Vladimir Putin is trying to frame his country’s invasion of Ukraine as a “holy war”, aided and abetted by Patriarch Kirill, the controversial head of the Russian Orthodox Church, a Russian history expert has claimed. Dr Katherine Kelaidis believes the Russian President is attempting to portray himself as a “martyr” in a bid to win support from far-right elements globally – as well as undermine faith in western institutions such as the International Criminal Court, which issued an arrest warrant for him earlier this month.
Putin and Kirill, the Patriarch of Moscow and the Primate of the church, enjoy a famously close relationship, with the latter defending the war invade on multiple occasions since the invasion of February 24, 2022.
Dr Kelaidis, Resident Scholar and Director of Academic Collaborations at the National Hellenic Museum in Chicago, whose new book, Holy Russia? Holy War? is published on May 18, told Express.co.uk: “It is undoubtedly Putin’s intention to frame the conflict in terms of holy war, particularly with respect to the audience with which he knows that it is most likely to have currently.
“That is to say conservative Russians and far-right and traditionalist Christians abroad. ,
For a large part of the modern era, Russia sought to frame itself as “The Third Rome” and as a consequence the righteous defender of the Orthodox faith, Dr Kelaidis explained.
She added: “In fact, much of the Russian rhetoric concerning Ukraine draws on a number of historical precedents and a certain construction of the past that places Russia in the position of ultimate “defender of the faith”, so to speak.
Russia‘s propaganda narrative on the international stage was heavily dependent on appealing to traditionalists and the far-right abroad, Ms Kelaidis stressed.
She continued: “The ICC’s arrest warrant has one of the perennial villains of the traditionalist narrative “attacking” Putin. The opportunity to paint himself as a martyr has perhaps never been better for the Russian president.
“This is the sort of thing that can win hearts and minds, particularly in certain corners already suspicious of international organizations like the ICC.”
Turning to her attention to the 76-year-old former KGB officerMs Kelaidis added: “Patriarch Kirill’s influence in Russia and beyond is significant, not least because the trend over the past 100 or so years in Orthodoxy has been to more ‘papal’ patriarchates.
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“Today the Orthodox world is on the brink of a historical schism. The Ukraine War has also tested the ROC’s relationship with its American Evangelical Protestant allies.
“However, one of the more disturbing outcomes with this relationship has been that the ‘culture war’ rhetoric emerging from the ROC has been successful in keeping these foreign Christian conservatives on their side for the most part.”
In a characteristic rant earlier this month, Patriarch Kirill accused Protestant churches of supporting ideas which “destroy the very concept of the family”, pledging that Russia would continue to stand “on the side of God’s truth”.
Speaking at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, Moscow after celebrating the Triumph of Orthodoxy festival, he continued: “Before our eyes, fundamental Christian values are being eroded, as priority is given to so-called universal or liberal values.
“Through preserving independence, we are enabling our people to rely on the Church’s spiritual and intellectual power – in defending the institution of marriage and purity of relationships, and in speaking out against terrible perversions.”
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