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Published Date: April 02, 2008

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.kuwaittimes.net/read_news.php?newsid=MTMzOTA1NjU0Nw== Ukraine: More than a religious schism Published Date: April 02, 2008 According to Stratfor
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2008
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      Ukraine: More than a religious schism

      Published Date: April 02, 2008

      According to Stratfor sources in the Kremlin, Ukrainian President
      Viktor Yushchenko and his brother Piotr Yushchenko allegedly are
      devising a plan to split Ukraine's Orthodox Church officially from
      the Moscow patriarch's authority, tearing it from Russia. The move
      would be one of the more controversial Ukraine has taken against its
      former Soviet Union partner and could spark a much larger crisis
      within Ukraine and with Russia.

      The word "Ukraine" translates from Old Eastern Slavonic as
      "borderland," or "edge of the state," and that description could not
      be truer. Ukraine is the cornerstone for the West and Russia's
      platforms for expanding against each other and projecting their power
      internationally. But the country is caught between the West and
      Russia, with each trying to influence the current political
      situation. Still, much would need to be done to convert Ukraine's
      heart and soul to one side or the other. In fact, that simply might
      not be possible, and the tug-of-war could end up splitting Ukraine
      down the middle along ethnic and linguistic lines.

      Since Viktor Yushchenko was elected during the 2004 pro-Western
      Orange Revolution, he has had difficulty cutting the ties binding
      half of Ukraine with Russia. Nearly 10 million - 20 percent - of
      Ukraine's population is ethnically Russian, and another 15 million
      are pro-Russian; thus, Ukraine has been at an impasse since the
      Orange Revolution, and that stalemate has kept the country in
      political, economic and social disarray.

      In short, the country is divided over the issue of whether Ukraine
      should stay faithful to Moscow or turn toward the West. There is no
      doubt that Ukraine's ruling coalition - led by Yushchenko and Prime
      Minister Yulia Timoshenko - wants to move the country toward the West
      with EU and NATO membership; however intimidation by Russia has kept
      every Ukrainian leader since the breakup of the Soviet Union from
      fully breaking away from Moscow.

      But this is where the fight over religion comes in, since more than
      90 percent of the country is Orthodox. The Ukrainian Orthodoxy is
      actually two entities: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Kiev
      Patriarchate (UOC-KP) and the autonomous Church of Eastern Orthodoxy
      in Ukraine (UOC), which is under the Moscow Patriarchate. The former
      is unrecognized by any other canonical Eastern Orthodox Church,
      accounts for only 21 percent of Ukraine's population and is found
      mainly in the central, southern and weste
      rn parts of the country.

      According to UOC statistics, 74 percent of the population - about 35
      million people - belongs to the church under the Moscow Patriarchate,
      mainly in southern and eastern Ukraine. The church under the Moscow
      patriarchy has full international canonical standing and also owns
      most of the Orthodox churches and church properties in Ukraine.

      Yushchenko has long made it public that he would like a unified
      Ukrainian Orthodox Church, but then that objective has been on the
      table since the fall of the Soviet Union. This was a major item of
      discussion during the president's visit to Moscow in February in
      which he met with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II - who is not
      only head of the Russian Orthodox Church but is also very close to
      Russian President Vladimir Putin and has allowed the church to once
      again become a tool for the Kremlin.

      There is no doubt that the plan to try to split the UOC from the
      Moscow patriarch is Piotr Yushchenko's brainchild. He is one of his
      brother Viktor's closest advisers and considers himself one of
      Ukraine's religious leaders. He is Ukraine's parliamentary deputy,
      but he also has several ties with companies in the Middle East and
      Russia and with natural gas distribution companies in Europe. He is
      also the former co-owner of the First Investment Bank of Ukraine. The
      president reportedly listens intently to hi
      s brother on matters of faith, business and politics, though Piotr
      Yushchenko stays out of the direct limelight of Ukraine's complicated
      and chaotic political scene.

      The issue of splitting the church is again at the front of Viktor
      Yushchenko's mind, but the timing is very specific; the president is
      considering the issue on the eve of not only U.S. President George W.
      Bush's visit to Kiev, but also a NATO summit at which the possibility
      of a Membership Action Plan for Ukraine will be discussed so that
      Kiev can launch the NATO membership process. But with Ukraine split
      between Russia and the West, any attempt to break Ukraine away from
      Russia could crack the country in

      Moreover, every potential NATO member that has ever been behind the
      Iron Curtain has had to deal with separating their country from the
      Soviet (Russian) propaganda machine and intelligence infiltration
      left behind. Ukraine plays into this concern specifically since it is
      so closely tied to Russia. There is also the fact that Patriarch
      Alexei II - an ex-KGB agent - has been accused of using his churches
      abroad as hubs for placing spies in other countries.

      This happened during the Soviet era, when the Communist party would
      place KGB members in the Orthodox churches in Soviet member states.
      In the current intelligence scenario, Ukraine reportedly is one of
      the largest such hubs. By ridding Ukraine of churches under the
      Moscow patriarch, the government would be in effect beheading a
      section of the Russian intelligence community. This would remove
      Ukraine from Russia's orbit and then move the country Westward - and
      these actions have to occur in this order to b
      e successful.

      This move could also create problems that could lead to major rifts
      in the former Soviet Union. First, the Ukrainian government is far
      from strong or stable enough to handle the backlash from splitting
      half the country from its religious center. The aftershocks could be
      enough to turn half of Ukraine's population away from the government
      altogether; more likely, it could lead the government to collapse.

      Second, the FSB does not like losing one of its intelligence hubs,
      especially in a neighboring country that it is trying to keep tied to
      Moscow. With the FSB reorganizing and strengthening its ability to
      not only work aggressively inside of Russia but abroad, it could
      focus its attention more on Ukraine. Lastly, Moscow would see the act
      as a serious betrayal by Kiev. However, the Kremlin could take
      advantage of the instability to not only consolidate its control over
      the eastern half of Ukraine, but also c
      ollapse the Ukrainian government.

      In the end, when it comes to trying to split a social foundation that
      has been a part of a region for more than a millennium, this sort of
      change is a potential country killer. This is why Viktor Yushchenko
      has yet to attempt such a drastic move. However, if Ukraine is ever
      going to successfully move toward the West, it will have to first cut
      some of its deepest ties with Russia. - Stratfor
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