NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) has formally separated itself from Moscow Patriarch Kirill, a key ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, amid Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in what one analyst calls a “huge blow to Putin.”
More than 100 churches in Ukraine had rejected the UOC in favor of the Kyiv-based Othodox Church Ukraine (OCU), which had split from Moscow in 2019. Yet the UOC itself declared “full independence” from Moscow Friday.
Kirill appeared to downplay the move in comments Sunday.
“We fully understand how the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is suffering today,” the head of the Russian Orthodox Church said in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in central Moscow. He warned that “spirits of malice” wanted to divide the Orthodox people of Russia and Ukraine but declared that they would not succeed.
Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on during the Victory Day military parade marking the 77th anniversary of the end of World War II in Moscow, Russia, on Monday, May 9. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Yet Rebekah Koffler, former DIA intelligence officer and author of “Putin’s Playbook,” described the move as a “huge blow” to Putin.
“This is a huge blow to Putin,” Koffler told Fox News Digital Sunday.
“Kirill and Putin are buddies,” she explained, noting that the Russian president “has weaponized the Russian Orthodox religion as a geopolitical tool.”
Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill conducts the Easter service at the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, on Saturday, April 23. (Sergei Vlasov, Russian Orthodox Church Press Service via AP)
“The idea of Putin unifying the Russian world, including Ukraine and other post-Soviet states, hinges on the idea that Russia is the center of Christianity and the center of the unique Eurasian civilization that the Russians believe is exceptional just like Americans think America is exceptional,” Koffler added. “Once the church splits, it takes the whole divinity idea out of it.”
The analyst suggested that it was unlikely that the newly independent UOC would join the OCU. She did predict, however, that some UOC churches would elect to remain with Moscow, against the council of the denomination.
“With Russian forces gradually but steadily establishing control over Eastern and Southern Ukraine – Putin’s primary goal at this phase of the war – they have to balance their parishioners’ interests,” Koffler explained. “Some of the priests may decide to stick with Moscow, in order to survive a possible new regime if Putin succeeds in securing full control of Donbas and establish the so-called ‘Novorossiya’ (new Russia).”
Koffler attributed the split to Putin’s military strategy, which she said involves directly targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure in order to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to end the suffering.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Orthodox Easter service in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, April 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)
“Regardless of whose side you’re on, even if you buy into Putin’s explanation for why he’s doing it, you can’t, as a spiritual person, condone civilian deaths,” she said.
“Bottom line, the split punches a hole in Putin’s narrative that the Russians and Ukrainians are spiritually and ethnically one people and therefore Ukraine should not exist as a separate country,” she concluded.
A 2018 survey found that about 67.3% of Ukraine’s population identifies as one or another strand of Orthodox Christianity, with 28.7% part of the Kyiv-based OCU, 23.4% simply “Orthodox,” and 12.8% UOC. Another 7.7% of the population identifies as broadly Christian, while Ukrainian Byzantine Rite Catholics make up 9.4%, Protestants make up 2.2%, Latin Rite Catholics make up 0.8%, Muslims make up 2.5%, and Judaism makes up 0.4%. Another 11% declared themselves non-religious or unaffiliated.