of cleansing Dugzhuuba for the Tuvans who were fighting in Ukraine. In September 2022, journalists wrote that since that time, the Buddhist clergy of Tuva has hardly spoken publicly about the war. However, the Khamby Lama is still engaged in maintaining the morale of the Tuvan servicemen who are part of the occupation army. Thus, in February 2023, Gelek Natsyk-Dorzhu told the mobilized during the Tuva-“SMO zone” (occupied territory of Ukraine) telebridge organized by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation: “We always pray, and we hold rituals for our defenders every day. We wish our boys all the best. The most important things are health, faith, and, of course, happiness. May all your dreams come true in this new year.”
The Shajin Lama of Kalmykia and the representative of the Dalai Lama in Russia, Mongolia, and the CIS countries, Telo Tulku Rinpoche (real name: Erdni Ombadykov), had been leading the Buddhist community in the republic for three decades at the time of the beginning of the large-scale phase of aggression. For several months, he avoided declaring his position on the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine, and only in June 2022, during the celebration of Buddha’s birthday, did he somewhat veiledly say that pacifism is part of his philosophy. Later, the shajin lama explained that he did not comment on the war because he did not want to spoil the relations of Russian Buddhists with the authorities. Telo Tulku Rinpoche, a native of the Kalmyk diaspora in the United States, planned to obtain Russian citizenship in 2022. After the arrest of the American basketball player Brittney Griner at the Moscow airport in a fabricated case, the leader of the Kalmyk Buddhists left for Mongolia. In October 2022, he made a public anti-war statement. “I think that the Ukrainian side is, of course, really right – they defend their country, their land, their truth, their constitution, and their people. It is very difficult to say and accept that Russia is right and that this war is necessary. It’s very hard to say; I can’t”, Shajin Lama of Kalmykia said.
Telo Tulku Rinpoche, Shajin Lama of Kalmykia. October, 2022. Screenshot from the video
Telo Tulku Rinpoche’s statement became a precedent: for the first time, the head of a relatively large religious structure in Russia openly condemned an aggressive war and supported Ukraine. However, unfortunately, this example of refusing to participate in a war that violates the requirements of the creed still remains isolated. The BTS of Russia immediately and officially distanced itself from the statement of the Shajin Lama of Kalmykia. It did not find public support among Tuvan Buddhists, although Buryatia and Tuva suffered almost the largest human losses among the regions of the Russian Federation during the war in 2022. A significant part of the blame for this lies with those spiritual leaders who agitated believers into participating in armed actions.
In addition, on January 27, 2023, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation added Telo Tulku Rinpoche to the register of so-called “foreign agents” for his statements “against the special military operation in Ukraine,” speeches in support of Ukraine, US citizenship, and residence outside the Russian Federation.
After that, he announced the transfer of the powers of the Shajin Lama to the abbot of the Kalmyk Central Buddhist Monastery, Tendzin Choidak, and the administrator of the gelong, Yonten Lodoy (real name: Sergey Kirshov). In an address on this occasion, Telo Tulku Rinpoche said: “To the people of Kalmykia and all followers of Buddhism in these difficult times, I wish to maintain courage, steadfastness, and devotion to the ideals of mercy, love, and non-violence, on which the teachings of the Buddha, which we profess, are based.” He assured that he would remain with the people of Kalmykia and the Buddhists of Russia, to whom he devoted his life.
On January 31, 2022, the monks of the Sangha of Kalmykia elected three candidates for the post of shajin lama, and on February 15, the Dalai Lama XIV approved Tendzin Choidak as the supreme lama of Kalmykia, to whom his predecessor had previously transferred the authority. This fact gives some hope that the leaders of the Association of Buddhists of Kalmykia will continue to refrain from at least direct calls to support the war against Ukraine.
Russian Jewish organizations and the large-scale phase of the war against Ukraine
There are two chief rabbis in the Russian Federation: Berel Lazar (the chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, hereinafter FJCR), who is a supporter of Lubavitch Hasidism, and Adolf Shayevich (the chairman of the Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Associations in Russia, hereinafter CJROAR), who practices orthodox Judaism. The latter led the Jews of the USSR from 1989, and, after its collapse, of Russia. When Vladimir Putin came to power, Adolf Shayevich, due to his closeness to the disgraced oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky, was removed from the structures under the president of the Russian Federation. With the support of the second president of Russia, the FJCR, which became the largest association of Russian Jews, and the alternative Chief Rabbi of Russia, Berel Lazar, elected in 2000, quickly became significant among Russian Jews. Cooperation with the FJCR allowed Vladimir Putin to avoid accusations of anti-Semitism when he fought with oligarchs of Jewish origin who were disloyal to him. In addition, FJCR and Berel Lazar performed ideological and possibly other functions useful to the Kremlin. During the Russian-Ukrainian war, this structure, in particular, called on Jews not to oppose the seizure of Crimea (in 2017, the 25-year-old son of Berel Lazar became the chief rabbi of Simferopol, and soon Crimea), and the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center created by FJCR supported the Kremlin’s narrative of World War II and talked about the “rise of Nazism” in modern Ukraine.
The Chief Rabbi of Russia, Berel Lazar, remained loyal to Putin during the large-scale phase of the war, although he avoided participating in open calls for genocide and aggression. From March 2022 to today, he declares his desire to become a mediator in the negotiations between the Russian Federation and Ukraine. On March 1, 2022, the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine and head of the All-Ukrainian Congress of Jewish Hasidic Religious Communities Moshe Reuven Azman called on the Russians to stop the war against Ukraine and announced: “If I have to die, curse those who remain silent and are complicit in this terrible crime.” In an address on March 2, 2022, Berel Lazar stated: “I encourage everyone to pray for peace, but that alone is not enough. Now G-d expects from us that every believing person will do everything in their power to save human lives. I myself am ready for any mediation, ready to do everything in my power, and even more, just so that the guns will be silenced and the bombs will stop exploding! But now is the time for joint action. Therefore, I appeal to all religious leaders – In Ukraine, in Russia, in Europe, and on other continents – to stand together for peace.” The Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar repeated the statement of readiness to “do everything” to find peaceful solutions in January 2023 at a meeting with Vladimir Putin.
On March 29, 2022, the Chief Rabbi of the Russian Army, and head of the FJCR department Aharon Gurevich took part in the round table in the State Duma of the Russian Federation on “World traditional religions against the revival of fascism and the spread of neo-Nazism in the 21st century,” at which the absolute majority of religious leaders, officials, and other speakers actively supported Russia’s war against Ukraine. As a result of the meeting, an extremely manipulative appeal to the world community was adopted on behalf of the representatives of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism, in which, in particular, it is claimed that the world allegedly faced the threat of the revival of fascism “in the countries of the collective West”. The authors of the document expressed “comprehensive support” to those who are fighting “the threat of neo-Nazism during a special military operation in Ukraine”. Among other things, the participants of the round table demanded from the UN that it prevent discrimination against Russian speakers and citizens of Russia and offered the president of the Russian Federation to hold an “international anti-fascist forum”. In his speech at the event, the Chief Rabbi of the Russian Army and the head of the FJCR department, Aharon Gurevich, seemed to avoid direct calls to commit crimes and spoke in general about the evils of Nazism. However, the final document in the style of schizo-fascism was also announced on behalf of the Jews of Russia.
Xenophobic statements by representatives of the Russian authorities often combine Ukrainophobia and anti-Semitism. In such cases, FJCR is forced to criticize the authors of the most odious statements. This was the case, for example, in May 2022 with the scandal involving the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergei Lavrov, who, seeking to discredit the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, suggested that Hitler had Jewish blood and attributed to the Jews the statement that “the most ardent anti-Semites, as a rule, are Jews.” Berel Lazar called Lavrov’s statements shocking and mildly called on him to apologize to the Jews. The chief rabbi of Russia also emphasized the inappropriateness of linking the history of the Holocaust, which was part of Nazi ideology and politics, “to the current conflict.” In the same way, Berel Lazar sharply criticized in October 2022 the article of the assistant secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Major General of the FSB Aleksey Pavlov, “What is cooking in the witch’s cauldron. Neopagan cults gained strength in Ukraine”. In the propagandistic delusions of this author, Ukraine needs “de-Satanization” because, since 2014, as a result of “Western manipulations and political technologies,” it has turned into a “totalitarian hypersect” with “neo-pagan cults”. The assistant secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation counted the Chabad-Lubavitch religious movement as one of the sects. In response, the Chief Rabbi of Russia stated that the Lubavitch Hasids and the Chabad religious movement are not a sect but a legitimate school of Judaism. Berel Lazar noted that he himself belongs to this trend, as do “90% of the rabbis who work in the Jewish communities of Russia.” According to him, the ideology of Chabad is based on respect for all religions, peoples, and every person. On October 27, 2022, the head of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Nikolai Patrushev, apologized to the readers of the publication where Pavlov’s provocative article was published.
At the same time, in August 2022, the Foundation for Combating Corruption, founded by the oppositionist Aleksey Navalny, added the name of FJCR president Rabbi Aleksandr Boroda to the list of persons against whom the foundation recommends the international community apply sanctions. According to Navalny’s representatives, Boroda “supports Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the actions of the Russian authorities,” which gives reason to include him in the category “Sales leaders of public opinion and public supporters of Putin.” At the beginning of March 2022, Aleksandr Boroda, who is the second figure in the FJCR, spoke in an interview with the Russian mass media in the thick of Russian propaganda about the Jewish community’s condemnation of the “surge of neo-Nazism in Ukraine,” about the “planned heroization of Nazi criminals” and about the fact that in “Ukraine, where there is a fairly large and in many respects prosperous Jewish community, there is parallel glorification of criminals responsible for the death of the ancestors of these Jews.” By the way, in the same interview, he referred to the occupied Crimea as “the southern regions of Russia.” After his name was included in the “Navalny list” and criticism in the foreign mass media, in August 2022, in an interview with the Israeli mass media, the president of the FJCR denied that he once spoke in support of a military operation against Ukraine and called his words about neo-Nazism taken out of context. At the same time, Aleksandr Boroda, in the style of pro-Kremlin propaganda, criticized and questioned the fact that pressure was put on the Chief Rabbi of Moscow, Pinchas Goldschmidt (representative of CJROAR), in order to support the war, and he left the Russian Federation because of it. “He is not the only rabbi in the country, and no one except him complains about being forced to do something one way or another related to supporting military actions. Please let Goldschmidt say who pressured him”, the president of FJCR stated.
Pinchas Goldschmidt is a native of Switzerland, educated in Israel and the USA. From 1993 to 2022, he was the rabbi of the Moscow Jewish religious community and the Moscow Choral Synagogue. He founded and headed the Moscow Rabbinical Court of the CIS countries. Since 2011, he has headed the Conference of European Rabbis, whose headquarter is in Munich. In March 2022, he left Russia. In June 2022, his daughter-in-law, A. Chyzhik-Goldschmidt, reported that Pinchas Goldschmidt and his wife had left due to a refusal to comply with the Russian authorities’ demand to publicly support a “special operation” in Ukraine. According to her, Rabbi Goldschmidt first helped refugees in Hungary and then went to visit his hospitalized father in Jerusalem. Despite pressure from the Russian authorities, in June 2022, Goldschmidt was re-elected by the community as the chief rabbi of Moscow for a new seven-year term, but he was forced to leave this post the following month. He retained the post of chairman of the supreme rabbinate court of the CIS and Baltic countries. Then Goldschmidt will repeatedly call on the Jews to leave Russia because, under the conditions of the hardships of the war with Ukraine, they can once again be made “scapegoats” and due to other threats. By the way, a significant number of Jews left this country after the beginning of the large-scale aggression against Ukraine. So, only in March–August 2022, according to some estimates, more than 20,000 Jews emigrated from Russia (according to the 2021 census, 82,600 Jews lived in the Russian Federation). In 2023, Goldschmidt described how the FSB attempted to recruit him in 2003 and how the Russian authorities used FJCR for their own purposes: this federation, according to his information, was a kind of showcase of a good Jewish life in Russia. FJCR leaders systematically made statements to the audience in the West about Putin’s lack of alternatives and the threat of persecution of Jews in the event of a regime change. Inside the Russian Federation, the organization called on Jews to refrain from participating in protests, Goldschmidt said.
According to one version, in the spring of 2022, during Pinchas Goldschmidt’s stay abroad, the Russian authorities unsuccessfully tried to sell Shlomo Zlotsky into the post of chief rabbi of Moscow. He has been the head of the Moscow community of Orthodox Judaism “Go Jewish” for many years, and in 2017 he was elected the first vice president of the CJROAR. In early April 2022, in an interview with the Israeli newspaper “Peles” and the Russian TV channel “360”, Zlotsky appeared as an outspoken apologist for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. At that time, he actively popularized Russian military propaganda stamps about “human shields” allegedly used by “Ukrainian punishers”, about “genocide of the Russian-speaking population of Donbas” by the “Kyiv regime,” etc., declared his support for Putin’s policy towards Ukraine, and compared the Russian-Ukrainian war with the confrontation of Israel and Palestine in the Gaza Strip. The head of CJROAR, Rabbi Pinchas Shvalb, stated in April 2022 that “Rabbi Shlomo Zlotsky has not been a full-time CJROAR employee for many years”, is not the Vice President of CJROAR and is not authorized to make statements on its behalf. The president of CJROAR, entrepreneur Oleg Malis, also criticized the actions of Zlotsky.
In 2022, the Chief Rabbi of Russia (according to the CJROAR version), Adolf Shayevich, tried to “hold on to the tightrope” in his rhetoric; he did not directly criticize the war against Ukraine, but he did not call for its support either, while at the same time, he sought to maintain loyalty to the Putin regime. In particular, in October 2022, he participated in the meeting of the XXIV World Russian People’s Council, where he told how Russian Jews pray for the protection of Russia from enemies in CJROAR synagogues every week – for the president, the head of the government, and the entire Russian people. In October 2022, Adolf Shayevich answered the question, “When it comes only to geopolitics, the confrontation of states – to what extent can hostilities be justified?” in the style of the Russian “little person on whom nothing depends”: “It is necessary to be more deeply immersed in these matters because, probably, many things are unknown and incomprehensible to us. We do not know why many things happen; from the standpoint of the ordinary human mind, many things are not perceived.” In the same interview on the occasion of his 85th birthday, he said that he is not approached with the question of participation or non-participation in military operations in Ukraine and that co-religionists from the occupied Ukrainian territories do not maintain contact with him. However, some Israeli media call Adolf Shayevich one of the few Jewish figures who supported the Russian side in the war in Ukraine.
A preliminary analysis of the positions and activities of Orthodox, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish organizations operating in Russia and enjoying the greatest popularity among the Russian population indicates involvement to varying degrees in the justification and waging of the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine at the stage of large-scale armed aggression that began in February 2022. Orthodox and Muslim organizations are most deeply involved in these processes, as are, to a lesser extent, Buddhist and Jewish ones. In fact, the most numerous Russian religious organizations, including Orthodox, Muslims, and Buddhists, have become part of the Russian military propaganda machine. They campaign and informationally support the commission of the crime of aggression, the violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, the dehumanization and demonization of Ukrainians, the sacralization of war, etc. This does not mean that absolutely all supporters of these religious organizations support aggression against Ukraine and the genocide of the Ukrainian nation, but it is obvious that the activities of the above-mentioned religious structures, at least, create conditions for committing serious international crimes by their supporters and, to a lesser extent, by other citizens.
The Russian Orthodox Church is the most integrated in the Russian-Ukrainian war since it occupies a privileged position in the Russian Federation, has the largest religious network and the largest number of believers, and developed together with state structures the expansionist concept of the “Russian world,” which contradicts evangelical teaching and becomes the basis for the policy of destroying the Ukrainian state and nation. The patriarch, bishops, and part of the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church mask or justify the aggressive and genocidal nature of Russia’s military actions in Ukraine, participate in concealing the very fact of war, sacralize it, and try to present the aggressor state as peaceful and peace-loving. In addition, the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church sanctifies Russian weapons, participates in promoting concepts designed to destroy the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and denies the right to the existence of the Ukrainian nation. A similar position is taken by the largest religious structure of the Old Believers of the Russian Federation, the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church.
The largest umbrella Muslim organizations – CSAM of Russia, SAMRF and CMR, SAMR and CCM of the North Caucasus – and a number of regional spiritual administrations of Muslims in Russia, as well as the “Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol SAM,” in the temporarily occupied Crimea – were actively involved in the process of justifying the need for war against Ukraine, its sacralization, the concealment of Russia’s aggressive actions and the commission of other grave crimes by it, the creation of prerequisites for the genocide of the Ukrainian nation, and the involvement of Muslim believers in these crimes. Some leaders of Muslim religious organizations in Russia directly call for the genocide of the Ukrainian nation. SAMRF, CMR, and SAMR also started the direct subjugation of Muslim communities in the temporarily occupied territories of Eastern Ukraine, which is a violation of Ukrainian legislation and entails other offenses and crimes.
A different situation arose among Buddhist organizations in Russia. The largest in Buryatia and the Russian Federation, the Buddhist Traditional Sangha of Russia takes the most active part in justifying the need for believers to support the war against Ukraine, which led to the Russian side committing aggression, genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Such actions, in our opinion, contradict not only Buddhist teachings but also the direct calls of the Dalai Lama to stop the criminal war. Demonstrates his loyalty to the authorities of the Russian Federation in the matter of war and the spiritual rule of the Khamba Lama in Tuva, although, it seems, he does not show excessive activity. But the leader of the Association of Buddhists of Kalmykia, Telo Tulku Rinpoche, set a precedent: after several months of waiting and traveling abroad, he publicly condemned Russia’s aggressive actions and openly revealed their anti-Ukrainian nature. The Buddhist leader’s anti-war position led to his being declared a “foreign agent” in Russia and his resignation from the post of Shajin Lama.
The largest religious associations of the Jews of Russia and their religious leaders, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia and the Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar, the Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Associations of Russia, and the alternative Chief Rabbi of Russia, Adolf Shayevich, mostly during the large-scale phase of aggression (2022–early 2023), try to maintain a loyal relationship with the Putin regime but avoid direct statements in support of the war against Ukraine. Despite the pressure of the aggressor state, such calls are being made by individual representatives of these organizations. At the same time, FJCR and CJROAR refrain from direct anti-war criticism of the ruling regime in the Russian Federation. In addition, the first organization publicly recognized the Russian status of temporarily occupied Crimea and even launched activities on its territory, violating Ukrainian legislation.
The passive or active complicity of religious organizations in Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine and the genocide of the Ukrainian nation require the reaction of the Ukrainian state and civil society, civilized states and international organizations, religious associations, and authorities. We consider it necessary to continue and expand the practice of imposing sanctions on religious leaders and activists who support the criminal policy of the Russian Federation towards Ukraine. Sanctions, in particular, should be applied not only to representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church but also to the Russian Orthodox Church, the BTS of Russia, and Muslim and Jewish religious organizations that support Russian policy towards Ukraine. In this context, it is important to study the ideology and practice of other religious structures in Russia. Individual statements of religious leaders (for example, the head of the CCM of the North Caucasus) contain, in our opinion, direct calls to commit genocide, which is a violation of both the Genocide Convention of 1948 and the relevant legislative norms of Ukraine and Russia, and therefore they need to be given legal assessment.
Evaluation of authoritative religious institutes would help overcome the consequences of the quasi-religious “theology of war and genocide”. For example, the official assessment by the Pentarchy (the five oldest Orthodox churches) of the ideology of the “Russian world” promoted by the Russian Orthodox Church could contribute to the realization of its non-Christian essence by a larger number of Russian believers as well as Orthodox believers in other countries. Consideration by the Synaxis (meeting of superiors) of the Pentarchy of the actions of the Russian Orthodox Church in support of the war, as well as other violations of canon law (for example, the illegal formation of structures in Africa on the canonical territory of another Orthodox Church), could also contribute to the prosecution of offenders or, at least, a theological and moral assessment of their actions and policies. The public statement by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on March 22, 2023, that the Russian Orthodox Church and the state leadership of Russia cooperated in the crime of aggression is positive for understanding the nature of the Russian-Ukrainian war by Orthodox believers. The “first among equals” among the heads of the world’s Orthodox churches emphasized that this church and the Russian authorities shared responsibility for crimes committed as a result of aggression, in particular for the shocking kidnapping of Ukrainian children.
It is obvious that Russia’s war against Ukraine is not a war for the spread of Islamic values but is of a neo-colonial, invasive, aggressive, and genocidal nature. The evaluations of authoritative theologians in the Muslim world of the actions of the leaders of Muslim organizations in Russia, who declared this war a jihad, would also help Russian Muslims better understand the essence of the events.
In our opinion, international religious or multi-confessional organizations should exclude from their ranks or, at least, suspend the membership of religious organizations or their representatives involved in aggression against Ukraine. For example, we think representatives of religious organizations that support Russia’s genocidal and aggressive war against the Ukrainian nation do not have the right to participate in the Asian Buddhist Conference for Peace.
International interreligious forums that would evaluate the actions of the aggressor state and statements and actions in support of them could play a specific role in the restoration of the international legal order, the liberation of Ukraine, in particular, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, the cessation of Russian aggression, and compensation for losses to the Ukrainian people on the part of Russian religious organizations, both from the point of view of international law and high moral standards.
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Перчин Л., Фаустова М. Раввин, муфтий и лама угодили в очередной список санкций. НГ Религии. 16.08.2022. URL: https://www.ng.ru/ng_religii/2022-08-16/12_535_sanctions.html
Президент ФЕОР: всплеск русофобии из-за Украины недопустим. Институт религии и политики. 04.03.2022. URL: https://irp.news/prezident-feor-vsplesk-rusofobii-iz-za-ukrainy-nedopustim/
Дворовенко А. Головний рабин Москви покинув РФ через тиск ФСБ: як це пов’язано з війною в Україні. TELEGRAF. 08.06.2022. URL: https://telegraf.com.ua/ukr/novosti-rossii/2022-06-08/5707301-golovniy-rabin-moskvi-pokinuv-rf-cherez-tisk-fsb-chogo-khotili-putintsi
Бывший главный раввин Москвы рассказал о попытках ФСБ завербовать его. Капитал страны. 01.03.2023. URL: https://kapital-rus.ru/news/394126-byvshii_glavnyi_ravvin_moskvy_rasskazal_o_popytkah_fsb_zaverbovat_eg/
Яневский А. ФСБ против Московский хоральной синагоги. Voice of America. 15.09.2022. URL: https://www.golosameriki.com/a/moscow-choral-synagogue/6749013.html
Блинов А. Рисовать из освободителей людоедов. Глава еврейской общины – о сходствах между палестинскими боевиками и ВСУ. 360. 09.04.2022. URL: https://360tv.ru/tekst/obschestvo/risovat-iz-osvoboditelej-ljudoedov-evrejskaja-obschina-nashla-shodstvo-mezhdu-palestinskimi-boevikami-i-vsu/
Пылев А. Протокол на сионских мудрецов: московского раввина уволили задним числом за поддержку Владимира Путина и спецоперации. Блокнот. 14.04.2022. URL: https://bloknot.ru/obshhestvo/protokol-na-sionskih-mudretsov-moskovskogo-ravvina-uvolili-zadnim-chislom-za-podderzhku-vladimira-putina-i-spetsoperatsii-914165.html
leading researcher of the National Museum of the Holodomor-genocide, member of the humanitarian policy group of the “Crimean Platform” expert network commissioned by the editors of the newspaper “Krymska svitlytsia”